Wine Talk

Snooth User: panoskakaviatos

Long notes from Vinexpo... mostly Bordeaux

Posted by panoskakaviatos, Sep 12, 2011.

Greetings all,

I have just returned from Shanghai, where I was invited to be a judge at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge. Actually, I was called in for a judge who could not make it... But it was a thrilling experience, which you can read about on my website, with plenty of pics.

In the meantime, I have had time to reflect on my time that seems oh so long ago in Bordeaux during Vinexpo. I plan a return later this month in any case. And before I get to which wines seemed particularly delicious, let me say - yet again - that it is too bad about the pricing... C'est le marché indeed. Just back from China, with the 50% tax rate on the mainland, and the margins to be made, it is not unheard of to see a Haut Medoc for some 2,000 Yuan, over $200 easy. OK, at luxury locations, like the Roosevelt, which boasts the biggest cellar, I saw a decent Pomerol, Chateau Bonalgue, for about $300 a bottle. Insane, eh? But if it sells, it sells, right? Grab those underrated Burgs before the Chinese discover them, I say...

Back to Bordeaux and on to Montrose

OK, that was my pricing rant. I am now listening to various songs by Al Stewart, a Bordeaux fan, and am pondering easily why the hell I still like Bordeaux so much. Could it be the great performance of Chateau Montrose 2008, which I tasted perchance at a St Estephe tasting at Vinexpo? Tasted alongside the 2000, it was better. Today. But the 2000 was somewhat muddled and closed. Another taster called it unbalanced, but "Come on now!" I exclaimed... Surely it is closed. I hope so. I hope he is wrong. I have six bottles. The 2008 is still in a baby stage, approachable. No sign of Montrose brett either. And when I visited the chateau, the 2009 was just superb.

No press wine needed, the free run was already concentrated enough, remarked cellar master Laurent Savovitch-Vuk. He thinks it is more balanced than the somewhat comparable 2003, a wine which I had also purchased (the more torrid 2003 vintage did well in the colder soils of the northern Medoc). At 13.7 alcohol, quite high, but not touching 14… A respectable pH of 3.4, so fine balancing acidity, and it tastes that way, revealing licorice and mineral aspects with a certain softness for a St Estephe, it has actually toned itself down since the barrel tasting last year. What I like most is the freshness that this wine exudes. The palate is opulent, with a rounded mid palate, but very tannic and foreboding on the finish, which is not drying. “Rather perfect,” Laurent allowed. I am inclined to agree and so on the 100 point scale, let's give it a nice range of 94 to 97. Although the 2010 was also impressive, it does not seem to have the good nature of the 2009. It is more austere, more towering. Then again, I recall that the 2009 was also like that one year ago, but not quite as much. Another example of a 2009 being more user friendly than a 2010...


Although I did not taste Grand Puy Lacoste 2009 again, which I recall enjoying en primeur, the 2010 is very good indeed. It displays cherry notes and something vivacious on the nose, followed through on the fresh palate, that manages opulence and elegance and verve. In short, the very high amount of Cabernet here – 83% – has reached optimal maturity and shows us, yet again, why the left bank can profit from the hot, dry weather. Cabernet is hard to over-ripen, as opposed to Merlot.

And if that is not enough, one can find much pleasure with the second wine, Lacoste-Borie 2010, which is also crisp and fresh on the attack, with a rather floral aspect overall. One of the best second wines in 2010. GPL easily gets 92-95+ points if we must give out points, while Lacoste-Borie gets 91-93. It really is that good a second wine.

We also tried the 2008 vintage, and GPL 2008 shines here, too, although not as brilliantly as it does in 2010. Some 2008s are really worth the money and GPL can join the ranks of wines like Pichon Baron and Comtesse in Pauillac, where the wine costs far less than in star vintages like 2009 or 2010 or 2005 for that matter… and yet you get a fine wine.

Lilian who?

But I also tasted some lesser known chateaux that, under new ownership, seem to be making a fine comeback. Take Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2010. I recall buying this wine in several older vintages in French supermarkets, always unhappy with what was in glass. Here we have a 60% Cab and 40% Merlot mix reaching 14% alcohol but with good balancing acidity at 3.7 grams per liter. The fresh nose precedes a somewhat tight but sap filled palate, displaying moderate finesse as well. This is a far cry from the mediocre wines that had been made here before. 90-92

Older vintages, lunches and dinners

The best thing about Vinexpo was the chance to taste some great older vintages at various dinners and lunches, reminding me once again how well Bordeaux wines can age.

