Bordeaux First Growth Trip – Day One

On Wednesday 6th March 2013, our Sales Director, Jamie Graham, and I, accompanied twelve of FINE+RARE’s customers for our exclusive annual Bordeaux First Growth trip. Scheduled visits to some of the top Chateaux in the world proved to us that the magic in this grand region is still very much alive. The wine and food weren’t bad either.

Day One

We met our party – many of whom had travelled thousands of miles to be with us – at our accommodation for the first night – the beautiful 5* Plaisance Hotel in St Emilion. Our trip began with a focus on the Right Bank – St Emilion and Pomerol. Our itinerary: a blend of the established, traditional and the modern: Cheval BlancVieux Chateau Certan and Angelus.

After the short drive across the vineyards to Cheval Blanc we were warmly greeted by the Director for Sales and Finance, Arnaud, who was to be our host for the next few hours. A tour of Cheval Blanc’s new, super-futuristic winery can only be described as breathtaking. No matter how many cellars and fermentation rooms you’ve seen before (an occupational hazard), this one really defies belief with its custom built concrete vats and stunning rooftop garden, offering up views over St-Emilion and neighbouring commune, Pomerol.

Custom Built Concrete Vats at Cheval Blanc

Custom Built Concrete Vats at Cheval Blanc

Back in the more traditional chateau we were treated to lunch and several serious wines – well deserved after such an early start to the day. Our reception was paired with the 1998 Dom Ruinart, the great Champagne house, also under the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey umbrella. Drinking superbly now, this one has great potential and is definitely one to watch. Our first course was paired with the 2009 Quinault l’Enclos, again under the LVMH powerhouse stable – displaying all the hallmarks of this wonderful vintage (vibrant colour, plump concentrated fruit), we were very impressed. The2001 Petit Cheval followed – the second wine of Cheval – dominated by 75% Cabernet Franc, this lean and limber number moved across the palate rather well and is a great example of a vintage beginning to hit its stride. 
What was expected to be the centrepiece of the meal, the 1998 Cheval Blanc, proved to be a bit of a mystery. The first bottle was sent back after suspicions of fault and the second proved to be correct, but dysfunctional. Conversation turned to two great vintages which the 1998 dissects – the 1990 and 2010. If the 1990 is, as Arnaud describes, still adolescent, then the 1998 is positively pre-pubescent and still struggling to find its identity. Nevertheless, the individual constituents are all present and correct and if they can knit themselves together, this should still go on to fulfil its reputed potential.

Dessert was matched with pure liquid gold – 1996 Chateau d’Yquem (another LVMH possession), a wine so delicious you could almost forget you had food in front of you.

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Dinner at Cheval Blanc

A quick skip across in the tour bus to our next destination, Vieux Chateau Certan, was so brief that you could be forgiven for forgetting that you’d left St-Emilion and entered Pomerol. Indeed, the property is only separated from Cheval Blanc by a single road and their ‘spaceship’ winery is still visible from this *relatively* more understated property.

Our host was Guillaume, son of Alexandre Thienpont, the hugely successful proprietor here who has so greatly succeeded in propelling the property back up to the giddy heights it reached in the aftermath of the war. Indeed Neal Martin describes the vintages of 1945-53 as ‘the greatest run produced by a single estate in the 20th Century’ in his new book “Pomerol”. Guillaume has certainly inherited his father’s good grace and modesty – anyone who wonders what might happen here when Alexandre calls time on his career should rest easy.

If the scale and innovation wasn’t comparable to Cheval Blanc, you’d probably be missing the point really. We were fortunate to try the 2006 and the 2002 Vieux Chateau Certan in the cellar with Guillaume both of which highlighted that this estate produces quintessential Pomerol wines. The 2002 was supple and smooth and is already drinking nicely with the spiciness on the palate already knitting together. The 2006 was a definite step up. It displayed beautiful elegance and purity – “an easy wine”, as Guillaume described it, was an understatement; it was a real hit for the vintage.

As a bit of a treat Guillaume treated us to a small sample of the recently blended 2012 VCC. Already pretty accessible, this was a rare experience for our guests, being something usually reserved only for wine makers and those in the trade.

We retired back to the hotel to briefly recuperate before dinner at Chateau Angelus. Our host was the hugely charismatic Laurent who took great pleasure in showing us their new chateau. The space was impressive; built around the concept of a church, it will be a grand sight when complete. To kick things off however, Laurent was very keen to pull out his new toy – the spectacular new bells on the chateau. He had programmed these to play the national anthem of each of our guests’ homelands which was thoroughly entertaining and well accompanied by the setting sun across the St-Emilion horizon.

With the chateau still under construction we crossed the road to Angelus’s sister property, Chateau Bellevue. This beautiful property, situated on top of a small hill was well worth the steady ascent. The owners of this property, that predates Angelus, the de Bouard’s, had long coveted it until their acquisition in 2007. After the vision of Angelus, this is something of a throwback with casks being housed in old-school caves. Nevertheless, Hubert de Bouard has big ambitions for this property, hoping that it will be considered in the same breath as Petrus or La Tache. Time will tell…

Our assorted hors d’ouvres were paired with the ever reliable NV Laurent Perrier, in what can only be described as a rather homely ‘front room’ in Bellevue. We moved through to the slightly more formal dining room where a superb supper was matched with four fascinating wines: 2010 Le Carillon d’Angelus2007 Bellevue; and the 2007 and 2005 Angelus.

The cellars at  Bellevue

The cellars at Bellevue

Laurent first professed that Carillon shouldn’t be considered a second wine given that it has its own specified vineyard. However, normally ‘second wines’ are made from the juice of younger, less developed vines and given that this still happens with Carillon, in addition to that off its own designated plot, I was a little dubious to this description. Nevertheless, the Carillon was excellent – painfully backward even after an hour in the glass – as can be expected for the vintage, but it has got all of the right things in place to drink in 5-10 years time. The 2007 Bellevue by contrast, was much more open and approachable. Whilst it lacked the depth of the other wines, there were no barriers in place making it very pleasant, if not a knockout.

The 2007 and 2005 Angelus were, as expected, a significant step up. The 2007 was almost ready to go – delicious with lovely rich, sweet fruit and plenty of complexity, belying the lowly regard in which the vintage as a whole is held. The 2005 on the other hand needs a lot of time to come to the fore. That said there was a huge amount to enjoy now: the nose was so packed with warm spice and dark fruit that you could happily just sniff it all night and the palate was utterly intense. Its sweet tannin was a great indication of where this is heading, and that’s up.

A wonderful evening was rounded off with thanks to Laurent and we headed back to Plaisance for a deserved nights sleep in preparation for another big day.

The Wines

Day One

1998 Dom Ruinart 95-96pts
2009 Quinault l’Enclos 92-93pts
2001 Petit Cheval 92pts
1998 Cheval Blanc 93pts
1996 Yquem 95-96pts

2006 Vieux Chateau Certan 96pts
2002 Vieux Chateau Certan 93pts

2010 Carillon de l’Angelus 91pts
2007 Bellevue 89pts
2007 Angelus 93-94pts
2005 Angelus 95pts