CH MONTROSE, 1966 – 2010
Hugh Johnson, 1966: For Montrose I have a special weakness. … it is one of the distinguishing marks of the wines that deserve to be called great that they impress you with a personality …
Clive Coates, 2004, on Ch Montrose: The wine is quite different either from Cos d’Estournel and from Calon-Ségur. What we have here is a clear-cut almost Pauillac-y Cabernet-based core to the wine, supported by quite a bit of tannin.
James Molesworth, Wine Spectator, 2012: I adore the austere style of Montrose. It's a throwback wine, that rewards aging and patience. It's become a terrific contrast with the blazing modernity of Cos-d'Estournel, just about a mile away.
Lately, it has been fashionable to somewhat downplay the skills and role of Robert Parker in wine evaluation, even during his finest years approximately 1983 to 2014. But with the death of Michael Broadbent in 2020, and notwithstanding the emergence of Jane Anson domiciled in Bordeaux, the conclusion emerges that Robert Parker has tasted and thoroughly documented more bordeaux reds and in particular more fine bordeaux than any other person. Even the most cursory examination of the main wine websites (assuming membership) confirms that.
Accordingly, Robert Parker’s views expressed in 2014, after experiencing a condensed vertical tasting of Ch Montrose spanning 1920 to 2010 at the chateau itself, can be taken as a definitive scene-setter for the present tasting.
Château Montrose is a wine that has always possessed first-growth potential. It has one of the most glorious expositions/terroirs in all of Bordeaux, with a view of the Gironde River (and, unusual for Bordeaux, one single block of vines totaling 235 acres).
As of 2014, the vineyard is now 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The average age of the 9,000 vines per hectare is about 41 years. The overall strategy of replanting is to try to keep the average age of the vineyard in excess of 40 years.
This vertical tasting has allowed me to look at some of my favorite wines that I have rated very highly over the years. As long-time readers would know, the 1989, 1990, 1996, 2003, 2009 and 2010 are to me as profound as Bordeaux wine can be.
Conclusions from the tasting:
Chateau Montrose 1966 to 2010 … an interval of 45 vintages … and for participants the opportunity to taste 12 vintages of the one chateau, over the changing years. The youngest wine, the 2010, met the English dictum that it is a sin against the spirit of the bottle, to taste good bordeaux before its tenth birthday. In the case of the 2010, that marker should be the twentieth. And at the other end of the sequence, the 1966 opened perfectly, to gradually reveal a wine from another era, and in a totally different style from today's wines.
With the year-on-year increase in the release price of Ch Montrose recently, and thus the cost of replacing these bottles at this year's (or last) en primeur price, this tasting was the most expensive ever offered in my Library Tasting series. Taste 12 vintages spanning 45 years for roughly two-thirds the cost of one bottle of the latest vintage, en primeur. Nonetheless, it sold out in less than an hour. This reflects an interest in wine which is affirming for the organiser, but a pleasure offset to a degree on the day of the tasting, by the worry that in the line-up, a key vintage might be lost to TCA / cork-taint. And in the case of the highly regarded but contentious 1990, would this bottle be one of the brett-struck ones?
In the event, at the point of decanting, all wines seemed sound and pleasing – long odds, to win 12 out of 12 ... including wines from the depths of the acute TCA phase, that is the late 1980s to the early 2000s. By the time of the tasting, two vintages did show the faintest TCA ‘complexity’ rather than impairment – so slight only a few tasters recognised it.
The best of these Ch Montrose vintages, the 2010, 2009, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1990 and the 1982, showed a beauty and quality which both epitomised Ch Montrose the wine-style, but also illuminated the concept of fine high-cabernet sauvignon Medoc wines. They could therefore be considered as definitive examples, in their varying ways, of the cabernet / merlot wine-style. The fact that Robert Parker has allocated perfect scores to some of our wines very much underlines this conclusion. Tasting any Parker 100-point wine is rare, in New Zealand.
