It was an early start for our intrepid tasters, 7am to be precise, to enjoy breakfast before the trek to the Left Bank with a 9am start at Chateau Margaux. We did not launch straight into the wines but saw the cellars, which seemed to just keep going down, and the cooperage – a rare sight nowadays. We were then very lucky to have the company of Paul Pontallier to explain why the 2008 vintage was chosen for us; the answer: “they are pure Margaux”.
2008 Pavillon Rouge
“Mature raspberry leaf nose with a whiff of tobacco but driven by ripe berries. The acidity is still quite high but the body is full in balance with lots of grippy young tannins and steely backbone. Great potential for aging.” 18 Points FINE+RARE
“Softer, younger, fresher nose. Clean juicy finish but lots of raspberry in fruit and sense of raspberry “essence” too. Tasty now with some spice and a hint of aniseed but so much more to come out of this wine.” 19 Points FINE+RARE
The next visit was just up the road from Chateau Margaux to Clerc Milon whilst renovations are ongoing at Mouton Rothschild. This, juxtaposed against the historically protected buildings of Margaux in its clean wooden shed-like design, was very much a practical building although it had sweeping views across neighbouring Lafite Rothschild vineyards. Here we started with newly blended 2010s literally pulled out the barrel minutes before.
2010 Clerc Milon
“Quiet (also cold) nose, with chocolate, plum and blackberries integrating with a spicy finish on the palate, alcohol not yet fully integrated in so young a sample. Mid length fruit gets sweeter and tannins still full on. Fresh, clean and some sharp fruit on the finish.” 17+ Points FINE+RARE
2010 Mouton Rothschild
“Black fruit on the nose but first impression is the coffee. Incredible depth of colour and toasty vanilla on nose. Tannins are less aggressive and this is very very long. Power and complexity and freshness make this one to watch.” 18+ Points FINE+RARE
A further climb north took us to Cos D’Estournel and another change of design with their über modern vat room and chai (finished in 2007 with more renovations starting elsewhere now). The space odyssey-like vats, mysteriously lit cellar and library stock room collided with a surprisingly traditional – and bright – room for lunch. NV Deutz started proceedings with some lovely cheese puffs (cleared away all too soon for me!)
2008 Cos D’Estournel Blanc
(with Smoked Salmon)
“(80 Sauvignon Blanc:20 Semillon) A really passion fruit nose is tempered by some buttery notes. It is full in body and rich with good length and lots of ripe melon and honeysuckle but matched to a clean citrus finish.” 16.5+ Points FINE+RARE
2007 Cos D’Estournel
“Typical mature 07 nose leads to full and fruity palate with lots of blackberries. It does not have as much length as other vintages (yet?) but develops some jammy notes in glass.” 17 Points FINE+RARE
2000 Cos D’Estournel
“(60 Cabernet Sauvignon:40 Merlot) A very young green quality to the nose but lots of fresh fruit and soon develops some smoked meat hints too, what a development in glass! Fruity clean palate has good tannic backbone and length.” 18 Points FINE+RARE
This was all washed down with another quick coffee and fabulous almond and pear tart before crossing the road to Lafite Rothschild having earlier admired the vineyards. The cellars of Lafite were a highlight, and I can only imagine attending the rare concerts they hold down in the depths of the chai. It was here by candle light that we tasted:
1995 Lafite Rothschild
“Served “cellar temperature” otherwise called a hint too cold (but atmospheric none the less) the nose had wet soil, stone and some cassis. A very rounded palate with loads of freshness and minerals followed but the temperature meant the tannins did not show as silky as I know they are capable of.” 18.5+ Points FINE+RARE
Back on the bus and finally we pulled into the last visit of the day, Chateau Latour, and another hub of renovations. After the obligatory video we found ourselves tasting “Pauillac” rarely seen in the UK and this vintage not to be available for several years. Two wines after this and we hit the futuristic vat room, the cellars and even visited the bottling line.
2009 Latour Pauillac
“A “typical” 09 in that its drinking very well already, upfront fruit, silky tannins, touch of spice and firm grip. Very drinkable but not up to a fillet steak match…” 16.5 Points FINE+RARE
2006 Les Forts de Latour
“Perfumed nose with some fruit but also bitter chocolate. Grippy, young, not yet developing complexity and still lots of fresh dark fruit, ever so slightly cloying finish.” 16.5+ Points FINE+RARE
“(80 Cabernet Sauvignon:19 Merlot:1 Petit Verdot) All the fruit and chocolate of Les Forts but with classic cassis notes and more developed. Same on palate with fresh slightly jammy fruit and so much more to come. Long, great acidity and complex.” 17+ Points FINE+RARE
We then gave our customers a decent breather at the hotel for the evening, Cordeillan Bages, and got ready for the hospitality of Chateau Beychevelle. A combination of high heels and exhaustion meant we headed straight for the couches in the main house – decorated somewhat like a grand English manor house – to sip NV Louis Roederer whilst our host recounted tales of past owners.
2000 Admiral de Beychevelle
(with Mushroom Ravioli)
“(66 Cabernet Sauvignon: 34 Merlot) Floral on both the nose and palate, it got more jammy in the glass. Despite its age it seemed to need more time to integrate, lacked an element of complexity.” 16.5+ Points FINE+RARE
“(54 Cabernet Sauvignon:39 Merlot: 7 Petit Verdot) Quiet nose reminiscent of antique furniture. Subtle, silky and with a hint of spice over fresh fruit. This has a lot more length and a clean finish than the second wine.” 17.5 Points FINE+RARE
“Another one from the cellar, it started floral on the nose and developed more smoky meaty qualities. The fruit was almost jammy and ripe with a good tannic grip, gets a touch spicier as it goes on but seems to lack length. Perhaps just about over the hill.” 17 Points FINE+RARE
2001 Tokaji Hetszolo 6*
(with Chocolate Dessert)
“Sweet, grapefruit, perfect balance (end of a long day!)” 16.5 Points FINE+RARE
A late night after a long day sent us all straight to bed.