November’s Bring a bottle club had the theme of Bordeaux. In advance, this seemed manageable and would surely make the task of blind tasting relatively simple? Well, yes and no, as we shall see. Like the stately and elegant Bordeaux chateau architecture itself, would the evening be a model of precision and orderliness? Rather less likely … the combination of friendship, good food and, er, alcohol, means that the analytic approach to tasting has to jostle with the social. But it was very instructive and a great evening.
A tale of three white chateaux
The evening started with three dry whites. The blind tasting question was could you spot the proportions of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – any claims to spot minor additions of Muscadelle in the white Bordeaux blend would be met with allegations of showing off. Ch. Tour Léognan, Pessac Léognan 2009 was moderately pronounced in aroma and on the palate, the predominant flavour was of lemon with a little bit of sherbet and perhaps a tale-tell hint of wet wool, ergo predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with a bit of Sémillon, 70/30 in fact. Ch. La Garelle 2008 pushes those percentages down by the 10% Muscadelle component (nobody took the chance to show off) – white flowers, subtle and rich lemon notes. Both these are very good examples white Bordeaux blends and the latter is great value from Caviste. By contrast, Ch. La Garde, Pessac Léognan, 2008 is grander but more obvious in its make up – Sauvignon Blanc dominates (in fact its 100%) with characteristic gooseberry notes, very refined fruit, some boiled sweet notes, beautiful acidity, perhaps a slight touch of oak, very long. On the blind tasting front we just about passed the first test.
It’s a dry red …
We then passed on to six Bordeaux reds where the first question tends to be left bank (of the Gironde estuary) or right bank. The left bank is characterised by being predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon grown on gravel soils, while the right bank sees a dominance of Merlot grown on limestone over clay. These should surely be relatively easy to spot?
- Alter Ego, the second wine of Ch. Palmer, Margaux, 2007, 60% Merlot, 40% Cab Sauvignon
- Ch. Lafon Rochet, Saint-Estèphe 199866% Cab S, 31% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot
- Ch. d’Angludet, Margaux, 2000, 55% Cab S, 35% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot
- Ch. Batailley, Pauillac 1999, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
- Ch. Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc, 2000, 50% Cab S, 40% Merlot, 5% each Cab Franc and Petit Verdot
- Ch. Gruaud Larose, Saint- Julien, 1996 (‘second growth’), 57% Cab S, 30% Merlot, 8% Cab F, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec
- Ch. Cadet Piola, St Emilion 1995 , 51% Merlot, 28% Cab S ,18% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec
So we can’t worry too much about our vinous confusion. Alter Ego breaks the simple rule, being mostly Merlot but on the left bank and, unusually, being made and aged without any oak at all. So its fruitiness would lead to you to the right bank … Cadet Piola was all cedar and perfume, a classic quite austere Bordeaux, which might point you to the left bank but in fact, it is half Merlot and from the right bank. Meanwhile, Ch. Cantemerle is a 50/40 split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and so quite close to call. So, clearly the simple rules won’t quite do. Needless to say, this did not stop us enjoying the wines. It was great to taste the second growth Gruaud Larose with its excellent rich fruit, the Batailley showed well with a superb cedary nose, balsamic notes and choice plum and blackcurrant fruit and the Alter Ego was a treat.
The dessert course: the very good and the great
Of course, we had to finish with Bordeaux’s sweet wines. This type of evening really depends on the quality of wines people bring and their generosity in sharing them. And we certainly had a treat to finish with – and a learning point. First off a bottle of Ch. Sigalas Rabaud, Premier Cru Sauternes, 1996 served side by side with the second sweet wine, which turned out to be Ch. d’Yquem Premier Cru Supérieur Sauternes, 1999. In short, the first was a superb wine from a great year, the second a true great from a poor year which nonetheless was in a different league. Fascinating. The Sigalas was everything you could wish for in a sweet wine – superb honeyed and fruit notes, waxy and luscious on the palate, excellent counterbalancing acidity, sweet and refreshing, gorgeous. But the Yquem was something else: superbly rich and complex nose, richer and more pronounced marmalade notes on the palate, great structure and weight in the mouth, outstanding length. It was difficult to know whether to be more impressed with the complexity or the outstanding balance of a very rich wine. A suitable climax to our circuitous journey through Bordeaux.