Better Late than Never: 2015 Bordeaux Fete in San Francisco

It has been a busy year!  We are so far behind in our blog, but have every intention of making up for lost time.

To start, here’s the recap we have to add from last January’s (gasp!) Annual Bordeaux Fete.  We need to get this down for the record before next year rolls around in a few short months!

Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut
Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut.

I was very happy to be able to go this year, as I missed last year.  This year, Christina and I attended the one put on by K & L Wine Merchants and the participating Chateaux in San Francisco, since we had just moved to the Bay area. The Bordeaux Fete was at One Market Restaurant and we tasted the new 2012 releases from:

Ch. Langoa Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Leoville Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe

Ch. Lynch Bages, Pauillac

Petit Figeac, St. Emilion

Ch. Figeac, St. Emilion

The 2012’s while not in the same league (or price) as the 2009’s or 2010’s, they are good in their own right.  The 2012’s are medium bodied with good fruit/acid/structure and will be good to drink while you are waiting for your 2010’s to mature in your cellar.  These wines will be a pleasure to drink in the near-mid term, particularly with food.

This is always a fun event to taste the new wines and talk with the Chateaux proprietors that we have gotten to know over the years.  This year in addition to Jean-Charles Cazes from Ch. Lynch Bages and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton, the event included Chateau Figeac, with proprietor Hortense Odoine Manoncourt.  We had spent some time with Hortense at Chateau Figeac on our trip to Bordeaux and it was great to see her again.

The tasting format in San Francisco is a little different than what they do in Seattle.  In San Francisco, they set up three tables with all of the new release wines being poured by the proprietors and you get to taste them over an hour time period.  After tasting the new releases, we were given a glass of non-vintage Thienot Brut Champagne as we made our way to the dinner tables.  Once at the dinner tables, the older wines were poured to enjoy with the food courses.  Here are the other wines that we tasted with the meal:

 2013 Blanc de Lynch Bages – Tangerine, lemon mineral nose.  Very nice bright clean lemony white fruit, with a little stone mixed in.  Lively acidity, smooth mouth feel, medium-light body.  Nice long lemony energetic fruit finish.  This is a very nice white Bordeaux wine that is only produced in smaller quantities, so it may not be easy to find, but is worth the effort.  I will have to track some down for the cellar.  93 pts.

2009 Figeac – Ripe black/red berry fruit nose.  This wine is lush with sweet black/red fruit, some spice and a little forest floor.  There is good acidity to the wine, medium-full bodied with lots of very fine ripe tannins (iron fist in velvet glove).  It is nice to taste a right bank right wine if a field of left banks, just for comparison.  This is a very nice wine from a great vintage.  93 pts.

2005 Langoa Barton – Subtle nose of red / black fruit.  In the mouth crunchy dark red and black berries, hints of forest floor and tobacco, with bright acidity.  Nice medium – long dark fruit finish.  91 pts.

2005 Lynch Bages – This wine has a suave nose of spicy dark cherry fruit.  In the mouth, the rich sweet dark black/red cherry fruit combines with baking spices and just a hint of leather.  The wine has very nice acidity and very fine ripe tannins.  The wine has great balance to it and a very long sweet spicy dark fruit finish.  This wine is still very young, but is just starting to show what it has in store for a very long future.  The 2005 Lynch Bages can be enjoyed now with air time, but will reward further cellaring.  It wine will gain even more complexity as it is still on the uphill climb to maturity.  Drink now or over the next three decades.  95+ pts.

2003 Figeac – Very ripe red and black fruit nose.  In the mouth, very ripe dark red bing cherry and black berries, decent acidity, with a very tannic fine grained structure.  Medium – long very ripe dark fruit finish.  Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to lose some of it’s acidity that supported the very ripe fruit.  I would drink the 2003 sooner rather than later, over the next 10 years or so.  91 pts.

