2004 was one of the worst Bordeaux vintages in recent years and the wines of Médoc and Graves are sometimes worth avoiding. However, general sweeping statements are usually a mistake and they are in this case too: many of the top producers made very good wines in 2004 – even in Médoc.
In Pomerol and St. Émilion, the vintage wasn’t as bad as it was on the left bank. Whereas it was far from being ideal, many Pomerol producers still managed to create great wines and, particularly interesting for impatient people, many of them are ready to drink already.
Château l'Évangile’s 2004 wine is one such example. It’s still bright and fresh but it is starting to open up, especially if you give it a few hours in the decanter. It’s about to enter the ‘dead phase’ though, a period that many wines experience for a number of years: once the fruit phase vanished, the harsher tannin notes take over and the wine goes into a kind of hibernation before eventually emerging as the wine it was supposed to be enjoyed as. I guess this phase will take over in the next two to three years and the wine will stay in this phase for ten to fifteen years before emerging a ripe and ready Pomerol in around 2030.
The producer itself is making waves. Whereas Lafleur and Pétrus might be Pomerol’s flagships, the Rothschild dynasty (Lafite branch) purchased the l’Évangile estate in 1990 and its vineyards neighbour those of both Pétrus itself and Cheval Blanc in nearby St. Émilion. The winery’s produce is going from strength to strength with every vintage gradually improving. The 2005, 2009 and 2010 wines from Château l’Évangile were some of Bordeaux’s best for those vintages according to leading Bordeaux specialists and the Château is starting to emerge as a real alternative to the leading wines of the right bank – it retails for a fraction of the price of Cheval Blanc and Lafleur and, compared to the prices of Pétrus, well, it’s a bargain.
Deep, ruby red with a youthful lilac hue.
Lots and lots of blackberry with a whole host of other forrest fruits in the background: wild raspberry, wild strawberry, blueberry and even redcurrant. This is a hint of sweetened, dried plum and this is held together with vanilla in oak, plentiful tobacco and a cedar wood feel.
The blackcurrant is, predictably, the first note on the tongue with a youthful burst of ripeness and freshness – it is in fact so sweet that you might initially feel the wine to be a touch too young but, when it gives way to the rest of the fruit: Cassis, red plum, wild strawberry and even a decent helping of rhubarb, the wine slowly falls into place with the red fruits working together to form a luxurious compote. This eventually runs into a touch of wood with tobacco, pepper, smoke and even leather to finish off the wine – the fruit lingers long in the mouth long after the finish has vanished.
The promise in this wine is very interesting. The unusually ripe fruit together with the background role of the tannin (at the moment) is proof that the wine will keep for decades. An underlining and reassuring acidity holds it together and the fruit will soon take on a background role. It’s interesting to drink wines before the ‘dead phase’ takes over although this wine is far from its prime. One to look out for in future: it’ll be more affordable than the 2005, 2009 and 2010 wines but no less better at defining the estate and Pomerol AOC itself.
Château Montrose is a second Grand Cru Classé producer in the commune of St. Estèphe on the Bordelaise peninsula of Médoc. Its wines are known the world over and sought-after on nearly every domestic market ensuring prices stay high, availability low and limits the availability of ripe, ready-to-drink wines in the typical retail environment.
A personal comment about Montrose: the wines are often quite a lot “bigger” than those of neighbouring producers and those in Pauillac, Margaux and St. Julien meaning they take rather a long time to come into the drinking window. Whereas some of the top claret from the late nineties is already in fantastic drinking condition, Montrose wines are take a touch longer to reach maturity. But, when they do, wonderful things happen.
This 1994 Grand Vin de Montrose is a typical Médoc blend: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.
Deep ruby red with a purple hue.
There’s rather a lot to take in at once on this wine. Firstly there’s Cassis and a whole bunch of red and black berries: blackcurrant takes a prominent role but there are some sweeter elements in there as well: raspberry for example. The fruit is remarkably sweet altogether in fact and reminds of compote, were it not for a large sense of woody, high-quality tobacco hanging around in the background. This hints at vanilla but contains darker notes: espresso, leather and walnut wood.
