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Thoughts About Minor League Bordeaux

Posted: Jun 9, 2008 12:28pm ET

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a simple lunch with a friend at my house in Tuscany and I decided to go down to my cellar and try some of the older crus bourgeois and petite château Bordeaux that I had lying around. These were just odd bottles that I had had for years in my cellar. In fact, some had been in my cellar in London before I moved to Italy in 1998.

Anyway, I first pulled out a 1989 Château de Pez St.-Estèphe. I pulled the cork and decanted the bottle. The color looked good, but it was CORKED!

Lunch wasn’t ready yet, so I went back down to the cellar and I found a bottle of 1989 Château de Rochemorin Pessac-Léognan. The Pessac can be very good in top years, and I remembered liking the 1989. I quickly decanted it. And it was good, but nothing special. Here is my tasting note: Earthy and meaty with some mushroom aromas. Medium body, fruity and simple with good fruit and a light finish. 83 points, non-blind.

That wasn’t good enough, even if I was only making a mint omelet with a mixed green salad!

I decided to get two bottles of 1989 crus bourgeois now. I was getting little obsessive about the whole thing, to be honest. I wanted something outstanding for my omelet, and I felt I was letting my friend down.

I found a bottle of 1989 Château Liversan Haut-Médoc and 1989 Château Soudars Haut-Medoc. They both were very good, but still not outstanding. Here are my tasting notes:

1989 Liversan: Aromas of licorice and spice with some sandalwood and berry character. Medium body with fine tannins and a fresh finish. A bit simple but very good now. 87 points, non-blind.

1989 Soudars: A bit thin now with plum and light spice. Some tobacco. Medium to light body with a fresh finish. Not a lot going on . 85 points, non-blind.

I looked at all the bottles on the table, and I thought to myself for a moment. Perhaps crus bourgeois are not really meant to be drunk almost two decades after they were produced? Granted, I have had a number of exceptions, including drinking a 1945 Sénéjac in the late 1980s that some of my London wine trade friends mistook for Latour in a blind tasting. And I love the 1990 Sociando-Mallet at the moment.

But maybe most crus bourgeois and petit châteaus are better consumed in the first ten years of their lives?

Jordan Horoschak
Houston, TX —  June 9, 2008 2:39pm ET
James - interesting. So, does this experience make you rethink your views on the maturity window of the smaller chateaux in Bordeaux, even in great vinatges? Some of your latest tasting notes on the wines you tried at home suggest "best after 2005" - maybe we are being too optimistic on their longevity?
James Suckling
 —  June 9, 2008 3:59pm ET
No. I think that my maturity windows are on the young side anyway. I like my wines a little more aged in general. But may be smaller chateaux, even some well-known crus bourgeois, don't age that well?
Rob Mackay
Santa Cruz —  June 9, 2008 5:04pm ET
Too bad the de Pez was corked. That one probably would have been your winner for the night.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  June 9, 2008 6:26pm ET
The latest thing I've had that was cellared for quite some time was the 1995 Chateau Beau-Site St. Estephe. It drinks beautifully after decanting for a while. Your 86-rating note said:

An accessible '95. Pretty, delivering cherry and berry character on nose and palate. Medium-bodied, with medium tannins and a delicate finish. Try after this year.

