Pessac-Léognan (and Graves) pizzaz #Bdx15

And why dry extract matters

By Panos Kakaviatos for

4 May 2016

Perhaps my overall favorite region in Bordeaux is the Graves region, which includes the since 1987 created Pessac-Léognan appellation that gathers such famous estates of the northern Graves, from Haut Brion and Pape Clement to Haut Bailly and Domaine de Chevalier.

Morning mist Domaine de Chevalier

Morning mist Domaine de Chevalier

It is here where #winelovers can enjoy both excellent reds and whites from Bordeaux. More often than not, a great vintage for reds is not such a great vintage for whites – and vice-versa. 2010, where both reds and whites were successful, is not the norm. 2014 is good to very good for both, perhaps better for whites, because the high acidity of that vintage lent extra vivacity, especially from producers who picked optimally ripe fruit. But is 2015 far behind for whites? In some cases, yes, but I found that several producers made wines with more dry extract than in 2014, even if the acidities were lower.

“Too many people refer only to acidity for capacity to age in white wines,” explained Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier, a top producer of Pessac-Léognan, during en primeur week.

2015 was a challenge, but you can find some terrific whites. Picking at the right moment – meaning not too early where the acidity may appear more piercing, and not too late where the wine risks being flabby – is a rule of thumb for most all vintages. “The tannin in red wine can mask a wrong choice,” Bernard explained. “With whites, there is very little margin for error.”

How does 2015 fare? Well, I was a bit worried that the vintage’s solar aspects would result in some heavy and/or flabby whites, as one can find in, say, 2000 or 2003 or 2009. But it really is not that simple. 2014 may be a better white wine vintage for some producers, but 2015 can be very good to excellent.

August, as explained in my introduction, was key. It was just cool enough to “save” the vintage for whites, “more so than for the reds,” Bernard stressed – as you can see in the video.

He explained that August permitted the grapes to breath. I believe that had August been a bit cooler, we may have had even better 2015 barrel samples… But it at least August 2015 prevented the acidity from “being burned” – as Bernard put it.

Another key? Dry extract! “Be careful with just acidity as the only factor for structure and capacity to age,” Bernard said. Dry extract defines density, akin to the intrinsic content of the grape juice. It amounts to everything in the wine, sans alcohol and water. The higher the dry extract, generally speaking, the fuller the body and the greater the structure. So the best 2015 whites combine ripeness that brings high dry extract along with necessary acidity.

What about the reds? 

For reds, Bernard said that 2015 resembles an improved version of 2005. He explained that 10 years ago, too many vintners picked too early, in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon, because there was good weather long into the harvesting season. As you can also understand from my interview with Olivier Bernard in the video, he explains that Cabernet Sauvignon is almost impossible to make over-ripe. Interesting!

“People get too stressed about picking,” and in 2015 there was plenty of time to allow the Cabernet to ripen, too. By that logic, the 2015 wines have a bit more sumptuousness than their 2005 counterparts. What he said rang true to me, reflected in some tasting notes below. In any case, as you can see in the below video, my first impressions on Graves – and Margaux – were quite positive.

The best reds from Graves combined the structure of 2005 with a bit of 2009 richness. Sounds like a darn good vintage, eh?

As usual, barrel samples I liked in particular in bold; those in red and bold, even more – and when underlined, too, a kind of wine nirvana.

The whites

  • 2015 Château Bouscaut Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    An oaky nose at first, yet there is fine energy and verve on the medium bodied palate, with stone fruit flavors leading to a medium plus finish. 89-91
  • 2015 Château Brown Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    I prefer this estate’s white to its red, as this, too, has energy and is flavorful. More on the orange citrus register than the lemon, but vivacious enough and has fine medium body to stand up to some great fish or poultry based meals. Nice job! 90-92
  • 2015 Château Carbonnieux Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Like their red, a delicious, tasty wine with which to please your friends. It has brightness, citrus and medium body, with a medium plus finish and, it pleases me. 90-92
  • 2015 Château de Chantegrive Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    Rather varietal actually, a bit too goosey for its own good. I’ll pass.
Fine Cuvee Caroline

In 2015, you can find bargain priced whites – $24 or so, maybe less – that are tasty and fresh and with substance, like this one.

