Tag Archives: Bordeaux

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


The Triumph of Burgundy

My boyfriend is looking for a new motorbike so the other day we donned our leathers and headed out to test drive the Ducati Monster and the Triumph Street Triple…  oh yes, I am swiftly becoming a ‘biker chick!’

He forewarned me that he wanted a formal retrospective analysis of each ride and a pronouncement of my preferred chariot… in other words he wanted to know which my favourite was and I was intending to take the assignment seriously.


So we mounted up and headed into the proverbial sunset.  Had I not been clinging on at the back for dear life I would have had my notebook out taking notes on comfort, thrill and emotional response.

Perhaps inevitably the only parallels I could draw were wine related! Both bikes had big reputations but that is where the similarity ended. The Ducati was Bordeaux; a ballsy classic like Pauillac from 09. It was powerful and rich with a broad back and a throaty roar. At traffic lights people stopped and stared, just as they would if a bottle of Lafite appeared at the neighbouring table in a restaurant. The Ducati salesman would have been right at home in the Place de Bordeaux; brash, image driven, disbelieving that anyone could consider another bike. It was impressive, fast and showy but somehow it lacked the finesse and romance that I was searching for.

The Triumph was completely different. It was Burgundy; agile, swift and thrilling. It flew under the radar, not getting the stares at the traffic lights, but it was a seamless performance. Like great Burgundy it connected with something deep inside, especially when it accelerated. The salesman was down to earth and quiet, he let the bike do the talking – a Burgundian through and through.

Now this wasn’t quite the answer my boyfriend was expecting, but luckily his taste in bikes is similar to mine in wine. The Triumph triumphed.

– Alex


Celebrating 30th birthdays with a clutch of 1983 wines

This year I celebrated the big 3-0. Whilst for me 1983 was obviously a very important year, in wine terms it was a middling year, with some good wines made in many regions but without the greatness of, say, Alex’s 1982 vintage – hailed as one of the best in Bordeaux. 1983 was, however, a widely declared year for vintage port – something my siblings cottoned onto when they bought me a (delicious) bottle of Grahams 1983 for my 21st birthday.

A few years ago when I was working at The Sampler I realised this milestone of turning 30 was ahead and thought how nice it would be to squirrel away a few bottles of 1983 to celebrate my birthday. If you don’t know The Sampler, it’s a great independent merchant in London which generally has good stocks of older vintages of wine, sourced from private cellars, auctions and the like. So as 1983 wines appeared I would buy the odd bottle and put it to the bottom of my wine rack to keep until 2013 rolled around. Added to this my Dad kindly offered a few bottles out of his cellar so soon enough I had 7 bottles covering white, red, sweet and port. Enough for a good party.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a few of my friends turned 30 this year too and as we were all heading out to the Douro in Portugal for a group holiday this summer I suggested bringing the bottles along and all celebrating together. Which is what we did, carefully packing the wines into polystyrene tubes in our suitcases so our precious cargo would arrive safe and sound.

And so on the Saturday night of our holiday we all chipped in to produce a delicious 4 course dinner and open the wines. In tasting order we had:

Domaine du Closel Savennieres 1983

Aujas Ernest et Daniel Julienas 1983

Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux 1983

Lacoste Borie, Pauillac 1983

Chateau Potensac, Medoc 1983

Chateau Liot Barsac 1983

Gould Campbell Vintage Port 1983

First up was the white, served with some home-cured salmon. Savennieres is a region in the Loire Valley of France which produces white wine from Chenin Blanc. Whilst it is known for its age-worthiness and I have had lovely examples at 10-15 years old, I have to admit to being prepared for this to be completely past it. But I am happy to report it was still going strong. There were certainly some savoury mushroom notes hinting at the age, but these were underpinned by vibrant acidity and even some lingering citrus fruit and honey character. A real surprise, just wish I had another bottle!

Next up was the Beaujolais. Again I had real doubts about this wine being drinkable –Beaujolais is usually drunk whilst young and fruity and whilst it can age and develop almost Pinot Noir-like earthy aromas, 30 years was surely pushing it. It wasn’t quite the surprise that the Savennieres was, most of the fruit had indeed faded, leaving the acidity a little clunky and out of balance. But, it was far from undrinkable and still possessed some elegance. Overall an interesting wine to taste, but not one anyone went back to.

The trio of Bordeaux came next, nicely matched by Beef Wellington wrapped in parma ham rather than pastry. The Prieure Lichine certainly had the elegance you’d expect of Margaux, but I felt that it didn’t have the tannins to quite hold up to 30 years of age. It still had some pretty fruit but finished rather short. Enjoyable enough to drink, but not to savour. The next two pretty much split the table for top red of the night. For me the Lacoste Borie pipped the Potensac to the post. The Potensac probably had more lingering fruit – on the front palate there was still a lot of blackcurrant fruit, pretty impressive for a 30 year old wine. However, after this burst of fruit it became a bit bitter and finished quite abruptly. The Lacoste Borie had a lovely mix of more evolved savoury fruit and earth notes and fine tannins and was the one I went back to.

