Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Auckland winemen Ken Moon and Graeme Cavanagh provided yet another superb benchmarking tasting recently,  this time of the highly-regarded East Bank wines from the 2005 vintage in  Bordeaux.  What made this tasting important for New Zealand winemakers,  winewriters and wine enthusiasts was its concentration on so many merlot-led vineyards.  Given the reputation of the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux,  this tasting therefore should offer the opportunity to really see and understand what appropriate ripeness is like in merlot-led and merlot / cabernet blends.  New Zealand is a temperate climate viticultural zone,  which is the factor which makes our red wine so critically fragrant and good,  in better years.  But in the lesser years,  not only cabernet sauvignon but even sometimes merlot has difficulty in ripening appropriately,  just as in Bordeaux.  This made the tasting critical for anybody thinking about appropriate ripeness in New Zealand bordeaux blends.  And indeed there was a fair turnout from forward-looking winemakers notably from Waiheke.  

The tasting assembled some of the top wines of the East Bank,  and particularly some of the great names of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol,  but not including the market darling Ch Petrus,  which is simply unaffordable nowadays.  It is not always the critically fine wine it is supposed to be,  in any case.  In a good ripe year in Bordeaux,  there is always the possibility that merlot will be over-ripe,  and thus (just like syrah) lose the all-important florality,  subtlety,  complexity,  magic and charm which has traditionally characterised fine bordeaux.  This risk has increased,  as public wine taste has progressively and insidiously become Americanised over the last  generation.  Now,  too many people consider size and weight more important in red wine,  rather than beauty,  subtlety and finesse,  all of which are most easily understood within the concept of 'florality'.  
2005 was a warm year in Bordeaux,  and the temptation and ability to over-ripen the wines was very real,  if a winemaker particularly wants to appeal to,  and thus win high marks from,  American winewriters.  Conversely,  our search in temperate climate New Zealand in such a tasting must be for the wines which exemplify the classical values of Bordeaux,  not the latter-day tending over-ripe values.  Classical Bordeaux is the kind of wine we can most appropriately make in New Zealand,  in the good years.  Though it should be noted in this context,  that in the hottest years on the Gimblett Gravels,  both merlot and syrah can be in peril of over-ripening,  even in New Zealand.

The whole tasting was for me thrown into extra sharp focus,  as a consequence of recently tasting the famous 100-point East Bank wine,  1990 Ch Petrus,  in a 1990 tasting,  as reported here.  While impressive,  it conspicuously lacked the beauty and florality of classical merlot-led fine Bordeaux.  Would one find these more subtle complexity attributes in the 2005 vintage wines shown in the present tasting,  therefore ?  


#  Unless noted,  the prices given are the current wine-searcher value,  not the purchase price.

2005  Ch  Canon-La-Gaffeliere
2000  La Conseillante
2005  Ch La Fleur-Petrus
2005  Ch  Gazin
2005  Ch L'Arrosée
2005  Ch Latour a Pomerol
  2005  Ch Le Prieuré
2005  Ch  Roc de Cambes
2005  Ch Soutard
2005  Ch Tertre Roteboeuf
2005  Ch Trotanoy
2005  Vieux Chateau Certan

