On my last full day in Bordeaux, the sun finally came out. What a tease. Because instead of kicking the dirt in the vineyards today, I was back inside, sitting down with Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire to taste a vertical of Château Larcis Ducasse.
Vertical tastings always make me wish I could taste the old vintages when they're young and the young vintages when they're old, and that was just as true today. The oldest four vintages were all beautiful wines, that showed divergent vintage character while surviving extended cellaring thanks to the force of terroir. The youngest vintages showed how the property is knocking the dust off and reemerging to reclaim its position among the elite of St.-Emilion.
Located just to the east of Pavie on a limestone terrace, the estate totals 27 acres, 24 of which are currently in production. A long-standing property, it was purchased by Henri Raba in 1893 and has been family-owned ever since; the current generation of Jacques Gratiot has owned it since 1990.
The wine has been made by Nicolas Thienpont along with his chief winemaker David Suire since 2002, and quality has taken a noticeable step up during their tenure; the château was recently upgraded to Premier Grand Cru Classé with the recent 2012 St.-Emilion classification as further testament to its burgeoning quality and reputation.
"When we started, the vineyard was a bit out of balance," Thienpont said. "The lower portion of the vineyard was producing too much and the upper portion on the hill was producing too little. In addition, parcel selection hadn't been done in the vineyards and the barrel program wasn't very precise."
"This sector of the appellation has lots of old vines and they were planted at low density by the previous generations, less than [2,400 vines per acre]. As we replant, we bring the density up to between [2,800 and 3,200] vines to bring the yields down and achieve more concentration and depth in the wines."
Indeed, the propensity for high yields hamstrung some of the middle vintages in the vertical flight, the '82 in particular, which has echos of greatness, but was just a touch fluid along the edges and through the finish, lacking the vivacity of a truly great wine.
Another change under Thienpont's direction include the removal of Cabernet Sauvignon from the blend (it typically totaled about 5 percent), with the wine now a more classic 80/20 Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend.
The wine has always been fermented in cement vat, but up until '82 it was aged in foudre before switching to barrel aging. Production averages only 2,500 cases annually and, while the price has started to creep up, this still counts as a relative bargain for extremely ageworthy Bordeaux—the 2009 can be found for about $75 per bottle, the '10 for $85. The smart buy would be to try and track down the '04, which continues to be a terrific sleeper of a vintage in Bordeaux that is drinking wonderfully now (an online search pulled up an average of just $65 for the 2004).
The vertical showed the potential of the site, with several of the older vintages showcasing long, chalky finishes, but very refined structure and lovely perfumy fruit. The more recent vintages clearly benefit from more precise viticulture and winemaking techniques, featuring brighter, denser fruit, but should also age extremely well, as the structure is even more intense while remaining well-embedded.
As Suire noted, "I'm very lucky to have been able to work with this terroir for 10 years now. This limestone terrace is really the finest part of the appellation."
The wines were tasted non-blind, moving from oldest to youngest vintage.
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1955
Whiff of mint, subtle sandalwood and cedar notes. Light bergamot and dried tea leaves with a thin thread of chalk holding the finish together. Very mature but doesn't fall apart in the glass. Drink now. (91 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1959
This has a little tarry edge, along with lightly mulled cherry fruit and thin threads of cedar, dried blood orange and chalk defining the finish. Pleasantly firm and with some energy left. Very stylish. Drink now. (93 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1961
Gorgeous nose of toffee, mint, black tea and roasted plum, with a velvety edge to the steeped blackberry and plum fruit core. Chalky spine is there, but well-buried, with smoldering tea leaves, sous bois and singed cedar filling in the finish. A wine that has survived on depth and still sports a slightly extreme profile with its pruny side. A wine marked more by the vintage as opposed to the stunning 1964. Drink now. (94 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1964
This is creamy, with crushed plum, red currant and red cherry fruit seamlessly layered and gliding along, while notes of bergamot, rooibos tea, cedar and allspice paint a lovely backdrop. Mature but still lightly firm through the finish, with a dried tobacco leaf note lingering. This has terrific range and definition and still has a juicy feel along the edges as well, opening wonderfully in the glass. A wine that lets its terroir shine brightly, as opposed to the slightly heady 1961. Drink now. (96 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1970
Supple, tender and very sous bois, with a gentle silky edge despite a profile of cedar and balsam wood, bergamot, dried currant and blood orange notes. Alluring if a bit shy on depth overall though, with the finish fading ever so slightly. Perhaps a victim of yields? Drink now. (89 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1978
