2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 3: Graves reds and Margaux

Today’s installment covers two more communes of the 2009 reds presented at the UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York.  The first is Graves (officially called Pessac Leognan these days, but old habits are hard to break).  These wines tend to be close to a 50/50 split between cabernet sauvignon and merlot, making them distinct from either Left Bank (cab-dominated) or Right Bank (merlot-dominated) wines.  Most importantly, the gravelly soils (thus the name Graves) often lend what I experience as a flinty, crushed rock aroma to the wines that make the Pessac wines more easily identifiable as a matter of terroir, which I really like.  The 2009s have performed as well as any other commune, and that’s not even taking into account top performers that I missed tasting, including Haut Bailly (my oversight in forgetting to go back for this one at the UGC tasting), and others not present like La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion.  Top performer in the group I tasted was the Pape Clement, but the Domaine de Chevalier certainly gives it a run for its money in a similar style, but at a lower price point.

The other commune covered in today’s post is Margaux, which traditionally has been known in the best examples, to exhibit a floral, lighter, feminine style; though I would note that there have also been a lot of lower-tier Margaux that have shown much more rustic and barnyardy to me as well.  Anyway, the elegant style of Margaux wines are a natural fit for my affinity for pretty, nuanced wines, but for the second year in a row, I’m a bit disappointed with the wines that the producers from the Margaux appellation have put forth.  Some fall prey to too modern a style, that may be nice and rounded in the international style, but loses the distinctiveness of Margaux, and more importantly, doesn’t play to the strengths of the region.  As a result, the wines seemed a bit one-note to me, showing lots of cherry licorice flavors that just left me a little flat.  One happy exception was a wine that I have looked to as a value play in classed-growth Margaux over the years – Chateau Prieure Lichine.  The 2009 edition may be their best yet, and it’s arguably the most Margaux of the wines tasted, showing floral notes, body with definition, yet ample ripe fruit flavors to be enjoyable even now.

My full tasting notes on the Graves reds and Margaux wines are below.  Still to come in upcoming posts:  two of the top-performing communes in my opinion, namely Pauillac and St. Julien, as well as my top picks from the value appellations like Moulis, Listrac, Medoc and Haut-Medoc, as well as the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Pessac Leognan reds

Haut Bergey – tasting this after the Pomerols, this feels much more rustic, with blocky tannins.  A touch of meatiness to the nose as well.  On the palate, again rougher, but has decent acidity, rounded by oak.  90-91+

Carbonnieux rouge – similar to Haut Bergey, but a touch more refined.  Talcum powder, red-to-purple fruits, a dash of licorice on the nose.  Cherry licorice flavors on the palate.  Again, a touch more refined than the Haut Bergey, but not quite a world-beater, just a solid wine.  90-91+

*Domaine de Chevalier – immediately on the nose, you sense this is a step up from either the Haut Bergey or Carbonnieux.  In line with recent vintages of this wine, this shows some coffee on the nose, high quality fruit, and a touch of Graves mineral coming through.  On the palate, very smooth, more power here than the ’06 or ’08 editions, but retains great balance.  Has the right fruit, and power but is not overextracted.  Will be a beautiful wine in its maturity.   A great cheaper alternative to the Pape Clement, to which this wine bears some similarity. 93-94

Pape Clement rouge – lead pencil, Graves mineral, perfumed fruits on the nose.  On the palate, has power, with tannic material in reserve.  Perfectly ripe fruits, shows the character of the vintage well.  A complete wine.  Quite a bit of similarity between this as the Domaine de Chevalier, with slight edge to the Pape Clement because of the superlative fruit. 94-95

Smith Haut Lafitte – more licorice on the palate than many of the other Graves.  Some lead pencil in there too, as well as purplish fruits with a touch of pruny sweetness.  Has potential to age well, less sweet and immediately pleasing than some of the other wines, but has character.  I prefer this to the 2006, because it seems to rely on oak less.  93-94

Note:  I had intended to taste Haut Bailly last among the Graves wines, but missed it as an oversight on my part.


Cantenac Brown – reddish-purple, not inky black.  On the nose, more cherry and licorice than some of the other reds so far.  Decent, with a bit of the feminine style you might expect from a Margaux, with some power in reserve.  Better than the ’08, but nothing stands out on this for me. 90-91+

Du Tertre – a touch of  exotic curry spice on the nose.  On the palate, again cherry licorice flavors, though I like this a bit better than the Cantenac Brown.  Better than the ’08, but I’m not that taken with the Margaux wines so far.  91+, maybe pushing 92.

Giscours – pretty nose, this is more like it.  Has some green pepper elements lending an herbal and slightly floral edge here, and a touch of mineral.  Palate shows graphite and good sweet fruit, some potential to age.  92-93+

*Prieure Lichine – one of my bellwethers.  Thicker than recent vintages, but has plenty of pretty floral action here.  Ripe fruits, lead pencil on the palate, with some definition.  Not too spicy, just pretty and floral, exactly what I want from this chateau – a great value pick and arguably the most Margaux of the wines here today. 93-94

Lascombes – ripe, smooth, rounded. Not overly modern unlike some past vintages.  Will be very good – ripe fruits, some peppery spice.  Ample power without overdoing it. 93-94

Note:  Ch. Rausan-Segla seems to have brought only two sample bottles, which were already poured out less than two hours into the trade tasting, so I and most of the attendees did not have the opportunity to taste their wine.

