Chateau Haut-Bailly Cru Classé de Graves

Last week, at the National Club in downtown Toronto, I attended a tasting of 3 vintages (2006, 2007, 2008) of Chateau Haut-Bailly and its second wine La Parde de Haut-Bailly. The tasting was lead by the manager of the property, the lovely and passionate Veronique Sanders.  (All photographs are courtesy of Chateau Haut-Bailly.)

Chateau Haut-Bailly is located on the left bank of the Gironde in the Pessac -Leognan appellation, where the other 15 Graves Grand Cru Classes are also found.  The only property from the Graves appellation included in the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification was Haut-Brion,(all the others were from the Medoc region) so in 1959, Graves came out with its own classification system.  The 16 Chateaux named as Grand Cru Classe can be classified for either their red wine, their white wine, or both.  Chateau Haut-Bailly only makes red wine.

Chateau Haut-Bailly was founded in 1630 by a Parisian banker named Firmin Le Bailly and his partner Nicolas de Leuvarde. After Le Bailly’s death, his son Nicolas took over but eventually had to sell.  The estate passed through several hands until 1872 when it was purchased by Alcide Henri Bellot des Minieres, who built the chateau and further developed the vineyards.  Shortly afterwards, phylloxera struck. Bellot des Minieres refused to graft his vines onto American rootstocks, but instead chose to wash each vine in a copper-sulphate solution.  Apparently there is still a 3 hectare parcel of ungrafted vines.

In the early 20th century, the wines of Haut-Bailly were so highly regarded that they commanded prices on par with the Bordeaux first growths.  The property changed hands a few more times until 1955 when it was acquired by Daniel Sanders, a Belgian wine merchant from Barsac.  By this time the estate had suffered years of neglect and the vineyards had been reduced from 36 hectares to only 10 hectares.  Sanders began the huge task of restoring the property to its former glory.  In 1998, Haut-Bailly was purchased by Robert G. Wilmers.  They continued the task of improving the vineyards and winemaking facilities, and have completely restored the chateau.  Today, the wines are among the most respected in Bordeaux, and the property is under the management of Veronique Sanders, the granddaughter of Daniel Sanders.

In 1967, the chateau introduced a second label called La Parde de Haut-Bailly.  This is a ‘true’ second wine, as Veronique Sanders told the group last week.  It is a ‘true’ second wine because the grapes are treated the same in the vineyard as the first wine, in fact most of the time they haven’t even been declassified yet.  The grapes are then all vinified the same.  After fermentation the selection process takes place.  The wine for the first wine is selected first and then for the second wine.  The remaining wine is then used for the third generic label.  La Parde de Haut-Bailly is then aged in barrel for 12 months, compared to the 16 to 18 months for the first wine.

Vintage Notes:

2008: The spring was cool and May was wet, causing problems with flowering which led to poor fruit set and uneven grape size.  Rot was also a threat.  Dry weather and ideal conditions returned in July only to disappear again in August.  Great care was taken in the vineyards to ensure good aeration and prevent rot setting in.  Veraison of the Merlots and Cabernets were about 2 weeks behind usual.  Luckily, September and October were dry and beautiful, allowing the grapes to ripen to perfect maturity.  The harvest was very late and very long, taking place over a period of 5 weeks.  Overall, yields were low, and acidity remained fairly high.  The grapes were smaller than normal, giving wines of real concentration.

2007: An early spring and warm April meant that flowering was about 3 weeks earlier than normal.  High amounts of rain in May threatened the vineyards with mildew, calling for constant attention from vineyard workers.  Cool, cloudy days continued throughout the summer.  Fortunately, ideal weather returned in September and October giving sunny days and cool nights.

2006: The spring was one of the driest on record.  Dry weather and high temperatures in June enabled good fruit set and an abundant crop.  High heat in July interrupted growth but cooler temperatures in August helped to ripen the grapes. The good weather continued into September and the grapes ripened to perfect maturity.

Tasting Notes:

La Parde de Haut-Bailly AC Pessac-Leognan:

2008: The nose shows complex aromas of cedar, cassis, black raspberry, licorice, baking spice, and dark chocolate.  Ripe fruit flavours and spice are supported by a firm structure – good acidity and lots of fine-grained tannins.  This wine is concentrated and balanced and can probably age another 10 to 15 years.  ($39)

2007: Slightly less intense than the 2008 with aromas of mineral, raspberry, violets, and cedar.  Less concentrated on the palate, but still with lots of ripe fruit and mineral notes. ($29)

2006: This wine has very pretty aromatics of cedar, cherry, raspberry, mineral, black licorice and a floral perfume.  The upfront silky texture gives way to some very firm tannins and flavours of dusty earth, red fruit, cedar, and dried leaves.  This was my favourite of the 3.

