Bordeaux Feature -Union de Grand Cru Tasting Santa Monica

The UGC swept through Santa Monica/LA on its way to San Francisco this week and gave local enthusiasts and professionals a chance to try dozens and dozens of Bordeaux Superieur and Blanc from the 2014 vintage. The attendance was fabulous as all but the most ratified producers were there (so no Mouton, Latour, Cheval, Montrose etc).

2014 was a tough vintage at first, with cooler weather through the summer before a more favorable harvest. Most agree the wine to emerge was quite fine, though quantity was lower. Comparisons to 05 and 06 have been made, while others think it is too distinctive to reliably compare to any other year.

I will attempt to transcribe my notes below, on each sub-zone as well as specific bottles that leaped out. The trouble with such a tasting is that many of the wines were quite tight, and few tables used a decanter. For much of the tasting, what I was assessing was structure and body rather than aromatics, for that you must simply know the Chateau and their house style to make any predictions. This will be a good, but not great vintage, with classic qualities that should reward fans of Left Bank and Sauternes in particular, with reliable drinkers.

Overall Impressions

Reds

Much of the Right Bank reds from Pessac-Leognan, St Emillon, and Graves were quite dull at this stage, without mid-weight texture, and poor balance. The quality seemed to fall with the greater percentage of Merlot, an earlier ripening grape. 2014 was cooler it the summer and autumn, and thus it seems the Merlot suffered in quality. Those with greater Cabernet Franc in the assemblage were far better.

The later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon benefited from the late vintage uptick in weather quality, and as we moved to the Left Bank, such as the Haut-Medoc and Margaux, greater balance and some emerging aromatics were evident. Better fruit and concentration was notable in Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines, such as St Julien and Paulliac. This is not to say these wines were universally better, but generally more accessible.

I believe the better wines this year to be those left bank wines, as well as Cabernet Franc, while right bank and Graves were quite savory and gripping, showing more of the cooler vintage

Whites

While I was unable to devote myself entirely to the whites given the shortness of the evening, the overall impression was of greater consistent quality than the Reds, with particular success for Sauternes, which were some of the more marvelous young bottles I have had. The Chateau Guiraud was in particular a mesmerizing experience.

Pessac-Léognan

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For the first portion of the room, the dry wines of Graves and Pessac-Leognan were on show. The very first wine I tried ended being one of the better in attendance, the Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion. An unusual blend of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon  was likely the reason for this, as the aromatics of the C. Franc were in better form. This region suffered for me because many of the finer sites (Smith Haut-Lafite) were either not present or were drunk dry quite quickly. The Chateau Carbonnieux was also particularly fine, though outshone by their fresh and balanced white wine.

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Saint-Emillon

A difficult portion of the evening for me, but the St. Emillon were disappointing, the most I can hope for is that they unfold in 5 years or so into something more elegant. The tannic structure was certainly present in many of these but little texture, and poor concentration. As before, those wines with greater Cabernet Franc in their assemblage fared better almost every time, including Ch. La Gaffeliere (with 30% C. Franc) and Ch. Canon-la-Gaffeliere, with a whopping 40% C. Franc. Canon-la-Gaffeliere was particularly pure and well structured with a textural balance that presaged an elegant future

Pomerol

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Pomerol suffered from much the same weakness as Saint-Emillon, with higher Merlot % forecasting a poorer showing. Ch. Beauregard was a favorite of many in front of the table, and with 30% C. Franc, did show greater complexity than its neighbors, showing some garden herbs, plum, and chocolate aromas. Others like Le Bon Pasteur lacked any real weight or fruit to counteract the currently un-integrated oak, which I hope will soften.

 

 

Listrac/Moulis En Medoc

Here was the first inkling of good things to come with the poorly named Ch. Clarke, at 70/30 Merlot/C Sauvignon, it showed some under ripe black fruits and cedar in a surprisingly accessible stage for such a young wine. Simlarly Ch. Maucaillou had a denser, but still ripe fruit profile, with chocolate and cigar wrapper giving a greater sense of balance. It was no surprise that the assemblage for Maucaillou was 51% C Sauv, 42% Merlot, and 7% Petite Verdot. While not to my taste, it was certainly refreshing to see some complexity and ripeness.

