Vertical of Brane Cantenac in Paris (notes from 2005)

With some 1,350 hectares under vine, Margaux is the largest of four famous Medoc appellations in Bordeaux – including Pauillac, Saint Julien and Saint Estephe.

AND: Most critics have also called it the most underperforming.

Tasting Notes

Pauillac has long featured Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild and Latour, plus Pichon Baron, Pichon Comtesse, Lynch-Bages and Grand Puy Lacoste. Saint Estephe’s cru bourgeois have long reinforced the famous trio Cos d’Estournel, Calon Segur and Montrose, while Saint Julien has long been known for Ducru Beaucaillou, Gruaud Larose and all three Leoville estates, not to mention Branaire Ducru and Beychevelle.

But in Margaux, too many once highly rated chateaux – from the famous 1855 classification of the Medoc and Sauternes – later fell into mediocrity. Wines such as Boyd Cantenac, Brane Cantenac, Cantenac Brown, Giscours, Issan, Kirwan, Lascombes, Malescot St. Exupéry and Rauzan-Gassies have all – until recently – been criticized by wine writers as not up to the level of their terroir. It seemed that only three chateaux benefited from steady consumer attention in the modern era: the ultra-famous Chateau Margaux, classified as a “first growth” from the 1855 classification, Chateau Palmer, and Chateau Rauzan-Ségla.

Happily, many of the above chateaux, with the exception perhaps of Chateau Rauzan Gassies, have recently found their old glory. Chateau Brane Cantenac wanted to drive that point home with an exceptional 21-vintage tasting in Paris this past September of its most recent wines: 1983 – 2003.

At the elegant Hotel Crillon at Place de la Concorde, on 8 September 2005, several famous wine writers and critics, including Clive Coates and Bernard Burtschy, editor of the French wine monthly La Revue du Vin de France gathered to taste the vintages. Indeed, the French magazine this past May “demoted” Chateau Brane Cantenac from second to third growth in its unofficial “update” of the famous 1855 ranking.

But ever since Henri Lurton took over Chateau Brane Cantenac’s direction in 1996, the wine has gained in body and richness. The tasting proved that some previous vintages suffer indeed from relative thinness, when compared to their peers – though some surprises happened! A qualified enologist, and one of the many Lurtons one finds in Bordeaux, Henri had undertaken a progressive overhauling of all aspects of wine production – from the vineyard to the vinification. Interestingly enough, many of his wines have a majority of Merlot in them – atypical for the Medoc.

“We had Cabernet vines planted in some places where they should not have been,” said Lurton, pictured below. And some of the Merlot vines are planted on the famous Brane hill – a gravel-filled elevation where most of the vines are used to make the wine.

Lurton has proven very selective in making his first wine: at most, 40 percent of the production is used to make Brane Cantenac, and most often it is less than 30 percent.

All in all, the tasting proved that Brane Cantenac is on the right track, currently worthy, in this taster’s opinion, of its second growth status.

COMPLETE TASTING NOTES Chateau Brane Cantenac Tasted at Hotel de Crillon in Paris on 8 September 2005

Wines in bold, I liked. In red and bold, I liked even more. When underlined, a wine to obtain for sure!

2003 barrel sample: First nose is blackberry and blackcurrant jam – a sign of the vintage, with second nose (following aeration) yielding some . Corinthian raisin. Rather heady on the palate with alcohol showing prominently. 88/100

2002: A fresh peppermint nose with some cedar and mahogany. Airy and elegant on the palate, with “focused” flavor and length (linear), if not particularly rich: it could evolve like the 1996 and a more balanced wine than the 2003. Probably a bargain, given the vintage (far better than en primeur) – one to look out for! 92+/100

2001: A somewhat muted cedar-like nose with some raspberry and black currant. Lacks the pureness of the 2002 – less intense both on the nose and on the palate – but is a pleasant wine. 90+/100. It has improved since this tasting.