Chateau Haut-Bailly AC Pessac-Leognan:

2008: Intense and complex aromas of ripe raspberries, cassis, and stoney minerals with an aromatic floral character.  Very juicy on the palate with a silky texture and fine-grained tannins leading to a long finish.  Concentrated and powerful. ($95)

2007: This wine is a blend of 70 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.  Enticing aromas of cedar box, red licorice, plum, and ripe red berry aromas of cherry and raspberry.  Not as concentrated as the 2008, but still supple and elegant. ($84) Just released on Feb 19, 2011 at the LCBO so there’s still quite a bit still available.

2006: No Cabernet Franc was used at all in this blend – only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Overflowing with wild berries, mineral, and cedar aromas with pretty floral notes.  Firm, but fine-grained tannins build on the very silky texture.  A long, luxurious finish.  Silky and seductive. ($94)  Released at the LCBO over a year ago, but there are still a few bottles left in the system.

A few of these wines are available through the LCBO or you can contact Noble Estates Wine and Spirits for more details.

A Few Tasty Sauternes

As promised in the last two posts on a tasting event I attended called, Discover Bordeaux, I will talk about a few of the wines from the Sauternes region of Bordeaux that I tried.  (See also my post on some good value Bordeaux from the same tasting).

The sweet wines of Sauternes are sublime, complex, delicious, and actually pair well with a number of foods, and are not as well known as they should be.

It’s not too long ago that sweetness in a wine was valued not just for its flavour, but for its nutritional value too.  Unfortunately, truck loads of poor quality, sickly sweet wines were produced all over Bordeaux, which quickly undermined the excellent quality of many wines from Sauternes.  By the 1960s the damage was huge.  Even some of the prestigious estates of Sauternes began to take less care with their wines.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that the revival began.

Sauternes was included in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux indicating how highly valued these wines were in the mid 19th century.  The famous estate, Chateau d’Yquem was even given the lofty status of Premier Grand Cru, not just a Premier Cru.  While the classification is not entirely valid anymore, as some properties have split up or been absorbed by others, it remains the same.

There are 5 communes within the region:  Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, Preignac, Barsac.  Barsac has a distinctive citric character and is lighter in colour and texture.

The wines are made with grapes infected with Noble Rot (the scientific name is Botrytis Cinerea).  Noble Rot is a fungus that attacks the grapes causing them to shrivel, inducing a chemical reaction within the grapes that ultimately produces a very complex wine.  The location of Sauternes is perfect for the development of the fungus.  Its proximity to two rivers gives it a humid microclimate that frequently produces morning mists.  The mists usually burn off by the afternoon when the warm sun then dries the grapes.  In order for Botrytis to be beneficial to the winemaking process, it must attack ripe, undamaged grapes.  If the grapes are damaged, unripe, or conditions are unfavourable, the resulting wine can be quite unpleasant.  Please read my article on Suite 101 called, “What is Sauternes?” for more information on the production of these delicious wines and some ideas for food pairings.

Tasting Notes:

Chateau Doisy-Daene 2007: The property, located in Barsac, was probably first planted in the early 18th century and is currently planted with 87% Semillon, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, and 1% Muscadelle.  The soil is a mix of red sand and clay with a solid limestone bedrock.  In the 1855 classification it was designated a 2nd growth.  The grand vin is a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine goes into new oak barrels.  The 2007 vintage has an intense nose with aromas of ripe peach, honeysuckle, honey, apricot, pineapple, and vanilla.  It has succulent flavours of ripe tropical fruit, honey, and peach.  The long length seems to go on forever.  A truly amazing wine! ($62/750ml bottle).

Chateau La Tour Blanche 2007: This property was established sometime in the 18th century and was classified as a Premier Cru in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac.  The wines are fermented in oak.  The nose is not as intense as the Doisy-Daene, but there still  pleasant aromas of beeswax, honey, apricot, and peach, along with a floral note.  I also detected a hint of nail polish remover.  It has a luxurious texture with concentrated flavours of honey, apricot, and peach with a good streak of acidity to help balance the sweetness. ($46/375ml bottle).

