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:

Pre-Flight

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 Eight, Second Stop: The Esteemed Chateau d’Yquem

My wife first fell in love with Chateau d’Yquem at the Poncho Wine Auction in Seattle at least a decade ago.  The auction had set it up so that every time someone won the bidding on a live auction item, you would also get a glass of 1983 Chateau d’Yquem from a six liter bottle.  Some friends of ours at the auction “won” a lot of auction items, so they had a lot of Yquem flowing their direction. We were pleased to be the lucky recipients of  their “spare” glasses.  It was at this moment that Christina had her first wine epiphany about Sauternes and Chateau d’Yquem in particular.

You see, this was Christina’s first time tasting any Sauternes, much less Yquem.  After tasting the ’83 Yquem and not knowing how expensive it is, she told me that THIS was her favorite new wine.  I smiled and said, “Great, now your wine habit is more expensive than mine.”  We had a good laugh and I remember that moment every time we drink Chateau d’Yquem, which of course, is never often enough.

Christina Watt at Chateau d'Yquem.  Pilgramage complete.
Christina Watt at Chateau d’Yquem. Pilgramage complete.

The Chateau d’Yquem estate is quite impressive – here’s some quick history.  Back in the middle ages, Chateau d’Yquem was owned by the King of England, who was also the Duke of Aquitaine at the time.  In 1453, the southwest of France was again brought under control of the French crown by Charles VII.  In 1593 a local noble family of Jacques Sauvage was given the feudal rights over d’Yquem.  History showed that special winegrowing practices and late harvesting already existed at this time.  A few years later, the Sauvage family built the present Chateau and purchased more land around it make the current d’Yquem property known today.  In 1711, under the reign of Louis XIV, Leon de Sauvage d’Yquem, which had nobility status, was granted full ownership of Chateau d’Yquem.  In 1785, Leon de Sauvage d’Yquem’s great-granddaughter, Francoise Josephine married Count Louis Amedee de Lur Saluces.

Three years later the Count was killed in a horse riding accident and Francoise Josephine took over the management of the property.  The family maintained ownership of the d’Yquem property, until 1996, when the famous luxury goods company LVMH, purchased half of the property.  Unfortunately, the relationship between the family and LVMH was not a good one.  After multiple lawsuits, LVMH purchased the remaining half of Chateau d’Yquem in 2004.  LVMH then arranged for Pierre Lurton, who was already managing their other property, Cheval Blanc in St. Emilion to take over management of Chateau d’Yquem.

Another view.  The Chateau has a very Medieval feel to it.
Another view. The Chateau has a very Medieval feel to it.
The enormous turrets.
The turrets.

Chateau d’Yquem is located on top of a hill and is the highest point of elevation within the Sauternes region, which gives it a unique micro climate.  The vineyards of Yquem are planted with 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  We joined a group meeting under the shade of a tree on a small hill overlooking the vineyards to begin our tour.  It was a hot day, and we were all grateful for that bit of shade!

Overlooking the vineyards of Chateau d'Yquem.
Overlooking the vineyards of Chateau d’Yquem.
The cellars - dark, but an impressive sight.
The cellars – dark, but an impressive sight.

It was fascinating to learn that the same people generally harvest the grapes for Yquem year over year.  While this is not necessarily unusual for wine estates, what was unusual was that the same people generally pick the same few rows each year, so that they get to know their vines very intimately.  Given that they pick multiple times in a season – up to 13 times to harvest the individual grapes at their optimal ripeness – you can see how having the same people picking would be a great advantage.  You can also see how heartbreaking it would be for those workers when a year turns out to be disappointing with the weather, especially because Yquem is one of the few Chateau that will simply not declare and release wine in what they feel is a truly bad vintage.  The years that Yquem has not declared a vintage are: 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, 1992 and 2012.  They say it happens about once a decade, and it is a true testament to the level of quality they expect from their esteemed estate.  (It also explains the pricing and comparison to liquid gold.)

Heading out of the cellar to the tasting. Interesting architecture.
Heading out of the cellar to the tasting. Interesting architecture.

To that end, it was pretty funny to watch the group tasting the Yquem after the tour.  The tour guide mistakenly left an open bottle on the counter with about a quarter of a bottle left.  One of the gentlemen quickly spirited it away and gave himself a VERY healthy second pour, even tilting the bottle to his mouth and licking the last drops off the lip of the bottle.  I admit, we grimaced, but he seemed perfectly okay with his decision.  The guide caught the faux pas a little late, but quickly grabbed the other open bottle and very firmly replaced the cork before others had the same idea.

