By now, Jean-Marc has posted notes on his website for St. Julien, Margaux, and Pauillac. Even though my comments about the wines are very general in nature, I hesitated to post the trip notes until after he released his commentary to his subscribers. Also -- I didn't mention this earlier and should have -- I've no commercial interest in Jean-Marc's work whatsoever.
Here is the second in a string of journal entries detailing the week we spent tasting the 2005s. I hope you find some of it interesting…
Despite not wrapping up Monday night until after midnight, and even with some lingering jet lag, it was difficult to sleep knowing that we would taste Tuesday with some of my favorite producers. The phone and internet were both out in my room at Marojailla – I finally fell asleep to the incoherent clattering of a German talkshow discussing the CPE rioting here in France.
The weather Tuesday morning was beautiful and fresh. Breakfast at le Pavillon de Margaux is worth mentioning, as the small sun room seems set right in the middle of the vines, looking out over the ancient church next to Chateau Margaux. Jean-Marc motored up the road around 8:45 a.m. and before I knew it, it was time to head to Chateau Latour for our first appointment at 9 a.m.
Jean-Marc and I were greeted at Latour by a serious-but-friendly Frederic Engerer, the chateau’s director. We were escorted through the precisely organized office area and waiting room to an über-chic tasting room. A post-modern zebra-like print covered much of the far wall and big 1970’s-looking clear-glass basketball-shaped lights dangled from the ceiling. Everything was in grayscale, including our host. For a moment, I thought I might become part of the Sprokets skit on Saturday Night Live – do you like my monkey?
We were first served the classically-scented third wine of Latour, Pauillac. The alcohol here came in under 13%. The aromas were fresh and clean, with lead pencil and beautiful cassis. In 2005, Pauillac contained an unprecedented 20% press wine from the grand vin. It promises to be a good sleeper. The Forts de Latour failed to maintain my interest for long. The wine has a nice mid-palate and a longer finish than the Pauillac – but, in the end, I was expecting a little more than I found.
After the second and third wines, we moved on to Latour. My first reaction was one of surprise – I found it difficult to clearly distinguish the grand vin from the Forts. There was deeper fruit on the nose and a new floral note – but on the palate, both were fairly wound up. The wine was very fresh and exciting – but not an earth shattering experience by any means. I suppose it goes without saying – but this wine should be interesting to re-taste next year.
Once we finished tasting, Jean-Marc and Frederic got into a long discussion about the conditions at Latour that lead to the comparatively early harvest at the Chateau. Jean-Marc and Frederic discussed the fissuring issue that plagued Merlot in 2005 at some length. I had a hard time remaining focused on the discussion, as the strategically placed windows looked out over beautiful landscapes.
As we left for our next appointment at Montrose, I stuck my head out the window and captured one of the most terrific pictures I’ve ever taken – the tower and chateau set amongst the vines with some blooming red buds. I’m not much of a photographer, but the shot makes a great screensaver on my desktop.
Pulling into the parking lot at Montrose, the wind really started to kick up, prompting the observation that the setting at Montrose gives the feeling of a yacht club. Flags wave and rattle at in the parking area in front of the chateau and the wide Gironde spreads out before the vines that lead up to the Chateau. Winemaker Philippe de Laguarigue met us for a tasting of the Dame de Montrose and the grand vin.
The wine here is often described as the Latour of St. Estephe and it was interesting to taste the two in sequence. I think Jean-Marc arranged this intentionally. For me, the real powerhouse was Montrose. As is the case with Margaux this year, there’s a real iron fist in a velvet glove feeling to the wine. The wine impressed me with it’s sappiness and exotic aromatics.
Jean-Marc seemed perplexed by the wine – he made an interesting observation that seemed to really last with him for several days. The Montrose entered the palate creating the impression of a mature wine – soft, pulpy, rich, and full – then, energy and classic tightness of a barrel sample took over. The wine was very promising. Montrose seems on a roll – and, the Dame wasn’t too shabby either.
After tasting the wines, there was much discussion about the sale of Montrose, which was nearing completion that very day. My terrible French, at one point in the conversation, managed to misconstrue something and I was left for a moment with an understanding that Gerard Perse had purchased Montrose and was bringing in Michele Rolland. I think my imagination got carried away. As the conversation continued, Philippe’s eyes teared – and, while the subtleties of the conversation escaped me until Jean-Marc translated later in the car – it was obvious that the events at Montrose created some stress and sadness for him. Msr. Charmolües is off to make wine in Provence, it seems.