The attack is as big as is expected but not overpowering. The berries slowly ease into focus rather than hitting you all-of-a-sudden. The first on the scene is blackcurrant but Cassis comes pretty quickly after that. Raspberry doesn’t really appear in the taste but redcurrant does and so too do red plums – the body feels like eating a spoonful of expensive French jam. The finish though takes away all that sweetness with rather hefty but not-unpleasant tannins: they, in themselves have a fair amount of character to show: a touch of vanilla but a lovely smokey, freshly-roasted espresso feel and a unique sense of bitter chocolate.
A ripe, extremely well-made claret offering perfect drinking right now. Give it an hour in the decanter though because, as with all Montrose wines, it takes a while before the harshness of power opens up to let you in. If you have any of this lying around: drink it in the next five-ten years. If you’ve seen it for sale somewhere and you can trust the dealer and their cellar, buy it!
Second wines from famous Bordeaux estates are always a sensible investment if you wish to get in touch with the world-famous terroir without spending a fortune. Often first wines are unaffordable and, particularly in good vintages, stretch into the many hundreds of euros per bottle. 2005 was a great year in Bordeaux, particularly in the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated production regions on the West bank of the Gironde.
Château Montrose is one of St. Estèphe’s finest producers and most famous names. The first wine in 2005 costs almost 100€ whereas the second wine costs around 30€. The Château itself is one of the second Cru producers of Médoc and Graves – this courtesy of course doesn’t extend to second wines: these are, more often than not, completely unclassified. The best fruit is used in the first wine whereas the second wines are often made with grapes deemed not quite good enough for the top product.
To open a 2005 first wine now would’ve been pointless. Particularly Château Montrose is known for its power and a 2005 first wine would’ve been closed and rather wasted right now. I thought the second wine might be a bit more approachable which it was, still far from its peak though…
Ruby red with a bright pink hue.
There was lots going on the nose but it was partially masked by a huge wooden element in there. Cassis, forrest fruits and some red plums were available but they only popped-up briefly. The wood was very dominating: it brought lots of dark aromas to the wine.
The attack was nice and tart but the fruit was never able to develop. Blackcurrants, plums and blueberries were there but as soon as they were hinted at, the wood kicked in bringing espresso, dark chocolate, tobacco, vanilla and leather. The tannins weren’t as harsh as expected but still very prominent.
A mistake to open this wine now: whilst it does offer excellent potential, I’m guessing it’ll reach its drinkability stage in five or six years. The notes are there to make this a fine wine, it just needs time.
I often find the Cru Bourgeois are overlooked when it comes to Bordeaux. Lead astray by the ridiculous classification act of 1855 (which has remained pretty much unchanged since its introduction), consumers commonly label the Cru Bourgeois wines as forgettable – not real Bordeaux. Thankfully, this often has an effect on their prices: wines are usually considerably cheaper than their classified neighbours and, in good vintages, it is a great idea to stock up on Cru Bourgeois.
2004 was a bad year for Bordeaux: probably one of the worst vintages in the last 20 years: top-end wines seldom show real character and a glance at the prices alone (compared to the 2000 and 2005 vintages) show just how much the Châteaux of the right bank would like to forget the vintage. Nevertheless, a handful of vintners still managed to pull-off good wines – particularly the wineries of Haut-Médoc AOC and Médoc AOC were able to create wines that weren’t hugely noticeably different from previous vintages. In some cases, the 2004 wines were better than those of 2003 and 2002 (both average Bordeaux vintages).
One such winery is Château d’Aurilhac of Haut-Médoc. This 2004 is a Cabernet-dominated affair with a splash of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the final wine. Unlike many other Haut-Médoc wines, it feels warm and youthful, most probably thanks to the limestone-pebbled soils of the Château’s estate.
Ruby red with a pink hue – amazingly still showing its youth after eleven years.
Lots of black berries but also a fair amount of Cassis. Blackberry, black cherry and a handful of red berries are immediately noticeable. A toasty oak and vanilla sense is in there as well and so too is freshly-ground espresso.
The attack is a bright red and black fruit note with lots of blackcurrant and a decent serving of Cassis. Amazingly, a certain amount of acidity is still there and the long fruit body is thick with cherries and hints at plum. The finish is woody, smoky and brings with it dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso (not to mention a hint of vanilla).
This wine tastes about five years younger than it is. You’d never be able to tell that it was from a poorer vintage and it is quite a good example as to how good some Haut-Médoc can be: especially after a few years in the cellar. Serve with lamb roast or grilled game.
