Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth was in France for his 2015 vintage Bordeaux barrel tastings. While there, he visited the châteaus of some of the region's top estates, as well as some up-and-coming new producers. Here, he shares impressions of the barrel samples.
Along with sampling Stéphane Derenoncourt’s own Domaine de l'A, I tasted some 2015 wines from his extensive range of Bordeaux clients—from long-standing to relatively new—with him during my visit. The group shows the breadth of Derenoncourt's influence, as well as his commitment to quality and diversity.
Following are notes on a selection of wines not included in my official blind tastings, due to time and space constraints, as well as availability. Many of these are produced in smaller-than-usual quantities for Bordeaux and may be hard to track down, though dedicated fans of the region may appreciate the challenge and new discoveries. For Derenoncourt's views on the 2015 vintage in general, read my previous blog post.
The 2015 Domaine de Courteillac Bordeaux Supérieur is a blend of 90 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Cabernet Franc from a 54-acre estate that has been a client of Derenoncourt's since 2007. It has slightly firm-edged plum and cherry notes with a light chalky underpinning. It's racy, with a flash of tobacco through the finish.
From Derenoncourt's first client, from 1997, the 2015 Château Le Pin Beausoleil Bordeaux Supérieur is sourced from a nearly 14-acre parcel of 30-year-old vines on classic clay-limestone soil. Predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is quite ripe, with juicy plum and cassis notes and an ample but integrated toasty frame. Lovely acidity underscores the finish, allowing the fruit to hang nicely.
The 2015 Château Gree Laroque Bordeaux Supérieur, from an estate next door to the Fronsac appellation that has been a client since 2000, comes from a mere 3.7-acre parcel of 45-year-old vines. It shows a really nice bolt of tobacco and graphite, with juicy plum and raspberry fruit. This is solidly built.
New to me is the 2015 Château Canon Pécresse Canon-Fronsac, as I have not previously tasted wine from this estate, a client since 2005. The wine receives a long aging of 16 months, but only in one-third new oak. The classic 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon blend is sourced from 35-year-old vines on a thin layer of clay over very hard limestone. The wine is rock-solid, with lots of tobacco, roasted chestnut and bay notes backed by muscular black currant and fig flavors, ending with a smoldering finish. This needs to unwind a bit, but mark this down as a sleeper pick in '15.
The 2015 Château La Rousselle Fronsac, from a client since 2001, is sourced from less than 10 acres of 45-year-old vines. This wine boasts an ample 40 percent Cabernet Franc, the rest Merlot, aged 16 months in barrel, 40 percent of which is new oak. It's a dark but racy, charcoal-edged version, with dark plum and currant fruit backed by a grippy feel through the finish.
Making their debut in '15 is a pair of wines from Simon Blanchard, the owner of Château La Croix Lartigue in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux. The 2015 Domaine Simon Blanchard Montagne-St.-Emilion Au Champ de la Fenêtre comes from just a 1.4-acre parcel of pure Merlot. It's gorgeously pure and expressive, with a lovely racy feel to its unadulterated raspberry and boysenberry fruit. The '15 Montagne-St.-Emilion Guitard is from a 0.8-acre parcel on limestone, from nearly equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It's even racier and more refined, with a light plum skin edge framing the still-exuberant fruit, all carried by mouthwatering underlying minerality. These are two beautiful wines.
Particularly eye-opening was the 2015 Château St.-Pierre Pomerol. A new client of Derenoncourt's, this property had previously blended various parcels around the appellation to make a wine that Derenoncourt simply shrugged off politely when I asked about it. Now, under his guidance, the estate has taken 2 acres of its best vines located on the plateau near Château Lafleur, stopped using herbicides and insecticides in 2014 and is reducing yields through bunch thinning. Set to be aged for 18 months in barrel, the wine bursts with intense plum and fruitcake notes melded with well-roasted vanilla and ganache hints backed by a lush, tobacco-fueled finish. It lacks a little refinement, but has wonderful energy. If I were the owner here, I'd let Derenoncourt handle all the vines, and not just that parcel ….