UGC Week: Bordeaux 2016 - Day three: The Mighty Medoc

UGC Week: Bordeaux 2016 - Day three: The Mighty Medoc

Friday 28th April 2017
by Tom Jenkins

Starting at Chateau Lafite at 9am set the bar pretty high. The Duhart Milon was superb, pure Cabernet class, even the Carruades was spectacular, dense and concentrated, and then we got to the grand vin, an ethereal, subtly perfumed, glorious Lafite; athletic, graceful, powerful and handsome. There’s absolutely no doubt that this is a top notch Lafite and one of the wines of the vintage. 

Next stop Mouton Rothschild and an equally impressive range, but stylistically quite different. By comparison, the Mouton stable was all primal power and complexity. The d’Armailhac is fun and filled with fruit, the Clerc Milon is a big step up in quality, the fruit is much more profound and the tannins are very classy. Petit Mouton is big and brooding and the grand vin is a wine of epic proportions. As with all great Moutons, this is slow to reveal itself, it is deeply introverted, but with time and coaxing it starts to reveal the power of this terroir. This has serious length, and while at this stage it doesn’t quite have the grace of the Lafite, we believe this is a seriously impressive Mouton that will continue to grow in stature – mighty impressive.

One might think that we had peaked too soon, but a few of us knew that our trip to Montrose was likely to be a real treat. We were the first ‘outsiders’ to taste the assembled blend when we visited in February. The primeur sample was perhaps a little more closed, but the quality of the fruit, the texture, the power and the haunting tannins are all very evident. Hervé Berland was quite rightly beaming; this is one of the most profound wines we have tasted from this illustrious estate. Time will tell where this sits among the greats like 1989, 1990, 2009 and 2010. It is also worth mentioning the superb Dame de Montrose 2016 - this is a spectacular second wine.

Staying in St Estephe, we visited Laurent Duffau at Chateau Calon Segur. This has long been a favourite estate of ours. Laurent is gently refining the style here keeping the charm, but subtly modernising and honing the wines into 21st century Calons. Capbern is as ever one of the best value buys. There’s lovely gravelly Cabernet fruit and really sophisticated tannins for a wine at this price point. Calon itself is spectacular, more muscled than normal, but fragrant, full of verve and tension – we just wish they could produce more…

Now, the normally tranquil village of Bages looks like more like St James’s Street these days – that is to say it is dominated by cranes and construction workers. It is a no go zone unless you have a hard hat and a high visibility vest, so rather than tasting at Lynch Bages, we were ushered to its sister chateau, Les Ormes de Pez. And what a pleasure this was. The handsome Chateau is just a short drive from Calon Segur. Jean-Charles Cazes and Malou le Sommer described their 2016s as a Jimi Hendrix, rock-star style of wines. More specifically, their choice of score is ‘if 6 was 9’ from the Easy Rider soundtrack. I suppose this reflects mankind’s impotence and a resignation that you have to roll with whatever the elements throw at you – in the end, it’ll all be okay. And the 2016s are more than okay, they are big, dark, brooding masterpieces. Here it really felt like a throwback to Woodstock and beyond; the Lynch Bages 2016 is hugely concentrated, dark, deeply mineral, with a profound tannic structure, this is mighty impressive and for the very long-haul.

After lunch we has a brace of Pichon. First the Baron, which is impressively endowed with a sumptuous core of black and red berry fruit, ample concentration and velvety tannins. Very good we thought, until we crossed the road and tasted with Nicolas Glumineau. Pichon Comtesse de Lalande 2014 was one of the wines of the vintage, ditto 2015, and we are delighted to report that the 2016 completes the trilogy. This is utterly thrilling – it has it all: power, finesse, a sensational aromatic profile, precision, haunting tannins, a sumptuous texture. It is also worth mentioning the outstanding Reserve de la Comtesse. Forget what you know, or think you know about second wines, this is so refined and classy, it will be a joy to drink while one waits for the grand vin to reach its apex.

We had high hopes as we headed south into St Julien. Ducru Beaucaillou was one of our favourite wines in 2015, and revisiting this wine again in February more than confirmed our initial thoughts. This is the most sumptuous and seductive Ducru we have tasted. The 2016 by contrast is one of the most intense and serious. There’s no doubt that this is a very grand and imposing wine packed with gravelly black fruit and framed with imposing tannins. It is the polar opposite to the 2015, and while the 2015 gives immediate drinking pleasure, this profound 2016 will require lots of patience…

In the neighbouring Beychevelle, Romain Ducolomb, the Chateau’s Technical Director has a fancy new winery. It is a very smart facility that has no doubt enhanced the wines. We loved the generosity of the 2015. The 2016 is no less sleek, but it is fresher and more structured. Bravo, a really excellent Beychevelle with a wonderful florality and verve.

Our penultimate visit was to Didier Cuvelier at Leoville Poyferre. He and his consultant, Michel Rolland produce some exquisite wines in a modern and technical style, but never sacrificing the essence of the vineyards and the varietals. They always remain authentic, and 2016 is no different. Leoville Poyferre is a large-scale, ambitious wine, boasting a huge extract and tannic profile. Although the tannins are profound, they are also beautifully polished and laced with ripe berry fruit.

We could almost smell the pression waiting for us at our hotel, but there was just time to taste at the chateau formally part of the primeur system, namely Latour. It is a real shame that they’re not part of the party, however, they do present their most recent vintage during the primeur week, for our interest and for comparison. This is unlikely to be available on the market for eight to ten years, but for those who admire the technically perfect style of this estate, it’ll be worth the wait. In truth, you wouldn’t want to go near this for 15-20 years anyway… If there is one wine that is consistently the most technically faultless, it has to be Latour. It is an awesome specimen: complex, dense, cerebral, pitch perfect, with perfectly honed tannins – a masterpiece for sure, but for us, there are less perfect wines that give much more pleasure…

There was just time to freshen up before we were expected at Grand Puy Lacoste. Xavier and Emeline Borie presented their stunning Lacoste Borie and Grand Puy Lacoste 2016s. There is such elegance and precision here, these are really classical and authentic interpretations of Pauillac with noble flavours of cassis, graphite, violets and mineral infused fruit - such tension and class. It was a wonderful way to end the day’s tastings before we were spoiled in their dining room with some typically generous Borie hospitality.