Wednesday, 26 June 2013 by Ben Browett
Last week, in the heart of Oxford on the Summer Solstice, I attended a dinner with some of the top wines of Pomerol and was seated alongside Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate and author of the new book on the famous right bank appellation…”truly a wine book like no other” (Andrew Jefford).
The evening got off to a good start as we began straight away with Clos L’Eglise 1999, an attractive wine with red cherries and wild mushrooms on the nose. There are cassis and cranberries on the palate and while it fell away a little towards the finish, it was an interesting warm up for some of the bigger names to come. Next up was Le Castelet 1988, this small vineyard near to the town of Libourne is just 0.6 hectares but this “is compensated for by care and consideration in the winery”, Neal states . This has deep black cherry with smoky bacon and toasted oak coming through with a touch of alcohol and cigar box on the finish.
We stepped up a gear next with Le Gay 2007, a seductive nose dominated by cassis, tobacco leaves and animal notes. Sweet red cherries and plums come through on the palate eventually making way for a long finish with hints of toasted oak. This is a good example of a wine that needs more time, but is still round and approachable at this young age.
Vieux Chateau Certan 2008 followed and didn’t disappoint. There is great concentration here with plums and black cherries. This is remarkably well balanced with a strong backbone of Cabernet Franc (and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon) supplemented by voluptuous fruit and round tannin. We’d traded in our Audi for a Ferrari.
Clinet 2008 was instantly recognisable as a Pomerol wine, with a charming black forest gateau nose leading to black cherries and violets on the palate. This is seductive stuff counteracting its young age with a ripe, rich character and plump, rounded tannins.
We turned up the intensity now with La Conseillante 2005. Gobs of red and black cherry dominate with cassis, tobacco and prunes surfacing on the mid palate. This is powerful and tight, too young but serious juice.
La Fleur Petrus 2009 was up next and had clearly utilised its great terroir in this blockbuster vintage. Big black cherry on the nose carries onto the palate, but this is a complex wine with animal notes, tobacco and black truffle culminating in an incredibly well balanced and deep finale. Proper wine with real personality.
With several guests still rhapsodising about the La Fleur Petrus, Le Gay 2009 faced a tough challenge. It stood up to the task with another example of how good wine making can make a difference, even in a year with perfect conditions. Cherries, plums and cassis are all discernible but wild mushroom, forest floor and black truffle give this an almost decadent feel. A very impressive wine with great length. In the book, Neal remarks this is ‘beautifully focused but nascent’.
Guillot Clauzel 2009 was up next and showed admirably against stiff competition. This wine, championed (and brought here this evening) by Mark Savage MW, has a really creamy nose of black cherry and animal notes. Soft, round tannin and some smokiness on the finish made it a welcome surprise after the big boys that had come before it.
Gazin 2009 was served next and proved to be possibly the most serious wine of the night with black cherry, liquorice, tobacco and hints of oak on the nose and palate. Not an obvious Pomerol style, but violets and creamy tannin on the finish . A curvaceous body and long legs inside the glass provide an appropriate metaphor.
Clinet 2009 followed and demonstrated fantastic intensity that was probably only matched on the night by the Le Gay 2009. Deep black cherry, plum and cassis notes carry on all the way to the finish, only interrupted by notes of oak spice and tobacco. Some chewy tannins suggest this has a while to go before being truly on song, but it is a huge and powerful wine with incredible depth and density.
Petit Village 2010 allowed us to not only compare different chateaux in Pomerol, but also the two most lauded vintages of this century. This has a deep purple to black colour with sweet black cherry and liquorice on the nose. Rich, voluptuous, red and black fruit on the palate falls in line with the general style of the vintage with tobacco and cigar box on the finish for good measure. There is a little more obvious tannin here than on the 2009’s.
After some formidable young wines, we needed something special to finish on, so step forward L’Eglise Clinet 1995 made by our old friend Denis Durantou. This has a serious brooding nose with black cherry at first followed by spices and cigar box. Red & black cherry and oak spice on the palate is perfectly interlaced with tobacco and hints of black truffle. This had the advantage of maturity on some of the other wines on the night. It is one of those truly great wines that is simply delicious and leaves a smile on the face. It reminds me slightly of the 1998 Eglise Clinet which I drank with Tom Parker after completing the 2011 Vendange. That was a ‘watershed vintage for Denis’ according to Neal in the book, but the 1995, described as ‘a wine of unfulfilled potential’, was clearly a positive sign of things to come.
Neal once remarked in his Wine Advocate Journal that he had never tasted a 1951 Bordeaux so, host of the evening, William Kelley had brought along a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1951 as a token of thanks for Neal’s tutoring tonight. The wine had a surprisingly bright, clean colour with red cherry and forest floor on the rustic nose. Some sweet redcurrants and red cherry are evident on the palate but much of the fruit character has faded with leather and dry tobacco on the smooth finish. A wine that is past its best but a real treat to be able to try and a wine I imagine no one else in the world was drinking at that moment in time.
It was a real pleasure to drink wines from some of the biggest names in Pomerol and have them explained by someone which such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the region. It can be slightly challenging drinking such young wines from the left bank, but even the 2009s and 2010s drunk this evening were approachable. Thanks to William Kelley and Felix Hirsch who organised the evening and provided great hospitality and to Neal Martin who guided us expertly through the wines and whose comprehensive book really is essential reading.