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

Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

On 16 July 2020,  Jean-Christophe Poizat,  co-founder / owner of wine-merchant Maison-Vauron,  Auckland,  ventured south into a chilly Wellington,  to present a tasting of ‘affordable’ 2016 and 2015 Bordeaux wines imported by his company.  This tasting was at the invitation of their Wellington agents Regional Wines & Spirits,  near the Basin Reserve.  Jean-Christophe was at his most eloquent and beguiling,  and the attendees very much liked his style and approach.  Interestingly,  he implied that when presenting tastings in Wellington,  he had to do a little more preparation on technical details for the wines,  compared with in Auckland.  Speaking personally however,  I found it very hard to taste accurately in such a convivial setting,  and could not wait to set the wines out again,  in the quiet of home.

Jean-Christophe's goal was to introduce wines from the main districts of Bordeaux,  and to the extent only 10 wines allow,  highlight the contrast between the 2015 and 2016 vintages.  The latter point emerged very successfully.  As with the better 2016 Southern Rhone Valley wines which I have tasted more of,  the better 2016 Bordeaux were clearly much more aromatic and fresh wines of great precision and varietal accuracy,  which would be a delight to have in one’s cellar.  Brief impressions of the wines follow.

The nett impression I took from this tasting is how dramatically wine-making standards have improved in Bordeaux,  over the last 50 years.  The flow-back of technology from the New World has made an enormous difference,  augmenting the best of French tradition in,  for example,  cropping rates,  and hence the body,  dry extract and mouthfeel of the finished wine.  The clearest example in this set is the second wine of Calon Segur.  Second wines were often very poor indeed,  a generation (and two) ago.  This Le Marquis wine however,  has the concentration and gravitas of many a grand vin.  Exciting.


2019  Ch Grand Verdus Blanc
Sadirac,  Entre-Deux-Mers,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  cepage SB 60,  Se 30,  muscadelle 10,  grown on gravels,  clay and some limestone;  cool night-harvest of the fruit,  sorting table,  long cool fermentations,  then elevation said to be all in s/s for 5 months,  on lees with batonnage;  www.chateaulegrandverdus.com ]
Elegant lemon.  Bouquet is wonderfully clean and exciting,  such a contrast to anybody brought up on the dreadful Bordeaux white wines of the 1960s and 1970s,  when reduced sulphur was almost ubiquitous.  Here instead are lovely slightly aromatic pepino,  greengage and English gooseberry aromas,  effortlessly complexed by a very clean lees autolysis input.  Palate is a total contrast to the great majority of New Zealand sauvignon blancs,  the wine immediately having perceptible body / dry extract,  and thus being even  better with food than the New Zealand wines.  Thus far,  New Zealand sauvignon blanc has achieved its success on its dramatic varietal freshness and obvious character.  But to the informed taster,  body and palate satisfaction have all too often been lacking.  Happily the remedy for New Zealand winemakers is obvious … but rather many are reluctant to adopt it.  This is a model Bordeaux blanc,  to cellar up to 10 years.  The lees autolysis work is so good,  that in terms of both bouquet and palate complexity,  the wine hints at a barrel fermentation component.  The winery doesn't admit to it,  however.  GK 07/20

2016   Ch Anthonic
2016  Ch Fonbel
2015  Ch  Grand-Puy-Lacoste
2016  Ch Lagrange
2016  Le Marquis de Calon Segur
  2016  Ch du Seuil
2015  Ch Taillefer
2015  Ch du Tertre
2016  Ch La Tour Carnet
Saint-Julien Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $157   [ cork 50mm;  cepage varies with the year but c. CS 67%,  Me 28,  PV 5,  planted at an average of 8,750 vines / ha,  on deep gravels;  all hand-picked,  2016 cropped at 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac,  optical sorting of berries;  cuvaison to 21 days,  21 months in barrel 60% new;  consultant Eric Boissenot;  noted for being the largest of the Medoc classed growths,  with 110 ha of red grapes;  quality transformed since the take-over by Suntory,  Japan,  in 1983;  Neal Martin considers this 2016 ‘certainly is one of the most expressive Lagrange that I have tasted’;  production averages 23,000 x 9-litre cases;  www.chateau-lagrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a ‘perfect’ young claret / cabernet / merlot colour,  the second deepest wine.  And the bouquet is near-perfect too,  vibrant yet soft,  exciting with nearly-violets dusky floral qualities,  on sensational fresh cassisy berry totally dominant over beautiful oak handling,  with soft and gentle cedary hints far below.  Palate immediately has texture and mouth-feel,  like the Bordeaux Blanc so different from so many New Zealand Cabernet / Merlots,  again reflecting a cropping rate leading to quality and dry extract in the wine.  Cassis from the perfectly ripe cabernet sauvignon dominates,  fleshed out by merlot.  This is a beautiful,  velvety cabernet / merlot wine,  not big but of a quality all New Zealand cabernet makers should be tasting (and cellaring) regularly.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 07/20

