The text of this article originally appeared in The World of Fine Wine, issue 53
A seated tasting of nine vintages of La Conseillante from 2010 back to 1982, presented by director-winemaker Jean-Michel Laporte at Bonhams, London in March 2015, showed among other things how consistent a performer this Pomerol estate is. The impression was reinforced nine months later at a tasting of six of the same vintages, together with the 2011. The second tasting, held before and during dinner at Galvin La Chapelle, London, was all the more fascinating because, although it was again with the estate’s director-winemaker, this was a new one. Marielle Cazaux had just completed her first vintage after taking over from Jean-Michel Laporte in July.
Director-winemaker of La Conseillante, Marielle Cazaux (top left), and co-managing director, Jean-Valmy Nicolas (bottom right), at the tasting and dinner at Galvin La Chapelle in London
Family owned and run properties, ever dwindling in number on the Left Bank, are not exceptional in Pomerol, but La Conseillante is a single, 11.8 ha (29 acres) block that hasn’t changed in extent since 1871 and is now run by the fifth generation of the Nicolas family. That is unusual. It gives a continuity of which the family is rightly proud, which is why, perhaps, it came as a surprise, at least to outsiders, when it emerged in late February 2015 that Jean-Michel Laporte, director-winemaker since 2003, was to leave. As he talked at Bonhams about how he was in the process of reducing the amount of new oak and the time spent in it in lesser vintages, there was no suggestion of his departure. Four months later he had been replaced by Marielle Cazaux, previously technical director of Château Petit-Village and a University of Bordeaux graduate oenologist whose degree included a four-month placement at Ridge Lytton Springs, California.
There is no mention now of Jean-Michel Laporte on the website or in the new brochures but, at the tasting and dinner in London, hosted by Marielle Cazaux with Jean-Valmy Nicolas, one of Conseillante’s co-managing directors, the latter was happy – keen, even – to explain.
“Jean-Michel Laporte helped La Conseillante into modernity. He invested in a new press house and plantations, and a lot of other changes are thanks to Jean-Michel. The weak point of La Conseillante before him was inconsistency. In weak vintages, we had a serious problem of homogeneity.
“But over the last few years we’ve had a difficulty to capture the potential of La Conseillante. Our will was to focus Jean-Michel on the details, the fine-tuning, to reach excellence, but he said he was more interested in the commercial side. We decided to stop our collaboration with him and we decided to hire Marielle. It’s the same job: she’s in charge of everything from vineyard to bottle.” And beyond, one could add, since the job also involves, as it did for Jean-Michel Laporte, representing La Conseillante around the world in a marketing role.
Bertrand Nicolas, the other co-managing director, works on the vineyard technical side with Marielle Cazaux. He has “unbelievable knowledge of every plot”, according to his cousin Jean-Valmy Nicolas. All 18 plots are vinified separately. Michel Rolland was brought in as consultant in 2013 – not to change the style, says J-V Nicolas, but to help in particular with the blend. He was instrumental in the decision to do a five-day cold (8ºC) fermentation in 2015 to lengthen what promised to be very quick fermentations.
Marielle Cazaux’s plans include “a big focus on what is really important: the vineyard. Pruning is my passion, my obsession. 50 per cent of the quality of the wine is in the pruning.” They made trials in the cellar in 2015, but we shouldn’t expect to see any changes resulting from these before 2016 and 2017, she says. There is also a plan to make a massale selection of the oldest Merlot – 50 years old against an average of 34. Merlot accounts for 80 per cent of the vineyard, but often a greater percentage of the blend. The rest is Cabernet Franc. As for organic: “The idea is to use nearly no chemical products, but if we have another 2013, then we are obliged.”
This review covers two tastings. All vintages except 2011 were tasted at Bonhams in London in March 2015, presented by Jean-Michel Laporte. Six vintages were tasted again, together with 2011, in December 2015 at Galvin La Chapelle, presented by Marielle Cazaux. They were tasted in two flights of three: 2011, 2009 and 2005, a young vintage and two powerful ones; then 2008, 2006 and 2001, which Cazaux calls “hidden vintages; not well know for Bordeaux or La Conseillante”. Finally, we tasted 1985 blind, the vintage revealed being afterwards.
