Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
The annual Union des Grands cru de Bordeaux tasting came to New York City this week, showcasing the 2015 vintage. For me, it was my first chance to taste through a vintage that up until this point I had only been able to read about. My expectations were high, as a number of respected critics have hailed 2015 as an excellent vintage throughout “most” of the region. What I found did nothing but reassert how amazing and incredibly enjoyable the best 2015s are, but also how disappointing and unbalanced others can be.
Gorgeous, rich fruit dominates in the 2015 Bordeaux vintage, yet only as an enveloping force over a layer of sweet tannins and balanced acidity, which should allow these wines to age beautifully over the coming decade or more. The flipside however, are the wines that are built on concentrated fruit, without the necessary acidity or ripe tannin to balance them out. In these cases, the wines would often coat the palate in a blanket of extracted dry fruit and finish flat, or with a hint of heat.
The 2015 Bordeaux Vintage
The 2015s are the result of a vintage that started unusually warm and ended cool and dry. It started with a wet winter followed by a drier-than-usual spring. Conditions were perfect for both flowering and fruit set, but then from June into July, the temperatures soared. Vineyards with good water retention excelled here, while others were punished by the heat. Then a welcoming rain arrived in August, which helped the vines recover. Finally, September arrived with lower-than-average temperatures and (with the exception of Saint-Estèphe) a lower-than-average amount of precipitation. As a result, growers were able to pick under ideal conditions, which left them with a very good impression of the vintage.
The Appellation Breakdown
However, the danger of 2015 is that quality isn’t consistent across all appellations, and sometimes even within each appellation. While the majority of Bordeaux I’ve tasted from Saint Julien is utterly delectable right now, traveling into the Right Bank presents a number of wines that are simply over the top and lacking the balance to go the long haul. Of course, there are a few exceptions here, with many Saint Emilion producers finding balance in that intensity, and one–Pomerol–which was my runner-up for “Wine of the UGC tasting”.
Looking back to the left, I found a lot to like in the wines I tasted from Pauillac. Having always been a fan of Lynch Bages, it was fantastic to witness it performing brightly, along with Pichon Baron, which was stunning. In Margaux, I found more of a mixed bag of peaks and valleys, however the peaks were very high, as the 2015s of Rauzan-Segla and Malescot were simply spellbinding. In Pessac-Leognan, I was happily surprised by a number of the reds, yet I was let down by others. In fact, one of my favorite wines from the selection was the impeccably-balanced Malartic-Lagraviere Blanc–and the Rouge was no slouch either. Looking north to Saint Estephe, Phelan Segur held its own, coming across as a much cooler-vintage wine, while showing no signs of the rainy end of their season.
In closing, the best of the 2015 Bordeaux vintage are must-have wines for lovers of the region. In fact, I find myself tempted by quite a few of these wines. Whether your style leans toward the more extroverted and seductive wines of the right bank or the classically built yet at times monolithic giants of the left, 2015 has something for every palate. The only difficult part will be keeping your hands off of these wines long enough to watch them mature, as they already show wonderfully through the intensity of their primary fruit.
Of course, there are a number of classically austere wines that drive the collector in me wild–I’m just saying that a case of 2015 Lynch Bages in the cellar is likely to make you very happy in ten years.
Top Wines of the Tasting by Appellation
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2015 – This opened up with an earthy display of crushed raspberries, dusty minerality and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, silky, mouth-coating textures were offset by zesty acidity welcoming in pure red berry fruit and fine tannin, which lasted throughout the long, structured finish. Gorgeous. (95 points)
Château Malartic-Lagraviere Blanc 2015 – The nose was highly expressive with a burst of ripe lemon-lime citrus, sweet florals and smoky minerals. On the palate, I found a soft yet energizing expression with intense fruit extract that seemed to coat the senses before being cleansed by a wave of juicy acidity. The finish was long with lingering green citrus tones, minerals and lingering oily textures. It was a textural rollercoaster ride of a wine with all the ripe fruit and acidity to balance it out. (94 points)
Château Malartic-Lagraviere 2015 – The nose displayed glossy red berry fruit with hints of sweet spice, wild herbs and minerals. On the palate, I found silky, caressing textures, which nearly enveloped the wine’s fine tannic structure, as ripe red and blue fruits flooded the senses. The finish was long with a coating of berry fruit and hints of sweet spice. I craved a bit more acidity, but still, this was a beautiful showing. (93 points)
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2015 – Here I found an intense display with crushed red berries, sweet herbal mint, spice and a dusting of minerals. On the palate, I found push, silky textures, balanced by brisk acidity and a fine tannic structure, as red berry fruit and spice saturated the senses. The finish was long with fine tannins promising years of development. (94 points)
Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot 2015 – The bouquet of the ‘15 Beau-Sejour Becot was enough to convince me, but it didn’t stop there. On the nose, I found gorgeous floral-tinged red berry fruits with sweet spices and minerals. On the palate, I found a rich expression of intense fruit contrasted by fine tannin, as crushed raspberry gave way to graphite and spice. The finish was long and structured with dried red berries and smoky minerality lasting throughout. (95 points)
