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Bordeaux 2021 tasting notes: Left Bank Part II

By Simon Field MW |  June 16 2022

Bordeaux 2021 Left Bank Part II
Château Haut-Brion

Simon Field MW’s tasting notes from the Bordeaux 2021 en primeur tastings continue with wines from the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Moulis, Graves, and Pessac-Léognan.

Bordeaux 2021: Médoc / Haut-Médoc / Moulis

Château Belgrave 5ème Cru

(65% CS, 30% M, 5% PV)

SF | A signature wine from the Dourthe stable, with all of the fruit-forward generosity and textural richness that one has come to expect from this understated property, which is located adjacent to Lagrange on two hilltops, and which shares many characteristics of the terroir of its more famous neighbor. The fruit focuses on red berries, and has a becoming lift, the refined tannins holding it up deftly and showing it in a very good light indeed.  89-91

Château Charmail Cru Bourgeois

(55% CS, 15% M, 15% CF, 15% PV)

SF | An intriguing blend, with both the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot contributing energy and a hint of salinity to the back palate; in the advance party, Cabernet Sauvignon is guileless but in control; not too stern to prevent one from describing this pretty example as gourmand   88-90

Château Mauvesin-Barton

(52% CS, 48% M)

SF | The Merlot suffered much during the spring frost, with Cabernet Sauvignon nobly stepping into the breach; for all that, the gently refreshing Mauvesin stye is evidenced; crunchy fruit, compact but satisfying in the mid-palate, ripe but unassuming tannins and impressive length. 88-90

Château Potensac

(40% CS, 34% M, 23% CF, 3% PV)

SF | The significant component of Cabernet Franc is behind the charming aromatic; crushed raspberries and black tea, maybe even a hint of gunpowder. A fine effort from this northern estate, located close to Sociando-Mallet and just to the north of St-Estèphe. The wine has medium concentration, a wild berry fruit character, and a hint of gravel at the back of the palate. Very accomplished. 90-92

Château Poujeaux

(55% CS, 40% M, 5% PV)

SF | The Cuvelier family have invested a lot in this perennial overperformer, with Stéphane Derenoncourt on hand to consult. Location of the vineyard dictated the modesty of the frost damage in 2021, with Merlot nonetheless succumbing to considerable mildew pressure. The Cabernet leads the way both aromatically and texturally, the cassis and mineral of the former setting us up well for a composed and nicely balanced wine, dark fruits held in place by an architecture supported by the joint pillars of acid and tannin, each perfectly courteous to the other. 90-92

Château Sénéjac

(62% CS, 27% M, 6% PV, 5% CF)

SF | A pleasant surprise this, a rounded, approachable, and very nicely constructed Sénéjac, wearing its 30% of new wood with effortless abandon, with an acid/tannic interface which works perfectly. Look no further for a perfect luncheon claret two or three years hence! 89-91

Château Sociando-Mallet

(55% M, 43% CS, 2% CF)

SF | François Hugueniot makes the valid point that the Merlot high in the Médoc is made of sturdy stuff, and that there really is no need for Petit Verdot to provide counterpoint to the Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is suitably concentrated, with an impressive mid-palate weight, then elegant tannins to bolster the structure; its firm arrow-shaft of acidity accomplished in support. 90-92

Château Sociando-Mallet Cuvée Jean Gautreau

(75% CS, 25% M)

SF | It was the paterfamilias, Jean Gautreau himself, who wished to demonstrate just what Cabernet Sauvignon could do in the vineyards further to the north of St-Estèphe (not that much farther north, to be fair, given that Sociando abuts the famous cru) and here is the answer; a small bottling (5,000 or so) which appears to differ radically from the generic wine; cassis sings from the glass and tannins pound its side; only on the home straights of the arrière-bouche does one recognize the house style, gently lifted, its firm acidity supporting the weight of fruit, its parting message focused on harmony and elegance. 91-93

Château La Tour Carnet

(54% M, 46% CS)

SF | Quite heady and rich; fleshy fruit to the fore, plums, damsons and the rest of it, maybe running ahead of the structure somewhat. The rigor of the vintage works well here, and the synthesis of elements has been deftly rendered. 88-90

Bordeaux 2021: Graves / Pessac-Léognan Blanc

Château Carbonnieux Cru Classé

(67% SB, 33% SM) 