Thus, given the fact that two districts in the temperate New Zealand viticultural region are exceptionally well suited to producing world-class cabernet / merlot wines close in style to Bordeaux proper, the only disappointment of the whole exercise was that no New Zealand wine-makers specialising in cabernet / merlot wines thought it worth attending. How often in truth, can one taste even one Robert Parker (sensu stricto) 100-point wine ? In this tasting, there were three Parker 100-point wines, and one 99-point. Extraordinary. The point being, that nobody now alive has tasted more fine Bordeaux, and documented them so carefully, as Robert Parker. Therefore his thoughts on what constitutes a perfect cabernet / merlot wine (not the perfect wine, note) should be of compelling interest to any wine-maker actually seeking / striving to make great examples of this wine-style in New Zealand. Hawkes Bay cabernet / merlot wine-makers have therefore missed out on a singular and rare opportunity. To travel from Waiheke Island (the other conspicuously promising cabernet / merlot wine district in New Zealand) to Wellington is maybe a bit far and difficult, but Hawkes Bay to Wellington is manageable. Wellington wine people seriously interested in wine make the reverse trip.
It is not as if Hawkes Bay wine-makers have demonstrated that they know all there is to know about making world-class cabernet / merlot wines, by achieving 100-point ratings in respected overseas wine websites such as Parker’s. But in this stricture, I refer solely of Robert Parker himself, for his experience is now unmatched. In fact there are no 100-point New Zealand red wines at all on the Parker website … nor are there 99, 98 or 97-point New Zealand red wines. There is one 96-point New Zealand red wine, and 31 examples of 95-point ratings, but that 96-point rating comes not from Parker, but from one of his successors. It is a self-evident truth that wine-makers cannot consistently make better wines than they have both tasted, and understood. Hence the importance of tastings like this one. If New Zealand is to achieve export success and a world reputation for its fine wines, as opposed to its beverage wines, it is imperative winemakers have regard to world wine standards. In addition to the more obvious parameters of aroma and flavour, no concept is more important in that understanding than dry extract.
Likewise, by analogy, in wine-writing and judging, in New Zealand we have far too many wines assessed as being in the 95 and above, even 100 points, marks range. This is unrealistic. We must demonstrate that we understand world standards, in wine, if we are to be taken seriously. To merely satisfy the demonstrably more parochial standard of New Zealand wine evaluation runs the risk of us both being mocked, and the whole process of wine evaluation in this country being seen as a cynical marketing exercise. It is a pleasure therefore to note that one of New Zealand's most highly-qualified wine-writers and wine-judges did seize this opportunity to attend, and re-calibrate. As did another senior wine-judge ... a pinot noir wine-maker.
What better opportunity could there be to learn quickly, than by tasting not one but three Parker 100-point wines, plus a 99-point wine, in the context of 12 similar wines ? This kind of experience can ‘set’ the palate for years to follow. How clearly for example, do I recall the great 1959 Ch Montrose, now tasted some 35 years ago. But it was 1966 Ch Palmer, first tasted with 1966 Ch Montrose, that really calibrated my claret (or cabernet / merlot) palate, over 50 years ago. Such tasting experiences make one realise that in the making of truly world-class wines, winemaking competence is not enough. The Roseworthy wine school in Adelaide University (for example) routinely produces technically competent graduates each year. But understanding great wine requires so much more than noting aroma, flavour and acid balance: it requires the perception of style, body and beauty, and the recollection of fine wines actually experienced, as much or more than technical competence. What is more specifically required beyond competence is the passion in the individual wine-maker to learn as much about a chosen wine-style as is possible. In meeting that passion, travel from Hawkes Bay to Wellington should be insignificant.
Among New Zealand reds, it can be argued that wines such as Stonyridge Larose, Esk Valley The Terraces, Te Mata Coleraine, and certain pinot noirs of Felton Road and Valli have achieved their relatively higher standing because their makers are known to study good wine almost obsessively. But as the overseas marking record for New Zealand red wines hinted at above shows, so much more needs to be achieved. Tasting experience is much of the answer.