Over a lunch for example in Bordeaux, I enjoyed Canon La Gaffeliere Saint Emilion 2000 from magnum: Very elegant and flavorful too. Richness and roundness. Utterly delicious. A Branaire Ducru 1990 was very fresh and rich at the same time, displaying Cabernet elegance. And then came a pleasant surprise, Smith Haut Lafitte 1985 (white): Some bottle variation but although there was slight nut notes even on the better bottle, the wine was crisp and full of verve. Freshness on the palate, and it went very well with the blanquette de veau.

At Domaine de Chevalier

One of the best events was The Tour de France for wines started 24 years ago at Domaine de Chevalier with 88 people attending, owner Olivier Bernard announced, just before calling all to the seated part of the dinner. This year? We were some 500 guests. After the utter enjoyment of superb ham, grilled shrimp and oysters on the half shell I could not stop eating, among other fine foods and wines, we literally swarmed to grab a table because – unlike all the other dinners with assigned seats – this dinner was based on taking your own seat and grabbing your own wines. But the choices were fantastic, including an utterly delicious Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2008, which I drank with the oysters. Or the Alphonse Mellot Domaine de la Moussiere Sancerre Blanc Satellite 2008 from magnum. Other whites that impressed me included the Paul Jaboulet Hermitage Le Chevalier de Sterimberg 2009 from magnum, a beautiful palate, not really waxy or lanolin, but in that direction. And certainly thirst quenching! Its somewhat thicker texture matched the shrimp perfectly, for example.

And although many other wines there were great, including an excellent red Domaine de Chevalier 2000, the wine that stole my heart was Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 1999. What can I say? While waiting for yet another bottle to be opened, I sipped the regular vintage 2000 (which I own) and realized just how good the Winston is. Creamy yet focused, vinous yet precise. This wine, and the oyster bar, were perhaps the two main gustatory highlights of the evening!

Premier Grand Crus Classés dinner at Clos Fourtet

Every Vinexpo, the premiers throw a bash. Many wines. Some that stood out for me included Magdelaine 1995. Lo and behold. Land Ahoy! Here is the wine that perhaps pleased me most over the dinner. I asked for more. A wine to drink, a wine of pleasure, mixing appropriate acidity (not sharp in any way) with fine richness. Its fresh and just evolved enough flavors matched the mushroom ensemble perfectly: a “textbook St Emilion” that does not overwhelm you with oomph, but pleases you with subtle nuance. Still, the wine of the evening was likely Cheval Blanc 2000. What incredible youth and freshness on the nose and on the palate. I wrote “far too young” on my notepad… A very fresh Cabernet Franc aspect, but quite juicy on the palate – so much so, that I kept wanting to drink more. And I walked over to the kind chateau director Pierre Lurton to point out jovially that my generous serving in glass costs more than my tuxedo.

Press dinner at Chateau Haut Brion

At the Haut Brion press dinner, we enjoyed a fine old school Haut Brion 1975. I liked the tobacco aspect on the nose – very Graves indeed – but it seemed to have increased its overall rustic aspect, since I had last tried it six years ago. The 1975 vintage is often overrated because it followed three very poor vintages in 1972, 1973 and 1974. So when a decent vintage finally came around, people seemed to praise it to high heaven. As John Kolasa of Chateau Rauzan Segla remarked at my table, it was probably better on the Right Bank. Still, the wine was fine. It had a mature Graves like flavor, but the edgy tannins seemed to dominate. Speaking of Rauzan Segla, we enjoyed the 1986 very much: here we have a very impressive nose that is not quite followed through on the palate, but I really liked the cedar freshness with just a hint of truffle on the nose. The palate started brightly, with a fulsome mid palate, but the finish was marked by somewhat edgy tannins. I recall enjoying the 1983 a couple of years ago, and it seemed to be the smoother wine. But overall, very fine.

Mouton Rothschild 1989. I had recently written an article on director Philippe Dhalluin for France Today, and yet again, he shows how humble and down to earth he is. After dinner, we discussed this wine, and I told him that I liked its intensity, as it certainly featured breed in the echoes of flavor that one enjoyed. I caught an initial whiff of musk but that blew away and I then enjoyed a chocolate aspect on the aroma, but most of all, depth and richness on the palate. I told Philippe that it perhaps lacked some finesse on the finish, and what was his reply? ‘I would be more critical than you, because I feel that the dry heat of the vintage led to some stress and incomplete ripeness with some slight green aspects.’ We agreed that those green aspects were not raw green pepper, but perhaps roasted pepper … but I stressed that I thought it added some complexity to the wine’s overall richness. And he said, ‘I hope that I can achieve this level of wine while I am at Mouton.’ Having tasted the wines Philippe has managed, all I can say is that he will surpass that level.