SF | Carbonnieux is family-run, and from the plethora of fourth-generation Perrins involved in the business, I have the pleasure to meet Marc (one cannot but recall another large family of Perrins at Château de Beaucastel!) This Marc Perrin enthuses about the white in 2021, and with good reason; the wine is pressed under nitrogen, and its fermentation starts in stainless steel; the élevage takes place in foudre, tank, and barrel, 25% of it new. The complexity of construction is captured in the assemblage; notes of verbena and lemon pith, then a little nutmeg and white pepper; a delicate silky style, which builds gracefully and finishes well. 91-93

Domaine de Chevalier Cru Classé

(65% SB, 35% SM)

SF | A subtle peachy aromatic builds slowly, the influence of the 35% of new wood evident but not overwhelming. Lemon pith, quince, and hints of white flowers, thyme even… the forest murmurs softly… a chalky substratum, a citric core with just a hint of creamy indulgence… and then a pleasingly lifted finish, still a little tense at the start of such a long journey. 94-96

L’Esprit de Chevalier Blanc

(65% SB, 35% SM)

SF | A generous vinosity, juxtaposed with the aromatic appeal of ripe Sauvignon on these very particular soils, but in a cooler vintage. Hints of blossom and jasmine, a zest and chalky back-bite… all in all, a highly successful Esprit Blanc. 91-93

Château Couhins-Lurton Cru Classé

(100% SB)

SF | If La Louvière is a far cry from Sancerre, the Couhins Blanc gets us a little closer… the razorblade of acidity cutting through the citric fruit beautifully, the crystalized lemon and quince backdrop framed by chalk, nutmeg, and lemongrass. But why talk of Sancerre when Bordeaux can make Sauvignon Blanc of this high quality? 92-94

Château de Fieuzal Cru Classé

(65% SB, 35% SM)

SF | Stephen Carrier says that he has learned a lot in 2021, adding, somewhat cryptically, that “a lot of the challenges were not actually challenging,” for some perhaps the most eloquent summary of the chasm between appraisal and reality in 2021. Frost, however, was the key issue and the yields were, in more than the literal sense of the word, decimated. The Sauvignon is long and aromatic, a tense spinal cord, with the Semillon building slowly, the oak, less marked than of old, nonetheless providing counterpoint. Deft, gentle, floral, and softly seductive. 91-93

Château La Garde  

(92% SB, 8% SM)

SF | Denis Dubordieu’s extensive legacy at Dourthe is focused above all on Sauvignon Blanc. Little surprise, then, to find that the Dourthe property La Garde makes such an accomplished white wine, all the more so in 2021, when conditions were close to perfection. Lees-stirring lends texture to the citric fruit core; the fact that only 10% of the barrels are new has allowed the Sauvignon Blanc to sing with aromatic dexterity. Hints of quince, oatmeal, and poached pear only further underline the innate complexity to be found in wonderfully distinctive wines such as this. Well worth seeking out. 91-93

Château Haut-Brion 1er Cru

(57% SM, 43% SB)

SF | The Haut-Brion Blanc is a little more open, a little richer than its cousin, La Mission. Mango and pineapple are noted on the nose, in addition to the usual panoply of citric and orchard fruit descriptors; a plump cushion has already been set out for us, but there is little risk of overindulgence. Merely pleasure, and then a little more pleasure. 44% of new barrels. 96-98

La Clarté de Haut-Brion

(56% SM, 44% SB)

SF | In a distinct clear bottle, an engaging blend, classy yet complex, already approachable but clearly with more to give; white flowers, a hint of tilleul, hints of confit melon and greengage, then nutmeg, nougat, and a distinctly exotic peroration, which does nothing to undermine the focused acidity and overall poise; this wears the 46% of new barrels with a nonchalance born of self-belief. A little more Sauvignon Blanc than sometimes. 92-94

Château La Mission Haut-Brion Cru Classé

(55.2% SM, 44.8 % SB)

SF | The numbers offered in terms of blend and the like are very precise (14.1 % ABV impressive, too), precision the watchword for the wine itself, a pointillist approach evidenced, the overall tableau harmonious and silky. Leaner, with more energy than Haut-Brion Blanc, by turns gently chalky, infused with tense citric fruit and mouth-fillingly complex. All these apparently contradictory elements are already woven together and will continue to grow with great dignity for a long time… Well worth the entrance fee. 95-97

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion

(83% SB, 17% SM; 13.9% ABV)

SF | A short bâtonnage and then extended suspension on fine lees has guaranteed equilibrium here; a tension between the citric notes (citrus peel, most evidently) and the softer, richer profile recalling honeydew melon and white peach. The tension is finely judged… It was clearly worth waiting an extra week for the harvest, which was all gathered in by October 4. 90-92