Part of our group in the tasting room.
Part of our group hanging out in the tasting room.

It is widely known that there is Sauternes, “and then there is Yquem.”  If it is a good year or  just an okay year, there is a noticeable difference between Ch. d’Yquem and everyone else in Sauternes, but it is more noticeable in the off years.  I have not found this to be the case in the other regions of Bordeaux or anywhere else in the winemaking world.   I do have to say though, that starting with the 2001 vintage, there are some unbelievably well made Sauternes out there now.  The competition is catching up to Yquem, but Ch. d’Yquem truly is still the King of Sauternes.

We tried the 2007 vintage that day, which was drinking pretty well, though it wasn’t knock-your-socks off good – even Christina with her deep affinity for Yquem quickly realized it was missing a little of the sparkle present in most of their wines.  Here’s my review:

2007 Chateau d’Yquem – Bright pineapple, spicy honey, dried apricot, good acidity, slightly cloyingly sweet.  Very good length in the mouth, sweet and spicy on a very long finish.  This is an excellent Sauternes, but only okay for d’Yquem.

Next up, the delightful Chateau Guiraud…

The Cool Cars of Bordeaux

Authored by Christina Watt

As we drove along in the “mystery beast” throughout Bordeaux (more on that in a minute), Bob couldn’t help but notice a couple of spectacular cars that we had to stop and admire.  His dad used to race cars like these when he was growing up, so he can never resist taking a good look.  I suspect you’ll admire them too.

In the village of Bages:

In the village of Bages, a perfect
A mint condition Triumph roadster.
Another view.
Another view.

In the town of St. Emillion:

A beautiful
A beautiful vintage Porsche.
A closer look.
A closer look.
Just gorgeous.
Just gorgeous.

At Les Sources de Caudalie:

A nice Maybach.  Wish the photo showed you the interior - believe me, it wouldn't suck to tour in this ride.
A nice Maybach. Wish the photo showed you the interior – believe me, it wouldn’t suck to tour in this ride.

Even these guys made us smile in Sauternes:

A fun little fleet.
A fun little fleet at Chateau Suduiraut.

But what didn’t make us smile?  Our rental car.  We had reserved a Mercedes, since we figured we’d be spending a lot of time in the car (and an automatic, so I could also drive it if need be), but missed the fine, fine print (Mercedes “or like model”). When we arrived, of course, there was no Mercedes to be found at Europecar, and more disturbingly, no automatics either.  (Yup, I’m mentioning them by name.)  Instead, we got the closest possible thing they could find for us.  A manual BMW, which in theory, would have been just fine.  IF it hadn’t been missing the emblems on both the front AND the back of the car, and had been an automatic.

The mystery beast.
The mystery beast.

Yup, you have to be pretty cool to drive the mystery beast – they don’t let just anyone behind the wheel of this baby…!

Day Eight: The Sweet Town of Sauternes and our Favorite Lunch at Les Sapien

The town of Sauternes is a charming little town right in the middle of the vineyards of Sauternes.  Before lunch, we walked through the town, looking at the various buildings and shops.

Christina Watt in the town of Sauternes.
Christina Watt in the town of Sauternes.
Bob Watt in Sauternes.
Bob Watt in Sauternes.
Sleepy and quaint.
Sleepy and quaint.

We came across a cute wine shop that was doing a tasting of Chateau Lamothe Sauternes.

The super cute wine shop.
The super cute wine shop.

Miriam, the delightful woman running the store, happily shared these wines with us:

Miriam was very gracious.
Miriam was very gracious.

2009 Chateau Lamothe – Nice bright nose of peaches and pears.  In the mouth, very fresh peaches, pears and some spice, with good acids and a complex long finish.  The finish of this wine stays in the mouth long after it is gone.  A very nice wine and one to look for.

2005 Chateau Lamothe – Bright nose of white peaches with a little spiciness.  In the mouth, white peach, hint of pineapple and a slight spicy honey note.  Very good acid on the slightly spicy white fruit medium long finish.

2001 Chateau Lamothe – Subtle but very complex nose of peaches, pears, green melon and spicy honey.  In the mouth, very delicate flavors of white peaches, pears, spicy young pineapple and a hint of honey.  Keeps changing in the mouth.  Very good acid and a very long complex finish that won’t quit.  This is a very nice wine and one to look for if you can find it.

