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A Week in Bordeaux - Day Two - 2nd September 2008

Our second day started with a trip north to St Estephe and the unclassed Chateau Haut-Marbuzet.  This winery, which dominates the tiny hamlet of Marbuzet, is something of an enigma.  It sits on the same escarpment which joins Chateau Montrose with Chateau Cos d’Estournel, which are both Second Growths and which both border the property.  The terroir would appear heaven sent, and yet the wine was not classified even Fifth Growth in 1855.  I was interested to find out why.  We were met by the charming and friendly Bruno Duboscq, son of the present owner.  He gave us a tour of the not quite state of the art wine making facilities at the property.  Although a lot of money had clearly been spent on the outbuildings, some of the equipment clearly had further room for improvement.  We got down to the business of tasting some wine.  Chateau Mac Carthy is the second wine of the estate, and is so named after the Irish family who owned the property in the Nineteenth Century.  It is made from the younger vines of the estate.  Chateau Mac Carthy 2006 was pretty backward and austere.  Aside from some vanilla and gripping tannins I couldn’t find a lot more going on in the glass – 84 points.   We then moved up to Chateau Haut-Marbuzet 2006.  This blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc was a lot more successful.  The nose was floral and complex, with forest floor/undergrowth aromas.  It was a powerful St Estephe in the mouth, interesting with good savoury grip.  The tannins were a little chewy but a good length showed some promise for the future.  I quite liked it, and scored 89 points.

We also tried Chateau Haut-Marbuzet 2004, although for me this was less successful than the 2006.  A little hint of roasted meats on the nose was about all I got from the glass;  and in the mouth the wine, while more feminine and less extracted than the 2006, nevertheless lacked personality and interest – 86 points.

I left the estate wondering about its potential and about the gap (if any) between the wine being made there at the moment and the best possible wine that the terroir could offer.    Significant investment had clearly been made, but my over-riding impression was of a ‘work in progress’.  I look forward to a return visit in ten years.

As our hotel base in Paulliac is owned by the Cazes family of Chateau Lynch Bages it seemed rude not to pay an unscheduled visit to chateau itself, which our ever resourceful guide Wendy Narby squeezed in next.  The tour is a good one, although more in the polished and professional style of Mouton Rothschild.  The bottling facilities (all of the wine produced at Lynch Bages is bottled using the chateau’s own bottling plant) were especially impressive.  In the tasteful tasting room (adorned with African modern art) we first sampled Chateau Haut Bages 2001.  An interesting nose of hickory smoke and cut grass made way for a delicious fruit driven forward palate.  There was some complexity although red fruits dominated.  Not classic Paulliac by any means, with a distinct absence of the power, but good and drinkable.  88 points.

Chateau Lynch Bages 2001 was a step up in class.  A big powerful Paulliac nose of black fruits, tar, smoke and saddle leather.  In the mouth the wine was not a barnstormer.  I had the pleasure of drinking the 1989 a couple of weeks before and it had none of the ‘shock and awe’ power that the ‘89 possessed.  But it had a good acidic backbone and restrained tannins, plus great length.  I noted dark black fruits and integrated oak.  The only criticism I had was a slight lack of complexity.  92 points.

We had lunch in the beautifully restored little courtyard adjacent to Lynch Bages.  At a nearby table sat Lilian Barton Sartorius, the daughter of the famous Anthony Barton, who is now responsible for running much of Leoville and Langoa Barton.

With lunch we sampled Chateau les Ormes de Pez 2002.  This had a good nose with earth and some current type aromas.  The mouth feel was good, if a little one dimensional.  The fruit was a bit drab.  Easy to drink but lacking some pizzazz!   87 points.

After lunch we made the short hop down to St Julien for a look around Second Growth Chateau Leoville las Cases.  We were greeted and shown around by cellar-master Bruno Rolland (yes, the son of Michel Rolland). This was a treat indeed, and after a fascinating tour of the facilities (and a great many questions from me) we repaired to the tasting room.  We started in Pomerol, with a property acquired by the Delon family (owners of las Cases) in 1997:  Chateau Nenin.  The Chateau Nenin 2004 was perfumed and elegant in the glass with violets and summer flowers.  The palate displayed a nice structure with some vanilla and custard notes.  It was a well made wine, for sure, with some real elegance and finesse.  I noted that it needed some more time.  88 points, maybe 89.

