Denis Durantou is one of my favorite winemakers in Bordeaux. He is eccentric and passionate, and his Pomerol estate, L'Église Clinet, makes wonderfully fragrant and beautifully proportioned reds from about 85 percent Merlot and the remainder in Cabernet Franc. The property has been in his family since 1882.
His vineyard is slightly more than 11 acres and located a four iron from the center of the tiny village of Pomerol. His well-manicured vineyard is essentially organic. Denis hasn't used chemicals, with the exception of organic fungicides, since the late 1980s. He also doesn't use anything in the soil.
“I saw the acidities going down and the pH going up so I decided to stop treating my vineyards with potassium and many and other things,” he said at a tasting during VinExpo.
Denis and wine merchant Andy Lench of Bordeaux Wine Locators laid-on a double magnum tasting and barbeque on the Monday night during VinExpo that was very cool indeed. It was held at Andy’s wine estate, Château Carignan. Denis had been collecting double mags since took over L'Église Clinet from his family in 1983. So all the wines for the tasting came from his personal cellar.
It was a wonderful tasting. Many of the wines showed the fabulous violet and berry character on the nose and palate that I have come to associate with the super wines of L’Église Clinet. I have had wines from the 1940s and 1950s that are incredible from this tiny property. So, L’Église Clinet has a pedigree that counts.
But, strangely, the one of the biggest memories I took from the tasting is that big format bottles are not always the best wines from an estate. I have the impression that some of the wines, particularly those from the 1980s, were better from normal bottles.
Denis later said during the tasting that until 1990, the double mags had a slight imperfection in the girth of the corks. So the big bottles actually tasted slightly more evolved than the small ones. I wonder how many other big bottles from wineries around the world have the same problem, when you consider that they are bottled by hand? Generally speaking, big bottles age much better than normal ones. But there is always an exception to the rule.
We tasted some barrel samples of the 2008 at the beginning of the tasting, and the wine continues to show wonderful concentration and richness for the vintage. The new wood and bright fruit was impressive at this stage. It almost seemed New World in character.
Here are my tasting notes of the big, three-liters bottles.
1985: I don’t remember this being so amazing. What a nose, with white truffles and decadent meat, berry and chocolate. Off the charts. Full and very soft with velvety tannins and a rich and round palate. Juicy and generous. Sweet fruit. 96 points, non-blind.
1988: Dark ruby center with an amber edge. Loads of black truffles, blackberries and forest floor aromas that turn to violets and other flowers. Full-bodied, with lovely velvety tannins and a long finish. So much chocolate mousse on the finish and beautiful fruit. Very fresh and cool. 93 points, non-blind.
1989: Denis has a nice story about this wine because he didn't use any new oak barrels for it. “I had such good and rich must. I couldn't imagine disturbing the balance of the wine. I was probably wrong. We needed to soften it with new oak. It needs the new oak. It is very tannic. Old vines.” This is very rich and Porty with lots of roasted dark fruits. Full-bodied, and very chewy and backward. A brick house. Dusty. Old-style winemaking, but I love it for its authenticity. Turns a little dry. Normal bottles better. 92 points, non-blind.
1990: Violets with decadent black cherry and plums. Porty and heady stuff. Full-bodied, with very soft and velvety tannins. Viscous and juicy. Coats your mouth with loads of fruit. 30 percent new wood. Sweet tobacco and cigar box. More polished than the 1989. Very sweet and beautiful on the finish. 94 points, non-blind.
1995: The truffles, the berries, the violets and the chocolate come out but it's a bit subdued. Full and silky. Not what it should be. Not sure the big bottle was completely right. Still outstanding. 91 points, non-blind.
1999: Black truffle and bright berries and raspberries. Full-bodied, with super-silky tannins and a pretty, dark chocolate and berry aftertaste. Hard to resist now. This is a sleeper and relative good value. 91 points, non-blind.
1998: This is tight and powerful. Great structure. Full-bodied and very, very powerful with loads of silky yet powerful tannins and minerally, floral and blueberry aftertaste. Goes on and on. Muscular and big. Leave this alone for a long time. A little rustic and old-style, but superb. Classic Pomerol Brown sugar, chocolate and fruit too. Best after 2012. 97 points, non-blind.
2000: What a polished, sexy and gorgeous red wine. Blueberry, raspberries, minerals, flowers, and hints of black truffles. Full-bodied, with wonderfully polished tannins and licorice and berry character. Tight but super-refined. So 2000. So powerful yet balanced. Best after 2012. 97 points, non-blind.
2005: Amazing aromas of dark chocolate, sweet berries like blueberries and blackberries. Even a little like Port in the nose. Full-bodied, with layers of fabulous tannins and polished texture, like cashmere. So primary and young. Dense, tight and wonderful. Best after 2014. 98 points, non-blind.
I was thinking after I tasted the 2005 about how the last three vintages we tasted that night were sublime. I liked the 2005 slightly more because of its sophistication and complexity. It was slightly more ethereal than the 2000 and 1998. The 2005 was a little like the 2000 and 1998 combined, with the polished sexiness of the former and the powerful richness of the latter. Which of the three vinatges of L'Eglise Clinet is best will be debated for eternity.
John Lin — TW — July 3, 2009 11:32am ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — July 3, 2009 2:01pm ET
Trevor Witt — Ontario, Canada — September 26, 2009 9:39pm ET
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