Château d’Armailhac is a fifth Cru winery in the Médoc commune of Pauillac. Owned by a more prominent estate in the town, Château Mouton-Rothschild, the producer is the sister project of Château Clerc-Milon: also under the Baronne Philippine de Rothschild brand.
Made of the traditional varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (29%), Cabernet Franc (15%) and Petit Verdot (2%), this wine was produced in a year of changing weather conditions. Whilst the 2008 Médoc wines aren’t, by any means, 100-pointers, I tend to find the vintage rather underrated which leads to relatively good prices: most of them are approaching drinkability now and it can be hard to find better-value, ready-to-drink, Pauillac, Moulis, Listrac, St. Estèphe, St. Julien and Margaux wines than those from 2008. Sure, those from 2006 and 2004 are cheaper but they’re nowhere near as good.
Deep pomegranate red with a thin, pink hue. The wine also appeared rather opaque as if cloudy, it wasn’t though.
Cassis, blackcurrant and blackberries were the first notes on the scene. As were the notes I’ve come to expect of Pauillac; red plums and then the unique mixture of minerals and spices. Tobacco, Espresso, Cedar, Pine and Leather were in there as well as black pepper, evergreen vegetation and much, much more.
The fruit was rather reserved at first: when it came through, it was rarely bright. The composed nature of the berries and the somewhat-missing plum notes promised in the nose left rather a great deal to be desired. The tannins though were nice and rounded and brought lovely toasted oak and fresh tobacco as well as some alpine wood and black pepper.
Whereas those mineral notes were-spot on, the fruit was rather too background for me. I’m not one for perfume-like red fruit extinguishing every known note of mineral but a little more fruit would have balanced the wine more. Nevertheless, this was a fantastic claret with a composed mineral and Cabernet-dominated structure. It served perfectly as a food wine and I wasn’t too disappointed that a few glasses remained in the decanter after dinner.
If you have a few bottles of this, it might well be ready for drinking but it will keep a few years more (2016 I’d say). Serve it with braised, roasted or grilled lamb or a seasonal game dish based on boar or venison.
(£35-50/ 40-55€ / $45-60)
Fifty pounds for a bottle of ripe claret is a lot of money. There’s only one way to get around it: buy it before it’s at its best – either en Primeur or when it first hits your handler’s shelves. This too is easier said than done, fresh wine is gone pretty quickly – taken out of shops and placed into dark cellars within just a few weeks. Most of the fresh 2009s and the 2010s are already gone from general sale and, if you do buy a bottle, you’ll be expected to pay a considerable amount more now than you would have done a few months back.
Take the 2007 Château Clerc Milon (the subject of this review), now available for £50. I bought it for £20 two years ago and recently saw it for sale at more than 80€ in Hamburg at the weekend - obscene money but it’s how shops make their money on Bordeaux.
However temptation is always there: I don’t have a wine cellar, nor am I a particularly patient person. I opened my wine a few days ago – thankfully I wasn’t all wrong: the wine was at prime drinking stage, the clear hue (with a hint of brown) suggesting that, whilst it might have held up for a few more years, my impatient scrambling to get the cork out of the neck wasn’t such a bad idea at all.
An opaque, ruby red which was rather cloudy with a clear hue (hint of orange-brown).
Lots of fresh red plum, a splash of cassis and some nice earthy notes of leather and tobacco were to be picked out.
The red plum was very intense and this lead onto notes of red fruit: particularly cherry, redcurrants and even blackcurrant. This compote had a smooth feel and a sweet one too and, when the minerals did kick in, the period of transition dictated chocolate and espresso. This eventually gave way to composed and reserved pepper, some decent vanilla, pipe tobacco and soft French oak. The tannins were a lot lighter than expected but nevertheless present encasing the wine and finishing it off nobly.
Very good Bordeaux and a textbook Pauillac. Not as spicy as some of the other wines to originate from this particular AOC but typically plum-driven and bursting in Cassis. I personally think that there is better Cabernet out there for considerably less money but Pauillac claret is a very special thing and it is a well-known fact that comparing price and quality in the Bordelaise has been a very pointless thing to do for quite a long time now, particularly with this appellation.
