Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

A LOOK AT SOME 2013 CLARETS, WHITE GRAVES, & SAUTERNES

October 2015. Everybody knows that the 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was an extremely difficult one.

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Nonetheless, some of the greatest estates managed to fashion creditable wines, wines which would, in some cases, give more pleasure over the next few years than many much greater wines from greater vintages, that are completely closed up now and require decades of further storage.

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That being said, some 2013s at the top end will live for 20-30 years.

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Cool rainy years impose serious limitations on most properties. When grapes contain bad as well as good elements, a concentration of the must (mout) means that both bad and good elements are accentuated in the process. The trick is to stop extraction the moment the bad elements start to take the upper hand. Of course certain properties with blessed microclimates, with plots of very old vines, and unlimited resources, both physical and financial, are better placed to come up with something exceptional – as was the case with the First Growths I tasted last year, plus a number of exceptionally-well run châteaux, some of which are described below.

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But in years like 2013 less favoured properties, even when very well run, tend to make somewhat standardized wines; wines that may be extremely well-crafted but lacking in individuality. Why? Because creative possibilities are extremely circumscribed in such years.

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A tasting of several score 2013s of both colours was recently held at the Royal Opera House, London, under the aegis of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. It largely confirmed the impression I’d received of the vintage when visiting a few exceptional Bordeaux estates last year (see “A Fresh Look at Some Top Bordeaux Estates Parts I, II, & III”, October 2014).

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With only two hours at my disposal for the tasting, and believing that any good wine merits at least three minutes’ attention (gauging the length and quality of the aftertaste alone needs over a minute) I was only able to sample some 40 of the numerous samples from all over the region. From these samples, from different communes and quality levels, I concluded that the best-run estates performed miracles, while those with fewer resources, or lower ambitions, produced far less impressive results even when working flat-out.

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RED WINES

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PESSAC-LEOGNAN ROUGE

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Châteaux Carbonnieux and Haut Bailly were both clean-cut and can be drunk early, but both were pale, somewhat thin and a touch stalky. Both are well-run estates and both will no doubt improve, rounding out in the bottle.

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The third wine was far more impressive:

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2013 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE ***

The deepish purple “robe” promises solidity and there’s genuine ripe-grape sweetness on an aroma reminiscent of black cherry, blackcurrant, and violet. A hint of graphite derives from the 10% Cabernet-Franc. As with all good ‘13s, you can tell that any inferior fruit had been ruthlessly eliminated from the assemblage, resulting in a striking purity. The flavour is light but harmonious, with no over-extraction. Very good. Best 2019-29.

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2013 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ***(*)

Still darker – nearly opaque in fact – this has a full, vinous aroma of black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, and fig. About 85% concentrated, with all its elements in balance, it’s full and vinous, with good viscosity. On the palate the flavour expands to include chocolate. Ripe tannins. Truly excellent. While this is drinkable young, those who appreciate mature claret will be overjoyed at what they find in the glass around 2022-32.

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MARGAUX

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2013 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SEGLA ***(*)

Darkish for the vintage, this has a light but balanced scent, the Merlot grape to the fore, and the ample fruit is pure and inviting, with underlying elegance and grace. Red cherry scents and flavours, at present in the ascendant, seem to owe much to the ripe Merlot component. A sleek, harmonious wine with true Margaux finesse that will evolve beautifully in the years to come.

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2013 CHÂTEAU GISCOURS ***(*)

Well-coloured, this has a noticeably broad aroma of red and purple cherries, peony, and red rose. Though light in structure, it somehow manages to be round, even luscious. On the palate it’s discreetly fleshy, with delectable cherry and raspberry fruit. The aftertaste is longish and harmonious. Will drink well for 15 years at least.

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(Even today, while many 1970 clarets are severe, even rough, the ’70 Giscours is truly delectable.)

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2013 CHÂTEAU LA LAGUNE ***

The fruity nose, a bit too oaky, suggests blackberry and damson, with a fugitive touch of raspberry. As with most of its peers in this vintage, it’s on the light side; but careful winemaking has endowed it with good balance and enough viscosity to produce a satisfying roundness. Will charm over the coming 12-15 years (but enjoyable long before).