2005  Ch  Canon-La-Gaffeliere   19  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $173   [ cork 50mm;  Me 55%,  CF 40,  CS 5,  planted to 5,500 vines / ha;  up to 26 days cuvaison;  15 – 20 months in French oak,  80 – 100% new;  www.neipperg.com ]
Rich ruby and velvet,  some age showing,  the third deepest,  but clearly older than the sensational 2005 Ch Palmer,  recently reported on.  Bouquet on this wine is wonderfully strong and multidimensional,  nearly dusky red roses and violets-floral,  but the florals hard to tease out from noticeable new oak.  There is superb freshness of plummy berry,  brown tobacco and cedar.   Palate is velvety,  no other word for it,  one of the richest wines,  beautifully ripe to perhaps the faintest hint of moist best prunes = over-ripe on the plums,  but given the quality of bouquet,  you can forgive that.  The oak approach is absolutely first growth-aspirational;  you need wonderful dry extract to get away with it,  and this wine has that.  This is also one of the higher-cabernets wines,  which I concede has influenced my conclusions,  it being easier for such blends to be fragrant.  But with the opportunity to taste the highish-merlot 2005 Ch Palmer alongside,  thanks to appropriate conservation,  the Palmer is in another league altogether.  Interesting.  Cellar 10 – 25 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch  Gazin   19  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $162   [ cork 50mm;  actual cepage 2005 Me 85%,  CS 10,  CF 5,  vines average 6,250 / ha;  elevation 18 months in 50% new oak;  5400 cases of the 2005;  www.gazin.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the deepest of the wines,  and one of the youngest in appearance,  but still older than the 2005 Palmer.  Bouquet is simply sensational:  here is definitive merlot florality at pinpoint ripeness,  with maximum dusky roses and violets,  yet no hint of under-ripeness on bouquet.  The oak is more appropriately matched to the fruit weight than the Canon-La-Gaffeliere,  on bouquet clearly the superior East Bank wine.  Palate is not quite so perfect.  There is wonderful berry and fruit,  beautiful subtle cedary oak,  but it is not quite as rich as the Gaffeliere,  and in the berry there is the faintest hint of leaf,  infinitely subtle.  This wine illustrates to perfection the near-impossibility of achieving perfect ripeness in cabernet / merlot winestyles.  If the winemaker seeks to maximise florality,  there is always the risk that grape-seed tannins may not be 100% ripe.  Yet to have the grape tannins perfectly tannin-ripe,  florality may be lost.  Which is the preferred wine of the Gaffeliere and Gazin is a matter of personal opinion,  therefore.  Both are lovely clarets.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch La Fleur-Petrus   18 ½ +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $356   [ cork 50mm;  Me 80%,  CF 20,  vines average 6,250 / ha;  elevation 20 months in 33% new oak;  4150 cases;  skimpy website;  www.moueix.com ]
Older ruby,  even some garnet,  the third to lightest.  Here is another bouquet of power and charm,  much more powerful than the light wine colour suggests.  This is a very integrated and complete aroma,  immediately reminding of the way Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste used to smell a generation or more ago,  implying seamless cedary oak in floral and fragrant berry.  Freshly opened there was a hint of leather on bouquet,  but that dissipated.  Palate is medium weight,  superbly and subtly oaked,  not big but so long,  and so easy to drink.  Wonderful.  This has already arrived at the start of its plateau of maturity,  and beautifully illustrates the notion that 'less is more'.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  at least.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch Trotanoy   18 ½  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $421   [ cork 50mm,  then Me 90%,  CF 10;  vines average 6,200 / ha;  time in barrel c.20 months,  40% new;  2050 cases;  skimpy website;  www.moueix.com ]
Ruby,  garnet and velvet,  one of the older,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet here is reminiscent of the Petrus 1990,  big,  fragrant,  but all tending just a little hotter-climate / over-ripened in style,  scarcely any florals,  more leathery (+ve,  almost),  browning plummy fruits,  subtle cedary oak.  Palate is velvety rich,  quite elegant,  still some tannins to resolve,  much richer than the Prieuré but not the varietal precision,  interesting.  A wine like this makes you reflect on winewriters from hotter climates.  If they have never been exposed to the multidimensional beauty of grapes and wines grown in a temperate viticultural climate,  wines that is,  with a clear floral component,  then it is understandable that over-ripe wines will be marked up.  Taken as a whole,  this wine just scrapes into gold-medal ranking,  on its harmony and balance.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch Latour a Pomerol   18 +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $149   [ cork 50mm,  Me 90%,  CF 10;  vines average 6,500 / ha;  time in barrel c.20 months,  33% new;  2500 cases;  skimpy website;  www.moueix.com ]
Ruby,  garnet and velvet,  the second lightest wine.  At the tasting this was too TCA-affected to come to grips with.  After 24 hours of my 'often-works TCA-dissipating treatment' (pour wine onto a sheet of 'gladwrap' in a basin-shaped glass vessel,  no cover,  stir every couple of hours) it revealed a lovely fragrant merlot-led wine,  with sensuous dark plummy fruit and subtle oak.  Palate is medium-rich,  smooth and round.  I suspect it would have been more floral and fresher than the Trotanoy,  in a good bottle,  but the above treatment does flatten the wine somewhat.  Score has to be an estimate,  to at least put the wine in context.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch Tertre Roteboeuf   18 +  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $479   [ cork 50mm,  Me 80%,  CF 20,  vines average 6,500 / ha,  low cropping c. 4.3 t/ha = 1.75 t/ac;  time in barrel c.18 months,  100% new;  c.2,000 cases;  strange website,  merely a contact point;  www.tertre-roteboeuf.com ]
Ruby,  garnet and velvet,  deep and dense,  the second deepest.  What a sense of anticipation attended this wine,  having read about this evocative name for many years,  but never encountering it.  But being a blind tasting,  one was not to know.  One sniff and you ask,  who slipped in a Penfolds wine …  It is very oaky indeed in that ultra-sophisticated way Penfolds achieve in their best bottles.  Behind the fragrant oak is big,  leathery,  very ripe plummy fruit browning now,  too ripe for florals I suspect,  but it is hard to tell with the new world level of oaking.  Initially I had this quite low in my ranking,  but the more you tasted it,  the richer and more impressive it seems,  with brambly and plummy fruit (plus oak) running out to all corners of the mouth.  So it ends up an obvious wine,  obvious to a fault even,  but one that has to be rewarded for its richness and strength of character.  Tending new world,  though.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch L'Arrosée   17 ½ +  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $101   [ cork 55mm,  Me 60%,  CF 20,  CS 20,  vines average 7,000 / ha,  cropped at just under 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  time in barrel 18 months,  50 – 100 % new;  c.3,500 cases;  now merged with Ch Quintus;  www.domaineclarencedillon.com ]
Dense ruby and velvet,  one of the fresher,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is a bit more rustic / old-fashioned in this wine,  good browning plummy fruit,  cedary oak,  but some brett too.   Palate is quite rich,  still tannic,  very dry therefore,  needs time in cellar to soften.  Another wine tending more to the warmer-climate camp,  and a little burly at this stage.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/15

