Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A World of Cabernet Sauvignon: The Bordeaux Flight

I recently convened a tasting panel at the Vines Bar and Grill on Sand Lake Road in Orlando to investigate the characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon grown under differing soil and climatic conditions.  The tasting was titled A World of Cabernet Sauvignon and its intent and framework were detailed in a previous post

The tasting was divided into four region specific flights: Bordeaux; Chile/Washington State/Bolgheri; Napa/Sonoma; and Margaret River/Coonawarra/Barossa Valley.  The Bordeaux flight is definitely a left-bank flight and largely drawn from the Medoc, the primary Cabernet Sauvignon space in the region. The characteristics of the Medoc and Graves have been detailed in previous posts.  This particular flight was comprised of the following wines: 1967 Chateau Montrose (St. Estephe); 1998 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac); 2003 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien); 1996 Chateau d'Issan (Margaux); and 2003 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion.  Panelists notes are presented in this post.

Chateau Montrose is a Second Growth estate located in the commune of St. Estephe.  The uni-block, 65-hectare property lies on sloping ground in close proximity to the Gironde River.  The influence that the Gironde exerts is reflected in the fact that the estate harvests a full two weeks prior to any of the other Medoc properties. The estate is planted to 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cab Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The vines lie on gravel and black sand which, in turn, lies on a clay and marl subsoil.  The gravel in the soil originated in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees and aid in grape maturity by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it during the night.on gravel soil.  The estate produces  a Cru wine as well as a second wine named La Dame de Montrose. The estate wine is generally 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with a 30-day post-fermentation maceration for the estate wine.  The first wine is aged in 70% new French oak for 18 months while the second wine is aged in 20% new oak for 12 months.  The estate produces 19,000 and 9,000 cases, respectively, of its first and second wines.

The 1967 Montrose (Parker 82 points) was the first wine tasted.  It had notes of cedar, saddle leather, mint, must, and earth.  It was less-than-mouthfilling with dusky tannins and a hollow finish.  Ron Seigel (one of our panelists and someone who has probably drunk more old Bordeaux than anyone else in Orlando) reminded us that 1967 was a tough year in Bordeaux with lots of rain.  He doubted whether any other wine from that vintage would have held up as long as the Montrose had.
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild is a 75-hectare, First Growth vineyard located in the commune of Pauillac.  The estate is 40 meters above sea level on soil comprised of gravel over a base of sand, clay, marl, and limestone.  The vines, which average 50 years of age, is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The estate produces two red wines (Estate and Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild) and one white (Aile d'Argent). The Estate wine undergoes natural-yeast fermentation in large wooden vats with 15-25 days maceration and 22 months in oak before bottling. Average annual production is 25,000 cases. 
The next wine tasted in this flight was the 1998 Mouton (96 points Parker).  This particular vintage was 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  Some pencil and graphite on the nose but this wine appeared to be in a closed phase.  All of the blocks are in place to reward a future drinker.  We placed this wine on the side to revisit later on in the tasting. 
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou is a 75-hectare Second Growth estate located in the commune of St. Julien on the bank of the Gironde at a point where the estuary is 4 miles wide.  The Gironde, because it moves large masses of air past the estate, moderates the temperature providing heat in the winter and coolness in the summertime.  The estate sits on an outcropping of Gunz gravel and the small white stones: (i) enhance soil drainage; (ii) reflect sunlight onto the tightly planted grapes during the daytime: (iii) store energy during the daytime and releases it during the nighttime hours; and (iv) keeps the ground from drying out during hot periods. The vines are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and average 35 years of age.  In addition to the primary wine, the estate also produces a second wine (La Croix de Beaucailllou) from grapes grown on this property.  Two other wines (Chateau Lalande-Borie and Chateau Ducluzeau) are produced with grapes from other properties.

The grapes are hand-picked and sorted in the vineyards.  Batches are individually fermented (14 days) in stainless steel tanks with a 7-day maceration and twice daily pumping over.  Malolactic fermentation occurs in concrete vats and the resultant wine is placed in new French oak barrels for 18 months. 