That year was 1998. I would say it probably rates a few points higher than 86 (most certainly better than the '99 Calon Segur I have which has the same rating and easily as good as the '95 Tronquoy Lalande I recently opened rated 89 points). That said, I'm drinking up the few bottles I have left right now. Why wait when it's drinking so well? Meanwhile, I had my first corked '96 CH L'Enclos not long ago (out of 20+ bottles). Now that is a really delicious wine -- and still drinking beautifully I might add. - Jim
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  June 9, 2008 8:33pm ET
James I think your blog does a lot to explain why people seek out Bordeaux wines with a great track record on aging. If only we knew what wine today would be equal to yesterdays 1945 Senejac.
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  June 10, 2008 4:00am ET
I've found that some of the second labels drink better on the young side. I had a 2003 Pavillon Rouge Du Chateau Margaux and a 2000 Le Petit Cheval within the past two months and found them to be quite approachable. I'm guessing it was a good decision, especially after reading this.
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  June 10, 2008 8:05am ET
James, I presume Paolo Bea didn't allow you to formally taste their wines?
James Suckling
 —  June 10, 2008 10:08am ET
Why do presume that Mark? Apparently my office didn't get the samples!? Regardless, I also buy samples in wine shops.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  June 10, 2008 2:39pm ET
I had a 2000 chateau greysac last week and it was totally dead. Devoid of any fruit and body. (like drinking ink water) I remember having it the first year after release and it was at least a decent quaffer. Then again it was only 30$ at the restaurant, but if I was in company of friends, I would have done what you did James and picked up something else.
James Suckling
 —  June 10, 2008 4:10pm ET
Jeffrey. LOL. Nice description! Ink water. I wonder if it had been stored properly?
William Delaney
Arlington VA —  June 10, 2008 4:24pm ET
James, how long should a good second wine like 2000 Carruades or 2000 Pavillon Rouge keep?
James Suckling
 —  June 10, 2008 4:27pm ET
I had a 1983 Pavillon the other day and it was drinking beautifully. So in great years they can keep almost as long as the gran vin. But I wouldn't wait that long because they don't have the complexity or length of the first wine.
Jimmy Hwang
Atlanta , GA —  June 10, 2008 7:23pm ET
James, I am constantly searching for "cheaper" bordeaux, which means none of the big names. However, second and third labels have provided my clients and myself with some fantastic experiences. Fontvillac from St. Emilion is wonderful, the 2003 is drinking beautiful right now and could probably go another few years. It actually beat out 11 other Merlots in a blind tasting I held! The third label from Pichon, Les Gariteaux is like silk in a glass. I've tasted and served the 2000 vintage numerous times, and shows my clients what age can do for a wine. There are shops near mine that specialize in the "Big Boys" so I am constantly on the look out for lesser known chateaux. I can never get enough Bordeaux. One you should look for: Chateaux du Seuil from Cerons. Imported by Robert Chadderdon, the 2003 retails for about $24.99. Cheers! -Marshall Parker
Peter Vangsness
Springfield, MA —  June 10, 2008 10:19pm ET
At the risk of swelling your head, James, my experience has been that if the wine received a high rating from the Spectator upon its initial release it aged quite gracefully. This was true of the '89 Cantemerle and '89 Cordeillan Bages my wife and I recently enjoyed with friends. We have had equal success with any second wine that scored well upon release, like the '89 Tourelles. Like you, we prefer some age and aren't scared to try a wine with which we have little experience but learn of a high WS score.
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  June 11, 2008 12:23am ET
James, wildly off topic regarding Paolo Bea - sorry for that! I had thought that their Sagrantino was pretty famous and wondered why they weren't part of the recent tasting. Don't they compare favourably?
Chris Tenggren
Elburn, IL —  June 11, 2008 9:59am ET
Not What We Thought They Might Be?!
1989, Still One of My Most Favorite Vintages... for Grand Vins anyway! James, Sorry for the corky Ch¿au de Pez! I think Rob may be correct in that it should have been the right wine for the moment! Clearly Crus Bourgeois is not the same as the Grand Vin in any vintage! I am sure we will likely see the same thing occur with the 2000, 2003 & 2005 vintages, as we did with the 1989, 1990, 1995 & 1996 vintages. In classic/outstanding vintages, we should purchase and enjoy the non-classified offerings (& 2nd labels) during the 8-12 years after release. All while waiting for the Classified Growths to mature into what many of us that enjoy great older Bordeaux (with the right amount of bottle age) can become. Thanks for blogging on this important topic James! It should encourage everyone to check their inventories and visit some of that pre-1998 stuff before it gets to be too late! Maybe with an omelet!