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2013 CHÂTEAU BRANE CANTENAC ***

Solid colour and a fine, if over-oaked nose, both solid and vinous (the oakiness in this sample is not 100% pure, probably due to a tainted stave). However, I do like the flavour, which has true Margaux/ Cantenac flesh and roundness. Real terroir character shows on the vinous finish. As the aftertaste burgeons I find supplementary hints of blackberry, leather, and prune. No hurry to drink up. 2013

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CHÂTEAU PRIEURE LICHINE ***

The colour is deep while the vital, focused nose emits gusts of black cherry, blackcurrant, and peony: a glossy, precise aroma with a density that augurs well for the future. The flavour, too, shows rigour fused with a silky texture – a characteristic P.L. combination of charm and structure. Quite long, with a firm but not ascerbic finish, it will evolve serenely over the coming 15 years or so. Very well crafted.

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MOULIS

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2013 CHÂTEAU CHASSE SPLEEN *

Darker than many, this has a nose that, while elegant, is a bit diffuse (today, anyway). The flavour hints at purple cherry and blackcurrant but remains inexpressive. Chasse Spleen is a Cru Bourgeois that has often shown Cru Classe quality. This will no doubt round out and lengthen in time.

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The F.W. Rule on Ageing in Bottle:

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In full-bodied years wines from fine estates slim down as they age: in light vintages they do the exact opposite, growing fuller and rounder.

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SAINT JULIEN

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2013 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU ***

Average (good) colour for its class and vintage, with an elegant, fresh nose of raspberry, blackcurrant, and black cherry. The flavour is impressively elegant and poised, with a reprise of the above berries. The winemaker here has clearly risked infusing the wine with more tannin than many of his peers have ventured to do in this tricky year, but it’s a risk that’s paid off, the tannins being of the assertive but ripe kind. Longish, vinous aftertaste. Will evolve well over the coming 13-15 years.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LANGOA BARTON ***

The colour is solid; so too is the balanced, vinous aroma, showing a silky depth only ripe grapes can give. It exhales a meld of blackberry and black cherry scents, promising real substance. That promise is fulfilled on the palate, which shows harmony, good body, a lovely texture. The finish is firm and sustained, with good acidity. A real success in this difficult vintage.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LEOVILLE BARTON ****

As always, L.B. is darker and more richly aromatic than Langoa, being altogether more assertive and muscular. But there’s subtlety and finesse as well as power. The complex aroma of black cherry, damson, truffle, and peony/carnation, shows quintessential St. Julien character – classic balance allied to firm structure – and leads into a flavour that affirms and bolsters these qualities. Raspberry and cinnamon (the latter from light-toast oak) creep into a long, satisfying finish that promises a good 20 years of steady evolution. Excellent.

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2013 CHÂTEAU BEYCHEVELLE ***

Dark for the vintage, Beychevelle has a full, typically grainy aroma of black cherry, damson, and smoke, and exhales gusts of carnation (Merlot), interwoven with black cherry, peony, and blackcurrant. A nose that’s all of a piece. It’s strikingly harmonious on the palate, too, with a sustained finish. A fine bit of vinous joinery.

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2013 CHÂTEAU TALBOT ***

2013 CHÂTEAU TALBOT ***

This has a fine, expressive nose with ripe-grape sweetness, even sappiness. Blackberry and black cherry dominate on the aromatic side, augmented by damson and liquorice on the palate, with plenty of flesh. A characterful wine with vigour, good tannins, and a fine structure. It will give much satisfaction over the 20 years to come.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LEOVILLE POYFERRE ****

This has a dark, opaque colour more typical of 2009/10 than 2013. The nose, too, has more in common with those two excellent vintages, being packed with a dense medley of black fruits, berries, and liquorice. It’s the kind of nose that reminds one that the top echelon of St Juliens can sometimes rival Pauillac when it comes to power and body. On the palate, plenty of volume and depth, and a lovely texture (“une belle trame”). Will easily live 25 years.