Chateau Potensac 2004 (another Delon property) is from the Medoc north of St Estephe.  The nose was a bit closed right now.  In the mouth I struggled to find much personality or interest.  It may just be going through a difficult phase, but I was not overly impressed.  85 points.  We then moved back the property itself with Clos du Marquis 2004, the second wine.  This had a lovely St Julien nose of coals with pain grille and black fruits.  In the mouth it was less successful.  I felt that the oak integration wasn’t quite right and the wine was falling apart a little at the finish.  Disjointed.  86 points.

Then on to the grand vin itself.  Chateau Leoville las Cases 2004 is a deep red with purplish edges.  The nose is enticing, if measured, with BBQ smoke, crushed rocks and violets.  The palate starts very well with big grip and nice acidity.  The wine is tart and austere right now and was actually pretty hard work.  I wondered whether there was enough ripe fruit to eventually pull this wine out of its backward and sulky state, and to balance the fierce tannins.  90 points.

While Leoville las Cases as a property is a modest low level courtyard and some outbuildings, the same could not be said for our next stop.  Chateau Pichon Longueville de Baron is one of the most impressive and imposing properties in Bordeaux.  The cellars were all re-built at the end of the 1980s and the concentric rings of stainless steel fermenting vats were probably the most impressive we saw during the whole week.

In the tasting room we started with the second wine, Les Tourelles de Longueville 2004.  The nose was light and fragrant with damp earth.  The initial palate was pleasant but lacking in concentration and weight.  The finish was a touch dry and tart.  Not great.  84 points.  Many of the chateau use cellar visits to promote other properties in the group, and so we also sampled another Axa-owned Paulliac Chateau Pibran 2004 – which had a lightish nose of mulberries.  It was quite sweet wine but balanced and accessible with a decent finish.  Not complex but a good every day wine.  87 points.

Chateau Pichon Baron 2004 looked older than its mere four years.  A great Paulliac nose of cigar box, liquorice, BBQ smoke, melted dark chocolate and spices was followed by a surprisingly subtle and feminine palate.  Although I thought the fruit was a little backward at the mid palate, the finish revealed genuine complexity with tobacco leaf and green pepper notes.  92 points.  Our hostess at Pichon Baron then produced the Chateau Pichon Baron 2001.   This gave up a moody nose of glowing rocks and cigar smoke.  On the palate the wine possessed a wonderful harmony.  It was extremely soft and almost silky.  It reminded me of the Grand Puy Lacoste 2001 which I tried very recently, in that it was delicious to drink but didn’t quite hit the heights.  91 points.  

It had been a long day, and I was looking forward to dinner at a chateau that personifies ‘up and coming’ in Bordeaux.  Third Growth Haut Medoc producer Chateau la Lagune has been the beneficiary of some serious investment since it was acquired by the Frey family in 2000.  Not only has the chateau itself been restored in immaculate detail, but the cellar was also completely re-built in 2003.  The money has not been wasted.  With dinner, specially prepared for us in the chateau’s restored kitchen by our personal chef, with tried a number of the Chateau’s wines.  Moulin de la Lagune 2003 and Moulin de la Lagune 2002, second wines of the estate, were both easy drinking but lacking in interest.  Chateau la Lagune 2000 was better, but still lacked a bit of personality.  Although it was nicely integrated and had good length it didn’t differentiate itself enough for me.  88 points.  Chateau la Lagune 1998 was a least more distinctive.  A herbaceous nose of undergrowth and a little tar was succeeded by a full-bodied, mouth-filling, wine which was dryish and savoury.  The wine bordered on the austere, but I preferred it marginally to the 2000.  89 points.  It was a shame we weren’t able to sample any of the more recent vintages of the property as the quality has certainly improved since 2000, but heading back up to Paulliac for some well earned rest after dinner I wasn’t certain that I would have been able to appreciate a great deal more wine today anyway!