Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

TASTING OF CLASSED GROWTH CLARETS FROM 2014

December 2016. A big tasting of classed-growth clarets from the 2014 vintage was recently held in London under the auspices of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB). The following are tasting notes on some 30 of the 100 or so wines on show.

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I spent an average of 4 minutes per wine. Why that long? The actual sampling takes only a minute or two. But the crucial aftertaste, often the most illuminating element of all, doesn’t reveal its full complexity (or lack of it) in less than 3-4 minutes.

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PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

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2014 CHÂTEAU PAPE CLÉMENT ****

The colour is intense but not deep: clearly they wanted to avoid over-extraction. The elegant nose, a bit leathery, conjures up blackberry, sweet prune, and liquorice. Ripe grapes give dense fruit and depth. The flavour, of medium weight, is smooth and refined, stippled with spice, notably cinnamon. The finish is long and nuanced. 8-10 years to open then 10+ more of steady evolution.

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2014 CHÂTEAU PICQUE CAILLOU **

The refined nose is very Merlot, exhaling scents of carnation and plum, with a flowery element too. Very silky. Light on the palate, but clean and balanced, with a shift towards cherry and clove. A gentle gargle or two reveals that it’s oaky in a slightly cosmetic way. Decent but not arresting.

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2014 CHÂTEAU MALARTIC LAGRAVIERE ***(*)

This opaque Malartic has a rich, vinous aroma of black cherry, damson, and graphite with a core of wholly ripe, sweet fruit. It’s a round, integrated nose promising good balance and optimum concentration. That promise is fulfilled on the palate, the fruit expanding to include nectarine. Good follow-through: orangey acidity gives verve and tension. An excellent wine, sure to improve over 25 years or more.

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2014 CHÂTEAU LATOUR MARTILLAC **

The harmonious nose, a meld of Victoria plum, blackberry, and wet earth, leads into a flavour that’s similarly well-balanced. It’s roughly 80% concentration but all in synch. A hint of nectarine enters into an aftertaste which is, however, overly astringent given the wine’s light structure.

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2014 CHÂTEAU LARRIVET HAUT BRION *(*)

The ”robe” is a limpid blue-purple, the aroma elegant but a bit lacking in depth. However – and here’s why any decent wine (like human beings) needs a second chance – it’s fuller and denser on the palate, almost cushiony. The Merlot gives plenty of spice to a composite flavour of fig, blackberry, and plum. The finish, however, is a bit sharp (something to watch). Hard to judge on the day.

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2014 CHÂTEAU HAUT BAILLY **

The aroma, refined if a bit thin, exhales cherry, damson, and elderberry. The flavour is agreeable, if a bit light for an estate of this calibre. The aftertaste is a touch severe. Clearly in transition – like a preparatory sketch for a more complete work. This is an outstanding property and the sample isn’t doing itself justice on the day. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the wine transformed in a few months’ time.

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2014 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ****

The aroma, of classic build, is soft and integrated, showing that enticing combination of smoothness and graininess so typical of Pessac-Léognan – a fusion of black fruits, dark chocolate, and cocoa. The medium-full flavour is balanced and promises future complexity. A second sip coaxes forth notes of bilberry and liquorice. A well-crafted wine sure to improve for several decades. Proprietor Olivier Bernard tells me the wine contains 5% Petit Verdot, planted in 1996. We agree that it’s a fascinating variety but Olivier stresses that it must never be allowed to dominate, given its iron-rod firmness of structure. It does however confer unique traits on a wine: backbone, density, and a very special savour: liquorice, game, truffle.

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SAINT ÉMILION

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2014 CHÂTEAU CANON***(*)

Like many top 2014s its colour isn’t extremely deep but brilliant. On the day, the nose is quite Burgundian, with lovely soaring perfumes suggestive of cherry, strawberry, and nectarine (the latter probably from sweetly ripe Merlot). In the mouth, those same fruits and berries, good length and fine balance. The sample I tasted a few months back was more expressive; but wines as complex as this go through many phases before settling down in the bottle.