2000  La Conseillante   17 ½  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $378   [ cork 50mm;  Me 80%,  CF 20,  typically cropped @ 2.3 t/ac;  up to 28 days cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 85% new;  c.5400 cases;  www.la-conseillante.com ]
[ This 2000 was a last-minute substitute for a profoundly-corked 2005 wine ]  Interestingly,  colour here of ruby and velvet was not among the more advanced ones,  and was above midway in weight,  relative to the 2005s.  Initial bouquet is beautiful,  again essence of merlot like the Gazin,  nearly violets and dusky rose florals,  black cherry and bottled black doris plums browning only slightly,  elegant cedary oak.  In mouth however despite attractive richness,  Martin Pickering from Stonyridge Vineyard drew attention to the green stemmy tannins,  something I had missed to that point,  and he was right.  This and the Gazin therefore became the key study wines in the tasting,  for merlot character.  Because of the richness and bouquet,  I ended up feeling I'd still like to own the wine,  to see how those tannins mature in 5 and 10 years.  So the score is still fairly positive,  though some tasters were quite hard on the wine.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch  Roc de Cambes   17 ½  ()
Cotes de Bourg,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $113   [ cork 49mm;  Me 75%,  CS 20,  Ma 5,  planted at an average of 6,250 per hectare;  same ownership as Ch Le Tertre-Roteboeuf;  grapes are harvested as late as possible,  cuvaison 21 – 28 days;  elevation in barrel 50 – 100% new for 15 – 18 – 20 months, depending on season;  c. 3,000 cases;  no information on website as yet;   www.roc-de-cambes.com ]
Older ruby,  garnet and velvet,  midway in weight.  Bouquet is quite aromatic in the company,  and the oak is tending edgy too,  making the wine a bit on the obvious side,  even in a Bordeaux context.  [ I see I used the word 'obvious' in the Tertre Roteboeuf note above:  same proprietor. ]  There is a clear suggestion of cassis in the darkly plummy merlot.  Palate is beautifully pure but also still raw at this stage,  and all tending oaky,  a wine to remind of some warmer and oakier New Zealand cabernet / merlots.  It needs to soften a good deal in cellar.  Could rank higher,  in time,  in its new world way.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Vieux Chateau Certan   17 ½  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $349   [ cork 50mm;  Me 80%,  CF 20,  planted to 5800 vines / ha; cuvaison up to 21 days;  2005 was 18 months in 100% new barrels;  3,300 cases;  www.vieuxchateaucertan.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the freshest,  below midway in weight.  Bouquet is very familiar,  and immediately like straightforward New Zealand merlot,  all pure and fragrant,  but in the fragrant / floral component there is a clear leafy suggestion.  Palate is neat and elegant,  not a big wine,  high-quality oak,  the tannins noticeable,  not all perfectly ripe but not as stemmy as the Conseillante seemed to be.  The two wines have a lot in common,  all the same,  but the Certan seems lesser,  for this bottle.  Not so much so as to mark lower,  though:  scoring / achieving relativity can be so demanding.  Since any bottle of Vieux Chateau Certan is a rarity in itself,  a measure of disappointment,  here,  when its identity was revealed.  Cellar 5 – 20  years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch Le Prieuré   17 +  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $40   [ cork 50mm,  Me 75%,  CF 25,  vines average 7,100 / ha;  time in barrel not clear,  50% new;  c.1,800 cases;  www.chateauleprieure.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the fresher and lighter hues. Bouquet here is classic merlot not over-ripened,  real florals,  black cherry and red and black plummy fruits,  elegant understated cedary oak,  but all small-scale.  Palate is more the weight of La Fleur-Petrus,  but with an interesting cool aromatic edge,  tending even to red currants,  which one wants to tie in with the 25% cabernet franc.  This is in some ways a simpler wine,  and not quite perfectly ripe,  reflecting some aspects of the kinds of merlots all too commonly marked up in New Zealand.  There is still some tannin to soften.  Cellar 8 – 15 years.  GK 11/15

2005  Ch Soutard   16 ½ +  ()
Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $74   [ cork 50mm,  Me 68%,  CF 28,  CS 7,  Ma 2,  vines average 6,500 / ha;  18 months in barrel,  60% new;  c.10,000 cases;  www.chateau-soutard.com ]
Ruby and some velvet,  a wash of garnet,  the lightest wine.  Bouquet is more leathery and old-fashioned on this wine,  fragrant but not really floral,  the high percentage of cabernets not showing too well.  Palate is quite different,  clearly aromatic now,  quite oaky,  seemingly added acid leaving an awkward finish,  but the nett impression in style,  in a plainer way.  Has the fruit to  mellow in cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/15