Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A Look at the 2006 Clarets

A recent tasting in London drew me like a magnet: some 100 samples of 2006 clarets presented by the Institute of Masters of Wine. What soon became clear is that 2006 is not dissimilar to 1996 and 1976: dark, tannic wines likely to stay closed up for a decade or two before opening up and evolving for many years thereafter.

 

In the previous vintage, 2005, conditions were ideal, allowing all but the benighted to fashion superb wines, with nature requiring only minimal help. But only the most skilled and dedicated brought off first-rate results in 2006. They also needed to have (and usually did, being bright) vineyards blessed with perfect exposure, good drainage, and vines of venerable age. The deep roots of the latter siphon off excess water while also giving lower, more concentrated yields of superior juice of pronounced minerality.

 

 

PESSAC LEOGNAN

 

2006 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ***(*)
The aroma of blackberry, pine, and cocoa is broad and smooth, the archetypical Chevalier flavour (this is a property with its own unique personality) is long, nuanced, and has good grip. A wine of real integrity, with lovely tannins. It will take a good decade to open up and will then develop serenely for another 15-18+.


2006 CHATEAU HAUT BAILLY ***
The colour, intensified by new oak, is deep, the vinous aroma conjures up damson jam and black cherry: a globe of luscious black fruits with real centre. Plump but structured on the palate, it has a long finish without astringency. The Merlot grape can be picked out within the round, earthy aftertaste. Haut Bailly has often been described as the Pomerol of Graves: this ’06 makes you see why. Best 2018-35.


2006 CHATEAU LA MISSION HAUT BRION ****
This is not as dark as some because they’ve avoided over-extraction. The lovely aroma seems a bit soft at first but quickly firms up – as one expects of this property. Black cherry, peony, and strawberry deliver a rich, faintly exotic flavour with plenty of style and verve. Increasingly full and weighty, with a fresh ripe-cherry acidity on the very finish, it should fill out more and more as it ages over the coming 30-35 years.

 

2006 MALARTIC LAGRAVIERE ***(*)
Another dark, vinous nose with typical Graves density and structure, with blackberry jam to the fore. Further sniffs evoke brown sugar, coffee, and molasses (superripe Merlot). The flavour is closed, but not so closed you could possibly miss its classic balance, and the aftertaste is smooth yet grainy. A fine wine, without artifice, that will open up steadily over the coming 25 years.

 

2006 CHATEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE ***
A vivid black-purple, this has a faintly sweaty aroma with intense sub-scents of raspberry and black cherry. The full, dense flavour has real authority but the aftertaste leaves a faintly powdery, almost cosmetic impression – like after you’ve kissed the cheek of a rouged-up old aunt ! This is undoubtedly a passing phase and such transitory flavours will fade, allowing the wine’s innate excellence to declare itself.

 

Of other Pessac-Léognans, châteaux BOUSCAUT and BROWN were attractive if unexceptional while CHATEAU CHANTEGRIVE (which used to be called Clos Chantegrive) was initially agreeable but was flawed by a bitter aftertaste.

 

 

HAUT MEDOC

 

2006 CHATEAU LA LAGUNE ***
A Médoc that’s really a Graves in constitution. The homogeneous aroma of black fruits has a core of ripe sweetness and the dense, chocolaty flavour has a firm finish, which augurs well for future development. A wine for the mid-term: 2018 -30.

 

Châteaux CAMENSAC and CANTEMERLE are decent wines that will drink well over the coming decade or two. The latter in particular has made considerable progress in recent years – the fruit of reduced yields and improved viticulture.

 

 

MARGAUX


2006 CHATEAU BRANE CANTENAC ***
The colour is of medium intensity while the flowery, graceful aroma shows true Margaux character, suggesting cherry, peony, ripe plum. The elegant flavour is longish and comes in waves, with the sort of fresh acidity you get in a ripe black cherry. The refined, savoury finish has a natural harmony that will allow the wine to be drunk in only seven years or so, though it will of course go on for much longer. A decent wine if not of Second Growth quality.

 

2006 CHATEAU GISCOURS ***(*)
The excellent aroma jumps out of the glass, evoking crème de mûre and damson. It’s the kind of integrated aroma, of real depth, that comes from reduced yields and old vines. The sweetness of ripe grapes shows on the dense, smooth flavour, and there’s an impression of fine clay on the protracted finish. A seamless wine, to drink around 2018-33. Giscours has come a long way in recent years, and a tendency to over-oak can no longer be felt.

