Pessac-Léognan and Graves from bottle 2016

Admirable vintage in red and white

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

11 March 2019

Favorite reds include a magnificent Les Carmes Haut Brion, as well as usual suspects Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly

Among the whites, I really liked Domaine de Chevalier and Château Smith Haut-Lafitte and Château Malartic Lagravière (also try the second wine of this estate, damn good in 2016)

Stéphanie Libreau should be mighty proud of her Les Carmes Haut Brion: a top Bordeaux in 2016 to be sure!

As we saw, 2016 was especially successful in the northern Médoc and in Pomerol.

Of the wines that I tasted from the northern Graves – the appellation of Pessac-Léognan, created in 1987 – many also excelled, in both red and white. Alas, I did not get a chance to taste either Château Haut Brion or La Mission Haut Brion from bottle, but when I do, I will repost.

Based first on a tasting at Château Bouscaut in December last year (is that not just a gorgeous picture above?) with wine writers Jane Anson, Yohan Castaing, and Yves Beck, 2016 is one of those happy vintages (think in terms of 2010 for example, or 2001) where the quality of the dry whites equals that of the reds). More often, a vintage tends to favor one over the other.

These impressions were confirmed again when I tasted more wines from the Graves region at a tasting of the UGCB in Philadelphia last month.

2016 is a very good vintage for Graves region in general. Perhaps the “highest red wine peaks” of 2016 are more likely to be found in Pomerol and in the northern Médoc, but a sign of a very good vintage is that even lesser wines performed well, and that was the case at the Château Bouscaut tasting, where second wines also were sampled, some providing quite good deals, should you encounter them at restaurants, for example.

As per usual, if the wine is in bold, I liked it in particular. If red and bold, even more. If underlined, too, then a nirvana of sorts.

Flight One – Reds, Second Wines 

Two top “second wine” reds tasted? L’Esprit de Chevalier and Lagrave Martillac

Les Chenes de Bouscaut – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This was airy and elegant. Fine aromatics with fresh fruit. Lacks the density of a first wine, but a positive experience! Alcohol clocks in at 13.5% Well, this is a good start. If you see at a restaurant and not too pricey, I recommend it. (88 pts.)

La Croix de Carbonnieux – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Clean fruit and brightness on the attack. A bit short on the finish however. 13.5% alcohol. (87 pts.)

Dame de Couhins – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Seems to have the darkest fruit among the first three wines tasted, especially following the Croix de Carbonnieux. Initially appealing, but a bit too “coffee rind like” and veering towards bitter coffee rinds, this blend of 74% Merlot and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon at 13.5% alcohol. (86)

L’Esprit de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan*
I like the nose on this second wine. The attack is a tad raw and “high toned”, but it finishes long and focused. Overall rather balanced and refined! This is a fine second wine, indeed, with a medium finish. Blending 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, clocking in at 13% alcohol. (89+ pts.)

Lagrave Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan*
Nice showing! This nose is intense (akin to the Dame de Couhins), but more subtle. The palate starts a touch austere, but gets better, even if it lacks the concentration you would get from a first wine, noticeably so. Very fruity however and as a second wine, a very good restaurant choice. (89 pts.)

A fine showing from this second wine: indeed, 2016 includes some very good second wines for savvy restaurant options.

La Reserve de Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Warm spicy and rich nose! The palate is toastier in expression than the above, and yet lacks the “stuffing” on the palate. Still it has some appeal but is the least appealing among these latter three second reds tasted. (87)

Dame d’Olivier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Nose is a tad metallic. There is some fruit, but a bit steely. Can we have another metal descriptor? The finish medium, marked by red fruit to be sure, just not as smooth or lisse as, say, the Bouscaut. Steely. (86)

Clementine de Pape – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Fine dark and red fruit on the nose. Slightly extracted character. But not too bad. There is body and some depth to the wine, clocking in at 13.5% alcohol, but just a tad annoying with an over extracted touch of tannin marking the finish. (87)

Abeille de Fieuzal – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Clocking in at 13% alcohol, this is smooth and a bit like toffee. The aspect is not as dark as one may expect from the producer. Rather see through! May lack the optimal expression of fruit but overall, an agreeable experience for a second wine with smooth tannin. Medium finish. Buy with confidence at a restaurant. (88)

Flight Two – Reds, First Wines 

Top reds tasted (excluding La Mission and Haut Brion)? Les Carmes Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier  Haut Bailly and Smith Haut Lafitte

Château Bouscaut – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Lovely nose, roasted coffee, but of a mild nature. With some plum stew, the palate is smooth and even svelte, rich, and more like a well-made rich yet not “modern” Right Bank wine than a Graves. A bit more “stewy” as compared to the Couhins first wine in red however. Overall, pretty darn good for lovers of a richer style. (91 pts.)

