Vintage Bordeaux: Haut Medoc 2005

Whenever the subject of Bordeaux comes up, one cant help but conjure up images of majestic chateaux, of rolling countryside and of course some of the most expensive wine known to man. Since the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the price of Bordeaux has simply rocketed out of control as this new market makes a beeline straight for the great chateaux of the region. Indeed such is their love for Bordeaux (China is the largest export market of Bordeaux wine in the world) that Chinese investors now own over 100 vineyards in the region.

Of course I talk about Bordeaux as a single homogeneous region, which, perhaps more than most, is a vast oversimplification. Bordeaux covers over 120,000 hectares and is made of 60 different appellations, famously divided into the left and right banks. Bordeaux makes over 10,000 different bottles of wine ranging from mere few pounds for the cheapest, to many thousands of pounds for the dearest. Navigating ones way though this vast array of wines is an exceptionally difficult task and one that few can truly say they are at home doing so. I, a mere mortal, simply have to settle for a basic working knowledge to give me some idea of what I am looking at.

This brings me nicely to today’s wine:

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Chateau Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Medoc 2005

Bordeaux Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), Alcohol 13.5%

Chateau Cambon La Pelouse traces its roots back to the 18th Century, when the Cambon family first planted vines in the gravely soil of this 35 hectare plot, located in the Macau commune on the banks of the Garonne. The Macau commune lies just South along the river from Margaux. The chateau plants 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignion and 5% Petit Verdot, and their blends, whilst varying from year to year, often contain a large proportion of Merlot. Wines of the chateau are aged for an average of 20 months in French oak barrels of which between 40 and 50% are new.

2005 was a year to remember in Bordeaux. It was a year of plenty – plenty of acidity, fruit and especially, plenty of tannin. It was hailed by some as the vintage of the century, its rich tannins allowing great potential for ageing.

This bottle is a fine example of the vintage, displaying all the characteristics associated with it. The wine is a deep claret colour, with a real spicy nose, traces of leather and smoke with just a hint of red fruit. As expected, tannins are not in short supply, giving a real astringency quality to the wine. Its obvious the wine has been heavily oak aged, bestowing a complex smokey, almost licorice flavour. Unfortunately these intense bold flavours somewhat mask the rather more delicate black fruity flavours. All the components of the great wines are there, however the wine is let down by the lack of balance.

Even with over 10 years of age on the bottle, there is still a lot of room for more ageing and this might just bring some much needed balance to the tannic flavours. The classic food pairings for left bank Bordeaux are simple hearty lamb dishes or fine steaks. This wine would pair very well with either. Its important to avoid overly complex flavours or foods as these would likely be lost in the boldness of this wine. 87 points (MI)

The Battle of Château Batailley

Château Batailley, named after the battle that took place on the property some 600 years ago, is the sort of wine that, on paper, I would buy. Tasting notes promise a deep cassis and fragrant cedar bouquet. Furthermore, it is known for being ‘good value’ Bordeaux, with bottles starting at under £30, duty paid.

On our third visit to The Sampler, we tasted two famous expressions of Chateau Batailley: 2000 and 2005. This was an exciting opportunity to taste mature Bordeaux from excellent vintages, and to see whether the wine lived up to its on-paper reputation.

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Château Batailley, 2000, Pauillac

Lighter than the 2005, with a touch of brown on the rim. A muddy nose with hints of chocolate, violets and plum. Disjointed on the palate. The fruit has largely gone, replaced with a distinctive tomato flavour that I often find in fully-washed coffees. Graphite pencil shavings and toasty oak towards the end. This is not silky; there is a dusty component to the mouth-feel. The tannins have faded. Conclusion: Slightly weird, and certainly not what I was expecting. Despite this, I did enjoy the wine. 89 Points (BP)

Château Batailley, 2005, Pauillac

Immediately more focussed than the 2000, with berry fruit and cassis still present. There is more structure here, from acidity, minerality and tannin. Cedar perfume, some liquorice and oak on the finish. Very drinkable. 90 Points (BP)

Learning point: The 2005 won the battle. It ‘does what it says on the tin.’

