Princes, Poker and Haut-Brion: A tasting with Domaine Clarence Dillon

I arrived at Hedonism to be greeted by none other than Prince Robert of Luxembourg who would be hosting the tasting.  “Good evening, Robert of Luxembourg”… I thankfully refrained from replying “Alex of New Malden, lovely to meet you”.  I fear New Malden lacks the gravitas of Luxembourg.

The tasting was as expected, exceptional, with wines from the three Dillon Clarence properties ably presented by the winemaker Jean-Philippe Delmas: Haut Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Quintus.

The first thing that struck me is that the Bordelais have the most fantastic poker faces.  Vintages ranged from ‘excellent’ (2010) to very good for the questionable 2011, a statement which prompted a rye eyebrow raise from yours truly.  Apparently Bordeaux don’t have bad vintages.

The one thing that was reinforced by this tasting was the clarity with which these properties spoke of both terroir and vintage.  2012 on the right bank was glossy, powerful yet fresh and elegant.  2009 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion was wonderfully perfumed, seductive and captivating, a murmuring of appreciation rippled across the room as people acquainted themselves with the wine.  2006 La Mission Haut-Brion, a powerful, concentrated wine was true to form a Marmite vintage with chewy, austere tannins that were making it clear just how much they had struggled with the previous year’s drought and that year’s vagary of heat and rain.  2004 Haut-Brion was beautifully evolved and showing itself in all its aromatic glory as notes of cedar, tobacco, mulch and subtle scented cassis enveloping the senses.  Though clearly it had the ability to continue developing it was comfortably ensconced in its drinking window.  No infanticide there as is so often the case in a tasting of top wines.

The tasting culminated with the whites and the rose.  The rose was surprisingly good showing a perfect combination of concentrated summer berries, vibrant acidity and elegance.  The well-meaning and somewhat inevitable “this pale rose is perfect for the ladies” caused a moment of awkwardness as the gentlemen present looked uncomfortably to the few ladies who all wore ‘oh really?!!’ expressions, whereupon one jovial gentleman piped up with a twinkle in his eye; “not just the ladies, I am partial to rose myself”.  Bless him!

Something that really struck me again was how underrated white Bordeaux is.  The Clarté de Haut-Brion really was a lesson in depth, texture, aromatic excitement and spine tingling freshness.

All in all it was an exceptional tasting deftly presented.  It is clear just how much energy, passion and investment is continually put into these properties to ensure they remain the epitome of quality.  I will certainly be keeping an eye on their latest vinous child, Chateau Quintus as it comes into its own.

  • Alex


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