Château La Louvière

(100% SB)

SF | Jacques Lurton describes white Pessac as “the Burgundy of Bordeaux,” and while one might be tempted to pick holes in such an analysis, one can see exactly what he is getting at in terms of texture and quality—even, and apparently somewhat paradoxically, with a wine made exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc. This one is oily and rich, bâtonnage having been practiced liberally; there is a pleasing depth of flavor and a firm backbone of acidity; mealy and grippy. A long way away from Sancerre, so maybe Jacques is spot-on after all! 91-93

Château Malartic Lagravière Cru Classé

(89% SB, 11% SM)

SF | Fairly solid yields here—over 45hl/ha—thanks to minimal frost damage, although the blend sometimes has a little more Semillon than here. 50% of new barrels dictates a house style but does not, in this manifestation at least, overwhelm the ensemble. Flowers, soft spice, honeysuckle, and even a hint of lanolin (my note on the day was expansive and laudatory)… citric and more exotic notes dance an elegant pas-de-deux and the finish is already composed. Excellent! 92-94

Château Pape Clément Cru Classé

(70% SB, 30% SM)

SF | Canadian winemaker Matt Turner has supervised the use of some rather unusual vessels for his white wine; cigar-shaped barrels to enhance lees contact and a container called an Alma, which is, if I understood correctly, half barrel and half ceramic egg. Very Lewis Carroll! The result is both heuristic and hedonistic; en bref, a pleasing and approachable wine, the fruit forward and proud, the finish creamier and maybe a little indulgent than anticipated. Less oak than previously, but still from the richer end of the spectrum. 91-93

Clémentin de Pape Clément

(97% SB, 3% SG)

SF | The stated aspiration here is to decrease the oak and to increase the aromatic complexity of the wine, or at least the aromatic fruit intensity; all has been achieved and this is a pretty, sappy, approachable wine… lemon pith and a hint of salinity add a veneer of complexity to the ensemble. 89-91

Château Smith Haut Lafitte

(90% SB, 5% SM, 5% SG)

SF | Daniel Cathiard takes me to the top of the bell tower and allows me to ring the bell, which resonates pleasingly across the estate. I am pleased by such things… L’Angélus and all that. A good preparation for a good tasting with winemaker Yann, who describes 2021 as a “strange” vintage, the qualitative line for him very much drawn up by soil type. The white has been aged in 50% new oak, and marks the young wine with a creamy, forward personality, then plenty of stone fruit, a hint of grapefruit and even a whiff of petrichor… Hedonistic yet dynamic, this is a very attractive young SHL Blanc. 92-94

Bordeaux 2021: Graves / Pessac-Léognan Rouge

Château Carbonnieux Cru Classé

(58% CS, 28% M, 7% CF, 7% PV)

SF | Marc acknowledges a difficult growing season for the Merlot, with even the harvest delayed by inclement conditions. The Cabernets were easier (the last Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested on October 14) and it is the Cabernet imprimatur that resonates. A subtle, gravelly concentration, bearing a distinct Pessac signature, an harmonious constitution and arrow-like focus all the way along the vistas of the palate. 90-92

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion Cru Classé

(40% CF, 35% CS, 25% M)

SF | Aha, a little Carmes in the suburbs of mighty Bordeaux… the Hans Christian Anderson sleeping beauty of the Château itself now roused by a space-age Philippe Stark winery, a bronze capsule of reflected glory. Minimalism to maximum effect. Here we have the very specific microclimate of a walled vineyard cocooned by the warmth of the city. And finally, the skill of the delightfully idiosyncratic winemaker Guillaume Pouthier, who learned his trade chez Chapoutier in Hermitage. 45% of whole-bunch fermentation and 70% of new barrel; no chaptalization (13.5 % ABV), and a gentle extraction method described by Guillaume as “passive infusion.” Passive infusion had led to active brilliance; a tsunami of descriptors (paprika, fig, blackberry, and violet) among them, and a palate that is both supremely refreshing and wonderful harmonious, the juicy sapidity at the back particularly attractive. Sui generis. The Carmelites, always a somewhat distinctive order, would have been well pleased. Chapeau!  94-96

C des Carmes Haut-Brion

(62% CS, 36% M, 2% PV)

