Category Archives: Bordeaux

60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Ormes de Pez

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Château Ormes de Pez from St. Estephe.

The Geekery

Since 1940, Château Ormes de Pez has been under the ownership of the Cazes family, owners of the famous 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Lynch Bages, with the same viticulture and winemaking team used at both estates. Additionally the Cazes family also own the Graves estate Villa Bel Air and Domaine des Senechaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Ormes de Pez has 3 distinct soil types with a third of the vineyards planted on a mix of clay and gravel, another third planted on gravel and sand and another parcel, located near Tronquoy Lalande, planted on pure gravel.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that spent 15 months aging in French oak (45% new). The estate produces around 210,000 bottles a year with no widely distributed second wine.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Some dark fruits (currants and blackberry) with earthy leather. With a little air some of the oak spices comes out.

Photo by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

There is quite a bit of spice and complexity in this wine as well as an intriguing black licorice note.


On the palate the dark fruits carry through and have a juicy component with medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins still have a firm grip on this wine but, thankfully, they don’t seem as green as some of the other 2011 Bordeaux wines have been. A little black licorice spice joins the more pronounce oak spice of clove and cinnamon. The finish has good length with the earthy leather from the nose returning.

The Verdict

You can’t sugar coat the problems that the 2011 vintage gave Bordeaux with its crazy spring, rainy July and uneven ripeness seen throughout the region. However as Andrew Jefford noted in Decanter even in rough vintages, high quality producers still have the tools to make good quality wine.

At around $35, this 2011 Ormes de Pez has impeccable pedigree with the Lynch-Bages team and is a solid value for Bordeaux.

60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc from Pessac-Léognan.

The Geekery

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Carbonnieux has a long history dating back to the 12th century. Vines were first planted by Benedictine monks in the 18th century with the church tending the vines till the French Revolution. In 1787, this was one of the estates that Thomas Jefferson visited in Bordeaux.

In 1953, Carbonnieux was recognized as Grand Cru Classé in the Graves Classification for both red and white. Located on a large gravel hill in the center-east section of Pessac-Léognan near Haut Bailly and Smith-Haut-Lafitte, the 3 sections of vineyards have diverse terroir. Cabernet Sauvignon & Semillon are planted on the higher gravel while Merlot and Sauvignon blanc are planted in the lower clay-dominant soils.

The 2011 Carbonnieux Blanc is a blend of 65% Sauvignon blanc and 35% Semillon. Including their red, Carbonnieux produces around 400,000 bottles a year with a second wine, Ch. Tour-Léognan also produced in both colors.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of grass and hay straw. Some pithy citrus notes and dried apple chips as well.

On the palate, those pithy citrus notes carry through and is joined with a waxy lanolin note. Medium-plus acidity still has some life but doesn’t add freshness to the fruit. Long finish.

The Verdict

Photo by Jan van der Crabben. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Hay straw notes dominant in this 6+ year old White Bordeaux.

The more I taste aged white Bordeaux, the more I realize that they aren’t my style. As opposed to aged Chardonnay in White Burgs and aged Red Bordeaux, I don’t find the tertiary notes of older Sauvignon blanc and Semillon–dry straw, raw honey and lanolin–very compelling. I feel like I’m missing too much of the freshness I crave from those varieties.

That said, I can’t deny that this is a wine still with impeccable structure and life. For those who enjoy this style, it probably will continue developing beautifully for another 3-5 years and is a solid bet between $35-45. But for me, I probably would have enjoyed this wine more 2-3 years earlier.

60 Second Wine Review — 2008 Potensac

A few quick thoughts on the 2008 Chateau Potensac from the Médoc.

The Geekery

Chateau Potensac is owned by the Delon family who also own the 2nd Growth St. Julien estate Léoville Las Cases and Chateau Nénin in Pomerol. According to Stephen Brook in The Complete Bordeaux, the estate has been in the hands of the Delon family and their ancestors for over two centuries. The same viticulture and winemaking team at Léoville Las Cases takes care of the wines at Potensac.

The estate is located just 4 miles north of Chateau Calon Segur and the boundaries of St. Estephe. The soils contain a fair amount of clay and limestone that is not that dissimilar to the right bank region of St. Emilion which is why Merlot tends to dominate in plantings.

Since 2002, the estate has produced a second wine known as Chapelle de Potensac with around 40% of the estate’s Grand Vin being declassified down to this level.

