Biennially, Australian wine importer and distributor Negociants Australia put on what is arguably the greatest wine education/seminar series in the country, the Working With Wine Program.
Today is the first day, and although I’m flying out to Switzerland in a few hours (more on that later), here are a few highlights from some of the first brackets.
The feature for this seminar is Bordeaux, and as ever, the lineup is top shelf. Our panel hosts today are Gabriel Vialard (Haut Bailly’s Technical Director), Myriam Ruer (Business Development Director at Chateau Troplong Mondot), Nick Ryan (aka Paddle Pop Lion), Virginia Willcock (Vasse Felix winemaker) and Andrew Caillard MW (maker of Red Obsession, amongst other things).
Rather than doing a very formal post, treat this as a taster of what is an exceptional collection of wines. So notes are as written (hurriedly) with wine in front of me, trying not to spill on keyboard.
Flight 1 – Left Bank 2015
From what Caillard calls a ‘near drought year’ that is revered as one of the best. That Cos, in particular, is something very special.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2015
Dark maroon with ruby bits. Gee this is huge – a molten ball of very firm, masculine flavour. Cedar, black fruits, ‘black olive’ as Caillard calls it, the barest whiff of herbs, dark chocolate oak but otherwise it’s all latent power. It almost teeters on too ripe, but but that just gives power, a hint of licoricey coal. Then ultra fine tannins. Remarkable length, difficult to fault this really. Maybe a little warm to finish? Quibble. The more you look the more this is a sensational wine. It’s hugely intense, the finish goes on and on, and it’s ripe. But it’s not what you’d call heavy. Just heroic power. Want an example of what great Bordeaux tastes like? It’s here. Epic wine. 19.1/20, 97/100.
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2015
Immediately less ripe than the Cos (and less oak chocolate). It’s more claret like too, more black fruits, more acid, more Claret. I feel like this is less forgiving than the luscious Cos (and less impact), and firmer. But the classic lines, the little herbal edges, the closed and refreshing style. Long term and refined, though it takes a bit to woo you in its fine lines. This is less about concentration, and more about purity. I love this style. Classy and will live for decades. I want this in my cellar. 19/20, 96/100.
Chateau Leoville-Barton 2015
Quite an evocative wine – there’s Turkish delight, black fruit, fudge, grippy tannins but more about the middle palate punch than anything. Caillard notes that the black olive character in this can be confused as brett in some times. It’s actually a little too ripe in context, the impact exceptional, but maybe a little too showy and oaky. Still, the balance beyond the powdery oak is there, so you just need to wait for it all to integrate.. I like it, but it almost feels like its trying too hard with that oak. Come back in a decade. 18.5/20, 94/100+
Chateau Palmer 2015
Meaty, warm, ripe. Gee this is un-Bordeaux like, the warmth of fruit, the smoky blackness. It’s like warm year Margaret River, with bludgeoning tannins and lots of oak. Intriguing, but maybe a bit blocky too. I’d pick this as new world if I saw it in a lineup, and the tannins are less refreshing too. Ambitious, and yes, the longer you look the more the class comes through, the tannins wider too. 18.5/20, 94/100+
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2015
Cedar, hints of capsicum, more acidity and leaf. It’s true Pessac, with a really quite pretty mode. Red fruit, rather than black. More acidity. Classy, no question about it. But more traditional than showy. Pretty, but maybe not the impact of the other wines in this lineup. Good claret and it just needs more time. 18/20, 93/100.
Flight 2 – Haut-Bailly vertical
Haut-Bailly is slightly elevated (48m) and with a sandstone soil with fossilised crustaceans. Vines are planted at 10k vines per hectare. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot.