2000 Chateau Lamothe – A more mature nose of yellow peaches and some ripe pineapple.  In the mouth, ripe peaches and pineapple combined with a little mango.  Decent acid and a nice long finish of ripe fruit.  The 2000 doesn’t have the energy of the other three vintages, but it is drinking well now.

After the tasting, we wandered across the street to Les Sapien.  Honestly, if we had realized how good this lunch would be, we would have made way more time for it.  We were on time for our reservation, but it was scheduled tightly, with a visit to the fabled Chateau d’Yquem looming large.  What a shame it was, because this lunch was easily one of the best meals we had on our trip.

A partial patio view of the restaurant, Les Sapien.
A partial patio view of the restaurant, Les Sapien.

After the starters, Christina got a pork tenderloin dish that was truly amazing, while I opted for the fish, which was also very well-prepared.  If you know me, you know I’m not a dessert person – while I can tolerate the sugars in wine, I don’t typically do well with the sugar in most desserts.  This dessert, however, was a rare exception.  Blue cheese ice cream.  I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say I can still remember how good it was – and how I had to fend off the occasional wandering spoon from Christina.  We had a very nice dry white wine with our lunch, produced by Chateau Suduiraut called Suduiraut Blanc Sec.

2011 Chateau Suduiraut Blanc Sec – Very bright and crisp, with strong lemony acidity, almost like a Chablis (which I love).  Very nice white fruit and green melon with just a hint of spice from oak.  Nice medium-long clean and refreshing finish.  I have never seen this wine in the states, but I will look to see if I can find it.  It is a great summertime sipper, especially while overlooking the vineyards.

I think this is the only picture we got of the food.  We were in such a hurry, That it wasn't until we were about halfway through that we realized we should have really been recording more of the meal.
I think this is the only picture we got of the food. We were in such a hurry, that it wasn’t until we were about halfway through that we realized we should have really been recording more of the meal!

We had to depart the restaurant all too soon, but we vowed to return again one day – for a leisurely dinner on their spectacular patio.  If you are ever in the area, this is a must-stop restaurant.  Next up – the legendary Chateau d’Yquem!

Day Eight, First Stop: Chateau Suduiraut

Today we visited the region of Sauternes – I think Christina was looking forward to this day of our trip more than any other.  My wife used to like to share an occasional glass of port with me, until she discovered Sauternes.  While Christina still does like a nice port, she absolutely loves Sauternes, hence we don’t have as much port as we used to!

Sauternes at last!
Sauternes at last!

Our first stop was at the venerable Chateau Suduiraut.  The estate was named Chateau Suduiraut in 1580 with the marriage of Nicole d’Allard to Leonard de Suduiraut.  The Chateau was looted and burned down in the Fronde insurrection of the 1640’s and then rebuilt in the late 17th century.  Chateau Suduiraut was classified as a Premier Cru in the 1855 classification.  Chateau Suduiraut was purchased in 1992 by the AXA Millesimes global investment and insurance company group.   AXA Millesimes is headed up by Christian Seely and the company also owns  other properties, such as Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac.

Christina Watt at the beautiful Chateau Suduiraut.
Christina Watt at the beautiful Chateau Suduiraut.
The grounds were very pretty - there was a lunch being set for a special event.
The grounds were very pretty – there was a lunch being set for a special event.
An interior courtyard.
An interior courtyard.

The wines of Sauternes and Barsac (just to the north) are made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, but there are a few Chateau that add a little Muscadelle to some of their wines.  Chateau Suduiraut is a blend of 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  The wines can age for decades and even a 100 years in the great vintages.  What makes the wines of Sauternes and Barsac so special is what they call “noble rot”.  Noble rot is a fungus called Botrytis Cinerea, which is present on the undeveloped fruit after flowering.  If the season is damp, then the Botrytis fungus develops into grey rot, which makes the grapes unusable.  If there are damp mornings followed by hot days, the Botrytis fungus develops into noble rot.  The noble rot shrivels the grapes, by reducing the amount of water in them and concentrating the flesh and sugars.  It is this noble rot that gives the wines of Sauternes and Barsac their great sweetness balanced by wonderful acidity.

