Tasting T1.11 Bordeaux Right Bank & Graves

Finally, some Bordeaux!

One of, if not the, most famous wine region of the world.

Right bank, Left Bank, Medoc, Claret, Saint-Emilion, Petrus, Lafite, d’Yquem and ‘En primeur’ are many famous names/words and terms associated with Bordeaux, but what do they all mean?

In short and to be elaborated on further down this note or in other related tasting notes, Bordeaux is a very large (the largest in France with over 120,000 hectares) and very famous, wine producing region. We will try to demystify some of it whilst enjoying a few very, very good glasses.

Bordeaux wine is produced in the Bordeaux region of south west France. To the north of the city of the same name, the Garonne and Dordogne rivers join and flow into the broad estuary called the Gironde. To the left (Left-Bank) are wines from the Medoc and Haut-Medoc which contains the famous wine appellations of Pauillac, Margaux, St-Estephe and St-Julien. These appellations contain the most famous Chateaux; Latour, Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux. Wines from these areas will be covered in the following tastings:

T1.10 Left Bank Bordeaux 2009 (Wines from the Medoc and the four principal communes).

T1.9 Pauillac 2000 (Wines from the commune of Pauillac).

A further tasting of the white wines from Bordeaux will be covered in tasting.

T1.12 Dry Bordeaux and Sweet Sauternes.

Slightly lower than the Medoc and the city of Bordeaux is the Appellation of Graves (still a left Bank wine) and on the right bank are the Appellations of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

Today’s tasting T1.11 will cover two wines of each of these three appellations from the 2009 Vintage.

A little more detail on Bordeaux first though…

The main Appellations of Bordeaux

In 1855 at the request of emperor Napoleon III, the red wines of the Medoc and the sweet white wines of Barsac-Sauternes were classified as Les Grands Crus classes en 1855. They were classified into five groups according to market price.

In 1955 the official classification of Saint-Emilion was formed and is updated every ten years.

In 1959 the official classification of Graves was updated from its 1953 original classification.

The Red Grape Varieties

The following red wine grapes are grown within the Bordeaux appellations, percentages are by area, Merlot 62%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 12% and a small amount of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere 1% in total.

Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the wines of the Left Bank, Medoc and Graves.

Merlot dominates the wines of the Right Bank, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

En Primeur

Bordeaux wines can be purchased everywhere, from wine merchants, off-licences and of course supermarkets. However, the most sought-after wines are often hard to come by and require much patience in ageing before consumption meaning that they are rare and expensive by the time that they are perfect to drink.

Buying wines ‘En primeur’ or as ‘wine futures’ is a way to purchase the wines that you want while the wine is still in the barrel. Offering the customer the opportunity to invest before the wine is bottled. Payment is made at the time of order. Often a good 18 months before the vintage is released. Sounds good for the wine maker but not so good for us as buyers.

Having said that many of the Bordeaux ‘En primeur’ wines will increase three or four-fold in the first few years, especially for sought after wines in sought after vintages.

Most of the wines in these various Bordeaux tastings were purchased by me using this method as far back as 2001 for the Pauillac 2000 vintage tasting (T1.9) otherwise they would have cost so much more.


In 1850 there were approximately 500 ‘Chateau’ in Bordeaux. In 1857, France introduced its first trademark law stating that a distinctive feature such as a ‘chateau’, ‘abbaye’, ‘clos’ or ‘mas’ should be added to the wine estate’s name. The commercial success of wines with ‘Chateau’ in front of their wine name prompted all of the estates in the Medoc to adopt the word.

Some estates invented special names for their estate, others took their names from their owners or their locations or as in the case of ‘Lafite-Rothschild’ used both.

 There are currently over 10,000 Chateau in the Gironde. The good news is that as part of the French wine law to use the term means that the wines must be produced on the estate.


Derived from the French Clairet a now uncommon dark Rose which was the most common wine exported from Bordeaux until the 18th century. This term was anglicised to Claret as a result of its wide spread consumption in England during the 12th to 15th centuries. It was accepted as a protected name within the EU for describing a red Bordeaux wine due to the British wine trade demonstrating its usage for over 300 years.

Oak Ageing

Most red Bordeaux wines spend some time ageing in oak Barrels.

The type of oak and duration of the ageing is of much importance. Oak barrels are normally made from American white oak or European (French) oak. Sometimes Slavonian/Hungarian oak might be used. The wood is toasted over fire, and different levels of toasting create different flavour notes.

