Thursday, 22 October 2009

Les Carmes Haut Brion.....little known gem

It’s been a manic old week but I have to report back on a tasting of Les Carmes Haut Brion with Didier Furt at our offices on monday. This was a massively exciting tasting for me as I have been raving about and buying the wines from Les Carmes Haut Brion for many years. I often think that it is missunderstood as a second label of Château Haut-Brion, after all it can become confusing with "La Mission", "Larrivet", "La Tour", "Bahans" etc that are all produced nearby. Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion is in fact the direct neighbour of the illustrious First Growth. The history of the estate actually shows that it was part of Haut Brion (zoom in on the map on the site

History - As one might expect, the origins of the estate have ecclesiastical roots. Jean de Pontac, owner of Château Haut-Brion, guaranteed his untroubled entry through the Pearly Gates (at the age of 101!) by donating vines (now the walled vineyard) to the "Carmelite nuns", just prior to his death in 1584. They owned the estate until 1789 when it was seized by the State during the Revolution and eventually sold to the Chantecaille family, who were Bordeaux negotiants. The aesthetically pleasing château was constructed in the 19th century, surrounded by landscaped gardens. The current director is a descendant of this family: Didier Furt who has replanted 50% of the vines during his tenure and renovated both the cellars and vat room in 1987.

The Vineyard - covers 4.66-hectare on a top soil composed of sand/gravel and clay above a bed of gravel. The vineyard is planted with 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average vine-age of 40 years.

Vinification - Grapes are harvested by hand and are then fermented in small stainless-steel vats, ranging in size from 40hl to 80hl for two to three weeks depending on the vintage. The wine is then transferred into barrel for 18 months where the malolactic fermentation takes place. Approximately one-third of the barrels are renewed annually and the wine is finally fined with egg-whites before bottling. A minute 2,000 cases of Grand Vin are produced.

The tasting: We decided to go oldest to youngest – I prefer this way as you can loose the subtlety of the developed wine otherwise

1998 – 17++ Savoury core with a touch of earthy spice, would be superb with Lamb I think. Good acidity and structure and a lovely sweetness. Now -2014

2001 – 18 For me and many other the very best of a good bunch. A very slight smokiness with lots of fruit (dates, figs and blackberry). Lovely structure and acidity…. A brilliantly balanced wine. Now- 2020

2002 – 16+ A simpler nose and a more straight forward wine, enjoyable if a little monosyllabic. I struggle to find charm in any 2002’s. Good but no more. Now – 2013

2003 – 17+ A “Chaise Longue wine” according to Didier and I know what he means. Decadent and hedonistic with that bruised fruit character so true to the vintage. Mature finish. Now- 2020 depending how you like your 03’s

2005 – 18 A more fruited and youthful colour. The first vintage made by Didier’s daughter Penelope. Very rich, very primary and a very very young wine. 70% new oak and with a long life ahead of it. 2014-2034

2006 – 17++ In many way the most pleasant surprise, I remember it being good a year ago but this was even better. Red, black fruits a little like 2001 but chunkier. Fresh. 2013-2023

2007 – 17 A good effort in a less that great vintage. Red fruit to the fore and elegance (the only thing to aim for in 2007). Very balanced and very pessac in style.

The overall impression was of a Chateau on form and rightly beginning to get the plaudits it deserves.

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