The top eight wines in this Ch Montrose review were all unequivocally gold medal level, by Australasian judging standards. Six is more the limit for the photo, however. All but one of these six wines had a fruit weight and dry extract scarcely known to most New Zealand red wine-makers. This is a key issue in New Zealand red wine evaluation which wine-makers, wine judges, and wine-writers need to be familiar with, if we are to more easily win exports in fine wine, as opposed to beverage wine. We must know what fine wine judged to international standards tastes like, if we are to avoid parochialism. For the wines shown, from the left, 1990 Ch Montrose is the most sought-after Montrose world-wide, with a wine-searcher value exceeding $1,000. The wine as a whole has a brett component, but only some bottles show it … cellaring conditions and temperatures incurred in the bottle’s life seem determining factors. We were lucky, our bottle being described as: ‘simply gorgeous’, 19 +. Next the 2000 Ch Montrose, this (with the 1982) being the wine closest in style to top New Zealand cabernet / merlot wines, beautifully fragrant, not quite so substantial, now at the 20-year point just starting to blossom, 19 +. Next the 2009 Ch Montrose, by far the weightiest and plushest wine, thought to be almost Napa Valley in style by some tasters, yet somehow retaining elements of Bordeaux magic, 19.5; Third from the right is 2003 Ch Montrose, a spectacular wine showing all the soft rich complexity of the 1990, but brett-free, a magical and seductive wine in a style as yet unknown in New Zealand, 19.5 +. To its right the stern 2005, displaying a crystalline purity and an intensely aromatic expression of the cabernet / merlot winestyle which is an absolute delight, even in its infancy, 19.5 +. Finally, to the right, the 2010 Ch Montrose, a wine of totally magisterial and benchmark quality, demonstrating a richness, berry complexity, aromatic quality and dry extract unknown in New Zealand, 20. Font>Ch Montrose the wine:
Ch Montrose is one of the famous Classed Second Growths of the 1855 Classification, located in Saint-Estephe, the northernmost famous commune in the Medoc. It shares that address with its great rival Cos d'Estournel, also a Second Growth, and lately, the upcoming Third Growth Ch Calon-Segur. With the acquisition of 22 ha of top-quality land from Ch Phelan-Segur in 2010 (at €900,000 / ha), the total area of the Ch Montrose estate now is 130 ha, with 95 ha (and all essentially in one block) under vines.
|The changing cepage of Ch Montrose over the last 50 years:|
|Author & Year|
|Edmund Penning-Rowsell, 1969|
|David Peppercorn, 1986|
|Robert Parker, 1991|
|Robert Parker, 2003|
|Stephen Brook, 2007|
|Jane Anson, 2020|
The style of the wine has changed in the last 50 years. Last century it was more cabernet sauvignon-led, and took many years to open up. This century the percentage of merlot is increasing, and the wine is becoming a little more accessible. The planting ratio in the vineyard now is of the order of CS 60%, Me 32, CF 6, PV 2, contrasting with the 1960s ratios more CS 70, Me 15, CF 10, PV 5. The changing ratios are tabulated above. Much has been made of this in discussion of the lightening-off of style that Ch Montrose underwent in most of the vintages 1978 to 1988 (as quoted by Robert Parker in a 1986 Ch Montrose review). It seems much more likely that this result was more a consequence of increased cropping rates and maybe shortened cuvaisons for that interval, since vintages such as 2009 and 2010 with the new varietal ratios are now considered to have returned to the earlier substantial style, though more accessible thanks to both more merlot and changes in winery practice. Actual cepage for any given year varies considerably with the season.
Planting density is 9,000 vines per hectare, with the goal of average vine age being close to 40 years. With new owners since 2006, there has been great renewal of both vineyard practices, and in the winery. The vineyard achieved full organic cultivation status by the close of 2019. This trend has been noted by Jane Anson in her 2020 book Inside Bordeaux, where she lists numerous Bordeaux proprietors as moving in this direction, and some even to full biodynamic viticulture. They include Chx Ausone, Gruaud-Larose, Latour, Palmer, and Pontet-Canet, for example.
The winery is said to aim for a cropping rate in the order of 41 – 42 hl/ha (5.3 t/ha = 2.15 t/ac to 5.45 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac) , but the actual rate varies from as little as 32 hl/ha (4.15 t/ha = 1.7 t/ac) in 2001 to 45 hl / ha (5.85 t/ha = 2.37 t/ac) in 2017. Green harvest was introduced in 2006, as a first step towards stabilising the cropping rate, and improving the wine.
Whereas 40 years ago up to perhaps 70 – 80% of the harvest was bottled as the grand vin, nowadays selection is much stricter. The winery goal now is 35 – 40% of production goes to the grand vin, though in exceptional years (for example 2009) this may increase. The grand vin is nearly always cabernet sauvignon-dominant, in some years even exceeding 70%. Cuvaison may be up to 25 days in some vintages. The press wines are kept separate, with the best used in the grand vin.
As to time in barrel, for our earlier vintages the grand vin spent up to 24 months in barrel, percentage new not known but likely less than today. Now, in good years the grand vin spends 18 – 19 months in barrel, up to 60% new. Barrels are racked traditionally, barrel to barrel, every three months. The second wine, La Dame de Montrose, initiated with the 1983 vintage, amounts to 40 – 45% of production. It is nearly always merlot-dominant, and spends 12 months in barrel, 30% new. A third wine was introduced at the 2008 vintage, initially called Le Saint Estephe de Montrose, since 2017 labelled Tertio de Montrose. It is also merlot-dominant, is more frankly a café wine, and spends 12 months in barrel, 15% new. Tertio is not made every year. Fruit from younger vines goes into these second and third labels, as well as allocation of barrels by taste.