The dinner at Haut Brion ended with Yquem 1990. The color is quite evolved and this shows me again that a vintage like 1988 is superior to 1990, at least for my taste. But let us not quibble: this is a great bottle of Sauternes. Or, at least the second bottle was great. A French journalist at our table whose name escapes me now noted that the first bottle was a bit oxidized so we had it replaced with a second bottle… which exuded white peach and apricot aromas and flavors in a very deep manner. The wine was both richly juicy and fresh, with a very long finish. I just remember that the 1988, which I had enjoyed a few years back, seemed less evidently viscous, more elegant.

A fine vertical at Chateau Soutard

At a truly fun dinner at Chateau Soutard, Among the wines tasted: Chateau Soutard 1990 and 2000, and a mystery bottle which I thought was 1975 and turned out to be 1964, and perhaps the best bottle of the evening, still youthfully vibrant. Indeed, the 1964 was full of energy and substance. I have not had many 64s, but recall also enjoying a superb Lafon Rochet from St Estephe because they picked before the rains. It seems that the early ripening Merlot was the favored grape in that vintage, so it makes sense that Soutard was so good. I was a tad underwhelmed by both the 1990 and 1989. Even though they were served from magnum bottles, they seemed more tired than either the lovely 2000 (from a normal bottle) or especially the even more impressive 1995! If you find a good price on the 1995, do not hesitate. Wait, I think I will get my butt on now...

Lunch at Cheval Blanc

At a lunch to celebrate the opening of a new cellar at Chateau Cheval Blanc, the wine highlight was a double magnum of Cheval Blanc 1990, served with tender filets of milk-bred veal. The nose exuded fresh cedar-like mint, the palate also echoed the truffles in the mashed potato and truffle (which was too quickly consumed, it was so delicious). Excellent depth on the aromas and flavors from this wine. The texture was alluring. Long finish. 96 points. How does that sound? More of this wine was served with the cheeses, and it matched best the aged comté, although I am not sure how old the cheese was aged. In any case, its subtle flavors were also a good match for the breed of this fine white horse.

Vertical at Haut Bailly

And at a vertical tasting followed by dinner at Chateau Haut Bailly, I was emotionally struck by the 2005: The nose here is lovely, pure and focused. It exudes red and dark cherry, cassis and hints of cedar. The attack is brisk and I love the sap filled mid palate. The texture is raw at this stage, tannic presence but such excellent tannin, never drying, but, again, raw for now. This is an exceptional wine, aptly described by the owners as “legendary”; I think it has a better balance than the 2009… would like to see how it evolves in comparison to the 2010, because 2010 and 2005 are similar to me. The major difference? You can still get 2005 for under $90 per bottle, in bottle. The 2010 costs about $150. An easy choice… 96, potentially higher score

But attention! For even less money (do I sound like a car salesman?) you can get a mighty fine 2004. What have we here? For current drinking, could this have been my favorite of the entire vertical (2010-2001)? The nose is charming, pretty, lovely… all positive, with aspects of fresh tobacco and cedar and red fruit. I recall buying this for the Chanticleer Restaurant on Nantucket back in 2007 and it was too tannic on the palate back then, so we did not serve it. I am sure that the restaurant has sold through it by now, as its drinking window has opened and we bought it at a very competitive price. It exhibits subtle chocolate notes on the smooth palate, where the tannins are melting. Still a bit raw on the finish, still perhaps (too) young on the finish, but getting there. Lovely indeed. I think I will buy a few more bottles while it stays less expensive. 94

My complete Vinexpo notes and photos:

Best regards from Alsace, where the harvest is well underway...


Reply by dmcker, Sep 13, 2011.
Edited Sep 13, 2011

Great notes. Thanks, panoskakaviatos. Definitely color me envious. And you'll note in another thread I started a little while back that I know where you're coming from with your Chinese bottle-pricing rant....

Reply by ScottLauraH, Sep 13, 2011.

Thank you for sharing your experience and your notes with us.  I echo dmcker... I'm also quite envious!

Reply by panoskakaviatos, Sep 14, 2011.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Reply by dmcker, Sep 14, 2011.

Here's the link to that other thread. Would be interested in your take on the subject, Panos.

Also would be curious about anything further you have to say about Domaine de Chevalier. I have a weak spot for them, and a couple of their neighbors.

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