Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Downing College Wine Society - Bordeaux Tasting, Lent 2008

Downing College Wine Society - Bordeaux Tasting
Howard Building, Downing College, 13 March 2008

Whites (in reverse chronological order)

Les Clos de Reynon 2004, Cotes de Bordeaux [B-(+)]

Made by the Dubourdieu family, one of the great names in Bordeaux. This is a Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc blend in equal proportions, but feels rather Sauvignon Blanc-heavy. Crisp, fresh, nice limy tang to it; one can feel the minerality as well. Its a nice, very drinkable white with some white fruits/peachy flavours. The smoothness and stony feel to the wine is notable, but otherwise, nothing exceptional to remember it by. Its oaked (and feels so too) but not excessively. Drink up soon, maybe with light seafood, fishes and salads.

Ch Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 1997, Pessac-Leognan [B+(+)]

Deep golden colour is quite something to behold. This is a matured white Bordeaux from a very reputable Chateau and has developed accordingly. The nose is sweet, honeyed, perhaps even nectar, with a light touch of white pepper. At the moment, the oak is quite prominent, some has integrated into the wine, fruit is masked but is slowly released on the palate (sweet grapefruit, seville orange was mentioned in the tasting). Quite full and rich on the mouth, creamy smoothness and has, dare I say it, a fresh finish? This is good stuff, and will probably keep another 5-10 years.

Reds (in reverse chronological order)

Ch Tour de Beauregard 2004, St Emilion [B-(+)]

The nose was quite expressive, especially given the age, it was fuit-dominated and perhaps even floral. Licorice, cinnamon and spices can be detected, along with black cherry. Tannin is still very green, hence the woody and herby notes. At the moment, the body is not opening up, just feels very tightly coiled, not ready to reveal the flavours hiden within. On the palate, feels flat and somewhat dilute. Definitely needs some cellaring time, at least 5 yrs to even be able to appreciate the potential; just too young to drink now.

Ch Beau Site 2003, St Estephe[B(+)]

This is a good Bordeaux year and Beau Site didnt disappoint. Big, rather powerful and alcoholic nose, not quite as powerful as an Aussie Shiraz at 14.5%, but certainly unrefined by Bordeaux standards. The fruit-dominated palate include ripe cherries and blackberries, but its the largeness and power that is really notable. Tannin is there but is not integrated into the fruit wine: needs time, I would be interested in tasting this in 5 yrs time to see development. Think of large, hearty French food, or a big slab of meat, a barbecue even.

La Reserve de Leoville Barton 2000, St Julien [B(+)]

Stellar year supposedly, and from this wine, one would agree. The second wine of Ch Leoville-Barton, an example of which is tasted later, made from parcels which didnt make it into the Grand Vin. Proper Bordeaux nose: rustic, earthy, nutty. The body is still large, but not aggresively so; tannin has developed, less edgy, helping the wine to open up on the palate. Generous amounts of dark fruits, with a hint of smokiness (someone said smoky bacon, but I think thats going a bit too far). On the palate it is firm, yet quite mellow at the same time, you can tell the wine has good balance. Still has lots of life in it, another 5-10 yrs wont go amiss.

Les Bahans du Chateau Haut-Brion 1999, Pessac-Leognan [A(++)]

Second wine of the fabled Chateau Haut-Brion, again, from parcels which didnt make it into the Grand Vin. Nose is of a proper Bordeaux, with added herby/woody and white pepper characteristics. Some tannins has mellowed out, yielding a smooth settled body with good length; cassis, ripe cherries can be felt, along with aromas of cigar box and old leather. This is poised in terms of balance and structure, somehow I feel that it has not completely opened up yet, and will still develop with time. Lots of life left, about 10-15 yrs mark, I would venture. I dont know what the bigger brother tastes like, but this is seriously impressive and complex.

