UGC Tasting – Bordeaux 2016 Vintage

img_4192Every year, we always await the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) tasting with anticipation, but this year, there was some added allure. The Bordelais were scheduled to show their highly acclaimed 2016 vintage. Like the 2009 and 2010 vintages, 2015 and 2016 represent back-to-back blockbuster vintages that have been hailed by critics and wine enthusiasts alike. If you are not familiar with the 2016 vintage, it has been described as a very balanced vintage, with wines made in a more classic style. Whenever a particular Bordeaux vintage described as ‘classic,’ this often means that the vintage is not among the most acclaimed and that the wines may have less appeal to those who enjoy fruit-forward wines. It appears that 2016 may be a vintage that has broad appeal, from Bordeaux fans who prefer a more traditional style and those who enjoy more fruit-forward, modern styles. This is a balance that is not easily achieved, and is one of the reasons that 2016 may be quite a special vintage.img_4688

The UGCB does not just represent a tasting for us. Rather, it is also a time to catch up with many good friends from Bordeaux. To taste all of these wines in such a short period (3 hours) is quite difficult to do. We usually have a game plan, depending on the vintage. Whereas at last year’s UGCB tasting, where we focused on the right bank and Pessac-Léognan, this time we spent more time on the left bank. From tasting the 2016 wines in barrel and now in bottle, it does appear that the left bank may hold a slight edge. However, many of the right bank wines did impress and will certainly evolve into excellent wines.

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Before discussing some of the specific wines, a few generalizations are in order. First, the alcohol has been held in check in 2016. There was almost no sensation of heat in any of the wines, and the management of the alcohol was superb in this vintage. Second, the tannins are incredibly soft. Yes, after tasting countless young wines at any tasting, the palate begins to dry out a bit; however, the wines themselves showed a very soft structure, more so than even the 2015 wines. Finally, balance is the key in 2016. There was no sense of over-ripeness or over-extraction. The wines were truly a joy to drink, which is commendable for such young wines. In some vintages, it can be fatiguing to taste so many wines, but not so in 2016.

Keeping in mind that there is only a finite period to taste these wines, not all wines were reviewed. We started the tasting wines from the Pauillac appellation. Both Pichons were exceptional. And whereas in 2015 I would give the slight nod to Baron, 2016 is Lalande’s year. With a knockout nose and super-silky palate, this is a wine that demands attention. While made in a bit more classic style, the Lynch-Bages was excellent as well. With its graphite and dark fruit, this was a wine with solid structure, but very soft tannins. I found the same pattern in the Cazes Saint-Estèphe wine, Ormes de Pez. This is clearly one of the best vintages I have tasted of this wine. I saw this same excellence in Château de Pez as well. As has been reported widely, the northern Médoc produced very strong wines in 2016. img_1228

This is not to say that excellent wines weren’t produced in the more southerly Saint-Julien. This appellation, which is perhaps the most consistent in the left bank, was nothing short of extraordinary. Like the Pichons, both Léovilles at the tasting were fantastic. I would possibly give the slight nod to the Barton in 2016, but the Poyferré was great as well. I just loved the pure dark fruit that was so clearly the Barton style. But what may turn out to be the best value in Saint-Julien is the 2016 Langoa Barton. Like the Ormes de Pez, I am not sure I can recall a better young vintage of Langoa. We spoke with Jean-Michel Laporte, previously at La Conseillante, who is now at Chateau Talbot. He made us aware of changes being made at Talbot, and discussed their plan to increase their oenotourism, which is a trend that continues throughout Bordeaux. The Talbot and Branaire-Ducru are other excellent value buys in 2016. And not to be overshadowed are the many great wines in the Margaux appellation. One of the jewels of Margaux in 2016 is Brane-Cantenac. This wine definitely impressed, and you could already sense the signature Brane-Cantenac aromas that emerge with bottle age. 

img_1229The right bank is not to be overshadowed in 2016. The wines are a bit less forward and perhaps more balanced overall than in 2015. It is going to be a question of style as to whether someone prefers 2015 or 2016. The wines from Pomerol were impressive across the board, from Clinet to Gazin. A similar trend was seen in the Pessac-Léognan wines, which were all very drinkable at such a young age, from Haut-Bailly to Larrivet Haut-Brion. The balance was nowhere more evident than in the Pape Clément red, where there has been a style change toward more restraint in 2016.

.img_0552We never rush through these tastings, instead spending more time with each wine, at the expense of tasting everything. This year we regrettably did not have time to taste the Sauternes and the dry whites, but we heard great things about the wines from others. A lot of our time was spent talking with the winemakers about their wines. We also discussed the newest 2018 vintage. There was palpable anticipation of this vintage from the winemakers and château owners. Some told us that the quality of their wines could even surpass that of 2016. However, the style is likely going to be much different in 2018. It appears that this is going to be a very ripe vintage, and that management of the alcohol is going to be one of the challenges. Additionally, some properties lost much of their yield due to mold, especially those properties that are organic or biodynamic. You always have to take vintage predictions with a grain of salt, but it is clear that this will, at the very least, be a strong vintage. With the string of 2015, 2016, and even 2017, 2018 will continue an impressive and almost unprecedented run of strong Bordeaux vintages

img_2954.jpgIn other years, we plan to travel to Bordeaux in June for the UGCB to fill in the gaps that we missed at the U.S. tastings. Unfortunately, we are not able to do that this year. But even one afternoon in Miami told us all we needed to know about 2016 Bordeaux: the predictions were correct. 2016 is going to be a long-lived, beautiful vintage that one will enjoy drinking for several decades, with superb wines produced in every appellation.

