After three, intense days of wall-to-wall châteaux visits, sampling one young, unformed claret after another, navigating the En Primeur circuit becomes a true test of tasting stamina. As much as we greatly enjoy this essential part of being a wine merchant, it can take its toll. I often joke to my colleagues that there must be other, easier ways of earning a living!
Yet, when you arrive at a property like Château Lafleur - one of the very brightest and most-precious jewels in the crown of Pomerol - to taste their wine alongside the young, utterly charming winemaker and proprietor, Baptiste Guinadeau, I am quickly reminded of how lucky and privileged we are to be involved in such a business.
Above: Tending vines at Chateau Lafleur.
Immediately adjacent to Château Pétrus, Lafleur has been in the Guinadeau family since 1872. At that time, it was owned by Baptiste’s grandfather, who also owned nearby Château Le Gay and considered consolidating the properties. However, he recognised the uniqueness of Lafleur’s terroir and wisely decided to keep it a separate estate and a separate wine.
What is particularly unusual about Lafleur’s vineyard is that it is a single, unbroken plot, which forms an almost perfect, 4.5ha square. Equally remarkable for such a tiny vineyard is its four, completely different soil types – ranging from clay, to clay-gravel, sand-gravel, and clay-sand. ‘Despite being so small, we harvest the wine from more than twenty different plots,’ said Baptiste. ‘That’s what allows us to develop the great complexity and minerality of Lafleur.’
Also unique (for Pomerol) is the high percentage of Cabernet Franc in the vineyard. ‘We’re lucky to have 55%,’ commented Baptiste. ‘And this year, everyone is talking about it because it performed so well. One of the reasons for this was because it was able to cope extremely well with the climatic excesses we experienced in 2011.’
Above: Baptiste explains why the terroir at Lafleur is so unique.
Before we tasted the Lafleur, Baptiste showed us two other wines that his family produces, beginning with their 2011 Château Grand Village. This is actually produced at another estate, in Fronsac, where the Guinadeau family have lived and made wine since the seventeenth century.
‘In the nineteenth century, Fronsac was even more famous than Pomerol and on a par with Saint-Émilion,’ Baptiste pointed out. ‘But it is not so surprising. The soils there are exactly the same as they are on Saint-Émilion’s limestone plateau.’
Never having tasted the Grand Village (83% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc) before, its crunchy black fruits and lovely spice profile were something of a revelation – particularly for such an everyday drinking wine. I can see why Baptiste is so enthusiastic about it. Also quite nice was their still un-named ‘G’ wine, now in its third vintage. A blend of 56% Merlot and 46% Cabernet Franc, this was impressively fresh, round, dense and chock full of blackberry fruit and violets.
Les Pensées is Lafleur’s second wine and it has been produced by the estate since 1987. Ever since the 2000 vintage, however, it has been harvested from a particular, unique part of the vineyard in order to give it its own identity. ‘Now, we very much regard it as its own ‘cru’,’ noted Baptiste.
Above: The unusual terroir at Lafleur – almost more Chateauneuf-du-Pape than Pomerol.
I can certainly see why! This is mightily impressive for a second wine. From such a tiny vineyard comes a superior wine of great intensity, dark cassis, bramble fruit, kirsch, cream and dark chocolate. Made up of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc, this is also fresh and harmonious, with sleek, suave tannins. 95 Points
My first nose and initial sip of the 2011 Lafleur quickly confirmed that this was a very good year for the Grand Vin. Plump, deep, concentrated and elegant all at the same time, this is the epitome of a top terroir combining perfectly with skilful winemaking. The fruit rolls over your palate in waves of soy, smoked meats, violets, black cherry and coffee bean. Irrespective of the difficulties and dramas of the vintage, this wine is simply wonderful. ‘Graceful and profound,’ was how Simon Littler summed it up. This is another clear candidate for the wine of the vintage. 98+ Points
Last year, Alexandre Thienpont’s Vieux Château Certan was one of the stars of the magnificent 2010 vintage – an absolutely jaw-dropping wine. Would he be able to pull off such a feat in 2011? My view was that, while not quite 2010, it was certainly a very good wine this year, if not a great one. Again, the viticulture and winemaking was thoughtfully and carefully executed.