1995 Lynch Bages – Rich dark cherry fruit nose.  In the mouth, plush sweet dark red / black fruit combine with forest floor and baking spices.  This wine has good acidity, soft mostly resolved tannins and a long beautiful dark spicy fruit finish.  The wine is drinking really well now and will continue to do so over the next 10-15 years.  If you have some of the ’95 in the cellar, open one now and enjoy it.  94+ pts.

1999 Leoville Barton – Black cherry fruit and spice nose.  In the mouth, very concentrated dark black cherries, spices and a little forest floor.  Nice acidity, with some very fine grained ripe tannins still present.  The wine has a very nice sense of balance, with a very long dark sweet black fruit finish.  This wine is drinking really well right now, but I think it will continue to improve. 94+ pts.

2004 Suduiraut – Orangey-yellow in color, nose of very ripe fruit and butterscotch.  In the mouth, again very ripe tropical fruit, over ripe melon, honey and butterscotch.  This wine is too ripe for my taste, it doesn’t have the acid to back up the sweetness, so it comes across as heavy.  Medium length very sweet finish.  82 pts.

It just so happened that the same day as the dinner, the Seattle Seahawks made the finals for the SuperBowl.  Since Seattle was the next stop on the tour for our winemaker friends, we zipped into the city early to buy them a little something so they could show their support at their next dinner.

Jean-Charles Cazes of Cht. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-
Jean-Charles Cazes of Ch. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton. They were very good sports about showing their Seahawks support!

Too bad the Seahawks didn’t pull through this year – but perhaps those hats will come in handy again next year! It will certainly be here before we know it…

Double-Blind Tasting – Bordeaux from 1990 and Prior

Just when you thought we were done posting about Bordeaux for a while, I thought I’d throw in a review from a couple months back when my wine group did a double-blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from 1990 and prior.  My wine group of eight guys has been meeting monthly for about nine years now.  The host picks the wine theme and most of our tastings are double-blind.  This time, our wonderful host, Bill Schallert, invited the wives to join the group, so my wife, Christina, was happy to come and taste some swill.  Since we had just returned a month prior from our two week trip to Bordeaux, we absolutely loved the idea of being able to taste some more mature Bordeaux wines, as most of the wines you get to taste at the Chateaux are on the younger side.

I have always really liked tasting blind, or better yet, double-blind.  For those that don’t know the difference between blind and double-blind:  a blind tasting is when you know the wines that are being served, but you do not know the order.  A double-blind tasting is when you don’t know what wines are being served, but they may meet a category (Bordeaux 1990 and prior), and you also don’t know the order.  I like blind tastings because I consider myself a perpetual student of wine, and I don’t want my opinion to be potentially swayed by any labels.

See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.
See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.    A good night!

Here are the wines and the order that we tasted them in:


2003 Chateau Raveneau – Monts Mains, Chablis – Nice melon fruit a little sea breeze and oyster shell minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe melon, white peach and a little spice, with  limestone and oyster shells.  Good acidity for a 2003 Chablis, that keeps everything lively on the medium-long spicy white fruit and ocean air finish.  Raveneau makes some absolutely wonderful Chablis, even in a hot year like 2003.  This was a great way to start. (93 pts.)

This is always an excellent white producer.
This is such an excellent producer of Chablis.

Flight #1

1989 Chateau Pichon Lalande, St. Julien – Classic stinky feet Bordeaux nose with a little bit of Band-Aid jumps from the glass, sweet dark berry fruit, dry leaves, forest floor and baking spices.  Medium-full bodied, with good acidity, resolved tannins and a nice long dark fruit finish.  This is a classic mature Bordeaux, that is drinking very well right now.  The ’89 Pichon Lalande is on a faster track and drinking more mature than most of the other 89’s that I have had.  I would venture to say that it will not last nearly as long either.  While a lot of the 89’s will continue to improve through 2020, I will probably finish off my ’89 Pichon Lalande before 2020.  I don’t see it getting any better than where it is at present. (94 pts.)