Margaux Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $115   [ cork 50mm;  cepage c. CS 43%,  Me 33,  CF 19,  PV 5,  planted at an average 7,800 vines / ha;  one third of the vineyard biodynamic;  crop hand-picked at an average of 5.2 t/ha = 2.1 t/ac,  then optical sorting and hand-sorting;  fermentation in cuves,  s/s and concrete,  a little cooler than average at 25°,  cuvaison to 28 days;  average 16 months in barrel,  45% new;  egg-white fining;  consultant:  Denis Dubourdieu;  production averages 16,500 x 9-litre cases;  http://chateaudutertre.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  very clearly much less vivid than the 2016 Ch Lagrange,  the third deepest wine.  Bouquet for this wine is as sweet and pure as the Lagrange,  but it is as if the wine were five years older,  rather than  one.  It is much more mellow and integrated,  not as vivid and aromatic,  the cassis more subdued and blending with dark plums,  the aromatic component more oak-lead than grape-lead.  Palate fits in totally,  softer fruit,  slightly more oak and less body / dry extract,  much more a typical ‘good’ claret than an exceptional one (in its price range).  The two cabernets plus the oak add some excitement to the more straightforward merlot body,  but the wine does not compare with the Lagrange,  in that component.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 07/20

Saint Laurent / Haut-Medoc Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $98   [ cork 50mm;  cepage in 2016 Me 60%,  CS 37,  CF 3,  planted at an average of 9,000 vines / ha,  on underlying clays with gravels on top;  hand-picked,  optical sorting of the berries;  fermentation in cuves and concrete vats temperature controlled to 28°;  cuvaison to 32 days,  16 months ageing in barrels 30% new;  consultant Michel Rolland;  www.bernard-magrez.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  back to the vibrant colour of the Ch Lagrange,  but not as deep,  just above midway in depth.  This wine is merlot-dominant,  thus not as aromatic as Lagrange or Grand-Puy-Lacoste.  Merlot is a variety critically prone to over-ripening,  as another of the wines (and almost all Australian merlot) shows.  Bouquet on this wine is in contrast silky,  fresh,  nearly floral in a dusky way,  darkest plums-in-the-sun lifted with cassis.  Palate is very youthful,  a little more aromatic,  the cabernet clearer now,  but the wine just a bit oaky,  tiptoeing towards a New Zealand styling.  There is still a fine-grain quality to the tannins making it attractive as Bordeaux,  relative to  the New World.  Alongside the Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  it tastes so much younger.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 07/20

Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $222   [ cork 50mm;  cepage c. CS 74%,  Me 23,  CF 3,  planted at 10,000 vines / ha on 58 ha of deep gravels;  average vine age 38 years;  all hand-picked at c.6.2 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac,  followed by hand-sorting;  up to c.21 days cuvaison,  16 – 18 months in barrel,  75% new varying with the vintage;  consultant Eric Boissenot;  the Borie family also own Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou;  production averages 12,000 x 9-litre cases;  www.chateau-grand-puy-lacoste.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  older and lighter than du Tertre,  midway in depth.  Bouquet immediately has the wonderful cedary complexity that so characterises Grand-Puy-Lacoste,  year in,  year out.  This attribute melds seamlessly with the high cabernet of this wine,  with already hints of cigar-box complexity – exactly,  when  you take one out and check.  Palate however is a little disappointing,  only because it is a 2015.  It tastes more like a 10-year-old wine,  browning cassis,  cedary and tobacco complexities,  more apparent oak than the Lagrange,  lovely as far as it goes.  It does not seem ideally rich for the amount of oak,  but the purity is very attractive.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  maybe 25.  GK 07/20

Saint-Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $67   [ cork 51mm;  cepage averages Me 70%,  CS 20,  PV 7,  carmenere 3,  on sands and gravels,  cropped at 6.1 t/ha = 2.45 t/ac,  some machine-harvesting,  average vine age 20 years,  very diverse planting density;  MLF in vat;  elevation in barrel for 10 months,  30% new;  same owners as Ch Ausone;  consultant Gilles Pauquet;  production 8,300 x 9-litre cases;  https://web.archive.org/web/20090329005724/http://www.chateau-ausone-saint-emilion.com/en/chateau_de_fonbel_data.php ]
Ruby and velvet,  not as fresh as the top 2016s here,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is very much merlot-dominant,  very fine-grain,  fragrant and nearly floral,  plummy,  beautifully pure,  oak very understated indeed.  Palate confirms the merlot dominance,  a lovely fleshyness,  the cabernet and petit verdot adding nearly imperceptible aromatic lift,  the oak so subtle.  This wine highlights how often New Zealand merlot is over-oaked,  not allowing the sensuous charms of merlot to speak.  This is an earlier-maturing 2016 by far,  which will be great with food.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 07/20

