Bordeaux has become an increasingly difficult region to sum up in a brief tag line. The style that endeared itself to millions of wine lovers of generations past has largely subsided. Today it's most common to find more full throttle, dark, extracted, oaky, and jam-inflected wines. Vineyards that have screamed of terroir as much as anywhere in the world have been overshadowed by power and the prized quality of a first bombastic impression. Subtlety and quiet conviction does not draw big scores.
But, this isn't a look at how everything has changed. It's a focus on what has just about stayed the same. While modernization has improved quality throughout the region these producers highlighted have remained focused on more traditional winemaking and exceptional vineyard management. These are the domaines that deserve your attention.
Moulin de Tricot was established in the 1800's on the gravel and sand soils of Margaux on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. The property is just under 5 hectares. While most of the Margaux appellation has moved towards a higher planting of Merlot to give more plump, juicy, and forward qualities to their wines, Moulin de Tricot has maintained their historic balance of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The wines here are quintessential left bank Bordeaux, showcasing tell-tale cigar box and graphite among the array of black cherry and plum notes.
The Chateau produces two wines, the Haut Médoc (partially comprised of land outside of the Margaux appellation), and the flagship Margaux bottling. Both wines are aged in older French oak barrels. The mix of sand in the soil in Margaux gives the wines an elegance and delicacy that stand out a bit from their northern neighbors with more gravel-dominant soils. These two bottlings are the first place to turn for honest, terroir-driven Bordeaux at a price point that stands out in stark contrast to the wines coming from throughout their zip code.
2012 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Haut Médoc
$29.95 per bottle.
2005 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Margaux
$74.95 per bottle.
Château Le Puy sits on the same plateau as its famed next door neighbors Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the right bank. Le Puy is at an unusually high 350-meter elevation, offering a cooler microclimate within the region. Like most wines hailing from the right bank Merlot is the dominant variety in these blends. At Le Puy 85% Merlot is joined with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenère, and Cabernet Franc.
Clay is usually the feature of the right bank, but a substantial amount of limestone exists at Le Puy. Coupled with the high altitude and minimal interventionist approach the wines here are distinctly old school. Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards, sulphur is eliminated from the equation during fermentation, and the lunar calendar has continued to guide cellar practices. These are unapologetically mineral-driven, completely authentic, and singular wines.
The Château produces two reds. The "Emilien" bottling is aged in large foudre to start, helping preserve brightness of fruit and verve. "Barthelémy" is made in minuscule quantities, and comes from a very limestone-dominant single vineyard. It is aged in smaller barrels, of which less than 10% are new.
2012 Château Le Puy "Emilien" Côtes de Bordeaux
$42.95 per bottle.
2010 Château Le Puy "Bartelémy" Côtes de Bordeaux
$164.95 per bottle.
Domaine du Jaugaret has been run by the same family since the mid 17th century. Small production takes new meaning here with a total vineyard planting of 1.3 hectares. Average age of the vines is 50 years, comprised of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon along with Petit Verdot and Malbec (from 100-year old vines). Again, the missing large component of Merlot has moved this time-honored and typical St. Julien blend to be seen as more of an outlier amongst its contemporaries.
Jaugaret is on very deep gravel soils, and this means yields are painfully low each year, but concentration of fruit and sharply defined minerality give the wines a vivacity and electric personality that is completely unique in Bordeaux. My first time tasting I couldn't help but be reminded of a sense of fluorescent saturation on the palate, met with vivid, high-toned minerality. The fruit is very much in the red and black raspberry category, met with bitter chocolate and pencil lead. There is something so very traditional about the wine that it almost seems alien in nature. Sadly, the larger appellation's move in the modern direction have made this case for Jaugaret.
2009 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2009 brought a more fruit forward, round, and plush style)
$103.95 per bottle.
2010 Domaine du Jaugaret Saint-Julien
(2010 brought a combination of high ripeness and relatively high acidity. Wines with tremendous energy)
$164.95 per bottle.
Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the great Second Growth classified chateau of Bordeaux, with original plantings at the start of the 13th century. The name translates to "beautiful stones", as the estate is comprised of round stones from its incredibly gravelly soils along the Gironde estuary. It's these very deep soils with their excellent drainage that play such a large role in the definition and concentration to the wines here.
Plantings are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with some parcels going back to 1918! A rise in quality has been seen here in the last several decades as now the strict selection of grapes for this bottling has been reduced by 50% compared to what was practiced in 1982. Grapes not deemed worthy for this top bottling are destined for their 2nd label, La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou.
The 2008 vintage was unique for Ducru. The growing season was cool with challenges throughout the summer, but a true Indian summer ended things magnificently. The vintage calls to mind the more classic wines of yesteryear where earth and floral notes played a more substantial role.
The traditionally-minded John Gilman of View from the Cellar captures things here very well,
"The 2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the top wines of the vintage...While Ducru has produced exemplary efforts in both 2009 and 2010, make no mistake, the 2008 is the finest of the troika. A great 2008!"
2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou Saint-Julien
$154.95 per bottle.