Château Bahans Haut-Brion 2002

Sometimes travelling from Edinburgh to London to attend a tasting can be a bit of a trial. Thinking back over many years of rail journeys, one of the worst was for a Domaine Huet Demi-Sec tasting with Noël Pinguet, back in 2009. An electrical fault meant there was no power on the line ahead, so the train ground to a halt at Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the English-Scottish border. I circumvented the dead section of line by taking a taxi to Newcastle, at a cost of £80, and picking up a train there. Very few people could be bothered to do the same, so there was a silver lining to the cloud; the second train was almost empty, and I was able to put my feet up in first class for the rest of the way. The following year, en route for a Pomerol tasting with Roberson Wine in a very wintry November, the train was initially delayed by snow, and then by a break-down on the line ahead. The weather was so bad (in other words, there was a further light dusting of snow) the train terminated prematurely at Stevenage, as did two others. Thus three trains spewed forth their passengers onto the platforms, and we were then all crammed into the only train heading south. All the seats were taken, so for the second part of the journey I had to sit on the floor, as if I were back at primary school. We eventually rolled into the centre of London three hours late.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it isn’t entirely true. I eventually realised travelling by rail down to London was essentially gambling on whether or not I would make it to the tasting on time, often with a good measure of discomfort and a sprinkling of inconvenience. Once that realisation dawned, I started flying instead. Not only do I usually arrive in London in good time, it is also cheaper.

So when I travelled from Edinburgh to Chester a couple of months ago for a tasting of wines young and old from Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, by train inevitably, I was half-expecting something to go seriously awry. Especially as I had to change on the way down, and on the return journey, at unfamiliar stations, with only a few minutes between trains. But it was one of those days everything seemed to go in my favour; alighting at Warrington I looked around feverishly for information on the next train, ready to run up and down stairs and escalators, to sprint along bridges and dimly-lit corridors, only to realise it would be departing from the platform at which I had just arrived. It was so easy I almost felt deflated. On the return, it was the same, and on each journey the train glided into the final station dead on time. Where was the panic? Where was the inconvenience? Why weren’t we seriously delayed? I began to wonder whether I shouldn’t be taking the train to Chester for tastings such as this more often.

This week on Winedoctor I will be reporting on the tasting, so we start the week with something of a Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion theme. I would like to continue the theme all week, but my cellar isn’t exactly dripping with mature bottles from these two châteaux, so sadly that won’t be possible. I will of course receive with gratitude any bottles of Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion readers care to send me, duly taste them in as objective a manner as possible (blind tasting would be best, so you will need to send at least two bottles, so I can pretend I don’t know which is which), and then report on them. If you could get them to me by Wednesday evening that would be great. As I am not anticipating a strong and positive response to this appeal, however, I expect three days will be all I can manage. We start today with an old favourite of mine, Château Bahans Haut-Brion. This is the second wine of Château Haut-Brion and I have had great fun with this wine in the past, even in lesser vintages. The 1992, for example, was a smart wine even though this was really a very dismal vintage on the whole; what’s more, it was a bargain too. Since the 2007 vintage this cuvée has been renamed Clarence de Haut-Brion by the way.

Then tomorrow I will move on to my report on the tasting, looking at nine wines from Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, and I will finish up on Wednesday with a huge overhaul of my Château La Mission Haut-Brion profile, expanding it from one long page to eight pages in the process, matching the level of detail already present in my Château Haut-Brion profile which I overhauled back in June. And that will be it (unless I am inundated by the bottles you send, naturally), so later in the week it will be back to the Loire Valley with tasting updates on Champalou and Pithon-Paillé. Meanwhile, back to the 2002 Château Bahans Haut-Brion. It has some maturity in terms of its appearance, but it is nothing too advanced, just a little oxblood tinge to an otherwise confident, claretty hue. There is a really classic character to the aromatics, with notes of sun-dried blackcurrants and damson skins, with fresh scents of juniper berry, charcoal and wisps of grey smoke, as well as some beautifully savoury elements of green peppercorn, bay leaf and rosemary. I wasn’t expecting too much on the palate, as 2002 is a vintage that can and does tend towards leanness, but that wasn’t a problem here. Sure, it felt a little lean at first, but it showed much more texture with air. It is supple, quite grippy, certainly savoury, with delightfully pithy, acid-washed fruit, quite savoury and full. It all feels very true to the domaine, as well as the appellation. In the finish, it is long and bright. Overall this has a super character for a second wine, with what can only be described as a rather classic sense of poise. Very good, and another wine which confirms that, for my palate, despite being generally derided by most critics the 2002 vintage is one I enjoy for its freshness and savoury aromatics. 16.5/20 (5/10/15)

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