The Institute of Masters of Wine – Annual Claret Tasting – 2015 Vintage
Brendan Jansen MW: 10th December 2019
Each year, the Institute’s Bordeaux tasting is one of the most anticipated and well-attended tasting events on the calendar. The Institute holds Claret tastings in the USA and Australia annually also, but the event in Vintner’s Hall in London is arguably the biggest. Again, the event was sold out this year.
Being in London for the Annual MW Awards Ceremony, I decided to undertake the blind tasting this year, an option that has been offered in recent years. All 91 wines were masked, and grouped as follows:
- Pessac-Léognan, and
- Sauternes & Barsac.
The vintage notes provided by Charles Taylor MW were helpful, but I attempted not to be too influenced by them, allowing each wine to show its merits. In summary, however, the earlier ripening Merlot of the Right bank did better, both as the Right bank received less rain, and because of the earlier picking before the rains. Wines from the Left bank did less well, though in areas with well-draining gravelly soils, the effects of the higher than average rainfall were mitigated against. Thus Margaux, Saint Julien and Pauillac were expected to perform better than Saint Estéphe and the northern Medoc. The sweet wines of Sauternes were expected to be rich and ripe, and certainly did not fail to please.
A few general impressions:
- Nothing beats a blind tasting. All bets are off, and no preconceived notions apply. Receiving the crib sheet at the end was humbling.
- Many of the usual suspects, all household names, did well (in my books) and their quality level justifies their renown. See specifics below.
- Right bank wines were far more alcoholic, with levels up to 15% and 15.5% alcohol not infrequently encountered. Often this was accompanied by over-extraction and heavy oak handling. Some, it must be said, were more balanced.
- There is a general “de-Parkerisation” of the wines of Bordeaux, and indeed, when a heavily oaked and bolder wine appeared in the lineup, it clearly stood out.
- Pauillac and Saint Julien did well, but Margaux was a veritable star on the Left bank.
- Right bank wines from both Saint Emilion and Pomerol were expressive and many built for the long haul. The wines with better overall balance appealed most.
- A few lesser-known Chateaux showed really well, and I hope to highlight them in the (necessarily brief) notes below. I have used the QPR designation – quality price ratio – to signpost them! As you will see below, Margaux offers excellent buying this vintage.
A note on tasting order: many chose to taste the wines in order of 1-91. Others, I noted, did not. I decided to taste all Left bank wines first, going in the following order: Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint-Estéphe, Haut-Médoc, Pessac Léognan, Margaux. I then went to the Right bank with Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. I tasted the First Growths next, before pausing for Sauternes and Barsac (ending with d’Yquem).
Pauillac – Overall impression – this group was fresh, fleshy, not over-oaked, with ripe (not green) tannins and very approachable.
- Ch Pontet-Canet – first bottle was tainted but replacement showed remarkable depth. 18/20pts
- Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – wonderful – superb depth and complexity. High quality oak. 18.5/20pts
- Ch Haut-Bages Liberal – classic claret. Everything perfectly in place. 18+/20pts QPR
Saint-Julien – Overall impression – as Pauillac, but a little lighter.
- Ch Leoville-Las Cases – rich complex, balanced and long. 18+/20pts
- Ch Leoville Barton – high quality oak, polished wine – huge aging potential. 18.5+/20pts
- Ch Lagrange – nose closed and not that inviting, but palate very pleasing indeed. 17.5+/20pts QPR
- Ch Lafon-Rochet – oak, fruit and tannins all in good balance. 17.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Montrose – superb depth to fruit. Best of St-Estéphe. 18.5/20pts
- Ch Cos D’Estournel – perfume ?from oak, tight, tannic, elegant mouthfeel. One for a very long haul. 18.5/20pts
- Ch Cantemerle – well-balanced and accessible. One for earlier drinking 17.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Smith Haut Lafitte – Very closed and tight but with potential. 17/20pts
- Ch Haut-Bailly – aging potential but unyielding at present. 17/20pts
Margaux – Overall impression – generally superb…! Offers great value.
- Ch Rauzan-Ségla – perfumed, textured, persistent. One of the best of the tasting. 18.5++/20pts
- Ch Pouget – heavily oaked but has the fruit to carry it if you like this style. 17.5+/20pts QPR
- Ch Kirwan – lovely depth to nose and palate, in many ways un-Margaux-like, but brilliant nonetheless. 18.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Ferriere – more classic Margaux perfume, lithe palate, deft oak treatment. Aging potential also. 18.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Desmirail – lighter tone to fruit but overall polished . 17.5+/20pts QPR
- Ch Brane-Cantenac – all round excellence, serious, hedonistic even, with a long life ahead. 18.5+/20pts QPR
- Ch Boyd-Cantenac – oak again more evident but fruit and tannins there in support. Lay it down. 18/20pts QPR
Saint Emilion – Overall impression – I was a touch disappointed given the hype. Wines as a whole were very tannic, and tight, appealing to classical palates.
- Ch Trotte Vieille – opulent and ripe but not overly so. 18/20pts
- Ch Figeac – powerful fruit and tannins 18+/20pts
- Ch Cap de Mourlin – Classic nose and palate. Could so easily have hailed from the Left bank. 18.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Belair-Monange – power crept up on me. Shows great potential 18/20pts
Pomerol – Overall impression – some wines were too big for my liking, and I tended to favour those with alcohol levels 13.5-14.5%
- Ch Petit-Village – lovely ripeness matched with textured mouthfeel and good length 18.5/20pts
- Ch La Fleur-Petrus – this is a big wine, and classically merlot. Oak treatment is generous, in keeping. 17.5/20pts
- Ch Gazin – big and bold but not too brash. Complex and persistent. 18/20pts
- Ch Beauregard – deep, unctuous and complex. 18.5+/20pts QPR
Sauternes & Barsac – Overall impression – a wonderful way to cap the tasting. Best of the lot were ripe without being cloying. Those that maintained subtlety and linearity were most attractive.
- Clos Haut Peyraguey – superb all round, balanced with no heat. 18/20pts QPR
- Ch Guiraud – subtle, long and complex. 18.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Doisy Daene – reductive to start but potential evident. 18/20pts
- Ch Coutet – the greatest palate length and reach. Subtle balance. 18.5/20pts QPR
- Ch Climens – again, superb length and balance. 18/20pts
A note on my points – I mark out of 20, and if the points I have given seem high, it is because I have spared you the 15s and 16s.
I have chosen not to write about or point the First Growths – they were not tasted blind, but stood apart for their length and sheer power. Suffice to say, they were difficult to separate.
Brendan Jansen MW