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Beychevelle & Saint-Pierre : Vertical Tasting

IMG_6708In comparing the major Bordeaux wine appellations, it would be difficult to find more consistency than in Saint-Julien. Perhaps this is due to having over 90% of its vineyards owned by classified growth châteaux, but it is more likely due to the high quality of the producers found here. Located just south of the Pauillac appellation, Saint-Julien is the home to some of the most historic wine producers in Bordeaux, from Léoville Barton to Talbot and Ducru-Beaucaillou. The Saint-Julien châteaux consistently produce some of the best wines in Bordeaux in the stronger vintages, but some of the best wines of the Médoc are typically found here even in lesser vintages. And while there may not be a Latour or Lafite found here, the consistent excellence in Saint-Julien is unparalleled and is found nowhere else in the region.
We recently participated in a dinner that included vertical tastings of two excellent Saint-Julien properties, Château Beychevelle and Château Saint-Pierre. Both the wine styles and history of these properties are quite different, though both can claim significant improvements in their wines over the past decade. Situated at the southern end of Saint-Julien, Beychevelle is a large property that boasts both a classic old château and a new state-of-the-art winery. Classified as a fourth growth in the 1855 Médoc Classification, much of the improvements in their wines can be attributed to more strict selection of grapes to be included in their grand vin. Saint-Pierre is another fourth growth, but is situated on a much smaller property. Like Beychevelle, the wines have shown recent improvements and their facilities upgraded. While there are stylistic differences between the two estates, both wines exhibit a balance of power and elegance that is characteristic of Saint-Julien.
The dinner involved a vertical tasting of most of the important vintages from 2003 to 2010. A 2005 wine of another Saint-Julien producer, Château Branaire-Ducru, also found its way into the tasting. And finally, a number of dry and sweet Bordeaux white wines served as openers and closers to the evening. All in all, the wines showed well, but this tasting confirmed that these wines require a lot of aging. In fact, it could take well over a decade for most of these wines to reach their peak drinking potential. The tasting notes are all below.
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2003 Beychevelle – As the oldest Beychevelle in the tasting, it was not surprising that this was the most generous and enjoyable. Didn’t show any of the heat of the vintage. A very balanced wine. The aromas were fresh black currant, pencil lead, tobacco, violets, earth, and some barnyard seasoning. Soft and silky on the palate, with refined tannins. This is entering a good spot, and while it hasn’t peaked yet, you can definitely open this now. Needs at least an hour of aeration to show its stuff. – 94/100

2005 Beychevelle – Started out very shy and reticent, but the aromas amplified after a couple of hours. The nose showed black currant, green pepper, espresso, herbs, cedar, and dark chocolate. Showing very young right now, as it’s pretty tight and tannic. This is a pretty powerful vintage of Beychevelle. Needs more time to unwind. – 92/100

2007 Beychevelle – Yes, these 2007s are early drinkers, but this was clearly a step below the stronger vintages. The aromatics were fine, and kept things interesting. But this lacked the concentration and depth of the other wines. I would drink this sooner rather than later, as it will eventually dry out as the fruit fades. – 88/100

2009 Beychevelle – One of my favorite wines of the night. With two hours of air, this just blossomed. Very fruit-forward, but has already started to develop its interesting tertiary elements. Packed with concentrated fruit and a serious backbone. It’s amazing how much more open and accessible the 2009 is than the 2010. This is already starting to enter its early drinking window, but this still won’t peak for a very long time. If your preference is for more mature Bordeaux, however, I would still give this ten more years. – 93/100
2010 Beychevelle – Unlike the 2009 Beychevelle, this was very tight and not ready for drinking. It’s clearly not showing much right now. This needs a long time to unwind, and will need well over a decade to enter its prime drinking window. – 93/100
2003 St. Pierre Lighter than the 2003 Beychevelle, with a medium ruby color. The nose was very Burgundian, almost reminiscent of a Gevrey-Chambertin. It was all red cherry, spice, paper, and cigar tobacco. Fruit showed good purity. Had a nice elegant weight on the palate, but lacked some concentration. A straightforward finish with fresh acidity. A low sweetness factor. Very accessible, and likely getting close to its peak, but I’m a bit curious to see where this goes. – 91/100
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2003 St. Pierre – Very dark color. The nose was mostly dark fruits and oaky elements. I liked this, but it just never kicked it into high gear. Needs a lot more time to shed its oak. Should develop nicely, but I would give this at least five years in the cellar. – 92/100
2007 St. Pierre – Similar to the 2007 Beychevelle, this wasn’t as deep and complex as the stronger vintages at the tasting. It’s enjoyable nonetheless, but this is an early drinker. These should probably be opened within the next decade. – 89/100
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2009 St. Pierre Like the 2009 Beychevelle, this was also surprisingly very accessible. Dark fruits, vanilla, spice, and cigar tobacco on the nose. Deep concentration and very layered. Fruit-forward and sweet on the palate. Nicely structured with soft, round tannins. Needs more time to enter its prime drinking window (though it is accessible now), but this was an impressive wine. – 94/100
2010 St. Pierre – This is nowhere near ready for business. It has the stuffing to blossom into a really nice wine. Good complexity overall. The aromas are very dark and layered, with black currant, blackberry, cigar box, dark chocolate, spice, and vanilla. Tough and tannic on the palate. – 94/100
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IMG_66952005 Branaire-Ducru – A really nice showing for a consistent wine. This is always so approachable. The fruit is a very pure black currant and blackberry. The others aromas were very classic left bank, with pencil lead, cedar, and tobacco. A focused wine. Very fresh and finessed on the palate. Really nice balance. Excellent length on the finish with no heat and beautifully balanced acidity. – 94/100

