Here's another installment -- my second to last -- from the trip I took to taste 2005s with Jean-Marc Quarin. I hope some of this proves interesting...
Following Thursday’s tastings of several great Pomerols and Beausejour Duffau Lagarosse, I was ready to sample more from the right bank. Friday, we had tastings scheduled at Larmande, covering the cru classé wines of St. Emilion, followed by a tasting at Trotte Vieille of several of the premier cru classé wines. The afternoon would wrap up at Ausone with Alain Vaulthier and we would get back to it in the evening with classed wines from St. Julien and Pauillac at Jean-Marc’s office.
Based on my experience to date, I anticipated a long day without anything to eat, so I snuck over to a boulangerie before heading off to Jean-Marc’s. This time, rather than driving with Jean-Marc, I taled him as he wove in and out of traffic on the way to beautiful St. Emilion. I wanted some time to walk around the medieval village after we finished at Ausone and Jean-Marc had a lot of work to do back at the office. Fortunately, I managed to stick close enough to avoid getting lost in the sea of traffic heading over the bridge to Libourne. We arrived at Larmande for a 10 a.m. tasting.
A lovely young woman greeted us when we arrived and escorted us back to a large stone-finished tasting area overlooking the chais. The room had an almost American recreated antique feel to it. In the center of the room, an enormous, rustic, dark oak table that could have seated thirty people showcased twenty-seven mostly-familiar cru classé wines from St. Emilion. The wines were arranged perfectly such that they ran down the length of the table. We could have had a grand party that morning – but instead, it was just Jean-Marc and me for two straight hours of teeth-staining tasting.
We started at either end of the table and worked our way towards the center. We sampled quietly, except for the occasional laugh or sigh either of us might make to signal that there was something of interest at our end. The wines were hard -- hard on your teeth – hard on the palate – just plain hard to taste. For me, they were rough work compared to what I had become used to in the Medoc and yesterday in Pomerol. At the same time, it’s fair to say that there was great depth of fruit in most of them. Today, I am still left wondering if the hardness of many of these wines will ever produce anything charming. It caused me to wonder aloud if the vintage was as kind to these wines as it had been elsewhere.
As we each crossed into territory the other had already passed, we began to trade notes on the wines – and, Jean-Marc quizzed me to see what I liked, what I didn’t like, and why. For the most part, there was consensus between us. We both very much enjoyed Berliquet, for example. A surprise for me was the relative disappointment of Canon la Gaffeliere, which I would have expected might have more easily outperformed most of the others. It was soft and round. But that seemed to come at the expense of the energy and interest on the palate. I was also less impressed with several other wines Parker seemed to like much more than me, all to varying degrees seemed to lack freshness and energy: Grand Pontet, Couspade, Grand-Murailles, and Fonplegade. Those preferring a super-ripe style that’s oaky-aromatic rather than fresh fruity aromatic might like these much more than me. I would take Berliquet, la Serre, and la Prieure to any of them, personally – but it’s just a style preference rather than some statement of qualitative superiority of my favorites.
We left Larmande and wove along the narrow, stone-fenced roadway that took us through St. Emilion and over to Trotte Vieille. There, we continued with another line-up featuring several of the 1er cru classé wines of St. Emilion. As a general rule, there was more refinement with these wines as well as rounder tannins. Canon had a wonderful floral top note and it was lush in the mouth without giving up any freshness. La Gaffeliere was richer still more fantastic energy in the mouth. I was both impressed and surprised by Trotte Vieille – it showed off some green coffee and crunchy black cherry fruit. Belair seemed to have a hard time keeping up with Beausejour Duffau, which we had for a second time. It stole the show, outperforming even Angelus, which was, to me, a bit woody with some alcohol drying out the finish a bit – detracting from what was otherwise an impressive, toasty entry and mid-palate. But, Angelus has never been a personal favorite…
After the tasting we were offered some old-vine samples from Trotte Vieille, along with their 2004 and a few Pomerols. The old-vine samples were impressive, with powerful concentration.
Our last visit was one I had been looking forward to all week. Jean-Marc and I made our way through the medieval village of St. Emilion, up a steep hill to Chateau Ausone, perched on the edge of the village. Alain Vauthier greeted us at our cars and walked us over to his cluttered office, past several cases of Gracia stacked next to the stairway. The chaos of Alain’s office immediately made me feel right at home. Newspapers and magazines were strewn across his large desk intermingled with invoices, personal notes, and promotional material. It was heaven for the organizationally challenged. Alain was very relaxed and gracious – he seemed very pleased to have us as guests.
