A Tale of Two Halves

A Tale of Two Halves

At the Tasting Table

Tuesday in the Bordeaux en primeur circus circuit, and it’s the turn of Pessac-Léognan to host the world. This year, the growers in this region south of Bordeaux presented two shows to the world.

One show consisted of red wines. It was a tough year, and it shows in many of the wines. This is a region which needs sun through the growing season more than others, because it is cooled by the Landes forest. So, come the end of August, the growers desperately needed both heat and sun. September helped to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is the structure of this grape – with a walk-on part from perfumed Cabernet France – which made the red wines.

The result is some fine examples of what is called “classic” Bordeaux, fruity but never opulent, with dry tannins and fresh berry fruits. The top wines, such as Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, are ripe, structured and richly tannic. But the advice is to choose the red wines with care.

For the whites – the second part of the performance – it is so different. “The vintage compares with some of the greatest white wine vintages,” said Robert of Luxembourg, whose family is owner of Château Haut-Brion, who produces a white from the chateau and also from Château Laville Haut-Brion. “It was a difficult vintage, we had to pick four or five times, we even had refrigerated trucks at the ends of rows to receive the grapes. But the end result is great white wine.”

These – along with the Sauternes reported on yesterday – are the stars of the vintage so far. In a difficult year, like 2007, it is important to be reminded that Bordeaux is not just red wine country.


On the Wine Road

If there is one word that sends shivers through the American psyche at this moment, it’s “investment.” So, aren’t we lucky that 2007 Bordeaux wine is not an “investment” vintage. Drink soon and often, especially if you prefer your currency bloodbath in white wine.

Red, though, could just burst the Bordeaux wine bubble this year. And there are as many reasons as there are for why a 3br-2bath mortgage drove America into a mind-boggling meltdown.

“There is no market in the U.S.,” said Bruno Lemoine of Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion where Bordeaux futures tastings of the 2007 vintage took place on Tuesday. “So there is no reason to drop prices to accommodate the currency drop in the dollar because there is just no market,” he said.

Ludovic Fradin, who manages the US market for negociant Cheval Quancard is younger, and more positive, than Mr Lemoine.. “Of course, we can’t drink Chateau Margaux,” he said, “but for people my age in America, they are moving from New World to Old World wines. The Old World is new for those coming from varietal label wines.”

That may be the case but 2007, where it rained, and then rained again, up to the beginning of September, is “not a must have vintage,” said Stephen Williams, president of the Antique Wine Company, based in London. Williams call this a “shadow” vintage,” one that will be ready to drink at the same time that the famous 2005 comes into play.

The hotel and restaurant trade often favors such years, which don’t demand huge price increases.”People who buy $2,000 wine retail for their collections, drink those wines at home. And when they go out they may be willing to spend the same amount for the lesser vintages,” he said.

Opinions are split on how the top Bordeaux wines will weather the American investment and currency crisis.

There are reports that these luxury wines have become the new investment for traders looking for long term investments. Yet, neither chateaux nor buyers are seeing much of this in the early days of the 2007 market. Rather, thanks to the currency crisis of the dollar, wines collected by Americans when investment was hot and the dollar strong are now being bought, lock, stock and barrel, by investors in Europe. And they are a bargain.

This makes the United States an important source of premium wine for the rest of the world.

So far, nobody thinks Americans will flock to buy 2007 “We are seeing many fewer Americans this year,” said Jean-Philippe Delmas of Château Haut-Brion. But these wines are still in barrel and won’t be shipped for drinking, cellaring or trading for another two years.

“We don’t know where the market will be in two years,” said Paulin Calvet, former commercial director for Jean-Pierre Mouiex wines including Château Pétrus. In the meantime, most wine traders in Bordeaux are looking for buyers in Europe, as always, and Asia. “America will buy the safe bets,” said David Ornon, commercial director for Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte. But, he promised, unlike some years, “we won’t turn our back on America.”



96-98 Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

A beautiful wine, rich but also poised, with nutmeg, apricots, white peaches, underlined with a firm minerality. It manages to be fat, super-rich but also intensely fresh.—R.V.

94-96 Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan

Very closed, this is going to be a powerful expression of the chalky, flinty side of white Bordeaux. The spice and balance are already impressive.—R.V.

93-95 Château Laville Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Spice, almond aromas lead to a wine characterized by great freshness, from crisply tropical Semillon. There is a delicious sweet lime character to finish this impressive wine.—R.V.