Onto the pudding course – which was actually a very fresh summer pudding and not the greatest match with Barsac so we enjoyed the pudding and then had the wine separately.  Bright gold in colour with honey, marmalade and mushroom notes and bright acidity to balance the sweetness, really all you could want in a pudding wine. A winner for everyone.

Then finally onto the port which we had carefully decanted earlier in the day. Surprisingly perhaps this was the only cork to crumble as we pulled it out, a butlers thief sadly not to hand. You’d think in the home of cork forests that the port would have the best cork of the bunch, but sadly not. Whilst it seemed a bit crazy to bring port to the Douro, it was lovely drinking the wine in the region where it was produced many years before. Velvet textured with layers of dark raisin fruit, savoury earth and spice notes and that warming feeling of port. Delicious and a superb end to a great meal.

Guess I better start collecting wine for our 40ths soon…


Chateau Haut-Bailly; a family affair

Chateau Haut-Bailly represented a surprising oasis of calm in a region frenetically competing for global market share.  There was a Jane Austen type of serenity and a quiet self-assurance that permeated the whole estate from the vineyards to the cellar and made one feel that the goal of the Chateau was to simply be the best they could be rather than competing against others for fame and fortune.

The winemonkey’s tasting was to be a selection of vintages stretching back to 1998 to celebrate 15 years under the ownership of Robert Wilmer.  I am not sure what I was expecting; a dramatic stylistic change or a gradual evolution charting his journey of discovery.  What I found both surprised and delighted me.  The wines were presented as a family, sharing a common identity but each with an individual personality stamped on it from the peculiarities of the vintage.  They couldn’t have been more right.  The characters that emerged from those garnet and ruby depths so easily conjured up personalities that I see in my own extensive family that I couldn’t help chuckling with glee at each new introduction.  Each wine had the trade mark grace and stony mineral finish of the H-B name, and it was this understated elegance and concentration that allowed you to have a conversation with the wine rather than it shouting at you as so many of the more modern extracted wines tend to do.
The 2008 was undoubtedly the oldest son and the apple of his parent’s eye.  The supple polished tannins, beautifully integrated fruit depths and the finesse of the wine showed him to be both handsome and charming.  The beautifully complex length gave him an intelligent rather than brash appearance while the accessibility of the fruit lent a note of kindness and dependability.  Any mother would be proud.
The 2006 was a different kettle of fish altogether: the headstrong and fiery eldest daughter.  This wine was vibrant and alive with beautifully taut tannins and a lively acidity.  There was attractive depth to the fruit with tertiary and mineral complexity beginning to emerge combined while the steely core of fresh acidity showed a woman of intelligent and drive.  The life and soul of the party; beautiful and charismatic, but beware, that steely core hinted at a sharp wit when crossed.
2002 was attractive, kind and softly spoken; a beautiful if somewhat ethereal motherly figure.  The fruit profile had softened with some age, but showed a wealth of different aromas and flavours.  The tannins were fine, soft and well integrated giving her an elegant, slender and perfumed character.  There was a note of the demure about her yet underneath the subtle perfume ran that signature H-B strength.
2000.  The youngest daughter, spoilt but beautiful.  The rich and sensual fruit had a much riper profile suggesting long glossy locks, flashing eyes and dramatic curves.   The fruit was showy and open with plush velvety tannins suggesting a superficial beauty, but looks can be deceiving.  Underneath all the glamour and giggles is that tell-tale gravelly mineral complexity lending it surprising length.
1998, is undoubtedly the father and the head of the house.  Beautiful tertiary aromas of worn leather and hints of tobacco suggested an elderly gentleman with fine set of whiskers and a smoking jacket.  The tannins have loosed slightly with age, as had his waist line and the lovely muted fruits and notes of forest floor suggested a compulsory afternoon nap in the chair.  However as with many men presiding over a house largely comprised of women, just because his eyes are closed does not mean he is not listening.  The palate showed a wonderfully steely minerality streaking through the core of the wine pointing to a formidable intellect while the finish was long, complex and poised showing a man of both control and power.  The beautiful whisper of soft fruit on the mid palate however makes it clear he has a kind and gentle side to his personality.

It was a fabulous tasting and I am certainly looking forward to visiting again to see how the family is getting on.


Expectations of affectations exposed. Back In your box Harper

I am the first to admit I have a few character flaws.  Actually no, I am the second.  My mother usually beats me to the crunch, just to keep my feet on the ground obviously.  Like many, I am prone to the odd snap judgement and the occasional generalisation.  I am also a hopeless romantic, especially when it comes to wine, and the idea of a mud encrusted vigneron crooning quietly to his barrel, coaxing it through the final stages of fermentation holds far more appeal for me than the multimillion pound art deco ‘wineries’ that are popping up at a rate suggesting it is the vinous version of a pissing contest.

