Category Archives: Bordeaux

Dec 12 2012

50 Wines to Try in 2013: No. 3 Chateau Pontet-Canet – A Brilliant Biodynamic Bordeaux

Posted on December 12, 2012 | By

You wouldn’t normally think that Château Pontet-Canet, a fifth-growth chateaux in Bordeaux, would be one of the leading examples of what the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker describes as “profound evolution in quality” in Bordeaux over the past 30 years.

Since proprietor Alfred Tesseron took over the 200 acre Pauillac estate from his father in 1997, he has ushered in a series of innovations in both viticultural and winemaking practices that have led to a remarkable lift in the quality of his wines. Of the 2009 vintage, for example, Robert Parker remarked that it was “A wine of irrefutable purity, laser-like precision, colossal weight and richness, and sensational freshness, this is a tour de force in winemaking that is capable of lasting 50 or more years.”  (Wine Advocate #199 February 2012)

Granted, 2009 was a spectacular vintage, but Parker’s 100 point score was by no means a fluke. The wine has earned ratings of 93 or higher in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator tastings since 2000.

Château Pontet-Canet is a neighbour to plots owned by illustrious first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour. Tesseron told the Wine Spectator’s Jo Cooke that “Every morning…we wake up and say, ‘We are a fifth-growth surrounded by first-growths, so we have to do better.’ We want to get as close as we can to the quality of our neighbors.” (Climbing the Pyramid: Alfred Tesseron is raising quality at Bordeaux’s Pontet-Canet by Jo Cooke, Wine Spectator, 30 April 2008).

Tesseron has made significant investments in both the vineyards and the cellar to achieve his lofty goal. Pontet-Canet was one of the first Bordeaux estates to eschew the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Since 2007 both the vineyard and winery have been biodynamic.

At times the natural approach to vineyard management has presented … Read the rest

Dec 12 2012

50 Wines to Try in 2013: Number 1 – 2009 Bordeaux

Posted on December 12, 2012 | By

By all accounts the 2009 vintage of French Bordeaux is living up to the hype it created when it was barrel-tasted for those critical reviews that determine the en primeur pricing. You may recall that after a barrel tasting in 2010 legendary wine critic Robert Parker announced that “for some Médocs and Graves, 2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux. From top to bottom, 2009 is not as consistent as 2005, but the peaks of quality in 2009 may turn out to be historic.” Parker gave no less than 19 wines a perfect score of 100 points. Once Upon a Time (1899, 1929, 1949, 1959, 2009) by Robert Parker,, April 2010.

Wine critic James Suckling interviewed the proprietors of the top chateaux about this legendary vintage in the making. A few went so far as to claim that 2009 is the best vintage since 1928. (Bordeaux 2009: A Vintage for a Lifetime, 14 March 2012,

Perfect weather was the main reason for the exceptional vintage. It created the right growing conditions for the fruit to develop good sugar levels without sacrificing a decent level of acidity. Improvements in vineyard management, including strict controls on crop selection and the introduction of organic and biodynamic farming practices, have also led to an overall improvement in quality. Coupled with modern winemaking techniques that allow for a more ‘natural’ product by reducing the need for additives, Parker believes that the winemaking in Bordeaux is reaching a new pinnacle for quality.

Suckling describes the wines as having soft round fruit flavours that are “well corseted” in tannins. Remarkably for such a young wine, the oak is almost fully integrated, creating a richly concentrated wine that is nevertheless well structured, balanced, … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Château Cheval Blanc: An Irresistibly Alluring Cabernet Franc Blend

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By

For me, Julia Harding’s captivating review of a barrel sample of the sublime 2011 vintage of Château Cheval Blanc explains the irresistible allure of this famous St Émilion blend for the past 150 years:

Deep dark cherry crimson. Delicately floral and fruity, so subtle but gently aromatic. A touch of oak sweetness and spice but very restrained. Very very fine grained, you can feel the tannins but they melt across the palate. There’s intensity but it’s so TENDER. It’s dark-fruited rather than savoury. There’s minerality in both taste and texture. Fabulous way to start a day’s tasting. (Julia Harding MW,, 24 April 2012)

Cheval Blanc and its smaller, but equally famous peer, Château Ausone, are the only two wines in St Émilion to be rated “A” Premier Grand Cru Classé.  The St Émilion  classification system is unusual, because unlike the more famous Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855,  it calls for the wines to be reviewed every ten years. Since it was first introduced in 1955, Cheval Blanc has always maintained its top ranking.

