While tasting continues to consume the critics and wine buyers, those who make the wine and need to sell it are calling 2008 the beginning of a new era.
“It’s the beginning of choice, the end of Parker,” said Jean-Luc Thunevin. He understands both sides of the trade as owner of Château Valandraud in Saint-Emilion, and as a negociant.
Thunevin is one of many in the Bordeaux wine business calling for a return to wine as wine, not as a luxury product. He believes this is the year it could happen.
“We lost money in 2006 and one year is okay. We lost money in 2007 that was not good. We can’t afford to lose money in 2008,” said Thunevin, pointing out the obvious, i.e. the wine industry is a commercial activity.
In Saint-Emilion, Catherine Papon-Nouvel who showed her three wines at Château la Dominique, spoke for the majority of Bordeaux producers. “My wine has been selling to consumers around $30 or $40 for many years. If we dropped our prices, we couldn’t afford to live. It’s up to the big boys to make the gesture.”
The reality is most of the wines tasted today are not luxury or investment products. The wines from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan are at the high end of their appellations. Only a few have ridden to the high end of their price point.
Producers in these two appellations, most making red and white wines, have had a good 2008. Yields are drastically down in some cases, because of frost, which has helped concentration. The reds are the most homogenous range in Bordeaux this year, a high standard showing almost right through the range. The whites are fuller and fatter than the tantalizing crisp wines of 2007, but have not lost sight of freshness.
These wines—delicious, food-friendly reds, fresh, creamy and crisp whites—are what Bordeaux does best. Along with the era of high prices, it seems that over-extracted wines are on the way out. This year, I have tasted only a few, and they stand out as oddities. Back to reality may also mean back to true taste.
Today: Graves and Pessac-Léognan red and white
Tomorrow: Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the First Division, Wine of the Year. Don’t forget to read reviews of Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac and Haut-Médoc next week.
Pessac-Léognan and Graves Red
92-94 Château Haut-Bailly Pessac-Léognan. This is a dark, firm, strongly tannic but impressive wine, with a dry core of dark fruits. They open slowly to reveal a rich undertow of blackberry jelly fruit flavors.-R.V.
91-93 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan. Behind a facade of firm tannins, there is ripe fruit and a rich character that goes satisfactorily deep. The wine is solid, dense but richly fruity.-R.V.
91-93 Château Bouscaut Pessac-Léognan. A rich, balanced wine that offers a big, opulent character, fruit full of black berry juice, a layer of dried figs and final chunky tannins.-R.V.
91-93 Château Haut-Bergey Pessac-Léognan. A wine that offers all the right characters. The fruit has a lively, vivid juiciness, with sweet berry fruits. The tannins have just a touch of toast, but essentially come from the dense fruit.-R.V.
91-93 Château Olivier Pessac-Léognan. After the initial tannins, this wine reveals ripe, blackberry jelly fruits. There is richness in the structure and density, perhaps less of the vintage’s freshness.-R.V.
91-93 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. Smoky, aromas, considerable new wood, spice and blackcurrant stalkiness. There is a definite amount of fruit, but the wood dominates. The final texture is dark and dry.-R.V.
90-92 Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan. Tight tannins set the scene for a wine that is firm but has delicious blackcurrant fruit flavors. The tannins are dry under this freshness. Very vivid aftertaste.-R.V.
90-92 Château Malartic-Lagravière Pessac-Léognan. There are certainly big tannins here, firmly drawn from the fruit. The wood element is a suggestion, leaving the potential of a fine, powerful wine.-R.V.
90-92 Château Ferrande Pessac-Léognan. Fine, fresh, juicy, fruity wine, that offers ripe blackberry fruits over firm tannins. The fruit has great red berry flavors and fruit acidity, ending on a rich, round note.-R.V.
90-92 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan. Structure is what this wine is all about. The tannins arch over the fine fruit potential. There are tobacco, perfume and an enticing smoky character.-R.V.
90-92 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. The slight stalky character of this wine is part of a style that works. The ripeness is a streak through the tannins, with acidity giving an already delicious lift of freshness.-R.V.
90-92 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. Under its new name, the second wine of Haut-Brion is fruity, soft, rounded. The character is of blackcurrant and juice, finishing with a fine fresh lift.-R.V.
89-91 Château de Fieuzal Pessac-Léognan. A ripe, soft wine, showing the caramel flavors of new wood as well as big, blackberry fruits. It is certainly a ripe wine, which shows through well in the fresh juicy aftertaste.-R.V.
