Archives for posts with tag: Bordeaux

The idea of this Tasting, as so many good ideas, came to me while re-arranging the wines in my cellar! Specifically, the red Bordeaux section, which – after years of removal of bottles to drink and replacement with later vintages – had descended to uncategorised chaos. I reorganised into vintages – mainly 2000, 01, 04, 05, 06, 09 & 2010… However I had 15 bottles – all 1s or 2s – of 11 different wines remaining from the 1990s. So I thought a Tutored Tasting was in order.

While deciding what to show I spent some time looking at the ratings – at release and after 20 years – of the different vintages.

I ended up choosing to show 3 pairs: 1990, 1996 and 1998. But the variation in vintage ratings was note-worthy. Both Left bank and Right Bank ratings ranged from 1/10 to 9/10, and averaged 6.0 for the Left and 5.5 for the Right Bank. If one compares the 2000s: the range is from 6/10 to 10/10 on both banks (although individual vintages do differ, only by 1 point, between banks), and with an average of 7.6 for both!

I looked further into this, and spent some time thinking about the reasons. In fact the stellar, 9/10 or 10/10 , vintages are not much more common – about once every 5 years. What is different is that good vintages (7/10 or 8/10) are much more common (5 years out of 10 in the 2000s as opposed to only  3 LB and 1 RB in the 1990s) and “bad” vintages get 6 at worst not 1s or 3s or 5s as in the 1990s.

So it looks like there is more consistency now, and much greater ability to make good wines in challenging years. This was once considered the unique ability of only the very top wines – but now seems to have filtered down to quite small and unremarked Châteaux – even below Cru Bourgeois status and to less prestegous appellations…

The reasons for this are complex, partly due to real weather changes although that has posed new questions for winemakers, partly due to technological and scientific advances, but – IMO – mainly down to money.

1982 is often thought of as the start of the latest – globalised, free market fundamentalist – phase of capitalism. The removal of capital controls is the landmark, but there are lots of indicators*. This has led to a steep price rises in that most globalised wine commodity: Bordeaux; and with it an influx of investment; foreign and corporate acquisition and more money spent on production. Initially this made differences in viniculture and later in viticulture: Stephen Brook says “If the 1980s was the decade of innovative viniculture, then 1990s and 2000s were the decades of viticultural improvements” (The Complete Bordeaux – 3rd Edition 2017). The wines of the 1990s only caught the beginning of these changes, they were in full swing right down the wine-chain by the 2000s.

So 1990s marks – to varying extents – the diminishing of the importance of vintage; the chances of finding a quirky family Château making wines above its level; the chances of bargains…

So what of the wines? I chose 1990, 96 and 98. The best all round vintage, the second best LB and the equal best RB.

1990 was originally a 10/10 vintage on both banks, later downgraded to 9/10. The second hottest and second sunniest of the Century to that point, it followed a warm winter and was also the driest year since 1961. There was some fear that vines on well-drained soils would shut down, and this was partially relieved by a little rain in August and a slightly cooler September. Cooler soils, more often with Merlot: Northern Medoc, St. Estephe, Right Bank; had less likelihood of this but low acidity affected some wines. A big vintage too, 30% up from the previous year. Although quite approachable, small berries helped acidity and tannin level and hence long-life. Most wines though have been at “drink up” status since 2010-2012… was this pushing too far???

1996 was an uneven weather year, hot initially then a cool and damp early July, a little rain in August and a cool, but on the left bank – dry, September. A better year for Medoc, especially in the North.

1998 was dull in July and hot in August with some vine stress. Rain in early September refreshed the vines and Merlot and Cab Franc ripened well, with small thick skinned berries. Cabernet Sauvignon struggled to ripen and this is undoubtedly a very good right bank year.

I had planned to show two Medoc (so quite Northerly) Cru Bourgeois for 1990, but the second example: Château Roquegrave was corked.

So – to to better illustrate the quality across the whole area I substituted A St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Château Grand Pontet (more than a substitute really!).

