Robert M. Parker, Jr. - 23/12/2011
Jancis Robinson MW - jancisrobinson.com - April 2010
James Suckling - Wine Spectator - April 2010
Robert Parker - Wine Advocate - Feb 2012
About this WINE
Château les Carmes Haut-Brion
Château les Carmes Haut-Brion is a 10.3-hectare wine estate in Pessac-Léognan on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. The property was established over 400 years ago. It takes its name from the Carmelites, the order of monks that tended it for almost 200 years. Once a little-known neighbour of the world-famous Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, things have changed rapidly here in recent years and it is today one of Bordeaux’s most exciting names. In 2010, the estate was acquired by Patrice Pichet, a French property developer. He quickly enlisted the dynamic Guillaume Pouthier as winemaker and director, and this has been a truly hot property ever since.
The wine here is stylistically unique within Bordeaux. This is in part due to the vineyard: the estate sits just outside the city of Bordeaux, with some limestone soils to complement the more typical gravel and clay. There is a high proportion of old-vine Cabernet Franc, rarely seen to any great extent on the Left Bank. The team has worked very hard to understand the specificities of each plot and sub-plot, enabling them to react to specific needs – but only where necessary.
Guillaume Pouthier is also a serial innovator. He is a proponent of whole-bunch fermentation, which is virtually unheard of in Bordeaux. Extraction, an important winemaking process, is handled differently here too: Guillaume uses a very gentle method of infusion rather than the more typical pumping-over or punching-down. The wines are matured in a combination of new French oak barrels, large oak casks and amphorae.
Despite their own complacency, occasional arrogance and impressive challenges from all-comers, France is still far and away the finest wine-producing nation in the world and its famous regions – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Rhône, Alsace and increasingly Languedoc Roussillon – read like a who’s who of all you could want from a wine. Full-bodied, light-bodied, still or fizzy, dry or sweet, simple or intellectual, weird and wonderful, for drinking now or for laying down, France’s infinitesimal variety of wines is one of its great attributes. And that’s without even mentioning Cognac and Armagnac.
France’s grape varieties are grown, and its wines emulated, throughout the world. It also brandishes with relish its trump card, the untranslatable terroir that shapes a wine’s character beyond the range of human knowledge and intervention. It is this terroir - a combination of soil and microclimate - that makes Vosne-Romanée taste different to Nuits-St Georges, Ch. Langoa Barton different to Ch. Léoville Barton.
France is a nation with over 2,000 years of winemaking, where the finest grapes and parcels of land have been selected through centuries of trial and error rather than market research. Its subtleties are never-ending and endlessly fascinating. Vintage variation is as great here as anywhere – rain, hail, frost and, occasionally, burning heat can ruin a vintage. Yet all this creates interest, giving the wines personality, and generating great excitement when everything does come together.
However, this is not to say that French wine is perfect. Its overall quality remains inconsistent and its intricate system of classification and Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) based on geography as opposed to quality is clearly flawed, sometimes serving as a hindrance to experimentation and improvement.
Nevertheless, the future is bright for France: quality is better than ever before – driven by a young, well-travelled and ambitious generation of winemakers – while each year reveals new and exciting wines from this grand old dame.
Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Cabernet Sauvignon lends itself particularly well in blends with Merlot. This is actually the archetypal Bordeaux blend, though in different proportions in the sub-regions and sometimes topped up with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
In the Médoc and Graves the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend can range from 95% (Mouton-Rothschild) to as low as 40%. It is particularly suited to the dry, warm, free- draining, gravel-rich soils and is responsible for the redolent cassis characteristics as well as the depth of colour, tannic structure and pronounced acidity of Médoc wines. However 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be slightly hollow-tasting in the middle palate and Merlot with its generous, fleshy fruit flavours acts as a perfect foil by filling in this cavity.
In St-Emilion and Pomerol, the blends are Merlot dominated as Cabernet Sauvignon can struggle to ripen there - when it is included, it adds structure and body to the wine. Sassicaia is the most famous Bordeaux blend in Italy and has spawned many imitations, whereby the blend is now firmly established in the New World and particularly in California and Australia.