First Growth Bdx style question

A recent thread got me thinking about this. I’ve been to a couple of large Bordeaux tastings in the past few years (new releases), and it’s clear to me that on the Left Bank, some estates are making wines in a relatively traditional style, while others are making wines in a very modern/international style. Even at the UGC tastings, I’ve never seen any First Growths. I notice that they get huge scores. For anyone who has tasted fairly recent vintages, especially if you’ve had '09/'10/'14/'15 (but please weigh in if you have an opinion on anything a little older than that), how would you describe the style of these wines? I’m particularly interested in knowing how you’d describe them in terms of modern/traditional, but I do understand how that can be an oversimplification. Thanks.

Here’s my note of 2014 Mouton that I drank this past December.

2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild

  • 81% Cabernet Sauvignon , 16% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc
  • David Hockney is the artist who created the label for this vintage and is a tribute to Philippine de Rothschild after her passing. The two wine glasses on the label are supposed to symbolize the passing of the torch at Mouton.
  • Pronounced aromas of French oak , black fruit (black berry, cassis), graphite, and tobacco. Very bright on the palate, precise and balanced tannins, oak, fruit was faint at first but began to open up during the night.
  • Very enjoyable even for being such a young wine in my opinion. I liked this wine a lot and would love to revisit it in the future.

It was actually really approachable. I don’t experience with these wines in the past on release so I can’t comment on the style so much. But I would guess that this would be a modern style.

Thanks, Hank.

Someone else must have an opinion here? Is no one tasting these wines in their youth?

I buy almost no 1st growths, and would never open one early. The youngest FGs I have in my cellar are 1998 Haut Brion and Mouton, and I am not inclined to open either for some time. If you only have them once in a blue moon, might as well have them when they are at peak.

EDIT: I think I have a half bottle of 2006 Latour, bought on a lark at a very good price. So that’s the youngest I have.

I tasted 1995, 2009, 2010 and 2014 Mouton at a tasting + dinner K&L hosted last year. I would say they tend towards the more glossy, “hedonistic” end of the spectrum, especially compared to the older vintages, and yet they retain a certain balance and most importantly an incipient complexity. IMO it will take 5-10 more years before we can render final judgement on them; they are still dense and embryonic, and the 2009 in particular shut down over the course of the evening

edit: I remember fondly the 1983 Mouton I tasted last year, marked at 11.5% alcohol on the label (!!!), and feel some sadness that we’ll never see vintages like that again

I would say that they might be described as “haut couture” wines. They are very polished, very faultless and lavished with the best oak and the most attentive care and selection. In recent vintages, I have not been able consistently to identify them blind, confusing the 2014 Latour with Mouton just last year. That was interesting, as I had used to think that Latour was the most “purist” and unreconstructed of them all, but I have come to think that the differences are not as significant as I once imagined.

There are a few cliches about the First Growths, most containing a fair amount of truth. To William’s point though, the Paulliacs especially are far more similar than before. Could be global warming, or later picking or simillarity of winemaking.

Latour the most masculine that used to take decades in a great vintage to calm the tannns and reveal its inner beauty. I think it is fair to say that Latour is now much more friendly in its youth, but still retains much of its power.

Lafite is lighter, a wine of incredible finesse. Only felt I tasted the archetypal Lafite once, a magnificent bottle of 1959. Also changing, the modern wines heftier than they used to be.

Mouton is exotic, more complex in its youth. Not changed much.

Margaux is known for explosive nose, and soft sweetness with age. I can’t say I have ever found it easy to pin down in recent vintages.

And Haut Brion has a brilliant complexity that stems from the wonderful Graves terroir. All about leather, cedar and tobacco. The easiest to spot blind. Lately they have gone in for riper style. It will be interesting if this dulls some of the complexity that comes with age.

That’s a fair summary from Mark. Though I don’t agree that the Pauillac First Growth wines are similar.

Latour is more strict, precise, regal, powerful, tannic and refined.

Mouton can be the most opulent, flamboyant wine aromatically and on the palate.

Lafite is the lightest, most elegant and potentially more fragrant wine of the trio. It’s also the least interesting of the three to taste in its youth.

For more detail on all the First Growths, as well as multiple tasting notes from all the First Growths in every vintage you asked about… Learn Everything about First Growth Bordeaux Wines, Vineyards, Chateau

Latour, for me, has this very distinct house style that embeds in the wine from across all the vintages - hot, wet, or cold. Speak volume about their great terroir. '04 Latour has been singing in the two times I came across it in the past two years and don’t expect to be drinking Latour this young, I have to admit.

Margaux and Haut Brion are for me lean a bit modern. I find them getting riper and riper in each passing vintage with quite a lot more “fat” in the latter, possibly due to the amount of Merlot in the blend, climate, or winemaking decisions, or a combination of these (?)