For 1996 I showed two Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois, and for 1998 two St. Émilion: A Grand Cru and a Grand Cru Classé.

Here are my notes:

Château Carcanieux 1990 Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 45% CS; 44% M; 11% CF.
Quite pale with a definite brown rim. Nose is quite typical with cedar, herbs, a mushroom hint and some plum fruit. The palate is similar with slight over-baked fruit note, still enjoyable but a little tell-tale tightening into astringency at the finish. It goes over after a while in the glass so perhaps a little past its best.

Château Grand Pontet 1990 Émilion Grand Cru Classé
This is 15% CS; 70% M; 15% CF.
This is deeper colour with a brick coloured rim. Nose has powdery perfume notes, almost floral darker fruit and a medicinal, something slightly minty, note. This is bigger and the fruit is longer in the palate, richer tannic frame and more to this but a slightly leafy (Cabernet Franc) tinge to the later tannins.

Château Coufran 1996 Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 15% CS; 85% M.
Medium colour with a transparent rim. This has a black fruit and herby nose, quite forward but simple. The tannins are a bit salty and there’s spice showing, so the palate too is simple and pleasing, but although quite succulent this fades quickly, so at the end of its drinking window, but more an instant pleasure wine anyway.

Château Cissac 1996 Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois
This is 70% CS; 22% M; 8% Petit Verdot.
This has a perfumed nose with black fruit and an almost text-book array of minor notes: cedar, forest floor. The palate of this notoriously slow-to-mature Château shows tannins still and some lifting acidity, fresh plums, forest floor again and a classic mid palate… Very enjoyable, still fresh, still asking for food – almost a reference Cru Bourgeois?!

Château La Grace Dieu, Les Minuts 1998 St Émilion Grand Cru
This is 5% CS; 65% M; 30% CF.
This had quite a quiet nose, some damson later and a chocolate grainy, going to liquorice, note. The palate shows the same with a heavier emphasis and some tannins which turn harder towards the finish, an unyielding firmness that’s been there since I first tasted it 15 years ago. It fades a little with time but otherwise isn’t looking its age, and certainly would work better with food.

Château Laniote 1998 St-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
This is 5% CS; 80% M; 15% CF.
This seems a little lighter and the nose has subtle hints of plummy fruit, perfume herby and creamy notes. The palate seems fresh and well balanced with plum fruit, some cranberry and integrated tannins and acidity. A pleasure that would sing with the right dish… My favourite!

All in all are these 20, 22, 28 year old wines holding up? The 1990 wines seemed to be just hanging on; the Cofran 96 too, the Cissac 96 now in-the-groove. The 1998 were very enjoyable and I feel the Grace Dieu’s hardness less to do with age than the wine’s (relative) austerity – the Laniote … I just enjoyed. If you have any wines from these times, I’m assuming they’re well cellared – they’ll be worth sampling now!

À Bientôt

*  [My favourite indicator is the graph of % real income growth for the poorest, middle and richest deciles. Until 1982 the 3 lines had been very close, with generally steady growth, for 40 years (after favouring the poorest for the preceding 40 years). Then they began to diverge, climbing quickly for the richest, still growing but more slowly for the middle – and actually becoming negative for the poorest. This is true with minor variations right across all Western Capitalist Economies, but so far it’s only the UK that thinks (?) the correct response to this real social problem is to vote for a project led by free market extremists whose only criticism of globalisation is there’s not enough of it!]

