Binny's Blind Tasting Panel: Blind Tasting Bordeaux

We have Bordeaux on the brain at this time of year. We are fresh off another exciting Union de Grand Cru tasting event featuring the 2021 vintage and looking forward to the 2023 futures campaign. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision, so the tasting panel took a hard backwards look at the exceptional 2020 vintage, blind. We tasted value wines all the way up to $100 classified growths and winnowed it down to our top ten. One thing was clear to see; quality is very high and, as expected, we have great prices on all our top scoring wines. These are real beauties, get them while you can. Supplies are limited. 

availability varies by location

Chateau Leoville Barton Saint Julien 2020

Our top scoring wine of the day is a study in classic cabernet-based Bordeaux; the great second growth, Leoville-Barton, from St Julien in the heart of the Left Bank. Classy, refined- a coiled powerhouse of breed and structure. The nose is just gorgeous, showing deep black and blue fruits, exotic spices, anise, sandalwood incense, dark roast coffee, earthy tree bark, pencil shavings, understated fine herbs and a lovely lift of violet. The palate is the epitome of power and grace with richly layered creme de cassis, blackberry, blueberry, plum as well as cherry cordial. A spine of fresh acidity and massive but silky-smooth tannins provide a framework for the fruit while baking spice, earth, herbs and a dark chocolate add complexity to the long lingering finish. The panel agrees that while the remarkable quality is evident now, this is one for the cellar or a very, very vigorous decanting. It’s still an infant but clearly a prodigy. We can’t wait to see how this develops. Oh, and the price to quality ratio is off the charts!

Chateau Gazin Pomerol 2020

Hot on Leoville-Barton's heels, from the tiny merlot-centric region of Pomerol, comes our number two wine. It’s another classy and polished expression but with the clear stamp of plush Right Bank merlot. It pours a dramatic black purple. The nose alone garnered some whispered wows from the panel for its deep aromas of dark fruit confiture, spiced Christmas cake, loamy earth, licorice and dried flowers. While it remains medium/full in body there is a sense of layered opulence to the core of fruit that comes in waves of baked plum and cherry, dried fig and dry cured black olive. Licorice, spice and scorched earth unfold on the firmly tannic yet velvety finish. Mostly merlot with the unconventional addition of cabernet sauvignon in lieu of the more typical cabernet franc. Certainly delicious now, but this is another one that will age like a dream. Highly recommended.

Chateau La Croix Saint Georges Pomerol 2020

Another Pomerol, another winner! Aromas of spice box, nutty nougat, chocolate and plum pudding create a warming, inviting nose. This is big boned, deeply concentrated, modern in style and full of dense, compact fruit and chocolatey oak. Round, creamy and packed with dark, dried fruits, black currant, black cherry, forest berries, chocolate and molassesy gingerbread. There are notions of earthy, fresh mushroom, a sanguine meatiness and dried herbs, as well. The finish is long and spicy. A fantastic value for lovers of plush and powerful Pomerol.

Chateau Lagrange Saint Julien 2020

Another Saint Julien tied for third place with the La Croix Saint Georges and it is another well priced classified growth (third). Is this a pattern? This appeals with a pretty, deep purple color, but at first the nose is a bit closed and brooding. With a little air it begins to blossom, revealing fresh red, and to a lesser extent, black fruit, loamy earth, tobacco, a fleeting whisp of Perigord truffle, a whiff of smokey oak, violet and a fresh minty lift. An initial austerity on the palate also begins to gain in richness and definition as it sits in the glass. Crunchy cranberry, lingonberry and red currant are fresh bright and underpinned with blackberry and cassis. Hints of vanilla scented oak and crushed rocks ride silky tannins on the long finish. Wine Director Barbara Herman commented (blind, mind you) - “Very Saint Julien, in a refined way.”

Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne Saint Emilion 2020

Saint Emilion makes itself known with this rich, intensely concentrated wine.  Perhaps unsurprisingly this estate is situated on clay soil just over the border from Pomerol. Tasters loved the regal purple color and fruit richness that borders on jammy but somehow retains a sense of grace. Ripe blueberry, blackberry, plum, juicy black cherry and cassis vie for dominance in a complex mélange of fruit. Nuances of spicey, clove inflected oak, vanilla, bay leaf and flowers add counterpoint and lift to the deep core of fruit. The palate is medium to full, plush and bold, leading to an earthy, cocoa powder dusted finish that just keeps pumping out fruit. One taster started their note with a simple declaration- “Wow, yum!” Yum indeed and check out that price!

