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Jolly Good Merlot
If you can tell a wine by its owner, look no further than Hubert de Bouard de Laforest - the very approachable boss of Chateau Angelus.
The warm and friendly Mr de Bouard was recently in town to meet fans and customers of his estate, several of whom got a first-hand flight tasting of seven of his wines - including the Angelus 2006, Angelus 2011 and La Fleur de Bouard 2012. Hosting the tasting was the two-Michelin-starred Les Amis restaurant, whose head chef Sebastien Lepinoy put together a matching six-course menu of protein-rich Autumn flavours.
Chateau Angelus is located in Saint Emilion on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where the softer Merlot grape dominates, not the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Left Bank. Aged for 18 to 24 months in the barrel, Angelus is made with grapes from very old vines that are an average of 42 years. "Some of the vines are more than 90 to 95 years,'' said Mr de Bouard.
The 2006 vintage is a blend of 62 per cent Merlot and 38 per cent Cabernet Franc.
There is dark red fruit on the nose, with a hint of leather and a rich, long finish. "It can age for 20 more years," adds Mr de Bouard.
Befitting its quiet strength, the Angelus 2006 is paired with the main course of venison tenderloin and confit quince. Following that is the Angelus 2011, to match a selection of three artisanal French cheeses. A blend of 60 per cent Merlot and 40 per cent Cabernet Franc, the 2011 has aromas of fresh fruit and chocolate. Although young, it is crisp and pleasantly approachable.
"It is nice to finish a meal with a younger wine and refresh the palate,'' explains the seventh-generation owner of Chateau Angelus.
Earlier in the night, he surprised the guests with the La Fleur de Bouard 2012, from the Chateau La Fleur in Lalande de Pomerol which he purchased in 1998. It produces the La Fleur de Bouard, Le Lion de La Fleur de Bouard, and Le Plus de La Fleur de Bouard.
La Fleur is the signature wine of the estate and Le Lion its second wine. Le Plus is a special selection made only in certain years. It is the signature wine which stands out when paired with the second course of pan-seared duck foie gras and French river eel, with citrus fruit compote.
The La Fleur de Bouard 2012 offers a pure merlot nose of plums and black cherries. Despite its youth, it's soft on the palate and very approachable. Its terroir and the high proportion of Merlot (80 per cent, plus 15 per cent Cabernet France and 5 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon) give it the classic Merlot juiciness. Supple, yet with good structure, it can be drunk now and over the next 10 years.
Mr de Bouard also provides a sneak preview of the 2016 vintage. 2016 is generally viewed as a good year for Bordeaux, particularly for the Right Bank, with some saying it could be even better than 2015.
However, a good spring followed by copious rain from April to June was a cause for concern. "Some people were afraid of disease because it was so difficult, with rain everyday,'' he recalls. But the rain stopped at the end of June, and not a drop fell from July until mid-September.
"By the end of August, we got a bit scared because it was so dry." But "good rainfall'' returned in September, ending just before harvest time early that same month.
"In 2016, we picked a la carte,'' he says, referring to the practice of harvesting grapes only when he deems them to be perfectly ripe.
"We always talk about the last vintage as the best vintage, because it is the vintage we haven't sold,'' Mr de Bouard concludes, to laughter. "But I really believe 2016 is an amazing vintage. The style of 2016 is like 2010 - classic freshness, good acidity and a little bit less alcohol, which is good.''