92-94 Château Carbonnieux, Pessac-Léognan

Ripe, but still flinty, this tastes of its soil, stony and structured. It’s going to be a very fine wine, the spice from the wood already well judged.—R.V.

92-94 Château de Chantegrive, Pessac-Léognan

Very lemony, citrus, grapefruit, layered with some fresh brioche and lively acidity.—R.V.

92-94 Château de Fieuzal, Pessac-Léognan

Tight, lemon and green apple fruits, fine balance with structured green plum skins and vivid acidity. A candidate for aging.—R.V.

91-93 Château Ferrande, Pessac-Léognan

Mineral, full, great ripe fruits over an austere backbone of structure, green apple skins. Impressive—R.V.

91-93 Château Olivier, Pessac-Léognan

Rather unfocussed at this stage, a wine that needs to get above its taut minerality and flesh out the fruit. It will in its own time.—R.V.

91-93 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan

This is full, showing some tropical flavors, with a herbaceous mineral edge. Rich, but very structured. —R.V.

90-92 Château Haut-Bergey, Pessac-Léognan

Very closed, spice and intense citrus character. It has great freshness, crispened with grapefruit and finished with toast. It will certainly need to age.—R.V.

90-92 Château Malartic-Lagravière, Pessac-Léognan

Very fresh, but also rich, walking a tight line between full spice and very crisp pink grapefruit flavors. —R.V.

90-92 Château Pape-Clément, Pessac-Léognan

This is full, rich, a package of white fruits, showing crispness, toast, and spice. Good integration.—R.V.

90-92 Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux, Bordeaux Blanc

A great year for this wine, with its delicious fruit, herbaceous flavors topped with pears and tinged with wood. Rich but fresh.—R.V.

89-91 Clos Nardian, Bordeaux Blanc

Delicious creamy fruit, with lime and custard, touched with vanilla. This is attractively balanced, fresh but also rich.—R.V.

89-91 Château Latour-Martillac, Pessac-Léognan

A tight wine, all grapefruit and fresh, crisp very herbaceous characters. The wood element just gives an edge of softness, but the finish is with acidity.—R.V.

89-91 Château Picque Caillou, Pessac-Léognan

Intense grapefruit, some tight, coiled green fruit, layered with flint and vibrant acidity. —R.V.



94-96 Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Severe wine, strongly structured, start austere and minerally, but then powering up to intense structure, while retaining great elegance.—R.V

93-95 Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Elegant, softly rich initially, a voluptuous wine, the tannins defining it with strength rather than dryness. There is also delicious, intense freshness.—R.V.

91-93 Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan

There is good ripeness here, with fruity, jammy flavors, red and black berries, delicious fresh acidity. Excellent .—R.V.

91-93 Château Haut-Bailly, Pessac-Léognan

Hugely dry wine, all initial tannins, then followed by rich black, concentrated fruits. For the year, this is powerful.—R.V.

91-93 Château La Louvière, Pessac-Léognan

Finely in balance, a wine that has great dark fruits, solid tannins and richness to finish.—R.V.

91-93 Château Malartic-Lagravière, Pessac-Léognan

Fresh blackberry aromas, dark and tight, but with good toast and sweet black fruits. Good balance, some richness.—R.V.

90-92 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan

A new name for the second wine of Haut-Brion, from Clarence Dillon who bought the chateau in the 1930s. It is a muscular wine, spiced with tough tannins, and laced with fresh blackcurrants.—R.V.

90-92 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Ripe, fruity, balanced, the wood acting already as a counterpoint to the black, vivid fruits.—R.V.

90-92 Château Pape-Clément, Pessac-Léognan

Very dense, dry tannins, firm, structured, solid with blackberry fruits, fine acidity, but balanced.—R.V.

89-91 Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

Smoky, high toast aromas, with concentrated blackcurrants as well as very fresh fruit. The second wine of Château La Mission Haut-Brion.—R.V.

89-91 Château de Chantegrive, Pessac-Léognan

Good structure, with some rich fruit, dry tannins and some good dense fruit with some bitterness. Well-made wine.—R.V.

89-91 Château de France, Pessac-Léognan

A dark wine that shows big tannins, powered with acidity but also with wood. The finish is lean, but not out of balance.—R.V.



Published on April 1, 2008
Topics: Ratings & ReviewsRed WineWhite Wine