On Monday 7th August Rob treated the WING Tutored Tasting Group to some samples of 2005 Red Bordeaux. We broached some wines from this celebrated vintage just over two years ago (see post of June 19th 2015 for report and an outline of the vintage), but felt then the wines weren’t ready. So an opportunity to review the vintage again, in the form of wines scoring 87-89 points, seemed timely…

Here are my notes:

CHÂTEAU LA GARDE (Pessac-Leognan)     [Merlot 62%, Cab Sauv 31%, Cab Franc 5%, Petit Verdot 2%]
Pungent, aromatic herbs on the nose red fruit and grainy later. Palate is full with strong tannins, an acidic line and red fruit rather recessed… Several unintegrated components – showing the wine to be young still (?!)…

A more developed nose of damsons, red currant and a toasted wood hint… Well evolved but with a fresh fruit acid line and some depth. Tannins are fine, giving a pleasurable “open” structured wine – a little simple by the highest standards

CHÂTEAU FONRÉAUD (Listrac-Medoc) [M43 CS53 PV4]
Pungent nose with a vegetal base. Palate has a firm structure, with “hot” tannins and a strong but simple black fruit acidity, all giving length length and warmth. Still young by this tasting needing 3(?) more years integration ….

This seemed the most evolved wine, surprising as it has the highest level of Cabernet Sauvignon. Nose of forest floor, herb and lighter floral perfumes more evident than the heavier stewed blackberry fruit. Palate has that fruit again but wrapped with a dark berry fruit acid, supple tanins and a consistent long grip… Rather good and making me want to eat – I think my favourite!

The nose is slightly dusty with notes of plum fruit, some woody tones and a herby hint. Smooth on the palate, soft berry fruit with spicy hints – there is  a leafy note and warm tannin, a little grainy leading to the typical “chocolate” impression. Rather good but not quite soaring.

CHÂTEAU DE CARLES (Fronsac) [M90 CF5 Mal5]
The nose is dark fruit, with a vegetal line. Smooth on the palate, with sweet blackberry fruit supported by good acidity and herby hints again. The tannins seem a little simple and not quite mature. Quite good balance but not quite integrated or expressive… yet?

Another interesting tasting with most (but not all) wines showing signs of maturity and pleasure, but at least two needing a few more years. The star, IMO showing the potential evolution of the vintage, being the Pauillac. A few of those in the cellar would be a good thing…

Thank you for showing the wine, and for your generosity, Rob.

Until soon…

I think I’ve remarked before that one of the great pleasure of a (semi-) disorganised cellar is that one happens upon forgotten bottles with unexpected age – which (I reckon about two times out of three) often reveal something interesting….

Actually it is only semi-disorganisation: I have a rack in the cellar of pre-2000 vintage claret. I was looking there for a bottle to wash down a roast-chicken dinner and lighted upon this bottle
… which interestingly still bore its (2000 ?) price tag: £8.75 (about £13.65 at current prices). The tag didn’t identify the place I bought the 1998, however one can get several vintages (2001 – 2010) from the Wine Society for £14.50 – generally they seem to think the drinking window is 10-15 years (rather formulaic though that might be).

Fourcas Dupré’s vineyards have a long history, and were mentioned on maps dating back to the time of Louis XV. The vines are on a relatively high point of the Médoc, at 42 metres, known locally as the ‘roof of the Médoc’, Château Fourcas Dupré lies between the appellations of Moulis and Saint-Julien. 46 hectares of vines in one large parcel make up the vineyard holdings, lying on a mixture of excellently drained gravel with clay and limestone. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot compose 44% of the blend, supplemented by 10% Fabernet franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wines are matured in barriques, around a third of which are new each year.

This example is actually 18 years old, and from a year principally celebrated for the Right Bank. This however has a relatively high proportion of Merlot for a Left Bank Wine. In fact the wine was still bright with a deep garnet colour. The nose was full of non-fruit attack: cedar, mushroom, a hint of violets and a prune note. The palate was very supple and I think one would have guessed Right Bank, with quite a lot of plum, damson fruit still and mocha velvet tannin. A lovely framing fruit acid circled the food and the mere 12.5% alcohol allowed indulgence…. Very satisfying! I imagine the 2001 might be very similar…

Perhaps it goes to show even a relatively modest wine (for its sort) can gain interest with time.