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PAUILLAC

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If the navy is the senior service of the armed forces, Pauillac is the senior service of the Médoc, boasting three of the five First Growths, several Second Growths, and a plethora of other properties that have long overperformed (Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste, Pontet-Canet, et al). This primacy shows in all of the following Pauillacs.

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2013 CHÂTEAU BATAILLEY ***

Well-coloured, Batailley has a fine vinous nose suggestive of blackberry, sweet prune, cigar box, leather, and chocolate. It’s instantly clear that it’s a wine with some real depth and distinction. It may be only medium-full on the palate, but it’s in balance, with a pleasingly fruity, spicy flavour and fresh, fruity acidity giving extra vitality. Medium long, it should develop well for a good dozen years.

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(This sample showed much better than that shown, puzzlingly, at the Château last year).

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2013 CHÂTEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE ***(*)

A solid black-purple, GPL has a broad, distinctly Pauillac aroma, of cherry, damson, and blackberry with a hint of graphite. The faint hint of vanillin from the oak is so subtle you won’t register it if you’re not looking for it. The flavour – about 85% concentrated but with everything in balance – conjures up plum jam and damson, with the Cabernet-Franc lending an accent of newly-sharpened pencil. As expected, a very good 2013 from this fine property.

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2013 CHÂTEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE BARON ****

Excellent appearance: really dark black-purple, testifying to the presence of a high level of fully ripe Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. The archetypically Pauillac aroma, broad and voluminous, smells like a blend of raspberry, liquorice, blackberry jam, dark chocolate, and blackcurrant, all of these disparate scents melding into an integrated whole. The fine flavour, edging on 90% concentration, is one of the most concentrated so far – without any hint of over-extraction. The aftertaste ripples on for some time. Very good indeed. A 20-year wine at the very least.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LYNCH BAGES **(*)

Who can resist Lynch Bages, with its voluptuous fruit, roundness and power, and very real complexity and depth? And that in almost every vintage! Good colour, and a fine, globular Pauillac scent of red rose, black fruits in general and lush black cherry, with stone, in particular. A nose promising real substance on the palate. So beguiling is the nose that, before tasting a drop, I sniff once more, fascinated by the new set of aerial subsidiary scents that deliver fresh sensations every few seconds. The palate lives up to all that aromatic promise, with a rush of lush black cherry fruit bringing further allure with a sudden waft of truffle. This will be a delight to drink when fully mature (no rush!).

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SAINT EMILION

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2013 CHÂTEAU LA GAFFELIERE **(*)

This is an archetypical Gaffeliere: solid, vital, crammed with ripe Merlot and Cabernet fruit, assertive, almost Valkerian in its impetuous rush of scents and savours from glass to nose and palate. The big, burly aromas conjure up cherry and blackberry jams, (it smells as thick as jam!), cinnamon (oak), bay leaf, sweet prunes, and smoky oak. All of this is repeated on the palate, with the addition of something metallic (“goût de capsule”). When mature – around 2020-30 – it will be a good match for game and stews.

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2013 CLOS FOURTET ***

Another forceful, voluminous wine, round as a cannonball and all of a piece. It smells like a blend of black and purple cherries, blackcurrant, with nectarine (sweetly ripe Merlot) at its core, and tastes that way too, with ample ripe fruit and a feeling of real substance. An unusually full and vigorous’ 13 that will evolve smoothly for 20 years or more.

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2013 CHÂTEAU CANON ***(*)

The colour is intense, if not of maximum depth, with a silky and expressive aroma hinting at sweet black cherry and blackcurrant. It radiates harmony and precision. Those scents are so enticing I sniff again, increasingly struck by their elegance and purity (I even think briefly of Chambolle-Musigny). The flavour sustains this impression, being glossy, harmonious, and full of fruit. For a ’13, its aftertaste is very long, with only the gentlest hint of oak on the finish. One of the wines of the vintage.