Chateau Guiraud 2007: This property was also classified as a Premier Cru in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac.  The vineyards are planted with 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc which seems like a high % of Sauvignon Blanc, but most is used to make a dry white wine.  The grapes are picked at a yield of about 12hl/ha and are fermented separately by block.  The finished wine then goes into new oak for up to 2 years.  The 2007 vintage has elegant aromas of apricot, honey, orange blossom, pineapple, beeswax, and a hint of nail polish remover.  The beeswax and fruit follow through onto the palate where there is a long luxurious finish. ($72/750ml bottle).

Yes, most Sauternes is quite expensive to buy but that’s because of the stratospheric production costs of these wines.  The labour required to pass through the vineyards several times looking for perfectly rotten grapes and the extremely low yields that are harvested all contribute to making this a very expensive wine.  Some years the weather doesn’t cooperate and the development of Noble Rot hindered, so less wine is produced in those years.  A few vintages have been so bad that some estates have made no sweet Sauternes at all.  However, if you do have a few extra dollars to spend and you have never tasted a sweet Sauternes, I recommend that you give it a try.

Some Tasty Bordeaux and Good Value too!

At the Discover Bordeaux tasting event I attended in late January, I tried some fabulous red Bordeaux.  As I stated in the post called, “Discover Bordeaux – Tasting Event”, many of the wines were quite pricey.  There were, however, a few tasty treats that were not outrageously expensive.  Two of the four wines listed below were from the less prestigious appellations of Moulis and Medoc, with the other two being from the famed Margaux appellation.  All the wines listed here are from the 2007 vintage and all are under $50, which although may still seem a bit high, aren’t bad prices for quality Bordeaux.

Chateau Greysac 2007 AC Medoc:  ($25 a bottle) The estate has about 70 hectares of vineyard.  The red vines are planted with 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The wine is aged in oak barrels of which 20% are new, for 12 months.  There are aromas of red bell peppers, lead pencil, and the wine has a slight herbaceous quality to it.  On the palate it has a smooth texture with juicy red fruit flavours and a good length.  While not as impressive as some of the more expensive wines, it’s a tasty wine for the price.

Chateau Labegorce 2007 AC Margaux:  ($36 a bottle) This estate has 30 hectares of vineyard planted with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The wine is aged in cask (35% new) for 12 to 15 months.  The 2007 has rich aromas of cassis, red and dark berries, plum, spice, vanilla, and cedar.  Flavours of sweet vanilla and ripe fruit dominate with firm but balanced tannins and a good length.  A very pleasant wine for the money.

Chateau Chasse-Spleen 2007 AC Moulis: ($39 a bottle) Chateau Chasse-Spleen is a Third Growth Bordeaux estate with 80 hectares of vines planted with 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot.  The grapes are hand-picked and the wine is aged for 12 to 14 months in oak, 40% of which are new barrels.  The 2007 vintage is full of dark fruit aromas – cassis, black cherry – with some red fruit, spice, and a touch of chocolate.  On the palate there are flavours of juicy ripe red fruit with some lead pencil and spice.  The firm tannins could use a bit more time to soften and integrate.  Really good for the price.

Chateau du Tertre 2007 AC Margaux: ($49 a bottle) This is the most expensive of the wines listed here but it’s still a great wine for the money.  The estate is a 5th Growth with 50 hectares of vines planted on a gravelly, pebbly mound typical of the region.  40% of the vines are Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot.  The wine is fermented in traditional wooden vats and are aged up to 18 months in oak, 50% of which are new barrels.  Chateau du Tertre is a gravity flow winery which means that the grapes and the wine are not subjected to the harsh treatments of mechanical pumps.  The 2007 wine has aromas of violets, exotic spice, damp soil, and red fruit.  It’s full-bodied, with flavours of spice and red fruit dominating.  The firm tannins give the wine an appealing structure.  A very delicious wine.

Inexpensive Bordeaux? -There Are a Few Worth Trying

A couple of weeks ago I attended a tasting event called, “Bordeaux Under One Roof”, featuring Bordeaux wines priced at under $30 a bottle.  While I confess I would not bother purchasing many of them (as you can find many very pleasant Chilean and Argentinian wines at cheaper prices), there were 4 or 5 that I found to be excellent value.  This proves that, with careful selection, you do not need to spend an astronomical amount of money in order to enjoy a nice bottle of claret.