On another note – Jonny Rudge left a comment that I thought worth putting out directly:

“… There is a charity wine tasting event taking place at Debbie Bryan’s Shop in the Lace Market in Nottingham this Saturday at 7.00 pm in partnership with a wine merchant from the Loire Valley who now calls Nottingham his home.

“All of his wines come from vineyards that he travels back to regularly and I thought that there may be some you haven’t sampled before. If any of your group would be interested, the tickets are on sale here:

I can’t make it myself, as I’ll actually be in the Loire – Bourgueil more specifically…  but if anyone goes and wants to write a note I’ll post it here eventually.

I’ll be back the last week of July – until then…

On Monday 15th February the WING group met for a Vertical Tasting of 5eme Cru Classé Pauillac, Château Batailley, guided by Anna and Paul.

Château Batailley is in the south of the Pauillac area, situated on a gravelly plateau that descends towards the Gironde. The superb soil has excellent natural drainage ideally suited to the estate’s combination of premium grape varieties. Plantings are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The assemblage often mirrors this but annual fluctuations can see the balance change (e.g. 2014 has 82% Cab Sauv.) In bond new vintage prices are usually in the low £30s but mature bottles reaching through the £40s towards £60.

Batailley is a Château some of us have followed for a while, helped no doubt by their regular inclusion on the Wine Society list. Indeed this group has once before has a vertical tasting of their wines – in March 2008 we had such a tasting which featured many of the wines we sampled again tonight. I’ll attach my notes for the, then, 8 year younger wines to remarks this month.

Here are my notes:

Château Batailley 1995
An open nose with vegetal hints, dark plummy fruit and a lighter perfume, very Pauillac with blackcurrant and woody hints. The palate is drying without prominent chewy tannin “spikes”, a long acid line, a little stalky, but the fruit is dried – plum-skin, and there is a slightly spicy finish. Needs food now and probably a little past its best…
8 years ago: “Very pungent, steel water tank (Franc?) and vegetation. Fruit flavours in harness with an evolved fruit-acid line and integrated tannins 17”

Château Batailley 1998
More pungency, darker with more fruit, perfumed hints. More fruit on the palate, less tannins and a more apparent green pepper tinged acidity. Very pleasant but a more Merlot-inflected balance, maybe? Lacks a little of the grip, power and length one associates with Pauillac but grows a little in the glass.
8 years ago: “Pungent blackcurrant and wood, both oak and cedar. Fruit is a little too sweet and confectionery and appears a bit over produced 14.5”

Château Batailley 1999
Fruit, herby, grainy earth hints and slightly jammy open nose. Very sweet and soft, but rather dilute and simple. My least favourite wine…

Château Batailley 2000
Vegetal and fruit – blackcurrant, plums and black cherry skins – a lighter perfume underneath and hints of cedar, complex and beguiling. Palate has an immediate and very long lasting fruit acid line going right through the wine with warm tannins supporting but not obtrusive. A star.
8 years ago: “Vegetal and black fruit, earth and cedar. Warm soft fruit on the palate giving a sweet gloss to acid and tannins underneath. More fragrance develops with time and the palate integrates. Good 17”

Château Batailley 2001
Relatively quiet nose, with heavier black fruit and damson, lighter notes appear later. Palate is warm with some sour fruit acid, and a rich finish. Slightly less structured than the previous wine but the fresh acidity gives the wine a lift. A little like the 1998 with added freshness from the acidity, is this another year with a more Merlot inflection?
8 years ago: “Pungent but quite complex nose, some higher notes and redcurrant rather than blackcurrant. Fresh with balancing structure and some sweet fruit 16”

Château Batailley 2003
Woody and prune nose with a slightly dusty, quite heavy, almost tea hint later. Palate is warm with tannic leathery texture and a bigger Cabernet flavours, rather more massive than an elegant claret. Slightly “cooked”… but opening well compared to…
8 years ago: “Lovely text book nose of blackcurrant and cedar. Big palate with firm tannins and dry acidity – a bit too straight Cab Sauv. Slightly green finish despite no Cab Franc in the blend this year – 14”

A brilliant tasting which – with the middle four vintages consecutive, shows how the Château coped with different vintage conditions rather more than relatively similar ages of the wines (14-17). In fact Batailley deserves some praise for making interesting wines in very different years. For my part 2000 is both the star, and the most typical – a combination not always found. I rather have a soft spot for the 2001 though…

Thanks so much Paul and Anna!