89-91 Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan. Ripe and juicy, with blackcurrant flavors, the wine ripe, accessible and fruity. While it is not big, it is finely structured.-R.V.
88-90 Château de Chantegrive Graves. Good, with dense tannins, a powerful wine that shows a rich structure. It has obvious acidity, but that fits into a fresh profile.-R.V.
88-90 Château Latour-Martillac Pessac-Léognan. A dark hued wine, with its tense tannins giving a strong backbone to the dry, firm structure. The fruit hardly shows through all this dry, extracted character.-R.V.
88-90 Château de France Pessac-Léognan. A touch of mint in the aroma, starts a wine that is heavily extracted, the fruit initially lost in a hugely dark structure, only peeping through to finish.-R.V.
86-88 Château La Louvière Pessac-Léognan. Balanced already, the caramel edge of wood well integrated with the soft, attractive tannins. The final is fresh, but remains soft.-R.V.
86-88 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. An aroma that is almost port-like in its sweetness. To taste, the structure is lost in a swathe of ripeness that covers the fruit. R.V.
86-88 Château Pique Caillou Pessac-Léognan. Dense but unfocussed, a wine that shows intense tannins, but without the balancing structure. Hard to get beyond to the fruit.-R.V.
Pessac-Léognan, Graves and other Bordeaux White
95-97 Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. Deliciously concentrated fruit, which shows considerable power and ripeness. Yellow fruits, spice from new wood and richness are already combining well. And just as a reminder that this has Sauvignon Blanc in the blend, there is a touch of fresh herbaceousness at the end.-R.V.
94-96 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan. A wine that opens slowly. Then the concentration and rich fruit come through. It gives a smooth texture over layers of toast, but never losing sight of freshness.-R.V.
94-96 Château Laville Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. With its lively fruit and fine, ripe, oily Sémillon texture, this is a fragrant, citrus flavored wine. White peach tastes are edged by pink grapefruit. The aftertaste is very fresh, very mineral.-R.V.
92-94 Château Latour-Martillac Pessac-Léognan. Rich and creamy, showing ripe Sauvignon fruits, hinting at tropical. The fruit is certainly ripe, full in the mouth, but has preserved a good, tight structure and freshness R.V.
92-94 Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. Smooth, the wood almost dominant but finally integrating well with the ripe yellow fruits. It is rich, creamy, with some toastiness, but well balanced.-R.V.
91-93 Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan. Lively acidity in a wine that is fresh despite its rich yellow fruits. There is a wood element, but it goes well with the apricot juice and pink grapefruit character.-R.V.
90-93 Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan. Forward, fresh wine, that has some good intensity as well. There is a creamy, ripe character under the freshness, hints of attractive wood.-R.V.
90-92 Château Fieuzal Pessac-Léognan. A ripe style, rich, rounded, with a dense concentration. A ripe, full-bodied, almost Burgundian style.-R.V.
90-92 Château Olivier Pessac-Léognan. In the rich style, its herbaceous character covered with a powerfu, creamy rich layer. It has good purity as well, lively and fresh to finish.-R.V.
90-92 Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux Bordeaux Blanc. Fresh and soft, just hinting at toast, ripe yellow fruits, only lightly touched by citrus. It is pure, vivid, but warm.-R.V.
89-91 Château Rahoul Graves. Very Sauvignon aromas, lovely fresh herbaceous character. The wine has a fine freshness to it, light, with fruity grapefruit and lime flavors.-R.V.
89-91 Château Malartic-Lagravière Pessac-Léognan. Rich and powerful, this has big, full flavors. It has an oily texture, suggesting high alcohol, the wood element balanced. The aftertaste has a spicy element.-R.V. 89-91 Clos Nardian Bordeaux Blanc. A great, fresh fruity wine, packed with grapefruit and lime, topped by yellow fruits, the finish with a waft of acidity. A well-structured, but eminently fruity wine.-R.V.
88-90 Château Pape-Clément Pessac-Léognan. The wood is the dominant character here, the fruit hinting at herbacousness, but forced behind all that toast.-R.V.
86-88 Château Bouscaut Pessac-Léognan. A touch earthy, the Sauvignon character has given a rustic edge to the wine. It is fresh, definitely cool in style, the fruit showing some final freshness.-R.V.