I have never had a young Lafite or Mouton to provide my two cents. [oops.gif]

Excellent descriptions here. I stopped buying firsts after 2004 due to price. But even by then I was seeing a bit of convergence some years among the Pauillacs: Lafite (less light and elegant some years), Latour (less impenetrable young), and Mouton (occasionally showing more polish than exoticism).

My favorite first is Haut Brion, for that “brilliant complexity that stems from the wonderful Graves terroir” that Mark pegs so succinctly. Even though I’m no longer a buyer, I hope they don’t lose that with a shift to a riper style.

A pretty amazing observation from someone that has your level of exposure to FGs. I wonder how many critics would actually admit this. Thanks for the candor.

I do not drink many FGs, but have always thought Haut Brion was the most easily identified of the five, for the reasons noted in posts above.

Well, I don’t review Bordeaux, so I have no face to loose on that one. But I do still drink a lot of old Bordeaux and try to remain vaguely up to date with what is going on there; and if I can pick Mugnier’s Musigny out blind in a flight of young Musigny but confuse Latour and Mouton, I do think that says something about the OP’s “style question”.

Haut Brion today is very different from what it was. The 2010 Haut Brion is 14.6% alcohol. Whether you think it’s better or worse (which is outside the scope of this thread and which has been discussed many times before), it is built very differently from e.g. 1998 or 1989 Haut Brion. Blind, my experience has been that among the 1st growth and equivalents in recent vintages, Cheval Blanc is the wine I have the most success picking out.

Your comment about the Cheval Blanc does not surprise given the cepage, and at least through 2005, the winemaking style. I have no experience with CB of any FGs after that vintage. The 2000 CB is one of my favorite FGs and “top” appellation wines of recent note. These wines are just too cost-prohibitive at this point.

Well, very generally:
The left bank 1st growth have quite a distinctive personality - but that doesn´t mean they are always recognizable blind in all vintages and stages of evolution.

From North to South:
Lafite-R.: usually showing the most pronounced acidity, great finesse and a certain “stemmy” vegetal quality, very lively and complex
Mouton-R.: Usually had a toasty/roasted oak nose, but that lightened up a bit over the last vintages, sometimes a bit lactic, can lack mid-palate in lighter vintages, top-vintages very homogenous texture and “chewy”
Latour: deepest black-red fruited nose, in the youth quite straightforeward, sometimes “plummy”, tannic/masculine structure (although that can vary with the vintage), finesse emerges only with age
Margaux: usually the most fragrant nose and sweet texture (together with Haut-Brion), but can also show quite (toasty) oak influence, very stylish
Haut-Brion: lighter but saturated red, Merlot usually recognizable, feminine texture and quite spicy with hints of smoke and domenican cigars …

I don’t think that either the “most pronounced acidity” or the ““stemmy”” observations regarding Lafite are reliably true from 1996 onwards. 1996 Lafite, for example, is quite a bit fleshier, broader shouldered and more powerful than Margaux and similarly scaled to—and indeed arguably even a touch more textural than—Mouton.

Nor will you find that recent vintages of Haut-Brion are “lighter but saturated red”.

Well JFWIW recently both the 2012 and 1998 Lafites showed exactly this … and 1998 Haut-Brion was definitely the lightest (in colour, not in intensity) against Lafite and Mouton (also 1998). [shrug.gif]

Hard to see the 2012 Lafite as much more herbaceous than 2012 Mouton (or other well thought of Pauillac classed growths for that matter) - just a touch of Cabernet-typical “mintyness”, and perhaps some menthol-like qualities from new wood, though it has been several years since I tasted it.

As for the 1998s, the point I have been trying to make from the beginning is that the old generalizations, which we can all recount and which are written in all the books (noble Lafite, backward and muscular Latour, rich and exotic Mouton, fragrant Margaux, cigar-wrapper Haut Brion), are no longer especially apparent when you taste the young wines. Since more than a few of those very pronounced characteristics likely came from winemaking, and they now pick riper grapes, have all cleaned up their cellars and equipment, and all (with only one exception) employ the same consulting enologist, this is not surprising. Of course, the old distinctions may emerge just as clearly after twenty years of bottle age. It will be interesting to see if they do.

Sadly, I think ripeness and alcohol tend to mask terroir, and to some extent, we are going to lose that when the wines mature. I doubt whether we will have many more 1989 Haut Brions.

Thanks, everyone. This is exactly the type of discussion I was hoping for. I’ll keep reading if anyone has anything to add (hopefully so).

Agree that some characteristics of the FGs are less pronounced today than 25 years ago … (sadly)
however if asked which FG showes the most pronounced acidity - and which showes usually the lightest colour I would be very surprised if the answer would be different (always same vintage of course).
But 1989 HB is certainly an exception colourwise.