First Growths and More

by Chuck Hayward

Early Monday morning after a very long night at Chateau Vieux Taillefer in Saint Emilion, we headed to Joanne a few miles down the road from our hotel in Libourne.Joanne is a very large supplier of Bordeaux wines.We had a meeting with the director of Joanne to discuss the current state of Bordeaux and try to gain a little insight on the 2008 vintage in Bordeaux.

We then tasted a few 2004 Bordeaux’s to get our palate’s ready for the next day when we were to taste over 150 wines in just a few hours (all from the 2008 vintage.)


After leaving Joanne we got back in our car because we were all hungry and were already late for our next appointment at La Vieille Cure in Fronsac. Upon arriving at Vieille Cure we were greeted by the owner Mr. Colin Ferenbach. None of us had ever been to Vieille Cure before so it was a real treat being able to walk the vineyard’s and get a better understanding of what makes that wine so great. Vieille Cure’s vineyards are situated at the top of rolling hills over looking the towns of Pomerol, St. Emilion, and Libourne. What is unique is that the vineyards are planted on hills (for those of you that don’t know most of Bordeaux is flat as a pancake, so hilltop vineyards are rather rare in Bordeaux.) After walking the vineyards we sat down to a wonderful traditional French lunch consisting of Duck Confit, Ratatouille, and Potatoes sliced and fried in duck fat! The perfect foods to go with some great Bordeaux! My favorite wine at the tasting was the 2002 La Vieille Cure, this wine totally rocked, it was dark as night, had loads of dark black and red fruits, a rocky minerality. This wine demonstrated what phenomenal wines can be produced in Fronsac.


After leaving Vieille Cure we headed over to the left bank to go and visit some of the First Growths. Our first stop was in the commune of Pauillac, at Chateau Latour. One of the most famous wineries in the world! Upon our arrival we headed into one of their tasting Salon’s to try the 2008 vintage of their wines. We were poured 3 wines to taste; 2008 Chateau Latour, 2008 Forts de Latour, and 2008 Pauillac by Latour.

The 2008 harvest at Latour took place between September 29th and October 19th. The wineries on the left bank had to battle rain in the month of September, but due to the thick, hardy cabernet skins the grapes made it through the rain and were picked fully mature.

Tasting Notes from Chateau Latour:


2008 Chateau Latour: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot; 40% of the vintage was selected for the Grand Vin. On the nose very perfumed with notes of graphite, flowers, and black fruits. This wine smelled like pure hedonistic cabernet, on the palate there were notes of casis, coffee, and slightly toasted oak. The wine was very chewy, very complex and totally complete in the mouth. 93-95 points, John Sweeney

2008 Les Forts de Latour: 66.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.5% Merlot, 2% P.V.; 47% of the vintage was used to produce this wine. This was another very rich wine, showing lots of red raspberries, casis and black pepper. This wine showed some presence of new oak, had big chewy tannins, and had a spicy finish. This was a good second wine for the vintage and I believe everything will integrate with additional time in barrel. 91-92 points, John Sweeney

2008 Pauillac: 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 55% Merlot: 13% of the vintage was selected for this wine. For a “third wine” this was quite impressive, and did not disappoint at this early stage of the game. To me this wine was very meaty, and chewy in the mouth, it had bold tannins but the weight as well to keep things balanced. Even though this wine was mostly Merlot it had classic aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon. A big wine with a medium plus finish that is capable of aging for 5-8 years after release, due to its vibrant acidity. 88-91 points, John Sweeney


After leaving Latour we headed over to the absolutely gorgeous Chateau Margaux, in the commune of Margaux has the picturesque look of what you imagine an estate in Bordeaux to look like. We were greeted at Margaux and walked into their visitor’s center to taste the 2008 wines. We were all surprised to learn that not only did we get to taste the 2008 Chateau Margaux, but also the 2006 and 2007 vintage as well!

