All too often, we refer simplistically to 'Left Bank/Right Bank' – "Where are you starting? Left/Right?" or "Is it a Left or Right vintage?". What this rather narrow view overlooks is the collection of estates south of the city, those both inside the ring road: the Graves (such as Haut-Brion/La Mission/Pape Clément) and those further south in Pessac (Smith Haut Lafitte/Haut-Bailly etc.). Quite often when the communes further north are feeling the effects of the sea and the rivers more strongly, these southerly estates are quietly making wines which, in recent years, have been the pick of the vintage. Given their general make-up, with broadly equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon (which enjoyed lower rainfall than further North in 2015) and Merlot (which has had such a fabulous ripening season), 2015 ought to have delivered something pretty special. We were itching to find out – but first we had to finish our tour of Pomerol and St. Emilion.
As always we kicked off with our good friends Ronan and Monique at Château Clinet in the heart of Pomerol. Despite the completion and grand opening of their fabulous new facility for the production of their generic Bordeaux brand 'Ronan by Clinet' (of which the 2013 is the next release and far better than the reputation which the vintage suggests) they have had time to fashion a superb Clinet with depth and resonance.
A revitalised Figeac was next up and wow, have they made two superb wines in 2015; the depth, complexity and layers of fruit achieved in the Grand Vin, thanks to their very unusual encépagement which includes a massive 43% of Cabernet Sauvignon, is astonishing. The Petit Figeac was one of the very best second wines we tasted too. Their rise continues.
After tasting the excellent St. Emilions of Helene Garcin Leveque at Barde-Haut – the best we have tasted for some years in particular her new estate Poesia (formerly the unloved but fabulous terroir Hautvillers) – we bundled down to the Moueix HQ on the riverside in Libourne. This was without doubt the finest Moueix tasting we had attended in some years; with over 15 estates represented from the humble to the legendary, there were many hits and very few, if any, misses. Certan de May and Hosanna were sultry, concentrated and supple; at the top of the tree La Fleur-Pétrus was perfumed, effortless, pure and ethereal, whilst the well-judged Bélair Monange (the home estate of Edouard Moueix) was the best ever – a dense, powerful, succulent wine with charm to boot.
Through the rain and heavy traffic we trundled away from 'La Bourgogne Bordelaise' and into the city – first stop Pape Clément. After an excellent lunch in the company of M. Magrez we tucked into their 2015s and the early signs for the region were very good indeed, both for reds and whites. Pape really seems to have found a style that works and both Grands Vins were superb – not to mention stable mates La Tour Carnet, Fombrauge and Magrez Fombrauge, all excellent examples from their respective appellations.
With nine wines to taste, you would expect there to be a lot to say about the Haut-Brion/La Mission tasting. Justifiably one could indeed talk for a very long time but in summary: they are staggeringly good, from second wines to Grands Vins, from Graves to St. Emilion – yes, you heard correctly, the 'new' estate of Quintus has knocked it out of the park in '15. This estate, formerly known as Tertre Daugay, was bolstered both in quality and quantity by the addition of an estate long-popular with BI – L’Arrosée – the fruit from which was incorporated for the first time in 2015. Both the second wines of the main southern estates, La Chapelle de la Mission and La Clarté de Haut-Brion, would put many Grands Vins to shame. They are properly good.
As for the primary estate wines, this could be one of the long-running debates – think 1989 – as to which of the two are superior. La Mission 2015 was more accessible but hugely vibrant and complex, with a profile marginally more centred on red fruit; whereas Haut-Brion was darker, harder work but phenomenally layered and concentrated. Both had the most magical tannin profile: dense, firm-centred but soft and sweet-edged, which danced a perfect waltz with the stunningly-judged acidity. However cerebral and impressive the HB, going back to the glass of La Mission delivered such excitement and energy that all was forgiven. In the end we tipped the nod just in favour of the HB due to its potentially mind-bending longevity – which has also pushed it up with Lafleur into the realms of potential perfection.
It would be remiss of me to overlook the whites, and as you would expect they are very good indeed, if not quite at the heights of 2013. As with the Grand Vin reds, not a huge amount to choose between them – but Haut-Brion just pipped it thanks to its marginally extra density and potential longevity.
Energised by this wonderful experience, we pointed ourselves south for the final tasting of the day – and the trip – at the beautiful estate, spa, hotel and restaurant of Smith Haut Lafitte. Of course the previous tasting gave us some trepidation as to how we could possibly fairly judge these wines which have, to their credit, been gaining quality and traction over the last decade (the red, at least – the white has always been excellent). As it transpires we needn't have worried as the wines were fantastic, delivering succulent, punchy flavours and superb textures. Again, a monolithic second wine will deliver great value for early drinking but with real ageing potential.
Overall Graves and Pessac look very good indeed, at all levels – perhaps even the most consistent of the three main communes.
So another year complete and some contemplation to be done. Look out for our full report and reflections on the vintage – coming soon.