By Christopher Matthews
That was indeed my impression from the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) tasting recently held at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan, where the newly released 2015 vintage was on full display.
Touted as great (or near great) by many in the industry (media included), the 2015 vintage – at least from the large sample provided by the UGCB – lives up to the hype: in the main, these Grand Cru wines are aromatic and elegant, with depth and structure, charming fruit, supple tannins…and aging potential.
Without a blizzard to thin the crowd this year (see post on previous UGCB tastings), the event was a packed affair, with the attendees buzzing with the vibe of an exciting vintage. Just trying to make it to a spit bucket was often a contact sport!
And once again, for the fourth vintage in a row, the Grand Cru whites of Pessac-Leognan and Graves were simply superb – energetic and aromatic wines sporting lip-smacking orchard, stone- and tropical fruit flavors, great depth and long, complex finishes. Despite the quality and consistency of the category, however, these stellar whites are (still) eclipsed by Bordeaux’s more famous Grand Crus reds, and somewhat overlooked by consumers. Hence, value still resides here! And styles do vary, largely depending on the degree of new oak barrels used in the wine-making/maturation process. But for the most part, the oak aspects are judiciously integrated and well-done.
Exhibiting classic Sauvignon Blanc character, Chateau Carbonnieux showed well (as usual), full of verve, citrus and orchard fruit with a long, clean and mineral finish. Domaine de Chevalier was another winner, with pretty floral and tropical fruit aromatics, creamy complexity and balance on the palate, punctuated by hedonistic stone-fruit and pineapple character. Chateau Smith Haut Lafite combined great energy and structure with rich tropical fruit character, and nicely integrated oak notes of spice and coconut – a standout in its style.
The thronging wine industry mob was naturally focused on the reds. But as with any vintage, great or not, some appellations do better than others. And the consensus in the wine media – and in the room – on which and I had to (largely) agree, was that the Merlot-dominated Right Bank (Libournais) in general, and Pomerol specifically, star in this vintage. Some rain in late September/early October lingered longer in the northern Medoc than in other districts, which caused some complications for some chateaux, but otherwise, harvest conditions were generally ideal across the region.
Arguably, the unofficial “Best in Show” was Château Gazin (Pomerol). There was more chatter about this wine than any other in the room, and deservedly so: an opaque, inky deep purple, with high-tone aromas and seamless, silky and seductive black fruit, smooth tannins and a mile-long finish. Enjoyable even now, this one will evolve beautifully. Amazing juice.
Second to none was Château Canon (1er Grand Cru Classé, St. Èmilion), with heady floral and menthol notes, deep red plum and currant fruit and amazing depth and structure. One for the cellar.
Year in and year out, even in the more difficult vintages, Château Canon La Gaffelière (Grand Cru Classé, St. Èmilion), has been excelling, and 2015 is no exception: a deep purple/ruby with fragrant red berry, violet and earthy aromas, spicy and plummy red fruit on the palate, framed on a pulsing spine of attractive acidity. A knockout.
Given the scale of the tasting, I couldn’t possibly sample every Grand Cru, and I edited my choices accordingly, aiming to get a good sense of the respective appellations. And while I naturally liked some more than others, the quality of the wines across the board was impressive.
Herewith, my impressionistic favorites from the 2015 Grand Cru reds:
Château Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux) — one of the best of the tasting, and my top Margaux.
Château Lascombes (Margaux)
Château Du Terte (Margaux)
Château Dauzac (Margaux)
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac)
Château Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac)
Château Pichon Baron (Pauillac) — one for the cellar.
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande(Pauillac)
Château Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan)
Château Chateau Smith Haut Lafite (Pessac-Léognan)
Château La Pointe (Pomerol)
Château Valandraud (1er Grand Cru Classé, St. Èmilion)
Château Ormes de Pez (St. Estèphe)
Château Phélan Ségur (St. Estèphe)
Château Beychevelle (Saint Julien)
Château Lagrange (Saint Julien)