We have been having fun expanding our wine tasting palette over the last decade and luckily got a chance to taste 2010 vintage off the barrel in the respective chateaux, writes our guest writer Meenu Kohli who, thanks to the custodian of her Winetage Investment Fund, had an opportunity on Apr 6th & 7th to complete the pilgrimage with most of the major chateaux in Bordeaux.
For us no white gets better than a good Bourgogne & no red more fulfilling than good Bordeaux. In our opinion, wine tasting is not about numbers/ scores/ stars or grades. We are not trying to rate one above the other. We have tried to explain why it is important to widen your taste palette and experience different flavours. 2010 Bordeaux vintage is not as fruity to taste as 2009 but is clearly a great classic wine in terms of balance.
We arrived late night at Relais de Margaux, a beautiful hotel with 18- hole golf course and estuary Garonne in the background. As Avis staff had disappeared the night before handing my car to me, they duly replaced with an upgraded version next day morning. We had breakfast with Charles Sichel (Maison Sichel, Chateau Palmer) discussing legalities of Fund structure and additional paperwork for sign-off.
This was followed by Lunch at the beautiful Lion d’Or at Arcins. It is a pity not to give the lunch its due time at such a restaurant. A succulent monk fish ended with fresh juicy strawberries peppered with sugar. But then we had serious priority to be at Chateau Margaux by 2 p.m.
We started the day at Chateau Margaux, the Mecca for elegance. The 2010 Margaux is feminine, very nice nose, fruity, balanced and has a long after taste. Any one who likes elegant wines will love this Margaux. ‘Quelle balance!’ (what a balance) one of other French folks echoed. Since 2009, more strict quality controls implied reduced volumes of first wine, down to 12,000 cases compared to 16,000 cases earlier. Thus leaving enough volumes to create a third wine, name still shrouded in secret, to be released next year with the bottling of 2009 vintage. The quality of 2nd wine too has been pushed up. The white Margaux was superb-fresh, fruity and sharpness with just the right balance of acidity.
This was followed by a visit to none other than Chateau Latour. What a contrast in wine making style! Having had the opportunity to meet Jean Garandeau, the marketing director several times over last two years and having tasted more mature Latours, we found this as a completely different beast. For people who like wines that fill their mouth with heavy structure & masculine nature, this is it! Starting with their third wine Pauillac which was a bit harsh at end, medium fruit but understanding the price point, it’s worth it. Les Fort de Latour 2010 has both acidity & fruit which is quite visible, which will hopefully get rounded as the wine matures. Latour the Grandvin, with dark deep purple colour and technical levels of alcohol not visible at all in the taste was very fruity with rounded tannins, a monster. Flowery nose ‘impeccable’.
We drove down to Saint Julien, passing by Lilian Barton, a strategic advisor of the Fund where she proudly displayed her 2010 along with 2009 production. Excellent deep wine as usual. The hard work that she & her team have been doing at Langoa- Barton is visible. The quality is moving up to catch up with the elder brother Leoville Barton. Both wines are a steal when it gets to quality for value. Excellent balance covered with tannins imply some wait time, but clearly will be worth it.
Then it was Ducru Beaucaillou, a producer where we had to find parking amidst a caravan of Chinese visitors. Oh my god, what an entrance, clearly the marketing background of Bruno Borie comes out loud and clear. Guided by neon signs and a pathway lit by candles we came into the tasting room which was set up beautifully. Starting with Lalande Borie, medium bodied, a bit harsh attack on palette; followed by Croix de Beaucaillou which has nice body, alcohol showing on the nose & taste and ending with Ducru Beaucaillou.... colour was deeper, freshness is evident on palette, nose a bit closed, good body and reasonable after taste.
We ended the tastings for the day at Leoville Las Cases where Bruno Rolland and his ancestors have been providing excellent guidance over last 3 generations. Amazing humility for a man of his talent, so passionate about the vineyard and deep knowledge, an absolute honor to interact with him. We had a full monty here tasting Fugue des Nenin (Pomerol), Nenin (Pomerol), Chapelle de Potensac (Medoc), Potensac (Medoc), Clos de Marquis (Saint Julien), Grand vin de Leoville (Saint Julien). We found the Pomerols a bit difficult to taste, reflecting the difference between right bank & left bank in this vintage. But then you get to the Grand vin and its amazing fruit & balance without a hint of technical alcohol but not as voluptuous as some other top growths that we had tasted, the after taste leaves you longing for more.