The Best of 1982 Pomerol Wine Tasting

IMG_6294It is universally known that 1982 was a landmark vintage for Bordeaux. Throughout the region, exceptional wines with ultimate ripeness were produced, and it seemed to usher in the modern era for winemaking in Bordeaux. Renowned wine critic Robert Parker made his prodigious mark by correctly proclaiming 1982 as one of the great vintages of the century, even while there were some early naysayers.

Fast-forward 36 years to now, and one will find that most of the wines have reached their peak, and many still remain there. And though great wines were produced in virtually every appellation in 1982, Pomerol stands out among the rest. This tiny appellation gained considerable notoriety in 1982, as some of the best wines of the vintage were produced here. The epicenter of the Merlot grape seemed to shine brighter than even the vaulted appellations of the left bank.

It was quite a treat to taste some of the best 1982 wines from Pomerol at a recent dinner, which led to some fascinating comparisons. We limited the tasting to four of the best Pomerol wines from 1982, preferring a focused dissection of fewer wines over a larger, more extensive tasting. The wines included were Château l’Evangile, Château Trotanoy, Château Lafleur, and Pétrus. The only notable exclusions were Château Le Pin and Château La Conseillante. All of the wines came with exceptional provenance, and were devoid of any faults. 

So how did the wines perform? They all showed extremely well, although there were stark differences among the wines. The unanimous choice for the most impressive wine of the night was the l’Evangile; it started strong, and finished even stronger. And if you want to compare the two heavyweights, Lafleur and Pétrus, the clear favorite here was the Lafleur. But to compare such great wines is sometimes an injustice, as they all reside at the pinnacle of fine wine. Instead, it is best to see that this was simply another confirmation that the best Bordeaux vintages age with the grace and elegance that typify these exceptional wines. 

The wines:

IMG_63001990 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne Brut. Some oxidation was immediately apparent, but not in a charming mature champagne way. Bubbles were mostly resolved.  The aromas and flavors were dominated by apple, blood orange, hazelnut, and brioche. Lacking a bit of freshness, but surprisingly, the oxidative notes faded during the evening. Lacked the depth and intensity of the best aged champagnes, but at least the last sip was better than the first.  91/100

1982 Château Trotanoy. Beautiful nose, but somewhat subdued. Red plum, black cherry, truffle, violets, anise, and dark chocolate on the nose. Medium weight and elegant, it was a bit shy all around. Sweet, ripe, and smooth on the palate. Tannins were fully integrated and gave it a nice silky texture. Notable acidity. Never really lost any steam over the evening, and seemed to gained some weight in the glass. 95/100IMG_6280

1982 Château l’Evangile. A deep and rich nose that was mesmerizing. The nose was a tour de force of black cherry, blackberry, iron, iodine, sous bois, tobacco leaf, leather, eucalyptus, and caramel. Wonderfully balanced on the palate. So much life. This wine had everything, with wonderful fruit purity and freshness. Fresh and focused on the finish, with impressive length. A memorable wine. Clearly this was the best wine of the night. 98/100

IMG_62831982 Château Lafleur. Very different from the other wines. Darker fruit than the others. This was the wine that changed the most throughout the evening. The powerful nose started out mostly primary, with dark fruits and some licorice. Over time, the fruit became more red, along with leather, truffle, roses, fresh herbs, spice, and some fresh mint. Really elegant and poised on the palate, with a gorgeous finish. The tannins were notably soft and silky, and gave the wine just enough structure, along with the fresh acidity. Just a tick below the l’Evangile tonight. 97/100

IMG_62841982 Pétrus. A deep and sweet nose, with plum, black currant, sous bois, tobacco, roses, and dark chocolate on the nose. Unfortunately, the palate didn’t possess or exhibit the same balance as the other wines. There was certainly ample fruit and a generous mouthfeel, but as good as it tasted, the acidity and suggestion of heat just stood out a bit too much. The finish had considerable length and an obvious spiciness. Clearly a well-made wine, with an interesting combination of elements, which were just not in complete balance.  94/100

Angélus & Haut-Brion Vertical Tasting

It’s always a great experience to attend a vertical tasting of a top Bordeaux producer. But to have the opportunity to enjoy vertical tastings of TWO top Bordeaux producers is both unique and special. And when those two producers are Château Angélus and Château Haut-Brion, you’re talking about a once-in-a-lifetime tasting experience. The event was hosted by Victoire Touton and Delphine Blanchot, the representatives of Angélus and Haut-Brion, respectively. The venue itself was ideal for such a great tasting, the Wine Watch wine bar in Fort Lauderdale. This new wine bar offers not only a great setting for a tasting, but also some fantastic food for pairing as well.

This was a ‘collector’s event,’ where each attendee brought a bottle from their own cellar. In total, there were eight vintages of Angélus and seven vintages of Haut-Brion (two white and five red).