 

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Here we had some of my first real wows since the Le Carmes Haut-Brion at the very beginning! A perennial modern favorite, the Ch. Cantemerle was in fine form, with an exceptionally balanced and elegant structure, but robust too. Gravely with pencil shavings, cassis, and leather, this appears certain to age well. In contrast to many previous wines in this tasting which were impossible to suss. There was some disagreement as to the assemblage, while the notes said 60% Cabernet, the gentleman at the table claimed it was 47%/38% C. Sauv and Merlot.

 

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wp-1485559664989.jpgCh. Citran was a new one for me, and had very attractive citrus peel, graphite, and herbaceous aromatics. La Tour Carnet was highly structure with an elegant spicebox profile, certainly this was as old-world as it gets, but one wonders if any fruit will emerge in a few years.

My overall impressions of the Haut-Medoc were positive, with more evident quality being apparent among the wines.

 

Margaux

Here in Margaux we found wines that showed the most individual personality of any wp-1485559639901.jpgsub-region so far. Most had tell-tale notes of violets and oyster shells, with the greater maritime influence thanks to the proximity to the water. The texture on these wines were generally quite soft and elegant, and the aromatics more generous (though still tight).

Ch. Dauzac was a good value and quite an early drinker with the least amount of tannin and most expressive nose. Ch. Siran was quite a pretty wine with higher toned red fruit and softer tannin, while Ch. Kirwan and Desmirail were favorites of the crowd, showing violets and sea shells, with stronger tannic backbone elevating it all.

Saint Julien

Saint-Julien marked a continuing trend towards greater consistency. Ch Beychevelle had aromas of citrus and red fruits, and filled the mouth with acidity and tannin. While the oak was a bit too present, I imagine that will integrate well. Ch Leoville Poyferre had more upfront creme de cassis and accompanying textural richness to make for a very taste wine. Gruaud Larose had the greatest freshness of the wines, with black fruits, coffee grounds, and chocolate making for a rich, darker profiled Bordeaux. The Chateau Gloria was also a nice surprise, quite accessible with fresh fruit, menthol and vanilla. I imagine it will drinking well somewhat earlier. Not Pictured is Ch. Talbot, which did quite well though incredibly tightly wound at this stage. Unlike the Saint-Emillon I imagine the Talbot will open up into something quite lovely in 5-10 years.

Pauillac/St Estephe

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I was sad that by the end of the evening, Ch. Lynch-Bages, and others, were all tapped out, however concentration and power associated with Pauillac and St Estephe were on full display with the remaining tables. Lynch-Moussas was more herbal in character, with subtle dark fruits, while Ch. Le Ormes de Pez was quite raw and clumsy, though youth might be to blame.

I was disappointed I couldn’t give a greater account of these two regions. Unfortunately after 2.5hrs and dozens of wines, having these at the end proved disastrous.

 

Sauternes

It is no mistake that many proclaimed the 2014 Sauternes as the winner of the tasting. Not a one was showing poorly, though a range in depth and concentration was evident. Many almost came across as off-dry, with such fabulous acidity and freshness that you wanted to gulp down a large glass right on the spot. Ch. Guiraud was a possible wine of the night for my own taste. The Guiraud Sauternes had none of the syrupy gloopiness that some over-eager examples had. It was all fresh orchard and tropical fruits, honey and flowers with a long elegant finish.

 

Final Notes

Tasting young Bordeaux is a difficult task, many of the best will get lumped in with the worst due to being inaccessible in youth (like the Talbot), while others will be rewarded by early assessments for being easy. The clear strategy here is the tough one, find the house style you like and buy some bottles, waiting patiently.

That said, from this disadvantaged standpoint, The clear stars were St Julien, Sauternes Et Barsac, and Margaux. All three zones featured wines of balance, freshness, and concentration. What aromatics peaked through had great typicity. As one producer noted, 2014 will be one of the best of the ‘lesser’ vintage, and hopefully full of good values compared to the 2015s. If you already know which Chateaus you prefer, this is a wonderful year to stock up on some reliable Bordeaux for mid-term enjoyment.