It’s Tuesday and that means we’re heading off to the Left Bank. This also necessitates an early departure time of 7.30am from where I am staying courtesy of a very dear friend at his Chateau de Sours in the Entre Deux Mers. Believe me, these are the most comfortable beds in Bordeaux! The bad news is the weather. After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, it’s raining stair rods and blowing a gale. Will it affect the way the wines taste with the change in atmospheric pressure? The bio-dynamic prophets might convince me but we’ll have to wait and see.
Either way, it promises to be another busy day. And where better to begin than with the brilliant and genial Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux. Today, he tells me, he’s expecting 700 visitors. Yesterday, he had 450.
So there’s no time to waste and we get down to tasting the wines.with Philippe Bascaules
his Export Director, who I also know well.
First is the Pavillon Rouge and once again, I am struck by the wonderful approachability of this ever improving second wine. Philippe compares it to the 82 and 90, which were also extremely forward early on – and still aged exceptionally well.
It’s wonderfully elegant and complex. Both Paul and Philippe rate it as possibly their best ever Pavillon and I am inclined to agree and give it 19 points. They even think it’s as good as some Margaux vintages of the 90s, which shows you how far Margaux’s second wine has come.
On the evidence of what I have tasted so far, many of the second wines are proving quite exceptional in 2009. I am convinced they will provide plenty of drinking pleasure – and, critically, great value too. I think a lot of the smart money will snap them up. I’ll certainly be buying them this year.
I’m also struck by the relatively modest alcohol levels and balance of both the Pavillon and the Grand Vin, which are just 13.4% and 13.1% respectively – unusually low for the vintage. ‘We had some very low yields and some really exceptional lots this year, explains Paul. ‘Plus we kept the levels of Merlot down in the final blends. Selection was also key. We have a lot of old vines on great terroirs which is a huge advantage.’
Paul is modestly effusive about his Chateau Margaux 2009
and who can blame him. ‘I think it is the most elegant – but also the most dense, concentrated and tannic ever produced at Margaux.’
And yet, both wines have this wonderful silky softness and freshness, together with fabulous fruit. There is a density but without any heaviness. It remains a quintessential Margaux – elegant, refined and beautifully balanced. I gave it another 19 out of twenty.
Last but not least, we also taste Pavillon Blanc – Margaux’s magnificent 100% Sauvignon Blanc
. Only 15,000 bottles have been made – just over 1,000 cases. For me, it didn’t have the opulence of 2006 or 2008, but was more tightly focused and fresher. It was also more minerally too with a bit more sinew and will certainly age and improve. Again, another terrific success.
From Margaux, we headed north to St Estephe to taste the wines of Cos d’Estournel, run by my ever-enthusiastic long time friend Jean-Guillaume Prats
. (I remember doing my first ever tasting in Hong Kong in 1992 at the Seibu store in Pacific Place). I couldn’t help thinking that Margaux would be a tough act to follow, but I also hoped and felt that Cos would be up to the challenge. And so it proved.
We arrived in weather that I wouldn’t wish to fly through, and were welcomed into Cos’ brand new chai
, which looks like something out of a James Bond movie. If you get the chance to see it, don’t pass it up. Architecturally, Cos is one of the most exciting and arresting Bordeaux Chateaux with its exotic Indian and Asian design.
As for the wines, St Estephe and Cos in particular produce much more masculine wines than those of Margaux,. Les Pagodes de Cos
had terrific richness and power with hints of leather, black fruit and a lick of cream. Again the tannins are out in force, but they’re ripe and completely integrated. I gave it 17 out of 20.
Similarly, the Grand Vin was a notch up in power, depth and concentration. (For instance, the alcohol is 14.5% on the Cos and the tannin index was almost off the scale at 99!) The result is a deeply coloured, massively tannic and broad-shouldered wine but which also manages to carry off great integration and balance and remain true to the Cos terroir. It really broods on the palate with promise of being a real vin de garde. So much so that Jean-Guillaume reckons it could last as long as the 1870!
Nature gave us everything in 2009, said Jean-Guillaume. We have ripe tannin, wonderful fruit and great acidity.’
Well, that’s it for now because my next stop is a spot of tasting at Batailley where the UGC tasting is being held. It’s usually a bit of a bunfight, but they normally do a good lunch. Then in the afternoon, it’s a stellar line-up of Lafite, Duhart, Las-Cases and Mouton.
So there’s plenty more to come.