For red wines, American oak is understood to impart coconut and cinnamon flavours, whereas French oak imparts cedar, coffee and clove flavour notes. Slavonian/Hungarian tends to add tannin without too much oaky flavour, so is often used where more subtlety in the flavour is desired.

The length of time a wine spends in oak barrels increases the flavours imparted as does the newness of the oak. For example ‘new’ oak is the first year a barrel has been used to age wine and imparts the most flavour. There is a little flavour on the second use and by the fourth time practically no flavour is imparted.

Importantly ‘Tannin’ is also passed from the barrels to the wine and this gives the wine a stronger structure and protects it during the often quite long ageing of the wine both in barrel and then in bottle.

To the Wine Areas:


Representing 6% of the total Bordeaux Vineyard.

Wines from Saint-Emilion are typically blends of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Franc (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). The percentages are rough and for the area individual wines will differ.

Unusually for France the classification is updated every 10 years or so, to provide for wines of the following levels..

Premier grand cru classe A

Premier grand cru classe B

Grand cru classe

As of 2012 Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie joined Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc at the highest level of Premier grand cru classe A

There are also some satellite communes Lussac-Saint-Emilion, Montagne-Saint-Emilion, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion and Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion.


The smallest of the major fine wine areas of Bordeaux, roughly one-seventh the size of Saint-Emilion.

In 2009 there were just 140 producers of Pomerol. Whilst the very high prices of Pomerol at wine auctions and on release are on a par with the most highly rated classified growths of Bordeaux, there is no official classification for Pomerol.

In Pomerol, there is of course, one of the most famous, highly prized and expensive wines of Bordeaux, Chateau Petrus.


Whilst the Medoc is on the left bank of the Gironde estuary and north of the city of Bordeaux, Graves is on the left bank of the river Garonne and south of the city of Bordeaux.

The wines are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant like the Medoc wines but a greater proportion of Merlot is typically used in the blend with smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, petit Verdot and Malbec.

There are various appellations in Graves, the basic Graves AOC for both red and dry white wines, and Graves Superieures AOC and Cerons AOC for sweet white wine in the same area as above.

Sauternes AOC and Barsac AOC are both for quality sweet white with Chateau d’Yquem being the most prized and highly rated.

The wines we will taste are from Pessac-Leognan AOC. This part of Graves, located just south of Bordeaux produces the finest red wines and is home to the only first growth red outside of the Medoc in Chateau Haut-Brion.

Pessac-Leognan received its own Appellation status in 1987. All of the estates named in the original 1959 Graves classification are located in Pessac-Leognan.


2010, 2009 and 2005, which are the three vintages that cover the wines in this tasting are all extremely good vintages. These were rated by Robert Parker as Outstanding or Extraordinary, his highest two categories.

This evenings tasting will be conducted by myself, Kim and Harry.

To the wines…

As we are tasting some wines from a few different areas and vintages we will taste them in the first instance by area.

1st up is…


La Tour du Pin 2010  

A blend of 75% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc. Aged for 12 months in 33% new French oak. Owned by and neighbours the proprietors of the Premier Cru Classe A Cheval Blanc under the same ownership since 2006.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Cherries, red & dark fruits with hints of black raspberries, leather and aromas of eucalyptus and spice coming through.

Palate: Still very tannic, notes of black and red fruit with cedar. A medium bodied wine with moderate to full acidity, full tannin and a moderate finish. This wine will continue to age for quite some time and I would certainly let it. Definitely heading in the right direction.

Chateau Canon 2009

A blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. 1ere Grand Cru Classe B. Aged in 60% new oak. Owned by the Wertheimer brothers who also own Chanel so hoping for a good bouquet!

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Sweet red fruit on the nose, smatterings of black fruits but sweet cherries really coming to the forefront. Aromas of cloves and leather coming through as well.

Palate: Red fruits come forward marvellously and tannin is beautifully integrated. Cloves and cedar come through towards the finish. A beautiful wine. Medium – full bodied with moderate to high acidity. Moderate tannin (very well integrated but very apparent) and a medium – full length finish. Again a beautiful wine to drink right now but will age for at least the next 7 years.