1990 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux – Darker berry nose with a little Band-Aid again.  In the mouth, darker small berry fruit, black currants, slight bit of spice, decent acidity and surprisingly assertive tannins.  Medium-full bodied and a long dark tannic fruit finish, that doesn’t have the sweetness of fruit the first wine had.  This is a big and dark wine, but it doesn’t give you the pleasure in the finish. (89 pts.)

1981 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien – Dark earthy red/black berry fruit nose, with just a hint of green bell pepper, but not in a bad way.  In the mouth, deep dark red bing cherry and earthy blackberry fruit, baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and still fairly tannic.  Full bodied and a long sweet dark tannic fruit finish.  This is a big wine that is surprisingly youthful and still drinking young.  I could not believe that it was from the ’81 vintage when it was revealed, it tasted more like a ’96.  (93 pts.)

Flight #2

1982 Chateau Palmer, Margaux -Very nice spicy dark fruit and dark chocolate nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, small ripe dark bing cherries and blackberries, lots of baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and resolved sweet tannins.  Full bodied, sweet/spicy dark red/black fruit just singing on the very long fruit filled finish.  This wine is drinking very well today and even beat the ’83 Palmer that I had about a year ago.  I don’t see this wine getting any better than it is today, so no reason to wait, but no hurry either if well stored.  (96 pts.)

1989 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very dark cherry fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, ripe black bing cherries and very dark bittersweet chocolate, good acidity and with just the slightest hint of baking spices.  Full bodied and a nice long very dark chocolate fruit filled very tannic finish.  This wine was very tannic and seemed a little closed in on its self, it just was not singing.  You could see the huge potential, but it was begging for another decade in the cellar to really show its stuff.  I know the person who brought the wine bought it on release and it has been well-stored since, so maybe it just needed a lot more air and/or more years in the cellar.  (95 pts.) now with upside.

After tasting the 1989 Angelus, I mentioned to my wife “This wine tastes like a wine we just had in Bordeaux,” it just seemed so distinct.  The others at the table heard me mention this to Christina, so they asked me what I thought the wine was.  I said I didn’t know the vintage, but the characteristics of the wine reminded me of the ’05 and ’06 Chateau Angelus we had a month ago.  I was shocked to see it was an ’89 Angelus, but glad to see that my flavor memory recall was working.  I guess I learned something on that trip (and practice makes perfect, right??).  The ’05 and ’06 Angelus wines were some of the highlights of our wonderful trip.

1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark cherry and bitter chocolate nose.  Smooth in the mouth, with dark black cherries, bitter sweet chocolate and some spice.  Good acidity and still very tannic on the long dark fruit finish.  This wine must have been resting in a very cold, dark cellar and is in need of another 5+ years to show what it has to offer.  A very nice wine, but will not give up what it has right now.  (93 pts.) with upside.

1983 Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emilion – Dark cherry fruit and spice with some dark chocolate on the nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, beautiful ripe dark bing cherries, lots of baking spices and a little forest floor adds to the wonderful complexity.  Fully resolved tannins, medium-full bodied and an absolutely beautiful long sweet dark spicy fruit finish.  This is my first time having wine from this producer and they knocked it out of the park with the ’83.  This is a gorgeous wine today, so if you own it, open a bottle.  You won’t be disappointed.  (96 pts.)

2005 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes – Sweet pineapple, some melon and honey on the nose.  Very sweet pineapple in the mouth, with some spiced honey and decent acidity.  The very sweet finish is long but the honey aspect is just a little too cloyingly sweet for my taste.  It is a nice, well-made wine, but I would prefer a little more acidity to counter the sweetness.  (92 pts.)

All in all, it was a very nice evening with a great group of guys (and girls).  Wouldn’t mind repeating it again soon…!

