Champagne and Bordeaux 2009-2010
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason
Three out of five featured Champagnes in the VINTAGES April 26th are outstanding. But the main feature, red Bordeaux from 2009 and 2010, has a far less impressive hit rate. This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed by wines from these two celebrated vintages; many fall on the overripe, hard and violently oaky side, and it’s not just youthful exuberance. It’s a reminder of the clear and present danger of ‘calling’ a vintage across an entire (in this case, enormous) region. David Lawrason agrees, describing the release as “really slim pickings”. I’ve nevertheless highlighted a trio of engaging wines at fair prices, while Sara d’Amato and David also share their top picks.
The Stars Align on the Champagne/Sparkling Feature
There was plenty of synchronicity this week, with critics aligning on three of the five Champagnes on offer (with recommendations from at least two critics), and one trifecta, as close to a guarantee of quality as we can provide.
Marguet Père & Fils 2006 Grand Cru Brut Champagne, France ($65.95). John Szabo – The vineyards are all grand cru, with Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. Ageing on the lees for five years gives this a rich and powerful, nicely yeasty-toasty profile, while a lovely mix of orchard fruit and citrus/orange, along with toasted almonds, dried flowers and brioche notes to amp up the complexity. Dosage and acidity are nicely lined up and the length is terrific; lovely stuff, for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Sara D’Amato – A powerful Champagne, classic, leesy and oozing with charm, it’s hard to tear yourself away from such a compelling bottle. Marguet prides itself on using sustainable and organic methods of production throughout their range. David Lawrason – This fine Champagne is a clinic on how well top vintage Champagnes can age. And it is much less expensive than many vintage Champagnes from the larger companies. This family firm in Ambonnay has been making Champagne for five generations.
Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée Des 6 Cépages Brut Champagne 2006, France ($87.95). John Szabo – An extra $20 buys you the top bottle on my list. The Moutard-Diligent family can trace its history in the southern part of Champagne known as the Côte des Bar as far back as 1642. But while most of the region has moved on to focus on just three varieties – pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, this estate still grows three almost forgotten (but still authorized) champagne grapes: arbanne, petit meslier and pinot blanc. These are blended with the big three to make the “Cuvée des Six Cépages”. The 2006 is beautifully mature and toasty at this stage, with dazzling hazelnut, white chocolate and brioche aromas, and wonderfully creamy, intensely flavoured palate. It’s a very classy and refine champagne, drinking beautifully now. Sara D’Amato – Perhaps my top pick of this rather impressive sparkling feature. A must taste if Champagne is your weakness.
Champagne Fleury Blanc De Noirs Brut, France ($54.95). John Szabo – The Côte des Bar is home to the first, and still one of the very few biodynamic vineyards in Champagne, converted in 1989. This cuvée has been made every vintage since 1955 when, it was created by Robert Fleury. The reserve pinot noir wines used to assemble this cuvée are aged in large oak foudre, adding a notably burnished, pleasantly oxidative flavour profile: toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried fruit and plenty of toasted wheat bread with honey. This will appeal to fans of traditional, mature Champagnes, or what the French call “le gout anglais”, suitable for sipping but even better for the table, and, say, a hazelnut-encrusted sea bass. Sara D’Amato – Looking for a bubbly to serve with your main course? This pinot noir Champagne offers a heavier weight and more substantial profile that can live up to a versatile assortment of main courses from fatty fishes to roast pork. I love the wild complexity of this highly memorable Champagne and its statement making character.
Charles De Cazanove Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($54.95). David Lawrason – This large one-million bottle company has been through several ownership changes and now belongs to a family-owned group. This quite delicate wine catches the essential, subtle fruity charm I look for in rosé Champagne. It’s a blend of 50% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 15% chardonnay and 15% coteaux champenois rouge.
Schloss Reinhartshausen Brut Riesling Deutscher Sekt, Rheingau, Germany ($17.95). David Lawrason – It is very rare to see quality German sekt at VINTAGES, and not only is this a good example, it is very well priced. Riesling sparklings are often a bit one-dimensional with riesling’s acidity the focal point (eg Tawse’s Spark). In this example I actually found some Rheingau-based complexity and minerality, a fine German riesling with bubbles.
Tawse Spark Riesling 2012, Limestone Ridge Estate Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – A great sparkling riesling delivers a punch that traditional chardonnay based Champagnes just can’t quite achieve. Here is a lovely example of such a punchy, dynamic sparkler from a producer who focuses on Niagara’s star grape varieties. Both elegant and energetic with the sophistication worthy of a classy affair or decadent pairing with oysters.