The 2011 vintage was inevitably overshadowed by 2010 and 2009, but it’s a pretty and graceful wine, although clearly not as powerful as either of the previous two. Notably fragrant with an attractive Cabernet Franc eucalyptus note and hints of incense and spice coming through the typical violet perfume. Medium concentration of youthful black fruit on the palate, with ripe, fine tannins, a creamy, silky texture and a graphite, iron-filings freshness to the finish. 93/100
Breathtakingly good. Vibrantly fresh, yet opulent on the nose with a flowery violet intensity threaded with elegantly spicy oak. The palate is deep, dense and layered with sweet black fruit and a lasting impression of racy freshness, incisive intensity and impeccable balance. It was extraordinarily accessible tasted in March 2015, but can only develop complexity over many years (another 30 perhaps). 97
Slightly lower in alcohol than the 2010 (14.2% against 14.5%), but it feels bigger, albeit in a broader, fleshier, slightly looser way. The flavours are meltingly ripe and enveloping: chocolaty, creamy, spicy, with blackcurrant sweetness (blackcurrant truffles come to mind) and touches of liquorice and black tapenade. The tannins are as polished and positive as the fruit and the wine is swathed in glossy oak, 100% new. Jean-Michel Laporte said he felt, at the en primeurs, that 100% was a little too much. I agree, but it’s a stellar wine all the same. 96
The bottle tasted in March 2015 at Bonhams was not quite right, with a slightly dry, dusty edge, so the note here is from the December bottle. Precise and more intense than many wines from the vintage, with spice and coffee on the nose, incisive blackcurrant and mineral flavours, a dusting of liquorice and olive, fine-grained tannins and a lingering, crisp finish, but with just a slight edge of austerity. Seems to have more of a Cabernet Franc character than the richer, riper 2009, although it’s only 14% Cabernet Franc. At 13.3% abv, markedly lower in alcohol than the two subsequent vintages. 92
Fragrant, floral and sweet-scented (I was reminded of irises, which I’m not often) but with a penetrating blackcurrant freshness. Richer, black cherry fruit and dark chocolate on the palate, discreet, spicy, sweet oak and dry but yielding tannins, underpinned throughout by a draught of acidity that gives 2006 the vinous equivalent of a healthy, fresh glow. Very graceful. 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. 13.6% abv. 95
Very dense colour, but a more mature shade than 2006. A similar fragrant, floral character on the nose, with an additional ripeness and richness of black cherry, cassis, cocoa, coffee and truffle-cum-game. On the palate: power, concentration, bulk but not bulkiness. The tannins make their presence felt, yet have a close-textured, velvety suppleness and the wine stretches out into a mineral fresh finish with touches of liquorice and bitter chocolate. A complex wine that is less ready to drink than the 2006 with which it shares its 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc composition. 13.8% abv. Jean-Michel Laporte said of this vintage: “You didn’t have to do anything in 2005; just sit and wait”, which is very similar to what Marielle Cazaux says of 2015: “There was no stress; I could sleep at night.” 96
The bottle tasted in December was more evolved than the one tasted in March, with a mellow, cedary sweetness, softer, silkier, less taut palate and suggestions of incense, coffee and nutmeg coming through the black fruit purity. The earlier bottle had a more youthful floral fragrance and spiciness, deeper, more insistent black fruit and mineral flavours, and firmer, fine-grained tannins. 96 for the latter (tasted in March); 93 for the softer (December) bottle.
A less solid, vibrant colour than the 2001. Higher yields perhaps? A warm, ripe, blackberryish nose, with a hint of mint/herbs. Sweet, rounded, supple and silky on the palate with some minerality, good length and persistency, but not the tight concentration and elegance of the less evolved bottle of 2001. 94
Very sweet scented in a distinctive vegetal, green-pepper way with a spicy, sweet, pipe tobacco note. Very Cabernet Franc. The palate is silky and sweet; not powerfully concentrated but balanced. Lots of charm. It was more than 20% Cabernet Franc, according to Cazaux, and yields were probably 65–70hl/ha, according to Laporte (compared to 35–40hl/ha today). 94
Deeper colour than the 1985. Sweet, ripe and concentrated on the nose, with creaminess, spice and dried fruit aromas. The palate is rich and complex, with coffee, spice, chocolate, leather and porcini flavours. The tannins have melted away and yet the wine still has an effortless freshness and clarity. 97
At another tasting in London with Marielle Cazaux and Jean-Valmy Nicolas, earlier this year (above), we compared blind the same five vintages decanted from bottle and from magnum. It was not as obvious which were which as you might expect
Photographs by Joanna Simon