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Château Reignac 2004

This week's wine has developed something of a reputation of a giant-crusher, a wine not averse to David and Goliath-style tasting matches and not that uncommonly coming away the victor, or at least highly ranked, head held high. A simple Bordeaux Supérieur in terms of classification, thanks to the Grand Jury Européen Reignac has been putting illustrious names such as Latour and Ausone in their places in recent years. Naturally, I decided I had to track down a bottle to see whether I should be filling my cellar with case after case of this wine. First, though, a little background.

Chateau Reignac 2004Château Reignac dates from the 17th century, although its inclusion in the Grand Jury Européen tastings reflects a much more modern history. The estate lies near St Loubès to the northeast of Bordeaux on the isthmus that lies between the converging Garonne and Dordogne, at the western end of the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation (which only applies to the region's white wines, hence this is Bordeaux Supérieur). In the early 1990s this property, including its 80-hectare vineyard, was purchased by Yves and Stéphanie Vatelot who set about refurbishing and re-equipping the estate. Then, with the advice of Michel Rolland and American-born Bordeaux-based négociant Jeffrey Davies they created the giant-busting cuvée that I taste here today. The wine features in Noble Rot (Norton, 2004) in which William Echikson provides an account of the time proprietor Vatelot invited Davies for lunch accompanied by a blind tasting of three wines from the 1999 vintage. The trio comprised Lafite, Mouton and naturally Reignac. The disappointment was Lafite, whereas both Mouton and Reignac showed very well, although the first cost ten times the price of the second. Vatelot was triumphant (and was keen to raise his pricses!).

How the wine first came to the attention of the Grand Jury Européen I do not know, but the tastings they orchestrate mirror very much that lunchtime date between Vatelot and Davies. This committee of tasters, established in 1996 by François Mauss, sets about tasting the great and also the petits vins of Bordeaux (usually together, it seems) without the inherent constraints of tastings for other established wine publications. Indeed, at a tasting of the 2001 vintage in summer 2009, Mauss stated that the Jury holds tastings you would never see in the Revue des Vins de France which depends on advertising revenue, suggesting that advertising can influence how wines are ranked in magazine tastings. At that 2001 tasting, Reignac was ranked second, just behind Angélus, ahead of all five first growths, Ausone, Cheval-Blanc, Petrus and La Mission Haut Brion.

It wasn't the 2001 vintage that recently came my way, but a bottle of the 2004 Château Reignac instead. This vintage is 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, as declared on the back label, and it has also featured in a Grand Jury Européen tasting in 2007. It wasn't ranked quite so well that time, a mere 27th place (out of 150), although that is still ahead of Latour and Lafite (and I note behind the likes of Belgrave and La Lagune!). I opened and tasted the wine over the course of two evenings; this not being a Jury tasting I didn't have a sommelier to verify the authenticity of my wine, or to measure its serving temperature for me, so I attended to these activities myself! And then once in the glass, I had my first chance to assess this liquid. Spicy oak and sandal wood on the nose, toast and fruitcake elements from the Merlot, very primary and youthful in style. Overall it is attractive, flashy, still oaky. Rather lean on entry though despite this puffed-up nose; with air it fleshes out and it shows a good composition, although it never really puts on enough weight or substance to match the overtly expressed aromatic characteristics. There is a lot of spice, lots of structure too, and looking at the whole package this is impressive for a Bordeaux Supérieur. I do find, however, a bitter edge to the prominent structure, and I find it too evident for this to be rather anything better than 'good'. It does have the potential to show some nice development in bottle though. 16+/20

On the basis of this tasting, just this vintage, I remain unconvinced as to the merits of this wine. Of course, my tasting situation is quite different. I have the advantage of having a long time to assess this bottle, whereas the Grand Jury Européen have just minutes. I also have the disadvantage of not tasting this blind, which may naturally have coloured my judgement. And it is hard to ignore the opinion of the Jury, who for the 2004 vintage tasting included Dirk van der Niepoort, Jean-Luc Thunevin, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Neil Beckett. These are experienced and skilled palates, and so for the moment I won't give up on Reignac. Perhaps I should track down a bottle of the 1999 or 2001 instead? (14/9/09)

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