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The Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2010

See all the highlights from this weekend's Decanter Fine Wine Encounter
          - Video
          - Gallery: Saturday
          - Gallery: Sunday
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.

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