Here too, the Cabernet Franc performed extremely well. ‘It’s definitely back with a bang in 2011,’ explained Alexandre’s son Nicolas. ‘The Merlot is vinous and shows great finesse and breed.’ But his greatest praise was reserved for the 29% Cabernet Franc that made it into the final blend. ‘It gives the wine wonderful complexity, ripeness, density, and length.’
I thought he was right and the wine did show classic, VCC fruit character with lovely opulence, fleshiness and concentration, without being overly ripe or domineering. Clearly, great care was taken to ensure a very gentle extraction. It is also well-balanced in terms of alcohol (13.6%) and isn’t too high on the IPT (tannin index) at 83. I think this wine is definitely a vin de garde, but clearly not in the same league as the 2010. 95 Points
At nearby Château La Conseillante, they also have the builders in right now, working hard to create yet another brand new chai in Bordeaux, hopefully in time to receive the 2012 vintage. There to greet us was La Conseillante’s young, talented winemaker, Jean-Michel Laporte. Ever since his arrival in 2004, La Conseillante’s profile has grown markedly within the Pomerol rankings and in the international consumer consciousness.
First, we tasted La Conseillante’s second wine, called Duo, which it began to produce only recently, in 2007. It is designed to be an early-drinking wine and only 800 cases are being made this year. This is unsurprising, according to Jean-Michel, ‘because we were so strict with the selection this year.’
As with other châteaux, in 2011, La Conseillante is neither as fine, nor as great as their 2009 or 2010, but it remains very good indeed. The attack is fresh and lively with sweet cherry, damson and mulberry fruits, overlaid with soft, ripe tannins and good length. My only criticism at this early stage is that the oak is perhaps a little too overt and noticeable. I expect that will diminish over time as the new wood is integrated into the wine. 93 Points
Following La Conseillante, we headed to one of our favourite properties in Pomerol, the miniature estate of Château Le Pin. Arriving on his bicycle just a few moments after we pulled up to the building was our good friend and estate owner Jacques Thienpont. Dapper as ever in his appropriately wine-coloured trousers, Jacques was all smiles as he welcomed us into his brand new chai.
Above: Jacques hands over the keys to the cellar.
The building itself is remarkable – a modernist, sharp-angled wonder in the midst of the estate’s gnarled, ancient vines. The cellar room is also shockingly small, particularly after the spending time in the massive, barrel-filled vaults of the Left Bank châteaux earlier in the week. Just 30 barrels sit in the space, making it a more intimate, practically Burgundian, tasting experience. Interestingly, during our tour and tasting, we were simultaneously accompanied by a group of buyers from Shanghai - one of the only Chinese groups we encountered all week.
Above: The new Le Pin.
As he is known to do, Jacques personally blended our tasting sample, thieving and combining small bits from several different barrels. What we were served was one of the most impressive wines of the week, in part simply because of how much restraint it displayed. Dark plum and cocoa powder aromas swirled from the glass, followed by black cherry, boysenberry, and creamy dark chocolate flavours. The aforementioned restraint may be found in the tannins – some of the smoothest and most integrated we experienced – that flirt with perfection. This lasts and lasts and lasts in the mouth – it is delicious and palate-staining, with a seam of glorious minerality down the middle. 98 Points
Above: Jacques pours us glasses of his beautiful 2011.
As a special treat, we followed up Le Pin with the estate’s other, newer project, ‘L’If’, the Saint-Émilion property that sits just around the corner of the hill from Château Troplong-Mondot. Tasting this wine was a lovely bookend to the week, as we were the first ones to break the news on Jacques’ purchase of the vineyard, more than 2 years ago. While Jacques feels that the wine is still incomplete and not quite where he would like it to be, it certainly hints at infinite possibilities, the ‘what If?’ of it all, so to speak. Jacques confirmed that imbuing the name with this inherent optimism was a purposeful play on words. The fact that ‘L’If’ also means ‘yew tree’ in French, meaning that it worked with the established brand of Le Pin (the pine tree), made it all the more apropos. In its current incarnation the wine has a beautiful nose of sweet, dark fruit and smoked bacon fat, with a palate of intense plum and blueberry pie flavours. It is creamy, delicious and will likely drink on the young side. 94 Points
Tomorrow I’ll sum up my thoughts on the vintage as a whole and discuss what I hope the pricing structure will look like.