Beautifully Mature Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Léoville Las Cases

Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate ranked as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. It is located in the appellation of Saint-Julien on the Left Bank. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century. Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century.

The estate today consists of 98 hectares (242 acres) of vineyards planted to roughly 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The soil is classic Left Bank, made up of gravel over gravelly sand and gravelly clay subsoils. The heart of the property is the 55 hectare (136 acre) Grand Clos, where vines average an age of 52 years and farming is nearly 100% organic. The Grand Clos is walled-in and borders Château Latour to the north as well.

Winemaking is largely traditional at Léoville Las Cases, beginning with manual harvest and moving to fermentation in temperature-controlled wood, concrete, or stainless steel vats of varying size and age. Malolactic fermentation occurs in vat, and then the wines are blended before moving into French oak barrels for 18-20 months of aging. Come bottling, the wines are fined using egg whites and production of the Grand Vin is around 15,000 to 16,700 cases depending on vintage.

I previously wrote about two wines from Léoville Las Cases, first the 1986 vintage in a side-by-side with a 1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and then the 1990 vintage in early 2020.

Today’s Wine: 1961 Château Léoville Las Cases

Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend; I presume around 12-13% ABV

The 1961 Château Léoville Las Cases is medium garnet in color and not really showing any signs of bricking. We served this as a pop-and-pour, and it really only took 10 minutes or so in the glass to open up and show beautifully. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the gorgeous nose showcasing notes of dried cherry, dried cranberry, pencil shavings, dried violet, graphite, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, eucalyptus, and a hint of cinnamon. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of baked black cherry, dried plum, prune, cigar tobacco, truffle, graphite, and charred green herbs. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light and fully matured tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. The wine is in remarkable shape given its age and quite honestly there seems to be a window of a few more years to drink this.

Price: $800. This is more of an experience wine than anything, as I’ve never had a 1961 Bordeaux and neither had my tasting companions. So while I don’t want to discuss “value” because it seems subjective for a wine like this, I will state the obvious that provenance is key here and this bottle was superb while making for an incredible tasting experience.

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing the Promise of the Underrated 2014 Vintage

Today’s Story: Château L’Évangile

Château L’Évangile is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the appellation of Pomerol on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. L’Évangile traces its roots back to the year 1741 when it first popped up in the land registry under the name Fazilleau, and it was owned by the Léglise family from Libourne. By the turn of the 19th century, the estate was fairly close to its current configuration and consisted of 13 hectares (32 acres) of vineyards. In 1862, Paul Chaperon purchased L’Évangile (as it was known by this time) and he built the reputation of the estate to greater heights and constructed the château in 1874. By 1900, L’Évangile was widely considered the third-best wine of Pomerol behind Vieux Château Certan and Château Pétrus. Chaperon’s descendants, the powerful Ducasse family, continued to run the estate until 1990 when it was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild who own Château Lafite Rothschild on the Left Bank amongst other highly-regarded properties.

Today Château L’Évangile consists of 22 hectares of vineyards planted in prime sandy clay and gravel soils on the plateau of Pomerol. The property borders Château Pétrus to the north and Château Cheval Blanc to the south, so one can say they are in good company. L’Évangile’s vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, though there is now a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon that was blended into the wine for the first time in 2019. The vines at L’Évangile average about 30 years of age, and the estate started shifting to organic viticulture in 2018 before ultimately becoming certified organic in 2021.

In the cellar, all plots are vinified separately in vats with traditional pump overs and controlled maceration. The goal by the end of fermentation is to try to determine which plots/vats ultimately make it into the Grand Vin and which may end up in the second wine called Blason de L’Évangile. The Grand Vin ages for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels, and total production of the Grand Vin and Blason de L’Évangile averages about 5,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château L’Évangile

82% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Château L’Évangile is deep ruby in color. Given my first taste and a check-in after 2 hours, I decided to decant this for a full 4-5 hours as it was rather shy. Once it opens up, the aromas are of medium intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, spiced plum, cigar box, new leather, black truffle, clay, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, black licorice, tobacco, scorched earth, sage, chocolate, and oaky spice. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $160 (I paid $143). On a relative basis, this wine offers considerable value compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 which for this bottling are priced closer to the $260-300 range. This wine also shows incredible promise for the future, as I think it needs probably 3-5 more years of cellaring and should drink well for a couple decades beyond that.