The 2008 vintage of Potensac was a blend of 42% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc. The wine is aged for 15 months in 30% new oak with around 320,000 bottles produced each vintage.

According to the very cool vintage chart on the Domaines Delon site (also available for Léoville Las Cases and Nenin), the 2008 is ready to drink now but can still be held for a few years.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Fresh cigar tobacco and cedar dominant. There is a little red fruit underneath (cherry and currant).

Photo by Dan Smith. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

This wine has a mix of both cured and green tobacco notes.


Those red fruits carry through to the palate but are quite muted with more earthy and green leafy notes emerging. Medium-plus acidity and firm medium-plus tannins hints that this wine definitely can age for longer. The tobacco notes also come through and linger for the moderate finish.

The Verdict

At around $30-35, this is a solid “old school” style Bordeaux with a firm structure and earthy notes. While I had this wine by itself, I suspect that it will really shine on the table with food.

60 Second Wine Review — 2005 Giscours

Some quick thoughts on the 2005 Chateau Giscours from Margaux.

The Geekery

According to Stephen Brook’s The Complete Bordeaux, vineyards have been planted in this area of southern Margaux since the 16th century. The estate was classified as a 3rd growth in 1855 and earned acclaim in the 19th century under the management of Pierre Skawinski.

Skawinski not only pioneered the use of sulfur spray in the vineyard to combat powdery mildew but also developed techniques of gravity flow winemaking at Giscours that his sons would later take to other notable Bordeaux estates like Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet.

In the mid 20th century, the estate came under the ownership of the Tari family which included Pierre Tari who was one of the judges at the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting in 1976.

Today the estate is owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the 5th Growth Margaux estate Chateau du Tertre and the Tuscan estate of Caiarossa.

The 2005 vintage of Ch. Giscours is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot with 20,830 cases made. The estate produces a second wine called Sirène de Giscours that is made from younger vines.

The Wine

Pop and pour medium plus intensity nose. A mix of dark fruits (black currants and plums) with some tobacco spice. After an hour in the decanter some earthy truffle and dark floral notes appear knocking the nose up to high intensity. Very evocative.

On the palate, the dark fruits and spice carry through with silky medium tannins and juicy medium plus acidity. The spice lingers on the long finish with the truffle notes reappearing.

By Mortazavifar - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, on Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful black truffle notes on the long finish add to the layers of complexity in this wine.


The Verdict

Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. This 2005 Giscours is in its peak now with velvety tannins but the still fresh acidity can probably carry it through for another 7+ years.

I think I have another bottle in the cellar but at around $100-110, I’m going to make every effort I can to secure a couple more. This is a fantastic steal for a top-notch Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage.

60 Second Wine Review — 2009 Ch. Gloria

Some quick thoughts on the 2009 Chateau Gloria from Saint Julien.

The Geekery

According to Stephen Brook in The Complete Bordeaux, long-time St. Julien mayor Henri Martin began piecing together the estate that would become Ch. Gloria in 1939.

Clive Coates noted in Grands Vins, that Martin was able to add pieces of vineyards to Gloria that originally belonged to the Second Growths of Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou, Ch. Gruaud-Larose, Ch. Léoville-Barton, Ch. Léoville-Poyferré, the 3rd Growth Ch. Lagrange and 4th Growth Ch. Beychevelle. He even acquired parcels of vineyards in St. Julien that was owned by Ch. Duhart-Milon.

Today the estate is around 124 acres and ran by Henri Martin’s son-in-law, Jean-Louis Triaud, who also manages the 4th Growth estate Chateau St. Pierre.

The 2009 is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. The yearly production of the estate is around 250,000 bottles with a second wine, Ch. Peymartin, also produced.

The Wine

Pop and pour, medium plus intensity nose with dark fruits like black plum and black current and a sweet floral note. After 45 minutes in the decanter, it becomes spicy with a combination of tobacco spice and oak spices like cinnamon and clove

By Pollinator - Own workAssumendTransferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,on Wikimedia Commons

Right now the 2009 Gloria has more of a fresh tobacco leaf spiciness to it. With more age I can see it become more cured cigar tobacco spicy.

On the palate, those spice notes still dominant, adding loads of layers that you want to unfurl with your tongue, piece by piece. Medium plus tannins and medium plus acidity compliment the mix of dark and red fruits. Very long finish adds a Christmas fruitcake note.

