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.

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