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.

2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 2: Right Bank, St. Emilion and Pomerol

In today’s post, we move on to the reds tasted at the UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York.  Overall, I was pleased by the reds in that they were not overripe, overly extracted and dense, or hugely manipulated.  The wines show quality fruit but also plenty of the earthy, mineral, herbal and aromatically leafy characteristics that I think set truly complex cabernet and merlot-based wines apart from simple and merely ripe ones.  In other words, the wines are still recognizably Bordeaux.

Today I profile the Right Bank wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol, which tend to contain mostly merlot with lesser amounts of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and other Bordeaux blending grapes like malbec and petit verdot.  In the overall context of this tasting of 2009s, St. Emilion and Pomerol were among the most successful communes for my palate, along with the Left Bank communes of St. Julien and Pauillac (which will be profiled in another post soon).  There are successful examples in a range of styles ranging from traditional to modern, and my favorites included the refined offering from La Conseillante, the perfumed and red-fruited Larcis Ducasse, the multifaceted Troplong Mondot, and my value pick (remembering that Pomerol is expensive in general) – the overachieving 2009 Chateau Beauregard.  Here are my notes in the order I tasted the wines:

St. Emilion

 Canon – on the nose, the fruit  feels very primary, almost confected; not what one would expect from this estate.  On the palate, more what I expected – lead pencil, a touch of green.  With a bit of air the perfume of the fruit comes out on the pretty nose.  Fades a bit on the palate, with a slightly saccharine feel on the finish.  91-92+

Beausejour Becot – this and the Canon are reassuring me right out of the gate that the reds are not all jammy fruit, etc.  Some coffee, dark lead pencil and slight green pepper on the nose, with sweet fruits.  Modern-ish, but not over the top.  Perhaps a touch bitter on the finish, maybe a bit extracted, but these wines so far offer more than just plush mouthfeel – there’s decent plummy acidity and Bordeaux typicity here.  92

Canon La Gaffeliere – strong coffee aromas intermix with damp mossy underneath on the nose, as well as a touch of black pepper.  Acidity good here as well – actually quite similar to the Beausejour Becot in style, with the Beausejour priced slightly lower, but to me the extra complexity here is worth the difference. Palate not overly modern here either – pleasantly surprised by the graphite and touch of green to give this note some bass notes. 92-93+

Clos Fourtet – some exotic spice on the nose, together with anisette aromas.  Quite a bit of herbal green on the palate, which I believe will take time to show well but be beautiful and aromatic in the end.   Kudos to Clos Fourtet for making a real ager that won’t necessarily show well early; a big step up from the ’08 here. 92-93+

Figeac – leafy green merlot notes, with cab franc green pepper lending herbal perfume on the nose.  The palate is a bit jarring – the acidity not yet integrated, lending a picklish feel.  But this is distinctly Figeac and will need time to come together.  A little spice, not overly lush.  Honestly I feel this vintage doesn’t quite suit the house style because ripeness doesn’t play to their strengths.  Perhaps up to a 92 eventually, but one might do better picking up the ’08 at a much lower price.

La Dominique – has a funky mossy dirt thing going on the nose..  Not that pretty on the palate – a bit disjointed, with neither gorgeous fruit or acidity that puts the wine together.  Leaves me a little flat. 87.

Larcis Ducasse – very pretty nose.  Juicy tart acidity runs through this surprisingly red-fruited wine.  Nice mineral on the nose, juicy on the palate.  Lush but not extracted.  A style I really appreciate and would choose to drink over many inky black wines.  92-94

Pavie Macquin – darker, more purple-fruited, with a touch of talcum powder on the nose.  The palate is very much the international, modern style.  Powerful, with a long finish carried by juicy plum acidity.  Very pretty wine for the style.  Those who like power will really enjoy this.  Not especially fresh or complex, but has an undeniable, exuberant tastiness. 92-94

Troplong Mondot – a bit airier than the Pavie Mac on the nose, with a perfume to it that pushes it a cut above.  Sweet fruit on the palate, on the purplish side though not as dark as Pavie M; however, more perfumed and pretty.  Has an engaging balance, for a modern-styled wine; nothing like earth or mineral showing at this point in its life.  94


Clinet – refined mineral on the nose, together with an impression of dark purplish fruits.  Smooth, powerful and even a touch peppery; not one of the most powerful here, just smooth like a Pomerol should be, with some minerality on the finish.  More interesting than some of the straight-up modern wines.  93-94

Gazin – primary, red-to-purple fruits on the nose, with talcum powder hints.  Rounded and smooth, very Pomerol.  However, the acidity is a shade tomatoey and unintegrated.  Not overripe, but not entirely pleasing either.  89-90

*Beauregard – a bit of mineral and lead pencil on the nose. Surprisingly good on the palate, with spice, pepper and lead pencil.  Very nice wine, quite complete – a good value pick in Pomerol; will stand up to most wines tasted today. Kind of what I was hoping Figeac to be – keeping varietal character that is very Bordeaux, but also showing the ripe character of the vintage and doing something with it. 93, pushing 94; a breakout performance for this chateau?

