Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Tasting of Classed Growth Clarets 2014-2017

July 2018. An illuminating tasting of three vintages from several leading Bordeaux Châteaux was recently held in London. What it showed – or rather furnished further proof of – is that a majority of such estates are now making better wines than in their entire history. Why? Because (1) greater demand has pushed up prices, thus financing all manner of improvements and expansions; and (2) because of colossal advances in oenology and viticulture over the past few decades.

 

POMEROL

 

2017 CHÂTEAU GAZIN

You can smell the clay – close bosom friend of the maturing Merlot – on a glossy nose that leads into a rotund, sappy flavour that makes me think of strawberry compote and plum jam. A vigorous, well-balanced wine that will give pleasure over the coming decades. Like most good ‘17s, it’s not of maximum concentration but is well balanced.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU GAZIN

A rich purple, this dark wine has a dense, broad aroma of plum, cinnamon, and blackberry jam, with a hint of nectarine (from the Merlot) at its core. The lovely flavour is crammed with luscious fruit and, while still oaky, has enough concentration to shed this woodiness in time. Only a few minutes are needed to release further flavours on the palate, including chocolate and clove. An excellent wine though a bit lacking in Pomerol finesse (it’s actually quite close to Saint Émilion).

 

SAINT ÉMILION

 

2017 CHÂTEAU CANON, PGCC

The aroma is soft and, if not of maximum concentration, beautifully balanced, with no feeling of hollowness. Black cherry and elderberry scents mingle and coalesce. There is a poetic quality to this beautifully poised wine which, while no blockbuster, will steadily improve over the coming 30 or so years. My appreciation increased with every second of the three or so minutes I spent trying to plumb its depths. A textbook example of how to extract the very best out of the material available in a problematic vintage.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CANON, PGCC

Still quintessentially Canon, but very different from the ’17. The ravishing aroma, of Burgundian intensity and purity, conjures up purple rose, peony, and blackcurrant. Smooth as to texture, yet subtly striated by fine tannins, it delivers a long, complex flavour and a finish that augurs well for several decades of evolution.

 

I’m sure a top Chambolle Musigny producer would greatly appreciate this wine’s subtlety and grace.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU CANON

The most complete of the three, yes; but all three have their virtues and each will develop splendidly. Deepest in colour, richest in aroma, the ‘15 smells like a voluptuous meld of sweet damson, Victoria plum, and cinnamon, with the 28% Cabernet-Franc contributing a characteristic whiff of freshly sharpened pencil. The flavour has the unforced smoothness and sweetness of ripe, healthy grapes, the finish is long. A sudden jolt of tannin – firm but ripe – reminds you that those who want to taste this at perfect maturity will have a long wait – though, like most balanced wines, it will be delicious at times in the interim. Great!

 

MARGAUX

 

2017 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

Dark and lustrous, still a bit oaky, this exhales such scents as peony, beetroot, and cinnamon. Lingonberry (the most tannic of wild berries) creeps into the flavour, to which 2% Petit Verdot gives extra cutting edge. It’s distinctly tannic on the palate – the 62% Cabernet-Sauvignon also makes its presence felt – and the wine needs a few years in bottle to round out, during which process the tannins will soften and the wine grow mellower.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

This has softer, more aerial, nose of black fruits and cinnamon, which leads into a well balanced flavour that’s simultaneously clean and fruity. One soon feels the thrust and tug of vinous undercurrents and the aftertaste is both assertive and nuanced. It finishes on a savoury note that promises excellent balance.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

The ’15 shows that lovely unforced harmony that’s the hallmark of this excellent vintage, smelling like a medley of cherry, kirsch, and graphite. The flavour is full, with lots of substance, the whole in perfect balance. Here we find that special meld of Médoc force, Cantenac voluptuousness, and Margaux finesse, with a long, complex aftertaste of notable minerality. A superb wine that’s weighty without heaviness and whose optimal concentration masks, for the moment, the underlying finesse.

 

2014 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

On this particular day, the nose is the most expressive of this quartet. Why? Not because it’s the best, but because it’s twice as old as the ’15 and three times older than the ’17! That extra year or two in bottle works wonders. Black cherry and crème de framboise notes intertwine to produce a bewitching scent that morphs into a lovely balanced flavour that’s both sustained and intense. An excellent wine from an underestimated vintage.