SF | The C label is sourced from outside the magic vineyard, the former site covering nearly 30ha (75 acres), the latter only 7ha (17 acres). In the C, 20% of whole bunches have been used, but there is nothing green or undercooked here, rather beguiling and very distinct flavors; black tea, cranberries, a hint of linseed… very poised tannins and acidity embracing tightly… there is a fragrant salinity (nearly but not quite seaweed) at the back to underline originality and to reinvigorate. This hapless tasting note does not do justice to what is a very accomplished and fascinating piece of work! A property “on the up,” and one would do well to keep an eye on it. 91-93

Domaine de Chevalier Cru Classé

(80% CS, 10% M, 5% PV, 5% CF)

SF | The Cabernet Sauvignon has been promoted from 65% to 80% of the blend, “par la force des choses,” says Rémi, but he is not displeased with the results. A benchmark interplay between gravel and dark-fruit aromas, then a palate that is composed and long. The tannins impress especially, their discreet power holding the tension from start to finish; they are measured and far from overbearing. Once again, the “lighter” vintage, treated gently, allows the terroir to shine through. 93-95

L’Esprit de Chevalier Rouge

(65% CS, 25% M, 10% PV)

SF | A little more Merlot has gone into L’Esprit, but the dominance of the Cabernet Sauvignon is still keenly felt, from the slightly leafy aromatic through to the palate, where cassis and blue berries hold court, in thrall to characteristically elegant and poised tannins. 90-92

Couhins de Lurton 

(90% M, 10% CS)

SF | A Merlot-dominated vineyard, which Jacques describes as his “little Pomerol,” its loss to frost relatively minor in 2021 (10%). An immediate appeal of damson and plum, a hint of juniper or even violets behind; low-temperature fermentation and gentle extraction have bequeathed a core of fruit, powdery tannins, and quite firm acidity; a noble effort, guided by the highly active Eric Boissenot. 90-92

Château de Fieuzal Cru Classé

(50% M, 40% CS, 10% PV)

SF | Rather against the grain of the vintage at large, there is more Merlot than usual this time, Cabernet being the main victim of the frost. Gentle extraction and an extended maceration period (40 rather than 25 days) underwrite a style that is poised and relatively understated. The acidity is marked but will ease rather than hamper the evolution as the architecture assumes focus and vigor. 90-92

Château La Garde

(62% M, 36% CS, 2% PV)

SF | La Garde is made up of a single block of nearly 50ha (125 acres), its soils and aspects far from homogenous. The Merlot lends a fleshy, forward, plummy character; part of it was aged in amphorae to give it extra lift. The Cabernet slots in well beneath, lending deeper notes and in turn enjoying the support of a solid structure. Everything fits together nicely. One third of the barrels were new. 88-90

Château Haut-Bailly Cru Classé

(65% CS, 22% M, 10% PV, 3% CF) 

SF | Véronique Sanders uses the word “mindful” to describe 2021, an imaginative translation of the French term used, which is “humilité,” the latter maybe more successful, not least etymologically, in conveying the need, in 2021, to get close to the soil itself, to listen to it, as a stooped character in a Millet painting might also listen to nature’s soft voice. Anyway, this is the first wine to be vinified in the beautiful new chai (so wonderfully discreet, so outstandingly functional). Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend far more than usual. Be that as it may, there is nothing heavy or forced here, no bloated cassis or chalky gravel…. on the contrary, it is understated, poised, finely defined, and wonderfully patient with its taster, in the manner of only the very finest of wines. The taster, or this one at any rate, repays the compliment with interest. 93-95

Haut-Bailly II

(70% M, 25% CS, 3% CF, 2% PV)

SF | Described by Gabriel Villard as the “reflection” of the grand vin; almost an inverted reflection, in fact, given the Merlot’s dominance here. In a sense, this excellent example tastes how I had expected the top wine to taste; more open, gravelly, assertive, and immediately persuasive, yet still classically restrained of declamation. A tight weave of excellence. 91-92

Château Haut-Brion 1er Cru

(50% M, 38% CS, 12% CF)

SF | With the whites, the Mission appears to be the more delicate of the Haut-Brion pair; with the reds, the situation is reversed. Ripe fruit, for sure, deft, powdery tannins, but also a dignified reserve, the beguiling possibilities of the liminal. More classic in the sense that the gravel notes are not lost, seemingly well-suited to this less overtly warm vintage. Tobacco leaves are wrapped around the fruit, blackberry, red cherry, and myrtle to the fore; high cheek bones needing little by way of manicure; so reticent that it is articulate, so complex that it is simply brilliant. Voilà! 95-97

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion

(71% M, 18% CS, 11% CF) 