La Conseillante – returns to the refined style that I value from this chateau, much better than the ’08.  Does show plushness, and feels a bit closed compared to other wines today but the lead pencil, mineral, and leafiness together with pretty, perfumed fruits hint as to a very bright future for this wine in my opinion – you just have to pay attention to the clues that peek out from behind this wine. 93-94+ in the future.

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.

2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, part 1: overview and Graves whites

Over the last several months, I have been able to taste a good cross-section of 2009 Bordeaux, with the lion’s share of the tasting done at the recent UGC (Union des Grands Crus) tasting in New York.  The conventional wisdom has been that it would be an exceptional and ripe vintage, but I was a bit surprised to see that the reds are a bit different in nature than I had expected.  I liked the 2009 reds as barrel samples (you can see my notes on barrel samples here) but I had some fear that 2009 would in some ways be like 2003 for Bordeaux reds, which I have found to be enjoyable but a bit of a “California” vintage.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that for the most part, this is not so; many of the 2009s have retained more Bordeaux typicity than I expected and are not the overripe, thick and overly plush but simple wines that I had at least some apprehension that they might turn into.

I’ll be posting my wines on the wines from all of the different major communes in a series of posts.  First, let’s take a look at the Bordeaux whites.

Graves/ Pessac-Leognan whites

I found the Bordeaux whites, which are generally a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and sometimes a small percentage of other grapes like muscadelle, to be a bit of a mixed bag in the 2009 vintage.  The lower end wines included in the UGC tasting struck me as a bit dull in comparison with the 2007 and 2008 whites, which have a livelier acidity in general.  That said, there are some strong performers, and overall, I found a lot of chateaux have managed to keep a consistent house style over the last several vintages.  My perennial favorites in this group have generally shown the best once again – these include Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte,  and Pape Clement.  The breakout pick is the 2009 Chateau Carbonnieux blanc; while many of the richer wines in the top group offer opulence, Carbonnieux is fresh, light and the only one of the whites that I could drink more than one glass of in a single sitting without tiring of it.  On top of that, it’s the most affordable of the top group of whites, with prices on Wine-Searcher as low as $33.  To use an analogy to a different grape, Carbonnieux is a Bordeaux blanc that Chablis lovers could enjoy, with de Chevalier offering some similar lightness but a bit more richness.  In contrast, if you’re the type of wine drinker who likes a fuller-bodied, rich chardonnay, then Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte will be more your speed.

My notes on the whites are below, and please check back in the coming days for posts about each of the major communes for the reds, as well as notes on the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Haut Bergey blanc – Graves mineral on the nose.  Fairly unctuous, but I don’t love it.  Doesn’t have verve to me – full, but not lively.  Don’t like this as much as the 07 or 08.

*Carbonnieux blanc – not as much mineral as the Haut Bergey, but lighter and prettier.  Palate confirms – this is tons better; has acidity, lift, verve.  Same light, fresh style as the last few vintages.  Retasted, and the juiciness makes this a joy to drink, without tiring the palate or growing cloying.  92-94 points.

Domaine de Chevalier blanc – has some lightness like the Carbonnieux, but a bit richer, although the first sample was served a bit too cold.  Flavorful, but retains acidity for freshness.  Doesn’t feel totally integrated right now, as the acid hits first, with a slight aspirin minerality, then a separate layer of rich fruit that hits after.  However all the pieces are clearly there, this will be one of the contenders today.

Retaste:  Now at a better temperature, this is easier to assess: fresh, pretty, smooth, and clean.  One of the best today. 92-93

Larrivet Haut Brion – has more mineral and funk than the Dom. De Chevalier.  Pretty nose, another competitor.  More seamless than the de Chevalier, similar style to the Carbonnieux with more richness.  Integrated in feel, fits the house style.  Quite good. 91-92.

Latour Martillac – a bit more stink to the mineral here, as prior vintages have had.  Fairly rich on the palate, a bit bitter on the finish.  A decent wine for its price range, but not as delightful as the best wines here.  87-88

Smith Haut Lafitte blanc –  Has a refined nose with pretty notes of crushed rock.  The fruit is a touch unctuous, with a sweetness that is appealing.  A bit of aspirin mineral aftertaste, but definitely one of the stronger wines here.  Not quite as much lift as the de Chevalier and the Carbonnieux.  91-93 points. Probably the prettiest nose among the wines until…

Pape Clement blanc – scratch that, I think we have a new winning nose – sweet, slightly dewy fruit on the nose that makes it really inviting, and some mineral if you listen hard for it.  Not quite the winner of the day on the palate though – but consistent with recent vintages in terms of having a slightly richer style, much like the SHL, and among the best of the Graves whites depending on your style preference. 91-93

The wines in this report were tasted free of charge at a tasting open to trade, press and media.