En primeur week: TNs from Margaux 1953 to P Comtesse 2003

I just posted almost all of my notes on Bordeaux 2012 on my website, and I must say that Trotanoy and La Fleur Petrus are actually tempting me, price-wise, to “pull the futures trigger”. But that’s about it.

Palmer, also on my very top list of faves, is just too expensive. I mean, I could get a Leoville Poyferre 1990 for about the same price… Or a Leoville Las Cases 1989.


One could call it the ho-hum vintage. Pointless? But, no, there are some treasures to be found in any case. Please do plough through the notes, photos and videos:

In the meantime, some of the best bits about en primeur week are the wines tasted over lunches and dinners.

Here some highlights, from a beautiful Chateau Margaux 1953 to a delicious Pichon Comtesse 2003. But let’s start with an excellent magnum of Phelan Segur 1990. A lovely dinner at the chateau, and what proved most hilarious was that Swiss critic Rene Gabriel brought out a Karaoke music box speaker and mic and sang - literally - his heart out. This was Bordeaux at its most amusing. And Phelan Segur 1990 tasted brilliantly: smokey, truffle like, graphite, some red fruit mingling with the tertiary notes. Very smooth on the palate, whose depth was most impressive as was the length. The 1995, also from magnum, was blown out of the water - and the bottle was noticeably not empty by the end of the evening, while the 1990 was … long gone.

After tasting at Chateau Carbonnieux - I was part of a group of other tasters who opted to taste blind - we were invited to lunch with oysters and salmon, and a very crispy and pure iodine like white Chateau Carbonnieux 2008, perfect with the food. And yet more proof that 2008 is turning out to be quite a nice white vintage.

From magnum, the Chateau de Fieuzal 2010 white was richer, and I think I prefer the Carbonnieux for the oysters and salmon, but the de Fieuzal exuded a balsamic richness that appealed.

The Chateau Olivier 2009 white was a touch warm, but of high quality, while the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 white proved its mettle yet again (I liked it from barrel, from bottle earlier this year) with quite ripe orange but also very good acidity.

After the salmon and oysters, we enjoyed some veal in cream sauce and I really liked Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2004, exhibiting lovely seashell freshness, which contained its habitual richness very nicely. From the same vintage, the Malartic Lagraviere 2004 was more opulent overall, but perhaps not quite as nuanced as the SHL.

The red Chateau Carbonnieux 2008 was indeed tonic and fresh, but a touch strict, and needs more time in bottle.

At the press dinner, where everyone grabbed bottles of his or her preference - to the extent that it was possible - I enjoyed a very fine Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2003, which I found to have a lot of freshness. Some tasters thought it was “too 2003” but I beg to differ! It was better than the Chateau Lafon Rochet 2003, which did not seem to have as much nuance, although it was big and rich.

We also had a Chateau Larcis Ducasse Saint Emilion 2002, but I found a bit of horse like aspects that did not please me that much. The Chateau Rauzan Segla Margaux 2001 was certainly smooth with a bit of meatiness that was not exactly screaming “Margaux elegance” and it was a touch short. But flavorful. Perhaps not the best vintage for this otherwise excellent estate.

It was great to enjoy Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion 2005, which, after the Rauzan Segla 2001, proved more giving, richer - and one can sense the Merlot here, but not overdone.

The Chateau Langoa Barton 2005 was smooth yet tannic, while the Chateau Figeac 2005 is just gorgeous! How can anyone give this wine less than 90 points is beyond me. A very fine tannic grain, with sheer elegance.

We also enjoyed a truly excellent Chateau Leoville Barton 1999, which I have always enjoyed and it is still on its early peak: nuanced, subtle, deep enough, and certainly with a smooth and lingering finish.

From a double magnum, the Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 1999 was not as good - it looks more evolved even though coming from a large format - while the Barton is fresher, more cedar like. Still, the Canon La Gaffeliere did convey pleasing richness.

One of the best lunches was at Domaine de Chevalier, where we enjoyed an excellent Domaine de Chevalier 2002 white. Full of youthful exuberance, precise and flavorful, this wine has a long life. Too good for the oysters (they love to serve oysters!), I enjoyed a fine Olivier Leflaive 2002 Chassagne Montrachet, which was perfect.

The Domaine de Chevalier 2002 red was fresh and meaty, coming from a double magnum. Super impressive looking was the Domaine de Chevalier 1992 red, from a 15 liter bottle. But it was a bit tired, although it exuded tobacco leaf. It had a soft attack and adequate freshness, lacking concentration but a good enough match for the Blanquette de Veau… Far better was the Domaine de Chevalier 1982 red, coming from a 75 format, and which looked and certainly tasted more youthful, riper and even more tannic, with a more interestingly complex nose and excellent palate presence.