Day Seven, Second Stop: Lunch at Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

We were looking forward to visiting Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, because a friend of ours, Nicolas Glumineau, is the new General Manager and Winemaker.  We have gotten to know Nicolas over a six-year period from a Bordeaux dinner that is held every year in Seattle, where he represented Chateau Montrose.  In late 2012, Nicolas left Chateau Montrose, where he was Technical Director, to run Pichon Lalande.  Clearly, it is a great opportunity for him – but not without its challenges.

Nicolas Glumineau and Christina Watt at Chateau Pichon Lalande.
Nicolas Glumineau and Christina Watt at Chateau Pichon Lalande.

Upon arrival, we were surprised to see just how much work they had done on the construction project.  They were in the process of building an entirely new state-of-the-art vat room, barrel room and winemaking facility, and harvest was looming large, just as they were putting the finishing touches on things.  In fact, we had planned our trip thinking that we would be touring during harvest, but it was turning out to be a very late season this year.

The impressive new vat room.
The impressive new vat room.
The work in progress, with harvest coming any minute...
The work in progress, with harvest coming any minute…

We had to laugh as Nicolas toured us around, when we marveled at his luck with the timing of the harvest, he simply replied, “it was in the contract!”  The new vat room is an impressive site – in fact, I found it to be easily on par with Cos d’Estournel, which everyone throughout the region raved about as being a technical marvel.  It was clear that Pichon Lalande had decided to reinvest a huge amount of money into their winemaking facility, to join the ranks of the elite few Chateaux in Bordeaux that combine the world’s best technology, with the traditional wine making practices and expertise.   The build-out has been estimated at roughly $21 million –  I cannot wait to taste the future wines that will be made at Pichon Lalande.

As we walked through the construction site, we stood in a gallery off to the side of the vat room that overlooked not only the vineyards below, but looked down on Chateau Latour.  Not a bad view for the planned events that will take place in the space in the future.

An upstairs view of the vat room.  We failed to get pictures of the view out the windows from here, but it was impressive.
An upstairs view of the vat room. We failed to get pictures of the view out the windows from here, but it was impressive.

Nicolas was a very charming host, and we couldn’t have appreciated the time he spent with us any more if we tried.  In the midst of what was clearly a very busy time for him, he took the time to welcome us with a wonderful lunch, spirited conversation about the region and some really spectacular wines.

For lunch we enjoyed:

2010 Pichon Lalande – Dark blackberry fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, deep dark velvety blackberry fruit fills every millimeter of your mouth.  The wine has excellent acidity and very fine tannins that lead to a beautifully long sweet dark fruit finish that doesn’t want to end.  All I can say is, wow!  This wine has so much going on, I cannot wait to see how it evolves over the decades to come.  In ten years, once the secondary characteristics start to show, the complexity of this wine is going to be a really show-stopper.  Pichon Lalande has knocked it out of the park with their 2010 Grand Vin and I have no doubt that it will still be drinking well 40-50 years from now.  This is definitely a wine to look for.

2003 Pichon Lalande – A warm, dark fruit nose.  In the mouth, it tastes like a warm deep dark blackberry fruit pie, with just a hint of alcohol.  Decent acidity and mostly resolved fine tannins are making this wine drink well now, with a nice long dark fruit finish.  This wine will not age like the 2010, but it is a pleasure to drink now and over the next decade or so.

1996 Pichon Lalande – This is a deep dark red color with a garnet rim.  The nose of spicy red and black fruit just soars from the glass, you could smell it just sitting on the table in front of you.  In the mouth, the sweet red and black fruit flavors are very complex with baking spices, tobacco, cedar and a slight green pepper note.  The wine has very good acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth, but at the same time is very smooth.  The very fine tannins are mostly resolved and the wine has a very long complex spicy/sweet dark fruit finish.  The 1996 is an absolutely beautiful wine today and will continue to age gracefully for the next two decades.  As stunning as the 1996 Pichon Lalande is though, I think it will be ultimately surpassed by the 2010.  If I had to describe the wines of Pichon Lalande with one word, it would be elegance.

Pichon Lalande at night.
Pichon Lalande at night.