 

2006 CHATEAU D’ISSAN **
Toasty new oak is much more in evidence here, giving a shoe-polish accent to an aroma which otherwise shows ample fruit. The flavour, more like that of a Graves than a Margaux, is full and earthy and very closed up. If it assimilates the oakiness, it should be a fairly comely teenager in 13-15 years or so.

 

2006 CHATEAU LASCOMBES
The New World approach here gives wines that taste more Californian than Médocain. Judged on its own merits, it is dark, solid, and full of black cherry fruit and has a longish, powerful finish whose smokiness derives from toasty oak. Well-built in its way, it will last a good 20 years and would make a good accompaniment to game when ready.

 

2006 CHATEAU MARQUIS DE TERME **
Flowery and elegant, with a sweet and fresh flavour, this is quite a workmanlike effort from an estate whose wines were invariably lustreless in the past.

 

2006 CHATEAU PRIEURE LICHINE **
The aroma of black fruits promises plenty of stuffing, and the suggestion of molasses probably comes from extremely ripe Merlot grapes. The flavour has lots of vigour, though on the simple side, and the finish is a bit heavy, with a sooty “fareweIl”.

 

2006 CHATEAU PALMER ****
This has a lovely aroma, velvety and glyceriny, of black fruits, pomegranate, and fig. Coffee shows too. Though buoyant, there’s also a sense of depth and weight. The superb flavour is round, smooth, and long, with innumerable nuances on the finish. The slight oakiness will vanish in due course. So balanced it can be enjoyed in only 8 or so years, it will anyway improve for a further 15-20.

 

2006 CHATEAU RAUZAN SEGLA ****
They could have made a black wine but the limpidity of the colour shows that they’ve deliberately avoided over-extraction. The excellent aroma of berries, black fruits, and carnation shows restraint but promises ample body, thickness of texture; a sensuous sweetness probably derives from vines in Cantenac. The flavour is full and fleshy, yet taut, with hints of pomegranate and fig on the aftertaste, which is exceedingly well balanced. All of a piece, this is a lovely Rauzan Ségla which will improve for 30 years or so.

 

 

SAINT JULIEN

 

2006 CHATEAU BEYCHEVELLE ***
The very first sniff tells you you’re in a different commune: less flowery, more fruity, with a tensile strength more like that of Pauillac. The polished, fresh scent of black fruits and smoke leads into a rich, vital flavour that’s concentrated and has rigour. The damsony aftertaste is balanced and the ideal acidity perfectly counterbalances the ripe tannins. A 25-year wine.

 

2006 CHATEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU ***
Damson to the fore again on an intense, focused nose which also incorporates caramel and dark chocolate. These elements are augmented on the palate by truffle, smoke, and black treacle (Merlot). The long aftertaste is earthy, with a gritty texture, a stony imprint. At best 2020-30.

 

2006 CHATEAU GRUAUD LAROSE ***
Like Lynch Bages in Pauillac, Gruaud Larose is perhaps its commune’s most sensuous wine (how much this is due to wine-making and how much to terroir is a moot point!). True to form, it exhales luscious ripe fruit and the flavour is packed with substance. There’s structure, too, and the elegantly earthy aftertaste shows buoyancy as well as rigour. Will be in its prime in 20-30 years – though doubtless approachable much sooner.

 

2006 CHATEAU LAGRANGE ***
This briary wine is fresh and elegant on the nose, balanced and fruity on the palate. Blackberry dominates on the delicious flavour, and the grainy texture makes me think, fleetingly, of Beychevelle. A well-crafted wine to be put aside for 8-10 years and enjoyed over the following dozen or more.

 

2006 CHATEAU LANGOA BARTON ***
You can smell the vineyard’s fine clay on the fruity nose, which is broad and balanced in a very Saint Julien way. Black fruits are to the fore, with a hint of graphite (probably the Cabernet-Franc). I enjoy this unflamboyant but stylish wine, with its medium-bodied, elegant aftertaste. Best around 2020-35.

 

2006 CHATEAU LEOVILLE BARTON ****
This is dark and shows exceptional aromatic precision. Raspberry mingles with black fruits on the nose, with a burgeoning scent of bilberry. Its classic Saint Julien aroma, beautifully put together, both expressive and disciplined. The delicious flavour is dense, with many layers, as if mirroring the different strata of the subsoil. The fruit is luscious and structured, the finish marked by the stony terroir. The restrained aftertaste is long and full of rigour. Should blossom in about 10-12 years and evolve for a further 20 or so.

 

2006 CHATEAU LEOVILLE POYFERRE ***
A shade darker – thanks to toasty oak – and the big, assertive nose evokes damson, blackberry jam, and molasses (very ripe Merlot grapes). A hint of shoe-polish is a side-effect of the oak. The weighty flavour is positively meaty (Bovril), with plenty of power. More reminiscent of a Saint Estèphe than a Saint Julien, it is not over-extracted but is a little over-oaked. A 30-year wine with less finesse than its peers.

 

2006 CHATEAU SAINT PIERRE **(*)
A dense, superripe wine with a hint of peony on a briary nose full of lush fruit. The flavour is long and tannic but not especially complex, the finish stony and earthy. A sound, full-bodied wine that will last a good 30 years.

 

2006 CHATEAU TALBOT **
The locals say of Talbot il Talbotte – “Talbot is Talbot”. Whatever the regime, a distinctly gamy quality, like well-hung hare, always seems to mark the aroma, which also shows notes of truffle and cinnamon. The flavour in this vintage is compact and flavoursome if a little bitter. You could easily take Talbot for a Saint-Estèphe rather than a Saint Julien. 2018-38.

 

 

PAUILLAC

 

2006 CHATEAU BATAILLEY ***
The fruity, decisive aroma of red fruits and red rose is all of a piece, with the Merlot currently in the ascendant (this will change in time). The cherry and damson flavour is fresh and dynamic and there’s a hint of Iiquorice on the sustained finish. The ample charm should not obscure the wine’s not inconsiderable depth. Will keep well. The quality of Batailley has been transformed in recent years.

 

2006 CHATEAU CLERC MILON ***
The blackish, typically Pauillac ”’robe” is matched by an intense, clean-cut Pauillac aroma of ripe black fruits and red rose. This expressive wine, all of a piece and in the Mouton mode, has a delicious plummy flavour with a touch of fig on the long finish. The Merlot dominates initially but the denser, more sinewy Cabernet-Sauvignon soon asserts itself, bringing a whiff of truffle which will grow more pronounced as the wine ages. 2018-33.

 

2006 CHATEAU D’ARMAILHAC ***
This is still more Pauillac (and Mouton-like) than the C.M., with a big brooding aroma of black cherry, smoke, and graphite. A really voluminous aroma. Tasting of black cherry and truffle, it’s full and chewy and ripely sweet on the finish, which is long and balanced. Best around 2020-40.

 

2006 CHATEAU DUHART MILON ***(*) .
Another typical Pauillac but in the more classic, restrained style of the Lafite stable. It has a graceful aroma of black cherry and damson that exhibits an unforced concentration of super-selected fruit. The classic Pauillac flavour, very Cabernet, is beautifully poised, the tannins showing firmness but no aggressivity. A Fourth Growth with the authority of a Second. Will improve for at least 30 years. A total absence of flamboyance means that Duhart Milon is still underestimated and the great improvements here have largely gone unnoticed. This will change soon.

 

2006 CHATEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE ****
Of solid appearance, this has a big, homogeneous aroma of black fruits and chocolate. The meld of power and restraint is the result of meticulous sorting of the grapes and perfectionist wine-making at the chai. The concentrated flavour has lots of energy – a typical CPL trait – and is long, lush, with fine acidity and tannins. A lovely GPL to enjoy (with yearly increments of pleasure) around 2020-38.

 

2006 CHATEAU HAUT BATAILLEY ***(*)
This is a beautifully poised wine, medium-bodied, with a supple yet focused aroma and a streamlined flavour of optimum density. Haut Batailley is never one of the fullest Pauillacs but in this vintage shows real depth and harmony. Should show best around 2020-35.

 

2006 CHATEAU LYNCH BAGES ****
Like Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien (see above), Lynch Bages is possibly its commune’s most voluptuous wine. Blackish in colour, it has a seductive aroma of black cherry, bilberry, and truffle. The flavour is luscious and intense, with a hint of elderberry on the smoky aftertaste. The wine’s plumpness, rondeur, cannot mask the underlying firmness of structure. An exciting wine to drink around 2020-35.

 

2006 CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE BARON ***(*)
As usual, the “Baron” is distinctly masculine in style, with a vast, assertive nose of ripe berries and black fruits interwoven with chocolate and smoke. Rich and concentrated on the palate, with masses of matière, it is overwhelmingly Cabernet-Sauvignon in character. The cinnamon noticeable on mid-palate comes from toasty oak. With less underlying elegance than in other recent vintages, this shows a bit too much influence of the wood, which leaves a faintly confected impression. There’s lots of real substance, though, and the wine will turn out well, without being in the class of the ’05 or ‘00.

