Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

The 2005 Vintage on the Right Bank – Part 2

November 2006

POMEROL

We’re poised to step onto Pomerol terroir but first let’s take a closer look at the grape mix for the whole of the right bank, with special reference to Pomerol itself. There are many quirks and paradoxes, even though only three varieties are really in the picture.

As we have seen, the Merlot dominates in Saint Emilion, as it does in Pomerol too. Yet the two very greatest Saint Emilions, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, have a predominance of Cabernet Franc – normally the region’s secondary grape. Both fabled properties have roughly two-thirds Cabernet Franc.

This is really odd. The two are at opposite poles of the commune and their terroirs and exposures are markedly different. Yet both ascribe their wine’s finesse and subtlety to the Cabernet Franc. Another vinous paradox is found at Château Figeac, which many see as the commune’s third greatest wine. Figeac is planted with roughly one-third each of Merlot and the two Cabernets. Only 30% Merlot at Figeac!

As regards the “other” Cabernet, the Cabernet Sauvignon (easily the most important grape on the left bank), it is found at many Saint Emilion estates but only at vestigial levels. Only Figeac has more than 3-10%.

Curiously, both Cheval Blanc and Ausone have some in their vineyards but neither makes use of it in the grand vin.

In Pomerol, however, hardly any châteaux have any Cabernet Sauvignon at all. True, Vieux Château Certan (one of the elite) has 10%, and two other reputable properties have 5%. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule. The Cabernet Franc, by contrast, is almost universally present, though rarely accounting for more than 20% of the acreage under vines. The great Lafleur is alone in having as much as 50% – no other Pomerol château comes anywhere near that level.

The Merlot truly reigns supreme in Pomerol. The most prestigious Pomerol of all, Château Pétrus, is planted with 95% Merlot, with the Cabernet Franc accounting for the balance. In quite a few vintages none of the latter goes into Pétrus at all.

Pétrus is owned and run by the house of Moueix, which also controls a string of other leading properties, mostly in Pomerol. Its veteran oenologist, Claude Berrouet, has vinified no fewer than 42 vintages of such fabled vines as Pétrus and Trotanoy and is one of the world’s greatest wine-makers.

Moueix goes its own way. They have nothing in common with the “garagiste” school of wine-making, many of whose exponents go all out for maximum extraction and the highest possible level of alcohol.

For Moueix, finesse and subtlety are the overriding goals. They can thus be seen – together with Cheval Blanc, La Conseillante, l’Evangile et al – as the right bank counterparts of the First Growths and Super-Seconds of the Médoc, as well as Haut Brion. Today, these are the properties on both banks that are making the most exquisitely balanced and subtle clarets of all.

Christian Moueix runs the house of Moueix. He has this to say about the 2005 vintage on the right bank. “It was a year of perfect weather, a year without excess. Only two recent vintages were like this: 1982 and 1989. Contrary to popular belief, it was 1990 and 2000 that were the years of excess!”

Map showing the location of all the Moueix-run Pomerol properties as well as their single estate in Saint Emilion, Château Magdelaine.

 

2005 CHATEAU MAGDELAINE, PGCC Saint Emilion ***

Not as dark as some, this has an aroma that’s initially soft and light, dominated by cherry and damson. It expands steadily, with quite a lot of oakiness, and a growing density can be registered. This process accelerates in contact with the air, the nose gaining in power and weight. Peony and cinnamon meld with black fruits.

The flavour fills out, showing richness, force, and a certain stoniness. The tannins, if firm, are not harsh. Thus a wine that started out a bit lightweight quickly turns into something of a blockbuster. The dynamism of the aftertaste suggests that a decade of ageing is needed before this is broached.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LA GRAVE, Pomerol **(*)

The full, voluptuous aroma is crammed with Merlot fruit and conjures up prunes in port, damson jam, cedar. The round, dynamic flavour fills the mouth with luscious black fruit, with fresh acidity giving cut to the weighty, harmonious finish. Good ageing potential.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LATOUR, Pomerol ***

This has a lovely scent of raspberry, black cherry, and red pepper, with plenty of lift and vivacity. It promises a velvety texture. Ripe cherry dominates on the palate, with hints of raspberry and strawberry, and the aftertaste is long, structured, and faintly bitter. Clay and stones can be picked out on the plummy finish. A well-structured wine that will evolve well for 30 years.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU PROVIDENCE, Pomerol ***

This lustrous wine emits scarlet flashes as it catches the light, and its splendidly rich, intense aroma exhales cherry and crème de framboise.

