THE JEWELS OF MARGAUX

Speakers:
Alexander van Beek (Châteaux Giscours and du Tertre)
Henri Lurton (Château Brane-Cantenac)
Dominique Befve (Château Lascombes)
John Kolasa (Château Rauzan-Ségla)

Five of the most celebrated classed growths of Margaux were first up on Decanter’s Masterclass stage, and between them they ran though the last decade of the renowned Médoc commune’s vintages.

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As John Kolasa highlighted, ‘the beauty of Bordeaux is that we do have vintages – and we try to reflect what nature gives us’. As well a vintage

variation, however, the session allowed attendees to compare the differing styles of what are almost neighbouring properties.

Alexander van Beek encapsulated this variety within his two co-owned estates, though in this case they are at opposite ends of the Margaux spectrum, both geographically and stylistically. He described Giscours as a ‘more intellectual’ wine, whereas du Tertre was ‘more lush’, with a ‘bigger personality’.

Henri Lurton managed to drill down even further to pinpoint the finest terroir within Brane-Cantenac – ‘at the top of the hill’ – which yielded the grapes for the entire production of his 2000. ‘Usually we use 6-10% of press wine, but we didn’t need to in 2000 – it was perfect. As soon as I tasted it, I knew. I didn’t need to taste the other vats, I just said, ‘That’s Brane 2000.’

Highlight of the Masterclass: A touch call, but the Rauzan-Ségla 1999 was showing supremely well, and takes it for Kolasa’s quote when asked the secret to its appeal: ‘I don’t use 100% new oak. People need to be reminded that wine is made from grapes.’

Best question: ‘In the past I have been very disappointed with Lascombes. Did you change your winemaker with the 2004 vintage? There seems to be a marked improvement thereafter.’

Best Presenter quote (in response): ‘When I joined in 2001, I conducted a large vertical tasting of all the wines, and I realised I had a lot of work to do. The wines were not up to the standard of the vintages. It took me until 2004 to understand the terroir, but I am pleased with the 2005 and 2006.’ Dominique Befve.

The wines:

Château Giscours 2003: Much debate over the long term merit of 2003 and its ‘excessive heat’ as van Beek recalled. This had all the upfront, ripe fruit one would expect of the vintage but with a welcome, surprising savoury freshness and supple tannins. But will it last? Kolasa referenced the lack of acidity in many 2003, which is speeding up their ageing. Asked when we should drink this, van Beek batted back the question: ‘It depends on personal taste: much like a 20-year-old woman – do you want her now, or do you prefer to wait 30 years for her to mature?’

Château Giscours 2000: ‘If you made a poor wine in 2000, you should find a new job,’ said van Beek. His job’s safe for a while – this was exuberant – more so even than the 2003 – but with fleshy, velvety tannins.

Château du Tertre 2000: The use of more than 20% Cabernet Franc comes through on the spicy, peppery nose, but the palate is all elegant, juicy, slightly stewed fruit, without being overblown – it’s ageing more quickly than the Giscours, but remains a confident wine.

Château Brane-Cantenac 2002: Surprisingly lush, opulent and fleshy, this gave credence to Kolasa’s claim that 2002 represents ‘the best buy for punters in the last 10 years’. Van Beek too lauded the vintage’s ‘good price-to-quality ratio’.

Château Brane-Cantenac 2001: With 50% Merlot in the blend, Henri Lurton recalled how the wine was ‘not especially interesting in the barrel – a touch austere’. Yet as soon as it was bottled, he says, it has been very accessible, and easy to drink – ‘especially at lunch’. Fresh brambley blackcurrant fruit.

Château Brane-Cantenac 2000: This was ‘closed for a long time’, said Lurton, and the fruit is still pretty tight, on a floral nose, but compared to how it has been, ‘it’s starting to open up,’ said Lurton.

Château Lascombes 2006: Dominique Befve says he produces ‘wine that I like to drink’, and the style at Lascombes in recent vintages has moved to a more forward, riper note, with generous oak. Plantings, too, are moving towards Merlot in favour of Cabernet Franc, which accentuates the roundness of the fruit. ‘I like drinking younger vintages, with lots of concentration and fruit,’ said Befve.

Château Lascombes 2006: Befve may like younger vintages, but even he admitted it was ‘too early’ to taste the sumptuous 2005, with its full, ripe, plumy fruit. Befve laid down his glass, took off his glasses and simply said: “I find it difficult to speak of this vintage.’

Château Lascombes 2004: Perhaps not quite as charming as some of the 2004s that have increasingly wowed wine drinkers, but a solid core of dark fruit.

Château Rauzan-Ségla 2001: Still youthful in terms of its fruit profile, elegant and silky.

Château Rauzan-Ségla 1999: Showing a wonderful array of secondary flavours: autumn leaves, brambley, smoky fruit and truffles.

Château Rauzan-Ségla 1998: Pretty big and concentrated, still firm, with mouth-coating tannins.