Time flew by at lunch – before we knew it, it was time to head out the door to Chateau Palmer.  The food, wine and company was so good, we were loathe to leave, though we knew that the show was far from over for Nicolas, who still had much more work to do!  We know that Nicolas will do great things at Pichon Lalande and we hope to come back to visit him again soon.

Day Seven, First Stop: Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron in Pauillac was our first stop this morning and very highly anticipated. We had driven by the estate a few times at this point, and it is by far one of the most spectacular Chateaux in the region.  We even stopped on the way back to our hotel one night after dinner to take pictures.

Chateau Pichon Baron by night.
Chateau Pichon Baron by night.
The captivating chateau.
The captivating Chateau Pichon Baron.

Pichon Baron was one of a small group of Bordeaux wines that is responsible for making me fall in love with the wines of Bordeaux.  Pichon Baron has been one of my long time favorites from Bordeaux, starting with their 1988 vintage.  Both the 1989 and 1990 wines from Pichon Baron are drinking very well at this point, with the 1989 even still being a little young in my opinion.  The wines from Pichon Baron are big, powerful Cabernet-dominant wines with big meaty fruit flavors.  The wines of Pichon Baron are not known for being feminine or delicate, but with age you will get a lot of delicate secondary flavors to go with the big masculine fruit.  I have always loved the wines of Pichon Baron and it is not by chance that we have more Pichon Baron in the cellar than any other producer in Bordeaux.

The barrel room sits beneath this structure - and the water!
The barrel room sits beneath this structure – and the water!

Our guide explained to us that Pichon Baron was once part of a larger estate, owned by Pierre de Rauzan, along with Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, the estate directly across the street. In 1850 the estate was divided into the two current Pichon estates. In 1987 the estate was purchased by French insurance company AXA. The property is currently managed by Englishman Christian Seely.

The vat room.
The vat room.

When we were in the barrel room, we saw something we had only heard about but hadn’t seen yet.  There were workers that were fining the wine in the barrels, which consists of adding egg whites in order to facilitate the removal of particles of matter from the wine.  We also saw they were cleaning empty barrels to prepare them for wine by burning sulfur in them – not a smell you want to spend a whole lot of time around, we assure you.

Bob and Christina Watt in the barrel room.
Bob and Christina Watt in the barrel room.
The laborious process of fining the wines.
The laborious process of fining the wines.
Can you see the sulfur haze?
Can you see the sulfur haze?
The wax and seal.
The wax and seal. Would’ve made a nice souvenir…

Here are the wines we tried in their tasting room:

2008 Pibran – Fruity nose, red and black fruit in the mouth, decent acid, medium-light in body and medium fruit finish.  A nice inexpensive Bordeaux red wine.

2008 Les Tourelles de Longueville – Nice nose of sweet dark fruit, well rounded in the mouth with dark red bing cherries, good acidity, nice medium-fine tannin and a medium-long dark fruit finish.  This is a very nice second wine that is drinking well now but will age very well over the next decade.

2008 Pichon Baron – Beautiful spicy sweet dark fruit nose.  In the mouth, very dark sweet blackberries with a hint of dark bing cherries combined with baking spices, very good acidity keeping everything lively.  Full bodied and lots of sweet fine tannins leading to a very nice black current and spicy blackberry long finish.  This is an absolutely beautiful wine that is starting to show some nice complexity, but is still a baby.  The 2008 Pichon Baron should start drinking well in another five years, but will age for two decades without even trying.  The prices for both the 2009 and 2010 Pichon Baron are significantly higher than the 2008 and for good reason, but the 2008 is a relative bargain by comparison of quality/price.  The 2008 Pichon Baron is a wine to look out for and I am very glad that I have it resting in my cellar.

Another view.
Another view.
And another.
And another.