In the second half of the 19th century and for most of the 20th, the 41 hectare estate, which borders the Pomerol appellation, was owned by the Laussac-Forcaud family. They were responsible for the legendary 1921 and 1947 vintages – in 2010 a rare Imperial bottle (6 litres) of the latter sold for a record-breaking $US304,375!

The wine has always been an almost 50/50 blend of cabernet franc and merlot, and is aged in 100% new oak for a minimum of 18 months. The terroir, a mix of gravel over clay (40%), deep gravel (40%), and sand over clay (20%), is considered ideal for cultivating both grapes.

In 1998 the property was sold to Bernald Arnault of the luxury goods group LVMH and Belgium’s … Read the rest

Nov 11 2011

Wine Tasting: Château Rauzan-Ségla – An Exceptional 2nd Growth!

Posted on November 11, 2011 | By

Last Wednesday night I attended a Bordeaux Shippers‘ tasting at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. These tastings are a great opportunity to sample out-of-reach legendary Bordeaux wines like the Château Mouton Rothschild, Premier Cru Pauillac 1996 ($1,142) as well as some excellent Bordeaux in more affordable price ranges.

One of my favourites of the evening was the Château Rauzan-Ségla Deuxieme Grand Cru Classe Margaux 1996 ($185). Ok, not exactly a bargain, but this wine is widely regarded as a “super-Second”, and one of the best wines in the appellation after 1st growth Château Margaux.

One of the oldest estates in Bordeaux, Château Rauzan-Ségla has a bit of spotted history, which may be why its name is not as familiar as it should be to most people. Apparently Thomas Jefferson, one of the world’s greatest oenephiles, bought a few cases in 1790, and in 1855 the estate was ranked Deuxieme Grand Cru Classe, equal at the time to Château Mouton Rothschild. The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin notes that the wines of the 19th century have become legendary. (Neal Martin, Château Rauzan-Ségla,, November 2006)

But for most of the 20th century, its reputation waned and it was not until the 1980s, when the château was taken over by the négociants Eschenauer, that the vineyards were replanted and the winery modernised.  Since 1994 the perfume house Chanel has continued to make a substantial investment in the estate, restoring its position as the head of the class of the 14 2nd Growths.


Less than 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin are produced each year. A blend of 54% cabernet sauvignon, 41% merlot, 4% petit verdot and 1% cabernet franc, the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then barrel aged for 18 to 20 months in barriques, … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Château Pétrus 1990: Is it worth the price?

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By

If you’ve recently scanned the Cellarit Wine Market you may have noticed that a bottle of 1990 Château Pétrus is available for $4,700. It’s not the most expensive bottle on the list. That honour belongs to a 375 ml 1952 Penfolds Grange signed by Max Schubert and available for $12,500. But nevertheless the price does seem extraordinary for an item that, after all, is designed to be eventually consumed! (Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, who scored the 1990 Pétrus 100 points, gives a drinking window of 2014 – 2054, Wine Advocate # 183 June 2009.)

But a look at the price history of the wine clearly suggests that it is on an upward trajectory., which records wine auction prices, shows that the average price at auction for a Pétrus 1990 in 2003 was US$1250.98. 2011’s average auction price (42 lots to date have been sold) is US$4,095.35. That’s a 225% price appreciation in eight years.

As widely reported in the press, the Asian wine market is booming. Almost every Hong Kong wine auction sets a new record and mainland Chinese buyers, in particular, can’t seem to get their hands on enough quality Bordeaux. (see The Two Speed Wine Market, Cellarit Wine Blog, 19 October 2010).

Price appreciation for the Pétrus 1990, however, pre-dates the Asian boom of the last two years. Between 2003 and 2008 the price went up by approximately 188%. During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the price fell approximately 33 per cent before recovering and then eclipsing its pre-GFC highs – a performance that certainly looks better than most Blue Chip stock charts (especially in recent days)!