There’s a dangerous similarity between the look of this bottle and another right-bank Bordeaux wine and, unlike in most other similar cases, there’s a reason for it this time. One of Bordeaux’s biggest names in wine, Christian Moueix, has a fair amount to do with the creation of this claret – the maker of the legendary Château Pétrus of Pomerol.
Saint Émilion is, in some parts of the world, a household name – some of the world’s best Merlots are found here and this wine, sourced from vineyards all over the appellation, is a premium-end, special-bottling for one of Germany’s oldest and most traditional wine dealers, Carl Tesdorpf of Lübeck– now a part of Europe’s largest wine merchants: Hawesko.
Plum red with a clear, purple hue.
The first thing you notice about this wine is the fruity-floral perfume of the Merlot and the way it declines and eventually gives way to a mineral body – a key factor in determining the difference between cheap and good Merlot – the belonged to the latter category. With big notes of Cassis and sweet red berries in the way of raspberry, the fruit body was fairly lively, juicy but this lead into a nutty aroma of hazelnuts and almonds and eventually onto wood, fresh smoke and vanilla.
The big fruit promised on the nose came through a lot more subtle that I was expecting it to. The cassis was enclosed in rounded but present tannins that brought lots of wood and vanilla out in the wine creating a very smooth body. There was a reassuring amount of acid (although brief) and the finish was crisp, refined and very smooth – despite there being a vast array of bitter tannins, they were astonishingly well worked into the wine so that all that really remained was a faint sense of vanilla, decorated by raspberry – however, this too was very laid back.
Obviously drunk way too young, I should’ve had the patience to keep this one for a bit longer. It’s probably the only experience I’ll ever have with this winemaker as, even though I’m a fully-fledged wino, I’ll never spend 3000€ on a bottle of Merlot, even if I were a millionaire. The wine was however very well made if not a little requesting of unique character that would really set it apart from many other Saint Émilion wines in a similar price bracket. Perhaps the mellowness of the whole thing was the point and, if discretion was the aim, then it was pulled-off pretty well.
Available only here from Carl Tesdorpf
Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Pauillac is the ultimate appellation of the Bordelaise. Structured Cabernet Sauvignon with the body of Merlot and the elegance of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc is a perfect mix, one that is popular all over the Médoc, France and the rest of the world as well.
This 5ieme Cru is no exception to Pauillac excellence and Left Bank dominance and with such neighbours as Château Pontet-Canet and the legendary Château Lafite-Rothschild, the vineyards aren’t exactly in a bad location either.
Bought for 33€ and drunk early in 2012, this ten year-old claret is a perfect example of the fact that even the not-so-famous wineries of Bordeaux also make fantastic wine.
The wine carried a darkened-scarlet colour to it and when held to the light the hue is a lighter crimson. At the edge of the glass the wine appeared almost clear with a slight brown touch.
The wine had an almost overwhelming sense of cherry, almost sour (but in a good way). There were some serious cassis notes and summer berries – I noticed raspberry and strawberry as well as a whole host of other red fruits. There was a sense of tobacco and the vanilla edge on the oak accentuated this and, combined with complex minerals and a spice of black pepper, there was a slight roasted espresso feel to the wine.
Cherry was the first thing I noticed about the wine and the powerful tannins rich in smokey-oak gave this claret a superb complicated and sophisticated feeling. From the first sip the the last drop in the glass the wine was well structured and perfectly rounded-off even though the taste stays for quite a while – that rich sour cherry doesn’t fade as fast as the rest of the fruit and the tannins compliment this excellently.
With the tannin structure accentuated by the cherry-cassis driven fruit, this wine makes excellent drinking now. If you have a few bottles, hold on to them though - a few more years will do the wine good. An excellent wine from a fantastic classified growth winery.
St. Estèphe, Bordeaux, France
This review is a number of years old now but bearing in mind that it was one of the best wines I've ever tested, I thought that it might be good to post it on here.
St. Estèphe is one of the most famous and highly-acclaimed production regions of Médoc and this Château's more-recent wines are priced at about twice what I paid for this one - bought and drunk in 2011 after 14 years in the making, either in the winery's barrels in South-France or the brightly lit, heated-room supermarket shelves which I plucked it from.