 

2006 CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE LALANDE ****
Weightier and fuller than usual, this “Comtesse” shows both opulence and rectitude on an aroma that fuses black fruits with carnation and red rose. This profound, expressive nose introduces a full, balanced flavour whose generous fruit is interwoven with hints of coffee, cinnamon, and smoke. The latter, which derive from the oak barrels, will be assimilated as the wine matures. Another 30-year classic.

 

If the ever-masculine “Baron” shows a positively blokeish side in this vintage, the perennially feminine “Comtesse” has, like George Sand, assumed a subtly mannish mien without loss of ladylike qualities.

 

2006 CHATEAU PONTET CANET ****
The blackish colour derives from the richly-pigmented Cabernet-Sauvignon grape (70%) which also dominates on the dense, balanced aroma of black fruits and blackcurrant. Medium-toast oak still shows, but will recede in time. The superb flavour has pronounced Pauillac character (vigour and density) and an aftertaste reminiscent of black cherry, truffle, and earth, reminding one of the physical proximity of Mouton Rothschild. This will not be in decline 40 years hence.

 

This property goes from strength to strength, with some French judges putting it at First Growth level – not bad for a Fifth Growth!

 

 

SAINT ESTEPHE

 

2006 CHATEAU CALON SEGUR ***
The briary aroma, typically Saint-Estèphe in its refined toughness, is a bit on the light side for this leading growth, elegance being its strong suit rather than power. Hints of stable and carnation both derive from the Merlot grape. Harmonious and vinous, it has a long, incisive aftertaste and finishes on a stony, earthy note. A wine that will satisfy but not stir in 8-25 years’ time.

 

I still remember with awe a ’47 enjoyed at lunch at the Château some 25 years ago.

 

2006 CHATEAU COS D’ESTOURNEL ****(*)
Here they’ve gone for maximum concentration, without over-extraction, and brought it off. The masterful aroma, very Cabernet-Sauvignon, has depth and authority, delivering an exhilarating meld of black cherry, morel mushroom, damson, and leather. The vast flavour is weighty but buoyant, and positively sings of Saint-Estèphe at its very best. Harmonious, profound, and beautifully balanced, this is a complete wine. Best of all, it could not be any other wine than Cos d’Estournel: the mark of greatness.


Also good among the Saint-Estèphes: châteaux DE PEZ **; LAFON ROCHET **(*), and LES ORMES DE PEZ **.

 

 

SAINT EMILION

 

2006 CHATEAU CANON ***
This has the nuanced colour of a wholly natural wine, while the disciplined aroma is round and has ample substance. Canon at its best – as is the case here – is as round as a cannon-ball but never hard. The flavour is reminiscent of black cherry and is focused and quite long. Unlike quite a few other Saint Emilion properties, the team here go for balance and subtlety. A good mid-term wine.

 

2006 CHATEAU FIGEAC ****
Tasting this reminds me of how close Figeac is to Pomerol. It’s a dark, viscous wine with a big, distinguished aroma of truffle, black cherry, aubergine, and fig – a soaring, round nose with an affinity to Cheval Blanc. The flavour is delectably juicy and there are subtle touches of coffee, chocolate, and molasses on the long aftertaste. Voluminous but not heavy, it needs 8-10 years to open and will improve for at least 15 more thereafter (the brilliant ‘66 still has years ahead, as do many other older vintages).

 

2006 CHATEAU PAVIE ***
Nearly black, this has a composite smell of damson jam, brown sugar, and prunes. They go for high extraction here but in this vintage the wine shows discipline and rigour rather than over-extraction. A vital, masculine wine, not long on finesse but able to develop well for several decades.

 

 

POMEROL

 

2006 CHATEAU LA CONSEILLANTE ***
The nose is sweet and rotund, evoking black cherry, brown sugar, and molasses. It tastes like a meId of fig, ripe plum, and vieille prune liqueur and has a long, brooding aftertaste. 25 years.