Before I left Bordeaux, I had a lucky invite again to Domaine de Chevalier for dinner. My goodness was that special. All wines served blind initially, the only clue being that the vintages ended in “3”. Although we had some bad luck, for those of you who have any of the following bottles, you are lucky:

We started with a subtle bubbly, which I thought was a Blanc de blancs 1993. Nope, it was Philipponnat Champagne Grand Blanc Brut … 1983! Lovely color for its age, delicate yet flavorful. This was one delicious Champagne with age!

Then came another 1983… but not quite as good, although it improved with time in bottle: the Bollinger Grande Cuvee 1983. Did the Pinot Noir not age as well? It seemed more metallic and less expressive, although it then improved with time in glass, but never achieved the finesse of the previous wine.

We then sat a table, for a delicious serving of lobster served with a salad of red beets and white carrots. Very subtle seasoning, just delicious.

Three whites, all ending in “3” - but not all from Bordeaux.

Wine number one did not impress me that much, it seemed a bit hollow on the mid palate, but the attack was good and with time in glass, it seemed to fill out a bit… It turned out to be Domaine de Chevalier 1973. Apparently a better vintage for whites than for reds in Bordeaux.

Then came wine number two, which was my favorite of the three, very pure and crisp with some maturity but not tired at all… I was thinking Chablis grand cru. It was, but not the vintage I was thinking. In any case, the Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses from Dauvissat was 1983! Really youthful for its age. Bravo!

Wine number three seemed somewhat less focused compared to the preceding wine, but it was a very good Meursault “Les Casse Tete” from P. Javillier 1993.

Flight of the night - although with some bad luck…

Then came a magnificent Pot Au Feu Volaille et Foie Gras de Canard au Jus de Truffes. Well, what were these reds?

Wine number one was certainly old looking in color, I was thinking 1953 or perhaps 1943, but it had a fine aroma and much palate presence. Very tasty wine. Sorry, I was not taking detailed notes, as we were guessing vintages! Turned out to be Chateau Durfort Vivens 1933! Wow! Not even a super vintage from that decade, but at that time the owners of this second growth were making very good wine, said our host Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier. It was darn good indeed. Good things get better?

Wine number two seemed to have much more concentration - a much darker color. But the nose was faulty, indeed cork reared its ever uglier head the more this wine sat in glass… Olivier was upset because he said that Chateau Haut Brion 1943 is probably the best Bordeaux from that vintage that he has ever had.

But, yes, things could get better. Wine number three started out subtle and quite soft but firmed up in glass to become the best of the flight… Very elegant yet substantial. And the color was quite transparent. I was not sure what to think, but it turned out to be Chateau Margaux 1953! A beautiful wine indeed. At first I preferred the Durfort Vivens, but over time the Margaux overtook it.

But the evening was not over yet. There was a Burgundian interlude. At least I guessed that much, even guessing the correct vintage - 2003. Was not hard, it had that 2003 nose! Good, but nothing too special, this Volnay Pitures from J.M. Boillot.

Perhaps my second favorite wine of the night came next, with the cheeses: an utterly decadent yet refined Warre’s Vintage Port 1963. But also quite good, was the Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2003. This was a 2003 that had much balancing vivacity to its spicy opulence.

Wow, now that was one special dinner.

I also enjoyed a few verticals, including a nice vertical and dinner at Chateau Maucaillou in Moulis: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. While 2010 is not ready yet for drinking, the 2009 needs a hefty serving of beef and foie gras - which we enjoyed. The 2008 is quite delicious now, not as big or tough as the 2009 (at this stage), while the 2007 is charming and open, if somewhat short on the finish. The 2006 seems to be in a somewhat awkward phase and the 2005, though good, is closed down.

Finally, a terrific lunch at Chateau Sociando Mallet, where the Sociando Mallet 2005 - though too young - is so bloody smooth and finely textured. It has great potential. I drank it. So did others. Many others. With pleasure.

Well, I need to get to Burgundy next, will report back from there next time!

I enjoyed reading your illuminating report. Thank you for the detailed notes. I am considering a few of the wines you highlight, such as Lafleur Petrus.

I’m planning on buying much less than usual due to the relatively lower quality of the vintage. Even with the modest price cuts, I’m planning on reallocating some of the money I was going to spend on wines from better vintages; that are closer to ready; and still available at comparable prices.

Thanks for reading Scott… Yes La Fleur Petrus is lovely. I just decided to purchase 6 bottles of Trotanoy. Perhaps this is not necessary. Perhaps I should focus - as I have been - on Burgundy and other regions. But I really liked that wine. Well, temptations persist.

As for the wines enjoyed “on the sidelines”, that’s what makes Bordeaux so seductive. Someone asked me my top three on Facebook, and it is hard to pick, but if push comes to shove, then it would be Margaux 1953, Phelan Segur 1990 (magnum bottle) and the Warre’s Vintage Port 1963.

Cheers, Panos