Chateau Palmer 1997, Margaux 3rd growth [B+]

Nose is leathery, smoky, with a touch of floralness (rosehip?), and those fragrant woods (sandalwood, not sure what wood exactly). Seductively large, with a smoothnes and elegance befitting of Margaux. Tannins have pretty much yielded to fruit and softness. However, this vintage doesnt have the power and firmness to carry it through. It saddens me to say that it wasnt impressive, tasted rather dilute and tired, like a wine on decline, past its best. I have heard very good things about Palmer and I feel this one didnt quite live up to it, perhaps it was a bad bottle, I dont know. Drink up.

Ch Chasse Spleen 1996, Moulis en Medoc [B]

There is a burnt nose to this, like freshly laid tar / coal / graphite leads, must be something to do with the toast of the barrels, quite different, if nothing else. Smoky bacon, oak and smoked cigar can be detected on the nose too, not sure if thats a good thing or not. Tannins still quite drying, hasn't integrated into the body yet, weirdly needs more time or perhaps this is as good as it'll go. The rather large and fruity body hits you on the palate then quickly disappears, like a hit and run. If I had a case of this, I wouldnt know whether to drink or keep or sell.

Ch Batailley 1995, Pauillac 5th growth [A-]

This producer is a favourite of the good people at Berry Bros & Rudd and I can see why, its not expensive but has hallmarks of good Pauillac. Exemplary year, and this Batailley has aged supremely well; tannin has mellowed out and settled, rendering to a palate that is fresh, quite lively and filled with soft red fruits (ripe cherries, raspberry and plums etc). The smoothness and balance is key here, everything is held together very well, there is not a single feature that you would highlight out as being great, its the package as a whole. Loved it. Will keep another 10yrs no problems.

Ch Lascombes 1990, Margaux 2nd growth [A]

Very smooth and seductive wine; Margaux are supposed to be the more feminine style of wine, but this one still has power and largesse to it. Light licorice, leather, some flowery nose too. Think of well ripened cherry and raspberry fruits. The tannins have almost given way to elegance and silky texture; how can I put it, its like drinking velvet silk. It is quite simply stunning, the large body and smooth texture just blends into each other. A wine well worthy of its classification.

Ch Leoville Barton 1982, St Julien 2nd growth [A-]
Ch Langoa Barton 1982, St Julien 3rd growth [A+]

One of the greatest vintages in the last half-century, must say I'm very privileged to be tatsing these wines. The tasting notes for these two wines are put together because in many ways they are similar. The purity of flavour and attractive floral nose is noted for both. There are touches of licorice, cherry, cigar box, leather as well. Tannins for both are very settled, have really gone out of the way, rendering to a smooth and elegant palate. This is where the similarity ends. The Langoa Barton, as reflected in the tasting mark was just more open, lively and vibrant; the Leoville on the other hand was quite tired, nervous and unsure, insipid if I'm being rude. These wines have spent all of their lives in the cellars of Downing College, Cambridge, so provenance and maintenance is undoubted. Still, it could have just been a bad botle of Leoville. The Langoa gave a layered palate, with waves of flavour coming quite slowly but surely, it was poised and ready to impress. I'm afraid the Leoville gave gratification at the beginning then went AWOL.

Desert Wine

Ch Doisy Daene 2000, Barsac 2nd growth [B]

From the Dubourdieu stable too. Nice honeyed palate, with some tartness and bitterness towards to back of the palate. In my humble opinion, not enough acidity / zest to keep it aging, and thus also lacks the balance. I always feel its important for Sauternes to maintain the acid/sugar balance right. If you are thinking of treacle tart or desert with lots of caramel in it, this would go well. By this time, already had a not insignificant quantity of wine, hence the short tasting note. Also because I had previosuly tasted this during a Dubourdieu wines tasting, and wasnt impressed there either.

Overall Report

As anyone would agree, a very diverse tour around Bordeaux and also from different vintages. The organisers simply tried to get the best bottles they could lay their hands on and I'm not complaining. The notable wines of the night were the Langoa Barton 1982 for its decadence; the Bahans de Haut Brion 1999 for the poised structure; the Lascombes 1990 for the seductiive silkiness and I feel the Batailley 1995 deserves a mention too for good balance and graceful aging. This is probably one of the best tastings I have ever had the pleasure to attend. More tasting notes from the past will be published here soon.

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