La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2015
60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvigon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Bright red heading to purple. There’s an edge of garrique almost, a meatiness that you don’t see in the grand vin. Then a palate that stumbles a little with its extraction, the tannins firm and a bit hearty. The mid palate saves it though, with very good concentration of rich fruit. Quality, but a step behind in the balance. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2014
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot. Herbs, redcurrant, black texta. Another very moderate claret, the leafiness and tannin sternness defines it after the more ripe and prominently ripe ’15s but you’d not call this an unattractive wine. It’s mid-weight and perfectly fine in it’s leafy moderate form. I rather like the refreshment all things considered. 18/20, 93/100
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2011
Still very bright, the nose is less about primary fruit, and more woody, cedar and darkness. The palate too is defined by tannins, a cooler and more drying style that de-emphasises bright fruit. You’ve got to love tannins to enjoy the more stern expression, less opulent here. Definitely shows the vintage. But it’s not hard, it’s not green. Quality. 17.7/20, 92/100.
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2008
70% Cabernet. Colour again is still very bright. Remarkable colour. This has rather more stuffing and is in a good mode of drinkability. Definitely a warm year wine, the mushroom and beef hints mingling with the red fruit. This is a really enjoyable drink now, it’s perhaps not profound, but the tannin grip vs the black fruit and bonox is satisfying. 18/20, 93/100.
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2006
‘I like to show a wine that looks younger than it is’ says Vialard. Still bright red! Maturity creeping in here, but in a lovely way. Black olive, lead pencil, this is very much a lovely classic Bordeaux, the tannins fine, the balance between cedar, olive, tannins. Classy drink right now and everything in the right place. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Bracket 3 – The Right Bank 2015
Variability is always the demon of the right bank, and there is quite a breadth of styles (and blends).
Chateau Gazin 2015
Merlot and Cabernet Franc this vintage. Deep ruby colour. Quite pretty nose of red plum fruit, the tannins here are just a bit firm and astringent after the Cab dominant styles. There’s a certain ripeness edge here that I just don’t like as much. It’s not overripe, but it feels a little less lively. Almost hearty. Still, that plum fruit is pretty attractive, and there’s a deeper licoricey, almost ironstone black edge through the middle too. Quality, in other words, even if I don’t love the shape of it quite as much. 17.8/20, 92/100+.
Chateau L’Evangelie 2015
84% Merlot and Cab Franc. Deep red. Incredibly lavish sweet milky oak on the nose and palate. Very very modern. It’s sexy oak, complete with some formic and underneath there’s clearly quality fruit. But it’s just oak. The fruit is almost Muscat like in its juiciness. It’s actually quite refreshing, if you put aside the oak. I’m in two minds here. One the one side it’s overdone on the oak. But I see glimmers of greatness too – an outre character and I’d like some of this to see how it looks in a decade. 18/20, 93/100+.
Chateau Troplong-Mondot 2015
Deeply coloured, red with purple edges. Very ripe, very juicy too. Like trying to drink ink. And underneath it falls away just a fraction too, It’s all oak lifted dark fruit, that is highly polished and classy. But it also feels jammy and a bit contrived. This would be classed as a fruit bomb in Australia. And I want just a little more balance. 17.8/20, 92/100+.
Chateau Figeac 2015
Light red ruby, it’s lighter coloured and a lighter wine in this context. More pretty red fruit, less oak, less heaviness. It’s quite pretty, even with a little leafiness. It’s maybe a little weensy bit drying to finish. But I rather like it. It’s more claret like and isn’t a smash in the face. It’s fragrant and pretty and lively. I’d want this in my cellar. 18/20, 93/100+.
Chateau Angelus 2015
15% alcohol. Ambitious, as ever. Huge tannins and there’s oak tannins as well as fruit tannins. It’s black fruited, very ripe, luscious and quite licoricey. But I was expecting not to like it given the ambition. Actually, the more I look, the more I like the shape of this. It’s flashy, sure, but there’s a core of decorum too. It’s what you want a brash Saint-Emilion to be. Even if it’s ripe, and even apricotty in its ripeness. I can’t put it down as bad. It’s excess done in a certain way that I appreciate. 18.5/20, 94/100.