The Garcin-Lévêque Portfolio

The primeurs tastings are a whirlwind of barrel samples all swirled and slurped to a bravely ambitious (or some might say bonkers) timetable. It’s one appointment after another, each one precisely scheduled to provide time not only tasting but also an opportunity to chew over the fat of the vintage with the technical director, or maybe the managing director, or perhaps even the head of marketing. At one or two estates I sometimes wonder whether it might be whichever poor employee drew the short straw who is left holding the bottles for the day.

It is important, however, to allow a little slack for other tasting opportunities, both expected and unexpected. François Mitjavile always likes to open a few other vintages, for example, and the team at Château Latour always present samples of the most recent trio of ‘late release’ vintages for tasting, as recently described here. These tastings are on the cards from the outset though, and I always factor adequate time into my schedule (especially when it comes to tasting with François). One unexpected opportunity that came my way this year, however, was at Château Barde-Haut, where I stopped off during a hectic day of visits in St Emilion. Having tasted the four 2015s from proprietor Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, I was pleased to be able to follow up with a matching quartet from the 2014 vintage.

Tasting the Wines

First in the line-up was the 2014 Château d’Arce, an estate in Lalande de PomerolHélène acquired this estate very recently, in 2013, but a hail storm on the very day she signed wiped out her entire first vintage. You could argue, with it being 2013, this was perhaps no great loss, but I am sure for Hélène it was a very visceral disaster, akin to crashing your brand new car on the day you drive it out of the showroom. Thus the2014, tasted here, was really her first vintage. It is an attractive wine, albeit with a rather macerated, old-school style to the fruit. While drinkable, I don’t think it will set any hearts on fire, but I am sure this estate is a work in progress.

Hélène relinquished control of some of her family’s estates in 2014, including Château Haut-Bergey in Pessac-Léognan which is now run by her brother, but this permitted her to expand her interests here on the right bank. A year after her purchase of Château d’Arce Hélène acquired Château Haut-Villet, on the road out towards Château Valandraud. Both have undergone a metamorphosis of course; Château Valandraudwas until its acquisition and rechristening, at the hands of Jean-Luc Thunevin, known as Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ, while Château Haut-Villet has also been renamed. The 2014from Château Poesia, as it is now known, has some attractive characteristics, although this barrel sample did show some degraded fruit character and it seemed heavily influenced by oak. It is a wine I would like to come back to once it has finished theélevage, and is in bottle.

The subsequent two wines were rather more familiar than this first pair. The 2014 Château Barde-Haut shows a fairly typical house style, with a robust structure and a rather brown-spice character to the fruit. The estate turns out wines with a strong sur-mature style, with lots of substance and texture, but less fruit definition than I like, veering away from a precise fruit character to one more warm, with fuzzy-furry-edged fruit, even into the brown spice and caramel spectrum, and the 2014 seems to true to form. Happily, I found a touch more freshness and character in the 2014 Clos L’Églisewhich, despite a curranty note to the fruit and some toasted edges, showed a real sense of vigour and freshness.

These are four interesting wines and while the big, brown-fruit, sur-mature style of St Emilion doesn’t really appeal to my palate, I know these wines have their fans. For me the 2014 Clos l’Église was the pick of the bunch, combining as it did an attractive dried-fruit concentration with a fresher frame, but it will be interesting to return to these wines in future vintages, in particular the newly acquired Château d’Arce and Château Poesia, to see how they fare under Hélène’s direction.

The Garcin-Lévêque Portfolio, 2016: Tasting Notes

The following wines were tasted in April 2016. For more tasting notes on the wines of these domaines, see my Château Barde-Haut and Clos l’Église profiles

The 2014 Portfolio

Château d’Arce (Lalande-de-Pomerol) 2014: A blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The élevage was carried out in a mix of new, one-year and two-year old oak. This is the first vintage for Hélène Garcin-Lévêque; she acquired the estate in 2013, but hail destroyed that year’s crop. There is rather a macerated, degraded-fruit feel to the nose, the fruit giving way to scents of cigar box, rose-petal tobacco and autumn leaves. Overall it suggests a smoky, old-school style. The palate is correct, showing a cool structure, with pencil-fine fruits laced with pencil shavings, cedar and spicy leather, underpinned by slightly dry tannins and fresh acidity. A light-to-medium-bodied wine, with a firm and sappy tannic finish.

Château Poesia (St Emilion) 2014: The first vintage for Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, who bought this estate in 2014; previously it had been known as Château Haut-Villet. A fresh, perfumed, Cabernet-led nose here, showing some spicy notes of dark tobacco, cigars and autumn leaves, peppery with degraded red berry fruits. The oak seems to be influencing the wine rather heavily. The palate is very direct and linear, with lightly cedary fruit, although there is an element of roasted barrel-spice also pushing through from behind. It has quite a firm grip of tannins at the end, ripe and medium-grained. I find this rather old-school in style, with some rather evolved spicy elements, but it would be informative to retaste after a little time in bottle, hopefully when it has shaken off some of this oak.

Château Barde-Haut (St Emilion) 2014: Fermented in a mix of stainless steel and cement cuves, with élevage in a mix of new, one-year and two-year old oak. Dark, dusty and spicy blackcurrant and wild hedgerow fruits on the nose, laced with touches of star anise and leather. The fruit seems to be holding up to the oak here, and the palate shows the same character, with a rather poised, pencil-drawn frame, with spicy, peppery tannins, and a robust grip underneath it all. There are dark toasted fruits, with a caramelised edge. The brown-spiced fruit is draped over the structure, with a medium-bodied presence. Rather a big, ripe grip in the finish. A touch more life to this vintage than I have found in some others, but still the typical Barde-Haut style.

Clos L’Église (Pomerol) 2014: A really quite convincing opening statement being made on the nose of this wine. It is rich in dark, spiced, lightly curranty fruits, with plum sauce and a little peppercorn freshness. The palate is pure, fresh with a really gentle harmony of texture, backed by some ripe and lightly velvety tannins and correct acidity. Lightly toasted fruit here, fresh and pure, with real elegance. All round quite an enticing character, and without a doubt the star performance from Hélène Garcin-Lévêque in the 2014 vintage. It shows really attractive development and harmony, with an elegant, velvety grip of tannins at the end.



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