We tasted several of Msr. Vauthier’s wines, including Ausone, Chapelle de Ausone, favorite Moulin St. Georges, and beautifully aromatic Fonbel. Moulin St. Georges and Fonbel showed comparatively lean – angular even – with some elevated acidity approaching tartness. The Chapelle de Ausone and Ausone (especially) were totally different. The latter reminded me loosely of Leoville Barton – there is an intensely deep concentration here, with layer upon layer of fruit wrapped in a great structure that will probably take years to unfold. I was very impressed by the wine and wondered aloud how it compared to the 2003. Alain called out to an assistant who quickly came back with an unopened bottle.
Alain opened the 2003 for us to try with the 2005. He grabbed a glass for himself and joined us. A common thread connects the two wines – but oh the 2003 – it wears the exoticism of the vintage so well, showing something like crème de framboise and fresh flowers. The fruit is amazingly deep, layered, and yet so very fresh. The finish is endless. The 2003 will always be the adventurous one, with 2005 the smart and serious sister.
As I sat and studied the two wines before me, Jean-Marc and Alain chatted endlessly about the new vintage at Ausone. A friend of Alain’s joined us and took advantage of an opportunity to share his new Lalande de Pomerol with Jean-Marc. It was angular and very, very hard. Jean-Marc admonished the young winemaker – letting him know that he needed to manage his tannins better if he expected to make exceptional wine. It made for an unusual and interesting but not uncomfortable situation. Jean-Marc was quite clearly used to giving pointed criticism and the young winemaker soaked it up respectfully.
As we wrapped up, Alain kindly posed for a few photos with us. We drove down the hill to a bar below to have a quick sandwich. This offered some interesting insight into my host and new friend Jean-Marc Quarin. He quizzed the young, attractive waitress endlessly about the various cheeses and hams available for our simple sandwich. The exchange became a clever game between the two – where, indirectly, Jean-Marc chastised her for not being au currant in her trade. We made an order and discussed the wines of the day. I thought to myself how lucky Jean-Marc was to have three types of ham to choose from. Jean-Marc was frustrated that his favorite cheese appellations were not available. I looked forward to sharing processed cheddar, swiss, and american with him at the local hamburger joint…
Jean-Marc headed back to his office and I spent a few minutes strolling around the village. I took some pleasure in watching merchants in countless wine shops cajole tourists from all corners of the globe into laying out great sums of money for often-poorly priced bottles of wine. There’s something odd about watching a newlywed couple from Asia hunting through a copy of Parker’s Bordeaux, searching for scores, while a merchant sings the praises of some greatly overpriced wine in English, their shared linguistic connection. After I had seen enough, I jumped into the car and took a dangerously sleepy drive back to the hotel for a desperately needed nap.
To cap this memorable day off, Jean-Marc and I tasted through many of the classed wines of St. Julien, Pauillac, and a few more Medocs. We spent a great deal of time comparing and contrasting the Haut Medocs La Tour Carnet and La Lagune – two stylistically different wines that are both arguably on par with each other qualitatively. The La Tour Carnet is ripe, round, and toasty – some might say comparatively simple when compared to the more energetic, leaner but aromatically more interesting La Lagune. To me, the former represents the new and modern. The latter is tradition – and, tradition did very well in such a classic vintage. Fans of either style will be very happy with what their choices.
From the classed wines of St. Julien and Pauillac one overriding observation was easy to make by even a relative novice like me – the wines are terrific. A third opportunity to taste St. Pierre and Gloria confirmed these wines did very well in 2005. Lagrange was singularly impressive and a standout even in the context of some of the finer wines of the week. Pichon Baron was a surprising disappointment – at least this sample was – being lighter and less powerful than one might imagine – much like neighbors Pichon Lalande and even to a lesser degree my sample of Latour. Clerc showed well again, but arguably less so than at Mouton earlier in the week. Unfortunately absent were Branaire, Pontet Canet, and Grand Puy Lacoste.
Catherine prepared another wonderful late night meal, then, it was back to Marojailla. Saturday’s agenda included a visit to Nairac to taste the 2005 Sauternes and Barsacs and enjoy lunch with Nicolas Tari-Heeter and family. Another great day in Bordeaux came to an end.
Thanks again for reading -- I hope some of this was of interest...