After much discussion, we left for our visit at Mouton with winemaker Philippe Dhalluin. I sensed a rare glimpse of commercial Napa Valley in Bordeaux as Jean-Marc and I walked through a small retail shop selling mostly artwork related to the Mouton labels and various other mutton-inspired items. We ended up in a small tasting room that, aside from the cream-colored paper machete ram lights that adorned the walls on either side, might have been confused for an examination room at your local doctor’s office. Almost knocking one of those lights to the floor, incidentally, is a good conversation starter for those who visit.
The full line-up was there to taste – d’Armailhac was very Pauillac if a bit oaky. Clerc was deeply fruited with an exotic musk-note that I would not find in any other sample. The Second of Mouton was very ripe with some heat on the nose. And, the Mouton, contrary to so many accounts, was wonderful from our sample bottle. The wine was very freshly aromatic and full across the palate. Following the tastes, Philippe was kind enough to indulge me with a couple of pictures. I was afraid that if I didn’t have a few – my friends would never believe the adventures with Mr. Quarin this week…
By now we were running a little late. It was time to head over to Pichon Lalande where a couple of the assistant winemakers met us for a tasting of the wines from both 2004 and 2005. My stomach was telling me it was lunchtime. Jean-Marc, on the other hand, had no interest in food – fresh wine was his sole obsession. We were taken to a large reception room upstairs. The room showed off an eclectic collection of glass pieces and the walls were adorned with awards from the likes of Wine Spectator and Decanter. The view from the grassy terrace is probably about the most beautiful I witnessed on the trip, overlooking Chateau Latour and the Gironde in the distance.
Quickly, it was down to business. I remember noting that it was somehow appropriate that the two women introduced us to Pichon Lalande’s 2005 line-up. The wines – particularly the grand vin – were feminine and a significant contrast from the styles we had explored earlier in the day. The Bernadotte was soft and supple with slightly green aromatics, uncommon in 2005. The reserve was very fresh and floral with a whiff of the cellar. And Pichon Lalande itself was exotic and unusual. What it gave up in sheer power and presence it made up for in style. It’s an interesting wine, though, perhaps somewhat of a very modest disappointment in the context of what I had been expecting. Pichon Lalande has always been a favorite.
After the visit, Jean-Marc took me to a new restaurant near Cordeillan-Bages. Jean-Michel Cazes, I was told, was in the process of completely renovating the area in the image he remembered as a child. This little corner of Pauillac is a small enough place that we ran into Frederic Engerer dining with a man we would bump into the next day at Ducru. After an interesting and protracted debate, Jean-Marc managed to negotiate a five minute turnaround on quiche and salad. We were back on the road, heading to our next destination, in about fifteen minutes flat.
Rain rolled in just in time for our arrival at Leoville Las Cases. We fumbled around the chais a good five minutes before finally tracking down our host. The tasting room had the feel of a science laboratory. Unlike so many places we visited – the express purpose of this room was to taste. There would be no showing off here. I remember the first wine we tasted very clearly, as it was the wine that solidified my feeling that 2005 was going to be a very special vintage. We were tasting the second wine of Potensac – la Chapelle. It was full and round, luscious and very complete in its own context. There was no leanness, no void in the middle. The finish didn’t last long, but so much else was right with this wine – who cares? The Potensac itself was that and more – more structure and more finish in particular. Clos du Marquis was a slutty little beast of a wine. And Leoville Las Cases was stunning for its purity of fruit, power, and length. It seemed the essence of Cabernet Sauvignon – arguably not as complex as some of the other wines we’ve tasted at this early stage – but oh, the power of this wine!
Later, we tasted Delon’s Pomerol, Nenin, and its second wine, Fugue de Nenin. In my ignorance, I actually preferred the softer and more aromatic Fugue. The Nenin, like so many of the right bank wines, was as hard as nails.
The final stop on this amazing day was Chateau Lafite Rothschild. We waited patiently for a few moments in the small, smartly appointed waiting room for our host, the affable managing director, Charles Chevallier. Jean-Marc seemed concerned about this visit, preparing me for a stiff reception that might result from some frank commentary he had offered in the recent past. But, nothing could have been further from the truth. After tasting through the Pauillacs, we moved on to Rieussec and some interesting conversation about the vintage. Here, the wines were classic and traditional. Even the Carraudes, which I rarely care for, was a wonderfully pleasant and mouthfilling wine. Duhart Milon, while less aromatic than Carraudes, was more powerful and had a nice finish, something lacking a bit in the Carraudes we sampled. The grand vin was just that. Exotic wine – and with a finish that goes on forever. Having tasted all of the firsts by now, this was my favorite, along with Margaux.
We said our goodbyes and drove off through the vineyards of Mouton and Lafite. I stopped to pick up a rock – why, I don’t know. What is it about having a rock from a favorite vineyard?
Later that evening we tasted through a few more Medocs. I returned home a little earlier than usual and got a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, we were off to taste many of my favorites from St. Julien.
Thanks for reading.