On the Trail

More Refinement on the Right Bank

Jeff Garneau

We crossed the Garonne River via the Pont d’Aquitaine in heavy traffic, feeling nostalgic for our own home town of San Francisco, and headed north to Lalande-de-Pomerol and Château Siaurac. We were greeted in the courtyard by our affable host, Paul Goldschmidt, who was smiling broadly and cradling his one month old infant son, James. A new child is not the only good news recently for Paul. A new partnership with François Pinault, owner of among other prestigious properties Chateau Latour in Pauillac, has brought an infusion of cash and technical expertise that guarantees a bright future for the three estates he owns and manages on the Right Bank: Château Siaurac in Lalande de Pomerol, Château Le Prieuré in Saint-Émilion, and Château Vray Croix de Gay in Pomerol. Looking out across the formal gardens to the far hills where the city of Saint Emilion sat silhouetted against the horizon, we tasted samples of each from the 2016 vintage. The wines were all of excellent quality, very true to the vintage with the same combination of freshness, bright, sweet fruit and fine tannins we found on the Left Bank—a promising beginning, but only a partial answer to the question that would consume us the following day: could the Right Bank accomplish with merlot what the Left Bank did so admirably with cabernet sauvignon?

Our first stop on Thursday morning was the river front in Libourne, home to a number of negociant firms that specialize in the wines of the Right Bank. At Ets. Jean-Pierre Mouiex, we were welcomed into the tasting room by none other than Christian Mouiex himself. We tasted more than a dozen wines, including some of the most famous properties in Pomerol, among them Certan de May, Hosanna, and Trotanoy. The latter was for most of us the standout wine of the tasting, a Pomerol in the classic style—dense, rich and unctuous, powerful yet poised, regal and majestic.

We spent the next couple of hours on an absolutely mind blowing, whirlwind tour of the top Right Bank chateaus, one that would make even the most jaded oenophile green with envy. In Pomerol, in short order we tasted the 2016 vintage at luminaries Vieux Château Certan, La Conseillante, Petrus, L’Evangile and Le Pin. VCC was a miraculous merging of technology and terroir. During the Indian summer of September and October of last year, they leveraged old vine potency with technological prowess, resulting in a protracted harvest that lasted over two weeks, literally picking the vineyard vine by vine at the peak of ripeness. The result was a flawless achievement, perfect in every way. La Conseillante followed a similar path, extending their harvest by twenty days to achieve spectacular results—beguilingly aromatic, seductive and sensual, the epitome of style and grace. Vaunted Petrus was precision made manifest, a wine of such crystalline purity that one could not help but feel awestruck in its presence. L’Évangile was more generously styled, a study in opulence with layers of exotic fruit. Opulent, too was the 2016 Le Pin, poured for us on our first ever visit by owner Jacques Thienpont. Lavish is another word. Sumptuous works just as well if you prefer.

In Saint Emilion, we spent quite a bit of time at Château Angelus, tasting not only the Grand Vin but also the second label: Carrillon d’Angelus. 2016 was a tricky vintage for second wines. While a large crop of good quality usually means a good selection will be available, the unusual conditions in 2016 put pressure on producers to reserve the best fruit for the Grand Vin with little left over for the second wine. The Carillon, however, is certainly among the best second labels produced in 2016, and quite possibly the finest Carillon ever made. We finished up our tour of the Right Bank’s A-list wineries at Cheval Blanc, a strategic choice since we could toast our success with a glass of the 2016 Yquem, which they were also pouring. Cheval Blanc was a study in contrasts, both exuberantly aromatic and shyly reserved. The Yquem was a marvel, rich and sweet yet bright and fresh. Incredibly rich yet elusive and ethereal. All the elements here are in perfect balance.

Our lodging on Thursday night was provided by Château Canon in Saint Émilion. Descending into the barrel room with winemaker Nicolas Audebert, we had a chance to taste en primeur the old way, not from bottles of prepared samples but directly from barrel. We tasted from barrels made by four different coopers, then were poured an example of the final assemblage. The wine was typical of the best wines we have tasted so far—very fresh and aromatic with a mere 13.8% alcohol, quite ripe yet never overripe, balanced, precise, perfection in a glass. Dinner that night was a multi-course affair—impeccably prepared—which was accompanied by first the 2011 Canon, then the 2005, and finally—in honor of Clyde’s birth year (and astonishingly the second wine of that vintage tasted this week)—the 1945 Canon. We felt both greatly honored and somewhat guilty for being treated to such a bottle but were reassured by a visit to the deep cellars which lie under the château. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding its contents, but let’s just say we didn’t drink the oldest bottle at the château that night, and certainly not the last bottle of that vintage.

-Jeff Garneau