Arnie Millan, Sommelier and wine buyer, went on a tasting trip to Bordeaux this spring, where had the opportunity to experience top 2009 and 2010 vintages. Here is a recap of his trip, with tasting notes.
Story originally appeared on Arnie's Blog Wine Thoughts and was edited for republication.
We arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, March 27th, at 9:30 a.m. (or 12:30 a.m. our body time). We immediately got our rental car and drove 7 hours to Bordeaux, arriving at Maison Sichel's offices at nearly 6:00 p.m. Up nearly 23 hours, we tasted through some 20 wines.
Most, but not all, the wines were Bordeaux from the 2009 vintage. I focused on one wine, Chateau Piochet, and purchased all available stock - it is a terrific value and will arrive at Esquin sometime in June.
From there, we proceeded to Chateau Cap Léon Veyrin in Listrac where would have dinner with the owners and spend Sunday and Monday nights at their small inn. We arrived quite late, around 9:00 p.m. Dumped our luggage in our rooms and went right downstairs to dinner with the Meyre family (Alain, Maryse and daughter Natalie). Alain and son Julien tend the vines, Nathalie oversees the winemaking and marketing, wife Maryse does administrative duties. Alain Meyre, whose family owns three estates, is also President of the Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Listrac appellations.
After the tasting, we proceeded to dinner with the warm and hospitable family Meyre. Maryse is a locally well-known chef who is famous for an obscure local specialty called Grenier Médocain, which is made from pig parts, including the face. We also enjoyed her homemade pâté, steak, sautéed mushrooms, fresh radishes and white asparagus, which just came into season. We enjoyed a variety of Cap Léon vintages, capped by a surprisingly good 1949 poured from decanter. What a treat!
DAY TWO, MORNING
We awoke early, ready to roll at 7:00 a.m. This was to be one of our toughest appointment-packed days - over 14 Chateaux to visit by 6:15 p.m. That meant, with a nearly two-hour lunch (sorry, it's the habit of our generous French hosts!), we had less than 35 minutes to drive to, tour and taste at each chateau. We planned our route in clusters; first Haut-Médoc and nearby Margaux. Later, we visited St. Julien and Pauillac before returning to the Haut-Médoc.
First stop, Chateau La Lagune, a classified 3rd growth of the Haut-Médoc. The front entrance look grand, kindly and somewhat quaint but the real entrance in back was super modern with a high-tech cuverie (wine-making area) and glorious chai (barrel cellar).
The wine was our first look at a 2010 classified growth. It was a tannic beast to my palate, untrained at tasting new Bordeaux fresh from barrel (Parker calls the tannins supple). It was ultra-dark, ultra-concentrated but I could discern a seam of dark fruit peak through the tannins. The remarkable thing was the high acidity. This is a wine to age. Robert Parker (RP) rates it 93-96 points, Decanter (D) 18 points but the Wine Spectator (WS) only 89-92 points. I'm in the 92-94 point range.
Cantemerle, a classified fifth growth near Margaux but in the Haut-Médoc, was next. Like La Lagune, Cantemerle was dark, tannic, but without the fruit concentration of La Lagune. RP is 91-93 points, D rated at 17 points.
After Cantemerle, we went to Cambon La Pelouse, an unclassified estate in the Haut-Médoc. There was no chateau here but a nice, modest contemporary building. Luckily, the staff tasted us on a vertical of four vintages from 2007 through 2010. Again, the 2010 was the dark, tannic wine far more concentrated than 2007 and the lovely 2008. The 2009 was richer, more opulent. Parker gave the 2010 89-92 points, Decanter 16.5 points.
Now a duo of classified growths as we entered 3rd Growth Chateau Giscours in Margaux and tasted their wine as well as 5th growth du Tertre - also in Margaux - owned by the same family. No time for a tour. I enjoyed the wines, although I was not impressed with the du Tertre. 2010 Giscours: 91-94 WS, 92-95 RP, 17.5 D. du Tertre: 87-89 RP, 90-93 WS, 17 D. The beautiful Cantenac-Brown, a 3rd growth of Margaux loomed up before us as we entered its majestic gates. The grand vin was excellent with the 20120 hallmarks - deep color, high tannins, high alcohol, high acidity. 92-94+ RP, 91-94 WS, 17.5 D. We also tried the 2nd wine, Brio, which was disappointing. It's a similar blend but with 5% Cabernet Franc which was missing from the grand vin. The Cabernet Franc did not help.
Now on to Desmirail, a third growth in Margaux. The chateau was beautiful but not on the scale of grandeur of Cantenac-Brown. Here the wine was incredibly dark but no blockbuster powerhouse. No ratings from Parker (whom the Bordelais call beeg Bob) but Decanter rated it 16.5 points.
It's lunchtime at Chateau Angludet in Margaux (17 points Decanter). The wine was lovely but we were blown away by the 2005 Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc which we sipped first. Our host was James Sichel whose family owns the estate along with a big share of Chateau Palmer which we'll visit after lunch.
DAY TWO, AFTERNOON/EVENING
After lunch at Angludet, we motored over to Chateau Palmer, which is jointly owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families. Palmer is a beautiful château. Although classified as a third growth of Margaux, Palmer is certainly the quality of a top second growth (a super-second) and fetches prices befitting its quality.