 

2006 CHATEAU PETIT VILLAGE ***
The polished, leathery aroma is reminiscent of autumn berries, damson, and ripe fig and makes me think of a Graves, like Haut Bailly, rather than a classic Pomerol. It shows restraint and harmony, though, and this carries through to the flavour, which has a pleasingly individual, hand-wrought feel. Petit Village seems at last to be coming into its own, after years of uneven performance. Drink around 2018-30. It’s a pity that several top Pomerols – Pétrus, Lafleur, Trotanoy, l’Eglise Clinet, and Hosanna – were absent from the tasting.

 

 

FIRST GROWTHS

 

2006 CHATEAU HAUT BRION ****
They have slightly more Merlot than Cabernet-Sauvignon here and, given that the Merlot gives lighter juice, it’s not surprising that the wine has a paler colour. It is though as lustrous as any. The lovely soaring aroma suggests raspberry, carnation, and wild strawberry, and these dominate on the palate too, with a suggestion of red pepper for good measure. The finish is very sustained and shows great tensile strength, with exquisite sub-flavours like those found in great red Burgundy. A wine of classic restraint and perfect tannins. Best around 2025-40.

 

2006 CHATEAU MARGAUX *****
The hovering scent of blackberry, carnation, and red rose has both depth and width, giving intimations of infinity. It’s both flowery and fruity, its density masked by the restraint of the wine-making. On the palate, a lovely meld of red fruits, with red-cherry-with-stone soon ceding place to wild strawberry and raspberry. The aristocratic flavour finds its way to every corner of the mouth, exhibiting great tensile strength while delivering myriad sub-flavours almost too complex to anaIyze. A wine of exceptional subtlety and finesse, as full of detail as the facade of a gothic cathedral. A great Château Margaux – and a great Margaux (commune). A 40-year wine.

 

I tasted the ’83 not long ago: a great wine but still closed up – it wasn’t really drinkable until on the following day!

 

2006 CHATEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD *****
The “First of the First”, this Lafite shows that special blend of steely structure and great finesse that is its hallmark. Just about every ripe black fruit and berry comes to mind in succession as one sniffs, while in the mouth there’s a flowing quality to the velvety, complex flavour found only in the most refined of Pauillacs. Black cherry and truffle intermingle with chocolate on the prolonged aftertaste. A wine of great sweep, sure to improve for 40 years or more.

 

2006 CHATEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD *****
Mouton, the darkest so far, has a big, masterful aroma of damson, black cherry, and blackcurrant. It’s an opulent, voluminous nose, sweetly ripe and all of a piece. The flavour has an unforced concentration and shows both rectitude and sensuality. In short, the Mouton flamboyance is there but kept within bounds. A terrifically rich, indeed profound wine that will be a joy to drink around 2025-40 and possibly beyond. Mouton suis!

 

[The Rothschild name has a curious origin. In the 16th century Jewish families often derived their name from that of their house. House number 148 in Judengasse, Frankfurt, bore a red shield: Rothschild. According to Benzion Kaganoff, an American rabbi who is a specialist in Jewish names, the house was formerly called “at the Green Shield”. He comments: “it would appear that a second coat of paint made all the difference.”]

 

2006 CHATEAU CHEVAL BLANC *****
Dark and vivid, this has a rich, noble aroma of black cherry, coffee, and chocolate. It’s a gorgeous, many-facetted scent of Pomerol-Iike sweetness and opulence, a species of luxury that has nothing to do with money. Truffly aromas are much in evidence but, as with all great wines, new fragrancies (in this case peony, carnation, liquorice) keep arriving. The viscous flavour, if thick of texture, is fresh and precise, coating the palate with fruit. The aftertaste is quintessentially Cheval Blanc (like great composers and artists, wines at this level have their own unique personality) , but I also find myself thinking of top Burgundy, like Richebourg, perhaps because of a hint of oriental spices.

 

I tasted only 60 or so of the five-score wines, and for a very good reason. One of the most revealing aspects of any wine is its aftertaste. This takes time to develop on the palate. If the next wine is tasted too soon, the previous wine’s finish is overwhelmed by the flavour of the new one. I personally need a good three minutes to note (or try to note) the salient traits in sequence: colour; viscosity; aroma; initial flavour; mid-palate; aftertaste (I often take a second sniff, too, to check if the aroma has evolved). Every one of the 180 minutes at the venue was needed.

 

Cheval Blanc from the 2006 vintage was the last wine tasted by me. It stayed on my palate long after I quit the venue, a haunting presence that remained, tantalisingly, a good 20 minutes later. That finish confirmed the wine’s essential trueness. Those who drink it in 30 years’ time will have every reason to feel elated.

 

© Frank Ward 2010

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s