The first wine we tried was the:

2008 Pavillion Rouge: This is the second label of Chateau Margaux comprised of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 5% P.V., and 1% Cabernet Franc. 47% of the wine from the vintage was used for this wine. This wine is aromatically very floral and has a very sweet perfumed nose that is classic Margaux. On the palate very fine tannins glide across your palate, notes of casis, raspberry, and licorice. There is also a touch of coffee and new oak that is present as well. This wine was very nice and is a second label in name only. 88-90 points, John Sweeney

Next up was:


2008 Chateau Margaux: This wine is made up of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, and 1.5% P.V. This wine is comprised of only 36% of the 2008 vintage crop at Margaux. This wine has much more structure in the mouth than the Pavillon; it has a deep ruby, purple color, and loads weight on the palate. There are notes of red and black fruits as well as a good dose of toasty French oak. This was my second favorite wine while visiting Chateau Margaux! 91-93 points, John Sweeney

2007 Chateau Margaux: This wine was much lighter in the glass than the 2008 but was my favorite of the 3 Chateau Margaux’s we tasted. This has gained weight and complexity since last year. Very juicy, bright raspberry fruit on the nose and palate as well as some toasty coffee as well. The wood is much more integrated on this wine and seems to be heading in the right direction. 90-92 points, John Sweeney

2006 Château Margaux: On the nose pretty notes of licorice, cedar, and forest floor. In the mouth sweet tannins coat the palate, where notes of dark cherry, toast, vanilla and peppery spices show up. This wine is very good but was my least favorite of the 3 Margaux’s. This is a very big wine that definitely shows up on the mid palate, is still very young, but had the shortest finish. 90-92 points, John Sweeney

Chateau Margaux also makes one white wine every year under the Pavillon Blanc label so our last wine of the afternoon at this lovely Chateau was the:

2008 Pavillion Blanc: This wine is made up of 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and due to the rigorous selection process that Margaux has in place to keep quality high, only 45% of the vintages crop was used. This wine had everything I love about Sauvignon Blanc! Right away I noticed rocky minerality, grassy, and melony notes that were coming from my glass. This wine is very crisp has great acidity and will be perfect for sipping on hot days once this is released. There are killer aromas of tropical and stone fruits like peaches, and pineapple, and this has a long refreshing finish. 93-94 points, John Sweeney


When we left Margaux it was about 6 p.m., but wanted to try to hit one more Chateau before we had to go to our next meeting. Since we were in Margaux we thought it would be worth stopping off at Chateau Palmer which is right down the road from Chateau Margaux. Since we didn’t have an appointment and it was after 6 we didn’t think we had a real chance at tasting but we thought we would give it a shot. We parked our car, knocked on the door, told them we were from JJ Buckley and they let us right in. There were two wines for us to taste at Chateau Palmer, the 2008 Alter Ego and the 2008 Chateau Palmer.

First Up:

2008 Alter Ego: The assemblage of this wine is 52% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon and was harvested between the 1st and 17th of October. This wine has a sweet perfumed nose consisting of raspberry, cola, and an earthy mineral component. On the palate there is a noticeable chocolate component and big tannins that invade your mid-palate. I liked this wine but it did have kind of a short finish. 87-89 points, John Sweeney


2008 Chateau Palmer: This wine is made up of 51% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% P.V. also harvested in the beginning half of October. This wine had a much richer nose that was also much more primary and un-evolved. This is a spicy wine with hints of cherry, raspberry, gravel, and chocolate. In the mouth very refined and smooth tannins, with great length. 90-92 points, John Sweeney

After leaving Chateau Palmer we headed to another one of our suppliers for a tasting at their office and then off to dinner at La Tupina in Downtown Bordeaux. I’ll tell you a bit more about our dinner in my next blog. It is now after 2 a.m. here and tomorrow is our last full day on the trip so I will have much more to tell you about as we have hundreds of tasting notes from wines that we need to blog about, and more wines to taste tomorrow!

Cheers from Bordeaux!

John Sweeney