Ringing The Changes

POSTED ON 25/10/2011

A Tasting of Château Angélus in magnum 1985 - 2009 at Farr Vintners on Tuesday 25 October 2011

I was in Bordeaux to taste the new vintages of 1985 or 1986, or maybe it was the later 1980s. Memory on the blink. Either way, I was invited to dinner at Château Angélus by the young Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and when we came to the main course of rare roasted beef, I ate a piece of beef so delicious that instead of chewing I tried to swallow it whole. Only I found that I couldn’t swallow. For seconds, although it felt like minutes, I tried to swallow the morsel of meat which had become lodged in my throat.

I was as pink as the beef itself and tried to pretend that everything was perfectly normal even though it was painfully obvious, literally, that it was far from normal. Eventually the offending chunk went down and that was that but I’m sure that it must have gone through my host’s mind to think about performing the Heimlich manoevre. I was just grateful the wretched piece finally disappeared.

You can ring my bellYou can ring my bell

Funny that the little things that stick in your mind should be the big things that lodge in your throat. Since that time, although not because of it, I’ve always had a soft spot for Hubert de Boüard and Château Angélus. Since he took over from his father in 1985, Hubert de Boüard has worked hard to raise the game at Angélus, bringing in new oak, sorting tables, green harvesting and other quality-improving techniques. I’ve seen it climb from grand cru classé status to one of the top premier grand cru classés of the region (Hubert himself, though now famous, remains modest) .

It’s one of those wines that started out with fairly average Parker points in the late 1980s and then it soared, partly because of improvements in the wine, in more consistent vintages and perhaps a feeling by Parker himself that he’d underrated the property. On the printout of the prices and scores for the more marketable of the vintages we tasted, it showed that Parker had given very average scores indeed, of 87 and 88 respectively, to the 1985 and 1986 vintages.

What this tasting showed was a remarkable level of consistency of style and quality, with varying proportions of merlot and cabernet franc in the blend produced from its 23 hectares (of 50% merlot, 47% cabernet franc and 3% cabernet sauvignon). Even the vintages that showed less well, reflected the relative mediocrity of the vintage in question, with a tendency towards more merlot in the blend thanks to its earlier-ripening properties. In the great vintages, Angélus stormed through with many exceptional wines. As anticipated, the 2009, 2005 and 2000 all showed exceptional character.

In the vintages of the 1990s the outstanding wine for me was the 1998 with slightly disappointing performances given their reputation in 1996 and 1995 while the 1990 itself also slightly underwhelmed. From the 1980s, the 1989 was a magnificent bottle and the 1988 as classic as you might expect. There were 37 tasters present including Steven Spurrier, Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Brook, Michael Schuster, Neal Martin, Tim Atkin MW, Susie de Paolis and Sebastian Payne MW. On a vote (but excluding Hubert de Boüard himself), the top-scoring wine was the 1989 with 20 points, second was the 1998 with 19 and third the 2005 with 15. Perhaps surprisingly, the 2009 only received 8, the 1988 5 and the 2000 a mere 3.

With each wine I’ve given current prices as given to me by Farr Vintners. Their list also includes Parker points (I don’t subscribe) so I’ve added them in after mine.

He's behind you!He's behind you!

2009. 60% merlot:40% cab franc. £2,350

Dense youthful colour, aromas still primary, but fine nose, cedar spicy and richly concentrated, a warm prune and plum sweet character on the nose, intense youthfully primary fruit flavours, ripe but richly concentrated dark red fruits, powerful firm muscular tannins and structure with good savoury backbone and freshness and an impression of powerful alcohol without being hot as such. Still elemental and youthful. Long-term 20 year wine. 95 (Parker: 96/100)
Hubert comments: ‘Cabernet franc is very important for me. Long ageing in oak usually first 9 months no racking. 21 – 23 months in barrel. 2009 took out of barrel this 15 September’.

2008. 62% merlot, 38 % cab franc. £1,350

Youthful colour, rich nose of powerful vanillin spice , nicely concentrated dark red berry fruits character with supple and juicy tannins, encased in framework of supple-textured fruit with lively fresh acidity; still very youthful, almost primary in its fruit profile, overall nicely balanced and intensely flavoured style with powerful but not excessive alcohol. 10 years plus. 93 (Parker 93)

2007. 65% merlot, 35% cab franc. £1,180

Not as dense in colour as the previous vintages, and less intense on the nose but plenty of new oak cedar and vanilla aromas, attractively supple and juicy ripe red fruits on the palate with a lean streak of acidity running through the wine providing a nice twist of freshness. Still quite youthful and primary with some grippy tannins and by no means ready yet although short to medium rather than long-term. 90 (Parker 92)