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2014 CHÂTEAU FIGEAC ****(*)

One of the blackest, most lustrous wines in the entire tasting, Figeac positively reeks of lush black cherry, liquorice, smoke, and truffle, with subtle intimations of a host of other sub-aromas. That blackish tinge derives from an unusually high proportion – for Saint Émilion – of Cabernet-Sauvignon (32%). It’s a balanced, slightly grainy nose, full of distinction, promising enormous depth. That promise is redeemed on the palate, which is vibrantly fresh and full of nuances. There’s real sweep and vigour on the velvety aftertaste, which makes me think briefly of a Vosne Romanée, while somehow remaining quintessentially Figeac. A 2014 of exceptional length and poise, sure to improve for several decades.

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2014 CLOS FOURTET ****

This lustrous wine smells of raspberry and cinnamon, leading into a lushly fruity flavour, with a reprise of raspberry in tandem with a rush of black cherry. While more closed- up than the Figeac, its essential harmony shows on both aroma and flavour. Long on the palate, well-structured, it will last well, developing splendidly over three decades.

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2014 CHÂTEAU TROTTEVIEILLE ****

Richly pigmented, Trottevieille has a refined, subtle aroma of unforced harmony, with just the right level of concentration for this vintage. The densely-fruity flavour is velvety, with plenty of depth and length. The ample fruit is given precision by fresh acidity. Will develop well over the coming 25-30 years. This property, which lagged behind its peers for decades, is now back on top form.

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POMEROL

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2014 CHÂTEAU LA CONSEILLANTE ****

The nose, quite Burgundian, is a fusion of raspberry, peony, and nectarine scents with a faint whiff of very clean oak. The lovely flavour is expressive, with a kind of Vosne silkiness, and all of a piece, with an infusion of cherry fruit, and a reprise of nectarine, on the palate. While not a blockbuster it shows grace and subtlety on the long finish. Will be delicious when at full stretch in a decade or so.

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2014 CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DE GAY **

Dark and vigorous, a bit earthy, this smells and tastes like a meld of damson, chocolate, liquorice and truffle. Just a bit rustic on the day, it will nevertheless settle down in bottle and develop well over coming decades (the 2000 is simply gorgeous at present).

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2014 CHÂTEAU PETIT VILLAGE **

Globular both on nose and palate, this is packed with luscious cherry and raspberry fruit, with a hint of cinnamon on the full, if closed, aftertaste. If a bit hard to judge on the day, it clearly has enough stuffing to evolve well over 15-20 years +.

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MARGAUX

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2014 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA *****

Deep but limpid, this tightly furled wine exhales a meld of damson, raspberry, and violet scents. It’s extremely smooth and refined – but initially reticent. So I swirl the glass to bring forth supplementary scents – and keep finding them. They are legion; clearly destined to evolve into an aristocratic, multi-facetted bouquet in the decades to come. Pure classicism in the bottle. On the palate, a surge of blackcurrant and bilberry, the whole supported by tannins of the silkiest kind. A great wine that will develop beautifully over three decades at least. I think of this wine as the Lafite of Margaux.

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SAINT JULIEN

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2014 CHÂTEAU BEYCHEVELLE ****

The scent, a composite of black cherry, raspberry, and nectarine, shows great poise. The flavour, mostly blackberry It has just the right degree of concentration – neither over- nor under extracted – and the sustained finish promises a good 25 years’ steady improvement. The good news is that you don’t HAVE to wait a quarter-century for this: though durable, it will doubtless be lovely to drink in the interim because of its natural harmony.

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2014 CHÂTEAU GRUAUD LAROSE ****

This dark Second Growth – one of the Médoc’s most characterful – possesses a Pauillac-like strength: full and weighty, it smells like blackberry and damson with hints of chocolate and espresso coffee. Voluminous on the palate – a typical GL trait – with plenty of flesh, it soon turns positively luscious (again, very GL!). A delectable wine, with the voluptuous Merlot (29%) making its presence felt without loss of Médoc rigour, fresh acidity giving added verve to the long finish.