Chateau Canon 2015 – Here I found a dark display of ripe red fruits, dusty spice, dried florals and crushed stone. On the palate, soft textures gave way to sweet, dense red berry fruit with a coating of dry spice and fruit extract which seemed to saturate all the senses, then slowly faded leaving a twang of spice and acidity. The finish was incredibly long with staining red fruits, as the Canon flexed its tannic muscle yet showed the slight hint of heat that will hopefully balance out over time. (94 points)
Chateau Canon-La-Gaffeliere 2015 – The nose was a balanced display of fruit, earth and floral tones with crisp red berries offset by dusty spice and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found a silky-soft expression with staining red and blue fruits that coated the senses. The finish was long with earthy minerality and a glimpse of fine tannin. (95 points)
Chateau Clinet 2015 – One of the highlights of the UGC tasting, the ‘15 Clinet opened up with a gorgeous display of ripe red fruits, graphite, chalky minerality, expressive floral tones, fresh bell pepper and moist earth. On the palate, I found refined-silky textures with bright, zesty acidity giving way to a mix of red and blue fruits, turning dry and structured with time, and resulting in a long, youthfully lean, and concentrated tart berry finish. There was so much energy that matched pure density, creating perfect balance. I can only imagine what’s to come here, but I believe it will be amazing. (97 points)
Chateau Gazin 2015 – This was an especially nice showing for the ‘15 Gazin. Here I found a floral red berry, crushed blueberry and sweet spice-driven bouquet with incredible persistence of tart strawberry, plum and blueberry-toned fruit on the palate, It was long and structured throughout the finish, with dark fruits and lingering spice tones. I believe five to ten years in the cellar will reveal a gorgeous wine. (93 points)
Chateau Malescot Saint-Exupery 2015 – The bouquet on the Malescot Saint-Exupery was extroverted in the best sense of the word. Here I found a highly expressive mix of crushed raspberry, sweet, dark florals, animal musk and earth. On the palate, silky textures were made lively through zesty acidity, as dark red fruits stained the senses, leaving a deposit of fine tannin and dark spice. It finished long, with lingering textural richness offset by fine tannin. (95 points)
Chateau Rauzan-Segla 2015 – The ‘15 Rauzan-Segla, to me, was the wine of the tasting. The nose was dark, animal, mineral, and intense, as crushed blackberry and raspberry tones gave way to infectious spice, minerals and dark earth. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures offset by a balanced acid and tannin mix, as dark fruits and inner florals tones saturated the senses. The finish was long with lasting minerality and fine tannin. The first thing I did following the tasting was to check where I could buy some for my own cellar. (97 points)
Chateau Beychevelle 2015 – The nose showed earth-infused red berries and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found a lean expression of tart berry fruits and spice, followed by a much-needed burst of acidity toward the close. The finish was long, displaying chewy tannin and lingering red berry fruits. Only time will tell here, but I believe it will side with Beychevelle in 2015. (93 points)
Chateau Branaire-Ducru 2015 – Here I found a display of spiced red berry fruits with sweet herbal tones and perfumed florals. On the palate, I was treated to soft, velvety textures with a wave of balanced acidity which gave life to its intense, palate-coating red berry and spice. The finish was long, showcasing crushed raspberry, inner florals, earth and minerals. (94 points)
Chateau Langoa Barton 2015 – Here I found a wonderfully fresh expression with crushed cherry and cranberry giving way to moist undergrowth and hints of tobacco. On the palate, I found silky textures with energizing acidity adding lift to its dark red fruit, minerals, and inner floral character. The finish was long, showing red and blue fruit with floral tones and hints of sweet herbs. (93 points)
Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2015 – The nose showed intense crushed raspberry, plum, savory spices and sweet dark florals. On the palate, I found soft textures with intense dark, tart red fruits offset and perfectly balanced by zesty acidity. It finished long and intense, as fine tannin came forward, accentuated by spicy red fruits. (94 points)
Chateau Lynch-Bages 2015 – The ‘15 Lynch Bages reminds me of a young 2000, as the nose opened up to reveal dried cherry layered with notes of dusty spice, savory herbs, moist soil and minerals. On the palate, I found firm textures, which were quickly enriched as a wave of zesty acidity carried in mineral-infused raspberry fruit with an herbal twang. The finish was long and structured, balanced and boding well for the future. This is a wine to bury deep in the cellar and reap the rewards over the coming decades. (95 points)
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2015 – The ‘15 Pichon Baron was drop-dead gorgeous, showing a seductive bouquet with a glossy mix of black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with hints of graphite adding depth. On the palate, I found silky, mouth-coating textures with saturating blackberry and currants which were washed clean by balanced acidity, revealing fine sweet tannins. It finished long on dark fruits with hints of lavender, inner floral tones and lingering tannin. This is already so beautiful, but there is still so much to look forward to. (96 points)
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2015 – The nose was remarkably pretty and perfumed with sweet cherry, strawberry, hints of sweet tobacco and graphite. On the palate, I found silky textures that washed across the senses with a mix of cherry and sweet blackcurrants, and deposited a layer of minerals and fine tannin in its wake. The finish was long and structured, as the fruit dried out under the pressure of a fine web of tannin and graphite-tinged minerality. (95 points)
Château Phélan Ségur 2015 – The nose of the ‘15 Phelan Segur was withdrawn, giving only a hint of its spicy raspberry fruit with sweet florals and minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures with a solid core of acidity and chewy tannins, as tart red fruits and spices saturated the senses. The finish was long with a mix of sweet chewy tannin and mineral-encrusted red berry fruits. (91 points)