Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

2013 CLARETS, A VARIABLE VINTAGE – PART I

January 2018.

 

                    PART I : PESSAC-LÉOGNAN & MARGAUX, FIRST GROWTHS

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The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was a difficult one, with few wines below Cru Classe level able to generate any excitement. Charles Taylor M.W. reports that the flowering was “catastrophic”, the weather generally freakish, while the harvest was marked by heavy rains, high temperatures, and – in some cases – the onset of rot.

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All the same, many Châteaux managed to come up with good to excellent wines, a few even verging on greatness – the latter at properties that managed to achieve optimum ripeness without the onset of rot. As one wise vigneron said to me years ago, “when you concentrate a wine, you concentrate the bad elements as well as the good.” The trick in 2013 was to cease extraction just before undesirable elements could taint the wine.

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The following wines were among those sampled at a recent tasting in London under the aegis of the InstItute of Masters of Wine.

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PESSAC- LÉOGNAN

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2013 CHÂTEAU DE FIEUZAL

Soft elegant nose, though noticeably oaky. Gently spicy on the palate. Elegant but unmemorable.

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2013 CHÂTEAU HAUT-BAILLY

Darker, with a faintly richer nose of blackcurrant and cherry. Initially quite refined, if not very dense, but the finish turns a bit abrasive. For fairly early drinking.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LA MISSION HAUT BRION

Both brighter and darker, La Mission emits a deceptively soft aroma of black cherry and smoke – a scent that quickly fills out to show the characteristic sturdiness and power of this great growth. Dense and sinewy in the mouth, with suggestions of elderberry, bilberry, and charcoal. The tannins, while riper than those of the two preceding wines, are still a bit scratchy. Given this leading estate’s great track record, however, together with the wine’s ample fruit, it will surely round out over the coming decade and evolve well for another 15+.

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2015 CHÂTEAU MALARTIC LAGRAVIÈRE

The darkest so far, this possesses a full, structured flavour with masses of fruit, with the Cabernet-Sauvignon and Petit Verdot making their mark (the dense PV can make its presence felt even at a mere 2%, as is the case here). Again, the tannins are on the hard side but will probably soften up in bottle. Should last as well as La Mission.

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2013 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE

The sweetly aromatic nose suggests crème de framboise, cherry, and blood orange. On the palate, richly vinous with a shift towards blackberry jam and fig (the influence of the Merlot). Dense and chocolaty, it’s a well-crafted wine that’s largely avoided the vintage’s pitfalls (sharpness, lack of flesh), showing good balance and satisfactory length.

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2013 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER

Dark and purply, this smells of violet, blackcurrant, and black cherry, promising a silky texture and real complexity. On the palate, a harmonious meld of black cherry, Agen prune, and chocolate, leading into a sustained finish with the smoothest, ripest tannins so far. Excellent. Will last well.

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HAUT MÉDOC

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2013 CHÂTEAU BELGRAVE

The only wine in the tasting of below Cru Classe status – and a brave effort. Well-coloured, it has a respectworthy aroma of of plum and blackberry, which leads into a light but elegant flavour which, however, shows a faint stalkiness. Will round out over the coming two-three years and drink well for a while longer.

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MARGAUX

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2013 CHÂTEAU BOYD CANTENAC

The nose, if marked by oak, is flowery and richly fruity, conjuring up black cherry and damson jams. They’ve managed to coax forth a lot of flavour but have perhaps extracted a bit too much slightly rough tannin. Nonetheless, a workmanlike effort that should improve over 20 or more years.

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2013 CHÂTEAU BRANE CANTENAC

A shade paler but with more poise, this has a soft, refined aroma with a nucleus of ripe fruit – mostly cherry but with a flowery element too. They clearly erred on the side of caution this year, vinifying more lightly than some, so as not to extract too much harsh tannin. The harmonious finish is medium long, with enough body to improve up to 2040 at least.

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2013 CHÂTEAU CANTENAC BROWN

This gives off a flowery – and very Margaux – scent of black cherry, peony, and raspberry. On the palate, sheer deliciousness (not a word one can use often this year!). It’s fleshy to the point of sappiness, though lurking tannins are a bit more assertive than one would wish. They’ve clearly risked a higher level of extraction so as to attain a more vinous, more complete wine. I suspect those drinking it in 20 years’ time will feel well satisfied.

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2013 CHÂTEAU DESMIRAIL

Here they’ve gone all out for charm and have therefore vinified lightly, to avoid hardness. This shows in a palish colour and in a soft, appealing scent – Merlot to the fore – of plum and fig. The tannins do leave their mark – like a thumbprint on a pane of glass – and there’s an impression of clayey terroir on the earthy aftertaste.

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2013 CHÂTEAU D’ISSAN

Mellow fruitiness seized from the jaws of acerbity. The aroma, both aerial and smooth, is balanced and enticing – and very Issan – with a fusion of roundness and ripe-grape sweetness. In the mouth, plenty of blackberry fruit backed up by chocolate and truffle flavours. The tannins are noticeable but of better-than-average ripeness. A well-crafted wine that should evolve well for 20 years at least.