Meerlust Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Prior to visiting South Africa I had already tasted Meerlust Rubicon, and this wine helped set the yardstick to judge against. The visit to Meerlust came towards the end of the trip so I felt a certain trepidation for how the wines of the estate matched both expectation and memory.

Wine has been grown on this estate to the south of Stellenbosch since 1756. The estate has been recognised as a national monument since 1987, although we did not stop long enough to see more than the tasting room. Meerlust has been long recognized as one of South Africa’s top estates. The range at Meerlust is simple: 4 varietals (1 white and 3 red) and the flagship Rubicon (a Bordeaux blend). Here in the UK I have also seen an entry level Meerlust red although this was not available for tasting.

We travelled to Meerlust Estate from False Bay having followed the stunning R44 along the coast around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. False Bay is still visible from the turning into the estate and this proximity to the sea is key to the wines. A sea breeze and mist keep the vineyard temperatures in check through the summer permitting a longer ripening season. This translates into a great intensity and permits elegance in the wines.

The tasting room and shop are in one of the estates historic buildings and are accompanied by an exhibition of photography and articles about the cape and the estate.

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 09h00 – 17h00, Saturdays 10h00 – 14h00.

Tasting fee: R30 per person refundable on purchase of wine.

Stockists in UK: The wines of Meerlust are relatively easily found in the UK.  The price disparity across the range is less here than in South Africa and so Rubicon is relatively more keenly priced.  I have included a link for each wine as some are slightly tricky to find.

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Wines Tasted: Meerlust Chardonnay 2014, Meerlust Pinot Noir 2015, Meerlest Merlot 2013, Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Meerlust Rubicon 2012

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Wines from Stellenbosch

The following wines are a mix of wines tasted by the bottle with friends in South Africa. I tasted these wines with no preconception and minimal knowledge of the producers. Unfortunately for two of these I did not have any appropriate glassware available so they were sampled from a flat bottomed tumbler (unfair I know).

StehuisMorgensterWines: Morgenster White 2012, Sterhuis Merlot 2013, Eikendal Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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A Loire White and Chilean Cab Sauv

21/2/2016Domaine des Forges, L’Audace, Anjou, Loire, France 2012.

100% Chenin Blanc, aged in oak barrels, 13% alcohol.
Bin end wine around £10.

Appearance: Crystal clear, pale gold, good legs.

Nose:  Intense and clear notes of green apple.

Palate:  Dry white wine with high acidity.  Light in body with medium (+) alcohol for the style.  Medium intensity of flavour, again dominated by green apple with an undercurrent of pear.  Oak adds a slight buttery complexity, particularly as the wine warmed up and on tasting the second day.  Racy minerality works well with the acidity leading on to a medium length finish.

Score: 88-90/100 (DT)

Conclusion:  Maybe not for everyone but I found this a refreshing and somewhat different aperitif.  In a way it reminded me of a Chablis but with the dominant green apple flavour at the front of the palate.  A well made and food friendly wine.  Not quite as good as the Coteaux du Layon and Savennières I have previously tasted from the same producer.

William Fèvre Chile, Espino Cabernet Sauvignon, Pirque, Maipo Valley, Chile, 2011.

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, aged in oak barriques, 13% alcohol.
Bin end reduced from £10.95 to £7.11.

Appearance: Deep garnet, clear, good legs.

Nose: Intense nose of predominantly red fruits.

Palate: Sour cherry dominates in this fruit forward Bordeaux blend.  Medium tannin,  and sweetness with sufficient acidity to give focus.  Well balanced and surprisingly elegant with medium length finish.  Complexity added by herbal, vanilla and cedar notes.

Conclusion: A good quality wine, ready to drink and great value for money.  This was also a hit with the rest of the family (not always an easy task).

Score 89/100 (DT)

Both wines were purchased from Berry Brothers Basingstoke store.