  • 2015 Château de Chantegrive Cuvée Caroline – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    Now you’re talking. Some blatant oak melts pretty quickly into a rather delicious if somewhat decadent white wine drink. Give me more! Can I say that again? 90-92
  • 2015 La Clarté de Haut-Brion Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    The “amalgamated” second white wine for both Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. Far less quantity than last year (some 850 cases as opposed to 1,100 last year) because Semillon production was lower than usual due to adverse affect of rains. While not quite as crisp as last year, it delivers perhaps a more substantial palate, with stone fruit and citrus, as well as pleasing aromatics. 91-93
  • 2015 Clos Floridene Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    A smooth drink, fine freshness and purity of fruit although just a touch varietal and it lacks the punch of, say, Carbonnieux. 88-90
  • 2015 Château Couhins Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is OK, merely, because I get a bit too much varietal, a bit goosey, albeit not as obvious as Chantegrive. 86-88
  • 2015 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon is one of the very best white Bordeaux, as it exudes structure and density, while counting among the “fresher” barrel samples in Bordeaux. More orange zest than grapefruit on the “citrus register” with cooler aspects as well on a long finish marked by lift. Excellent! 92-94+
Excellent white Domaine Chevalier

Superb white, and not among the most expensive

  • 2015 Château de Fieuzal Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is tasty and elegant if a touch fat, reflecting more the solar aspects of the vintage, but still a fine drink. Could use a bit more structure, too. Here is a case where the 2014 may be superior. 89-91
  • 2015 Château Haut-Brion Blanc*- France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    More Sauvignon Blanc in the blend than typical (69%) because rain adversely affected some Semillon plots used to make the grand vin. Very racy Sauvignon Blanc. Initially a bit closed on the nose but then reveals a variety of aromatics, ranging from key lime pie to white fruits, pear and white peach. Very opulent, yet it has verve and tension – and the majority of Sauvignon Blanc lends it just a bit more precision that the La Mission Haut Brion white. 94-96
  • 2015 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is citron freshness, and nicely done! Rich, yet energetic. I don’t know but here is a “go-to” producer at a friendly price, fashioning an excellent white in 2015. Rock and roll! 90-92+
  • 2015 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Only 590 cases produced, with 67% Semillon and 33% Sauvignon Blanc, this came off very refined, with white stone fruit like peach and apricot, a mid palate that rather opulent and savory with enough precise cool fruit aspects to keep it focused, leading to a long finish. 93-95
Hallelujia Haut Brion

La Mission Haut Brion: a nice place to taste!

  • 2015 Château La Tour-Martillac Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Compared to the Haut Bergey, tasted just before, this barrel sample comes across as somewhat steely, but there is freshness to it, and I started to imagine oysters! When tasted at Ulysses Cazabonne, however, I had a more favorable reaction to the sample, as “brisk and tasty… with palate substance” and that it reminded me of the magnificent 2010. 90-93
  • 2015 Château Malartic-Lagravière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Compared to La Louvière, more white fruit, juicy yellow melon, and opulence: pretty darn good. The finish has lift, with a lemon juice aspect that brings brightness. A very good job this year. 91-93
  • 2015 Château Olivier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    More white peach than pear, very pretty on the palate, engaging and juicy with full body and a finish marked by some floral lift. This is delicious! 91-93
  • 2015 Château Pape Clément Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    More yellow apricot than white, juicy and spicy, and thoroughly full bodied with freshness, too, although the stress here is on very ripe fruit, somewhat intense. I would have preferred a bit more freshness, but this is built to impress. 92-94
White Bordeaux and oysters? Sure!

White Bordeaux and oysters? Sure!

  • 2015 Château de Rouillac Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    A bit of oak on the nose, but the freshness gives it lift. Nice job! 89-91
  • 2015 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Very robust and rich – up front – with a touch of oak, and somewhat “charry,” but there is plenty of body, structure (and dry extract) and white peachy juiciness to make you love it, and I did! 92-94