Château Carbonnieux – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Clocking in at 13.5% alcohol, this blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot comes across more austere on the palate, and not as “giving” as the above. The nose is also somewhat high toned. I do like the floral freshness of the nose however. And with food this should be fine as it would balance out, say, a rare steak. (90 pts.)

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan*
Wow! A gorgeous nose of bright red and dark fruits is a prelude for a silky palate that is all about balance and sensuality. I really like how this estate is evolving. In earlier vintages, I was struck by some over extraction but here we see elegance. The 5% amphora aging? The softer vat extractions (no pumping over, but rather pigeages)? Whatever the case may be, this blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon clocking in 13.5% alcohol easily in the running for the very best from Pessac-Léognan in 2016. (95+ pts.)

Château de Chantegrive – France, Bordeaux, Graves 
What a charming red! It has bright red fruit aspects and a smooth texture. Sure, a bit short when compared to many others, here, but for the price? Do not hesitate! (90)

Château Couhins – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Clocking in at 14.5% alcohol, this blend of 44% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and the rest Petit Verdot exudes a nuanced nose. Not as “obviously enveloping” as the Bouscaut, tasted just before, but it has a more nuanced expression of both red and dark fruit. It shows grip on the palate and keeps you coming back for more. Rather long finish, too. Bravo! (92+ pts.)

Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
A slight vanilla aspect on the nose also conveys dark fruit. I like the breadth on the palate, with dark fruit and plum. There is Cabernet structure. It lacks the focus and length of some of the top wines here; but a nice wine indeed. (91 pts.)

Among the reds tasted at Château Bouscaut in Bordeaux late last year.

Domaine de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Certainly a star among the reds from bottle at this tasting. The nose is already very appealing. Very nuanced, deep ripe fruit, red and black, with touches of oak toast that accentuate the tasting experience rather than detract from it, as the fruit remains the main attraction. Juicy and rich at the same time – and I am just talking about the nose here. The palate is also juicy. An early stage however with a healthy bit of tannic austerity that indicates the necessity for cellaring at least five years for an optimal early drinking window. Domaine de Chevalier combines classicism with optimal ripeness. Tasted again in Philly with same results. Bravo! (95 pts.)

Château de France – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
I like the overall elegance from this red, which – like its white counterpart – counts among the best price/quality ratios from Bordeaux in 2016. Blending 54% Cabernet Sauvignon with 46% Merlot, the wine exudes cool blue fruit with a certain depth and finesse on the palate. Lovely wine! (92 pts.)

Château de Fieuzal – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Certainly a more modern styled red here. Overall, a nice job with full on ripe and even somewhat jammy fruit. I like the black tea note as well, lending some complexity over-all. But it seems somewhat dominated by the oak and the finish has some drying tannins. The wine clocks in at 13.5% alcohol. (91 pts.)

Château Haut Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
The aromatics are pure refinement, exuding now the Cabernet Sauvignon cassis and discernible notes of fine tobacco. Indeed, 53% of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 40% Merlot lends palate density. Rounding it out: 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. A bit closed in overall at this stage, but not surprising. One senses the excellent palate density and class of the wine and the score may well go up in a few years. (95 pts.)

Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Here we get a more powerful and evidently tannic wine from the reds. It is not rustic but rather somewhat imposing. I think it just needs time in your cellar, this blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot. And the track record of this estate is such that you can have faith in the modest investment. Yup, a good price/quality ratio! (91 pts.)

