Robert Boutflower

The big guns of the Left Bank

The big guns of the Left Bank
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Bordeaux 2015 is so good we needed to call in some reinforcements! In fact, the reports from last autumn when the harvest came in had already steered us to send over more bodies than usual so that this vintage – the best since 2010 – could have a thorough examination from the Tanners team.

Robert Boutflower (your scribe) and Graham Mason were the advance party, with Stephen Crosland, John Melhuish, Rachel Armstrong and James Tanner doing the second week. The task in week one is always to get round the Union des Grands Crus tastings, where one château from a particular commune or village shows all the wines from its neighbours. It’s a bit of a bunfight, a bit of a snapshot with often quite a lot of inconsistencies and, alongside the sheer quantity of wines to get through, it’s the main reason the second group visit the individual properties and make the most of the calmer tasting conditions. It wasn’t all a scrum for us however, as we also had visits to Chx Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Lafite, Pontet-Canet, Léovile Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Margaux and Palmer lined up.

These château visits soon demonstrated a couple of things:

  • Top châteaux have made top wines
  • The style and quality is somewhere between 2005 and 2010
  • There’s a lot of alcohol about (in the wines of course)
  • The best wines have superb balance of pure fruit, silky tannins, and integrated alcohol
  • Some wines have a lot of ripe fruit, a lot alcohol and a lot of big tannin
  • Our first visits demonstrated: a very harmonious, although showy Montrose alongside stable companion Tronquoy-Lalande which was simply beautiful; Cos and Pagodes de Cos were both very attractive and streamlined, the former with more power, the latter more fruit; some disappointed faces at Lafite but a winner for me – it will plump up and it has bags of class; Purity and increased quality at Pédesclaux (although the building is hugely extravagant); biodynamism bringing fabulous fruit and poise to Pontet Canet, great again; the jury is out on Lynch-Bages which was very big and very chewy; Pichon Lalande is as harmonious as any Pauillac with the second wine, Reserve de la Comtesse only a smidge behind.

    The ‘UGC’ tasting for Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac was at Ch. Lafon-Rochet. St-Estèphe often shows as the poor relation in a very good year, and our feeling was the wines were good without being spectacular. Lafon-Rochet itself was fine, Phélan-Segur ok, Clos Labory continues its rehabilitation. Others were firm and lacked a bit of charm. From Pauillac, those that came through strongly included Pichon Lalande, Pichon Baron, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Batailley and D’Armailhac. These were big wines with lots of power and a ripe, heady feel to them. When the tannin was finer the wines tasted better – some were too chunky, even over-extracted for my palate.

    On to Saint-Julien which I think is the sum of many parts: the power of Pauillac, the prettiness of Margaux, the fleshier middle that it brings to the party. A tasting at Ducru-Beaucaillou stood out, and not just because the prettiest girls in Bordeaux always seem to end up on reception! The ‘grand vin’ here is a big, intense fruit bomb with lovely silky tannins. Léovile Las Cases was another super visit; the whole range on display, from Potensac to Petit Lion, had a personality and was well made.

    Saint-Julien’s UCG was memorable. Very consistent, a great selection of well made wines from nearly all the chateaux. Talbot was rich and flattering, Saint-Pierre meaty, Léovile Barton had great balance, Gloria generous and fresh on the finish. Branaire-Ducru as good as I can remember, a lovely line, fresh juicy core and substance. Even Langoa Barton, usually a bit of a bridesmaid, was full-bore, juicy and approachable. I got to the finish and thought, yup, I liked those wines – and some.

    Ch Citran gave up its barrel room to show a collection of Médocs, Haut-Médocs and Listracs. These were good, attractive styles, simpler than their more illustrious (and more expensive) neighbours. La Tour de By was on cracking form, but Cantemerle was delicious too, Chasse Spleen was butch with cool minty notes, La Lagune had heaps of fresh fruit as did Fourcas Hosten. Plenty of good stuff on display and all hopefully very affordable.

    Next came a couple of visits, or more correctly, a visit to a table in a couple of pretty famous chateaux. First was Margaux, where the new installation of gleaming tanks and pristine surroundings is now finished. We still tasted at the end of the cooperage of course. Pavillion Rouge was ‘very fine’. The grand vin now stood top of the tasting table, knocking all previous rivals out of the way. ‘Very, very fine’. ‘Nuff said really. Then on to Palmer where the Alter Ego is gutsy and super-ripe – its brother trumping it easily, however, with more density and silkier tannins.

    I'm sad to report that my notes from the Margaux UGC event at Ch du Tertre are not good as I succumbed, alongside many, to a tannin assault. This was strange as we had partaken, with a hundred other tasting folk, of an extensive and excellent lunch, complete with barbecue and warbling barrel-organeer. Rausan-Segla continued its good recent form, Ferrière was charming, Angludet had harmony and purity. The rest swamped me and I beat a retreat, with Graham not far behind. However, and there are waves of merchants giving opinions this week, AC Margaux has been very successful with good balance of fruit, acidity and tannin. Just a shame then that the tannin ‘got’ me!

    Before we went south to Pessac and across to the Right Bank of Pomerol, Saint-Emilion and their satellites, we had a stop-off at Ch Arsac (home to much outdoor modern art) for the Cru Bourgeois Tasting. There were many, many wines on offer here and shining lights included Tour St Bonnet and our old favourite, Patache d’Aux, both of which were balanced and full-bodied. But clumsy oak, high acidity and alcohol and some roaring tannins spoilt a number of the others.

    To conclude, there are some fabulous wines from this vintage. Tasting them at this stage of development is always a comparative affair – there’s still a year to go in barrel and one has to be aware that it’s a judgment made of one sample on one day. Should you buy them? I’ll let you know after we’ve done Pessac and the Right Bank, but it all looks very promising…

    Robert Boutflower is Private House Sales Director of Tanners Wines, a Spectator wine partner