IMG_40521988 Angélus Light ruby color. Certainly a charmer, with its dark fruit, curry, herbs, truffle, and leather on the nose. Had good complexity, but nowhere near the 1989 and 1990. Not as much tension on the palate. Overall light and easy-drinking. A medium length finish, but the tannins stood out a bit. Obviously lacked the balance of the 1989 and 1990. Now is the time to drink this, as this bottle indicates it may be on its decline. – 92/100


1989 Angélus A true beauty, that showed off matured, layered aromatics and excellent balance on the palate. After a couple of hours of aeration, this wine really came together. This was the consensus favorite wine of the tasting among the 18 attendees. The nose showed lots of depth, with ripe cassis, plum, damp leather, truffle, and espresso. Powerful and dense on the palate, but didn’t quite exhibit the intensity of the 1990. The wine was equally good on the nose and the palate. Really nice freshness on the finish, which lingered with beautiful plummy and earthy notes. Tannins well-integrated. Whereas the 1990 just kept emerging during the tasting, this 1989 stayed solid and consistent throughout the evening. It never lost steam or closed down at all. This wine is in a perfect spot for drinking now. – 95/100

1990 Angélus This wine was quite interesting, as it changed considerably throughout the evening. At first, I wasn’t certain that this was a good representative of the 1990. The nose certainly took awhile to open up, but when it did, it dazzled. The nose showed off a beautiful earthiness that married well with the ripe plum and blackberry. Along with this, there was truffle, eucalyptus, anise, and tobacco. This slightly edged out the 1989 on the palate, with its elegance and incredible length. The finish left you with soft tannins and a fresh acidity that completed a seriously good tasting experience.- 96/100

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1994 Angélus A bit outmatched on this evening, this wine just lacked the interest and complexity found in stronger vintages. The nose was shy and reticent, with the fruit peeking through. One thing I love about Angélus is how well the truffle and herbs complement the fruit so well. This was not so with this vintage, as the tertiary development seems stunted. Light on its feet on the palate. Showing some age with its garnet color and lightened edges. Noticeable tannins but lacking a bit of freshness on the finish. On its own, this was a nice wine that still provides pleasure. It will just never achieve the heights of vintages such as 1989, 1990, or even 1995. – 90/100

1995 Angélus Easily one of my favorite wines of the evening. This showed off the beautiful truffled earthiness, barnyard, dark plum, cassis, cigar tobacco, and dark chocolate. Sweet on the palate, and very elegant. Soft tannins for a 1995 from Bordeaux. In fact, bottles I had from only a year ago seemed much more tight and tannic. Perhaps it’s finally starting to soften. There’s also great acidity and impressive length on the finish. I’m starting to really expect big things from this wine. – 95/100

1998 Angélus Perhaps surprisingly, the 1998 wasn’t on the same level as the 1995. The nose was quite aromatic and inviting, with plum, black cherry, soy, all-spice, and fresh flowers. It was quite an exotic and spicy nose. Quite generous on the palate, but not quite the concentration I would expect in this vintage. Very good length and nicely structured. This obviously still needs more time for everything to synthesize on the palate. Perhaps give this another 2-3 years, and hope it follows the same trajectory as the 1995. – 93/100

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2004 Angélus Drinking quite well out of the gate. Had a nice sensual smoothness and soft mouthfeel. The oak is still noticeable, but doesn’t stick out too much. Lots of cassis, blueberry, curry, leather, violets, earth, and coffee. Good complexity and concentration. At this point, it’s more interesting on the nose than the palate. Nicely textured with a smooth finish, round tannins, and medium acidity. Compared to other right bank wines from 2004, this is truly a nice effort. I expect this to reach its peak in the next 5+ years, but there’s no question that it’s good to drink now. – 92/100

2009 Angélus For a wine this young, this is really drinking quite nicely and is completely approachable. I actually expected the oak to be more dominant, but it didn’t stick out much. The fruit was big, ripe, and in the forefront. The plum and blueberry was so incredibly ripe and juicy, along with fresh herbs, violets, anise, spice, and espresso. Full-bodied, powerful, and with good tannin integration. The tannic structure is obvious, but it’s just so well-balanced. Medium level of acidity and freshness. The finish was long and full of fruit. I did detect a touch of heat as well. Overall, this young wine held its own, even in the face of a number of fully mature and charming wines. – 94/100

IMG_4001.JPG1985 Haut-Brion Blanc Deep golden color. Lots of tertiary development, with the nose showing a bit of mustiness. Lemon, some brioche, and nuttiness. Appeared somewhat oxidized on the nose. Freshness fading a bit. Was this an ideal specimen? If so, then it’s seen better days. – 90/100

2003 Haut-Brion Blanc It’s always a treat to try an Haut-Brion blanc. This 2003 was fresh and with generous fruit. On the nose, there was lemon, fresh flowers, and hazelnut. Appeared somewhat early in its evolution. Really fresh finish with bright acidity. – 93/100

IMG_40691994 Haut-Brion Light ruby color. Not terribly interesting, especially compared to the other wines in the tasting. There was a nice mix of black currant, pencil shavings, cigar box, and leather on the nose. Austere on the palate. Didn’t possess the smokiness and Graves character that I’ve found in the 1994 La Mission. Straightforward and easy to drink, I would probably drink this over the next 5 years. – 91/100

