By Christopher Matthews
Bordeaux Chateaux that “punch above their weight” was how Wine Media Guild (WMG) member Mark Golodetz framed the WMG’s recent, annual Bordeaux walk-around tasting and lunch, held at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan. As the traditional member-sponsor of the Bordeaux event, Mark arranged for the following chateaux to participate this year: Chateau Smith Haut Lafite (Pessac-Leognan); Chateau Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien); Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac).
His theme implies the Chateaux in question are somehow underrated, presenting a source of Bordeaux value, something wine writers, collectors and consumers (!) are always hunting. Whether these houses are undervalued can be debated, and they are certainly well-known and highly regarded in their own right. But what the event really drove home, in spades: the compelling overall quality of the wines presented, from current releases, to older vintages pulled from private cellars.
It’s true that these three chateaux are not included in the Liv-Ex 100 Index of fine wines (with a secondary market), and they are (as many others in Bordeaux) in the shadow of the iconic First Growths and “Super Seconds” that dominate the collectors’ market. This, I believe, informed Mark’s choice of theme.
The wines definitely spoke for themselves.
The vaunted 2005 vintage showed brilliantly yet again – all brought their 2005s, and all were outstanding, each in their own way: the Smith Haut Lafite (SHL) showed great depth and freshness; the Branaire-Ducru (BD), an earthy, developed nose with lush, harmonious black fruit; and the Grand Puy Lacoste (GPL), high-tone aromas of eucalyptus and cedar, with great structure, balance and length. Already nicely drinkable at this stage, they will all continue to age and develop beautifully for years to come. Truly the vintage of the century thus far – and naturally pricey – but the average prices for these three chateaux come in at less than a fifth of the average price of the First Growths from 2005 (which is approximately $830 a bottle). Pretty good punching, indeed!
Some other highlights:
SHL is one of the few Bordeaux Grand Crus best known for its stellar, stylish and hedonistic whites (we had the 2012 and 2010 whites at the lunch as well), but its reds are rapidly gaining fans, too. I was particularly engaged by the 2012 at the walk around, with its aromatic, high-toned nose, pretty briar fruit and excellent balance and finish.
From B-D, its 2010 exhibited an elegant nose of underbrush and earth, with excellent structure, balance and pretty berry fruit – a good one for the cellar. And B-D really shone at the lunch, in the older vintages. The 2001 is still quite youthful, with a fresh, aromatic nose and lip-smacking black fruit. Courtesy of WMG member Ed McCarthy (author of “Champagne for Dummies”, and co-author of “Wine for Dummies”, among many others), we were able to sample B-D’s 1982 and 1975 vintages. The 1982 was like aromatherapy, full of coniferous and menthol notes, drinking beautifully. And the 1975 was a seamless stunner: all elements are fully integrated, with clear fruit and a gorgeous finish. Almost perfection. Many thanks, Ed!
Last, but not least, GPL also showed well. Its 2009 combined classic graphite and Cassis elements with excellent balance and fine tannins. 2006 had an attractive blackberry nose and a fresh, brambly palate, somewhat linear but delicious. And at the table, the classic 2000 was a great food companion, sporting heady aromatics, generous black fruit and excellent energy.
Clearly, these chateaux all “punch” well, regardless of weight, and illustrate Bordeaux at its best: age worthy wines that stimulate both the intellect and palate, yielding their estimable pleasures best at the table.