Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's still early in my Bordeaux journey . . .

I’m yet to drink a lot of top Bordeaux, namely because on any regular basis I can’t afford it. While a one off splurge of $200-$300 for a bottle of wine might be fine, doing it on any regular basis or buying half a case of something is not really a sane amount of money for me to be spending, especially if I want to buy wines from other wine regions as well.

In spite of this, I have always wanted to drink more top Bordeaux, and this year through a number of different opportunities and tastings, I’ve drunk far more fantastic Bordeaux than ever. A few First Growths, in Latour and Mouton Rothschild, and a number Second Growths like Rauzan Segla and Montrose, and some right bank stars like Chateau Vieux Certain, have all been in the mix. Below is a collection of thoughts and notes from some of these different tastings

- High acidity – while I’d read about it, and experienced it to some extent previously, I’ve nevertheless loved the high levels of natural acidity in Bordeaux wines I’ve tried of late. Some 15 year old Bordeaux that i tried greatly impressed me with an acidity that was still very prominent (in a positive way). While the ageworthiness of Bordeaux is legendary, it has been nice to actually experience the acidity upon which this is based. As impressive and ageworthy as many Australian Cabernets from places like the Margaret River and the Coonawarra are, it is perhaps more evident to me now than it has been previously why the very best Bordeaux goes that extra mile.

- Savoury profile – with Australian wine the prominence of fruit is almost never in doubt. What is in question, and what sorts the wheat from the chaff, is whether there is a savoury complexity to compliment that naturally powerful fruit. With Bordeaux it more or less seems to be the opposite. A savoury flavour profile is almost a given, with classic tobacco, cigar box, and pencil flavours very much the norm. What is more variable is the generosity of fruit. For me the better Bordeaux are predominantly savoury but nevertheless have beautiful fruit in tow.

- 2009 vs 2010 – 2009 has been lauded by a number of prominent Bordeaux critics, including Parker and Suckling, as near enough to the finest vintage of their lifetimes. The 2010 vintage has also gained plenty of praise as a wonderful vintage, but at this early stage seems to be playing second fiddle to 09 in terms of reputation. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting where I was able to try a number of right bank wines from both vintages. The two highlights of the tasting were the 09 and 10 of the Chateau Vieux Certan from Pomerol and Chateau Pavie Macquin from Saint Emilion. For me the ‘10s were actually the better wines. Both vintages looked very impressive, with the 09’s quite rich and powerful. The 10’s however looked fresher and more balanced. In particular the 2010 Chateau Pavie Macquin looked stunning. It’s admittedly a very small sample to be drawing conclusions about these respective vintages, though they would seem to align with descriptions that I’ve read, with 2010 being considered by many to be a more classic vintage than the riper 2009.

Some tasting notes on some aged Bordeaux

1996 Chateau Montrose – Saint Estephe (65% Cab Sav, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) - this is a wine that feels fully integrated, but is still very primary, and has many years in front of it. It has a beautiful, floral nose along with some amazing exotic spices. To drink it is a bit of “wow” wine, with beautiful cassis fruit, fantastic drive through the mid-palate, and impressive length. Some lovely secondary notes of sweet leather indicate where this wine is heading.

1996 Chateau Rauzan Segla – Margaux (54% Cab Sav, 41% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Cab Franc) - A beautifully balanced wine. It’s a touch less expressive and powerful than the Montrose, but no less impressive. Great tannins. Lovely tobacco notes linger on a long finish.

1996 Chateau Haut Batailley – Pauillac (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) - At 15 years of age this wine has a wonderful intensity of primary fruit that just puts a smile on your face. Not without a sense of elegance and restraint this is nevertheless a rich and tannic Bordeaux. Leather and cigar box adding beautiful savoury complexity. Many years ahead of it.

As discussed at the beginning of this post, cost is the only issue with these wines, however, I have seen enough, particularly in the past year or so, to know I should be making the occasional strategic splurge with these most ageworthy of wines.



Anonymous said...

Good man.I'd add a couple of things 1) it's the nature and quality of tannin that makes the biggest difference for me (not least the quality of the oak). You get a bit of that quality tannin in MR too, though to a lesser extent. 2) I don't note high acidity. It seems lower and much less forced than local wines (that are often adjusted too much). GW

Red said...

GW, I agree that the acidity is natural and unforced, and compares favourably with some local wines with forced/added acid. My point I guess is that there is beautiful (and noticeable) acidity on 15 year old Bordeaux that I found very impressive, particularly within the context of aging.
Beautiful tannins indeed.

Brown said...

You have used the term 'savoury complexity' in a post- now your journey to wine wankerism is complete.

PS- the BDX wines we tasted this year were indeed superb (regardless of how you describe the wines). Wish they approached the price they are in France (or even the US).

Red said...

"Savoury" and "complexity" are to me pretty unwanky descriptors in the scheme of things. Combining the two not really a stretch either.

Nevertheless very happy to be a full member of the wine wankers club

Brown said...

It goes ways beyond a simple analysis of the words and more a badge of honour for the anti-flavour elite :-) what next- will you mark down a fruity Shiraz for having too much oak? You have changed Red, changed......

Red said...

And so the schism began . . . Red's maniacal descent into the clutches of the anti flavour elite was matched only by Brown's retreat into WineWithoutBS reductionism . . . Woe betide them

Brown said...

Woe betide them indeed...need not be a choice between the two. I am yet to work out who exactly are the 'Anti Flavor (flavour) elite, and may need to pay $30,000 to find out.

PS - though in true Benjamin from Animal Farm fashion, I like to take the mid point on this issue, there is plenty of reductionism and second-guessing on the non 'winewithoutBS' side of the fence as well. The irony of being a wine wanker (though I would suggest wine snob is more accurate, though I would have to post an article on the topic to elaborate).

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