2014 Bordeaux in barrel: smoking Graves

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com


15 May 2015

My faves: Among reds, Haut Brion rather rules the roost, but watch out for an excellent and (hopefully) well-priced Domaine de Chevalier red and the usually fine Haut Bailly. Pape Clement has more linearity than I can ever recall – and that’s a good thing and Smith Haut Lafitte continues its welcome path towards more classicism. As for whites, Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Brion Blanc are tops, but La Mission Haut Brion Blanc is also great (if expensive) – and I like Smith Haut Lafitte a lot, too…

It is often said that the wines of Graves impart intriguing smoky aromatics after evolution in bottle. Barrel samples do not. So the title is more a play on words as “smoking” also can mean “doing very well” and I would say that based on 2014 barrel samples I tried, many of the Graves – both red and white – were smoking.


Tasting at La Mission Haut Brion

Now, as Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier cogently explained when I visited his estate, some vintners may have picked too early. For both reds and whites, some barrel samples exhibited harder or raw tannins, accentuated by the high acidity of the vintage. It seems that the best wines in Graves, both reds and whites, were made from somewhat later pickings that resulted in the highest possible ripeness (not going over-ripe) so that the tannins came across as smoother – and were able to combine better with the high acidities of the vintage. And this applied just as much to the reds as it did to the whites, in terms of having as ripe as possible grapes to match the acidities.

Wines in bold I liked particularly, when red and bold even more and when underlined, too, wine nirvana.

Tasted mostly non blind at the château or at trade tastings 

Château Brown (white): This has pleasing freshness and  more power and substance than Cuvée Caroline, with a creamy texture matched by bright acidity even if not particularly long or complex. 88-90

Château Carbonnieux (red): Tasted at Vintex trade tasting and at the estate with similar results. Fine cedar aromas precede a palate marked by suave tannin and tonic freshness coming from the vintage. Medium bodied, and even more corpulence than usual. Barrel aging will likely give it more mid palate: a fine effort from a producer that always offers quality at an affordable price. 90-91

Château Carbonnieux (white): A wine I regularly served in my days as a wine steward on Nantucket Island’s famous Chanticleer restaurant, back in 2007 and 2008. Tasted both at a trade tasting and at the château, the barrel samples were very smooth and savory, with grapefruit brightness and an almost velvety texture – a good example of a 2014 white that is not varietal in nature – and will constitute a bargain. 90-92


Eric Perrin at Château Carbonnieux

Château de Chantegrive Cuvée Caroline (white): Tasted at Vintex. This comes across as lip smacking lemony and fresh, and I can easily order this at a restaurant with oysters or clams with lemon juice. More light than medium-bodied with a medium minus finish, the wine nonetheless is savory and would be worth your hard earned cash to enjoy. 87-89

Château Clos Floridene (red): Lovely ripe red fruit aromatics and flavors including cranberry and plum. Medium bodied with medium flavor intensity – text book Graves – with a medium finish. 89-91

Château Clos Floridene (white): Citrus and mineral aspects, smooth texture, with medium body and medium flavor intensity. Again a text book Graves white – with a medium and bright finish. 90-91+

Château Couhins (white): This wine was lively enough with a medium-bodied palate, but alas giving off an impression of some under ripe aspects. Time will tell and it will be useful to revisit from bottle. 86-88

Château Couhins-Lurton (red): Tasted blind at the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux tasting, under their usual impeccable conditions. Manages to be chocolate-like and fresh. Oak derivation comes to the fore on the palate, with coffee rind on the palate – almost abrasive – but the high acidity balances things well enough. I would say, “wait for this to come together” and expect a kind of decadent vibrancy…  89-91


Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier and president of the UGCB, talking to assembled media at the end of en primeur week

Domaine de Chevalier (white): One of the most successful white Graves, outpaced by Haut Brion but far less expensive. This exudes fine balance and tension, with just the right amount of new oak at 40%. Refined yet high intensity flavors of citrus and stone fruit. It has a smooth texture with vivacity coming from the acidity. Bravo! 92-94+

Domaine de Chevalier (red): One of the most successful red Graves. If the price is right, buy it. I will. “You had to harvest later to get the necessary ripeness to deal with the high acidities,” both Olivier Bernard and partner Remy Edange explained, for both red and white. This was a lovely expression of ripe red and black fruit from the lively attack with a medium plus body, marked by vivacity and high intensity flavors. A medium plus flavor intensity yet refined and elegant, with a long finish marked by lift. 92-94

La Clarté de Haut Brion (white): The “amalgamated” second white wine for both Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion. Lovely and crisp on the attack. Smooth mid palate, even a creamy texture, the 14.55% alcohol very well integrated, with 3.21 pH. Sap on the mid palate! Lemon and citrus but suave. Long finish. Only 1,100 cases… 90-92

Château de Cruzeau: Tasted blind at the Grand Cercle. Starts out well with a brisk and red fruit flavored attack but then comes astringence that attacks the gums. I am not sure what is going on with this… Let’s reserve judgment and see how it comes from bottle.

