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A Week in Bordeaux - Day Five - 5th September 2008

We stayed on the Right Bank for Day Five, starting out at the St Emilion producer Troplong Mondot. This chateau is poised right on the top of a limestone hillock with panoramic views across the numerous other wineries in the area. The vines themselves are planted in proportions of 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon around the 23 ha estate. In fact, some of the Cabernet Franc vines are up to 82 years old. Our guide explained that the deeper clay at Troplong Mondot gives the Merlot their huge power, and that much of the work at the winery is about controlling and harnessing this energy. The vat rooms were being completely re-built at the time of our visit, and the 2008 vintage will be produced using brand new infrastructure. Anyone familiar with watching Grand Designs will not be surprised, however, that the work had over-run and that the estate was not best pleased!


In the tasting room we started with ‘Mondot 2004’ – the second wine of Troplong Mondot. The nose was fairly closed with only some distant plummy aromas. The wine was tart and acidic and not at all approachable at this stage in its development. The backbone of acidity was there, but I was at a loss to decide if the wine had a future or note. 84 points. The first wine, Troplong Mondot 2004, had a fresh nose of mint and liquorice. Again it was a backward and unyielding, powerful but aggressive with a strong oak frame to the mid palate. I thought the finish was a touch dry and even bitter. The wine tasted like a caged animal that needed to be left alone to calm down for a while. I would like to try it again in five years. 89 points.


Our last two stops – Chateau Teyssier and Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf – provided fitting book ends for the whole week. First was a completely unscheduled visit to Chateau Teyssier, where we were lucky to find the irrepressible owner Jonathan Maltus ‘at home’ and receiving visitors. Mr Maltus bears more than a passing resemblance to Robbie Coltrane and has a personality to match. He very graciously allowed us to gate-crash a small private tasting he was doing for some other guests. Mr Maltus started work in St Emilion in 1994 and now has 54 ha in various plots around the region (as well as properties in Australia). Teyssier produces many wines from his various parcels, and names them with idiosyncratic titles.


Walking around Teyssier I was struck by the huge energy, ambition and business acumen behind the Maltus empire. There was no question that this was a man on a business mission. He told us that ‘Bob’ Parker had advised him to bottle his higher priced wines in heavier bottles for the US market (which he was now doing). He was also the only winemaker we met all week who was able to quote all his Decanter, Parker and Wine Society scores for all his different wines!


Listening to him talk about how well Teyssier was doing I smiled inwardly. I knew that if I was in Jonathan’s position I would be doing exactly the same things – making as many different wines to appeal to as many different markets in as many different countries as possible. But I did wonder whether the dramatic rise of a winery like Teyssier, in such a short space of time, might be indicative of some kind of bubble developing in the wine market. The marketing machine behind his wines was clearly well oiled and extremely impressive, but in the tasting room I simply couldn’t reconcile the quality and (especially) personality of the wines in front of me with the prices and scores I knew they commanded. 


So how did the wines stack up? Jonathan generously produced a complete flight of his 2007s. Chateau Teyssier 2007 (85% Merlot / 15% Cabernet Franc) is made on the estate. It was a deep purple, bright coloured wine with a liquorice nose that was quite closed. The mouth feel was gripping and fruit forward. The front palate was pleasant, but the mid palate and finish lacked fruit and were a little acidic, even metallic. 86 points.   


Chateau Laforge 2007 is a multi-parcel wine (all within St Emilion). It was also a very purple and dense hue. It was highly extracted, with blackberry jam and some spices and liquorice; a reasonable level of complexity but a little metallic at the finish. 88 points. I was pretty shocked when Jonathan told us that the wine retailed for $60-65. This tasted like a £15 bottle to me. Le Carre 2007 is a single vineyard wine from a parcel bordering Clos Fourtet. This wine also presented an extracted style but with a little more finesse and balance. The wine was also fuller bodied. But yet again I found the finish oddly unsatisfying. But given the production of only 300 cases a year, and a price of $80 for a wine that tasted like £20, my opinion scarcely matters anyway. Les Asteries 2007 is another single vineyard wine from a patch that used to be part of Chateau Fonroque. The vines are only one hundred metres or so from Le Carre. The wine was perfumed with complex notes of peppermint and liquorice on the nose. It was balanced and harmonious with a big fruit finish. Extracted and dense. Good acidic grip. Perhaps not a subtle wine but with some poise. Again, the $120-$150 per bottle price tag seemed to me to reflect the very limited production (300 cases), rather than the intrinsic quality of the wine. 91 points.