Another Solid Value From the 2014 Vintage in Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château La Conseillante

Château La Conseillante is a historical family-owned wine estate located in the Pomerol appellation on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. The estate traces its roots back to the mid-18th century under the management of Catherine Conseillan where it gets its name, and they produced wines at least as early as 1756 which makes Conseillante one of the oldest estates in Pomerol. Though ownership changed hands a couple times after the passing of Catherine Conseillan, the Nicolas family purchased the estate in 1871 and they run it to this day now in their fifth generation. The original label on the wines dates back to 1871 as well, and it showcases the iconic shield and silver border of the estate. The purple capsule even dates to 1871, when it was chosen to represent the color of the wine, aromas (namely violet) often found in the wine, and so the bottles would stand out in cellars.

Château La Conseillante consists of 12 hectares (30 acres), the same size as when the Nicolas family purchased it, and the vineyards are planted to about 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Though these vines are in a single vineyard block, they are broken up into 18 different parcels which are vinified separately in the modern winery. All fruit is harvested by hand from yield-controlled vines and then rigorously sorted to ensure only the highest quality fruit makes it into the winery. Once in vats, the fruit goes through cold pre-fermentation maceration for two to four days and then alcoholic fermentation for about a week and one to two weeks of maceration. Free-run wine is run off and any remaining fruit is gently pressed separately to produce “press wine” that is aged separately and only included in the final blend if of utmost quality standards. The Grand Vin ages in 50-80% new oak barrels depending on vintage and this typically lasts around 18 months. The wine is then bottled fined with egg whites but unfiltered.

In addition to the Grand Vin, Château La Conseillante released a second wine called Duo de Conseillante beginning with the 2007 vintage. Total production is about 4,500 cases of wine per vintage, with about 80% of that being the Grand Vin. To explore the estate further, you can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château La Conseillante

78% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2014 Château La Conseillante is deep ruby in color with hues of deep garnet. I decanted this for 3-4 hours which seemed to put it in a good spot at this point in its life. The aromas are of medium intensity but the nose is fairly complex, showcasing aromas of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, violet, cigar box, a hint of black truffle, grilled herbs, pepper, and a touch of oaky spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of plum, crème de cassis, black cherry, anise, tobacco, dried green herbs, coffee grounds, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but silky tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $125 (I paid $107). While not the greatest 2014 Pomerol I’ve tried so far, this is certainly a solid value wine for Bordeaux. The “good not great” 2014 vintage proves once again that it deserves attention and considering the 2015 and 2016 vintages of this wine sell for closer to $200 and $250, respectively, this 2014 is certainly worth trying.

Beautiful but Youthful 2014 Bordeaux With Decades of Life Ahead

Today’s Story: Château Montrose

Château Montrose is a historical Bordeaux wine estate located in Saint-Estèphe on Bordeaux’s Left Bank. The estate was established in 1815 by Etienne Théodore Dumoulin on a patch of land his family purchased from Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur, but it was largely forgotten. At the time of Etienne’s death in 1861, the estate spanned 95 hectares though his heirs sold it in 1866 to factory owner Mathieu Dollfus who quickly redeveloped and modernized the buildings and winery with the best technology of the time. One of Mathieu’s most interesting achievements, in my opinion, was the construction of a windmill to pump water aboveground and flood the estate which ultimately saved much of the vineyards from phylloxera. After Mathieu passed away in 1886, the estate fell to the Charmolüe family who, from 1896 to 2006, guided Château Montrose through wars and financial crises while crafting some of the best vintages and providing stability. Martin and Olivier Bouygues acquired the estate in 2006 and engaged in a massive renovation project, propelling Château Montrose to ever increasing heights for decades down the road. Montrose, one of fourteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, produces world-class wines and even placed third with their 1970 vintage in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