James Suckling
 —  June 11, 2008 10:34am ET
Mark. It is off topic. But are you the agent for Bea in Japan? Or you sell his wines? I like Bea's wine and I will be tasting his 2003 in a week or two. I gave the 2001 88 points. Apparently, he didn't make a 2002.
Mike Pederson
Mission Viejo —  June 11, 2008 12:43pm ET
I recently opened a bottle of 2000 La petite Chaval because I was afraid of letting what could be a great wine go to long. After opening I think that it could have rested several more years, very complex and super smooth and silky. I don't regret opening it, but will always wonder what if? Who knows maybe it was the perfect time. but I now fear that expirience will no doubt lead to letting some other of my other wines like the 2000 labastide Duzac go to long before opening. What's a guy to do. Am I the only one tortured about when to open a bottle?
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  June 11, 2008 9:47pm ET
Not an agent no, just a fan of the style so will be checking out the other Sagrantino's that you wrote about. I couldn't see a tasting note on any Paulo Bea hence the enquiry. Great to know about the 03 thank you. I gather that the grapes in 02 weren't upto standard to make the usual Montefalco and Sagrantino wines so they instead made a blended table wine. I've tried it and it's not too bad. It's great to taste wines like these and see how they develop in bottle. It's a very different style to most of the wines I've tried from northern Italy. Thanks for writing about them!
Henry Kranzler
west hartford, ct —  June 12, 2008 8:30am ET
In recent years I have drunk three 1989 Bourdeaux: Pichon-Longueville-Lalande, Clerc Milon and Cos Labory. I found the P-L-L to be good, but not great. The Cos was as good, but the Clerc Milon was the best of the three. I have a P-L-Baron and a Clos L'eglise and plan to drink the Clos soon. Any thoughts about whether to hold onto the P-L-B or should I drink it soon?
Marcel De Vries
Netherlands —  June 13, 2008 8:23am ET
I drunk the Mouton Rotschild 1989 some months ago and it was still great. What about the clinet 1989 and Haut brion 1989 must I drink it already?
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  June 13, 2008 1:28pm ET
As I am working on a story on how Australian wines age, I did a little research on Jim's notes to see what he said about the wines originally vs. what he found when he opened them this time. The Liversan was just a bit tannic in 1999, but less expressive today. That Rochemorin was a heady, Porty wine when tasted before, now light and thin? Sounds like mild corkiness for it (and possibly the Liversan as well), so it's not necessarily the wine but the individual bottles that were disappointing. Drinking them earlier might not have been any more fun. (The Soudars was "ready to drink," according to Jim's published note in 1999, so it's not surprising it's on the downslope nine years later.)
Mr Damian Zaninovich
Bakersfield,Ca —  June 18, 2008 11:03pm ET
James,I've enjoyed dozens of petit chateaus bought mostly on futures from the great 2000 vintage based on yours and others recommendations and found these wines to be perfect for drinking on release w/o decanting but I enjoy young vigorous wines.A partial listing of these would include(not all petit chateaus) Cap de Faugeres,Brown,Louviere,Cote de Baleau,Gigault,Clos Chaumont,Siran,Lillian Ladouys,Lannesan,Lamarque,Dauzac,Clos Margalaine,Brisson,Beaumont,Mallescasse,Belgrave,Dame de Montrose,Sarget de Gruaud Larose,Tourelles de Longville,Clos l'Eglise,d'Aighuilhe,Fleur de Bouard,Lynch Moussas,Puygueraud,La Tour Carnet(least favorite,too new world,overextracted?) The only ones I still feel need more aging are Haut Batailley, Haut Bages Liberal and Clos du Marquis(more Cab in the blend?).On the other hand the 2005 vintage is a different animal. These wines no matter the level demand decanting and even that's not a complete solution. Though they are both spectacular vintages they are not similiar, the 05 tannins are ferocious and after attending a wonderful tasting at the Wine Exchange I was dumbfounded how you could taste so many of these wines in such a short period. Thanks for bearing through this long winded response.
Bordeaux —  June 24, 2008 10:45am ET
I believe there are no exceptional wines but only exceptional bottles.
Bernard Mclaughlin
Chicag,Il —  June 29, 2008 12:12pm ET
While reading this blog,I could not stop thinking about a Margaux I drank with a friend last month. 2000 labastide Duzac I could not believe how wonderful this wine was. Buy it with both hands. The second lables of 2000 are ready to show you how great this vintage is!

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