Geoff Kelly, a senior wine judge here in New Zealand, brought together a group of about twenty enthusiasts to evaluate 14 affordable 2010 Bordeaux wines to answer one question: are they worth cellaring?
Bordeaux is a moderate-climate wine region in the South-West of France that’s home to red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cab Sauv and Merlot are often grown and blended together as Merlot will bring body and softness to the mix, while Cab Sauv will bring tannin, acidity and aromatic fruit. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts, is one way to think of it.
Geoff provided us with very extensive background notes on the wines we were tasting. From his notes, he explains, “Like the 1928 and 1929, 1989 and 1990 vintages, 2009 and 2010 will go down as two of the greatest Bordeaux vintages in our lifetimes. It is therefore imperative for people who love the claret wine style to taste the young wines – as many as possible.” (Claret being another name for a red Bordeaux.)
Since the 1966 vintage, Geoff has been systematically evaluating young vintages of red Bordeaux, providing us with a very skilled guide to take us through the wines assembled. Along with the 14 Bordeaux wines, there were also two New Zealand Cab Sauv/Merlot blends provided as references for New World style, but also to see, (for better or worse,) how/if we’re doing things differently to the classical style.
Little was said before we launched into tasting our two flights of eight, apart from one wine is of an antiquated style and two are tainted by wine faults.
All wines were tasted blind. The flights were arranged with the more affordable eight shown first ($17-$30) and the slightly more expensive ($30-$45) in the second eight. The wines ranged from Cabernet dominant to Merlot dominant, from old cooperage to prominent new oak. As with Worth Cellaring tastings run by Geoff in the past, we were asked to select a top and a bottom wine from the flight. As this was a mixed tasting, we were also asked to select which wine we believed was the Kiwi red.
What follows is largely my impressions, lightly sprinkled with comments from Geoff.
As a group the later half of the flight was well-received with wine six, Ch Haut Bellevue, being the top wine of the flight for a whopping seven people, myself included.
2010 Domaine du Bouscat Caduce
14.5% alc/vol 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec $20
(T:0; B:3; NZ:4)
Not a favourite for the group, the Bouscat Caduce was a leathery, tannic wine that was lacking the necessary fruit to make for a successful cellaring. Geoff described it as having a ‘wholesome grubbiness’, which he described as a lack of cleanliness, having spent time in big, old cooperage with no new or small oak. He did note that this was a very classic claret and if we went back to the 1960s and 1970s this would be a much-loved example.
2010 Chateau Haut Bellevue
13.5% alc/vol 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot $27
(T:7; B:1; NZ:2)
From the bottom to the top, the Haut Bellevue was the cheeriest of the flight. This was a bright wine with obvious new oak and plenty of red and black fruit and sweet spice. Medium-bodied with silky tannins and drinking very nicely for such a young wine, especially at $27 a bottle.
2010 Craggy Range Te Kahu
13.4%alc/vol 80% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec $26
(T:5; B:1; NZ:3)
Unsurprisingly, a familiar wine style was well liked by the largely New Zealand group. Eyebrows were raised when I proclaimed this my bottom of the flight. In reflection, the purpose of the tasting was to ascertain whether a wine was worth cellaring, meaning, is the wine well-made, well-balanced? Yes to both, it is. However, it’s not to my very individual taste. For me there was a pronounced fruit-juice quality and ripeness that was just too much.
2010 Chateau Marjosse
14.5% alc/vol 60% Merlot, 20 Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec $25
(T:4; B:3; NZ:6)
Wines like this one are always interesting, when there can be quite polarising opinions in a group to look at how people can love and hate a wine for exactly the same reasons. This wine was an exception in the flight and I enjoyed the variation. It was disliked for much the same reason as it wasn’t a classic. Chateau Marjosse has a reputation for hearty, rich wines. Very ripe and velvety, there were notes of liquorice, tobacco and dried herbs. This wine was rewarded with positive reviews from international critics Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer.
Also tasted as part of this flight were the 2010 Ch Tour St Bonnet, Ch Saint Marie Reserve, Ch Beaumont and Ch Peychaud. These wines tended to be brushed with the ‘perfectly-nice’ brush, without being a stand-out.
This was a flight of the good, (the very good) and the ugly. There were wines expressing dull reductive qualities, spoilage yeast and hydrogen sulphide complexity. I’ll get the less appetising wines out of the way first.
2010 Chateau Patris
14% alc/vol 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc $34
(T:0; B:3; NZ:1)
This wine got bottom marks from me, from my notes I have scribbled medicinal, animal and skunky. My overall impression of the wine was that I’m not a fan. Turns out this is a ‘classic’ example of a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces as told by Geoff. The internet tells me classic brett is equated to horse stables. I’m going to simply stay with this is a wine I did not enjoy.
2010 Chateau L’Etoile de Bergey
13.5% alc/vol 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot $37
(T:2; B:7; NZ:1)
This was something new for me, the presence of a French farmyard sitting in my glass. When asked for descriptors on the wine, others bluntly proclaimed that this wine tastes like shit, literally. Apparently farmyard is the polite expression of the same thing. Geoff described this as a hydrogen sulphide problem and a wine fault that can occur when fermentation takes place in a oxygen-limited environment. Having had limited exposure to wine faults thus far, it’s just as easy for me to labelled this wine as ‘funky’.
2010 Chateau Bernadotte
14% alc/vol 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot $45 (T:4; B:0; NZ:0)
Chateau Bernadotte has gained quite the following having formerly shared the same ownership as Pichon-Lalande, then Roederer Group. It was recently sold to a Chinese entrepreneur. As the first wine of the flight, the difference in quality between the two flights was immediately obvious. The Bernadotte was an attractive wine with a savoury nose, plenty of red plums and cassis on the palate, a lovely medium -weightiness in the mouth. This is, as they say, a crowd pleaser.
2010 Chateau Lanessan
14% alc/vol 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot $37
(T:7; B:1; NZ:4)
The Lanessan received the largest number of top wine votes, with seven people rating it as a favourite from the flight. This is despite rather harsh rating from Jancis Robinson who characterised it as “stodgy but competent”. This was a cheery number for me with a nice mix of red and black fruit, a lively hit of sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla and a good mouthfeel. Although it wasn’t my top, I would happily try this again.
With the second flight there was much deliberation on picking a top wine as these wines were all of a high enough calibre that choosing an absolute favourite became a challenging prospect. Other scrumptious wines tasted as part of this flight include the 2010 Ch Rollan de By, Ch Saint-Paul Ch Puygueraud and Te Mata Awatea.
Regional Wines and Spirits hosted the tasting, however, Geoff sourced the wines from Paul Mitchell of Auckland’s Wine Importer. All prices shown are as indicated by the Wine Importer.