I previously wrote about Château Montrose when I reviewed the 2016 La Dame de Montrose and the 2012 Château Montrose, so feel free to revisit those tasting notes if you would like to compare them to today’s wine.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Montrose

61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château Montrose is deep ruby in color and completely opaque. This is incredibly tight, so I decanted it for 10 hours and drank it over the following two hours. Even when I checked in at the five hour mark it was still pretty tight. Aromas are of pronounced intensity and patience is rewarded, however, as the nose showcases aromas of crème de cassis, wild blackberry, spiced black plum, cigar box, pencil shavings, crushed violet and lavender, scorched earth, graphite, eucalyptus, cedar, and a touch of oaky spice. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, black plum, blackcurrant, tobacco, anise, graphite, iron, charred green herbs, chocolate, and vanilla. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high but tightly-knit tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. I suggest cellaring this for another 5 years or so, then drink over the following two decades. Very tense and precise.

Price: $150. Though not inexpensive, this bottle offers solid value in my opinion especially compared to stronger vintages like 2015 and 2016 that push closer to or above $200. This is another example of the underrated 2014 vintage showing incredibly well, though patience will be strongly rewarded with this one.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

I’ve written about Pichon Lalande several times before, with reviews on the 1966, 1986, 1989, 2003, and 2008 vintages.

Today’s Wine: 1982 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Bordeaux Blend (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

I must put a disclaimer on this bottle, as we learned only after pulling the cork this was recorked at the château in 1993. The bottle appears immaculate, fill level is into the neck, the cork is in perfect shape, and there are zero signs of seepage. However my tasting companions and I were disappointed in the wine and I think it might have something to do with the recorking…especially how recent it occurred after the vintage.

The 1982 Pichon Lalande is deep garnet in color. This was rather muted out of the bottle and after 30-45 minutes in the glass, so I decided to decant it. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackcurrant, cigar box, scorched earth, graphite, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and creme brûlée. Meanwhile the palate is certainly better and flavors are pronounced, displaying notes of blackcurrant, dried black plum, tobacco, graphite, forest floor, truffle, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The structure is still very impressive, but the nose is quite lackluster and the palate is better but not at all complex. Overall this was very disappointing given the reputation of the wine, but I think it’s due to the bottle being recorked so early in its life.

Price: $1,000 (shared by a friend who paid $500). I would like to taste this wine again, preferably one with its original cork and strong provenance. This was supposed to be an ethereal wine, but unfortunately it had its issues that outweigh the incredible structure. Certainly not worth the price paid in this instance.

Recorked in 1993

As you can see on the cork, this bottle was rebottled at the château in 1993, per the phrase “rebouche au château en 1993.” I think this is why the bottle didn’t live up to our expectations, as this is certainly not ideal. What’s interesting and somewhat concerning is how short after the vintage this occurred (assuming this was bottled after two years that’s only nine years in bottle before being recorked). You win some, you lose some.

Mouton Just Over the Hill

Today’s Story: Château Mouton Rothschild

Château Mouton Rothschild is a historic and highly regarded wine estate located in the Pauillac appellation on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. It is one of five First Growths in Bordeaux, however it did not achieve this status in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 and instead received the status in 1973 after significant lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The estate traces its roots back to the year 1720, when it took its name of Château Brane Mouton from Joseph de Brane when he purchased the estate from Nicolas-Alexandre de Segur. The estate was producing world-class wines during the 18th and 19th centuries, ultimately shifting hands when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Brane Mouton in 1853 in a somewhat run-down state. Baron Nathaniel replanted the vineyards and changed the estate’s name, so Château Mouton Rothschild was born.