1995 Haut-Brion My favorite Haut-Brion of the tasting, this 1995 definitely showed up. Floral, leathery, smoky, and with nice minerality, this just kept improving and showing off its complexity throughout the evening. Silky textured and with excellent balance overall. Tannins were round and integrated well. Seemed to gain weight in the glass. Great balance of acidity with the fruit. This wine has definitely improved in the past couple of years, and I expect it to reach its peak in the next 5-10 years. – 94/100

1996 Haut-Brion This was definitely an off-bottle, though it wasn’t tainted. It was certainly too advanced for a 1996. The aromatics showed off cassis, earth, damp leather, and library book. It lacked overall complexity on the palate, but had a nice fresh finish. Tannins were also in check. Again, not a good representative of 1996 Haut-Brion. – 90/100

IMG_4003.JPG2003 Haut-Brion A solid performance for such a young wine. Not showing the heat of the vintage with any overripeness, this wine showing off excellent balance. The black currant was ripe and fresh, along with lots of spiciness, musk, cigar tobacco, and leather. Not a blockbuster on the palate, but nothing seemed out of place. I was impressed with the length and softness of the finish. The question with this wine will be longevity. How will it fare compared to others from 2003? My sense is that this hasn’t peaked yet, and will get better. – 93/100

2008 Haut-Brion Okay, so while this is somewhat approachable, it is way too young now and far from maturity. The fruit was incredibly ripe, with plum, blackberry, and blueberry. Other aromatic components were fresh tobacco, clove, coffee, and smoke. Oak was still apparent. Nicely structured with firm tannins. Young on the palate and very fruit-driven. Impressive length on the finish. This wine needs more time. And while you can certainly drink this now, I probably wouldn’t touch this for 8-10 years, as it will improve considerably. – 94/100

A La Mission Haut-Brion Vertical Tasting (1961-2004)

Recently we attended a fantastic Château La Mission Haut-Brion vertical tasting (at the Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale), which was another ‘can’t miss’ event. Many Bordeaux wine enthusiasts consider Château La Mission Haut-Brion to be equal to the first growths. It is certainly difficult to argue with this, considering their long track record of consistently high scores awarded by critics. But despite producing incredible wines year after year, La Mission still seems to stand in the shadow of its next-door neighbor, Château Haut-Brion (which is a first growth that actually shares the same owners as La Mission). But anyone who drinks both Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion knows that both produce great wines every year that are equivalent in quality. La Mission has produced a number of 100-point wines in the past fifty years, which includes the 1961, 1975, 1982, 1989, 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2010. On this evening, we tasted a broad range of vintages from several decades. While everything showed well, there were some standouts as well as surprises. And we were reminded yet again, “there are no great wines, only great bottles.”

IMG_32742004 Dark opaque color. A nice nose of blackberry, blueberry, cigar tobacco, oak, and vanilla. Dense and layered on the palate. Lots of structure to go along with the fruit. Give this 5-10 years. – 92/100

1998 Quite approachable for such a young wine. It’s still showing very young, and is far from maturity. There is rich, ripe fruit. The tannins are serious and firm. Give this time or a lot of aeration. – 94/100

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1990 This continues to be one of my favorite vintages from LMHB. The nose is just so fresh and exotic. There are all of the typical elements, with dark fruits, smoke, tobacco, spice, espresso, and fresh violets. Vibrant and fresh on the palate. Almost stunning balance, yet this wine still shows so young. A long finish that highlights its impressive complexity. – 96/100

1989 Easily the most disappointing wine of the night, especially considering how great this wine can be. This was clearly an off-bottle, as it was completely closed down for most of the evening. Initially, there was good fruit on the nose, but it quickly became shy and reticent. Also fell flat on the palate. This wine can be so much better than what this showed on this evening. – 92/100

1982 One of the strongest wines of the evening. The complexity on the nose was stunning, with cassis, iodine, balsamic, olive tapenade, smoke, thyme, leather, and fresh flowers. A gorgeous, pretty nose. Wrapped in layers of flavor on the palate. Excellent balance, with soft tannins. The fruit and acidity balanced very well. A long, seamless finish. – 96/100

IMG_32721981 A nose dominated by orange peel, black currant, herbs, and brown spices. There was a lack of ripeness in the fruit. Fruit was dominated by the drying effect of the tannins. This wine clearly lacked balance. – 88/100

1971 Had a very spicy nose, along with black currant, cigar tobacco, smoke, asparagus, and Provencal herbs. Hints of soy and somewhat medicinal on the palate. Still there was some charm and intrigue on the palate. Quite fresh on the palate, but with a bit of biting acidity on the finish. Very enjoyable overall. Hanging on, but likely near its end of life. -91/100

1970 The most disappointing wine of the night. Lacked complexity on the nose (though there was still some ample fruit), and was completely flat on the palate. – 86/100

1964 After the stunning 1961, a bit of a disappointment. More transparent and lighter than the 61. A bit of a metallic nose, with some cherry and earthiness, though there was some charm. Average complexity on the palate, and lacking in concentration. Tannins a little drying and high acidity. I just felt the balance was not quite there. – 89/100IMG_3271

1961 Not quite as strong as the last bottle (which was bordering on perfection), but this was drinking beautifully. Such a fragrant, open nose of blackberry and strong juniper berry notes. Lots of smoke, tobacco, and leather to accompany the fruit. Tannins soft and perfectly integrated. Elegant on the palate, with gorgeous fresh acidity. A long, vibrant finish. Not the best wine on the this evening (but the most special, given its age), but close. -96/100