The next wine up was the 2003 vintage from this estate.  This vintage was a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot aged in 80% new oak and had been awarded a score of 96 by Parker.  The wine had a tannin index of 80, alcohol of 13.28, acidity of 3.10, and pH of 3.8, characteristics which show excellent balance, according to the winery. On the nose hints of chocolate and clove and ripe fruit.  On the palate this wine had a good feel, structure, and body with persistent soft tannins on the back end.  Because of the heat in 2003, this wine had a Napa structure but without the jamminess and alcohol. Excellent finish.  According to Russell, one of our panelists, this wine had the structure and body to be in the game for the long haul.  @thewinebarn indicated that he was not getting as much on the palate as the nose was promising but was pleased with the acidity levels. This wine was eventually selected as the wine of the flight by the panelists.

Chateau d'Issan is a Third Growth estate located in the commune of Margaux.  It is located on a 150-hectare property of which 52 hectare have been allocated to vineyards (30 hectares to production of the estate wine and a second wine Blason d'Issan; 11 hectares to the production of a third wine Chateau de Candale (Haut Medoc) and 11 hectares to the production of a third wine Moulin d'Issan (Bourdeaux Superieur)).  The soil is a combinbation of Gunzian gravel and clay-limestone. The vines are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and average 35 years of age. The wines undergo a 6-day fermentation followed by 20-day maceration.  The estate wine is aged in 50% new oak for 16 months.  Annual production of the estate wine is approximately 10,000 cases.

The 1996 vintage of the estate wine (89 Parker) was tasted in this flight.  It was reminiscent of medicine and iodine and bell pepper.  On the palate it tasted of wet mold, underripe fruit, and tannin.  This was an unbalanced wine with massive drying out on the palate.  Ron said that he would have expected more from a 1996 Margaux as that commune had great wines in that year.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion is located in the Pessac-Leognan commune of the Graves sub-region of Bordeaux. The estate produces three wines: Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion (the estate wine); La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion (the second wine); and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc. Vines for the red wines are grown on 26 hectares of gravelly soil layered on a sandy clay subsoil. The vineyard is planted to 43% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are hand-picked at harvesting and sorted in the fields. The grapes for the estate wine are sourced from vines that average 27 years of age and the fermented juice is aged betwen 18 and 22 months in 80% new oak. The second wine is made from grapes picked from vines up to 7 years old as well as lower-quality wine from older vines

The final wine tasted in this flight was the 2003 La Mission Haut-Brion. For this vintage, the chateau began harvesting fruit on August 13th, the earliest start date ever. The Merlot harvest began on the 18th of August (the Merlot suffered, according to Jean-Philippe Delmas, Estate Manager) and the Cabernet Sauvignon on September 10th. The final composition of the blend was 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc.

This wine was previously tasted at the Masters of Wine La Mission Haut-Brion tasting in London.  At that time I had characterized the wine as having good structure and a finish of intermediate length.  The panel picked up pencil shavings and graphite on the nose but all in all felt that the nose was not saying much.  Ron said that La Mission for him meant scorched earth, tobacco, and road tar and he was not picking up any of that This wine had more of a Napa feel along with little acid and a middling finish.  The sentiment was that while the wine was disjointed at this time, it would mature into a more pleasing wine with patience.

The first flight was a wonderful platform from which to launch the remainder of the tasting.  Everyone was in excellent spirits, wine was flowing, and the give and take around the table was wondrous to behold.  At that time I did not want to be elsewhere.  One of the things to notice coming out of this tasting is that the Bordeaux drinkers were referring to the 2003 Bordeaux vintage as producing Napa-structured wines, thus revealing a little of the thought process that they have built up over time.

In my next post I will cover the AVAs of Columbia Valley and Walla Walla and then follow that up with the tasting of the second flight.

No comments:

Post a Comment