SF | An interesting counterpoint to the more open Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, Le Clarence is a slightly more reserved sibling, yet one quite possibly with more inner strength. The nose is informed more by graphite and pebbly notes than by fruit per se, Pessac writ large, and the structure is linear, its more demonstrative inclinations left for the back of the palate, powdery tannins offering discreet support, in itself indicative of high quality. One to watch. 91-93

Château La Mission Haut-Brion Cru Classé

(48% M, 46% CS, 6% CF)

SF | A magnificent tenebristic hue and then aromas of blackberry, cassis, and vanilla-scented wood, Assam tealeaf and violets in the background; a solid, persuasive attack, tannins and acidity making their presence felt, but the weight and quality of the fruit will out. Dark cherry and even a hint of menthol here at the moment; the battle royale between the tightness of the grain and the ripeness of the fruit in the early stages of engagement, each sounding out the other. Exceptional length. 94-96

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion

(51% M, 45% CS,4% CF)

SF | Generous and rich on the front, with cedar spice and fleshy fruit happily entwined; refreshing of length and robust of structure, this is a finely crafted Chapelle, relatively fruit-forward and to be enjoyed in the medium term. 90-92

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion

(81% CS, 19% CF)

SF | Almost unprecedented, there is no Merlot in the final blend! Bruno Lemoine is adamant that the combination of gravel soils and the rather tardy growth cycles in 2021 meant that the “normal” profile was never going to be right. The two Cabernets triumphant then, their constitution weaned with a very light pigeage extraction, described by Cellar Master Charlotte Mignon as a delicate infusion. The result is impressive, plump but restrained, firm acidity holding court but never overbearing, the tannic profile discreet and measured; good length, too. 89-91

Château La Louvière

(65% CS, 35% M)

SF | Spicy, fulsome, and forward; minimal oak has been used at any stage and the power is all fruit-driven firm and concentrated, the inherent quality of the fruit sufficiently poised to see it through. 89-91

Château Malartic Lagravière Cru Classé

(67% CS, 32% M, 1% CF)

SF | Jean-Jacques Bonnie has a detailed and somewhat complicated methodology when it come to pressing his red wines. 12% has been added back in total, the best 12% needless to say, lending gravitas, ripeness, and a certain balancing weight to what is otherwise a wonderfully ethereal drop. Raspberry, cassis, a dash of myrtle, then tobacco leaf, a hint of gravel and woodsmoke… everything, in other words, that one might hope for from a good young Pessac. The extraction regime as changed appreciably (three weeks where it was five) as Michel Rolland has handed the consultant’s wand to Eric Boissenot; finely grained tannins and a lifted exuberance have ensued. Very attractive. 91-93

Château Pape Clément Cru Classé

(60% M, 40% CS)

SF | A winemaker’s year, without recipes, is Matt’s uncontroversial assessment. What is a little more unusual maybe, is that the Merlot takes the lion’s share of the blend. The drop in malic acid after the malolactic fermentation allied to the particular picking conditions within the warming cordon sanitaire of the greater city of Bordeaux conspire to give Merlot the edge. The result is big-boned, fleshy up to a point, but with composed powdery tannins, balancing acidity and a clean, tapered finish. The Rolland-inspired modus operandi is not poorly suited to a vintage such as 2021, it seems. 91-93

Clémentin de Pape Clément

(54% M, 45% CS, 1% PV)

SF | A very attractive Clémentin this year, both gravelly and grippy, neither facet undermining the quality of fruit and an accessibility which does not underplay the seriousness of intent. 88-90

Château Smith Haut Lafitte Cru Classé

(63% CS, 33% M, 3% CF, 1% PV)

SF | A firm foundation of 60% new oak, the house style, with a slow sensory build after the eye-catching gambit of power. The build impresses, for all that, the weight of the fruit and the rigor of the tannins finely matched; notes of tobacco leaf and licorice join the party toward the end, a party that looks set to last for a long time. Texturally this is now a little foursquare, but not for long. 92-94

 

Bordeaux 2021 coverage

Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur Review: Neo-Classic

Bordeaux 2021 Tasting Notes: Left Bank Part I

Bordeaux 2021 En Primeur: Romance and Reality

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Château Figeac

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Vieux Château Certan

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Château Pavie

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Le Dôme

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Domaine de Chevalier

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Sauternes and Barsac

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Pichon Lalande

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: Enquiring Minds

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: The Whites Have It

Bordeaux 2021 Field Notes: In the Cold Light of Day

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