Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

GRANDS CRUS CLASSES CLARETS SHOW WINES FROM 2015-2018

July 2019. It’s not news that Bordeaux no longer has bad vintages. They’re all good in their myriad ways. Not, at least, when it concerns châteaux that are either (1) well-financed and well-run; or (2) simply well-run even when not well-financed. The great Emile Peynaud taught them how to make the best possible wines; then a new generation of oenologists, many trained by him, carried on the good work.

 

The results of that work showed at a recent tasting in London of a number of classed growth clarets from different parts of Bordeaux. Most showed three, even four of the last few vintages – a rare chance to evaluate their performance over a number of different years.

 

Here are my impressions of some of them.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE, Pessac-Léognan

The colour of crème de cassis, this possesses a big, smooth aroma, very blackcurranty and with hints of peony. It’s medium full on the palate, with ample fruit, and if the tannins have a slightly gritty feel at this stage, they will grow steadily softer as the years roll by. The aftertaste billows out, a swirling cloak of flavours and sub-flavours.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE

Lovely incipient scents like red rose, peony, raspberry, and black cherry commingle, promising future complexity. The flavour is delectable, with ripe grape sweetness. An access of liquorice brings added depth and weight to the other savours, whether fruity or flowery. The tannins are at once firm and refined. Superb.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE

Dark and nuanced, with no browning, this glossy wine possesses a rich core of perfectly ripe fruit that’s already seductive. You feel you could drink it now; but that would be a pity, as it’s built to last 30-40 years. There’s still a hint of new oak but that will fade in time, the fugitive vanillin somehow emphasizing the wine’s roundness. The finish is long and nuanced, with excellent balance. Very good indeed.

 

CHÂTEAU GAZIN, Pomerol

This dark wine’s soft, restrained nose promises complexity and depth. The subtle, manifold scents suggest black cherry, blackcurrant, liquorice, and truffle, imbued with the sweetness of ripe grapes. Bilberry and blackberry notes show on the palate and there’s even a hint of sweet rip fig – which I associate with mature Merlot – on the very finish. A lovely wine with a great future. The flavour follows through faithfully, showing real structure and excellent balance, with a reprise of liquorice and truffle on the finish.

 

This property used to be a bit lustreless. All four vintages shown here exhibit excellent balance and real depth.

 

2107 CHÂTEAU GAZIN

A bit paler but lustrous, this gives off a seductive scent of raspberry, cherry, and damson that promises a creaminess of texture. It’s not of maximum concentration – not in this light vintage – but it is harmonious. A well-crafted wine, with true Pomerol elegance, it needs a good eight years to come round and will continue to improve for a further 20 or so.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU GAZIN

This carries aromatic hints of plum, cherry, and chocolate, with a roundness and succulence that makes me think of Vosne Romanée. The flavour is all of a piece, its ample flesh tautened by fine tannins. A harmonious wine full of nuances, or rather the promise thereof: the details have yet to be etched in. But the wine’s fine proportions are unmistakeable.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU GAZIN

As with other ‘15s, the colour shows some evolution though there’s no brown. On the nose it’s round, even globular, and expressive too, conjuring up carnation (Merlot), cherry, and raspberry. Still in crysallis, but with unmistakeable harmony, with fine tannins acting like a frame around a painting. Understated at present, but there’s a plethora of material here. Another lovely wine.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU CANON, Saint Émilion PGCC

The nose – misleadingly as it turns out – has a kind of primeur forthrightness. This soon settles down into the solidity, harmony, and polish found only in first-rate wines with a great future. I get hints of damson, cinnamon (from the oak) and clay. One can sense real substance waiting to burgeon into rotundity. There’s a touch of fig on the aftertaste, which exhibits the transitive bitterness of firm but essentially ripe tannins. Au fond, it’s a smooth, harmonious wine.