Château de Fieuzal (white): A rich style, with perhaps too much oak derivation, yet juicy red apple like ripeness and fine mid-palate sap. Medium length. 88-91+

Château Haut Bacalan (red): Tasted blind at the Grand Cercle. The attack is supple and the body very medium to medium minus. It has a juicy mid palate marked by red and black fruit, and some fine tannic grain, but then ends with a somewhat short finish. This may be just OK for an economical restaurant wine. 86-89

Château Haut Bailly: Tasted at the estate. I admire the aromatics of the barrel sample, very pure with red and black fruit of subtle intensity. The palate is highlighted by an impressive tannic structure, with ripe if somewhat foreboding tannins that aging will soften into a special wine indeed, because the finish is very long and precise – and marked by freshness.  91-93+

Château Haut Bergey (white): A lovely wine, exuding ripe fruit with a creamy and rich texture but with red apple like acidity that lends lift on the medium plus finish. 90-92

Château Haut Brion (red): Slightly lower alcohol at 14.25% and same pH as La Mission, this comes across as fresher and more suave, which is usually the case when comparing the two. The nose is crushed tobacco freshness with red and black fruit. The palate is subtle yet full bodied, with high tannin and acidity. Perhaps it lacks an extra dimension of sumptuousness to make it a “truly great” vintage, but I love the frank and long, tonic finish. Should turn out to be an excellent wine with barrel aging – and, yes, a candidate for wine of the vintage. 93-95

Château Haut Brion (white): Wow! A gorgeous white in the making. More subtle on the nose and palate than the La Mission. Subtle notes of stone fruit. Suave and sap filled on the palate, with balancing brightness. Almost unbelievable that this wine has 14.75% alcohol! The low acidity balances it out. Rich and powerful yet crisp on the long finish. Made from 68% Semillon and 32% Sauvignon Blanc, aged in 55% new oak. Along with Château Margaux’s Pavillion Blanc, perhaps the very best white of the vintage. Only 620 cases… 94-96

Haut Brion White Bottle 2014

White barrel sample of the vintage?

Château Haut Lagrange: Tasted blind at the Grand Cercle. Not sure about this one as the palate seems a bit underripe and the acidity comes to the fore. So the tannins come across as a bit rough. 85-87

Château Larrivet Haut Brion (white): The attack is somewhat understated, with flavors of lemon and lime and a medium minus body, with medium flavor intensity and a medium minus finish. I was expecting more from this fine estate, but as others seemed more enthusiastic, perhaps the barrel sample I tried was not tops?  89-91

Château Latour Martillac (white): This has noticeable acidity, plenty of zip and zing, although the mid palate is a touch thin. It relies on the high acidity to give it character, with a fresh if somewhat searing aspect. Try it with oysters! I have seen better showings from this estate in barrel, but let’s see how barrel aging will go. 88-90

Château Malartic Lagraviere (white): An expansive wine, with mid-palate sap and a creamy and smooth texture. Svelte if a just a touch glossy in a modern sense. Medium plus finish and quite delicious. 90-92

Château La Mission Haut Brion (red): Subtle aromatics. Rich and powerful palate, full bodied. Not extracted or drying or heavy, which I got in the star vintages of 2009 and 2010. Of course I have trouble gauging this wine from barrel, as barrel aging works veritable wonders and it turns out almost always excellent. Just under 14.5% alcohol but a rather low pH of 3.67 balances the wine. Potential for higher score than the conservative range given now. 91-93+

Château La Mission Haut Brion (white): The aromatics are intense and focused. Mineral and citrus. Is it just a touch warm? The high acid tonicity reassures. Indeed, château representative Turid explained that the planned blend was altered: they went from the planned 17% Sauvignon Blanc to 28%, to give the wine more zing. The rest of the blend is of course Semillon. Just 560 cases. 91-93

Château Olivier (white): Fresh and clean but with an almost New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc varietal character. Will certainly please many a palate, if not the most subtle wine for my palate. Score higher if you like the (in this case, ripe) varietal style. 89-91

Château Pape Clement (red): Well, well, well… The barrel sample has a characteristically dark ruby color – with lots of ripe, dark fruit (Hey, this is nearly 60% Merlot!) and oak-derived aspects including espresso and vanilla. Par for the (modern) course. And yet … The palate is pleasingly fresher than usual, given the high acidity of the vintage, leading more precision. While not as focused as, say, Haut Bailly, it comes across as both sensual and vivacious. Medium plus to full bodied with a medium plus finish. Nice job, Monsieur Magrez! 90-93

Tasty – and affordable – Rochemorin white

Château de Rochemorin (red): Tasted blind at Grand Cercle. I usually like this estate as representing a fine price/quality ratio but this barrel sample was disappointing. Sure, it has a certain savory medium body and enough structure for aging, but I could not get past some slightly underripe tannins! 86-88

Château de Rochemorin (white): Bright and savory, this exudes grapefruit and lemon peel, very zesty with just enough ripeness. I suspect that by bottling it will be a pretty smooth and savory medium bodied white that will not burn a hole in your wallet. 89-91

Château Le Sartre (red): Tasted blind at the Grand Cercle, in their usual impeccable tasting conditions. I love the juicy fruit aspects to the aromatics and palate, which is medium bodied, and marked by richness and fine sap. My only caveat is that the finish is a touch abbreviated, but this shan’t be too expensive either: you pays your money and you takes your choice. 89-91

Château Seguin (red): Another fine Pessac-Leognan that will not burn a hole in your pocket. This conveys savory flavors of medium intensity in a medium bodied palate, whose texture is smooth and almost velvety. There is pleasing brambly fruit coming from high acidity. Nice job! 89-91+

Florence and Daniel Cathiard

2015 marks 25 years for Florence and Daniel Cathiard at Smith Haut Lafitte

Château Smith Haut Lafitte (white): Rich and even a bit heady but with sap and acidity, and here we have 90% Sauvignon Blanc that is ripe and savory and matching well the high acidity of the vintage. Tasted at Ulysses Cazabonne and at the château with consistent notes. 90-92+

Château Smith Haut Lafitte (red): A welcome continued trend towards classicism from this estate, with fine freshness, ripe tannins – and less of a new oak feel. The wine exudes a mix of dark and red fruit aromatics and a touch of spice, quite pure on the nose leading to an enveloping and seductive mid palate. A lingering finish marked by moderate lift. 90-93


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