Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth was in France for his 2015 vintage Bordeaux barrel tastings. While there, he's visiting the châteaus of some of the region's top estates, as well as some up-and-coming new producers; here he shares impressions of their barrel samples.
All sort of curious beasts, from griffons to demi-wolves, have appeared at Left Bank châteaus, so it was probably just a matter of time before a dragon was spawned. One finally made it to Margaux with the opening of the new chai at Château Marquis d'Alesme, located right across the street from Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry in the town of Margaux itself.
Purchased in 2006 by Hubert Perrodo, who also bought the 173-acre Château Labégorce in Margaux back in 1989, the third-growth Marquis d'Alesme has been managed by his daughter Nathalie Perrodo-Samani, 33, since his death. The chai pays homage to her French-Chinese heritage with dragon scales and moons adorning the interior of the swanky new facility. The 2015 vintage was the first vinified in the new cellar.
The 37-acre estate has three vineyard blocks, with the main parcel right between Ferrière and Rauzan-Ségla. Production currently averages 5,000 cases annually, but the vineyards are being steadily replanted, with vine density being brought back up. (The previous owners had started to let things slide.) Once the vineyards are fully in production, the estate could approach 10,000 cases a year.
Marjolaine Maurice-de Coninck, 43, formerly at Fonplégade, has been winemaker at Marquis d'Alesme since 2010. The growing cadre of women winemakers holding top spots in Bordeaux is yet another sign of the increasing amount of change in the region over the past 10 to 15 years.
At harvest, Maurice-de Coninck prefers to have the grapes hand-sorted as they come in and has so far held off on optical sorting, an increasingly popular technology that uses a laser scan to screen for less-than-ideal grapes. She ferments the wine in a combination of wood vats and stainless steel tanks; she may add some concrete vats to the mix in the future. To manage the cap during fermentation, she practices punch downs on Merlot and pump overs on the Cabernet Sauvignon. Half of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in barrels; the rest stays in vats for ML.
For aging, Maurice-de Coninck has eased off on new oak to 55 percent of the barrels, but "I am thinking of stretching to 18 months élevage," she says. "It is natural stabilization and filtering for the wine, and as we improve the wine, we think the wine can handle the extra time. We don't want to rush anything. We want to respect the wine and bottle it when it is ready, not when the market pushes for it."
With the new cellar settled and the vineyards being rejuvenated, this is now an estate to keep an eye on.
The 2015 Marquis d'Alesme Margaux blends 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Merlot, with 5 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Cabernet Franc, resulting in a lively, kirsch-filled version, backed by some additional boysenberry fruit, all lined liberally with anise and plum cake notes. It's fruit-driven and polished, but has ample energy on the finish.
The 2015 Labégorce should be a solid value. It's a bit more direct and a little scaled down from the Marquis d'Alesme, with raspberry paste and plum sauce flavors draped over toasted vanilla notes, but there's a good licorice edge to the finish, giving it contrast.