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Friday, 6 September 2013

Innovation And Change in Bordeaux

A review of wines from different vintages from three Bordeaux chateaux: Chateau de la Dauphine, Chateau Marquis de Terme and Chateau Couhins.

The best, most established businesses combine a sense of continuity with innovation; it's not an easy balance to keep - stay relevant but don't alienate your core audience.

As a region, Bordeaux has no lack of heritage - but it's not exactly a youthful brand; say "Bordeaux" and I think of be-whiskered crusty colonels and sea-lords with bottles of claret.

Yet Bordeaux remains my first love for red wines - at its best somehow more elegant, nuanced and sophisticated than, well, almost any other region.

Bordeaux's main problem then - to me, at least - is more one of style than of substance; however, three winemakers attempting to address the latter point gathered in London to present their "new-style" wines - they are not part of a homogeneous movement, but rather individually have each taken a step forward in a new direction.

Guillaume Halley at Ch de La Dauphine has engaged consultant oenologist Michel Rolland to bring an immediate pleasure to their wines (no more long ageing required) and has converted to organic methods.

Romain Baillou at Ch Couhins uses specific hi-tech geo-positioning vineyard mapping techniques to ensure optimum ripeness of their grapes - plot by plot, almost vine-by-vine.

Ludovic David of Ch Marquis du Terme has modernised his cellar techniques and uses concrete eggs for fermentation to give more fruit and roundedness to his wines.

The wines were matched to a dinner by Alyn Williams at The Westbury.


Chateau de la Dauphine Fronsac AOC 50ha in a natural amphitheatre, 60m height difference top to bottom, limestone soil, 90% Merlot

Michel Rolland is ambivalent about organic methods; his focus is to advocate later picking of the grapes for more ripeness (described by Guillaume as a more high-risk approach) and more extensive work in the cellar.

2012 (barrel sample, £14) lots of ripe bramble fruit and overripe strawberries, liquorice and spice, coffee grounds, soft texture, with a firmness on the finish.

Recognisibly Rolland-esque - a Kylie Minogue of a wine; attractively pleasant and crowd-pleasing, yet assured with longevity potential.

2009 (£18) similar flavour profile, but more interesting secondary aromas, more feral on the nose.

2001 (Fine & Rare Wines, £24) surprisingly youthful appearance, just some fading around the rim; feral / gamey nose, complex and elegant with good aged character. Good.

Chateau Marquis du Terme, Grand Cru Classe Margaux

A third-growth estate of 40ha based in the middle of Margaux on gravelly soils; they are trying out an organic approach on 2ha of vines.

2011 (£28) CS/M blend with 2% Petit Verdot; ripe fruits, dried herbs, complexity and elegance

2009 (£30) CS/M with 2% PV; sweet ripe fruit with hints of mushrooms and tannins, poised and still youthful.

2005 (£30) CS/M with 5% PV; purple with some fading around the rim, neither fully youthful, nor fully mature - rather like an awkward teenager. Good concentration and a favourite with a number of people, but for me, on the night, not quite one thing nor the other.

1990 (£55 - £58) CS/M blend with some PV and CF; brick red hue, typical aged Medoc aromas of soy and bell pepper, truffles, dried herbs, sweet spices, old leather and gaminess - soft, fully-integrated tannins.

A really lovely wine drinking very nicely now - Very Good Indeed.

Chateau Couhins Grand Cru Classe Graves a 25ha estate in Pessac-Leognan, it is owned by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique which conducts research on grape and wine production there.

Couhins Blanc 2011 (£18 En Primeur Ltd) SB with 5% Sauvignon Gris; smokey mineral nose, aromatic and elegant. Crisp, precise and pure with white pear and white peach fruit, hints of aromatic herbs. Good.

Couhins Blanc 2007 (N/A) golden sandy yellow, surprisingly deep colour with a complex, intense aged nose - musky beeswax, diesel and aromatic herbs. Fresh acidity, good savouriness and length, concentration and richness. Very Good.

Couhins Rouge 2010 (£16 - £17 Fine & Rare Wines) M/CS/CF blend with 1% Petit Verdot; red fruits, spice and liquorice, plummy coffee grounds, savoury concentration and persistence. Some firmness on the finish.

Recommended wines
Despite the innovation and change theme of the evening, for me it highlighted the elegance and complexity of these Bordeaux wines and their aging potential - so, I found the oldest examples the most interesting on the evening:

- Couhins Blanc 2007
- Dauphine 2001
- Marquis de Terme 1990

Other related articles
Haut Brion 350th Anniversary Dinner
Crus Bourgeois at The Cambridge Tasting
Chateau Belgrave 2007
Chateau Senejac 2008

For much more authoritative detail on the technical aspects of the innovation and change, see this excellent article from Laura Clay - Brave New World.

Chateau Couhins - website
Chateau de la Dauphine - website
Chateau Marquis de Terme - website

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