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CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE BARTON *****

The rich colour signals density and power, the noble aroma sending out a seamless mixture of blackcurrant, liquorice wood, and damson: You’re inhaling the silky intensity of wholly ripe grapes. It’s a superb nose – weight without bulk, density without over-extraction. The flavour’s lavish fruitiness is underpinned by fully ripe tannins. Yet there’s an aerial quality to it, a classic restraint. In short, a masterful wine of effortless power and depth. The very essence of Saint Julien at its finest. It will evolve beautifully for several decades.

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PAUILLAC

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2014 CHÂTEAU CLERC MILON ***(*)

This Fifth Growth – of Third Growth quality – has a lovely cushiony nose of crème de framboise, black cherry with stone, and red rose. These same elements recur in a flavour that’s intense, expressive, and full of very pure, ripe fruit. A superb vigorous wine, very Pauillac, with a great future.

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2014 CHÂTEAU D’ARMAILHAC **(*)

Lighter in colour and body than Clerc Milion, though from the same stable and commune, this could easily be taken for Haut Batailley if tasted blind, having a similar light but harmonious structure in tandem with typical Pauillac vigour. A streamlined, elegant wine that tastes like Victoria plum and black cherry.

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2014 CHÂTEAU BATAILLEY ***

Resolutely back on form now, 2014 Batailley is well-coloured and has a round, vigorous aroma suggestive of damson, plum, chocolate, and cigarbox. The palate shows an enticing freshness, combined with a total ripeness of fruit; a suggestion of nectarine insinuates itself into the sustained aftertaste. Though closed on the finish, it has all the traits of a well-crafted wine with a long life ahead. Very good indeed.

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2014 CHÂTEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE ****

Always one of the best-vinified (and best-value) wines in all Bordeaux, GPL has a solid black-purple colour and a firm, distinctly Pauillac aroma of black cherry, raspberry, and nectarine (contrasting fruits that coexist in total harmony). It’s a very homogeneous scent, rich and purposeful. On the palate, too, the Pauillac character is very pronounced; as are those specific GPL traits: lovely balance, optimum concentration, fine fruity acidity, and a long aftertaste flecked with minerality. A great GPL.

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2014 CHÂTEAU LYNCH BAGES ****(*)

The colour, almost opaque, has an inner glow, while the scents that waft up from the glass almost take my breath away. You simply know the grapes that gave this glorious aroma of black cherry, blackcurrant, and raspberry just HAD to be totally ripe and pure. The velvety flavour shows a thrilling depth and length, bringing together into one entity an intermesh of lovely sub-flavours. The finish is given extra rigour by the sort of acidity found in black cherries; the tannins are of the ripest kind. Lovely! (How does Lynch Bages always manage to come up with such full, balanced wines even in lighter vintages like this?)

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2014 CHÂTEAU PICHON BARON *****

As dark as any, the Baron possesses a broad, assertive aroma with pronounced Pauillac (and specifically Baron) characteristics. It’s a forceful yet subtle nose, superbly crafted, offering a bewitching fusion of black cherry jam, dark chocolate, truffle, and damson. It not only promises unfathomable depth; it delivers on it in a flavour crammed with glossy black cherry fruit suffused with ripe-grape sweetness. The texture is gorgeous, coating the palate with fat, vibrantly rich Pauillac fruit. Perfect tannins. A great Pichon Baron, built to last. Pauillac certainly seems to have excelled itself in this vintage.

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WHITE PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

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2014 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER BLANC ****(*)

This has a glowing green-gold colour, intensified by new oak. The lovely aroma delivers a surge of white peach with stone, honey, and pineapple, with hints of pistachio, white clay, and putty – the latter a transitory scent often found in very young white Pessac-Léognans. It’s lusciously fruity in the mouth, coating the palate with suggestions of honeydew melon, pineapple, and lime. The long finish is tinglingly fresh and persistant. A great Domaine de Chevalier.

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With only minutes to spare, I searched frantically for the sample of Yquem but in vain. At lightning speed, I then sampled the Suduiraut (characteristically rich and opulent) and Climens (as always, delectably honeyed and very refined). Both lovely in their very different ways.

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© Frank Ward 2016

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