The Verdict

This wine is still fairly young but it is in a beautiful spot right now. It could go easily another 10-15 years without blinking an eye.

At around $60-65, the 2009 Chateau Gloria is criminally under priced for how good it is. From a blockbuster vintage, this wine is going toe to toe with 3rd and 4th Growth wines are 20-55% higher in price. If you find this wine, grab it.

A Bordeaux palette

Quick question: What is the point of blending?

The tried and true “wine geek” response would usually go off into one or two directions. You can talk about the history of Bordeaux (and other European wine regions) where planting a variety of grapes that bud and ripen at different points was a type of insurance policy against the pratfalls of nature that varies from vintage to vintage. The more poetic direction will talk of an artist painting a picture with each grape variety being a different color on their palette. Instead of just dealing with one color (one grape variety), the winemaker seeks to paint a more vividly engaging portrait of a wine with more colors at his or her disposal.
By Danyghi - Own work, Public Domain,

Now let me ask you: What is a “Bordeaux blend”?

If you’re quick with Google and quicker with a cork screw then you are probably mentally rattling off in your head a list of red and white grape varieties that are typically used to make wine in Bordeaux.

It’s right but it’s also wrong.

One of my most eye-opening experience during my travels to Bordeaux was the realization of how far-reaching the concept of blending is in Bordeaux. It is so much more than just blending grape varieties. Let me give you the example of Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, a 5th growth estate in Pauillac. On the 30 hectares of the estate scattered around the villages of Bages and Pauillac, they grow just two grape varieties–Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. So the blend each year should be pretty simple right? Grab a few beakers and graduated cylinders and see which ratio of Cab to Merlot works the best.

Not quite.

I'm sure the plot of Haut-Bages-Liberal that stands in the shadow of the tower of neighboring Chateau Latour gets LOTS of special attention

I’m sure the plot of Haut-Bages-Liberal that stands in the shadow of the tower of neighboring Chateau Latour gets LOTS of special attention


You see much like the Burgundians, the Bordelais invest deeply into knowing each individual plot of soil–it’s strengths, weakness and quirks. This is knowledge that is acquired over decades, if not hundreds of years. For an estate like Ch. Haut-Bages-Liberal that has been around since the mid 18th century, this accumulation of knowledge and experience has led them to subdivide their vineyards into 42 different plots.

While we are on a steep learning curve here in New World wine regions like Washington and California, we have gotten to the point where we are also seeing different personalities emerge from different blocks. When identified, these blocks may be farmed and harvested differently than the rest of the vineyard. On wine labels, we see heralded blocks like Sheridan’s Block One Cabernet, Schweiger Vineyards’ Legacy Block, Rochioli West Block Pinot noir, etc.

At the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Fleur-Cardinale, they give each plot a name that captures the "personality" of that plot.

At the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe estate of Fleur-Cardinale, they give each plot a name that captures the “personality” of that plot.


But at most estates in Bordeaux, each and every one of those plots are treated as a “heralded block” and given its own unique attention. They will be fermented separately. Some in cement. Some in stainless steel. Some in big oak vats. Some in small oak barrels. Some plots will be split into a couple different types of vessels. In several estates I visited, I was taken back at how many custom made cement tanks I saw with odd (but precise) volume sizes like 21.6 hL, 23.9 hL, 58.2 hL, 61.9 hL, etc. It eventually dawned on me that each of these tanks were designed and made for a specific plot.

The plots are still kept separate even after fermentation when they are transferred to barrel with most estates using the product of 4 to 9 different coopers. Each barrel adds it own “coloring” to the palate–some add more creaminess, some add more spice, others heighten the attack of the wine up front while another barrel may push it more to the mid palate.

An assortment of the unique fermentation vessels used at various Bordeaux estates.

An assortment of the unique fermentation vessels used at various Bordeaux estates.


All this means is that when the time comes to make the final blend of the Grand Vin (and subsequent second and even 3rd wine) the winemaker is not dealing with a color palette of just “the five grapes of the Bordeaux blend” but rather a palette with a kaleidoscope of color from as many as a hundred (or more) different lots that have each taken their own unique path from vineyard to the bottle.