Magnum Force 1985 - 2009Magnum Force 1985 - 2009

2006. 58% merlot, 42% cab franc. £1,575

Dense youthful ruby, denser and more concentrated in appearance than the younger 2007; a veneer of vanillin oak on the nose with aromas starting to show some age, quite meaty on the nose and palate with rather hefty extracted and chocolatey and quite chunky fruit; there’s something, which, although concentrated, is a little on the meaty and extracted side here, bringing an impression of firmness and a slight dry finish. It’s robust and on the rustic side. 92 (Parker 95)

2005. 55% merlot, 45% cab franc. £2,550

Dense in colour, aromatic in primary mould, richly concentrated dark reds berry fruits middle palate encased in a substantial framework of tannins and fresh acidity, but with a lovely sweet core of dark red fruits concentration, oak spice and richness that bodes well for the future; great intensity and still almost elemental and barely ready for drinking. Another long term wine, 20 years plus, in the mould of 2009. 96 (Parker 98)

2004. 60% merlot, 40% cab franc. £1,400

Good youthful colour and lovely bright aromatic fragrance and freshness, liquorice and vanilla spice and chocolatey oak, starting to show signs of evolution but still youthful, with really attractive red fruits juiciness and textural suppleness, an elegantly classic blend of merlot and ripe cabernet franc flavours with a slight chocolatey richness of flavour, lovely concentration and balance with just a note of dryness on the finish. Should start to drink soon, now almost, but look like a healthy 10 years life ahead of it. 92 (Parker 92 / 95)

2003. Merlot 43%, 57% cab franc £1,550

Distinctly warm nose and typically sweet opulent red fruits on the palate, almost Australian in its exotic sweetness of red fruits but to be fair there’s some very good acidity and balance here. And while it’s rich, opulent and chocolatey, and there’s a slight chunkiness and heat but it’s a really good mouthful of fruit, especially compared to some of the jammier wines from this vintage. 93 (Parker 96)

For whom the bell tollsFor whom the bell tolls

2002. 45% merlot, 55% cab franc. £1,500

Deep in ruby garnet colour, quite rich and evolved on the nose, with an almost gamey element, this is surprisingly rich in dark fruits and chocolatey fruit quality with nice supple tannins and freshness from good quality of savoury fresh acidity; it’s a supple juicy fresh blend with more power than you might expect but perhaps in its drying finish showing not quite the length of a great vintage. 90 (Parker 91)

2001. 69% merlot, 31% cab franc. £1,650

Rich young colour, fine nose, nicely evolving and fresh, similarly attractively evolving concentrated red fruits on the palate with nicely integrated almost chocolatey sweet oak and nice savoury fresh acidity. Starting to drink very nicely now although there’s still some youth and muscularity and dryness on the back palate and should continue to evolve a while yet. 5 years plus. 92 (Parker 93)

2000. 50% merlot, 50% cab franc. £2,850

Dense and youthful in colour, this is quite sweet and opulent already on the nose and the opulence follows through to the palate with richly concentrated, dense dark cherry fruits flavours and a seamless structure of very fine tannins and savoury backdrop of damson plum freshness, making it all look very youthful and barely ready for drinking. Another 15 years is surely assured. 94 (Parker 97)

Hubert comment. ‘The wine is not oaky although it has 100% new oak’. Stephen Browett: ‘There’s more oak in wines that are less than 100% oaked’.

1999. £1,650

Quite evolved in colour, nicely evolved fragrance, combining oak spice and chocolate with dark fruits, some sweet dark chocolate and plum like fruitiness with a quite firm grippy note of dry tannin, oak and savoury acidity on the finish. The mid-palate is attractive enough but it becomes a little ungainly and rustic on the finish. 88 (Parker 88)

Hubert comment ‘ This was a tough vintage, a storm a week before the harvest, so 40% of average crop produced’.

From the tasting room in St.EmilionFrom the tasting room in St.Emilion

1998. 60% merlot, 40% cab franc. £1,850

Still intense in its youthful ruby colour, with gorgeous sweet fragrance of evolution and still showing a degree of spicy vanillin oak behind the fruit fragrance; the red fruits character fruit is evolving beautifully with a hint of fennel and mint from presumably the cabernet franc element, a lovely silkiness and suppleness of texture and a really juicy fresh acidity bringing good backbone and a degree of finesse to the wine. Still youthful, it has a good 10 years life ahead. 95 (Parker 95+)

1997. 75% merlot, 25% cab franc. £1,200

This is quite evolved in colour and without the intensity shown on the 1998; it’s not oxidised but it’s distinctly evolved and gamey on the nose, suggesting a similar degree of evolution on the palate; and sure enough while there is some sweet dark fruit character there, there’s also a slight leanness and dryness and pokey oak, with an astringency that keeps it fresh but you get the feeling it’s time to drink soon. I wouldn’t want to keep this for much longer. 88 (Parker 89)

Hubert comment: ‘A difficult vintage with rain at the end of the harvest so we went faster than expected with the harvest’.