We were running late for the Dinner hosted by Commanderie du Bontemps, where Council of Sauternes, Barsac, Medoc & Graves hosts around 600 guests from all over the world for some fabulous wines. such as Palmer 1998, Angludet 1989, Rieussec 2005 that were served on our table. We had interesting discussions with Dutch traders on my right and Chinese traders on the left. A late dinner pushed the sleep time to beyond midnight.
Run-Run-Run, we were late for Chateau Montrose the next day, so we decided to go there at end of the day. We were off to Cos D’Estournel. First time here after Cos has refurbished its cellars. Someone told us that the entrance and interiors were done in India as we can make out from folk designs carved on the massive doors and beautiful stone elephants at entrance. We started with Goulee, hmmm acidic attack & alcohol on the nose supported by medium fruit. Pagode de Cos was next - with good balance of alcohol & fruit, medium body with a nose of fresh acidity and a hint of alcohol. Cos D’Estournel was just perfect, soft, smooth, quite rounded tannins already, fruit & alcohol in perfect harmony but lacked intensity, technically speaking - too perfect a wine? Maybe more technical.
Followed by our visit to Montrose, where we were greeted by very friendly typically Bordeaux humble staff. We started with Tronquoy de Saint-Anne. There was alcohol on the nose, tannic, low fruit, not my kind of wine. Tronquoy Lalande had a good balance & fruity smell, not muscular enough. Dame de Montrose was elegant, medium bodied, tannins rounded but alcohol not visible. Montrose, very fruity good balance but abrupt end which lead to an anti-climax on the palette.
And then we visited the pair of world famous vineyards Mouton Rothschild & Lafite Rothschild. Adjoining parcels of land. Interesting fact that owner of Mouton is a Capricorn and hence all furniture et al resembles the sign of Capricorn (the Ram) including the lights. ‘Mouton’ means a ‘little hill’ which is where the vines are located. If on a scale of masculine to feminine nature of wines, Latour is on one side & Margaux on the other. Mouton this time is somewhere in the middle skewed towards Margaux.
We started with Petit Mouton, impressive nose of fruit. medium body and good balance. Amongst the second wines, my favourite. Followed by d’Armailhac, a value for money wine, sharp freshness with fruit, overt tannins, which will take some time to reach its drinking window. Clerc Milon was astounding, deep colour and good body filled with well rounded tannins supporting the balance of fruit and acidity. The grand wine Mouton Rothschild is nothing but fruit, fruit, fruit from nose to taste... all is fabulous and well balanced, easy to drink wine. Alcohol that i saw on technical sheet was just not visible to my nose or taste buds, very well integrated.
And then off we were to Chateau Lafite Rothschild where we were presented with Carruades, Duhart Milon and Lafite. We spoke at length to Charles Chevalier the wine maker, who explained how the style of wine is something that stays constant over centuries at each chateaux, how even if he would be making wine at another Chateau may change a bit but within two years it would get back to the ‘file rouge’ or the consistency of style that defines the core of the chateaux. We started with Carruades, full bodied, bright purple, fruit evident on the nose along with freshness. Next was Duhart Milon, clearly this wine is being handled with more seriousness than ever before. Reminded me of Petit Mouton at Mouton Rothschild, lovely after- taste. and the climax to the trip was Lafite, elegant with measured finesse, I felt that nose was a bit closed or perhaps I was already tired. Brilliant balance and nice finish with full body, a bit on feminine side. A great wine as always.
With all the talking at the Chateaux and not wanting to leave Bordeaux, we did end up missing our train. But it was a great wine experience without the ratings et al. Though it makes the job easier in selecting high end wines, finally it’s your palette that needs to be pleased. Having spent our lives around ‘garam masala’ to ‘chunky chat masala’ the journey to search the right wine should be an exciting endeavour. As I always say, wine-tasting is as quantitative as Science and as subjective as Art...because taste lies in the palette of the beholder.
Ms. Meenu Kohli is the Director of Paris-based Winetage Investment Fund and usually travels to Bordeaux for Em Primeur tastings every year.