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First Growths hold first joint London Masterclass & Stephen Brook's review of the masterclass

Masterclass: La Mission Haut Brion

Introducing the wines of La Mission, Jean-Philippe Delmas, the winemaker since 2004, was at pains to explain how La Mission differs from its even grander neighbour Haut-Brion, from which it is separated by no more than a road, writes Stephen Brook.

He puts it down to numerous differences that combine to create contrasting ecosystems: Haut-Brion faces southwest, La Mission southeast; the density of plantation is greater at La Mission, the microclimate marginally different too.

Although La Mission is sometimes described as the sixth first growth – and La Mission in great years comes very close to Haut-Brion is quality – the tasting confirmed that La Mission is generally a touch more rugged and less elegant than its neighbour, though experience suggests it can be as long-lived.

La Mission’s white wine, Laville Haut-Brion, differs from Haut-Brion Blanc by having about 85% Semillon and no more than 15% Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious young, it ages almost as well as the red. Both the 2006 and 2007 were superb examples of this rare wine (around 600 cases), although in entirely different styles.

Confronting the inevitable question of high prices for modern Bordeaux, Jean-Philippe, tongue in cheek, recommended buying 2009 Lafite, selling it to the Chinese, and then using the profit to buy ten cases of La Mission. He gave another deft answer when a taster asked him what we would be discussing at a similar event in ten years’ time: ‘You will be telling me the prices are too high, and I will agree with you. I am the winemaker, not the owner, and I can tell you I can’t afford my wines either.’

2005. Perfectly fresh nose, with crushed-berry aromas and a hint of cedary herbaceousness but no trace of greenness. Elegant attack, fresh and lively, silky tannins, very concentrated but with no hard edges, and lovely acidity. Has great charm, and a very long fresh finish. 18.5. Drink 2015-2045.

2004. Closed nose, black cherries and a whiff of smoke. Quite rich, suave, firm tannins, still a touch austere, but at present it seems a touch hollow and lacking in harmony. The tannins are blunt on the finish, which is moderately long. May flesh out with more bottle-age. 16.5. Drink 2012-2025.

2003. Muted blackcurranty nose. Rich, compact, dense, with very chewy tannins, a bit clumsy, and the acidity is decidedly low, so the wine lacks length and finesse. Chunky finish, with the flavours tailing off fast. 15.5. Drink now-2018.

2001. Sumptuous cedary nose, black cherries and blackcurrants with a whiff of leaf tobacco. Very ripe, supple, and concentrated, has ripe tannins and a silky texture, already approachable, with a refreshing bite of acidity on the finish. Graceful and delicate, but no wimp. Good length. 17.5. Drink now-2030.

2000. Dense nose, still rather closed and austere, with brooding black fruits in the background. Very rich, opulent, full-bodied, but the firm tannins give structure and support, has weight of fruit without being heavy, and a long, sweet, spicy finish. May lack a little finesse, but very typical of the estate. 18.5. Drink 2015-2040.

1999. Dumb nose, with lurking black fruits. Soft attack, concentrated, but there’s a slight greenness and a consequent hint of astringency. Has some grip but there’s a certain lack of generosity, yet the finish is lively and brisk. Quite long. 16.5. Drink now-2025.

1998. Splendid nose, quite savoury, with complex aromas of blackberries, liquorice, meat, and cedar. Rich, sumptuous, with powerful tannins and lively acidity. Has punch and drive and vigour, and still very youthful. Truly mouth-coating, with a sweet piquant finish. Very long. 19. Drink now-2050.

1995. Rich smoky meaty nose, brawny, savoury, with secondary aromas dominating the black fruits; has Graves earthiness in the most positive sense. Rich, suave, silky tannins, and fine acidity that gives considerable intensity and airiness without excessive power or grip. Unusually elegant for La Mission. Good length. 18.5. Drink now-2040.

2007 Laville Haut-Brion. Rich lime nose, ripe grapefruit, very aromatic, though there’s a slight soapiness. Lean and precise, with striking but not green acidity, no overt oak influence, still very youthful and almost raw. Bracing and vigorous, concentrated and tight, with an almost sherbetty finish. Has a brilliance and balance that promises a long life. 18.5. Drink 2012-2030.

2006. Laville Haut-Brion. Rich apricot, lime, and lanolin nose. Broad , creamy, and powerful, with fat as well as richness, yet not heavy or flabby. There’s minerality and extract and considerable length, but perhaps it lacks the brilliance and vivacity of the 2007. 18. Drink now-2025.

Masterclass: Bordeaux’s First Growths

At the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter ninety Bordeaux enthusiasts have just tasted ten first-growth Bordeaux, writes Stephen Brook, while the estate directors contributed their commentaries and answered questions.

For only the second time ever, the five directors appeared in public together to present their wines. So even for seasoned observers and tasters of Bordeaux, this was a historic occasion. Some of the vintages were classics, such as 2000 and 2005, but tasting so-called lesser vintages alongside them showed the gap between them was not as great as the price differences can suggest.

The 2008 Latour, still in its infancy, was remarkable, so non-millionaires left behind by the soaring prices of 2005 and 2009 might just be able to afford this magnificent wine. The 2006 Mouton also came close. Frédéric Engerer was open about the controversial nature of the blisteringly hot 2003 vintage, but claimed Latour had nonetheless produced a great wine, a statement confirmed by the tasting. 1998, a top vintage in the Graves, is often overlooked, but the 1998 Haut-Brion was an outstanding example from this often forgotten vintage.

If some of the younger vintages seemed surprisingly accessible, the wines from the 1990s were a reminder that great Bordeaux often closes up as it girds its loins for a long ageing and maturation in bottle. The 1996 Margaux, a marvellous wine, demonstrated this perfectly: tight and intense, it still has decades to go. The oldest wine shown, the 1988 Lafite, was no blockbuster but was a marvel of discretion and precision, giving pleasure now but poised for a long life in bottle.

The tasting as a whole confirmed what some sceptics may seek to deny: that the Bordeaux first growths really are in a class of their own.

2008 Latour. Lean,minty, oaky nose, refined and surprisingly open and perfumed for such a young wine. Sleek on the palate, with fine-grained tannins and firm acidity, restrained and stylish, showing impeccable balance: the underlying fruit is sweet and the tannins robust but not hard. Excellent length. 19.5. Drink 2015-2050.

2006 Mouton-Rothschild. Rich and flamboyant blackcurrant nose, quintessential Mouton in its exuberance and lift; oaky but not dominated by the wood. On the palate rich, broad, and fleshy, with huge tannins to balance the swaggering fruit; not the most elegant of wines but has a spring in its step, and sufficient concentration and drive to go the distance. Excellent length. 19. Drink 2015-2055.

2005 Margaux. Explosively black-fruited nose, powerful for Margaux yet also has refinement and intensity. Sleek attack, immensely concentrated, yet less weighty than the nose, showing intensity and purity rather than power, with integrated new oak, and all the lift and poise of a great Margaux. Seemingly effortless, and very long. 19.5. Drink 2021-2060.

2004 Haut-Brion. Rather closed nose, with underlying black cherry fruit, plenty of spice, and a hint of chocolate. Sleek and voluptuous, beautifully textured but with no lack of tannin and acidity. Balanced, if understated and a touch lean. Very good length, and a firm finish. 18. Drink 2012-2035.

2003 Latour. Dense and inexpressive nose, showing plums, cloves, and Indian spices, exotic for Latour, with plenty of toasty oak. Very rich, plump, and voluptuous, super-concentrated and tight with massive tannins, yet has surprising acidity given the vintage, as well as great weight of fruit. Yet not heavy or oppressive. Good length but lacks the persistence of the very greatest years. 18.5. Drink 2015-2035.

2000 Lafite. Sumptuous and fleshy nose, with blackberrry and blackcurrant fruit and very stylish oak; a splendid fusion of opulence and classiness. Suave and textured, this is voluptuous but also spicy and lively, drinking well now but with firm tannins and an acidic lift that promise a long life. Very long, and with a surprisingly delicate finish. 18.5. Drink now-2040.

1998 Haut-Brion. Lush and lavish black cherry nose, brooding and opulent, seductively aromatic. Broad and svelte on the palate, but with fine acidity that keeps it tight and youthful, with a lot of spice and lift, certainly concentrated and virile, crackles with energy and still needs time. Very long. 18.5. Drink now-2045.

1996 Margaux. Muted oaky nose, with aromas of blackcurrants and a whiff of smoke. Medium-bodied, graceful, and intense, still tight but with sleek tannins, not fully formed but has great purity and freshness. Very stylish, almost racy, very Margaux. Excellent length. 19. Drink now-2040.

1989 Mouton-Rothschild. Sumptuous and toasty blackcurrant nose, with just a hint of cooked fruit. Broad and suave, not super-concentrated but still fresh, has precision. Delicious now if not that profound or complex, and has a long if rather raw finish. May not have been a perfect bottle. 17.5. Drink now-2025.

1988 Lafite-Rothschild. Subdued nose of black cherries and mint. Medium-bodied and delicate, this dances on the palate without being that rich or concentrated; but has fine acidity and ample finesse, with more charm than evident structure. Ready but will hold, and very Lafite in its discretion and a hint of austerity. Long. 18. Drink now-2030.

  1. 1. Masterclass: La Mission Haut Brion
  2. 2. Masterclass: Bordeaux's First Growths
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