Château La Tour-Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Bright red fruit on the nose. You want to keep smelling this wine! This is lovely, chipper and smooth. There is crackling red fruit appeal! For some, however, it may seem just a tad under-ripe in terms of “optimal ripeness”? But I like this style, especially with richer foods to achieve optimal fat-acidity balance. A fine choice for sommeliers, and I say “Hurray”! (93 pts.)

Château Malartic Lagraviere –  France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
After a somewhat off bottle at Château Bouscaut, I was relieved to try it again in Philly, and it was excellent. For me in this vintage, for this estate, the tannic power comes to the fore more than elegance. Indeed, the palate shows quite a bit of density and heft, and it was not for nothing that before the tasting in Philly, wine reps said that 2016 can come across as less flattering from bottle as the 2015 one year ago. This wine, clocking in at 13.5% alcohol, is a case in point, but it should be lovely after about five years of cellaring. (92 pts.)

Château Olivier –  France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Tasted twice with similar results. A cooler style here, less evidently opulent than one may expect, even “standoffish” and yet it has style and palate concentration. A cooler style, not quite steely, but it needs time in your cellar. Clocks in at 14% alcohol. (92 pts.)

Château Pape Clément – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This came across more elegant than expected, yet rich, bien sûr. Sure, you get some of the extracted tannin as expected from this estate but better balance this year. Indeed, it came across more “extracted” in impression than the Malartic Lagravière, tasted just before in Philadelphia. Still, hats off to the (perhaps too?) slow transformation away from excessive richness and extraction, which is bearing fruit, as the quality of the Pape Clément terroir is undeniable. A somewhat cooler vintage like 2016 suits the estate well. One of the best from bottle in recent years that I can recall. I give it a rather high score, because it shows very impressive depth, too. (93 pts.)

Château Smith Haut-Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
A very nice red indeed, elegant and refined, albeit with expected density and and a pleasing leafy tobacco aspect that lends freshness. A grand success in 2016. (95 pts.)

Many fine whites in 2016 and here an economically priced one, as well!

Flight Three – Second Wines, White

Two top “second wine” whites tasted? La réserve Malartic Lagravière and L’Esprit de Chevalier Blanc

Les Chenes de Bouscaut – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Noticeably darker in profile than the Esprit de Chevalier. There is an already evolved, even close to Sherry, aspect to this wine, as it over evolved. Opened a second bottle and got hazelnuts. Go elsewhere for second wines… (83 pts.)

L’Esprit de Chevalier Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Ripe, yet bright, albeit a bit short. Reductive nose. I like the white peach aspect, certainly want to take a bite out of it. Probably the most potential among these second whites, but steely and reduced. Give it time! Blending 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon, clocks in at 13.5% alcohol. (89 pts.)

La Dame de Couhins – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Like the Bouscaut, this also displays a somewhat too evolved aspect as well, but not as pronounced as the second wine of Château Bouscaut. A certain rich and juicy yellow peach aspect appeals to be sure. Clocks in at 13.5% alcohol and blends and 95% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Sauvignon Gris. (86 pts.)

La réserve Malartic Lagravière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
There is a real classy and nuanced aspect to this second wine, that is undeniable! I am a buyer, based on this tasting as it displays cool white peach with hints of pear, delivered in a smooth texture and ending in a long finish. What is not to like? Bravo! (90 pts.)

Lagrave Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This is a bit more austere and short than the Reserve de Martillac but it is a good choice for a second wine, with verve and brightness, albeit “steely” brightness. Medium finish. (87 pts.)

Dauphin d’Olivier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Reductive nose. Banana notes of fermentation? This is actually lip smacking delicious with yellow peach aspects. Short term white, but already quite rich and appealing. Bravo! (88 pts.)

Abeille de Fieuzal – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
A bit Entre Deux Meres like, which is OK. A bit short, too, which is not so great. Nothing really to write home about.  A by the glass selection to go with your olives? (87 pts.)

One of my top whites from 2016.

Flight Four – First wines, Whites

Top first wine whites? Domaine de Chevalier Blanc and Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Smith Haut Lafitte

Château Bouscaut – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan (?)
Need to have a question mark here, dear readers. When tasted in Bordeaux, I was underwhelmed. Sure, it is very ripe, but this particular bottle bordered on Sherry notes, coming across rather flabby. Indeed, that is how Yohan put it, and on target. But then when I tried another bottle in Philadelphia in January this year, this blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and the rest Semillon displayed some Kiwi like energy along with the richness. So, note reserved for now … Clocks in at 13.5% alcohol.