Chateau Suduiraut is a beautiful estate of 92 hectares in the middle of the Sauternes region.  Our knowledgable guide, Camille, showed us around the estate.  Chateau Suduiraut uses traditional wine making practices and stainless steel vats for their wines, which are aged for 18-24 months in French oak barrels.  The estate will pick through the vineyard up to 5 times during harvest, to keep pace with the development of Botrytis and ensure the optimal quality of the grapes.  It is this painstaking attention to detail that makes the wines of Chateau Suduiraut so wonderful – and what makes a good sauternes a very special treat.

The progress of the grapes.  From here...
The progress of the grapes. From here…
To here...
To here…
To here, getting ready for harvest with the appearance of noble rot.
To here, getting ready for harvest with the appearance of noble rot.
To here - ready for harvest.
You can easily see why they have to pick in cycles, waiting for the grapes to mature.

The wines that we tasted at the estate were:

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut – This is the second label for Chateau Suduiraut.  Sweet and spicy nose of pineapple and white fruit.  In the mouth, spicy pineapple combine with sweet white peaches and good acidity.  Finishes with a nice long balanced sweet fruit finish.

2006 Chateau Suduiraut – Complex subtle nose of white fruits and a hint of pineapple.  Very creamy and smooth in the mouth, very delicate.  This wine feels lighter in weight in the mouth than the 2nd label does, but is much more complex and very fresh tasting.  The sweet white peaches and pears combine with young pineapple flavors.  The wine has very good acidity and there is a noticeable spiciness from the botrytis on the very long sweet white fruit filled finish.  This is an excellent Suduiraut, and one to look for.

1989 Chateau Suduiraut – Wonderful nose of peaches, ripe pineapple and orange peel.  Smooth in the mouth with yellow peaches, pineapple, spicy honey and good acidity.  Nice long complex spicy fruit filled finish.

A spectacular display of Sauternes.
A spectacular display of Sauternes.
A few fun vintages.
A few fun vintages.

Chateau Suduiraut makes some of the very best wines in Sauternes.  If you are a fan of the wines from the Sauternes and Barsac region or just dessert wines in general, I would highly encourage you to try the wines of Chateau Suduiraut.  These wines are wonderful drunk young after realease, but will develop so much more complexity with age if you can keep your hands off of them.  (The only way I can keep my wife’s hands off of them is to bury them in the cellar!)  I am very happy to have quite a bit of Suduiraut in the cellar – when she figures it out, Christina will be too.

From our at home tasting experience, I can also tell you that the 2001 Suduiraut is absolutely off the charts and will be one of the very best dessert wines that most people have ever had, definitely a wine to hunt for.  2009 is also stellar vintage for Sauternes and Barsac.  If you like dessert wines, this is a vintage to buy by the case.  The 2009’s have sweet fruit, great acidity and they will age a very long time (many decades), but the 2001 Suduiraut will age gracefully longer than anyone who is able to read this blog.  It really is that good…

Speaking of good, we ventured next into the little town of Sauternes, which was truly, just great!

Wouldn't it be fun to drive off in one of these cars from the estate??
Wouldn’t it be fun to drive off in one of these cars from the estate??

Warm Memories of Bordeaux

It may be rainy season in Seattle now, but our heads are still full of warm memories from our recent trip to Bordeaux. The weather was fantastic for most of our trip- sunny and hot, exactly what the growers needed (though the last few weeks have proven more challenging for them, unfortunately!). While the jury is still out on how the 2013 vintage will turn out, our 2013 trip was one for the record books.

Over 12 days, we visited 22 Chateaux, ate numerous meals lasting hours apiece, sampled many promising wines, enjoyed a few beautiful older bottles, and Christina attempted to try every possible preparation of foie gras. Our conclusion – the region of Bordeaux is an absolute gem – with a thriving metropolitan core reminiscent of a mini-Paris, with 10,000 Chateaux and 57 appelations in the surrounding area, we couldn’t stop snapping pictures and marveling over the fact that people live and work amidst this beautiful landscape every day.

We’ll be taking you through a day-by-day overview of the highlights written from our collective perspective. Here are a few quick highlights:

The captivating Pichon Baron.
The captivating Pichon Baron.
Bordeaux 2013 2779
Chateau Haut-Brion.
The town of Sauternes was a beautiful surprise.
The town of Sauternes was a sweet surprise.
Christina in Bordeaux city.  Don't let that McDonald's in the back fool you - the food in Bordeaux is fantastic!
Christina in Bordeaux city. Don’t let the Golden Arches in the back fool you – the food in Bordeaux is fantastic!

Next up, Krug makes its first appearance, and what’s up with that duck??

Duck, duck...
Duck, duck…