On Terroir: Comparing 2007 Batailley, Mont Raudin and Pichon Lalande, and beyond
Much ink has been split on the concept of Terroir. Most readers have heard of the concept of ‘Tien Di Ren’ to explain about terroir . However, regardless of the validity, the practical way to learn is to taste the wines. But to what extent this reasoning is applicable?
SoI started an inquisitive journey last Friday(1 March 2013); I start with blind-tasting 3 wines from the commune of Pauillac: Batailey 2007, Pichon Lalande 2007 and Mont Raudin 2007 with some of my knowledgeable wine-friends.
The lesser known Mont Raudin(8 ha) is just North to Batailley(57 ha). From Mont Raudin to Batailley, all you need to need is a 5-minute strode, North. Pichon Comtesse(89 ha) is further east by the River. By car, it takes just 5 minutes to ride from Mont Raudin(see map).
Really how different do they taste? My motive is to know if Mont Raudin can come close to the quality of some classed growth from an affordable vintage such as the 2007. Then I taste the second flight Mont Raudin’s consecutive vintage of 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages to know more about Mont Raudin to ensure we give Mont Raudin a fair trial.
The First Flight(blind tasting) 5:30 pm, one inch down to the lower neck level, just leave the wines in the bottle for 1.5 hour. These wines are opened 7pm, when I think enough is enough. The Second Flight(a guided tasting by the winemaker), however, has been decanted for 45 minutes, then they are put back to bottle, recorked and then reopened 7:00 pm.
2007 Batailley(RP86). Walking hand in hand with the big black and red fruit are the graphite, lead pencil tones and slightly toasty oak. Certainly it has a restrained character, suggesting suppleness and an appropriate blend of different components in a relaxed, unforced manner. This is the classic nose of Pauillac to me. Unlike its more St. Julien-styled sibling Chateau Haut Batailley, this wine feels almostvoluptuous. The palate follows on in the same vein, an appropriate weight, lovely balance, delicately formed but with a really appealing integration of different component. The wine is now boarder in taste and softer on palate. Fermented 18 to 25 in 110 to 130 litres of vats, this wine is classic claret with some bold fruit.
The 2007 Pichon comtesse(RP95) is just one class up the rest. Its elegance stands it out from the 2 wines. The nose is distinguished by a bouquet of aromas, mixing blackcurrant and violet, vanilla and cinnamon. On palate, the tannins appear mature and melted, revealing a strong structure, a surprising suppleness, perfect harmony and long persistency. The diversity of grape varieties provides the complexities. The more merlot fruit gives the suppleness and body without the loss of texture and complexitites through use of Petit Verdit and Cabernet Franc. The elegance is probably iconic of the wine style. No tasters mistook this wine’s identity and complex palate! Pichon Comtesse is made in the 'normal' way. Extraction is maximized. Only 25% new oak is used.
2007 Mont Raudin. I have a confession to make: I made the friends to taste this wine last because I hope the freshness and its lighter being should ease the tasters’ palate. By doing this, I was hoping that 2007 Mont Raudin will create some good impression. Yet it turns out that my ‘engineering’ is not necessary as 2007 Mont Raudin performs well. Behind the Cabernet Sauvignon frame is the lurking black fruit, with tones like balsamic, mint, herbs and sandalwood. With excellent structure, Mont Raudin 2007 is easier to drink. It is round, and is very very concentrated. Here, definitely ‘Ren’ has worked hard and displays some of the best alternative. It’s a new Pauillac with modernity and originality to substantiate that to open a bottle of wine made conducive to moment of simple pleasure and conviviality. Well it’s rare with 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot, which is the distinctive variance to the Batailley and PIchon Comtesse maximization of complexity, blending of the classic blends of Cabernet, Merlot Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Almost all tasters are surprised. Fermented in large vats, fruit has been kept at low low temperature for a couple of days. Fermentation temperature is keep low at 15 to 20 C. Oak storage is just 12-month in new, Allier barrels.
I really am happy with the performance of Mont Raudin 2007 though it clear lost to Pichon Comtesse.
How about the other vintages? 2008 Mont Raudin Deep ruby colour tight pink rim. Blackcurrant aroma, with hints of sweet spice and new leather. Fruity palate. Silky and refined tannins. Medium bodied, well structured and balanced. Medium finish with some sweet spice after-taste. Yet the 2009 Mont Raudin is richer with deep ruby colour and very tight rim. Very blackcurranty, with much rounder palate and structure. 2010 Mont Raudin is not ready despite full decanting. Surely 2010 is a wine with lots of potential.
Tien is larger than Di; Di is larger than Ren.
Perhaps there are not too much variance as on climate on the whole amongst these 3 chateaux, save the fact the Pichon Comtesse is closer to the estuary and tends have more stable temperature and humidity. The differences mainly Lies on the soils of the 3 vineyards. The soil of Mont Raudin was formed by deposits over time, by layers of pebbles, of sand and of silt. The vinyards of Chateau Batailley is mainly silt and gravel. The existence of silt and sand tend to give the Mont Raudin and Batailley a boarder and softer taste. Chateau Pichon Comtesse which has a deep layer of more gravel and is endowed with a more varied land, plots like Ardileys, Moulin Riche, Longueville, Grand’Plante, la Chapelle, Virginie, Sophie and Marie-Joséphine. Surely Pichon Comtesse undiably got the best soil.
Mont Raudin has no romantic stories to offer. 2007 is the first vintage. The maker is Bordeaux trained refined his technique with great makers in Australian and California. And it we are so brave to put a graffiti work to compare with the masters? Chateau Batailley has lots of romance though. The name of the original Batailley estate suggests a military origin, collectively, as the Hundred Years' War. Pichon Comtesse, of course, needs no introduction. How often we were told of its Complexity, elegance and longevity are the hallmarks.
After this tasting, I would say I prefer it be said that Ren is bigger than Di, and Di is bigger than Heaven. Man follows (models himself after) Earth in the sense that the Wine maker has to follow the soil. Earth follows Heaven in because ‘soil’ is an endowment from Heaven. Yet Heaven which is not a method in itself, has to follow Tao(the method of winemaking). Within the restriction from Heaven, there’s got to be a way to make good wines. So Winemakers can model him/herself after Earth, the possible choices (of how to act, what to do, etc for begetting good wines) are beyond limit.
The Mont Raudin’s consecutive vintage of 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages to associate tradition, modernity and originality to substantiate that to open a bottle of wine is above all a moment of pleasure and conviviality will be used and can stand along with the giants like Batailley and Pichon Comtesse. Time is on Mont Raudin’s side. These wines have lots of potential.