The Buyer
How Grand-Puy Ducasse's quality has undergone a 'Renaissance'

How Grand-Puy Ducasse's quality has undergone a 'Renaissance'

With the opening of its visitor centre and boutique, this Monday sees the final piece of the jigsaw put in place for the 'Renaissance' of Bordeaux Fifth Growth Grand-Puy Ducasse – just in time as the first cruise ships are docking on the Left Bank for the first time this August. We hear from general manager and winemaker Anne Le Naour about the investment in the new winery and vineyards and taste for ourselves the uplift in quality of the wines. Peter Dean reports.

Peter Dean
10th June 2024by Peter Dean
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

When the first of the giant cruise ships berths in Pauillac this August, bringing up to 3000 visitors a time to the historic wine town on the left bank of the Gironde, a new chapter will be opened in Bordeaux’s oeno-tourism.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse couldn’t have timed its ‘renaissance’ any better. On July 8, it is opening its doors to the public for the first time, the culmination of a decade-long renovation project.

Grand-Puy Ducasse

The château opening its doors to tourists is the final piece of the Renaissance jogsaw

Since the winery was built just over 200 years ago, Fifth Growth Grand-Puy Ducasse has always been ‘the only château in the village’ – its house on the quayside and winemaking facilities being in Pauillac itself, a town that, let’s face it, sorely needs an injection of capital to better reflect the wealth and stature of its neighbours.

From next Monday Grand-Puy Ducasse will also have a boutique on the quayside and a visitor centre that offers tourists an historical tour of the house, with each of four salons telling a key part of the House’s past.

More importantly, perhaps, is that owners CA Grand Crus, the fine wine arm of France’s Crédit Agricole Group that acquired the property in 2005, has invested heavily in both the chateau’s 40 hectares of vineyards and in constructing a new winery.

Grand-Puy Ducasse

Anne Le Naour, group general manager and winemaker, explaining the investment to buyers at the London tasting

The new facility, whose inaugural vintage is the 2023, takes its old vat room capacity from 29 tanks to 55 truncated cone-shaped vats ranging from 30-129 hectolitres plus seven large concrete vats for ageing and blending the wines.

Prior to more recent vintages it is fair to say that Grand-Puy Ducasse had a mixed reputation, a result of prioritising quantity over quality and selling mainly in France, especially to supermarkets.

Under the stewardship of Anne Le Naour, group general manager and winemaker, however, the focus has changed with the quality of the grand vin and second label, Prelude showing impressive progression across the last handful of vintages, the 2022 grand vin being my standout of a recent vertical-tasting that included library bottles dating back to 1983.

Grand-Puy Ducasse introduced a new label design in 2020 as a ‘line in the sand’ perhaps to signify this changing of the guard.

Grand-Puy Ducasse

A map illustrating the five sites of the House's vineyards and the patchwork of soil types – the reason why it claims to have the best representation of Pauillac terroir

The visitor centre is described by Le Naour as the last piece of the jigsaw in this 'Renaissance’ project which was celebrated at a lunch in London’s award-winning Les 110 de Taillevent restaurant – the menu being classic old school French cuisine with cheese starter followed by two beef courses followed by cheese! The wines were on song and reflected a clear uplift in quality.

So how were the Grand-Puy Ducasse wines tasting?

We started with three of the estate’s second wine, Prelude, tasted young to old.

Prelude à Grand-Puy Ducasse 2020

A Merlot-dominant blend (62% to Cab Sauv 38%) – 13.5% abv.Ripe, more red-fruited than the 2019 and leaner. Fresh, approachable, fine-grained tannins, has grip, cedar notes, green, and a youthful, gastronomic quality.

Prelude à Grand-Puy Ducasse 2019

Cab Sauv 51%/ Merlot 49% – 14% abv. A much later harvest.

Fruits of the forest, bramble, liquorice – a dark, earthy quality. In the mouth the wine is smooth, velvet tannins, fresh, great balance, lot of depth and breadth in the fruit. Long length and a pleasing, sweet liquorice finish. Intense. Very smart wine, polished, micro-fine tannin.

Prelude à Grand-Puy Ducasse 2018

Much more Merlot than the 2019 – Merlot 70%/ Cab Sauv 30% – 14.5% abv. Black fruit, pastry, coal dust, dried black flowers. In the mouth the wine is fresh, open, giving, lovely balance – lots of fruit and depth, young tannins, wild blackberry, nice sweet note on the finish, long length.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2022

Cab Sauv 58%/ Merlot 40%/ Petit Verdot 2% - 14.5% abv

Complex, shy at first, concentrated, lifted aromas of red and black fruit, sweet coconut note. In the mouth the wine is warm, open, fresh, fine-boned tannins, great structure, warmth of alcohol. This is young but shows plenty of promise, could be drunk now but best wait a few years. Real stature and showing really well on the day.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2021

Cab Sauv 68%/ Merlot 32%/ - 12.8% abv

Red fruited, raspberry, wild little cherries, mulberries, almost a pine note much less ripe than the 2022. In the mouth the wine has more pronounced acidity, tighter, more gastronomic, a drying finish, grippier tannins, dry river stone texture on the finish. Unusually low alcohol and out of balance.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2020

Cab Sauv 55%/ Merlot 45%/ - 14.5% abv

So different to the 2021! Ripe, ripe cassis, intense, powerful. Warm mouthfeel, open, fresh, silky tannins, lush, polished ripe fruit, structure coming through. Good grip with blackcurrant flavours dominating – fabulous depth and concentration.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2019

Cab Sauv 49%/ Merlot 51%/ - 14.5% abv

More Merlot than any of the other vintages tasted of the grand vin. More elegant and showing restraint than 2020. More complex on the nose, spices. In the mouth the wine is fresh, open – then goes on a journey – becomes much tighter quite quickly, a drier core, with grippy tannins, good balance though between fresh, open fruit and firm tannic structure, with a lovely fresh mouthfeel. Needs food.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2018

Cab Sauv 52%/ Merlot 48%/ - 14.5% abv

Ripe, concentrated, fleshy nose, cassis. In the mouth fresh, more open, feels more ‘fleet of foot’, lovely in the mouth, just starting secondary character. Leafy, tight finish, long length.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2015

Classic claret. Intense, concentrated ripe fruit – more secondary on the nose. Lovely in the mouth, refined, micro-fine tannins, especially on the front palate - great balance.

Grand Puy-Ducasse 2011

Beautifully aged claret. Lovely poise in the mouth, nicely integrated but evident tannins – ripe, but structured and still very fresh.

Wines that stood out

If I was buying from this is the selection these are the wines I would be choosing: Prelude à Grand-Puy Ducasse 2019, Grand Puy-Ducasse 2022, Grand Puy-Ducasse 2015 and Grand Puy-Ducasse 2011.

The 1983 served en magnum showed the pedigree of the estate's terroir