So why does this wine in particular command such high prices? We hear the terms ‘cult’ or ‘icon’ bandied around a lot in reviews or … Read the rest

May 05 2011

Chateau Lynch-Bages: A Wine that Defies Official Classification

Posted on May 05, 2011 | By

One of the most important things I’ve recently learned about Bordeaux is that while the official Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855 can be a good indicator of quality and terroir, the wine region is also home to to a growing number of top producers whose wine regularly exceeds the expectations of their original lowly classification.

Château Lynch-Bages is certainly an example of a wine that consistently punches above its rank. The estate is classified as Fifth Growths (Cinquièmes Crus), but the deliciously rich, aromatic and still youthful 1995 Château Lynch-Bages was a highlight of last Thursday’s Bordeaux tasting, standing up particularly well against the first growth Château Latour 2001. In fact, the Wine Advocate’s Neil Martin argues that “value-for-money aside, in recent years, several verticals have confirmed that Lynch Bages is a Second Growth in all but name and furthermore, it can occasionally flirt with First Growth quality.” (Neil Martin, How to run a Chateau: Lynch Bages 1959 – 2006,, January 2010)

The success of Château Lynch-Bages is due to the foresight and talent of the Cazes family, who bought the Pauillac estate in 1939 after managing it during the early 1930s. As Jean-Michel Cazes explained to the Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, his grandfather “was a very good winemaker. After World War II, he was one of the few winemakers of the time that made riper, more modern-style wines. He believed in harvesting riper grapes and looking for good concentration and more color.” (James Suckling, Long-Lived Lynch-Bages: The Bordeaux estate shines in a tasting back to the 1929, Wine Spectator, 15 November 2007).

During the 1980s Jean-Michel Cazes secured the worldwide reputation of the estate by travelling abroad to promote the wines. Today, the 222 acre estate is run by Jean Michel’s son, Jean-Charles, … Read the rest

May 05 2011

Château Latour: The Epitome of Great Bordeaux

Posted on May 05, 2011 | By

This Thursday evening I’m attending a very special tasting of classic Bordeaux wines at Wine Vault in Artarmon. Sponsored by Bordeaux Shippers, our host for the evening is The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh. Thursday’s session is sold out, but I believe tickets may still be available for a second session on Thursday 2 June.

One of the highlights of a very special lineup is the Château Latour 2001. It sells for around $1,000 a bottle, so I’m sure Thursday night will be one of my only chances to sample this great wine. In preparation I thought I would do a little research on one of the world’s most acclaimed drops. While most of us probably can’t entertain the possibility of buying a bottle of Latour, Margaux, Lafite, Mouton or Haut-Brion, these First Growths are the benchmarks for style, character and status, informing the aspirations and direction of some of their best New World competitors, who typically make wines a little gentler on the hip pocket!

Château Latour is one of Bordeaux’s five original First Growth (Premier Cru). Its elevation to First Growth status dates back to the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification that was done ahead of International Exhibition in Paris. But as early as 1787, one of the world’s greatest connoisseurs of wine, then minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, deemed La Tour de Ségur a vineyard of first quality.

Situated on the banks of the Gironde estuary, Château Latour is at the very southeastern tip of the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. Here 78 hectares are under vine, but only the best grapes from the oldest vines of the 47 hectares surrounding the Chateau, known as L’Enclos, can be used in the production of the Grand Vin. Since 1966 the Latour has also produced … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Château La Mission Haut-Brion: The Unofficial 6th First Growth

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

I was looking back at the Robert Parker reviews for Château La Mission Haut-Brion. The 1982  scored a 100 points, but what was even more remarkable is that the release price Parker quoted: $US245 a case! (Robert Parker, Wine Advocate # 183 June 2009)

Just to be sure, I checked the price history of La Mission Haut-Brion on the Liv-ex: The Fine Wine Exchange. The current 2009 vintage, which Parker has rated 98-100, will set you back a cool £6,200. Liv-ex argues that the impressive Parker reviews (5 vintages going back to 1953 have received a perfect score),  together with marked price increases over the years, seems to to indicate that a reclassification may be overdue. In fact, according to last year’s Liv-ex classification, which attempted to mimic the Bordeaux 1855 classification by ranking chateaux based purely on price, La Mission Haut-Brion is now the unofficial sixth First Growth, coming in just behind Château Haut-Brion.

Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion often appear together in the same sentence. Since 1983 they have shared the same owner, Domain Clarence Dillon, and the imposing wrought iron gates of La Mission Haut-Brion lie just across the road from the stone gate of its first-growth neighbour. Haut-Brion’s winemaker Jean-Bernard Delmas, who Parker describes as “one of the greatest winemakers on planet Earth” also made the wine at La Mission Haut-Brion from 1983 until his son, Jean-Philippe Delmas, took over in 2003. (Robert Parker, Restaurant Daniel, New York City, Retirement Dinner for Jean-Bernard Delmas of Château Haut-Brion, November 2003)

Both father and son have brought many innovations to La Mission Haut-Brion, but they have also respected its special identity or spirit. The wines of La Mission Haut-Brion are often described as being more accessible and muscular than Haut-Brion. Although neighbours, … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Château Pape Clément: Creating Wine of First-Growth Quality!

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

One man who is considered just as influential in Bordeaux as the legendary American wine critic Robert Parker is the oenologist Michel Rolland. Rolland is a consultant oenologist to hundred of wineries in the Bordeaux and around the world. He is credited with turning around the quality of such famous estates as Château Lascombe and has been a consultant to some of the best estates in California, counting names like Araujo, Harlan Estate and Dalla Vale among his clients.

Bordeaux is all about the blend, and according to wine critic James Suckling, “Rolland’s blending skill is phenomenal… It’s not so much that he is better than other top tasters at evaluating the quality of a wine, or that he knows more tricks as a veteran winemaker. Where he shines is in his ability to taste different lots of wine in a winery and then decide which ones work best together to make a great bottle.” Rolland’s palate is backed up by some formidable science. He has a laboratory in Libourne that employs eight full-time technicians who analyse wine samples from about 800 estates in France each year. (Top Gun: Consulting enologist Michel Rolland makes some of the world’s best red wine by James Suckling, Wine Spectator, 30 June 2006)

At Chateau Pape Clément Rolland works with one of France’s leading businessmen and winemakers Bernard Magrez. Pape Clément is a jewel in the crown of 35 vineyards owned by Magrez in France and around the world.  In 2009 the International Wine and Spirit Competition awarded Magrez the title of French Wine Producer of the Year.

Together, Rolland and Magrez have made numerous improvements in the vineyard and the winery over the last decade. Yields are limited through crop thinning, and de-leafing helps the grapes to ripen by … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Château Haut-Bailly: Reaching New Heights with the 2009 Vintage

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By

Like Château Haut-Brion, the fortunes of Château Haut-Bailly have greatly improved under the direction of an American financier. American banker Robert Wilmers bought Haut-Bailly in 1998, and like Clarence Dillon of Haut-Brion, he saw the wisdom of retaining top talent – promoting Veronique Sanders, the granddaughter of the previous owner, to the top job as manager of the estate.

In less than a decade, Sanders has succeeded in elevating Château Haut-Bailly to such a level that the esteemed American critic Robert Parker believes it a worthy contender to the icon wines of Pessac-Leognan: Pape-Clement, La Mission-Haut-Brion, and Haut-Brion.

Here’s Parker’s review of the stunning 2009 vintage:

The greatest Haut-Bailly ever made? One can’t speak enough of the job Veronique Sanders has done in 2009, allied with the owner, the American banker Robert Wilmers, who has given her carte blanche authority. Tiny yields have resulted in the most concentrated Haut-Bailly I have ever tasted. Eclipsing even the 2005, the 2009 (a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc) possesses 13.9% natural alcohol. Dense purple to the rim, it exhibits a precise, nuanced nose of mulberries, black cherries, black currants, graphite, and a singular floral component. A wine of profound intensity and full-bodied power, yet stunningly elegant, and never heavy or massive, it builds incrementally on the palate, and the finish lasts over 45 seconds. Remarkably, there is not a hard edge to be found in this beauty. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were harvested between October 7 and 14, which explains their phenolic maturity. The wine’s extraordinary freshness, elegance, and precision are nearly surreal. This tour de force should age brilliantly for 40+ years. (Tasted two times.) (Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate #188 April 2010 96 to 98+ points. Drink 2010 -2050)

In a sense, Robert … Read the rest