This shows a still-plummy core, with hints of rooibos tea, allspice, juniper and dried red currant. Lightly firm edge on the finish with a lingering hint of cocoa powder and a flash of savory. Drink now. (90 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1982
This has softened fully, with a still-medium-weight core of lightly roasted plum and black cherry fruit woven gently with bergamot, dried persimmon, singed cedar and alder notes. Long finish has let the structure fade gently. A wine that hints at what could have been though, if not hamstrung by the large crop of the vintage. Drink now. (91 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1988
Shows a light mint note again, with a firmer edge than most of the others, as taut cedar, singed vanilla bean and dried tea leaf notes take the lead, followed by lightly mulled red and black cherry fruit and a lingering chalky edge that holds the finish. Drink now. (91 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1995
This has a nice briary edge still hanging on, along with a core of cassis, blackberry and damson plum fruit. Solid chalky spine shows up on the finish, with a nice range of lightly toasted spice notes. Nice energy here, with a lingering whiff of mint at the very end. Not bad for a wine that was released at $20 back in the day. Drink now through 2018. (91 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 1998
This has nice stuffing, with red licorice, briar, blackberry pâté de fruit and crushed plum notes laced with hints of plum skin and chalk. Solid, juicy finish has nice length and the elegance is ultimately there, with fine-grained structure hanging through to the very end. This could gain a bit more in the cellar too. Drink now through 2025. (92 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2002
Plummy and inviting with a nice velvety feel and notes of melted red licorice, red currant, pâté de fruit and plum sauce. Lots of bergamot and toasted allspice chime in on the finish, which has good stuffing for this generally lighter vintage. A surprise showing. Drink now through 2020. (90 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2003
Shows the ripeness of this very warm year, but it's well-defined and fresh too, with lush plum, raspberry and black cherry fruit lined with notes of violet, bergamot and red licorice. Starting to show some secondary tobacco and spice notes on the finish, which has a nice briary edge as well. Not at all blown out by the heat of the vintage, this has balance and freshness and still some development to go through. Drink now through 2022. (92 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2004
Deliciously plum, yet with nice drive as the plum, cassis and blackberry fruit get a nice push from well-integrated briar, toasted spice and red licorice notes. Nice fine-grained finish lets the chalky hint chime in, but it's staying cloaked in the fruit for now. Charming, pure wine that should age gracefully. Drink now through 2022. (92 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2005
This is well-stuffed, with juicy bramble, cassis bush, blackberry paste and plum sauce flavors that are nicely backlit by floral and mineral notes. Still very compact on the finish today but with excellent energy. This stands out from the pack, as the structure is far more briary than its more typically elegant chalky note, but this is a mouthwatering, vivacious wine that will stretch out nicely with some extended cellaring. Best from 2020 through 2030. (94 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2006
Stylish, with a chalky thread running from start to finish, along with red currant preserve, damson plum, red licorice and rooibois tea notes. Has its typical chalky spine, though it's a bit tauter and more sinewy on the finish than other recent vintages. But still, a wine where terroir manages to win out against a leaner year. Drink now through 2020. (90 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2007
Fresh and forward, with a rounded edge already to the plum, red currant and raspberry fruit, with a friendly, creamy feel through the licorice- and toasted allspice-tinged finish. A touch shy on structure in the end, though it has a bit more midpalate material and charm than the 2006. Drink now through 2018. (89 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2008
Plum skin, briar and blackberry notes flesh out nicely, while the back end shows more currant and licorice notes. This turns polished, thanks to nicely embedded acidity. Fresh and engaging now but just a bit high-tined at the very end. This may not be a long ager, but it will be nice to watch it progress through the end of this decade, if that's your bag. Drink now through 2019. (90 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2009
This has the fleshy, almost corpulent feel of the vintage, with enticing Linzer, currant preserve, blackberry coulis and melted licorice notes. Warm and inviting already, with a nice sappy feel at the core. The finish picks up a slightly extracted, chewy edge though, without the vivacity of the 2005 or '10, for example. So, while it's well-stuffed and should last, I'm not sure the minerality will shine through in this when it reaches peak. Best from 2015 through 2025. (93 points, non-blind)
Larcis Ducasse St.-Emilion 2010
This seems to put it all together, with intense, vibrant currant preserve, blackberry coulis and dark cherry fruit seamlessly layered with graphite and melted red licorice notes. Dense, but lovely definition, with black tea, toasted alder and ganache notes filling and expanding the finish. Great length and drive. Best from 2018 through 2030. (94 points, non-blind)
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