In an article posted in 2013, wine-searcher reports that since their 2006 purchase of Ch Montrose, the Bouygues brothers have spent €55 million in upgrading the property. An immediate step was hiring (the late) Jean-Bernard Delmas, Technical Director of Ch Haut-Brion for 42 years. There is now enormous attention to detail, in the pursuit of quality. This starts in the vineyard, which has been mapped into 110 blocks defined by underlying geology, soil type, and grape variety. All fruit is hand-picked, by a team of 70 drawn for more than 40 years from one village in Spain. Delmas introduced sequential harvesting not only block by block, but variety by variety as each reaches optimum ripeness, and then cluster by cluster, so the same vine may be returned to several days apart. In the earlier Charmolue era, all varieties were picked at once. Actual sorting of the fruit for quality starts first in the vineyard, then at the winery there is hand-sorting of the bunches, then destemming, then optical sorting by berry, then finally hand-sorting of the berries. This level of detail, technical understanding, and individual approach, is one reason why the great wines of France are so great (and expensive).
Total production of Ch Montrose is shrouded in confusion. Each author seems authoritative, but on checking, scarcely any two authors agree. The winery does not make volumes clear. So one approach is to take the new total planted area of the vineyard, and multiply that by the rendement. Searching the Net closely, and calibrating results by the estimated reliability of the source, probably-reliable figures for the rendement at Ch Montrose can be found for 11 vintages from 1990 to 2020. They average 38.7 hl/ha (fractionally over 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac). So this is within cooee of the generally understood figure for the average rendement at the chateau at 41 hl/ha (5.3 t/ha = 2.15 t/ac) … particularly since figures are more likely to be reported when lower than average. While the winery website does not give a total volume harvested, they do advise that on average 35 – 40% of production goes to the grand vin, and 40 – 45% to La Dame. Putting together all the threads of evidence, noting that the volume produced each year varies considerably, and deducting a wastage factor in elevation, this gives an indicative average total annual production for Ch Montrose in its present augmented land-area of 95 ha as: Ch Montrose grand vin c.15,500 x 9-litre cases, La Dame de Montrose c.17,500 cases, Tertio de Montrose (if made) c.4,000 cases, with maybe c.5% of production sold off in bulk. These figures clearly vary greatly year by year … both the grand total and the percentage allocated to each label in any given year. For example, in the high-quality 2009 vintage, Jancis Robinson records that 72% of the total harvest ended up graded as the grand vin.
An indication of the retail price of Ch Montrose in the interval covered by this tasting is of interest. In 1970, the shelf price of 1966 Ch Montrose was $4.35. The landed price of the 2020 Ch Montrose (from one of the less-grasping New Zealand en-primeur merchants) will be $329.30. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Reserve Bank CPI calculator advises that an item which cost $4.35 in mid-1970 would in 2021 cost $70.70. These figures give an indication of the esteem in which Ch Montrose is held today.
What change we have seen surrounding Ch Montrose, and the wines of Saint-Estephe generally, in the last 50 years. Saint-Estephe being the northernmost of the famous Medoc addresses, it is also the coolest. In 1967 Andre Simon wrote: “Perhaps St Estephe, at the northern end of the Medoc, needs really ripe years to produce wines of top quality – then they can have richness, class and style, with a bouquet of great definition when mature.” Edmund Penning-Rowsell in 1969 gives the cepage in the postwar years as CS 70%, Me 15, CF 10, Pv 5. Such a high percentage of cabernet, which apart from petit verdot is the hardest of the main four to ripen, adds weight to that thought. Global warming is benefitting Saint-Estephe.
Speaking of Ch Montrose alone, David Peppercorn was able to write in 1982, that by virtue of having been owned by the Charmolue family since 1896: “This is probably the most traditionally-made wine among the classified growths, and the comparison with Latour does not end there. Here, there is also a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon; the wine is usually hard and tannic to start with and takes a long time to come round.” In 1991 Robert Parker in his defining book Bordeaux noted that as a consequence of that earlier reputation, there was a distinct lightening and softening of style from the mid-1970s through into the 1980s, with more merlot used in the blend. He also records that this was not well-received by Ch Montrose enthusiasts, and: “Since 1986, Ch Montrose appears to be returning to a more forceful, muscular style, reminiscent of pre-1975 vintages. Certainly the 1989 and 1990 vintages for Montrose produced true blockbuster wines not seen from this property since 1959.”