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2013 CHÂTEAU DASSAULT **

This has a vital, spicy nose of ripe plum and black cherry, with hints of fig and carnation (the latter pair from the Merlot). The vigorous flavour exhibits ample fruit, typical Saint Emilion exuberance and power, but (in this colourful company) not a lot of personality. A decent wine to enjoy over the coming 5-10 years.

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POMEROL

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2013 CHÂTEAU PETIT VILLAGE ***

This has a lovely expressive aroma, exhaling the finest of Merlot perfumes (raspberry, Victoria plum). The seductive flavour is full of sappy fruit, with a touch of cinnamon and sandlewood lending a discreet spiciness. A triumph in this vintage, full of unforced, very pure fruit and with all its constituent parts in total harmony. If Monet had been a winemaker instead of a painter he might well have fashioned such a wine as this.

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WHITES

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PESSAC LEOGNAN BLANC

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2013 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER BLANC ****(*)

A pale but luminous green-gold (it LOOKS like a Chevalier – a Chevalier-Montrachet!), this has an intense, very pure scent that conjures up tangerine, lime peel, acacia honey, greengage, and physalis. It’s an arresting perfume that flies from glass to nose like a golden arrow. The exquisite flavour is wholly in tune, its compass expanding to include white currant, chalk, and minerals. There’s a soaring, ethereal quality to both aroma and flavour of this truly crystalline wine, which should be sublime with John Dory when mature. It will live long, waxing in body as it does so.

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2013 CHÂTEAU LA LOUVIERE BLANC **

A pale green-gold, this has a precise, buoyant aroma of lemon and lime, honey, grapefruit, and rhubarb. There’s also a distinct suggestion of white clay, of putty. The medium full flavour is crisp and persistent and, while lacking the extreme finesse of the Chevalier, it’s balanced and tasty. It should improve over a decade or two (I’ve tasted 20- 30-year old La Louvière and know that it ages wonderfully).

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2013 CHÂTEAU PAPE CLEMENT BLANC ****

This is a pale yellow-gold, with a full, noble aroma that’s fleshy, sinewy, and expressive. It smells like a blend of greengage, Granny Smith apple, and white clay. The excellent flavour is full and intense, with a reprise of the apple and greengage, augmented by quince savours. The long rolling aftertaste speaks eloquently of terroir, which surely contains clay and friable limestone. Though made from completely different grapes (but in largely the same way), this could easily be a top white Burgundy such as Puligny Combettes.

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2013 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE BLANC ****

The intense colour shows a subtle yellow tone imparted by new oak, but the oak is subtly used, as witnessed by a noble, expressive nose suggestive of white peach, lime, and greengage. A second wave of more fugitive scents includes honey, pistachio, and walnut. Here again there are stylistic echoes of top white Burgundy. The dense, balanced Sauvignon (90%) flavour is lushly fruity, with optimum concentration and very good acidity. White peach surges forward again on the palate, with a faint suggestion of sweet almond. Good to drink now, it will improve beyond recognition in the 15-20 years to come.

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SAUTERNES

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2013 CHÂTEAU DE FARGUES ****

Fargues is a pale but brilliant green-gold colour and – like all sweet dessert wines – is noticeably viscous. The splendid, soaring aroma calls to mind pineapple, honey, and butterscotch. Sweet and honeyed on the palate, with good acidity, it positively caresses the taste buds. An elegant wine to enjoy over the next few decades – starting now.

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2013 CHÂTEAU CLIMENS ****(*)

A lustrous green-gold, shedding thick tears, Climens exhales a truly superb scent of pineapple, butterscotch, and fig. The flavour, delectably fat and bracingly fresh, moves towards tangerine and apricot in the mouth, opening up like a fan. It’s hedonistic to be sure; but behind that sensuous aspect stands a classic structure that will carry this gorgeous wine forward into ever-burgeoning complexity as it matures. A joy to drink now, it will gain in yearly increments at it moves steadily into a distant future.

 

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© Frank Ward 2015

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