Until next time…

On Monday 15th June the WING group met to taste 2005 Red Bordeaux, guided by Kim and Laurie.

This is one of the most highly praised – and highly priced – of all Bordeaux vintages. Incredibly perfect weather conditions produced wines famous for structure, style, local typicity with a long prospect of pleasure. Ten years on seems a good time to reappraise the wines.

The weather perfection consisted in: high daytime temperatures throughout the season (but not as scorching as 2003); relatively cool nighttime temperatures, preserving acidity and freshness; low rainfall – about 60% of average – producing clean small-berried fruit; small amounts of amazingly timed rain staving off drought, but helping the fruit-set, the Véraison, and both right- and left-bank final ripening; and finally, long lived autumn fair weather over the harvest itself.

Here are my notes (prices are for 2005 wines available now):

Château Moulinet-Lasserre (Pomerol)   –   Wine Society  £27.59
M 70%,  CF 20%,  Malbec 10%    –  18 months in oak, 25% new
Dark colour, with  a herby and plummy Merlot nose – becoming more Cherry with time. Palate too starts plum and plum skins but gets more cherry, spice and chocolate with time. Quite pliant with some moreish structure. Enjoyable.

Château Cantmerle (5eme Cru Classé – Haut Medoc)   –   BBR  £33
CS 61%,  M 31%,  CF 2%,  PV 6%  –  12 months in oak, 50% new
Quieter nose with black fruit, cedar and a liverish note. A drying, slightly young, palate lifted and made refreshing by a good acid structure. Later the nose develops a more mushroom hints and there suggestion of something floral, at the same time black fruit re-appears on the palate with a herby twist and a drying plum-stone finish. Clearly better after a while and still seeming young. Probably needs 3 years and – judging by its “day after” performance – will then be excellent.

Bouquet de Monbrison (2nd Wine of Ch Monbrison Margaux CBS)   –   Laithwaites £23.50
CS 40%,  M 37%,  CF 23%,     –       12 months in oak, 50% new
Quiet nose with some herbal hints developing. Rather a pretty palate with the soft Merlot side to the fore. Reasonable poised but rather light and increasingly simple seeming…

Château d’Angludet (CBE Margaux)   –   F&R £34
CS 60%,  M 20%,  CF 6%,  PV 4%    –  12 months in oak, 25% new
Plum fruit with a creamy element with increasing aromatic profile, later still turning rather pungent . Palate is Cabernet tilted: black fruit, herbal notes and a grainy tannic warmth. Later the fruit seems more compote sharp, and increasingly muddy. A bit disappointing and not improving.

Château Le Crock (CB Saint-Estèphe)   –   Wine Society £23
CS 60%,  M 25%,  CF 10%,  PV 5%    –    18 months in oak, 33% new
Impressive nose woth pungency and florality – like fading lilies with a hint of cardamom. Big palate with blackcurrant lifted by dazzling acidity. Later very Cabernet: black fruit, cedar and tannin; big and enjoyable and very good value!

Château Batailley (5eme Cru Classé – Puillac)    –    BBR  £44
CS 70%,  M 25%,  CF 3%,  PV 2%    –    16 months in oak, 55% new
Ripe fruit and other aromas in a complex nose and, although some youthful hints a pleasurable and integrated wine. The palate has a long line of fruity acidity and firm tannins support rather than dominate. A good wine which it’s easier to enjoy that write critical comment. Good now but some suggestion of more complexity to come.