Chateau Carbonnieux – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Hard to gauge at this stage, as it is rather reductive and steely, but with time in glass, it gets better, this blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Clocking in at 12.5% alcohol, you get a sense of balance and tension to be sure, so give it time. The pedigree is to be respected, and there is no issue here of heaviness or over-ripeness, as should be expected from the 2016 vintage especially (let alone the style of this well-priced estate, which veers towards earlier pickings). (91 pts.)

Château de Chantegrive Cuvée Caroline – France, Bordeaux, Graves 
A bit reductive at first, but then shows some lovely crisp fruit and a smooth texture, with dry extract. Quite a nice white, and an excellent price/quality ratio. (90)

Château Couhins – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan 
Zowie! Talk about a lime puckering mouth! There is some reduction to be sure, but it puckers the mouth and beckons oysters. Maybe just a bit one dimensional? But it has a medium finish, blending 97% Sauvignon Blanc three percent Sauvignon Gris, clocking in at 13%. (90 pts.)

Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This is lovely and a superior wine to the Château Couhins. More nuanced and less a “one-note wonder”. You get ripe fruit and a fine, iodine like freshness that would be even better with oysters! Bravo! Clocks in at 13.5% alcohol. (92+ pts.)

Domaine de Chevalier – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Blending 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon, this starts rather closed in, but your palate is enchanted by the smooth texture aligned with vivacity, which shows so much potential. There is also “burgeoning richness” with density, and the notes of pear, white peach and lemon are highlights. But it needs time in your cellar to come around. A gorgeous wine in the making. 13.5% alcohol. (95+ pts.)

Château de Fieuzal – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
One of the less stellar whites from the vintage. Not bad, as it exudes freshness and ripe fruit, but it comes across rather low key. Clocks in at 13% alcohol. (89 pts.)

Château de France – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Deal alert! Tasted in Philadelphia this year, and I liked this more than most years, especially for the price/quality ratio. Of course it lacks the depth of a wine like Domaine de Chevalier, but this blend of comes across with nice sap and freshness, combining finesse with full body. A medium finish. (91 pts).

Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
At 100% Sauvignon Blanc, you do get some varietal character here, perhaps just a bit too much so, but there is mid palate richness and the wine has full body, so the price is right. Nice job. (90 pts).

Château La Tour-Martillac – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
What a lovely nose! Shows much brightness and promise. Orange blossom. The palate is bright, even if it lacks the complexity and density of the Domaine de Chevalier, tasted just before. 13% alcohol. Maybe with time in bottle, it could merit a higher score. Reminds me of their excellent 2010, of which I bought a case and was so happy to have done so. In 2016, a very good deal, too. (92 pts.)

Château Malartic-Lagravière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
The nose? There is iodine, there is lemon, there is kiwi: all kinds of stuff going on and this is a very fine white – but do not neglect their second wine, which in 2016 is darn good. There is white peach and pear on the palate, just a robust and lively white that keeps on giving! 13.5% alcohol. Bravo! (95 pts.)

Château Oliver – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Somewhat closed in? Yes indeed, as experienced both in Bordeaux in October and in Philadelphia in January this year. Still, there is substance to the palate, with depth and fine tannin. It just is not really singing at this stage. Quite Médoc like, so hold in cellar for about five years before opening. (91 pts.)

Château Pape Clément – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This left me more perplexed than impressed. Sure, you get fruit and texture but all in small measure. Reduction city. Where is the wine? What is going on here? For this price? I feel like saying “Nuts!”. I would take, say, the Couhins Lurton white any day over this one. But maybe it was the bottle, so the note can be revised. We did not have a second bottle to try. I give it a 91 out of caution, but will try it again, and report back. (91 pts.)

Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Bravo yet again for another excellent white from this estate. Very savory, rich and juicy with more yellow than white fruit, but fresh. I like the pink grapefruit aspect that lends that freshness, while the palate displays a more evidently opulent style than, say, Domaine de Chevalier. It is a hard to resist white to be sure! (94+ pts.)

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