Chateau Nenin 2009

A blend of 82% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. Owned since 1997 by the Delon family of Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases and Chateau Potensac. It was purchased from the Despujol family (cousins of Jean-Hubert Delon) who had owned the property since 1847. Once purchased a major investment and restructuring was immediately undertaken.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Extremely savoury smell, some red and black fruit coming through. Herbs, sage and graphite on the smell. Extremely different to the previous two.

Palate: Menthol hitting the palate, fruits coming through on the back. Herbs engaging with the palate as well. Medium bodied with moderate to full acidity, moderate tannins and a medium length finish. Drinking well at the moment, extremely well. However again will age for quite some time if left. Will only get better!

Chateau Gazin 2010

A blend of 86% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Aged for 18 months in 50% new oak. The Pomerol vineyard was developed from the 12th century until the revolution under the aegis of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. The Chateau is believed to be located on the site of the ‘Hospital de Pomerols’ built by the knights to welcome pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela.

Nose: Medium – deep red colour on first viewing. Sour cherries and menthol immediately on the nose, extremely powerful. Some spice and light smoke coming through, however cherries and menthol at full throttle.

Palate: Smooth and velvety. This is a beautifully smooth wine. Tannins are extremely well integrated. Fruit still apparent, however definitely on the back burner. Spice and smoke coming through as well. Perhaps still a little young? Medium bodied with moderate to full acidity, moderate tannin but again well integrated and a long finish. Definitely worth ageing this, a tad young after being decanted and opened for several hours. Will be tremendous.


Domaine de Chevalier 2005

A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Aged for 14-24 months in 40 to 60& new oak. The current Domaine was founded in 1865 from origins linking the estate with the old pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela which still borders the estate.

Nose: Deep red colour on first viewing. Black fruits, brambles and aromas of graphite. A beautiful aroma.

Palate: Beautifully smooth and elegant. Black fruits are the forefront with leather and herbs creating a fantastic flavour. Tannins are well integrated and strong. Balance and structure is perfect. Pure brilliance. Medium – full bodied with moderate to full acidity. Moderate to full tannin with a lovely long finish. This will continue to age and is only just starting to get to its peak. Incredible wine!

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2009

A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% merlot and 5% Cabernet France, plus 1% of Petit Verdot. Aged for 16 to 18 months in 60 to 70% new French oak. First planted in 1365 the terroir here was considered one of the finest in Bordeaux. In 1990 Daniel and Florence Cathiard, both champion skiers who competed in the Olympics, purchased the property and began a huge investment plan. This wine was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker.

Nose: Medium – deep red colour on first viewing. Sweet black fruits with leather and cedar aromas. Beautiful nose again.

Palate: I didn’t think anything could get better than the last one… clearly I was wrong. This wine is almost perfect. No wonder it received 100 points. The balance, structure and smoothness of the wine is exceptional. The tannin is again perfectly integrated with the fruit characteristics of the wine. A medium body with full acidity, moderate to full tannin and a full length finish. Absolutely spot on. Will continue to age and will be at its peak drinking window for the next 10 – 15 years I would say.


I am not a big fan of Merlot dominated wines. This tasting was one that I was very dubious about. How can you claim to not enjoy (personally) Merlot dominated wines when one (if not the) of the most famous wine producing regions produces that exact wine. Well after this tasting I have come to understand a little more about Bordeaux and a lot more about my palate.

I am still unsure on Merlot dominated wines, it is definitely not my favourite grape variety. However, I can appreciate it immensely. I completely understand why these wines are sought after, they are so well made and the flavours imparted are immensely impressive. I myself did not pander to the belief that Bordeaux is always superior (personally I prefer Burgundy anyway 😉), these wines were rated with my personal views put to one side and I focused solely on aroma and taste.

The scores:

La Tour du Pin 2010 – 91 points

Château Canon 2009 – 93 Points

Château Nenin 2009 – 91 Points

Château Gazin 2010 – 94 Points

Domaine de Chevalier 2005 – 97 Points

Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2009 – 99 Points

Now we have not made Smith Haut Lafitte 99 points just to stick it to RP… whilst it was absolutely epic, we thought that after a few more years of cellaring it will most likely be even better. Therefore we are saving our 100 pointer for a few years’ time when it will absolutely deserve it.

So still no wine that has been given 100 points by us yet… maybe we’re too harsh? Who knows… I’m sure we’ll find one soon! Thank you for reading everyone and this will be our last one until the New Year.

So I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

David & Harry

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