This is the second installment in a month-long series about Bordeaux wine and how to drink it.
With my wino vocabulary improving, I felt ready to tackle some of the grandest of the Bordeaux wines: Moulis, Haut-Medoc, Pessac, et Margaux. These are terroirs that produce the legendary Chateau Margaux, Chateau Cheval Blanc, and Chateau Haut-Brion. While Bordeaux is fairly consistent at creating great wine, like anything else the region has its good years and bad. I learned that 2005 was an amazing year, and 2012, 2010, 2009, 2006, and 2000 are also gems.
This week I focused on color and smell. The color and clarity of a wine give some insight into how old it is, which is why people will hold a wine glass out, and spread the wine across the surface, and stare at it. I always rolled my eyes at people who did this in restaurants, and thinking about it now, everyone knows how old the wine ordered off a menu is anyway, but there really is something enjoyable about gazing at the dozens of different hues in a single glass. You can get sucked into it, and not just because you want to keep drinking. It reminds me of staring into a Rothko.
Looking at the wine, you’ll notice there’s always a center and then the edges that cling to the glass. Older wines tend to have orange tips and younger ones are red. In between those two are a zillion different shades of red and orange that I had fun naming.
Cabernet Sauvignon takes on soft tannins and fruit flavors.
Chateau Poujeaux 2010
In a word: Cheese
Julia’s Notes: Deep blackberry purple and clear edges. There was a faint smell of vanilla but otherwise I couldn’t smell a thing. Taste-wise, this was the first time I used “cheese rind” to describe what I drank. It was salty and creamy, and reminded me of those cranberry-stuffed cheeses that appear on Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvre tables. I wasn’t a fan but maybe drinking it with food would help.
What The Experts Thought: Wine Spectator: “Dark and enticing, with a subtle smoky frame around the core of mulled plum, black currant and blackberry fruit. The long, graceful finish is inlaid with flecks of charcoal, black tea and singed sandalwood. Best from 2014 through 2022.”
Les Allees de Cantemerle 2010
In a word: Ponies
Julia’s Notes: The strange smells continue! This time, I picked up notes of wet barn, specifically wet rafter beams, mildew, and ponies. Lots of ponies. And then there was the taste. I’ll spare you my exact description, but in short drinking this wine is what I imagine kissing Seabiscuit would be like. Just no.
What The Experts Thought: James Suckling, “Wonderful fruit intensity with currants and blueberries on the nose and palate. Full body, firm tannins and a fresh finish. Second wine of Cantemerle. Drink or hold.”
Chateau Lanessan 2006
In a word: Earthy
Julia’s Notes: The red-brick color made sense given the year, and thought the color was unusual compared to those of the other wines we’ve had. Smell-wise I picked up wet rocks and maybe rubber. The taste was much better, with licorice and rose. The finish was good too, medium and clean. Would drink again.
What The Experts Thought: Robert Parker, Jr., “Dark ruby/purple-tinged with cedary, black currant notes intermixed with roasted herbs and underbrush, this medium-bodied wine displays excellent concentration and relatively sweet tannins. It should evolve nicely for another 10-12 years."
Cabernet Sauvignon with mineral qualities.
Chateau Haut Bergey 2012
In a word: ?
Julia’s Notes: The ruby red color was constant throughout, very little change from the middle through the edges. It smelled like sausage, which was a plus in my opinion. Actually drinking it was unusual because at first sip it didn’t taste like much, it was almost watery, and then suddenly at the end of the sip there was a pop of something like chocolate-covered oranges ...
What The Experts Thought: Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, “the opaque ruby/purple-colored, medium-bodied 2012 Haut-Bergey reveals lots of smoky barbecue, forest floor, black currant and damp earth notes in a surprisingly dense, concentrated, positive, complete style.
Chateau Haut Bergey 2003
In a word: Coffee and Ciggies
Julia’s Notes: The brick color appears again, this time with even oranger. I liked the aroma a lot, which brought to mind pipe smoke. Flavor-wise I picked up on a strange combination of coffee and cigarettes. I can’t say that I’d have this one again, but for those heavy consumers of caffeine and tobacco, I’d make 2017 the year of healthy habits, and replace both with a glass of this thing.
What The Experts Thought: International Wine Cellar, “"Dullish dark red. Coffee and mocha aromas. Moderately dense and chewy on the palate, with flavors of blackcurrant, mocha, chocolate, coffee and herbs.”
MARGAUX, at last!
Cabernet Sauvignon with essence of violets
Chateau du Tertre 2010
In a word: Forest Floor
Julia’s Notes: Deep pink with a purple middle. Very smooth and earthy. Maybe wildflowers and dirt?
What The Experts Thought: James Suckling, “Lots of blackberries and blueberries on the nose. Full body, with chewy tannins that are polished and ripe. Tar and mushroom undertones on the finish. Excellent Tertre. Try in 2018.”
Confidences de Prieure-Lichine 2009
In a word: Pop-Tart
Julia’s Notes: This smelled amazing. Some combination of a frosted strawberry pop-tart (with sprinkles) and plum crumble. I think I was expecting it to taste like dessert, and it was close: lots of berries and toasted pastry crust.
What The Experts Thought: Wine Spectator, "Direct, with juicy, jammy raspberry and blackberry fruit, lined with anise and sweet toast notes. Good flesh. A crowd-pleasing style."
Chateau Prieure-Lichine 2000
In a word: Bad. Very bad.
Julia’s Notes: I’m not sure what happened to this one, but I suspect the vineyard was very close to a cow shed. It smelled like manure and tasted like wet cedar. A sweaty yoga room floor is probably the most accurate description.
What The Experts Thought: James Suckling, “This is very dense and rich now with sweet tobacco, dried berry and mahogany character. Full body with velvety tannins and a juicy finish. A long life ahead of it. Improving with age.” (That’s what they all say …)