Of course, the long time on a dusty shelf did worry me when I bought this bottle and this worry got even worse when the cork didn't seem to want to leave the bottle and, when it finally did, it was red quarter of the way through and a few splinters of Portuguese bark dropped into the wine below it. The sour smell of acid or vinegar arose when the bottle was opened - I was starting to look for the receipt in my wallet and, only when the enduring task of cycling five kilometres to bring it back dawned upon me, did I start trying to think of the best thing I could do with this wine - I'd had this experience before (albeit with a much cheaper bottle) and poured the wine slowly into a decanter where I left it for the best part of an hour - then something amazing happened.
The wine had a deep, opaque ruby red colour that reflected absolutely no purple at all. Instead, at the rim of the glass the wine was almost clear and, if there was a tint at all, it was brown or orange.
There was a rich sensation of oak in the wine, far more powerful than I have experienced in St. Estèphe wines before and, unlike some of the wines from the nearby regions in Bordeaux, this oak was NOT characterised by vanilla, instead a dark roasting of espresso shone out of the glass beautifully complimented with a deep sense of expensive tobacco. Wild berries with a prominent sense of blackcurrant made up for most of the rest of the nose but other drier berries such and cranberries were there as well. A faint sense of cherry was to detect too, but this was rather overshadowed by the wood and the other fruit. A mineral sense was also in the wine: iron and even granite seemed to pop into my head with my nose perched on top of the glass. There wasn’t a great deal of spice in the way of pepper and the wine certainly wasn’t sharp at any point - not like at the opening of the bottle
There was a real sense of Californian Cabernet about this wine that is rare in Bordeaux. The wine tasted more like one of the big Napa Cabernets than a Médoc peninsula wine. All the same, the rich coffee smell came through big-time in the body and this combined with the sweet Cabernet made me think of dark chocolate. The fruit was as reserved in the wine in taste as it was in the nose. Blackcurrants come through but this time with sweeter forest fruits, redcurrants and a hint of cherry but nothing too sweet. It felt well-balanced but at the same time, fairly thin – oak was a big part of the taste and made up for the holes left in the structure by the fruit.
At 30€ back in 2011 this was was a big purchase for me and, after the initial shock at opening, it was certainly worth it too. Drinkable Bordeaux (ie. after a few years in a cellar) is hard to come by for that sort of price and St. Estèphe is probably the cheapest of the big-four Médoc mini-Appelations. With a refined Cabernet structure and ripe red fruits, this is Bordelaise winemaking at its prime - a top claret for hearty lamb dishes. However, if you happen to have a bottle of the 1997 sitting around, it's probably best to drink it sometimes soon.
Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Bordeaux, France
My first wine review for a while had to be something special so I pulled out all the stops, trusted myself at the back of my cellar and took out a dusty Bordeaux bottle. This wine was bought about three years ago and, regrettably, I only bought one bottle at the time for want of trying something else from Bordeaux other than the sometimes over-present Médoc, Pomerol and St. Émilion stuff.
I’m not suggesting for a second that Pessac-Léognan isn’t a worthy appellation: as the famed home of Château Haut-Brion and its diverse related estates, this lovely part of Graves is home to many a fantastic Cabernet-defined claret. Château Latour Martillac certainly belongs to this category.
A dark red with a purple hue, no clearness or earthy tones at rim – probably opened a bit too young.
A lot of cassis on the nose, the wine was very well balanced. Of course the rich oak was rather powerful and brought with it notes of vanilla, tobacco and espresso but the sharp sweet red berries pierced this mineral skin. With some strong cranberry mixed in with the cassis, sour cherries and a faint of raspberry were also to detect.
At first a smooth sensation guided the wine. Whilst there was a unique sense of acidity coupled with the red berries in the glass, the fruit compote felt thick and structured with a well-comprised but meaty oak box. Again Cassis dominated but was, at no point, out of balance and harmony with the rest of the wine. Tannin was profound and strong, nevertheless was a fundamental and character-forming part of the finish which was clean, thick and long.
A cracking young wine that, if rested for a few more years, would develop into a first-class Cabernet Sauvignon. With the balance of fruit power and that of the minerals appeased, this is certainly one of the better wines to be found in South-West Bordeaux. Enjoy with grilled lamb, venison and strong hard cheeses. If you are lucky enough to have a bottle in your cellar, keep it – it’ll store well and will continue to develop for the next ten years.
9.2/10 Points (+)
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry