Rare wine review: $500 Bordeaux masterclass

On a chilly winter night in Collingwood, I had the pleasure of attending an epic Bordeaux masterclass.

It was held by the legends at MW Wines. The special guest was Jane Anson, who was on a book tour for her new weighty wine tome, Inside Bordeaux.

At $540 a ticket it wasn’t cheap, but the book did come free. Also, there was cheese.

To honour the occasion, the team at MW selected 8 outstanding prestige Bordeaux wines, which Jane then expertly spoke to, plus a champagne to start.

Some tasting notes, as well as stray observations from Jane, are gathered below.

It was a great evening trying some truly special wines, with each one worth somewhere between $200-$800. Worth the ticket price if you’re into that sort of thing (I am).

Stray observations from Jane

  • Vintage report 1: 2009 as a vintage is characterised by more acidity and freshness. It was good upon release, and is still very good now. “The new 1982,” said Jane.
  • Vintage report 2: 2010, by contrast, is highly-structured. “A great vintage.”
  • Fun fact: “Fronsac is delicious,” apparently. Looking at a map of the Bordeaux region, it’s near Pomerol and is merlot-dominant, so yes that sounds very much like my jam. 
  • How long to age? 10 years is the best ageing window for Bordeaux. Duly noted. Watch out, 2013. Gonna glass ya. 
  • Don’t age the 2017 vintage. We have a 2017 Haut-Bailly so this is very convenient news. 
  • Cool your swirly jets. Make sure to sniff the wine without swirling first, then swirl once and sniff it again. Yet another libation I’m not allowed to swirl vigorously. First single malt, now wine. What’s next, chocolate milk?
  • Huge if true: While the name of the estate may be classified a first growth or whatever, they can in theory get grapes from anywhere?!
  • Also huge if true: Cabernet sauvignon has been in Australia and France for roughly the same time!
  • RIP: It took decades, but we’re now trending away from the Robert Parker style. Farewell ripeness, big fruit, and high alcohol. We hardly knew ye. Actually we knew ye very well. Probably too well.

Now onto the wines…

Chateau Lascombes 2010

Colour: Dark purple with crystalline glints. Like drops of ink on an amethyst.

Nose: Lots of brooding, brambly, toasted oak. Some smoke as well. A ghostly whisper of vanilla, too. After coming back to it later for another sniff, I was met by a strong sandalwood vibe. That was my favourite incense that I burned at my uni flats so I was not complaining!

Taste: Drying tannings cradling copious fruit. There’s raspberry and spice. It’s very open, with a bloody long finish. Also some blood orange right at the end. Fresh minerality keeps the whole thing in excellent shape.

Notes: Second growth from Margaux. 55% cabernet, 45% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Jane says they recently hired the bloke from Ornelaia as winemaker. Super Tuscan vintages in the future, watch this space.

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2010

Colour: Less dark in the centre than the others (my colour descriptions are terrible and only going to get worse brace yourself)

Nose: A big bang of roasted nuts. That lifts off like a space shuttle, and then you have lifted red fruit. Smoky, and also a bit meaty.

Taste: Lovely mid-palate fruit. A touch of chocolate and graphite. Drying finish. Lots of tannin. Hard to believe it’s 13 years old tbh.

Notes: According to Jane, this Pauillac 5th growth has some of the best gravel in Bordeaux. It also represents fabulous bang for your buck. It’s not giving away all of its secrets just get, but give it another five years (and make sure you double-decant it when you do).

Chateau Leoville-Barton 2005

Colour: Bright ruby rim, dark garnet center.

Nose: This really exhibited a mature, integrated, knitted-together quality. I know that’s what you’re supposed to look for with aged Bordeaux. Personally, having come up through the new world, I find it perplexing. It’s a dark, ripe, unknowable mass. This must be how astronauts studying dark matter must feel every day. Wait, was that animal fur?

Coming back to it later, I did detect some prunes stewed with vanilla.

Taste: Felt to me like it had higher acidity than the others. Some mint, menthol, green pepper, all owing to its high cabernet proportion. None of these flavours were very pronounced though like a Coonawarra cabernet. Subtlety is the thing.  

Notes: From Saint-Julien. 74% cabernet, 70% new oak. 2005 was a good year. I miss it terribly.

Chateau Calon-Segur 2009

Colour: A brooding dark center.

Nose: Very green and capsicum-y on first whiff, followed by a bright and perfumed spice (so much spice, in fact, I wrote ‘spice’ twice). Some chiselled stony minerality also detected. On the second sniff, cut flowers and rose petal.

Taste: Tannin floods the mouth and dries the gums, followed by a bittersweet finish. The fruit does sneak in though. Somehow it manages. Super long aftertaste.

Notes: This is a Saint-Estèphe wine comprised of 90% cabernet. Apparently this region is known for being less ripe and more rustic. It also has lots of clay, which sets it up well as a region for a warmer future. Honestly, I was expecting this wine to be a chocolatey sensation after reading about it so much in Drops of God. Alas, that time seems to have passed.

Chateau Canon 2009

Colour: Ruby and dark swirling smoke in the centre.

Nose: Saltine, dark fruit, and some dark walnutty complexity.

Taste: Very inky, juicy, velvety, with dark chocolate and bittersweet oak. Elegant and vibrant.

Inky, juicy, velvety, dark chocolate, oak, bit bitter

Notes: A Saint-Émilion owned by Chanel. Grown on limestone. 90% merlot (I think I really dig merlot-dominant Bordeaux). The bloke who works here now used to be at Krug.

Chateau L’Evangile 2010

Colour: Shiny garnet with a purple centre.

Nose: Dark fruit and prune. Vanilla. Feshy cherry fruit. A caramel edge.

Taste: Damn this is good. Fleshy, fresh, rich, ripe, round, kirsch, cassis, blackberry pastry, a tiny touch of heat right at the end.

Notes: A Pomerol owned by Lafite-Rothschild. 88% merlot. 14.8% alcohol (hence the heat). Described by Jane as “more of a crowd-pleaser”. I think that’s her way of saying it’s for the uneducated masses with unevolved palettes, of which I am certainly one. I really dug this wine. Pomerol and Right Bank until the end.

Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2009

Colour: By this point my palate was exhausted so all I have here is “deep” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nose: Strong oak. Almost headache-inducing. The dull thud of being lightly papped in the forehead with a smooth oak cricket bat. Coconutty, young and structured. Almost weirdly ‘crispy’, in a way. Some cassis. Bitter chocolate too.

Taste: Nicely balanced. A bit inky. Olive skin, the fruit coming in strong at the end. Sleek, precise, seamless. Flavour sticks around. Not ready yet. 

Notes: Pessac-Leognan. 64% cabernet, 30% merlot, 6% other stuff (petit verdot and malbec, probably).

Chateau d’Yquem 2005

Colour: What a way to finish! Literal liquefied gold. You love to see it shimmer and glimmer.

Nose: Lifted marmalade, perfume reaching the high heavens. Lurking around the vaulted ceiling like a trapped ghost. It’s classic d’Yquem, really. At once fresh, young, and complex – while also being an old soul. A miracle of a wine, really.

Taste: The finish on this one is a million, million, million, million miles long. So much fruit and caramel too – and almost a pistachio skin-like nuttiness. Again, incredible wine.

Notes: The pride of Sauternes, bringing sauvignon blanc and semillon together in a marriage made in literal heaven. There’s a reason this wine is so famous, enjoyed by the likes of Hannibal Lecter and Stalin (now there’s a dinner party to avoid). Jane’s preference is to serve this wee beastie cold, and I agree. Simply sublime stuff.