 

 

A Château Montrose Evening with Hervé Berland

If there is one Bordeaux property that deserves its ‘Super Second’ status, it is Château Montrose. This renowned estate, located in the Saint-Estèphe appellation, consistently produces some of the Bordeaux’s best wines every year. It is also one of only a handful of producers in Bordeaux to earn 100 points from Robert Parker in both 2009 and 2010.  But the excellence of Montrose goes well beyond these two vintages, which is tied to its prime terroir and vast history. With this in mind, we were very pleased to attend a dinner and tasting with Hervé Berland, the Managing Director of Château Montrose, held at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak restaurant in Miami. The dinner included wines from Château Monrose, Dame de Montrose, and Château Tronquoy-Lalande (also owned by the Martin Bouygues of Montrose). The event was sponsored by Best Wine Co., a negoçiant firm that specializes in high-end Bordeaux wines.

chateau-montrose-dinner-2Mr. Berland started the evening by offering a few words about Montrose, its terroir and its history. He discussed his role as Managing Director, and why he came to Montrose in 2011. Prior to Montrose, he was the Managing Director at Château Mouton Rothschild for many years. He has certainly approached his new role with both passion and dedication. Among the topics discussed were the prime location of the gravelly terroir, atop the hill overlooking the Gironde Estuary. Of course we discussed the wines of Montrose as well. He has quite a bit of enthusiasm for the most recent vintages, especially 2016. He described the near-perfect conditions during 2016, and is very optimistic about the wines to be produced. He drew comparisons to both 2005 and 2010, two exceptional vintages at Montrose.

img_1327We also discussed the massive renovations that were recently completed at Montrose. This included the creation of perhaps the most impressive barrel cellar in Bordeaux. Having recently visited Château Montrose, I can attest to the superb design and impressive facilities throughout the property. Mr. Berland told me that they are currently renovating their vat room, switching to smaller vats so that they can vinify individual parcels from the vineyard. As successful as Montrose has been in recent years, it is commendable that they continue such massive investments in their facilities. It is this type of dedication that leads to the fantastic wines that are produced in Bordeaux today.

chateau-montrose-bottles-2Paired with dishes such as lamb chops and steak (of course), we enjoyed a number of excellent wines. First up was the 2013 Château Tronquoy-Lalande blanc, which was quite impressive. This was very popular among the attendees, and is an extremely smooth wine. We then tried the 2012 Château Tronquoy-Lalande rouge, which is a nice red Bordeaux wine for early drinking. We moved on to the 2011 Château Montrose, which showed a step-up in complexity. Having tasted a number of 2011 Bordeaux wines over the past two years, it is apparent that these wines are started to soften and become approachable. This 2011 Montrose is definitely approachable now, but will need several years to show its true potential. Mr. Berland noted that this vintage is often overlooked, due to the stellar 2009 and 2010 vintages, but that it deserves far more attention. Next we tasted the 2012 Dame de Montrose, the second wine of Château Montrose. Being more Merlot-based, this wine was soft, fruity, and quite charming. These are known as some of the best second wines in Bordeaux, and for good reason.

chateau-montrose-botles-1We then tasted the highly acclaimed 2005 Château Montrose, which I felt was the most impressive wine of the evening. Despite its obvious complexity, it is only starting to show its potential. This is a wine that will drink well for decades. We finished the evening with the 1998 and 1986 Château Montrose. The 1998 was enjoyable, but lacked some of the concentration and complexity of the 2005; however, it is ready for business, and has shown improvement since I last tasted this almost two years ago. The 1986 vintage, provided by one of the attendees of the dinner, possessed the charming aromas and flavors found in aged Bordeaux wines. But it is obvious that the 1986 vintage does not possess the sheer beauty and poise of the 1989 and 1990 vintages that soon followed it.

chateau-montrose-herve-berlandThis fantastic evening perfectly demonstrated the consistent excellence of Château Montrose. The dedication and passion of Mr. Berland should help to maintain the excellence at Montrose, and perhaps propel it to even greater heights. Perhaps this will become apparent with the most recent 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages. But as the wines of Château Montrose are known to be some of the longest lived in Bordeaux, tasting these excellent wines in their youth provides only a glimpse of what these wines will eventually become. One thing is for certain; the investments and leadership at Montrose should help them to maintain their ‘Super Second’ status for the years to come.

A Château Latour Vertical Tasting (1937 to 2003)

