Room for Seconds
Before we begin it is necessary to make one thing abundantly clear: Clos du Marquis is not the second label of Chateau Léoville Las Cases in Saint-Julien. Although the wine was introduced in 1902, long before most of the major châteaux in Bordeaux even considered offering a second label (limit the production of the Grand Vin?! Jamais!), the fruit has always been sourced from separate and distinct parcels, not from a second selection of grapes from the same parcels as the Grand Vin. This is important, because in 2007 – just to illustrate the point – owner Jean-Hubert Delon introduced a true second label, Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases. And in 2015, more emphatically, he introduced a second label for Clos du Marquis (still with me?) christened La Petite Marquise de Clos du Marquis.
No matter how you categorize it, however, the fact remains that Clos du Marquis is consistently one of the great values in Bordeaux. Léoville Las Cases is one of the top deuxième crus in Saint-Julien, indeed, in all of Bordeaux, and typically sells for $200 to $300 in the best vintages. Clos du Marquis, by comparison, is sometimes available for as little as $40 and never more than $80. It is produced on the same estate, by the same winemaking team that makes the Las Cases Grand Vin. It is always very polished, unfailingly elegant, with a notable generosity of fruit. It is approachable when young, yet possesses great aging potential.
The 2014 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $44.99 is the latest vintage to be released. 2014, with a cooler than average July and August and postcard perfect Indian summer weather in September and October, produced some spectacular red wines marked by lively acidity and ripe, sweet fruit. In keeping with the vintage, the wine is possessed of very high-toned black fruits with tart, fresh-picked blackberry notes. The late harvest favored the development of later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up nearly three-quarters of the blend. Along with a bit of toasty new oak on the nose, there is a subtle thread of blackcurrant leaf that bears this out. Tannins are firm at this early stage but very fine.
2007 was also a late vintage, cool and humid from May through August, which was especially rainy. Thankfully, September and October were hot and dry. While the quality of the red wines varies greatly, the best offer ripe, sweet forward fruit and fine tannins, and should make for very good near-term drinking. The 2007 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $59.99, at ten years on, is an absolute marvel. It makes an immediate impression on the senses with a nose that is both lightly floral and intriguingly spicy. This is a very charming, medium to full-bodied effort that offers plenty of sweet, ripe fruit and a quite remarkable length and persistence. Well balanced with lively acidity and a dusting of fine tannins on the finish. This is a textbook example of what we can expect from the best wines of this 2007 vintage.
Turn the clock back another decade still and you have the 1996 Clos du Marquis, St-Julien $74.99. This was another big Cabernet vintage, here making up not quite two-thirds of the blend. This is a classic claret at the peak of its powers, a masterful melding of youthful fruit and savory bottle notes. The nose is beguilingly aromatic with notes of cedar and tobacco. Still very fresh with lively acidity, yet surprisingly ripe with a slightly candied, sour cherry note. Tannins are very fine. Decant and enjoy this right now.