Though the Rothschild family owned the estate, Baron Nathaniel was part of the English branch of the family and never really traveled to or became involved in the estate. The modern era of the estate actually began in 1922, when Baron Nathaniel’s grandson Baron Philippe de Rothschild, then 20 years old, took over the estate and devoted his life to it. Baron Philippe wasted no time in improving the status of Mouton, becoming the first owner in Bordeaux to insist that all his wine should be bottled at the estate to maintain the highest quality standards and control from the vineyards to the finished product. This was at a time when many producers sold their wines to négociants in barrel for them to bottle, so it was already a revolutionary idea. With all bottling done at Mouton beginning in 1924, Baron Philippe built the now-famous Grand Chai in 1926 for necessary added storage. This Grand Chai is a popular and awe-inspiring stop on a visit to Mouton, as it is 100 meters long, beautifully designed, and home to 1,000 oak barrels on a single level.

Another important contribution Baron Philippe made to Mouton is the tie into art. Beginning with the 1945 vintage, the labels of the Grand Vin change each vintage and feature artwork created by world-renowned artists specifically for the Mouton bottles. For example, a couple of my favorite artists including Picasso and Warhol were featured in the past and add a unique, fun, and eye-catching aspect to the estate’s wines.

When Baron Philippe passed away in 1988, his daughter Baroness Philippine de Rothschild inherited the Mouton estate and left her acting career to pick up after her father’s passion. With her children Camille, Philippe, and Julien, the Baroness not only expanded the reach of the estate but also oversaw still-increasing quality and a stronger tie into the world of the arts. She also oversaw a renovation of the château, and a new vat room came into function in 2012 with a marriage of traditional and technological progress.

The Mouton estate today consists of 90 hectares (222 acres) of vines, planted to roughly 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The vineyards lie on deep, gravelly soil which provides optimal growing conditions and the average vine age is 44 years. All harvesting occurs entirely by hand, with the fruit destemmed and sorted again at the winery before being gravity fed into the fermentation vats. The majority of these vats are made of oak, with a decent percentage left to stainless steel as well. All aging occurs in new oak barrels for about 20 months.

Today’s Wine: 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1988 Château Mouton Rothschild is deep garnet in color, not really showing any signs of bricking. I drank this as a pop-and-pour, which seemed to be the best bet as this didn’t really change too much over time in the glass. The aromas are of medium intensity, showcasing notes of cassis, cigar box, graphite, green bell pepper, olive, forest floor, coffee grounds, and cedar. Meanwhile the wine’s flavors are also of medium intensity, displaying notes of dried blackcurrant, tobacco, mocha, mushroom, dried green herbs, and cracked pepper. This is a dry red that is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Though I still get some nice notes on this, it is certainly over the hill with the tertiary notes dominating and the structure showing the test of time. I think drinking this 5 years ago would’ve been the correct timing.

Price: $550 (shared by a friend who paid $450). The value proposition of these wines is often less than stellar, for one because there are incredible values for half the price and two with wines of this age provenance becomes key. This bottle I would say was in very good condition and of excellent provenance, however you may get luckier in your tasting if you have an immaculate bottle. Nonetheless, consider drinking up.

Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

Château Haut-Bailly is a historic Bordeaux wine estate, established during the 1530s by the Goyanèche and Daitze families in the Left Bank appellation of Pessac-Léognan. Haut-Bailly remained in the Daitze family until 1630, when it was purchased by Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde who were two wealthy Parisian bankers. It was Firmin Le Bailly who provided the estate with its name, still in use to this day. The Le Bailly family invested significantly in the improvement of the estate and its wines, passing it from generation to generation until 1736 when Thomas Barton came along. Barton, who was an Irishman, used his business savvy and connections to trumpet the quality of Haut-Bailly wines and helped spread them to England and Ireland where they became highly regarded. In 1872, Alcide Bellot des Minières purchased the Haut-Bailly estate and constructed the château which remains to this day. des Minières was also a gifted winemaker, adhering to precise and science-backed philosophies that further improved the wines and, in pricing terms, put them up with Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Unfortunately, phylloxera took its toll on the estate during the very late 1800s and Haut-Bailly entered the 20th century under a sense of turmoil.