Chateau Villemaurine Saint Emilion 2020

Saint Emilion, on a roll. Another beautiful, purple hued wine comprised mostly of merlot. There is no denying the new oak in the nose and on the palate, but it is well integrated, bringing creamy mocha, vanilla and sweet brown spices to the party. While there is ample raspberry, cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruit this wine adds notions of bailed hay, cedar and a thrilling energy from zesty orange acidity. Medium bodied but fleshy and supple. Velvety tannin, brambly fruit, floral perfume, mint and a savory, bordering on saline, edge keeps the generous oak in check on the long finish. One taster gushed- “Like freshly baked cinnamon scented cherry pie, including crust and a generous dollop of Chantilly cream.” Who could resist that?

Chateau Sociando Mallet Haut Medoc 2020

A perennial overachiever and always built for the long haul, as one might expect from an Haut-Medoc estate situated just north of Saint Estephe. Indeed, it shares the dense tannic structure if not the austerity of many of its neighbors to the south. The panel loved the chiseled precision and noted the clear potential to age gracefully for years to come. Notably ripe and rich but in need of time, the nose already shows pretty notes of violet and raspberry blossom, graphite, vanilla, baking spice, loamy earth and tobacco on top of raspberry coulis, creme de cassis, plum and huckleberry. Medium-full, it’s still a bit closed on the palate but the excellent concentration of fruit, chocolatey oak and spice, along with ripe, plush never ending chalky tannins, make reading the tea leaves easy. A classic, grippy, muscular vin de garde. A skosh more merlot than cab in the blend. Even though this is already nice, buy a case and marvel at its development over the coming decades. Striking value!

Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 2020

This wine was #18 on Wine Spectator's list of their top 100 wines of 2023, garnering a 96 point review. We loved it too! It’s another tightly coiled powerhouse looking for a cool, dark spot to hibernate in for a few years. In time, this deeply concentrated wine will unwind to reveal it’s hidden complexities. This was the only Pauillac, the repository of powerful and finessed cabernet-based classified growths, to make the list and it’s definitely a winner. The nose sits above the glass, offering savory black fruits, toasty oak spice, vanilla, mint, bay, cardamom and a rootbeeresque combo of sassafras and wintergreen. Sleek and focused in the mouth with a bright streak of tangerine-like acidity, black currant, plum and spiced cherry compote. It’s all framed by caramelly oak and a powerful tannic structure. Very fine.

Virginie de Valandraud Saint Emilion 2020

The only estate to have their second wine make our list is the excellent Right Bank all-star, Chateau Valandraud. It’s another stunner from Saint Emilion and, at a fraction of the price of the Grand Vin, offers exceptional value. It exudes inviting aromas of ripe fruit and plenty of fine, spicy, nutty, clove and milk chocolate scented new French oak. An array of luscious ripe fruits spread out in the mouth, riding on the round, silkily tannic medium body. Strawberry, red currant, boysenberry, Bing cherry and plum are accented by pleasantly bitter roasted herbs and decadent, creamy chocolate. The finish is long, refined and polished. For those who miss Robert Parker’s influence on Bordeaux.

Chateau Gloria Saint Julien 2020

Not unlike Sociando-Mallet, this unclassified Chateau consistently outperforms its status. Neither chateau existed, as such, for the 1855 classification, but in Gloria’s case the estate was later cobbled together from vineyards owned by some of Saint Julien’s most illustrious classified properties. It’s no wonder that these wines are of such exceptional quality. Aromas of espresso, dark chocolate, toasted panettone, tobacco, bergamot, bay and thyme float along gracefully on a bed of red and black fruits. Plum, cassis, tangy red currant and the freshness of aromatic orange oil make for an elegant assemblage of fruit character that slips seamlessly into the juicy, mocha flavored finish. Gravelly, slightly saline minerality and classy, well managed tannins provide poise and structure. Already excellent. One to look out for year in and year out.

 

Contributing Panelists:

  • Max Andrle, Wine Manager, North Riverside
  • Alicia Barrett, Wine Educator & Tasting Panel Chair
  • Maxime Caffarel, Customer Service Manager, Glencoe
  • Barbara Hermann, Wine Director & Wine Buyer
  • Doug Jeffirs, Director of Wine Sales 
  • Ben Madeska, Wine Manager, Lincoln Park
  • Bill Newton, Fine Wine Buyer
  • Chris Speir, Factotum, Lincolnwood Office