A very pure nose.

Red and black fruits mingle enticingly on the palate, which is as clean-cut and focused as the aroma. It’s a wine that’s made of stern stuff: the great charm of the scent leads into an aftertaste that is steely and full of rectitude – a pointer to the wine’s staying power. This may well open and close in fits and starts before settling down, in a decade or so, to a noble maturity that will last 15-20 years or more.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LA FLEUR PETRUS, Pomerol ****

The sweet, expansive aroma is crammed with voluptuous Pomerol scents (black fruits, truffle, morel) but has a dense core full of rigour.

The lovely flavour is lushly fruity, with excellent balance, with a suspicion of fig behind the dominant cherry and plum fruit. The aftertaste, with ripe tannins giving graininess, is fresh and full of nuances. At best around 2014-30.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU HOSANNA, Pomerol ****

The gorgeously ripe, vibrantly fruity nose of black and red fruits is so complex that it’s hard to plumb the depths. New scents materialise by the minute, but one is struck overall by the great roundness of the aroma.

The flavour of ripe berries and black fruits is delectably silky and of optimum concentration – fruity flesh articulated by tannic sinew – and the follow-through is majestic. Perfect tannins and good acidity give a resolute, precisely-defined finish. 7-8 years will bring this to a maturity that will persist a further 20 or so.

It’s hard to believe that anything can cap this, but the two biggest stars are still to come!

 

2005 CHÂTEAU TROTANOY, Pomerol ****(*)

Not extremely dark but lustrous, this has a round, sumptuous aroma, profound and weighty, of black cherry and damson jams, red rose and carnation, and the finest of clays. An altogether inspiring composite scent.

The flavour fills the mouth with rich ripe fruit yet leaves an impression of near weightlessness, because of the wine’s great buoyancy. There’s a glorious, uniquely Pomerol opulence on the lingering, nuanced aftertaste. The gently spicy finish is pure velvet. This great Trotanoy should be enjoyed – or rather, revelled in – around 2015-45.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU PETRUS, Pomerol *****

Some judges who sampled this a couple of months earlier had some reservations: I have none. No ’05 is darker than this. There’s fire within the blackness – purple sparks fly as you swirl the glass. The full, aristocratic aroma is strikingly mineral and promises flawless, effortless balance. Damson and black cherry intermingle with peony and red rose to produce an explosion (the “peacock’s tail” effect) of exquisite Pomerol scents. You can follow individual aromas like rockets within a fireworks display. All are purposeful.

 

On the palate, optimal concentration, with each component flavour contributing something to a unified whole. The finish is velvety and subtle, yet masterful, with an espresso-like finale. You can taste iron and fine clay after a moment (from the subsoil) and it is doubtless crasse de fer that gives the truffly aspect.

Like all great wines this will have its off and on moments over the next decade or so; but when at full stretch – round about 2031 – 45 – it will be sublime.

 

One authority says of Château Certan de May that “it ought really to be the equal of the best growths of Pomerol”, describing the vintages of the 1950s as “imperishable”. All agree that its wines are very good, but few are prepared to go further. There are only five hectares of vines, which are planted with 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemaker is Luc Barreau Badar, son of the owner, a black-haired, black-clad man who seems always to be lurking around the property, like a dedicated priest who cannot bear to leave his church. He is justifiably proud of his ’05, which is lodged in oak barrels of which 70% are new.

Entrance to Château Certan de May, a world-renowned Pomerol with only five hectares of vines.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU CERTAN DE MAY DE CERTAN (the full name!) ***

This dark, glowing wine has a ripe, juicy smell of damson and crème de mûre and promises sumptuousness. This promise is amply fulfilled: dense black fruit, chocolate, liquorice, and coffee flavours fill the mouth and lead into a long, weighty aftertaste of clay, earth, and cardamom.