In Parker’s revised 2003 Edition of this marvellous book, he writes: “Since 1989, Montrose has been the most reliable St Estephe cru classé.” Naturally, that is debatable, Cos always having its protagonists. The cepage at Ch Montrose by then was more CS 65%, Me 25, CF 8, PV 2. Since then the ratio of merlot has further increased. And now, global warming has meant the wines of Saint-Estephe in general, and Ch Montrose in particular, have become better and better. This trend was much reinforced by the introduction of a second wine, La Dame de Montrose, in 1984. An indication of this trend is the current en primeur campaign, where at a time when the Bordelais are trying to restrain wine prices after the folly of the 2010 vintage en primeur campaign, many wines have been released at little more than the exceptionally attractive 2019 prices. Ch Montrose however has increased 24.5%.
Also, after more than 100 years at the helm, the Charmolue family sold Ch Montrose to the Bouygues business family in 2006. Since then there has been considerable investment, both in personnel and equipment. The cellar is no longer so traditional. Stainless steel now dominates, for fermentation vessels. The lift in quality has been dramatic, with today around 40% of the production being bottled as the grand vin … some 15,500 cases. In 1982 there were nearly 30,000 cases. This is another reason for Ch Montrose becoming considerably more expensive. Currently the trend is to organic and biodynamic viticulture.
This Library Tasting offers nearly all the well-regarded vintages of Ch Montrose in the 1966 to 2010 span, from the ‘classic’ English-style 1966, through to the American-styled 2009, and the definitive 2010. Only 1970 and 1989 are missing. In particular the tasting offers: the now somewhat fabled-year 1982 (though not a particularly great year for Montrose); the ‘famous’ (for various reasons) 1990, now at $1,023 the highest-priced Ch Montrose of all on wine-searcher, and repeatedly marked 100 points by Robert Parker; and the other-worldly 2003 marked 99 by Parker, and in my view the only Ch Montrose to compare with the magnificent 1959 (the greatest Ch Montrose I have tasted). For the young ones, there is the 2009, consistently a 100-point wine from the American reviewers, maybe just a bit big for the English, and the 2010, better liked by United Kingdom reviewers, and considered by the Chateau as one of the all-time defining wines for the Estate. Please note that for the 2003, I have taken out two bottles, so those attending are pretty well assured of tasting this great wine.
If the corks permit, the preferred line-up will be: 1966, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1986, 1990 thanks to Alan Evans, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010. Tasters have seen the 1978 and 1979 in recent Bordeaux tastings of those vintages. Reserve wines will be 1978, 1981, 2001. I am not aware of any tasting of Ch Montrose of this calibre ever having been offered in New Zealand.
Costing is problematic. Wine-searcher is unrealistic for New Zealand domestic values, being world-wide. That said, auction prices in New Zealand are remarkably firm. One fair approach seems to be to replace the 12 bottles at the current New Zealand en primeur offer price. Comment welcome.
Anson, Jane 2020: Inside Bordeaux: The Châteaux, Their Wines and the Terroir. Berry Bros. & Rudd Press, 670 pp.
Brook, Stephen 2007: The Complete Bordeaux. Mitchell Beazley, 720 p.
Coates Clive, 2004: The Wines of Bordeaux. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 720 p.
Parker, Robert 1991: Bordeaux. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1026 p.
Parker, Robert 2003: Bordeaux, Fourth Edition. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1244 p.
Penning-Rowsell, Edmund 1969, revised 1973: The Wines of Bordeaux. Penguin Books, 573 p.
Peppercorn, David 1982: Bordeaux. Faber & Faber, 424 p.
Peppercorn, David 1986: David Peppercorn’s Pocket Guide to the Wines of Bordeaux. Mitchell Beazley. 144 p.
Robinson, Jancis, Feb. 1920: My top-scoring 2010 red bordeaux. https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/bordeaux-better-ageing-selling
www.decanter.com = latterly, Jane Anson for Bordeaux, some free material on website, subscription needed for longer articles, and reviews
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW, some free articles, subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker and successors, for Bordeaux now Lisa Perrotti-Brown, vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
www.thewinecellarinsider.com = Jeff Leve, free access
https://vinous.com = Antonio Galloni and associates, now notably Neal Martin for Bordeaux. Introduction to articles free to mailing list, subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews.