1996. 55% merlot, 45% cab franc. £1,550

The depth of colour is good and intense even though showing signs of evolution; a fair aromatic intensity here with nice evolution and oak spice and chocolate, similarly on the palate there’s a good concentrated richness of dark fruit, a slight herbiness from the cabernet franc perhaps and firm muscular length and power. It finishes a little chunky and 4-square but overall there’s a fair balance there. 90 (Parker 91+)

Back labelBack label

1995. 60% merlot, 40% cab franc. £2,300

Quite evolved in colour and on the nose, this is attractively aromatic and with some sweet red cherry fruits on the plate, it’s surprisingly big and chunky in its tannic backbone, but has good savoury freshness behind it. I’m trying hard to warm to it but feel that I’m enjoying it less than I should be. 92 (Parker 95)

1994. 70% merlot, 30% cab franc. £1,280

Quite good colour, very evolved and gamey on the nose, with some dried herbal undertones, almost Ardanza -like, there’s some surprising sweet fruit on the mid-palate but it’s rather encased in dry chunky tannins and leanish acidity; overall though as evolved and gamey as it is, it’s still drinking quite nicely now but needs to be drunk up pretty soon. 89 (Parker 92)

1993. 75% merlot, 25% cab franc. £1,200

This smells quite evolved, gamey, almost brackish; there’s not a lot of fruit there although there is some evolved cocoa-like mid-palate sweetness for a little while before the grip of dry tannins takes over and the lean acidity kicks in. 87 (Parker 91)

1992. 80% merlot, 20% cab franc. £1,200

Decent evolved nose with quite powerful chocolatey vanillin oak veneer, some evolved leathery fruit sweetness on the palate; finishing rather dour and dry though and beginning to each the end of its lifespan. 87 (Parker 88)

1991. 90% merlot, 10% cab franc. £380

Very pallid and garnet in colour, quite weedy and leafy on the nose, suggesting a degree of unripeness; Chilean Central valley merlot with a rotty dank undertone but all the while trying hard to be a good wine. Sometimes nature (and wine writers) can be unkind. 84 (Parker 87)
Hubert comment: ‘Only 400 cases made, normally 8000 cases’.

1990. £3,950

Evolved garnet, quite intense sweet cocoa-dusting of dark fruits fragrance, some leathery, gamey chocolatey fruit richness on the mid-palate thanks to a good level of richness and concentration; quite firm and chunky tannins with refreshingly savoury backbone of acidity and length of flavour, a slight twist of astringency maintaining a degree of freshness and balance. Very good wine if for me not among the greats of the 1990s vintage. 92 (Parker 96)

It's that Hubert againIt's that Hubert again

1989. 50% merlot 50 % cab franc. £3,500

Garnet in colour, wonderfully evolved and yet fresh aromatic quality on the nose with fine intensity of sweet leather armchair undertones and a touch of dried herbs fragrance; superbly rich and silky concentrated sweet chocolatey fruit opulence balanced by fine tannins and really juicy fresh savoury acidity. There’s immense character in the evolution of this wine, which is still going strong although pretty perfect for drinking now. 95 (Parker 96)

1988. 60% merlot, 40 cabernet franc. £1,650

Good dense colour and aromatic power with a leafy dried herbal undertone, fine classic richly concentrated dark fruits quality, chocolatey oak and nice richness of fruit balanced by firm classic tannins and backbone of fine acidity. Attractive fragrance and fruit, lovely classic finesse and elegance. 92 (Parker 91)

1987. 75 merlot, 25 cab f

This smells a bit loose and leafy with little going on behind it; there’s some pleasant savoury-sweet cherryish drinkability but a quite lean drying streak of astringency underlining the lack of fruit quality here. Needs to be drunk up pretty quickly. 86

1986. 60% merlot, 40% cab franc. £1,600

In Marie-Jeanne (3 bottle-bottle) rather than magnum. Lovely intense fresh fragrance combined with a leathery evolution and immediately the fruit on the palate shows class, sweetness and richness with a fine supple-textured opulent almost chocolatey dark-hearted maturity that’s intense and beautifully balanced. A really stylish delicious drink for now and maybe another five years yet. 92 (Parker 88)

1985. 55 merlot, 45 cab franc. £400

Super evolved fragrance, slight touch of cork on the nose and palate which is a shame because the rather stripped out fruit is supple, cherryish and potentially delicious if a tad dry on the finish. 90? (Parker 87)

Time gentlemen, and ladies, pleaseTime gentlemen, and ladies, please

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