March 29: Lunch at Chateau Lascombes

by Chuck Hayward

by Mike Supple

We toured through the vineyards and wine making facility where we learned of the many improvements the new ownership has made since they took over the Chateau in 2001. A major change that took place in the vineyards was the replanting of many hectares from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon generally grows well in gravelly soil, whereas Merlot thrives in clay and limestone. The majority of Lascombes' vineyards were planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but much of it was planted in clay. The new owners tore out all of this Cab, and replanted it to Merlot. The current varietal distribution is 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot.

Many major changes were made in the winemaking facility. A new facility was built, laying vats out on four different levels. After being sorted twice, the grapes are brought to the top level of the facility where they are slightly crushed and cold maceration begins. This is a process by which they use dry ice to lower the temperature of the grapes so alcoholic fermentation ceases. This lasts for about a week. The purpose of the cold soak is to deepen color and stabilize with wine while adding greater aromatic complexity.

After the week, the wine is fermented and separated by gravity through the four floors into various vats, including large new French oak barriques, where the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation.

We were next led in to the unforgettable blue barrel room. The wine in the barrels pictured here is all 2006. A strong smell of sulfur pervaded the whole room, as the wine had recently been inoculated.

After the tour we joined Dominique Befve to taste the 2006 Lascombes. My impressions are as follows:
The wine is muted and somewhat cloudy with a dark purple/maroon core. The rim is much more clear with bright pink and fuchsia notes. The nose presented heady earth, clay and limestone notes up front with darker cassis and blackberry in the background, edged by sage and mint. The front of the palate was much softer than I expected, but the tannic strength builds quickly. The fruit, acidity and tannins all build together on the mid-palate, giving a balanced feel that is much better than I remember the 2005. The tannins are not quite as powerful as the '05, and neither is the fruit. Flinty dark fruits and dusty cedar lead in to the finish with notes of limestone and clay.

For lunch we started with glasses of champagne along with seared scallops in a light butter and fine herb sauce. Next came the 2003 Chevalier de Lascombes (the second label). This is a lighter style Lascombes, with brighter red fruits and hints of cedar spice. The wine is very approachable right now. For the main course we had roast pork T-bone, green beans and pan fried golden potatoes. The next wine was the 2001 Lascombes. This was much darker and fuller than the 2003 Chevalier. This is a bold wine and very spicy. Cinnamon, vanilla, and smoky sweet tobacco dominate the palate over a background of dark berries. The obligatory cheese plate came next, paired with a nice raspberry compote. Chocolate hazelnut crunch torte finished off the meal.

Before we left, we got Dominique's opinion on the '06 vintage as a whole: "Pomerol is great. St-Emilion and Margaux are up and down: some great, some not as good. For Chateau Lascombes, the '06 technical data on the wine is more in balance than was 2005."