The reds

  • 2015 Château Bouscaut – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    I sense some oak derivation on the nose and in the palate. It is not flagrant, but perhaps detracts a bit from a sense of fruit purity. Otherwise, it is medium bodied and smooth with a medium finish. Let’s see what happens in barrel. 87-89
  • 2015 Château Brown – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Pleasing red fruit aromas with light notes of fine milk chocolate. It starts with a soft attack leading to a smooth palate. Perhaps a tad too polite? In any case, pleasing claret that seems almost already ripe and ready. 88-90+
  • 2015 Château Carbonnieux – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Quite elegant and smooth. I tip my hat off to this estate in this vintage, as it took advantage of the ripe tannins and yielded a wine of smooth elegance. Not the most profound, but who cares? It is also quite inexpensive – and about that, I do care! 89-91
  • 2015 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Deep dark fruit nose. Silky and juicy mid palate. The oak, though prominent, seems more contained by the fruit than the other way around. The tannins ripe and smooth, palate full bodied, with a tonic finish. Another sample seemed more oak driven, with a headier finish. But given many positive reactions from fellow writers, I rely on the first sample… 92-94+
  • 2015 Château de Chantegrive – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    Compared to Clos Floridene, which I had just before, more cohesive and ripe, a touch of roasted espresso bean coming from the solar aspects of the vintage. Medium bodied, medium finish. Look, this wine will not be pricey, and we could serve to friends, who will say: “Hey, this is tasty!” I’m a buyer. Tasted twice with similar positive notes. 88-90
  • 2015 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan Cool aspects on the nose, fresh tobacco leaf, perhaps driven by the very ripe 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. The palate is opulent but also shows tension and tonicity with very ripe fruit on the finish. Quite a lovely second wine! 91-93
  • 2015 Clos Floridene – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    I somehow got a sense of slightly under-ripe fruit from this red. It was not egregious but just noticeable, giving a more raw expression to the tannins. Note reserved until tasted from bottle to be sure.
  • 2015 Domaine de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    As owner Olivier Bernard stressed, “we had the luxury of time to pick, a three-week period, in order to get optimal ripeness.” Aromatics include ripe red and black fruits. A soft attack leads to subtle opulence on the palate, with much grip, then tonicity in the long finish, which has a cool mint touch for lift. Barrel aging to “fill it out” and look for this top red from Pessac-Léognan in 2015. 92-95
  • 2015 Château Couhins – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    By comparison to the de Fieuzal, tasted just before, this comes across not as opulently ripe, but I like its freshness and lift and it will please lovers of freshness to be sure. Medium bodied, medium finish. 88-90
  • 2015 Château Ferrande – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    Updated posting, I had made a mistake earlier for this entry. Here again a promising buy from Graves. Ripe and supple red fruit aromatics followed through to the smooth, medium-bodied palate, with a touch of pleasing spice. Good acidity, as well. Medium finish. Nice job! 89-91
  • 2015 Château de Fieuzal – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Roasted espresso bean expressions pleasingly matched by freshness and lift. Full body and fine structure (charpente, as the French say), and enough airiness to make it nuanced and refined. Let’s see what comes from bottle, but the ripe tannins are promising. Another sample, another successful Graves. 90-92
With Gabriel at Haut Bailly

Gabriel Vialard, technical director at Haut Bailly and Le Pape

  • 2015 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    As we have seen from other wines in this vintage, acidity was not too high (3.2 grams, with 13.6% alcohol), palate is silky with pure red berries and cool blue fruit. I love the juicy mid palate, with plenty of sap and structure, at once subtle and refined. Reassuring tannic force marks the finish, which augurs well for future aging. The barrel sample of Haut Bailly in 2015 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon for evident structure, 36% Merlot for opulence (more or less), and a touch of Petit Verdot for spice – comes across as a mix between the structured 2005 and the sumptuous 2009. Both vintages are great, so this should be a great wine, too! However, I hope the price won’t be too great ;-) 93-95+
  • 2015 Château Haut-Brion* – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    The blend of 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc is seamlessly balanced, with fresh ripe fruits, black and then red, tobacco leaf aspects, and tonicity on the long finish. The mid palate shows much nuance with layers of flavor that go on and on, and then – wham! – the fine print shows 14.9% alcohol. Amazed that such high alcohol can be so well integrated. A chef-d’œuvre from this estate. This barrel sample surpasses the 2014, which indeed lacks that extra dimension of sumptuousness by comparison, to be truly great, which 2015 is. Bravo! 95-98
  • 2015 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    The nearly 60% Merlot lends much richness to this barrel sample and I love the clean expressions of very ripe red and black fruits, and there is pleasing freshness, too! An excellent second wine. Comparing this with the second wine of La Mission, I prefer the second wine of La Mission, perhaps because of the higher Cabernet content. 90-92
Tasting at La Mission