The tasting, for me, led to some general observations. The Classed Growths seemed to have more to come, although very good now. The Margaux were disappointing, one too light and one too heavy and neither showing the delicacy one might hope for from this commune. The Pomerol seemed to improve as did the classed growths. But the most immediately impressive and best value was the Saint-Estèphe, in accord with many comments on wines from there. There’s little hurry with these wines though… plenty of time to enjoy them.

Until next time…

-The WING Group met at the ICC on Thursday 8th January to taste 6 Right Bank Clarets.

The selection of wines, as usual for the ICC tastings, focused on the £13-£17 range and in this case the 2007-2010 vintages. The group of wines were put together not by me, but by the Wine Society. That more or less guarantees well-made, pleasurable and good value examples, in my experience. However at this price level is concentrated on lesser appellations of the Right Bank: Côtes des Castillon and Côtes des Francs, the “Satellites” (Lalande-de-Pomerol, Lussac-St. Emilion, Montagne-St. Emilion) and Fronsac. However modern advances in these areas in depth of flavour, ripeness, warmth and extraction can easily go over into fruit-driven international styles that – in my opinion – don’t express the essence of the area’s wines. Before the tasting I thought these wines might straddle that stylistic edge… and so it proved.

Here are my notes:


CHÂTEAU DE LA COMMANDERIE 2010 Lalande-de-Pomerol – 14% (Wine Society – £13)
This is a wine from the Moueix stable, and cheapish for anything with the word Pomerol on the label. The nose is all soft fruit – and the opening palate has sweet fruit, then a big hit of acidity and tannins in the middle palate before a return of sweet fruit with a slightly spicy twist at the (quite early) finish. Not altogether integrated and rather one dimensional. A definite “fruit-driven” style.
Quality: 13/20   Value: 14/20

CHÂTEAU PUYGERAUD 2008 Bordeaux Côtes de Francs – 13½% (Wine Society – £13.50)
Slightly vegetal or forest-floor notes, sweet fruit and a hint of oak. Palate has a warm herby element, plum fruit and a continuous line of soft tannins, liquorice (from the 5% dash of Malbec in the blend?) and darker fruit hints appear later. Better integrated and more satisfying than the previous wine.
Quality: 15/20   Value: 16/20

VIEUX CHÂTEAU SAINT ANDRÉ 2010 Montagne-Saint-Emilion – 14½% (Wine Society – £14)
A nose of soft, quite dark, fruit framed with herby and woody tones. The palate has big fruit elements but a middle palate of supple tannins which is spread wider than the first wine. Another Moueix wine, which seems like a better integrated and harmonious version of the first wine, but still shows a similar big fruit then tannin profile.
Quality: 14/20 Value: 14/20

MADAME CHÂTEAU DE PITRAY 2009 Côtes de Castillon – 14½% (Wine Society – £15)
This has a black fruit, a soapy note and then floral and non fruit hints. The palate is supple with herby (maybe from C. Franc, which is 30% of the blend, vinified separately) notes and supple tannins. But no flavour is over-emphasised and the whole is smooth, multi-faceted, integrated a enjoyable….
Quality: 16/20 Value: 16/20

CH. DU COURLAT CUVÉE JEAN-BAPTISTE 2009 Lussac-Saint-Emilion – 14½% (Wine Society – £15)
This has some wood giving a smoky note too – then big, but not overwhelming, prune notes. The palate has prunes too and similar light counterpoints of wood and smoke, but the fruit is the main event leading to a slightly meaty finish. Very fruit driven, one might mistake this 100% Merlot for a – good – New World example. It has some other factors and more going on to offset the even bigger fruit, but still “international”, the best of that style in my view.
Quality: 15/20 Value: 15/20

