I headed further up through the Médoc today, into the heart of the Left Bank’s prime Cabernet Sauvignon territory—St.-Julien and Pauillac.
Along the way, I stopped in at Léoville-Barton, where owner Anthony Barton still tells a great story to go along with his consistently outstanding wines, and the neighboring Pichons: Lalande and Baron. (Notes on those wines will be published next week.)
I ended the day at the famed first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild, where I met with estate manager Charles Chevalier and Christophe Salin, managing director of the parent company, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite).
(All the wines described below were tasted non-blind. As these are unfinished wines, they are scored in four-point ranges—eg. 89-92 points—to indicate that the ratings are still preliminary.)
We started first with the main estate’s second wine, Château Lafite Rothschild Carruades de Lafite Pauillac 2010. The Carruades always contains more Merlot than the grand vin; in 2010 it has 50 percent Cabernet and 42.5 percent Merlot, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Aged in just 10 percent new oak, the wine is nonetheless rather tight, with black currant and sanguine notes laced with sandalwood and roasted fig. Tight-grained on the finish, it is really long too, with the acidity just going on and on (93-96 points).
That was followed by the Château Duhart-Milon, a wine that Salin and Chevalier have been focusing more on in recent vintages. A separate estate in the Lafite portfolio, Duhart-Milon is located just west of Lafite, farther from the Gironde River, and uses a higher percentage of Merlot than Lafite’s grand vin.
“The rejuvenation of this estate really starts in ’04, when we redid the cuverie (fermentation hall) so we could do parcel fermentations,” said Salin. “The vineyard was replanted in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and now it’s fully mature. So … the property is now at full speed.”
The Château Duhart-Milon Pauillac 2010 is a blend of 73 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 27 percent Merlot, aged in 50 percent new oak. It is plumper in feel than the Carruades, with black tea, warm ganache, fig and black currant confiture notes, with pillowy but lengthy tannins backed by a smoky finish. The acidity then rushes in at the very end, adding more length. This is an impressive step up for this wine (92-95).
“It’s the same soils as the heart of Lafite, but the exposition, northwest, means it ripens three to five days after Lafite,” said Chevalier. “It is very much its own wine, its own expression.”
The Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2010 is made from a blend of 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 13 percent Merlot. All guile and elegance now, it has very sleek, perfumy black tea, currant and crushed fig fruit, laced with subtle smoke, incense and tar. Just as you think it is starting to fade on the finish (which takes a while), the acidity kicks back in and brings everything back for an encore, in a most remarkable display of length (96-99).
The last red in the group was the Château L’Evangile Pomerol 2010, from another company estate on the Right Bank, although this wine has the highest percentage of Merlot of the group. The tasting order was a quandary for Chevalier. “Based on the cépage (grape variety), I’d put it in front of Carruades, but then the Carruades might suffer. You have to think of the three Pauillacs together and then the Pomerol,” he said.
The wine shows the power and depth of the Right Bank in 2010, with ample layers of gorgeous raspberry ganache, fig and boysenberry fruit—all liberally laced with fruitcake and graphite. It’s super racy, with Linzer and red licorice taking over the finish, and it just gets bigger and bigger as it sits in the glass (94-97).
Finishing the flight is the sweet white wine Château Rieussec Sauternes 2010. Showing an extremely rich and bright profile, with lots of green fig, honey and apricot notes, it’s lush and round with some serious weight and power in reserve. It’s also remarkably fresh now, without the awkward sulphur notes that can sometimes plague young Sauternes (93-96).
“As the vineyards have gotten healthier and we’ve learned to work better, with a stricter selection of botrytis in the vineyards, the need for sulphur has decreased in Sauternes in recent years,” said Chevalier.
The grand vin of Château Lafite has been easily the hottest wine commodity in the Asian market scene in the past 18 months, drawing considerable attention to the estate. But there is more than the grand vin here at Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). With Duhart-Milon getting a facelift and the quietly impressive run of vintages at L’Evangile and Rieussec in recent years, the company is a diverse force to be reckoned with in Bordeaux.
Today’s question-and-answer session features the director of AXA Millésimes Properties, Christian Seely, who is responsible for the Bordeaux estates of Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Pibran, Petit-Village and Suduiraut. (See my previous blogs for Q&As with Christian Moueix and Château Margaux winemaker Paul Pontallier.)
It’s early, but how do you think ’10 measures up to ’09 in terms of quality and style?
We’ve been trying to figure that out actually [laughing]. We’ve got two seriously great vintages on our hands—that’s for sure. 2010 is more classic. That’s a dangerous word, because it’s been misused in the past—“classic” was typically the code word for when a wine was a bit tough. So, “modern classic,” maybe? The power is there with a freshness of structure. I just love that freshness in the ’10s.
Do you look for finesse more than power in a wine and, if so, how do you handle a vintage like ’10?
Yes, absolutely. So, in a vintage like ’10, if you have tannins, they need to be fine. Power is all well and good, as long as it’s fine-grained.
Suddenly, ’05 seems to have become a forgotten vintage. Does it measure up to ’09 and ’10?
How about we taste it?
(Smiling, Seely retrieved a bottle of 2005 Pichon-Baron. The wine shows lots of smoked plum, prune, cocoa and tobacco notes, with whiffs of cedar and mesquite and lots of mulled black currant fruit. Plenty of grip still, with a dash of mint on the finish. Tight, but not totally shut down. 95 points, non-blind.)
It started opening up about a year ago and is starting to flower—and will for a long time to come. The ’05 has a different personality. It’s always been marked by its power and structure, but it’s clearly on the same level as ’09 and ’10.