 

SAINT JULIEN

 

2017 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU

An aroma of black cherry and graphite signals a forthrightness and focus that are quickly confirmed on the palate. While closed-up, it’s easy to see that it’s a well-balanced wine with plenty of personality and good structure – the latter not least due to the presence of 6.5% Petit Verdot – the blackest and densest of all Bordeaux grapes – not to mention 65% of Cabernet-Sauvignon (the next densest variety!). The 24% Merlot, source of roundness and flesh, completes the picture.

 

This property has made great progress in recent years.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU

The expressive nose suggests ripe blackberry and sweet prune. As usual, the palate yields up additional notes, including damson jam and cinnamon. There’s plenty of matière here (the 6% Petit Verdot again making its presence felt); so much so as almost to verge on heaviness. There’s little sign of finesse as yet, in this the most obdurate of the trio, but that will surely change in coming decades. When well-vinified, wines from such excellent terroir always improve in bottle.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU

This is the most seductive of the three, partly because of its greater age, partly due to the excellence of the vintage. Tertiary aromas have developed and this helps one grasp what the winemaker is aiming at. The intense aroma billows out of the glass, conjuring up black fruits but with hints of nectarine and raspberry too. The flavour is both luscious and structured, with ripe tannins acting like a drawstring on the ample fruit. This superb wine, its essential Saint Julien character now more in evidence, is concentrated, balanced, and complex. It will improve for at least 35-40 years.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ

The colour, intensified by storage in new oak, is dark and lustrous, and the wine smells oaky too. But there’s so much fruit that the woodiness will be absorbed easily in the course of time. Blander than the other two Léovilles, but impressively compact and smooth, it has a long rolling aftertaste. An excellent wine in the modern style (high alcohol, rich colour, emphatic aroma and flavour).

 

PAUILLAC

 

2017 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

The strikingly harmonious nose calls to mind dark chocolate, blackberry, and black truffle, and shows a personality typical both of Médoc in general (elegance and vinosity) and Pauillac (power and authority) in particular. One is quickly reminded that Pontet Canet is next door to Mouton Rothschild. The flavour, as poised as a ballerina on tiptoe, is long and noble, with old vine depth and subsoil minerality. While neither massive nor lightweight it possesses the most crucial characteristic of all: balance. A wine with the depth and concentration needed to improve for decades.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

The colour has the brilliance of stained glass, while the superb aroma presents a fusion of black cherry, violet, and graphite scents. Once again, harmony is the keynote, with all the depth and force one could wish for, tempered by classic restraint. In the mouth, a meld of black fruits – black cherry and truffle in the ascendant – with subtle chocolatey notes on the sustained aftertaste. The complete ripeness of the tannins shows on a long, velvety finish of perfect poise.

 

2015 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

This must have been magnificent – but not a drop was left when I proffered my glass (towards closing time)!

 

2014 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET

The lustrous black-purple colour would surely rival that of the absentee 2015, while the full, expressive aroma of crème de framboise and lush black cherry is loaded with fruit of the ripest kind. As it opens out you registers hints of graphite, underbrush, and truffle. In the mouth it releases denser, sterner notes like damson and sloe. The finish is marked by the kind of refined grittiness you get in an ideal espresso. Within the context of the vintage, a wine of perfect equilibrium.

 

SAUTERNES

 

2015 CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD, 1ER CRU SAUTERNES

A lustrous green-gold, this gives of a seductive scent of tangerine, pineapple, and white peach. Light as air, as intense as a liqueur, it fills the mouth with seductive noble-rot fruit of tingling freshness. The wine’s great richness masks the underlying acidity, which gives tension and precision to the long finish. Drinkable already, because of its succulence, it will age serenely for several decades.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD, 1ER CRU SAUTERNES

Richer both in colour and aroma, the slightly younger wine exhales a complex perfume of orange blossom, honey, pineapple, and canned apricot. The flavour is lush and viscous, but so fresh you feel you could drink it in draughts already. Tangerine and barley sugar notes enter into the long, honeyed aftertaste. A gorgeous wine with lift and vitality.

 

Good to drink now, no doubt; but in 20 years…!

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© Frank Ward 2018

 

 
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