By Xavier Auerbach
On 6 March 2017, I attended the evening session of the Amsterdam UGCB tasting, which featured wines from the 2014 vintage. Below you will find my notes on the wines I tasted. Just like last year, there was too little time, there were many friends and we were very busy exchanging opinions. By consequence, I have only 40 notes and they are relatively brief. The overall picture that emerged for the 2014 vintage, was quite consistent (many good wines in the lower 90's) but a bit mixed at the same time (there were some disappointing wines too).
For the growers in Bordeaux, 2014 was a year in which ripeness came late in the day. July and August were miserable in different ways and by the end of summer, things looked pretty bleak. Many feared that a sequel of the very difficult 2013 vintage might be in the offing. Where is climate change when you need it? But in the beginning of September, the sun started to shine and basically it did not stop until the end of that month. In October, favourable conditions prevailed until the third week, when the harvest of the last Cabernet-Sauvignons was completed.
The whites from Graves and Pessac-Léognan were uniformly successful, relatively soft but fresh, with a good stuffing of ripe fruit, well-managed oak and an open and approachable character. Some were more vegetal than others, depending on the amount of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. Carbonnieux was the odd man out, with a tight and angular style; Smith-Haut-Lafitte showed both power and restraint, but the effortless elegance and harmony of Domaine de Chevalier made it the clear winner for me.
For the red wines, the picture is more mixed. Generally speaking, the red wines are delicate and fresh, not blockbusters like in 2009 and 2010, and much more about elegance and drinkability than about power and weight. They do not seem to have the structure for the very long term - many good wines are already attractive on their primary fruit. Some liken 2014 to 2001; those with longer memories think back to that famous Indian summer in 1978. Others say that 2014 is a vintage without a real precedent. However this may be: the successful wines display lovely, pure fruit and their tannins range from gentle to firm, with good phenolic ripeness. As you would expect in a vintage like 2014, the less successful wines are marred by a lack of this ripe fruit and/or by drying tannins.
I was surprised to find that the wines from Margaux were quite variable - you would expect these generally warmer terroirs to do well in 2014. Saint-Julien delivered a solid and consistent performance and Pomerol showed very well too. Of the better-known châteaux, I had difficulty understanding Lynch-Bages and La Conseillante; I very much enjoyed both the Léovilles, Clos Fourtet and Gazin too. The winner for me however was, again, Domaine de Chevalier. Olivier Bernard really outdid himself in 2014.
I only tasted two wines from Sauternes, but they were both beautifully fresh and well-balanced, clean and pure, with a lovely rôti. I always prefer the fruity elegance of de Rayne-Vigneau to the oaky power of Guiraud, but that is a personal matter. Yields were very low, but 2014 seems to be yet another good vintage for the sweet wines from Bordeaux. Some say it is similar in style to 2001 and I can see why.
After the tasting, some 40 of us gathered for an informal Winemakers' Dinner at Café De Klepel, hosted by Eric and Marianne de Bruijn of Wijnkoperij de Bruijn (www.debruijnwijnkopers.nl) and the Commanderie de Bordeaux aux Pays-Bas (www.commanderiedebordeaux.nl). It was attended by Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier), Alexander van Beek (Château Giscours and Château Du Tertre), Matthieu Cuvelier (Clos Fourtet and Château Poujeaux) and Damien Barton-Sartorius (Château Léoville-Barton and Château Langoa-Barton), among others. I did not manage to make notes on the wines, which had been graciously provided by the Châteaux, many in magnums. This is unfortunate, as they included Domaine de Chevalier 2006, Château Lynch-Bages 2006, Château Giscours 2004 and Château de Tertre 2004, among many others. The only exception is Château Léoville-Barton 2004 - Damien Barton-Sartorius was sitting at our table and it would have been rude not to afford his wine the appropriate attention.
White Graves / Pessac-Léognan
2014 Château Carbonnieux - 91
Tight and fresh, vegetal note, quite angular at present, excellent oak integration.
2014 Château de Chantegrive - 89
Ripe fruit, tropical note, soft but fresh, well-managed oak. Rounded and attractive.
2014 Domaine de Chevalier - 94
Very stylish, silky, wonderful harmony, effortless elegance, floral and fragrant (almost like a Riesling). Grand Vin.
2014 Château de Fieuzal - 92
Silky and harmonious, just a hint of oak, well-balanced, lovely fruit, already attractive.
2014 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion - 91
Rounded and supple, flattering, floral, gentle oak. Delicious, to drink young.
2014 Latour-Martillac - 92
Ripe fruit, tropical edge, floral lift, subtle oak, lovely elegance.
2014 Château La Louvière - 91
Vegetal note, tighter and fresher than many others, more Sauvignon Blanc? Linear, needs a few years.