With this slight bias in mind you can imagine that I had prepared my inner romantic for a lonely week in Bordeaux; a region that in my mind is the epitome of style over substance.  In my mind my mother needs to have a serious word – their feet have well and truly left the ground.  However I am going to do something that I very rarely do, and that is to admit that I have been wrong.  Doubtless there are many soulless monsters in silk cravats roaming the echoing corridors of many a chateau in Bordeaux planning their next stratospheric price increase, however the handful of Bordelaise I had the pleasure of meeting this week has been a humbling experience.
It started with a negociant, who, far from being the cut throat commercial face of Bordeaux was an engaging and honest man who gently guided us through the why’s and wherefore’s of the business.  He was not focused solely on the greenbacks as I had assumed anyone not directly involved in growing the vines must be, but was passionate about the wines they sold and about the people they worked with.  It was day 1 and I was already having to rethink my preconceptions.
Second up in the removal of my Bordeaux blinkers was a visit to Bon Pasteur in Pomerol.  It is owned by Michel Rolland, a successful oenologist who consults for about 120 wineries across the globe.  Now…I am no mathematician but 120 wineries scattered across the world is going to take up a hell of a lot of your time, so my expectations for these pricey wines were that they would be impressive but formulaic.  What I hadn’t anticipated was the charismatic winemaker Benoit Pedrot.  With a disarmingly frank smile and a twinkle in the eye you knew that this was a man who not only knows his apples, but who loves them.  He spoke with both clarity and passion on the innovations he and Michel had worked on, charting the discoveries that each experiment led to. If you are as impatient as I am you will understand the patience and dedication this kind of research takes.  The wines themselves were bold and rich, well reflecting the confidence and energy of the man making them.  Bordeaux 2: Harper 0
The penultimate feather in the Bordelaise beret was a visit to Chateau Haut Bailly in Pessac Leognan.  I am not one who generally believes in vibes and energies, but the instant feeling of calm that you felt at Haut Bailly convinced me that the whole place had been feng shuied. Our host was as elegant and beautiful as the wines proved to be.  I was genuinely disappointed when we had completed our tasting and it was time to leave, it was a place I could happily have spent many hours wandering the vineyards or quietly working my way through the vintages.  More on this winery in a separate post.
Last up was a visit to the legendary first growth Chateau Margaux.  We started off with a predictably impressive cellar tour, though I had to stifle my gaffaws when our guide’s mobile phone rang out with the tune ‘it’s all about the money, money, money’.  How fitting.  This is, however where the last of my anti-Bordelais feelings crumbled.  In this bastion of wealth and success we sat down to a tasting with the humble, passionate and insightful Paul Pontallier, General Manager of Margaux.  When asked if he was happy that Margaux was considered the feminine one of the big five he responded with typical Gallic charm: “any man who knows anything about women, knows that femininity does not mean weakness”.  At this point all the men in the room were desperately taking notes on French charm and the women were applauding his perceptiveness!  We tasted an eye opening flight of Cabernet, all from the 2012 vintage but from different terroir’s prior to blending.  The stylistic differences could fill pages, and highlighted the incredible art that blending is.  Where one wine was aromatic and forward, the next showed steely minerality, and the final a superb structure of tannin and acidity.  Anticipating the sum of the three, and indeed the many other micro plots that comprise the final Grand Vin, it is no wonder this wine consistently holds its place among the world’s greatest.  It appears it is all about the terroir, terroir, terroir after all. Finishing up the experiential tasting we were treated to a glorious lunch with Margaux 99 flowing from the heavens.
So thank you Bordeaux for teaching me that prejudices are there to be broken down.

These monkeys don’t speak french – the Bordeaux tour

Arrival in Bordeaux started with promise… Blue skies and no queue at the car hire. There was slight fear in the faces of the 2 passenger monkeys as alex spoke loudly to herself while driving… ‘you are driving on the right, on the right alex’. Only 2 near crashes on day one seemed reasonable, especially when contending with squeals of ‘look, it’s pichon’ or ‘stop! It’s a giant bottle! We need a photo’

We won’t bore you with details of the negociant system, of oak regimes at lynch bages or the use of dry ice, though our inner wine geeks were jumping for joy. Besides Lenka DOES NOT SHARE EXAMPLES! There was a moment of compassion however, for the poor boy from lynch bages who was tasked with taking us round; the fear in his eyes and the tremor in his voice when the pH questions came out and he was forced to reveal he had only been in the job 4 months only stopped us in our barrage briefly. Man up sunshine, it’s a cruel world out there.

The long drive from the left bank to the right bank was dominated by wails of protest from Lenka (did I mention she DOES NOT SHARE EXAMPLES?) as emma and alex joyously shouted out every word to les mis. Lenka finally relieved DJ Emma of her duties, but not before we snuck in a word perfect rendition of little mermaid’s ‘part of their world’.

After a few wrong turns, and growing consternation that alex could not find the headlights and the sun was setting, we arrived in pomerol to chateau Bon Pasteur, our home for the night.

Ditching our bags we did what any self respecting monkey would do and took a cab to the closest restaurant. Full tummies, even fuller wine glasses. Happy monkeys.

A bientot