During the first half of the 20th century, Haut-Bailly changed hands multiple times, new and questionable winemaking practices occurred, and the reputation faltered. In 1955, however, Belgian négociant Daniel Sanders purchased the estate and commenced a renaissance for both quality and reputation. Daniel and his son Jean renovated the vineyards and the winery, while also increasing the rigorous quality standards set in place to select fruit for the Grand Vin. By this point Haut-Bailly was a classified Cru Classé in the Classification of Graves in 1953 and 1959, and the wines certainly lived up to it. During the 1970s, however, the wines did take a slight dip once again as Daniel remained reluctant in his old age to give up control to his son Jean. With Daniel’s death in 1980, however, Jean fully took the helm and resumed the rise in quality. Haut-Bailly shifted into the hands of its current owners in 1988, when American banker Robert G. Wilmers purchased the estate. Jean Sanders remained on the team which later included fourth generation Véronique Sanders in a general manager capacity. Though Robert unfortunately passed away in 2017, Haut-Bailly remains in his family’s care with the same dedication and passion to this great and historic estate.

Château Haut-Bailly today consists of 30 hectares of vineyards situated in prime sandy and gravelly soils in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. The vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, with the plots undulating and at times reaching 20 meters higher than other plots around them. Haut-Bailly also maintains 4 hectares of century-old vines planted by Alcide Bellot des Minières, and while largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon these special vineyards have plots of Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well.

Harvest and winemaking at Haut-Bailly follow the philosophy of gentleness and minimal intervention. All plots are harvested individually by hand so fruit is picked at optimal ripeness for each variety. After initial sorting in the vineyards, the fruit is destemmed and sorted by hand again before transferring directly into vats for fermentation. Each plot is vinified separately as well, allowing the winemaking team a plethora of blending options to showcase the varieties and terroir in the best sense possible vintage to vintage. Following time in concrete vats, the wines age in French oak barrels for 16-18 months before they are bottled.

To view the source of the information above, please check out the Château Haut-Bailly website here. You can also view pictures of the estate and peruse their portfolio which interestingly includes a Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2001 Château Haut-Bailly is opaque deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation at the rim. This required a good 1.5 to 2 hours to decant, but it blossomed beautifully. The nose is of pronounced intensity, showcasing classic aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, black truffle, scorched earth, graphite, pencil shavings, black pepper, gravel, and a touch of vanilla. Meanwhile on the palate I get flavors of pronounced intensity including blackberry, black plum, cassis, licorice, violet, dried tobacco, mushroom, a hint of green bell pepper, dried green herbs, clove, and charred cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but very fine-grained and luxurious tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous right now but certainly has the stuffing to develop further for at least another decade.

Price: $120. 2001 is a sleeper vintage in Bordeaux, and selection can sometimes be difficult. However, this 2001 Haut-Bailly is firing on all cylinders and offers very solid value in my opinion given its complexity, performance, age, and promise for the future. Well done.

Finding Value in Fifth Growth Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château d’Armailhac

Château d’Armailhac is a historic Fifth Growth Bordeaux estate located in Pauillac. Though the estate traces its roots to at least 1680 and brothers Dominique and Guilhem Armailhacq, the first solid record of vines on the property came later in 1750 and included 15 to 16 hectares of vineyards. By the end of the 1700s, the estate (called Mouton d’Armailhacq) benefited from the rapid growth of vineyards in the Médoc and grew to 52 hectares under vine, though the wines were not very highly regarded. The team spent the next several decades working tirelessly on improving the quality of the wines and were ultimately rewarded with higher prices and classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Later, in 1931, Baron Philippe de Rothschild became a minority owner in the estate and took full ownership in 1933. Château d’Armailhac is tightly woven together with Château Mouton Rothschild, with the former holding all technical and agricultural equipment for both estates in their outbuildings. In 1956 the estate was renamed Mouton Baron Philippe, then Mouton Baronne Philippe, and finally Château d’Armailhac in 1989 when Baroness Philippine de Rothschild elected to restore the estate’s original name.

