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Three great terroirs – Great French Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2009

The speakers: Véronique Saunders, Château Haut-Bailly; Thomas Duroux, Château Palmer; Alexandre Thienpont, Vieux Château Certan

The wines: Château Haut-Bailly 2005, 2003, 2001; Château Palmer 2005, 1999, 1995; Vieux Château Certan 2005, 2000, 1998

Three very different wines, on three very different terroirs, so a fascinating exercise to taste these high-profile Bordeaux side by side. Linked, in Thomas Duroux’s words, by a ‘passion for authenticity’, the wines spoke resonantly of the sensuality of Margaux (Palmer), the femininity of Pessac-Léognan (Haut-Bailly) and the charm of Pomerol (Vieux Château Certan).

Highlight of the day: Comparing terroirs by tasting the 2005, a vintage where ‘you’d have to be dumb not to produce a great wine’, according to Duroux. ‘We’ve never produced a wine with such high alcohol before (14%),’ he said of the Palmer, ‘and yet everything is perfectly in balance so it doesn’t show.’ Alexandre Thienpont described the 2005 Vieux Château Certan (affectionately known as VCC) as ‘maybe the best wine we ever made’, while Véronique Saunders recalled how her grandfather, who had seen 60 vintages of Haut-Bailly pronounced 2005 ‘the best we had ever done’ on tasting the first juice.

Surprise of the day: Since the practice of destemming has become widespread in Bordeaux, the potential for long life has decreased. ‘The practice takes 15 years off longevity,’ says Thienpont. Debate of the day: What, if anything, Cabernet Franc adds to the blend. ‘It’s shy on it’s own, but emerges in a blend, adding breed, complexity and length,’ enthused Thienpont. ‘In five to ten years’ time, Cab Franc will be about half of the blend.’ The view from Margaux couldn’t be more different: ‘We had about 9% Cab Franc but pulled it all out in 2004 as it didn’t add anything,’ said Palmer’s Duroux. Haut-Bailly fell halfway between the two, with 6% in the blend. ‘We used to have 10%, but it lacked density, so we got rid of some of the vines – with the blessing of Haut-Brion, from where the vines came.’

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