 

2017 CHÂTEAU CANON

In looks, closer to carmine than black. The nose, if lightish, has a soft, seductive quality, suggesting red fruits, red rose, and cinnamon. The flavour, if on the light side, is tautened by its fruity acidity, and there’s a hint of liquorice wood on the somewhat blunt finish, which is a bit lacking in density at present. A sound wine but not for the very long haul.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CANON

As expected in this superior vintage, the colour is denser and the nose shows far more concentration than the ‘17, with notes of black cherry, damson, and pencil (probably from the Cabernet Franc). It carries a promise of harmony and finesse (a promise that will be fulfilled), with a flowery aspect that makes me think of a Margaux. In the mouth, it’s fluid and expressive, with extremely fine tannins giving just the right kind of backbone to guarantee long life. Very good indeed.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU CANON

This emits a rotund scent that’s earthy in a refined way (top terroir, clearly), suggestive of ripe plum and blackberry. The Merlot is in an expressive mood (full, round, spicy). Plenty of volume in the mouth, faintly malty (another Merlot trait), with a thrust and weight that’s very Saint Émilion. A beautifully proportioned wine with lots of promise. Power and subtlety combined.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA, Margaux

The Cabernet-Sauvignon signals its predominance with a deep purple hue with a blackish tinge. Crème de cassis and violet scents emerge from an aroma that’s initially on the delicate side but soon exhibits a weight and thrust only found in top wines. It’s still a bit oaky but the wine has all the fruit needed to assimilate this with ease. Not very fat – clearly a passing phase, as it’s sure to gain in viscosity – but superbly proportioned.

 

2017 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

Lighter both in colour and body, but with a refined, very Margaux scent of cassis, red rose/peony, and cherry. If no blockbuster it’s nonetheless well-proportioned, with a grace not unlike that of a good Chambolle Musigny. It won’t live as long as its other vintages; but that being said, it will be delectable over the coming 20 years or so (initially eclipsing the bigger vintages until they get into full stride in the longer term). In that shortened time-frame less will be more.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

The noble Merlot is in the ascendant today, bearing a promise of roundness and body and smelling like a meld of cherry, cinnamon, and carnation. One sniff tells you it’s a terrific wine. It’s quite lovely in the mouth, its youth notwithstanding, with suggestions of damson, blackcurrant, and violet. A medium full wine that will grow bigger and more defined as it matures, as well as increasingly complex.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

Like all 2015s so far, this shows faint signs of evolution. The colour, a vivid crimson-purple, suggests a Merlot dominance. The nose is simply gorgeous, being round, sumptuous, full of refinement. It’s an aroma that promises, and will soon deliver, a wealth of nuances and great finesse. The flavour is long and complex, with great purity of fruit and just the right kind of acidity and tannins to guarantee flawless harmony. Great.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU, Saint Julien

This dark wine possesses a noble, specifically Saint Julien aroma – smooth, precise, and refined – that calls to mind a fusion of blackberry and damson scents. As with all good wines, it’s satisfyingly weighty but in no way ponderous. In fact, given a moment or two, it takes on an almost Pauillac-like power, with the muscular Cabernet-Sauvignon (58%) and the forceful Petit Verdot (5%) interlocking seamlessly. It’s thrustful and restrained at one and the same time, with a long finish that has much to unfold as it steadily evolves over decades to come.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ, Saint Julien

Another dusky wine, with a big, smooth Saint Julien aroma of notable concentration, conjuring up cherry jam, peony, and cinnamon (the latter two from lightly toasted oak). Within a moment or two it opens further to release raspberry scents. It’s all of a piece in the mouth, yet also multi-facetted. No careful taster could fail to register the queue of incipient aromas waiting to blossom in the course of time. The flavour veers towards darker fruits as the oxygen exerts its energising power, but while it’s clearly very structured there’s no aggressivity. An excellent wine good for 40 years or more.