When looking for good Bordeaux at reasonable prices your best bet is to look to Bordeaux’s less famous appellations.  It’s harder to find inexpensive Bordeaux from appellations such as Margaux, St. Julien, and Pauilliac; however, areas such as Cotes de Bourg, Fronsac, Moulis, Listrac, and the satellites of St. Emilion and Pomerol can offer up great value.  You’ll notice that the wines listed below come from regions such as these.

Here are some tasting notes on 5 wines I thought were of good value.  I’ve also mentioned where you can find these wines in Ontario.

Chateau La Grolet 2005:  From the Cotes de Bourg.  This was definitely my favourite wine of the tasting.  The Chateau is certified organic and biodynamic.  The blend is 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There are beautiful aromas of red berries, cedar, and leather that really start to emerge after decanting.  Its concentrated fruit flavours and smooth tannins slide easily over the palate.  This wine will be at its peak in about 2 more years of aging, though it has the potential to age for 3 to 7 years in the cellar.  La Grolet is $24.95 and is available at Vintages at the LCBO or through Le Sommelier Inc.

Chateau des Laurets 2006:  From Puisseguin St. Emilion.  This wine has juicy aromas of ripe dark berries, cedar, and black licorice.  The tannins are still quite firm but should relax with a couple more years of aging.  At $19.95 it’s a definite value and is available at the LCBO or through Lorac Wine Inc.

Calvet St Emilion 2006: From St. Emilion.  A blend of 95% Merlot with 5% Cabernet Franc.  Intense aromas of ripe red and black berries dominate along with notes of underbrush and mineral.  The very smooth texture leads to a pleasant finish.  It’s hard to pass this wine up at $17.95 available at the LCBO or through Mark Anthony Brands.

Chateau La Croix Canon 2002: From Canon Fronsac.  It was nice to see a wine that had some maturity available for tasting.  At seven years old this wine is now at its peak and is drinking beautifully with an abundance of leather, earth and dark fruit aromas.  The tannins are soft and silky.  It’s a real steal at $19.95.  I couldn’t find this wine at the LCBO but you can contact the agents Rouge et Blanc at their website to find out more.

Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve 2006 Bordeaux Superior:  Dark fruit aromas of black cherry and cassis dominate with hints of cedar and vanilla to add complexity.   The tannins are still quite firm and could do with another couple of years of cellaring. It’s a good value at $21.95 and is available at Vintages at the LCBO.  I found this wine more complex and interesting than the regular Chateau Pey La Tour which is listed at $14.95.

1990 Chateau Rahoul, Graves – tasting note

Yesterday, my friend, Carlissa, and I travelled out of town to spend the day with our friend, John, at his country home.  Since the weather has finally started acting a bit more like summer, it was really good to get out into the fresh air and sunlight and soak up some much needed vitamin D.  John also happens to be an exceptional cook with a great talent for finding unusual and delicious wines to pair with the wonderful dishes he creates.  With the three of us being sommeliers, we were in gastronomic heaven and ate and drank to our hearts’ content.  We certainly consumed a great many fabulous things, but there is one particular wine that I would like to focus on right now.  It was a 1990 Chateau Rahoul from the Graves region in Bordeaux that my friend had found in his father’s cellar. 

Chateau Rahoul is a very old estate established in 1646 by Chevalier Guillaume Rahoul.  Throughout the centuries, it has passed through several different families before being purchased by Alain Thiénot in 1986.  Since then M. Thiénot has dedicated himself to producing wines of the highest quality.  The red wines are aged in barrel for 15 to 18 months, of which 20% are new.  The blend is Merlot dominant with Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  The estate also produces a white wine.

1990 was an excellent vintage for Bordeaux.  In fact, it’s regarded as the best vintage since 1961.  The weather in July and August was dry and hot and the rain that fell at the end of August was much needed and very welcomed.  September was cool but dry creating perfect harvesting conditions.

1990 Chateau Rahoul

1990 Chateau Rahoul

The wine I tasted yesterday was a very deep garnet colour with a bright ruby hue and a good deal of sediment left in the bottle after decanting.  It had enticing aromas of leather, cedar box, dried dark fruit, and pencil shavings.  The dark fruit and earthy flavours were supported by well-integrated oak and a balanced structure which ended with a long silky finish.  It was a very interesting and enjoyable wine, and although, yesterday,this wine was not paired with food, it would be an excellent match with grilled lamb chops, or a veal shank and mushroom stew.

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