CHÂTEAU DE LA DAUPHINE 2007 Fronsac – 13% (Wine Society – £17
This has a promising pedigree: Fronsac, for a start; fermentation in concrete (especially good for Cabernet Franc in my experience); vineyard expanded onto higher slopes; modernised cellar and made within an 11 year interregnum between (the frying pan of) Mouiex ownership until 2000 and (the fire of) Michel Rolland consultancy since 2011.
This has prune fruit too, but also herby notes and an “ascending” floral note that resolves into violet, giving more complexity than we’ve seen so far. The palate is driven by supple persistent acidity underlying the warm fruit, grainy tannins and final chocolate note… hints of herbs too. Very good, interesting, balanced and showing welcome complexity whether they come from age, the Franc element or careful vinification, Good – and the most persuasive.
Quality: 17/20 Value: 16/20

So – the tasting panned out just as forecast with a hazy line between styles that we might label “fruit-driven” or international and those that are more “classic” and broader. These were good examples of both – you’ll be able to detect my preferences – but each to their own!

Until next time…

It is usual to think of Bordeaux red wine, Claret, as either Right Bank or Left Bank. Right Bank is North of the Dordogne, Left Bank is West of the Garonne. These two great rivers meet about 10 miles North of Bordeaux to form the Gironde estuary, which gives the department its name.

Bordeaux is a massive wine area. On its own it would be about the 14th largest wine country. About a third of Bordeaux is Right Bank.

The map below shows the main Right Bank appellations. Going from the East: Côtes des Castillon and Côtes de Francs make up about 6% of all Bordeaux wine; then St. Emilion (5%) and St. Emilion satellites (4%); Pomerol (& Lalande-) only about 1% – the same for Fronsac (& Canon-). Finally another 17% or so come from Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye, at the West end of  the Right Bank.


Right Bank wines are mainly Merlot based, typically 70% or more, and all aspire to a richer, fragrant, supple, more approachable character than the Cabernet-based wines from the Left Bank.

At their best they should offer plummy and chocolate Merlot characteristics, combined with food friendly structure, fragrance, acidity, and complexity from their geology and the minority grapes.

At the centre of this continuum of Merlot-based wine production are the (very) famous names of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, producing wines that do fulfil this aspiration. However top St. Emilion and nearly all production from the tiny area of Pomerol do so at a very high price.

Uniquely among these areas, St. Emilion has a classification system which goes: Premier Grand Cru Classé A [Cheval Blanc and Ausone]; Premier Grand Cru Classé B  (11 others); Grand Cru Classé (55); Grand Cru (hundreds); and plain St. Emilion (ditto). All the GC Classé are likely to start over £25. Plain Grand Cru St. Emilion vary enormously from below the level of good satellite wines to Classé-level examples at prices likely to push most people’s budgets.

Most of the other areas, including the St. Emilion satellites, provide better-than-average examples around the £12 – £18 mark. I would expect them to compare with examples from more famous appellations that are 20% more, maybe 40% more.

So what might we expect from so-called “lesser” appellations? All are reputed to produce simpler wines, which can appear in two ways. Either as a lighter style, without the depth of flavour, length or interest of the “real thing” – or as a more rustic, clumsier version.

Traditional wisdom attributes the former reputation to Fronsac, Lalande, the St. Emilion satellites & Castillon – the latter to Bourg & Blaye.  However it seems clear that good producers in the each region are aiming at a deeper style and better wines than in the past from those appellations.

The tasting this month is an opportunity for a snapshot of some of these more progressive Châteaux. Concentrating on the East (Côtes des Castillon and Côtes des Francs), the Satellites (Lalande-, Lussac-, Montagne-) and Fronsac – the selection has been made by the Wine Society – and seized on by me for the “Dealer’s Choice” session this year.

I’ll be posting tasting notes in 4 or 5 days.


Finally it’s sad to see that Serge Hochar, the charismatic owner of Lebanon’s Château Musar, died at the age of 74, while on holiday with his family in Mexico over the new-year break.

“Serge Hochar reminded the world that the Lebanon could make wines of extraordinary beauty and character and in doing so unleashed upon the world wines with a genuine cult status and a profound expression of a unique terroir.” (Michael Karam). Next time you try a glass of Château Musar, remember Serge – RIP.

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