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2013 CHÂTEAU POUGET

Like Issan, Pouget has lots of charm, with a billowing, flowery nose of peony, raspberry, and blackcurrant. Lovely ripe-grape sweetness at core. Despite the wine’s youth, it’s delicious on the palate, with a repeat of blackcurrant and a surge of black cherry and nectarine. The 5% Petit Verdot imparts vinosity and concentration. The tannins are firm but not stalky. Very good indeed.

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2013 CHÂTEAU PRIEURE LICHINE

This impressive black-purple sample has a distinctly Margaux aroma that’s soft, focused, and flowery, with carnation, liquorice, and blackberry notes. Of optimum concentration in the mouth, it deals out flavours like a winning hand at cards, with suggestions of truffle on the mid-palate. This is really good, being bereft of any of the negative aspects of 2013 as shown in some other samples.

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2013 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

This second growth has an aroma, both sumptuous and balanced, of ripe damson and blackberry – clearly the result of ruthless selection. It’s a beautifully balanced, aristocratic scent. The flavour lives up to this and the long, nuanced aftertaste unrolls like a multi-coloured carpet. Firm but in no way hard, it has the ripest, finest tannins of any wine so far. I always think of this growth as the Lafite of Margaux.

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FIRST GROWTHS

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I gave up tasting claret en primeur some years ago. Such tastings can be fascinating – like seeing a potentially great sculpture before the details have been chiselled in – but they can also give a misleading impression of how the wines will turn out in the long term. Furthermore, most samples are provisional. Why? Because the producer wants to keep all options open. Because he/she has composed a blend designed to impress. Many serious judges, tasting in early 2014, seemed initially disappointed in that vintage’s First Growths. They’d probably upgrade them were they to re-taste them today. After having sampled some 40 Bordeaux vintages I’ve found that clarets, when from great vineyards, either gain weight when the year seems initially light; or slim down when the vintage starts out on the heavy side.

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2013 CHÂTEAU ANGELUS

Dark, with a specifically Merlot blue-purple hue. The nose is extremely subtle and of almost flawless balance. It’s both glossy and complex, a meld of cherry, damson, and violet, so scented it could almost be a Vosne Romanée. Delicious to taste, too, showing (as all balanced wines do) classic restraint. There are hints of graphite and something sandy/gritty on the protracted finish, which is like a full stop placed at exactly the right point in a sentence. One of the truest Angelus I’ve tasted.

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2013 CHÂTEAU CHEVAL BLANC

Less dark but as vivid, this smells like an amalgam of blood orange, wild strawberry, and rose petals: a lovely soaring nose, smooth as silk. Similar notes on the palate, with a bit of chocolate thrown in, and something stony too. Billionaires may drink this in infancy. True oenophiles, by contrast, will give it a dozen years before taking the first sip, telling their offspring to wait another decade or two.

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2013 CHÂTEAU HAUT BRION

All First Growths are unique and this is more unique than most. Promisingly dark, it gives off a glorious aroma, typically earthy, that’s a fusion of tobacco, black fruits, cigarbox, and chocolate. An expansive nose, both voluminous and taut. And that’s only the start. Those scents are soon amplified by notes of truffle and molasses. Luxuriously smooth in the mouth, with many undercurrents, it expands to include fig and blackberry. Very long, with a lovely mouth-feel. A great Haut Brion.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD

Lustrous “robe” and a complex fusion of exquisite perfumes promising vinosity and power. Crème de framboise and wild strawberry commingle with black fruits to exhale an almost Musigny-like finesse. This is uniquely Lafite – tensile strength, discreet power, subtlety; classic restraint too. The flavour measures up to the nose, being subtly modulated and crammed with all manner of complementary flavours and sub-flavours. A great Lafite, doubtless approachable in a decade or two but built to last far, far longer.

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2013 CHÂTEAU MARGAUX

The most closed-up P.C. of all, Margaux shows characteristic finesse on a nose of black and red fruits, wild strawberry, and lavender. It’s still a bit oaky but this will recede in time. The flavour is still reticent, or quite simply closed up, but the aftertaste unfurls a whole register of incipient flavours of considerable intricacy. A very subtle wine – like a great string quartet (aptly, it’s fashioned from four grape varieties) not yet fully annotated.

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2013 CHÂTEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD

That typical Mouton colour – ripe black cherry with the bloom rubbed off. You register a stylistic shift from Mouton flamboyance to finesse, the lovely refined aroma being less extravert than usual but as dense and focused as ever. Gusts of black cherry, blackberry, and chocolate rise from the glass, promising smooth texture and considerable depth. The flavour, if less voluminous than usual, is just as masterful and as harmonious as can be: intensity leavened by freshness and natural buoyancy. Needs 12-15 years to start and will gain in complexity over another 20 at least. .

 

© Frank Ward 2017

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>> 2013 Clarets Part II : Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, Pauillac