Château director Bernard de Laage de Meux hosted our tasting of the 2010 Palmer and its second label, Alter Ego. Both wines were excellent but the Palmer was stunning. It would turn out to be one of the top five 2010s we tasted during our stay in Bordeaux. The Palmer was purple/black with about 5% Petit Verdot, the balance being equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sleek, intense, powerful. RP is 95-97 points, WS is 95-98 points (92-95 for Alter Ego), 19.5 points (out of 20!) for Decanter.
After Palmer, we went to fourth growth Marquis de Termes, also in Margaux. Alas, Palmer was a hard act to follow and the Marquis' wine could not compare so it probably seemed a lesser wine than it really is. 17 points Decanter.
We next turned northward to Saint-Julien and stopped at Château Gruaud-Larose, a second growth on the South side of the appellation. This was an excellent Gruaud with more power than usual but with Gruaud's typical smoky nose. RP is 92-94 points, 93-96 points for WS, 18 points for Decanter.
Nearly across the street from Gruaud, was Chateau du Glana, a modest and unclassified estate but one of high quality. I liked this usually modestly priced wine; it was beautiful and balanced but without the power of the big boys. We'll have to wait to see the cost of the 2010 but I hope it stays modest. Decanter gave it 16 points.
After Glana, we went North to Pauillac and second growth Château Pichon Baron de Pichon de Longueville (or Pichon Baron for short). What a stunning, gorgeous Château (same architect as Palmer)! The Château was framed in front by a reflecting pool and on both sides by monumental style buildings evoking ancient Egyptian tombs. The building with a papyrus-like scroll on top turned out to be the elaborate barrel cellar (or chai) and tasting room.
It was here that I learned how high-tech these classical looking estates can be. They showed us a state-of-the-art laser grape sorting unit and our guide admitted they owned an expensive reverse osmosis machine, hidden away.
Nevertheless, the truth is in the wine. To demonstrate the greatness of the vintage, they generously permitted us to taste it alongside the fabulous 2005 and 2009 vintages.
Three glasses of wow! All three were intense and concentrated, with the 2009 showing more opulence and flesh and the 2010 showing raw power, coiled up tightly like a cobra. The 2010 was rated 97-99+ points from RP, 95-98 points from WS, and 18.5 points from Decanter.
After this amazing visit, we tooled up to fifth growth Château Lynch-Bages. Like Palmer, it should be re-classified up to a third - or possibly second - growth. No grand neo-Egyptian estate here, just a lot of good wine! The flagship was big and rich, with more concentration than usual. Parker rated it at 95-97 points, WS was 95-98 points and Decanter at 18 points.
By the way, we also tasted the Lynch Blanc of which I am a big fan. The second wine, Echo de Lynch-Bages, was excellent, too. The family also owns the Cru Bourgeois Les Ormes de Pez in Saint-Estèphe. This 2010 was outstanding. WS is at 91-94 points, RP at 87-90 points and Decanter at 17 points.
From Lynch, we turned to the Haut-Médoc and Château La Tour Carnet, a fourth growth. This is a jewel of an eleventh century crenellated fortress surrounded by a moat.
We walked the cross-bridge and admired the beautifully restored building, touring the mural-and tapestry-laden walls. This was the last of our day's tastings of the 2010 vintage. I can't speak for my colleagues but my palate was tired, especially after tasting these monsters. I thought this 2010 was good but not in the same league as the Palmer, Lynch or Pichon Baron. It was a chunky monkey! Parker rated it at 92-94 points, WS at 89-92 points and Decanter at 17 points.
After such a grueling, tough day (OK, I'm exaggerating!), we turned back to Angludet for dinner. We had plans to go to a restaurant but they are closed on Mondays! This turned out to be a very good thing, though.
James Sichel is an incredible host. After starting off with the Champagne 1999 Cuvée William Deutz, we then tasted the ultra-rare 2008 Vin Blanc de Château Palmer.
This wine is only given to Palmer's shareholders and is not eligible for appellation status. It is mostly Muscadelle with Merlot Blanc and the unknown Lauset. It was delicious but you cannot buy it, alas.
It's funny; I can't recall the food but the wines are crystal clear! We tasted all the reds blind and started out with 1940 Château Latour, of all things. For some reason, he thought it would be the weakest due to its age and color but it was terrific.
Upon examining the bouquet, James uttered his famous ahhhhhhhh! It's a cross between an exclamation and a deep-throated growl and we imitated it throughout the entire trip.
Next wine turned out to be 1964 Carruades de Lafite, followed by 1975 Lafite and ending up with the 1983 Montrose.
Yikes! All were drinking beautifully, impossible denials of their age. We were almost swooning. I will never forget the evening.
(Arnie's Bordeaux Tasting Tour continues here..)
Arnie is a Sommelier certified by the Guild of Sommeliers. In November 2006, he was named a Vigneron d'Honneur (honorary winemaker) by the l'Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins de Beaujolais. Arnie is the European wine buyer at Seattle's Esquin Wine Merchants.