Lastly we were treated to Maltus’ flagship premium wine: Le Dome 2007. This was a deep but vibrant purple. Again the nose gave up notes of peppermint and liquorice. It was fresh and floral. This really was beautiful wine. The power of the Cabernet Sauvignon carried the wine all the way through to the finish, which was not, though, exceptionally long at this tender age. More liquorice and some raspberries, with delightfully mellow oak. Amazingly accessible for one so young. Really delicious. 93 points. 


We finished with a white Bordeaux Blanc Sec, Clos Nardian 2007. There is a lot of Muscadelle in this, which comes from parcels surrounding the village of Saint Aubin. The nose was fresh and pleasant, with some honeysuckle and lemon zest. It was very flowery with hints of gasoline. The palate had some interesting lime marmalade character and the wine had a big finish. I wondered whether the wine was a little cloying at the end, and whether after a couple of glasses it might be a bit much. But it was certainly interesting. 89 points.          


So hats off to Jonathan Maltus and his achievement at Chateau Teyssier - someone from ‘over here’ who has taken ‘over there’ by storm. But I am glad there is also room in the big wide world for wine-makers like Francois Mitjavile, the equally charismatic (but very different) proprietor of the very last chateau we visited.     


For me the most enjoyable stop of our entire week was indeed the very last one. I knew a little about the incredible wine that is Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf because I had tried a bottle of the legendary 1989 a couple of weeks previously at home. I had read about Monsieur Mitjavile (who has been making wine on the estate from 1978) and so it was good to be ushered into the C18th family home (even though it is called a chateau) to meet both the man himself and his daughter Nina. 


The complex terroir that is Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf is perched on top of a south-facing limestone outcrop. The vines slope steeply away from the back garden of the modest 5.7 ha property. The vines are 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc only, and the chateau is now almost 100% organic. Tertre Roteboeuf is simplicity itself, and contrasted very starkly with Chateau Tessier. The entire production is picked in one single day, when 60 pickers descend on the property. There is no second wine. There is no green harvesting (severe pruning means it is not required), and there is only one cooper (Radoux). The facilities are modest: concrete vats houses in a stone hall (dating from C18th like the house). Tertre Roteboeuf is just about terroir. 


After a simple tour (which consisted of a walk around the charming garden) we repaired straight to the cellar. Without ceremony (there is little of that at this property) Nina plunged her pipette into a barrel of the le Tertre Roteboeuf 2007 and we were off.   The nose of the cask sample was a soaring blast of peppermint, flowers and perfume. The mouth feel was really engaging, with excellent grip, beautiful acidity and delicious ripe fruit, mixed with some espresso coffee. This was an opulent and voluptuous wine with a great finish. I was amazed that such a complete wine could be produced only 11 months after the grapes were picked. 93 points. Next up was le Tertre Roteboeuf 2003. This wine served to show us that Roteboeuf really is a simple (but skilful) expression of terroir, and little else. 2003 was a year of excessive heat – so how did the wine show? It was less promising on the nose with only some muted liquorice notes. The palate was full of raspberry jam. There was less complexity and structure than the 2007, but it was accessible and fruit forward, and certainly not unpleasant. 89 points. 


For me the best really was saved until last. I don’t know whether it was my obvious enthusiasm for the chateau, or my stories about the delights of the 1989, but something persuaded Nina to reach for a half bottle of the 2000. Le Tertre Roteboeuf 2000 had the most wonderful nose of rare beef, soft black fruits and BBQ smoke. The palate was truly amazing: bloody rare beef, combined with liquorice and spices in a riot of complexity than was exciting, but also soft, rich and integrated. It all hung on an acidic backbone which I felt needed at least ten more years before it would even start to reveal its full class. Absolutely wonderful, and a very fitting way to round out a delightful week. 95 points.