Saint-Estephe second wine,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $86   [ cork 50mm;  Neal Martin records that cepage in 2016 Me 55%,  CS 45,  planted at 8,000 vines / ha;  planted on gravels over clay;  cropped at 5.5 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac.  This contrasts with the entire Calon-Segur vineyard planted to CS 56%,  Me 35,  CF 7,  PV 2;  average vine age 22 years;  hand-picked,  hand-sorted;  cuvaison to 21 days in s/s;  17 months in barrel,  30% new;  egg-white fined;  website misleading for Le Marquis as includes some details from the grand vin;  Consultant Eric Boissenot;  production of Le Marquis c.11,500 cases vs 6,500 x 9-litre cases for the grand vin;  www.calon-segur.fr/en/le-marquis-de-calon-segur ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly the darkest and freshest wine in the set,  vibrant and impressive.  Bouquet is pure,  but a bit big,  burly and oaky,  almost a New World styling,  not the detail and subtlety of the top wines.  It is almost as if there were a lot of malbec in the cepage (not so),  with a dark quality reminiscent of elderberry,  and a hint of white pepper.  You need to taste it,  to sort out the impressions on bouquet.  Flavour is rich,  deep,  intensely darkly plummy,  the cabernet providing some aromatic lift,  the whole wine noticeably oaky in this company.  I had not realised that Le Marquis is so different in its cepage to Calon Segur proper,  Jean-Cristophe explaining that much of the fruit comes from a clay-dominant area of the vineyard better suited to merlot.  This will cellar for many years,  and may well gentle down to be rated more highly than today.  As a second wine,  Le Marquis is amazingly concentrated,  but at present it lacks charm,  as Bordeaux.  Cellar 20 – 40 years.  GK 07/20

Moulis-en-Medoc Cru Bourgeois Supérieur,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $50   [ supercritical Diam ‘cork’,  47 mm;  cepage c. Me 62%,  CS 29,  CF 7,  PV 2;  planted at 7,000 vines / ha on gravels,  clay and some limestone;  cuvaison 17 – 25 days depending on season;  12 months in oak,  25 – 33% new,  6 months in s/s,  egg-white fining;  consultant Eric Boissenet;  www.chateauanthonic.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  another 2016 not to show the vibrant carmine of the cabernet-lead wines,  the second to lightest red.  Bouquet is soft,  sweet,  again nearly floral,  clearly plummy and merlot-dominant in its lack of aromatics,  oak very  subtle.  Palate is lighter than many,  nearly red fruits as well as darker,  oak gentle and in the background.  A lighter wine altogether,  but making up for it in its balance,  freshness and charm.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/20

Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.5%;  $76   [ cork 50mm;  cepage in 2015 Me 84%,  CF 16,  planted at 6,050 vines / ha on sand and gravels underlain by iron-rich clay,  average vine age c.35 years,  viticulture lutte raisonnée;  crop hand-picked at c. 39 hl/ha = 5.1 t/ha = 2.1 t/ac ,  hand-sorted;  fermentation in concrete vats,  followed by elevation c.12 months in barrel 50% new;  Ch Taillefer was the first property bought by the Moueix family,  in 1923;  production c.5,000 x 9-litre cases;  website proper www.moueixbernard.fr  lacking in info;  but detail found by chance at;  www.bordeaux-tradition.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Taillefer-2015-FT-GB-C1148.pdf ]
Ruby and velvet,  just below midway in depth,  but clearly the oldest / most developed wine among the  reds.  I was excited to see this chateau in the line-up,  not having tasted it before.  However,  one sniff and this reflects the wine of a seemingly hotter year,  or a critically over-ripened wine.  There are no florals or fresh aromatics,  instead a densely plummy aroma with even a hint of prunes,  and a thought of leather.  Palate is ripe,  quite rich,  but the leathery thought persists,  with drying tannins to the tail,  introducing just a hint of  roughness.  It seems critically over-ripe,  and the given 14.5% alcohol,  the highest in the set,  would seem to confirm that thought.  This wine vividly illustrates how easily merlot can be over-ripened,  and lose its magic.  Like pinot noir,  or syrah.  In its style,  it will marry up in cellar,  and provide uncritical enjoyment,  particularly  for people from warmer viticultural climates.  It will be a gentler wine once it crusts in bottle.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 07/20

Graves,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $43   [ supercritical Diam ‘cork’,  47 mm;  cepage c. CS 50%,  Me 45,  CF 5,  average age 35 years,  planted on gravels and sand over limestone and clay,  viticulture tending organic,  cropping rate not given;  fermentation in s/s,  followed by MLF in barrel,  and maturing for up to 18 months in oak;  not much detail available;  Welsh owners (the Allison family) since 1988;  www.chateauduseuil ]
Ruby and some velvet,  lighter and older than most,  the lightest red.  Bouquet is somewhat different on this wine,  in a Bordeaux context a certain plainness to it reminiscent of (for example) some Cotes du Rhone wines which see only big,  not immaculate,  old wood,  rather than new.  But it is fragrant and clearly ‘claret’ in style.  Palate continues the bouquet impressions,  straightforward berry flavours already browning somewhat,  fruit dominant over oak,  reasonable length,  but a bit phenolic to the tail.  Just a pleasant ‘small’ bordeaux,  not exciting.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/20