It is an art form in the most literal sense. While there are many outstanding New World producers of “Bordeaux-style” blends, I really have not come across a producer who takes the concept of blending to quite the degree of the Bordelais. It is so much more than just blending grape varieties. It truly is about expanding the palette to include not only more colors but more shades of those different colors.

It’s all part of the tricks of the trade that have seen the Bordelais dazzle the palates of wine drinkers for centuries.

The jilted wives club

Today an interesting thread caught my eye on Wine Berserkers titled Chateau Poujeaux is Dead to Me, Along with Other Recently Rollandized Estates. The whole thread is well worth a read, especially if you are a Bordeaux geek, and touches on topics like the differing roles of big name consultants at different estates. But the cliffs note version is: Chateau XYZ is no longer making wine in the style I previously enjoyed and this is a very, very bad thing Vs. Eh, it happens and some people like the new style.

That's what the cloud gets for heeding Michel Rolland's call to micro-oxygenate

That’s what the cloud gets for heeding Michel Rolland’s call to micro-oxygenate

There is some great back and forth from posters in the thread with Jeff Leve who runs, IMO, one of the best websites on earth for Bordeaux lovers at http://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/ (Read it, save it, bookmark it, love it). Jeff is very much on the “Change Happens” side of the argument and I will gladly share that boat with him, especially if he brings a bottle of the 2009 Cos d’Estournel that they kept talking about in the thread.

The strongest argument on the OP side (the “traditionalist” side, if you will) of the Beserker thread is that the somewhat sudden change in style for many houses contributes to a “walking minefield” for people whose palates were used to the more traditional style. When old favorites become new enemies, it can be quite jarring–especially if you’ve invested time and cash into cellaring something that ends up not being the style of wine you enjoy. That’s a fair cause to be annoyed over. But I can imagine it being even more jarring when you realize that the reason for this change is that your loyalty and faithful patronage of the estate (and that of people like you) simply wasn’t enough.

Basically you're the guy in the salmon colored tie on the left and the party has moved on. Everybody just forgot to text you.

Basically you’re the guy in the salmon colored tie on the left and the party has moved on. Everybody just forgot to text you.

The Chateau wanted more–more sales, more acclaim, more prestige, etc–or they wouldn’t have put up the enormous risk of changing their style. For whatever reason, when the decision makers and number crunchers at the estate looked at what the future held for them, they thought that what they had wasn’t enough and they acted on it. It is certainly not a sniffling investment to hire someone like Michel Rolland. Lettie Teague estimated in 2013 that Rolland’s retainer per client was between $100,000 to $250,000 a year. Then you add the potential vineyard investment that may include replanting, retrellising, more extensive labor, etc as well as winery equipment investments (micro-oxygenation isn’t free). Those investments will only be worth every penny if there are people who like this new style of wine. The upsetting news for the traditionalists is that there are.

For the traditionalist, they’re not just being dumped by their favorite estates. They’re being dumped and watching their ex lose weight, get in shape and start driving around in a fancy new sports car while trying to attract a hot, new Millennial to cozy up next to and whisper sweet en primeur scores into their ears. With that can you really blame the “traditionalists” for feeling jilted? When you take a step back, its not hard to see these long time Bordeaux lovers feeling a bit like Annie from The First Wives Club in this scene.

But the thing to remember is that today’s traditionalists aren’t really “The First Wives” of these Bordeaux estates. In fact, they aren’t even the second or third wives. The style of Bordeaux has been changing for a long time. The Bordeaux of Samuel Pepys was quite different from the Bordeaux of Thomas Jefferson or the Bordeaux of Alexis Lichine. As several commentators on the Berserkers thread noted, the famed 1982 vintage that many of today’s traditionalists hold so dear was once scoffed and derided by the traditionalists of that era as “too ripe” to ever produce classic wines. But here we are. With legendary 1982s being savored to the last drop, dwindling down to ever smaller numbers with lots of delicious (or not, YMMV) 2009/2010s vying to take their space in the hearts and cellars of Bordeaux fans.

Yes, you are Shelly. Yes, you are.

Yes, you are Shelly. Yes, you are.

If there is anything that the traditionalists can take solace in, its that history will repeat itself again and again. Change will happen once more. All the Bordeaux lovers of today who are lapping up the new, more ripe, lusher style of Bordeaux will eventually have their own “Jilted Wives” moment.

Because in the end, we’re all just Shellys.