Attending a vertical tasting of Château Latour is a once in a lifetime experience. But we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend not one, but two Latour vertical tastings this year. This second tasting was also held by Wine Watch, and took place at 1800 East Las Olas. While the last tasting featured fantastic vintages, like 1961, 1982, and 1996, this one included 1937, 1955, and 1959. In all, there were twelve wines represented in the tasting (one being 2000 Les Forts de Latour). Most showed well, though the 1937 proved to be undrinkable (possibly due to questionable storage). The other older vintages had held up quite well, though some appeared to be tiring a bit. As expected, 1959 showed extremely well, an excellent representation of this famed vintage. The tasting started out blind, and I was able to correctly identify a number of vintages. In this case, the blind aspect of the tasting made it much more interesting; in fact, a number of tasters chose the 1960 and 1980 vintages as among their favorites. If one thing is for sure, it’s that Château Latour can make a great wine in just about any vintage.
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1937 Light amber color. If you want to know how this tasted, imagine a mixutre of acetone and sour spoiled apple juice. This wine was difficult to taste. If you want to buy a bottle of this, pay what you think the bottle is worth, not the wine that’s inside. – 70/100
1952 Lots of browning at the edges. Very advanced on both the nose and palate. The fruit appears to be fading. A bit cheesy, some red fruits, stewed prunes, wet leaves, tobacco, and leather. Tannins have essentially resolved. Acidity is showing a bit much on the finish. Still a drinkable wine, but was obviously inferior to the 1955 and 1959 on this evening. – 88/100
1955 Showing its age, but quite charming. Obviously this wine is past its peak, but it’s still quite drinkable. Dark plum, black currant, herbs, curry, barnyard, and leather. Subdued but quite elegant on the palate. Tannins have essentially resolved but there is still a nice mouthfeel and good balance on the palate. Impressive length on the finish. Good level of acidity to give this wine good freshness. – 93/100
1959 My WOTN in this Latour vertical tasting. This wine is still rocking. The tasting started out blind, and I thought this wine was much younger. Medium ruby color. Improved significantly over 2 hours, more so than any of the other wines. Black currant, cedar, tobacco, and spice. Impeccable balance; everything just seemed to blend so well together. Full mouthfeel, with silky tannins. An incredibly long, lingering finish. This wine won’t be better than it is today, but it’s a strong contender for one of the best Latours I’ve ever tasted. – 96/100
img_15611960 This is why I love starting tastings blind. A lot of people loved this wine, and we were shocked to learn it was a 1960. In truth, this seemed like a soft, elegant right bank wine from 1982. Lots of fruit – very pure, herbs, cedar, leather, and dark chocolate. Still has a nice tannic structure, but soft and silky. As I said before, very soft and elegant on the palate. A medium-plus length finish. Perhaps this was a perfect bottle, but this was an overachieving 1960, for sure. It was very un-Latour like though, but I don’t mean that negatively. – 94/100
1962 This bottle of 1962 Latour was not as strong as the last that I had almost one year ago. It still had that oxidized note. Fruit profile of prunes and black currant. Also noted Asian spices, tobacco, and green pepper. Still had some life on the palate. Structure still intact with round, soft tannins. Fell a bit short on the finish. – 92/100
1970 I don’t know what it is about the 1970 Château Latour, but it always disappoints me. Perhaps it’s because I always try this in a vertical tasting with superior vintages. But on this night, it was one of the least impressive wines. The nose has lots of ripe fruits, with black currant and cherry. Very soft mouthfeel, but a bit thin on the palate. Reserved on the mid-palate. A charming finish, with very good freshness. I would love to drink this any night of the week, but there are simply better Latours out there. – 92/100
1975 Advanced color for a 1975. Dark and red fruits, fig, sous bois, tobacco, and Asian spices on the nose. Not terribly interesting on the palate. Past its apogee. Very drinkable now, but I wouldn’t hold this for much longer. – 91/100
img_15621980 On blind tasting, this easily outclassed the 1970 and 1975. One of the surprises of the evening. An exotic nose. A bit of Brett, saddle leather, tobacco, mint, fig, and black currant. Medium bodied on the palate. Tannins have essentially resolved, but a nice solid mouthfeel. Acidity does show a bit high. Really enjoyed this wine. It stayed interesting throughout the evening. It goes to show you that Latour can really shine in some of the off-vintages. – 93/100
1989 It seems that the 1989 is really starting to show its potential. Nice garnet color. Great aromatics of dark fruits, barnyard, leather, tobacco, spice, and musk. The nose was much more open than when I tasted this wine one year ago. Good, but not great concentration. Started out a bit tannic, but this loosened up after an hour. Earlier this year, I recommended others holding this wine for another year or two, and it seems to be ready to go now. Should still drink well for a number of years. – 94/100
img_15632003 From half-bottle. A gorgeous wine, and a crowd pleaser in this vertical tasting. On blind tasting, this and the 1937 were the easiest to identify. A big wine, and very concentrated. Still a dark opaque color. Cassis, pencil shavings, graphite, cigar tobacco, and espresso. Very smooth for a 2003, and with excellent ripeness of its fruit. Excellent balance, but still a bit tannic. A wine to hold, but surprisingly, this can be enjoyed now with a lot of aeration. – 96/100
2000 Les Forts De Latour Lacks the punch and concentration of a Latour, but this is a charmer that was among the better wines of the evening. Cassis, cedar, tobacco, barnyard, and dark chocolate. Silky tannins and a smooth mouthfeel. Good length on the finish, but a hint of bitterness noted. Truth be told, I prefer the 2001 Les Forts. – 93/100

Château Gruaud Larose – 1986

GL 1986This is at its peak, or just coming off of its peak. Dark ruby color with some lightening of the edges. A mature, earthy nose with cassis, leather, old library book, mint, and forest floor. Full-bodied with great concentration. Some sweetness on the attack. A finish of great length and complexity. Firm tannins. The fruit/acid balance is perhaps favoring the acidity a bit. I would drink these over the next few years, as I think this may start to slowly decline. It’s certainly drinking in a great spot right now. A deep, intense, and powerfully aromatic Gruaud Larose. -94pts Dec 2015