Today, Château d’Armailhac’s vineyards total 70 hectares in northern Pauillac and they are planted to roughly 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The estate’s vineyards are made up of the appellation’s famous deep gravelly soil which is perfect for producing wines of character and elegance. Come harvest, the process begins when the same team of Château Mouton Rothschild deems the fruit ready and all picking is done completely by hand. Each variety and each parcel moves to the winery separately, the grapes are entirely destemmed, and young vine fruit is vinified separately from old vine fruit. The wines age in 25% new oak barrels, with some coming from the Grand Chai of Château Mouton Rothschild, and they are run off every three months until fining with egg whites. Each vintage is only bottled when the winemakers and cellar master deem the wine is ready, so there is no strict formula or timeline for barrel aging.

Previously, I wrote about Château d’Armailhac when I reviewed the 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe. If you care to read about how these wines can age, I encourage you to check out the tasting notes at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château d’Armailhac

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château d’Armailhac is opaque deep ruby in color, showcasing its youth. When I first pulled the cork, I was nervous this wine was an off bottle showcasing some pronounced nutty and oaky characteristics. However, given three hours to decant my worries were unwarranted and the wine blossomed beautifully. On the nose, which is of medium intensity, I get aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, black plum, violet, leather, graphite, cigar box, black pepper, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate, which is deeper and more pronounced in intensity, showcases notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black cherry, red plum, licorice, tobacco, dried green herbs, green pepper, vanilla, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $60 (I paid 49). I think this wine offers decent value for Pauillac and the greater Left Bank, especially at the sub-$50 price I found it for. While I would like a bit more intensity out of the nose, I still get all the classic Pauillac aromas and the overall balance of the wine is quite good. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show well, and I think this is a great effort from d’Armailhac.

Valiant Bordeaux Blanc in a Tough Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Brion

I recently wrote about Château Haut-Brion when I reviewed the 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion in November, 2020, so if your memory is quite sharp feel free to skip to today’s tasting notes below. If, however, you’d like a refresher you can read on for the history of this great estate.

Château Haut-Brion is a historic Bordeaux wine estate that traces back to at least 1521, and it was awarded First Growth (Premier Grand Cru) status in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. In 1533, Jean de Pontac acquired the land that would become Château Haut-Brion and he immediately set about renovating the vineyards and expanding the estate. He is also the owner who, in 1549, started building the château. Jean de Pontac was instrumental in each vintage under his ownership until he passed away in 1589 at the age of 101, though the estate remained in the Pontac family by passing to his son Arnaud II and then Arnaud II’s nephew Geoffroy. Geoffroy’s son Arnaud III took over during the early 17th century and expanded the château itself while doubling the size of the vineyards. He also used his political influence to extend the fame and reputation of Haut-Brion, particularly in England.

As the influence of Haut-Brion grew, particularly amongst nobility and the intellects of the time (including John Locke), Joseph de Fumel inherited the estate from his father in 1749. The estate’s influence took another leap when, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited the château and wrote with great admiration about the soils and wines of Haut-Brion. The rosiness ended during the French Revolution, however, as Joseph de Fumel was beheaded by guillotine and his holdings were divided. Over the next four decades or so, the estate changed hands several times.

In 1836, Joseph Eugène Larrieu purchased the estate and worked tirelessly to improve on the exceptional wines it was known for. His efforts were rewarded when Haut-Brion was awarded Premier Grand Cru status in 1855, though pain struck again through disease and political upheavals within the region in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1859, Amédée took over upon his father’s death and replanted the vineyards over time to deal with mildew. By 1873 when his son Eugène took over Haut-Brion, there was optimism which unfortunately proved futile when phylloxera struck with a vengeance in 1880. Eugène spearheaded a massive replanting of the vineyards yet again, this time using rootstock from North America that was resistant to the disease.

