At Decanter's recent tasting at the Landmark Hotel featuring the wines of Pessac-Léognan, it struck me how rarely they are given any real prominence/space at more encompassing Bordeaux tastings such as the UGC at the Opera House in Covent Garden every year.
Here the Syndicat Viticole de Pessac-Leognan told us firmly "no-body puts Baby in the corner".
We were fortunate enough to be tasting the 2009 reds and 2010 whites. The best way round for me.
The whites are a glorious combination of the fleshy weight of 2009 with the more consistently balancing acidity of the 2008s.
Overall the impression was of limpid pools of fruit framed by expensive, polished oak. Still getting to know each other but in a courtship nonetheless. Lines of salty tang zig-zagged through, judiciously augmenting the essence of the fruit.
My favourite wines were generally made up of the classic Sauvignon/Semillon blends. The single varietal Sauvignons were startling pure in a varietal sense, full of integrity (like the Chateau de Cruzeau), very tight and clean but lacked a certain charm, seductiveness and thoughtfulness for me. The Chateau La Louviere 100% Sauvignon with 35% new oak seemed a bit muddled.
A handful of wines had a dollop of Muscadelle, Chateau Olivier (2%), Pape Clement (6%) & Chateau Roche-Lalande (2%). This gave just the subtlest weight in the mid-palate and a hint of perfume. I really love these minute extra dimensions.
There were also a few outings for Sauvignon Gris, Blanc's cousin, which with its higher sugar levels gave a boost to the aromatics and silkiness of the liquid. I even got distinct bacon fat from the Chateau Couhins.
The reds were all kinds of blends from 60-40 CabMerlot to 55-45 MerlotCab with lots of splashes of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. On the whole so enjoyable, approachable and with a distinctive Pessac-Leognan combination of minerality with a red earthiness.
These are the kind of wines that are relevant to me in a personal as opposed to professional way. Wines I can buy and lay down. Not crazy prices but more special than every day - the majority are in the £30-40/btl bracket. They will reward the kind of shorter term ageing that my available space and patience can bear. But still they will evolve and give a Bordeaux education of the old school.
Never mind the financial speculating, fakery fiascos and the en primeur circus seemingly baying for its own blood. This is the stuff for people who buy wine to drink, to enjoy, to share, to learn. There's plenty of love outside the gated community of the super wealthy.
Of course it's not quite the same as further up the magical classification but let's not apologise for not having the disposable income of a Russian agricultural peasant turned inexplicable billionaire Oligarch and enjoy what we can.
Bordeaux should not be ignored by the average wine lover, there's so much to be gained. Bordeaux has a magic which is largely forgotten at this level as drinkers turn to other markets - which of course they should, but not at the expense of old friends.
And with modern winemaking, better vineyard management and ever changing climates who's to say we're not getting as much if not more than past generations of 'Lafite for £50' were getting. Well something like that anyway...
My favourite whites:
Domaine de Chevalier 2010 85% SB 15% Sem - ripe, rich, with strong identity. Very good. No RRP
Chateau Couhins 2010 95% SB 5% SGris - very pure with some bacon fat, lots of minerality. Restrained oak. RRP £16.20
Chateau de Fieuzal 2010 60% SB 40% Sem - exciting & tense, lovely fruit. Oak should settle down. RRP £31
Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion 2010 80% SB 20% Sem - grainy texture, big bold oak at this point. Wears its fullness lightly. RRP £41
Chateau LaTour-Martillac 2010 62% SB 38% Sem - dense and textured with some spice on the finish. RRP £35
Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2010 85% SB 15% Sem - great balance, the oak is slightly fierce at the moment but underneath that the fruit is ripely delicious. £62.50
Clos Marsalette 2010 50% SB 50% Sem - astonishing and attention grabbing, floral and aniseed nose already balanced and integrated oak, nothing aggressive here - in fact really sophisticated. RRP £24.93
Chateau Olivier 2010 78% SB 20% Sem 2% Muscadelle - Salty tang over clean lines and then a lovely plump weight broadens it all out. Ripe yet restrained fruit. Brilliant. RRP £31 such good value.
Chateau Pape-Clément 2010 52% SB 34% Sem 8% SGris 6% Muscadelle - the blend certainly brings dynamism and complexity to this terrific wine, fat and buttery oak, mouth puckering acidity and a burst of energetic fruit that leads into a long and satisfying finish. Classy but whoa the price. RRP £130.
Chateau de Rouillac 2010 48% SB 40% SGris 2% Sem - a great example of Bdx Blanc. Rich, fresh, gorgeous length and balanced though still muscular oak. £26
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 90% SB 5% SGris 5% Sem - wine of the day for me, a 1930s Rolls Royce with effortless torque gliding through many layers of sumptuous loveliness. Curvaceous, seductive, this tastes expensive and has an aristocratic sense of entitlement. The Landmark decided to test the fire alarm just when I was at this table and when the pourer jokingly suggested we vacate with the wine it took every ounce of self-restraint not to grab a bottle and run. RRP £87
And my favourite reds:
Chateau Brown 2009 56% M 40% CS 4% PV - really enjoyable grip and fruit. RRP £18
Chateau Couhins 2009 55% M 35% CS 10% CF - so good! Rich savoury, strong, impressive at this price. RRP £14.50
Chateau Ferran 2009 65% M 35% CS - fresh, spicy & exciting. Ripe, grippy and long. RRP £14
Chateau de Fieuzal 2009 70% CS 27% M 3% CF - lifted, pure, mint and cassis. Long and stylish. RRP £28
Chateau Haut-Bacalan 2009 80% M 15% CS 5% PV - interesting, plush & long. RRP £100 !!!
Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion 2009 65% CS 35% M - stylish and elegan. Tiny touch of Brett in a good way. RRP £37
Chateau LaTour Martillac 2009 53% CS 42% M 5% PV - so polished with quite wonderful richness. RRP £35
Chateau Léognan 2009 70% CS 30% M - just lovely lift, great fragrance. Tiny bit green but only seems to add to the crunchy pleasure.
Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2009 59% CS 38% M 3% PV - really impressive, opens out gently at first then mightlily in glass after just a few minutes. RRP £50
Chateau Gazin-Roquencourt 2009 55% CS 45% M - Balanced and fruity, a wine already drinking well now. RRP £21 5%
Clos Marsalette 2009 60% CS 35% M 5% CF - wonderful, powerful, silky round and lovely. This is from Count Neipperg of Castillon fame, and as enticing as the white, they have yet to find an importer in the UK. RRP £25-31
Chateau Olivier 2009 60% CS 40% M - very impressive components but nothing integrated as yet. I have every faith it will come together magnificently - fingers crossed. RRP £31
Chateau Pape-Clément 2009 51% CS 40% M - this is going to take a leap of faith, right now it has lots of good - silky and downright delicious, with the worrisome - quite hot. hopefully a balance will be achieved. RRP £110.
Chateau le Sartre 2009 60% CS 40% M - very grown-up, serious & classic. Love this style. RRP £18 Whaaaa? Total bargain if you like the classics.
Chateau Seguin 2009 50% CS 50% M - cool, classic again, but so ripe and totally what you'd want for dinner. RRP £18.90
Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte 2009 64% CS 30% M 5% CF 1% PV - Ay ya yai. I know that's not a tasting note. It's what I wrote. RRP £218