When Chris Wilson got the invite to taste 15 vintages of Left Bank Bordeaux property Château Brown in the company of MD and chief winemaker Jean-Christophe Mau he felt a little uneasy. How come? Well, his experience of Bordeaux has been primarily dictated by the youth of the wines that are shown at trade tastings, and there are not many people in this world that can predict how a tight, tannic en primeur claret is going to taste in a decade’s time. Or indeed enjoy one. So would he have a moment of enlightenment or would this be a confirmation that Bordeaux simply is not a wine category for him?
All of the vintages made by Mau, since Château Brown was acquired in 2004, were shown at the dinner – split into three flights: Lunchtime reds, Dinnertime reds and Whites.
I’m a little uneasy when tasting red Bordeaux. There, I’ve said it… put me in a Margaux barrel, hammer down the head and cast me off into the Atlantic.
Unlike with all the other benchmark wine-producing regions – Old World, and New – I’ve always struggled to fully ‘get it’ when tasting Bordeaux, especially young reds. I think, perhaps, many I’ve tasted in the past at importer and generic tastings have been too young, released too early. Twin this with the fact that I’ve (again, whisper it) never had the pleasure of visiting the region on a hard core tasting trip and perhaps this helps to explain the disconnect.
I’ve visited the odd Château here and there on weekends away and holidays, but have never really drilled down into Bordeaux from a purely tasting perspective, and certainly not on the ground.
When wines built for aging – as is the case for many Bordeaux reds – are released and tasted when they are mere infants it takes some element of organoleptic crystal-ball staring to decipher what this wine might taste like in two, three, 10 years’ time, so when tasted in a vacuum it can be a tricky old business.
This is where the vertical tasting comes in and a recent 11-year vertical of Pessac-Léognan property Château Brown was as eye-opening as it was penny-dropping for me when it came to tasting Bordeaux. It wasn’t a Damascene moment as such, but certainly on the road to being one.
Tasting wines from the 2015 vintage all the way back to the 2005 vintage offered an opportunity to chart the development of grapes from the same region, vinified in the same way year-on-year. Of course, vintage variation is at play here but there remains a backbone, a DNA of sorts,that runs through the wines and offers reference points along the way.
The tasting was hosted by Richard Bampfield MW, with the wines presented by Château Brown’s MD and chief winemaker Jean-Christophe Mau. It was suggested that the wines were tasted in two flights, with six lighter wines bunched together and five stronger wines in a second flight. This ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’ selection worked well as the heavier, more robust wines from vintages including 2005, 2009 and 2015 didn’t overpower the wines from less-ripe years.
As well as the flagship reds, there were four whites on show. These were as much a highlight and revelation as the reds, and worked particularly well at dinner (at London’s impressive Clarette, whose co-owner Alexandra Petit is the youngest daughter of Château Margaux owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos), pairing beautifully with a number of dishes, including scallop, halibut and cheese.
And so to the wines…
Flight 1: Lunchtime Reds
Château Brown Rouge 2014
Nutty and lean with dusty red fruit. Very linear with green tannins great structure. All in tune, very harmonious.
Château Brown Rouge 2013
Big fruit hit on the nose of cassis and strawberry. In the mouth there’s a bacon fat savouriness and black pepper. Dark and long.
Château Brown Rouge 2012
Ribena nose. Light and breezy with plum and summer pudding fruit and some complexity, Soft, rounded tannins.
Château Brown Rouge 2011
Full and rich. So fruit-forward with plum but also prune characters. Zippy acidity and a smidgen of herb and black pepper spice.
Château Brown Rouge 2008
Bright and full with tangy acidity and a huge kick of cassis. Developed nose and palate with abundant leather and mushroom characters.
Château Brown Rouge 2007
Bruised plum and redcurrant fruit, keen acidity and bold tannins. Some spice and salty, mineral notes, but they creep up subtly, like a silent assassin.
Flight 2: Dinnertime Reds
Château Brown Rouge 2015
Punchy, juicy and rich. Jagged, tongue-coating tannins which hit you before the fruit. When it comes, the fruit is bold and black. Spirit-y, boozy finish.
Château Brown Rouge 2010
Big upfront fruit. Big wine. Demerara sugar and spice… and all things nice. Chewy and bold with deft oak integration; there’s oak present but it’s beautifully foiled by the fruit.
Château Brown Rouge 2009
Such an inviting nose. Full and fresh with tomato leaf and tapenade and bags of black fruit. So good. Absolutely spot on.
Château Brown Rouge 2006
Ballsy wine with blackcurrant and mint chocolate characters at the fore, and dusty tannins kicking around underneath. Tobacco too, and plenty of swagger.
Château Brown Rouge 2005
Really developed with stewed and dried fruit, smooth tannins and great body. Fleshy too, with some acid freshness to balance the liquorice and toffee.
Flight 3: Whites
Château Brown Blanc 2016
Tropical and flush with peaches, nectarines and apple blossom. So easy drinking… a real splash of summer in a glass.
Château Brown Blanc 2015
Smooth and long with lime, peach and pineapple. There’s a waxy mouthfeel which is lush and seductive as well as a delicious smoky finish.
Château Brown Blanc 2014
Slightly oily, Lanolin nose gives way to a fleshy, fruit-filled palate with pear and peach fruit. So full and fresh with punchy acidity and a hint of cut grass.
Château Brown Blanc 2013
The pick of the bunch; fleshy with honeysuckle, tropical fruit and magnificent poise. A crisp minerality and sea salt finish make this even more complex and stylish.