GL 1986Questionable storage with this 1986  from Saint Julien. Started out a bit awkward, but after 15 minutes, noted leather, old library book, bacon, red fruit, and hint of eucalyptus. Still a bit tannic with notable acidity. After 30 minutes or so, the nose took on a bit of an off-putting swampy character. A very strange bottle indeed. Will try this again soon! Oct. 2015

A Visit with François Mitjavile of Château Tertre Rôteboeuf: Wine, Literature, and Everything in Between

When it comes down to it, wine is the product of passion. It may be ultimately created by the terroir, the soil, and the climate, but in the end, someone who loves the wine as well as the land must bring everything together to create one of the world’s ultimate expressions. Enter François Mitjavile, the proprietor of Tertre Rôteboeuf, who speaks about wine as if it runs in his bloodstream, fueling his heart. On the morning that we spent with him, we learned that he is not just a winemaker, but also a poet, a philosopher, and a scientist. To him, wine is life, and it would seem the converse might be true to him as well.
L1020585When we arrived at Tertre Rôteboeuf, Monsieur Mitjavile was quietly working at his desk. When told of our arrival, he stood up, put on his suspenders, and donned the same cardigan sweater and scarf that has become his signature. Stepping into the foyer, he greeted us warmly and immediately starting speaking about wine, literature, and everything in between. This was one of the most passionate soliloquies about wine that I have ever heard, and it was very insightful and thought provoking. It is clear that M. Mitjavile has a unique perspective on wine and winemaking, based on his many years of experience.

L1020595b IGWe then headed outside to an area overlooking the vineyards. On this day, it was overcast, cool, and a bit damp. It was here that we discussed terroir and its influence on his wines. As winemaker, he does not want to produce huge, powerful wines; rather, he describes his aim as classic, aromatic, refined, and emotional wines. He also prefers not to discuss tannins. To him, a ‘rude tannin’ is poor in flavor, and when you feel the tannins, you have not obtained the adequate flavors. He also wants to express the flavors of where the grapes are grown, and to accurately express the character of the vintage. To him, terroir is a pragmatic concept which can overcome the difficult conditions of the climate. One example at the Tertre Rôteboeuf is the humidity of its limestone plateau, which can help feed the roots if there is not enough rain.

L1020623Mitjavile likes to talk about the longevity of wine. He isn’t interested in discussing the role of tannins in the aging of Bordeaux wines; he would much rather talk about aromatic expression which creates ‘aromatic music.’ During the grape maturation, he thinks of the creation of jam and flavor. He strives for voluptuousness with lower acidity. But he notes that this is a dangerous balance; push this too far, and the wine will not age properly. He prefers producing a clearer wine, rather than one that is dark and opaque. During the aging of wine, there should be a ‘sumptuous degradation of flavors.’ He relays that his ideas are not new, but are simply classic ways of winemaking. He notes that there is no reason to reinvent history; instead, follow in the footsteps of our forefathers and add subtleties.

L1020601He loves to discuss literature, and at one point, he even guided us into his library. Something in our conversation made him think of Jim Harrison, an American author who had recently died. Jim’s stories were about family and the land, and as a wine lover, his stories bore similarities to M. Mitjavile’s. We thumbed through some books before M. Mitjavile relayed a quote from Jim Harrision: “The simple act of opening a bottle of wine has brought more happiness to the human race than all the collective governments in the history of earth.” What a fitting and beautiful message, indeed.
L1020630But our discussion for most of the visit focused on wine, much on the different vintages of Tertre Rôteboeuf. To him, a pure character vintage is one in which the terroir and climate leave their expression in the wine. A wine has a life, like a person. As the wine ages and the ‘skeleton’ becomes more prominent, the fruit in the wine takes one last ‘fire walk.’ But before then, the density of the fruit creates an ‘aromatic bomb.’ He noted being most proud of the 1985 vintage. This was before the modern winemaking techniques were instituted.

L1020619b IGHe described the 1989 vintage, with its sunny weather and later harvest, and noted that it is still opening up flavors 27 years later. The 1990 vintage, on the other hand, has lost some opulence. We discussed the 1999 vintage that still has generous flavors, despite this not being a blockbuster vintage. It was interesting hearing his thoughts on the 2006 vintage, which he described as 60 different violins playing.

L1020605b IGHe described the 2009 wine as ‘American cake,’ noting that this was a traditional vintage. And to him, the 2010 vintage can be compared to 1989, but certainly different due to more modern winemaking techniques. In the end, he finds each vintage has something fascinating and there is always something to discover. But as he says, “One person’s palate can not and should not define them all. Each person discovers wine through their own journey.” And upon leaving Tertre Rôteboeuf, our journey continued…

Château La Vieille Cure – 2004

2004 fronsac2004 Château La Vieille Cure from #Fronsac. Fronsac is an appellation just west of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol that produces a number of wines that offer great value. Very dark ruby color. A bit shy on the nose, with dark fruits, sous bois, violets, tobacco, and some pepper. Did seem to shut down a bit after some aeration. Nothing really stands out on the palate, but it does have some charm. Good concentration. Tannins still a bit drying. Low/medium acidity. Overall a good value wine ($25), as many from Fronsac are. With a bit more age, this should improve a bit as the tannins soften and the aromatics evolve. This wine is fairly easy to find right now from a number of merchants. – 90pts Mar 2016