The Bordeaux Rouge Release
While the 2009 and 2010 are widely considered to be back-to-back “vintages of the century”, and there are some absolutely monumental wines (see for example my review of the 2009 Château Margaux, tasted in a blind lineup last October), neither vintage offers carte blanche to buy across the board.
As Sara d’Amato points out, “this rather unremarkable release will have you happy you are a WineAlign subscriber, as it has but a few well-priced and satisfying wines. Heavy demand for these vintages means that they have been likely picked over and we are seeing what remains.”
Tasting the collection from the April 26th release, as well as many others that have come through in the last year or so, I find the quality spotty. Certainly in some cases at least the wines have moved into a dark period when the hatches are all battened down and there’s little pleasure to be had – in such cases patience is required – but they’ll be fine wines when they finally unwind.
But a good many of the ‘petit’ and mid-range châteaux appear to have been overly enthused by the clement weather, gleefully allowing ripeness and extraction to get away while they were busy placing big orders with local barrel makers to up the percentage of new wood in anticipation of uncommon fruit intensity. The end results are often baked, rippingly tannic and oaky, quite the opposite of what I’d hope for from Bordeaux (I can find that style of wine elsewhere for a fraction of the cost). Where a more even-handed, reasoned approach was applied, however, the results are excellent, and in some cases offer fine value.
Over on the right bank, a château that seems to have gotten everything right without going over the top is Château La Croix Chantecaille and its 2009 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($29.95). John Szabo – This merlot dominant (2/3, with 1/3 cabernet franc), velvet-textured St. Émilion is certainly satisfying, ripe and plush, but with well-measured wood spice and enough succulent acidity to keep the palate focused. Best 2015-2026. Sara D’Amato – Bordering the region of Pomerol, at a mere couple hundred meters from the vineyards of Petrus, Château La Croix Chantecaille produces some exceptional wines consulted on by Michel Rolland’s team. This is perhaps the most impressive wine of this Bordelaise feature which expresses the modern appeal of the 2009 vintage. Be prepared to carry away more than a bottle or two, especially at this price.
The Graves AOC south of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne/Gironde (and the smaller more prestigious Péssac-Léognan enclave within it) are the source of some of the most reliable pleasure-price ratios in the region, as evinced by such wines as the 2010 Château Haut Selve, Graves ($21.95). John Szabo – A property established only late last century, yesterday in Bordeaux terms, Haut Selve has quickly become one of the leading players in the Graves, collecting an impressive haul of international medals of late. The 2010 perfectly strides that knife-edge of ripeness and freshness, allowing neither aspect to dominate, while delivering finesse and subtlety. This should be best after 2016 and hold into the mid ‘20s.
For solid sub-$20 Bordeaux, consider the 2010 Château Donissan, Listrac-Médoc ($17.95). John Szabo – It’s a firm, nicely balanced, lean but juicy Médoc, with dusty tannins, lively acids, and a nice mix of red and black berry fruit. Best now-2020.
Château Le Bourdieu 2010, Médoc ($20.95). David Lawrason – This is one of the more charming and better value entries in an otherwise rather underwhelming release of petits châteaux Bordeaux. No great depth or structure but it nicely shows the light-hearted elegance of the sandier soils near the Gironde estuary on the northern tip of the Medoc peninsula.
Château Le Bourdillot Séduction 2009, Graves ($18.95). Sara d’Amato – The name is not wrong – the wine is rather seductive with impressive depth and structure for the price not to mention a voluptuous body and nicely integrated exotic spice. Somewhat modern and certainly appealing which is more a trait of the vintage than the region. Produced from 20-year-old vines and a straight 70/30 cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend.
Château Lamartine 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux ($16.95 ). Sara d’Amato – Castillon is a lesser-known appellation on the right bank of Bordeaux on the way to the city of Bergerac, near St. Émilion. It often produces wine of very good value from heavier, clay-based soils that are more suited to merlot-dominant blends. Surprisingly very good quality stems from this entry-level wine that has been machine harvested followed by grape sorting, cold maceration and finally 18 months ageing in concrete vats (an old world norm that produces consistently, solid results without unnecessary flavours of oak). I loved the traditional feel of this slightly earthy, sweaty blend brimming with charm.
Happening at WineAlign
For our Ottawa area members, there’s an opportunity to join us for an exclusive dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata. Hosted by WineAlign’s Rod Phillips, Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson will guide you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish. Bruce will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries. (Click her for more details)
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo, MS
From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:
Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!