It was a beautiful day, and we snapped a few more photos outside, before heading just across the street for a tour and lunch at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande…

The Morning of Day Three: Chateau Lynch Bages

We kicked off the weekend by checking out of our hotel to head into the city of Bordeaux.  But first, we headed to Chateau Lynch Bages to take a tour and participate in a blending session.

One of the very first Bordeaux wines that I ever had was a 1985 vintage of Chateau Lynch Bages from Pauillac.  I don’t remember the specifics of having that particular wine 22 years ago, but I became hooked on Bordeaux and Lynch Bages from that point on.  I have been a long time fan of Lynch Bages and have really enjoyed getting to know Jean-Charles Cazes over the last six years.  Chateau Lynch Bages makes big muscular cabernet dominant wines that become elegant with age and are classic Pauillac in style.

The stainless vats.
The stainless steel vats.
A barrel room.
The barrel room.

The wine style of the Chateau may be very traditional, but it uses state of the art technology (stainless steel vats, optical sorting) to help produce their wines, which is a real asset to ensure consistency.  Chateau Lynch Bages is one of the few Chateaux in Bordeaux to have their own bottling machines, as most rent bottling trucks – talk about a crazy business during the crush!

Lynch Bages is one of a few Chateau that has its own bottling equipment.
Lynch Bages is one of a few Chateau that has its own bottling equipment.

We also saw where they are producing their whites – the Blanc de Lynch Bages that we had enjoyed at a previous Bordeaux Fete wine dinner in Seattle.  It’s a wonderful wine – crisp, floral, bright fruit with juicy acidity and minerality – we bought a bottle on our way out of the Chateau – and happily drank it a few days later, wishing we could get more at home.

The tanks for the Blanc de Lynch Bages.
The tanks for the Blanc de Lynch Bages.

The Chateau also houses a small wine museum, where they keep old winemaking equipment as a nod to the not-so-far-off techniques of their winemaking past.  They joked that in a pinch, they could also roll out this equipment to help with a harvest should technology ever fail them!  The more rustic equipment was juxtaposed with very contemporary art, combining to make it a hip and cool viewing experience.

The old wooden vats.
The old wooden vats.
The wine making and art museum.
The wine making and art museum.  They say no one has fallen through the floor yet!

While we were at Chateau Lynch Bages, we had the opportunity to take part in a blending session.  We were given four wines of a single grape varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot, all from the 2008 vintage and without any oak influence. These were the component parts of the 2008 Chateau Lynch Bages, and it was really interesting to taste them in their “raw” state, pre-blending.  Each varietal brings it’s own flavor profile and characteristics, from the mellow Merlot to the more wild Cab Franc.

The blending session.
The blending session.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – Deep red/black sweet dark cherry fruit, dry and very tannic.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Darker black fruit, wild, brambley, slightly sour and more acidic, very tannic.

2008 Merlot – Sweeter red fruit, rounded in the mouth, tannic but not dry.

2008 Petite Verdot – Darkest of the four, wild blackberry and spice, hint of tobacco, powerful, very dry and very tannic.

The four varietals - and the finished product!
The four varietals – and the finished product!

At the end of the blending session, we were given a taste of the 2008 Lynch Bages – the blend was made up of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petite Verdot, with aging in 75% new French oak barrels. The blend was so much better than any of the individual parts – and it gives you a real appreciation for the subtleties the winemakers are working with.  Here’s my review of that wine:

2008 Chateau Lynch Bages – Sweet dark blackberries, with a little bit of red pie cherries, rich spicy fruit flavors that were slightly dry and very tannic on the medium-long finish.  This is a very nice wine, but it’s still just a baby.

A few of us were then given the opportunity to try our own blends.  I decided to reduce the Cabernet Sauvignon, and pump up the Cabernet Franc, so I made a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot.  The results were a very dark wine of sweet black berries that were spicy, rounder in the mouth and with a smoother tannic finish.  Who knows how my wine would’ve aged, but you could definitely taste the difference a few small percentages in one direction or another makes – it’s certainly fun to experiment!

Next up, exploring Bordeaux city…