Prince Robert of Luxembourg, with impressed tasters, at La Mission Haut Brion

  • 2015 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Château La Louviere – Talk about a twofer! This somewhat under-the-radar estate delivers the goods in both white, and now in red in 2015. Smooth, savory and delicious. Medium bodied, with sap and juiciness, ripe red and black fruits, and verve. No need to rush en primeur, just buy with confidence off shelf. 89-92
  • 2015 Château La Mission Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    I have to admit that this wine is pretty amazing first because it has such fine balance that no one – no one in the room tasting – guessed that it carries a whopping 15.1% alcohol level. While quite powerful, the palate enveloping, there is no sense of heaviness or overripe fruit. Talk about dry extract! Here we have substance and structure to the mid palate, leading to a long finish. In 2014, this estate achieved excellent balance, but at a “lower register” of 14.5% alcohol and more acidity, so for you rich folks looking for “bargains”, it may be worth seeking out the 2014, as the price could (still) be lower. 92-95
  • 2015 Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    A bright opening. It has the ripeness of Malartic Lagraviere, but not quite the same seduction. The finish by comparison was a touch hard from my sample. But let’s not quibble, the attack is brisk and the mid palate rich. Barrel aging will soften things and this should be delicious from bottle. 90-92+
  • 2015 Château La Tour-Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Fresh and smooth, albeit just a touch austere when compared to the Malartic, tasted just before. The tannins are somewhat more angular, not quite as ripe as I would have preferred, perhaps, but barrel – and bottle – aging should do the trick. Tasted twice with similar results. 89-92
  • 2015 Château Malartic-Lagravière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Somewhat roasted on the palate, just after having assessed the brighter Olivier, so here we have a riper style, with oak evident but never aggressive. Let’s talk about seduction and solid expression at the same time, shall we? I would have liked just a bit more freshness to increase a notion of elegance, but barrel aging will soften things out, and it will be a darn tooting, delicious wine! 92-94+
  • 2015 Château Olivier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Quite pure and focused red fruit, a lovely job! Initial cranberry fruit, but then ripe currant, strawberry and plums: a veritable cornucopia of fresh ripe fruit. Reassuringly with pronounced tannin, but smooth and medium-bodied, with a pleasing, long finish. Bravo! 91-93+
  • 2015 Château Le Pape – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    An atypical Graves given the very high Merlot content of three-quarters and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely fresh expressions of Merlot, clocking in at 13.8% alcohol, opulent mid palate but never “too much” with pleasing density and smooth structure coming from the Cabernets. Lovely! 90-92+
Better than expected Pape C

An excellent Pape Clément #bdx15

  • 2015 Château Pape Clément – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Ripe and bold, and with some modern gloss, this will please many tasters. Actually displays fine grip and not as “over rich” as I was expecting. Tasted at the estate, with similar results. They have dialed back on the new oak – from 100% to 85%, which is a good thing. Much substance to this wine, and if you like the sheen style, score even higher. 92-94
  • 2015 Château Picque Caillou – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Quite elegant and ripe, a smooth delivery and refined overall. Lovely tonicity. Bravo! 90-92
  • 2015 Château Rahoul – France, Bordeaux, Graves
    Tasted after Ferrande, I at first was pleased with more comparative tension, but the finish was more austere and steely – and even a bit short for the vintage. Another sample was tastier, medium bodied and not as steely. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and stick to my instincts as Rahoul being an economical go-to Graves. 88-90
  • 2015 Château de Rouillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Pleasurable lightness, fresh red fruit, elegant and suave at once. Here an example of a 2015 being more like 1985 than 2005. I can drink to that too. 89-91+
  • 2015 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Quite substantial and large scaled, with somewhat foreboding tannins that will need the time in barrel to soften. Lots going on, with pleasing aromatics and flavors of ripe dark and red fruit, somewhat in the same style as Pape Clement, but with more verve. 92-94+

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4 Comments on “Pessac-Léognan (and Graves) pizzaz #Bdx15

    • You are welcome! The notes are coming very soon, thanks for staying tuned 🙂

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