2014 Château Malartic-Lagravière - 91
A wine with sève, balanced and elegant, complete, all elements well-integrated.
2014 Château Smith Haut Lafitte - 93
Vegetal but rich, well-integrated oak, combines power with a certain elegance, tropical edge, long. Needs a few years.
2014 Château Clinet - 93
Wild and wonderful, rich and spicy, powerful but does not lack elegance.
2014 Château La Conseillante - 90?
Aromatic but feels a bit thin, as if there is a hole in the middle. Not sure what to make of this. Non-committal score.
2014 Château La Croix de Gay - 90
Convincing nose, slightly brutish and foursquare on the palate. Blunt.
2014 Clos Fourtet - 93
Finesse, elegance, silk, harmonious, flowers, seductive, just beautiful.
2014 Château Gazin - 93
Aromatically this is more closed than many others, but it is so stylish and satiny, flowing and elegant, with good flavour intensity and length.
2014 Château Pavie-Macquin - 93
Floral and fragrant, elegant and refined, juicy fruit and cool limestone, very good length.
2014 Château Beychevelle - 92
Classic style, elegant, well-balanced, crisp Cabernet, fresh and digestible, elegant tannic grip.
2014 Château Branaire-Ducru - 90
Beautifully fresh and croquant, slightly drying tannins, light and linear, floral finish. Could add another point if it develops well.
2014 Château Cantenac-Brown - 91
Elegant, attractive, delicately fleshy, floral, good depth and length.
2014 Domaine de Chevalier - 94
So beautiful, so elegant, so complete, spices and black fruit, creamy, sève, excellent length. A star.
2014 Château Desmirail - 89
Quite tight at the moment, transparent, lightly toasted, on the lighter and drier side.
2014 Château Durfort-Vivens - 91
Relatively dark pitched fruit, marries elegance and silk with a certain gravitas.
2014 Château de Fieuzal - 90
Seductive nose, rounded and satiny palate, but the finish feels rather green.
2014 Château Giscours - 92
Supple, creamy, flowing and relaxed, elegant and floral, gentle phenolics, long.
2014 Château Haut-Bailly - 91
Elegant and feminine as is to be expected, stylish palate but borderline austere on the finish.
2014 Château Lafon-Rochet - 92
Classic Saint-Estèphe nose, earth and spice, lead pencil, good weight, firm tannic grip, hint of cream, complete finish, good length.
2014 Château Lagrange - 91
A good performance, good ripe fruit, well made, harmonious, solid structure.
2014 Château Langoa Barton - 92
This is showing really well, classic claret, well-balanced, crisp fruit and spice, perfectly integrated oak, floral length.
2014 Château Lascombes - 92
Quite powerful and masculine as is to be expected, firm tannins, serious and extracted, but the balance and freshness are there it seems.
2014 Château Léoville-Barton - 93
Perfectly classical Saint-Julien and Léoville-Barton profile, perfect weight, elegant, well-integrated oak, ripe blackcurrants and spice, has line and length.
2014 Château Léoville-Poyferré - 93
Very approachable, typical generosity, silky and stylish, the staying power is hidden, but it is there.
2014 Château Lynch-Bages - 90?
Dry on the nose, liquorice, some sweet fruit on the palate, but the finish is very drying. A question mark.
2014 Château Marquis de Terme - 90
Lovely fruit, flattering, soft and approachable, hint of cream, subtle toast, lacks some power.
2014 Château Monbrison - 87
Light and a bit drying in the finale, I detect a touch of underripeness in the fruit.
2014 Château Prieuré-Lichine - 89
Margaux femininity, juicy but lacks weight and length.
2014 Château Saint-Pierre - 92
Modernistic, juicy and glossy, black fruit and spices, good weight, old vines, new world style. Well done but not my cup of tea.
2014 Château Smith Haut Lafitte - 92
Weighty and rich, black fruit and subtle toast, good depth and power, velvety tannins.
2014 Château Talbot - 92
Deep and spicy, hint of animale (but not barnyard), good stuffing of fruit, well-managed tannins. True to type.
2014 Château du Tertre - 92
So gentle, so feminine, so generous, white pepper and a hint of caramel, ripe fruit, no noticeable oak, just delicious. Very gentle wine making here. A personal favourite - I am a Burgundy man at heart.
Sauternes / Barsac
2014 Château de Rayne-Vigneau - 93
Very elegant, fresh and stylish, beautiful rôti, tropical fruit, excellent length.
2014 Château Guiraud - 91
Oaky and rich, resinous, big and tropical, concentrated and powerful but lacks finesse (for my palate at least). It has its fans.
2004 Château Léoville-Barton 2004 - 92
Classic Barton, cool and fresh, floral, gravelly but not dry, cassis, lovely sweetness, elegant, pure, tannic, long. Just entering its drinking window.