2000: Very deeply rich cassis nose with some menthol and hints of tobacco. The palate is corpulent but also has the linear precision of the 2002. Happily avoids overripe notes found in the 2003: a wonderful wine that sadly probably costs quite a bit! 95/100

1999: Discrete mint aroma with freshness and lightly discernable red fruits. Very subtle nose! The palate is strawberry, cherry, spice and forest. Reminds me of the 2001, again lacking the precision of vintages like 2002 and 2000. 90/100

1998: Fresher and more focused nose than the 1999 but some hints of green pepper. Indeed the 1998 reminds me of the somewhat green 1994 though it is a tad more open in comparison, a tad better. 87/100

1997: A “young wine” aroma. Still some oak-derived aromas of toast but also some sweet cookie dough! Later nose develops fresh mint. Palate is nice, with toast flavors and forest strawberry. Medium- to full-bodied with a good finish. A surprisingly good 1997 Bordeaux! 91/100

1996: One of my favorite wines of the tasting. First nose is subtle red fruit with raspberry and some pepper. The palate starts a bit edgy, but then shows good depth and develops a silky texture. Indeed, edges smoothen and wine also turns very full-bodied. 92/100

1995: First nose is “warm” with strawberry jam; later reveals beefy scents. The palate is heftier than the 1996, slightly “hot” and certainly less elegant but with more chutzpah. A heady, fun wine (perhaps the 2003 will taste like this down the road?). 91/100

1994: At first, nose is green with some red fruit. Palate is austere, with some dark plum flavors though a tad watery. Time in glass brings forth more flavor, but remains somewhat hard in texture. 84/100

1993: First noticeably young robe of violet. Rather open, licorice nose with yummy notes of nougat, but the palate does not meet expectations: tight and austere. The 1994 has more character in comparison, but neither are particularly interesting. 84/100

1992: Nose is pleasing strawberry jam and licorice then turns cherry. Palate is medium- bodied with some cinnamon and pepper and a rather good finish! Another surprise for the vintage, and better than the next two years. 87/100

1991: Slightly leafy and dough-like but improves with spiciness and licorice. Medium body with some chocolate notes though slightly edgy. More focus than the 1992 however and improves with time in glass. Again, surprisingly fine wine for the vintage. 88+/100

1990: Cassis and pine forest aromas with some jammy strawberry. Palate is too austere for a vintage like this, indeed edgy and worn! The 1991 is softer and more accessible. Time in glass reveals a wine that turns flat. Major disappointment! 84/100

1989: One of the very top wines from this tasting. Jammy cassis then very tobacco and cigar box on the nose. A wonderful palate with menthol, hints of fruit veering pleasingly towards tertiary aromas. Indeed very cigar box! Looking ahead, perhaps lacks the intensity of the 2000, but a very balanced wine. Bravo! 93+/100

1988: Nose needs much coaxing. Some earthy and mahogany notes, later some mocha. A cool palate reveals candied strawberry but with an edgy even metallic feel which leaves an austere impression. Not green like the 1994 however, but tight and slightly hard. 87+/100

1987: Initial dead leaf nose with some pepper and mushroom but no strong aromas. Though somewhat diluted on the palate, shows more substance than the 1984 with some fruit still showing. A rather inoffensive wine that needs drinking now! 85/100

1986: Like the 1988, this wine’s nose needs coaxing! Shows – with time – hints of mint and leather. The palate is at first rustic, leafy but full bodied. Later shows espresso notes with more leather – and improves greatly with time. Perfect match for lamb or beef with mushrooms. A “hearty” Margaux! 88/100.

1985: What the 1995 is to the 1996, the 1985 is to the 1986. Namely: more open-ended and meatier. Nose shows cherry liqueur with a round and smooth palate. At first veers too much to (dead) earthy flavors, but then becomes very coffee-like! Tastes better now than the 1986, but I suspect that the 1986 will outlast the 1985. 89+/100

1984: A sweet dough nose with some raspberry fruit. A diluted palate and somewhat mushroom like and . flat! Half an hour in glass improved it, slightly, but remained thin. 83/100.

1983: Earthy mushroom like nose with some rust, but like a summer house that has not been visited in years, the nose needs airing out! Indeed developed nice truffle and jus de viande aromas. The attack was slightly angular with what seemed to be a hint of volatile acidity. Gained stuffing in glass, smoothened out and became very tasty and full- bodied after 90 minutes. A fine wine in a successful vintage for the appellation. 91/100.

Text and photos by Panos Kakaviatos

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