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Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2007

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2007

This week I begin a series of retrospective tasting reports looking back at the 2007 vintage in Bordeaux, through the lens of more than 70 wines from this vintage tasted this year. Most of the wines were tasted at a trade tasting in London, but I have also added a handful of notes on various wines from Sauternes and Barsac, these bottles having been pulled from my own cellar. This was a vintage in which I purchased quite a few sweet wines, but I barely touched the reds, and with good reason; while favourable to the sweet wine regions of Bordeaux, the weather during 2007 made a it strong candidate for worst vintage of the 21st century. Ten years on, there is no doubt in my mind that 2013 now takes that crown, but 2007 would still be in the running for a podium finish.

As a consequence, I ended up with just three red wines from this vintage tucked away in my cellar. In fact, scratch that; to be precise it wasn’t just three wines, but three bottles. And two of those were gifts (the third I bought in an apparent moment of weakness). This means 2007 is, in terms of red wines at least, one of the most poorly represented Bordeaux vintages in my cellar in recent times (although the previous comment re 2013 would again be pertinent here). And I figured as this 2007 report kicks off, I might as well pull the corks on these three bottles. The first to meet its maker was the 2007 Château Bourgneuf, which wasn’t a bad effort for the vintage. This most recent Weekend Wine is the second. The third is for another day.

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2007

This wine probably needs no introduction to seasoned Bordeaux drinkers, and I suspect quite a few unseasoned ones as well. Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is the second wine of Château Haut-Brion. Under the old name, which was Bahans Haut-Brion, I frequently found it a reliable and enjoyable wine, with particularly fond memories of the 1996, and the 2002 (from another ‘lesser’ vintage) wasn’t half bad either. From the 2007 vintage it was rechristened Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, in honour of Clarence Dillon, onetime proprietor of the estate. The blend varies greatly depending on the year, with the proportion of Merlot (which plays a much greater role here in Pessac-Léognan than it does in the Médoc) ranging from approximately one-third (as in 2011) up to two-thirds (as in 2012). The balance is made up by both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as determined by the vintage, the very best quality going into the grand vin of course.

The 2007 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is a blend of 51% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, and it will have seen an élevage in 30% new oak (this is usually the case, anyway). It took 36% of the crop, whereas the grand vin took 43%, implying 21% was channelled elsewhere (such as Clarendelle, the estate’s generic Bordeaux blend). In the glass it has a delightfully dark hue, a dusty red, and it is certainly not suggestive of maturity, although it is lighter and fairly translucent in keeping with the character of the vintage. The nose is savoury, opening out to show crunchy red cherry notes and currants, along with a little minerally blood-and-beef-juice character. More importantly, there is nothing too green, just a touch of green peppercorn, and mint, but it is subtle, and does little to indicate the difficulties of the vintage, which suffered with mildew, oidium and rot. The palate is certainly leaner than most vintages I have tasted, but there is some texture to it, as well as a nearly-resolved backbone of polished and lightly bitter tannins. There is a little herbaceous note here, running through the middle and finish, but it feels fresh and balanced rather then problematic. Overall, it has good character, if not great weight or presence, but there is no denying this is an impressive second wine for the vintage. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (28/8/17)

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