A velvety smoothness can be attributed to old vines – always a mellowing factor. The tannins, while giving ample support, are mild. So viscous it will be accessible young, it will anyway evolve well for a good 30 years.

Certan de May is one Pomerol property that has no crasse de fer in its terroir, says M. Barreau Badar.

 

Château La Conseillante has always been rated among the top Pomerols but, like Pétrus, it is very close to the border with Saint Emilion.

I detect no Saint Emilion traits, however. It is bounded on two sides by Pétrus and Cheval Blanc respectively, and its unbroken 11.8 hectares of vines are planted with 80% Merlot (which they call the “black pearl of Pomerol”) and 20% Cabernet Franc. Interestingly, the biggest plot of Cabernet Franc lies next to Cheval Blanc – where it is, of course, the dominant variety.

Years ago, when I lived in Sweden, I had the good fortune to drink quite a few bottles of the 1961 La Conseillante, which the then Swedish monopoly had bought in many years before. They released it at a very modest price, after a good 15 years’ extra cellaring, and I still recall its gorgeous sweetness and finesse to this day…

The vineyard, 40% of which is in fact inside Saint Emilion, has a high clay content, vineyard manager Jean-Michel Laporte tells me. They say that La Conseillante “combines the strength and sensual delight of Pomerol with the elegance and subtlety of Saint Emilion”.

The 2005 is made from 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc and is lodged in 100% new oak casks (in lighter years they use only 80%). Average age of the vines is 40 years.

 

Château La Conseillante – a property with archetypical Pomerol traits, planted with 80% of the “black pearl of Pomerol” – the Merlot grape.

2005 CHÂTEAU LA CONSEILLANTE **** (*)

You can see at a glance that this is great: lesser wines can be as dark but do not have these infinite nuances of colour or that especial glow. The silk-smooth aroma swirls out of the glass, exhibiting great minerality and exceptional purity. The fabulous perfume of wild strawberry and other red fruits has a Musigny-like finesse. It also has much held-in power.

The delectably fresh, vibrant flavour of black and red fruits and chocolate is long, with a ferruginous element, and the finish has a subtle earthiness and quite a bit more weight than the ethereal nose leads one to expect. The spicy aftertaste is exceptionally long. This great la Conseillante will come into its own around 2015-35.

 

Just down the road – or track – is another of the very greatest Pomerols: Château l’Evangile, owned and run since 1999 by the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family. All their properties are superbly-run.

Among near-neighbours are Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Vieux Château Certan, and La Conseillante. The vineyard is planted with 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc. Somewhat inconsistent in the past, despite its huge potential, l’Evangile has always been counted among the finest Pomerol properties.

The subsoil contains a great deal of clay, l’m told, and there’s gravel and silex too. The 14 hectares of vines give an average of 60,000 bottles a year. Vinification takes place inside concrete vats.

 

2005 BLASON DE L’EVANGILE ***

Inevitably, this second wine is made largely from younger vines and this shows in the relatively straightforward purple “robe”. The nose, however, shows real refinement, with a myriad flowery and fruity scents showing delicacy and harmony. A chocolaty element gives extra weight.

There’s a lovely mouth-feel and the ample damson and bilberry fruit leads into an elegant, deliciously fresh finish. An entrancing wine, poised and refined, to drink over the next 7-8 years.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU L’EVANGILE *****

So rich in pigment it paints the inside of the glass purple, this has an extremely refined, clos-grained aroma of violet, bilberry, and cherry.

It’s the kind of smell – complex, exceptionally pure – that can make you gasp. The flavour is superb. A medley of black fruits, with sloe to the fore, it also has fine minerality and tannins of the smoothest, ripest kind. The finish is endless. An exquisitely poised wine of great tensile strength, with a lovely texture and seductive spiciness, to lock away for 9-10 years – and gloat over for 15-20 more.

*

I tasted no more than a dozen or so 2005 Pomerols on my short trip – though a pretty high percentage of the very choicest châteaux – and was moved to give four or five stars to six of them. This attests to a brilliant performance by a region that has only 740 hectares of vines, which amounts to about one-seventh of the vineyard area of its neighbour Saint Emilion.

 

© Frank Ward 2006

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