Jumping forward through multiple new ownerships, the Dillon family came into the picture during the early 1900s. The owner at the time, André Gibert, faced the need to find a proper owner for Haut-Brion with no heirs of his own. Clarence Dillon, a banker from New York, visited in 1934 and received notice on his way back to America he could buy the estate. The purchase was finalized in 1935 and the Dillon family remains the owner of Château Haut Brion to this day. This purchase by the Dillon family helped bring Haut-Brion to the modern age, with them first installing electricity, new plumbing, and renovating the cellars. Over the decades that followed leading up to current times, the family continued to improve the estate, modernized the winemaking process with a high tech vat room, and completely renovated the château with utmost attention to detail.

Château Haut-Brion today consists of 51 hectares of vineyards located in the Pessac-Léognan appellation of Bordeaux. Of the 51 hectares, 48 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the remaining 3 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Situated across from Château La Mission Haut-Brion (which I wrote about recently as well), Château Haut-Brion shares the same gravelly soil of small quartz stones above a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Following the same practices of their neighbor, all fruit is harvested by hand and then sorted before transferral to temperature controlled vats for fermentation. After two weeks, the vats are drained and the wine moves to barrel where it spends 20-24 months before bottling. Château Haut-Brion produces four wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, and two 2nd wines named Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (red) and La Clarté de Haut-Brion (white).

Today’s Wine: 2012 La Clarté de Haut-Brion

58% Sémillon, 42% Sauvignon Blanc; 14% ABV

The 2012 La Clarté de Haut-Brion is transparent pale gold in color. The medium intense nose showcases aromas of lemon, grapefruit, white peach, yellow apple, honeysuckle, dried herbs, chopped grass, white truffle, and wet stone. On the palate, I get medium intensity and notes of lemon, nectarine, grapefruit, dried pineapple, beeswax, chamomile, river stone, and saline mineral. This dry Bordeaux Blanc is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and a well-rounded mouthfeel into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $100 (I paid $89). While not really a great vintage overall for Bordeaux, this was actually a very solid wine and showcases its age beautifully. I think the price I paid is fair given my experience, though I would probably seek out stronger vintages if I’m buying this bottling again.

Historic Pomerol Estate Showcasing Solid Value in an “OK” Vintage

Today’s Story: Château Certan de May

Château Certan de May (fully Château Certan de May de Certan) is a relatively small but historic wine estate situated in the Right Bank appellation of Pomerol in Bordeaux. The estate was established by the de May (Demay) family, who were Scottish settlers in France during the Middle Ages and received the land by royal decree during the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the de May family started producing wines which were well-regarded and products of this excellent terroir. To provide you an idea, the estate once included what is now Vieux Château Certan and Château Certan-Giraud but was divided up following the French Revolution. When the last member of the de May family passed away in 1925, the estate passed to the Barreau-Badar family and they own it to this day under Jean-Luc Barreau.

Relatively small in size, Château Certan de May consists of 5.5 hectares of vineyard land planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average vine age of 35 years. The vineyard soils are made up of clay and deep gravel, in turn yielding grapes and wines that are powerful and structured, yet elegant and complex. All of the fruit is hand-harvested and the winemaking style is quite traditional before the wines age in 60-80% new oak barrels for 16-20 months. From the mid to late 1980s until the mid to late 2000s, quality was hit or miss but has been drastically improved since then. Annual production sits around 2,000 cases per vintage, and pricing generally isn’t too “terrible” relative to many other wines in the appellation.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Château Certan de May

Merlot dominant proprietary blend (vineyards planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon); 13% ABV

The 2011 Château Certan de May is opaque medium ruby in color. This certainly requires decanting, and I found it showing beautifully around the three hour mark and it only got better from there. The aromas are of medium intensity and include blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, anise, violets, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, grilled green herbs, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are of medium intensity and showcase black cherry, plum, blackcurrant, dried tobacco, earthy mushroom, chocolate, cola, cracked pepper, green herbs, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. I was pleasantly surprised with this bottle, and I believe it offers very solid value given the “ok” vintage. For instance, the incredible 2009 and 2010 vintages sell for closer to $120 or $130. This is a very strong effort.