 

2017 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ

Lighter both in colour and body, but well balanced, this exhales mingled scents suggestive of cherry, raspberry, and damson. It shows lovely balance in this light vintage and will, in fact, be far tastier in the short term than the richer vintages (which will however pull ahead when they get in gear 10-15 years from now). That being said, it will drink well over two decades at least because of its intrinsic harmony.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ

Notably darker, the ’16 has a round, expressive nose of cherry, peony, cinnamon, and raspberry (yes, they sing in harmony like a quartet of voices). There’s lots of stuffing in the mouth, which opens to reveal spread and length. The aftertaste is long, with a voluptuous aspect, but at the moment is less expressive than the nose. The two will steadily fuse as time goes by.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ

After two years in bottle this is the most expressive of the quartet. The nose is packed with fruit – cherry, raspberry, black fruits – and replete with all manner of aromas that are only starting to find definition. It’s a wine of classic proportions, with typical Saint Julien smoothness and subtlety, but perhaps not quite as multi-facetted, or should one say classic, as the other two Léovilles. But not many wines are!

 

2018 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET, Pauillac

Deep colour, opaque the way crème de cassis is opaque. Huge, almost vertiginous aroma of all the black fruits and autumn berries you can think of, bilberry to the fore. Great density in the mouth – real Pauillac presence and force. Then a sudden access of buoyancy, almost bounciness. Long, rich, balanced flavour, with just a touch of astringence, which seems sure to resolve itself. You feel you can see its inside, as in an X-ray image. And it all looks good. And good for half a century!

 

2017 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

Like most ‘17s, it’s lighter in colour. The nose is round, the Merlot much in evidence, with scents of carnation, blackberry, and bay leaf. Plum jam with stone soon enters into the picture. A bit dry on the middle palate – will this pass? It will surely round out into a medium-bodied, distinctly Pauillac wine that’s on the light, elegant side. Like most wines from top estates that start out in a lightish mode, it will gain in body and definition as it matures.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

A bit lighter in colour than the ’18 BUT impressively lustrous. The nose, suggestive of blackberry and Victoria plum, with chocolate overtones, is sumptuous. In the mouth, a wealth of dense, specifically Pauillac fruit, a fusion of Merlot roundness and Cabernet Sauvignon rigour, with a touch a fig at the end. The aftertaste is awesome in its completeness and clarity. A superb wine full of substance.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

The nuanced “robe” holds a promise of complexity, which is redeemed on the nose, which is intense and expressive. Unmistakeably Pauillac with its seamless meld of blackberry, chocolate, tobacco, and damson, it takes over the palate in a masterly fashion, restructuring the whole on its own terms. Creamy of texture, round as a globe, it inserts a touch of pomegranate into the mid-palate. The finish, of classic proportions, is very long, with great sweep. A great Pontet Canet.

 

2018 CHÂTEAU MONTROSE, Saint Estèphe

Almost black, with winking crimson highlights, this gives off a vast but shapely aroma redolent of crème de cassis, liquorice wood, leather, and molasses. It shows great force on the palate, with suggestions of liquorice, blackcurrant, and blackberry. The sheer force of its masterful but beneficent tannins will recede as the wine matures. Massive yet somehow streamlined, it is a copybook Montrose – one of the Médoc’s most characterful and long-lived properties.

 

2017 CHÂTEAU MONTROSE

Surprisingly this is darker than the ’18. A fusion of black and red fruits on the nose, reinforced by a liquorice undertow. It billows out of the glass to herald, then cede place to, a lovely elegant flavour, replete with the sweetness of ripe grapes, leading into a long aftertaste of almost Vosne-like smoothness. At bottom not as forceful as the ’18 but destined to live and improve for a good 25+ years. Surely one of the top ’17 clarets.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU MONTROSE

Dark and thrustful, the masterful’15 Montrose gives off a broad, weighty aroma of chocolate, blackberry, and damson jam, with a heady waft of peony for good measure. The Cabernet-Sauvignon is of course in the ascendant, delivering a forthright message of Montrose power and complexity. The flavour has many layers; the aftertaste many nuances. A wine of noble proportions, built to last four decades at least.

 

© Frank Ward 2019

 

 
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