THE WINES REVIEWED:
The first price given is the current wine-searcher value. An approximate indication of the original purchase price is in the text following, if clues are available. The wines have been cellared in Wellington since original purchase. The reserve wines for the tasting are shown at the end.
Wine descriptions and ratings:
The first point of call for information on Ch Montrose is the winery website, proper. The best starting point for the individual vintages is: www.chateau-montrose.com/en/sitemap … and having complied with the entry requirement, scroll down to “Vintages & Portfolio Items”.
For our wines, the winery website gives no cepage info for wines before 1986. From 1986 there is (delightfully for the taster) an actual cepage for each vintage. Understandably, the website tends to put a favourable interpretation on the annual variation in seasonal climate. A clue to the overall warmth of the ripening period can be gleaned from the span given for the harvest dates. They do list their impression of the year, and the wine, the latter not dated.
In the introduction to the vintages below, I have used Clive Coates (for a change), because he was at one point one of the better-known / more prolific English commentators. And he has tasted an enviable number of Bordeaux in sets, for vintage comparisons. I have also included Michael Broadbent’s views, up to his last great text Vintage Wine (2002), because of his earlier magisterial grip on the wines of Bordeaux, particularly. Both these authors cover only up to vintage 2000. To complete the Englishman’s approach to claret, I have included the views of Jancis Robinson (only), where available. But the bulk of the notes reflect the now-unparalleled Bordeaux experience of Robert Parker, because he has since 1980 lifted wine-writing to a new level of objectivity, authority and independence, and one geared more to the customer than the producer. He has now documented more individual Bordeaux wines in more detail than any other wine-writer. His stylistic preferences are well-known, but the key point is that Parker is thorough, and he is consistent, both attributes surprisingly rare in wine-writers. And, he has a realistic view of the ‘perfect’ wine, allowing there can be alternative interpretations of that concept. Parker’s 100 points is not some idealised and unreachable abstract notion of perfection: it is real, a wine which with some effort any keen wine person can taste. Therefore the careful reader can often glean a better personal interpretation of any given wine from Parker’s appraisal, than from any other one view. At the handout stage, for certain years where his notes offered more information, I have substituted the reviews of Neal Martin, for the phase he was with Parker, and therefore in a sense, fitting in with his style. But to achieve consistency, each wine introduction (the italicised ‘admin’ part) now includes Parker’s most recent view on the vintage in question.
2010 Ch Montrose|
2009 Ch Montrose
2005 Ch Montrose
2000 Ch Montrose
1996 Ch Montrose
1986 Ch Montrose
1982 Ch Montrose|
1976 Ch Montrose
1975 Ch Montrose
1966 Ch Montrose
1990 Ch Montrose
2003 Ch Montrose
Sitting down to this ‘all Ch Montrose’ blind tasting was such a treat. The vinosity and complexity of aroma wafting up from these 12 wines spanning 45 vintages was enchanting … beyond words. And look at the colours. There was no way you could tell, just visually, which was the oldest – what a thrill. How to sequence the wines, after the first taste at the decanting stage, was an exciting question. In presenting a tasting, I like my wine sequence to tell its own story, and illuminate the wines to the best advantage of the label. Since Ch Montrose has over the years evolved from a more aromatic cabernet-led wine into a more rounded though still firm wine, in which merlot speaks a little more loudly, I decided to make the front row, wines one to six, the more aromatic and obviously cabernet sauvignon-dominant wines, plus any lesser wines. The back row would be the more complex or complete wines. So wine one is the 1996, an absolutely vibrant wine expressing its crisp vintage superbly (18.5), but in the telling, a little too firm for some tasters, as the first wine on the palate. Next is the 1986, the tannins now softening (17.5 +) then what looks to be the oldest wine, the 1976. Taste suggested this was the least wine in the set (17), from which the wines then built up to the richer and more complex wines of the back row. Wine four is the famously tanniny 1975 vintage, still showing good colour and now softening (17.5 +), then the surprising 1966, the colour and flavour amazing for its age (17 +). This sequence ended with the also-tanniny 2005 vintage, the youthful vigour and power of the wine coming as a considerable shock in the line-up (19.5 +). The back row started with the more accessible 2000, looking a delight and re-defining for tasters the essential Ch Montrose style (19 +). Next to it the magnificent 2010, the kind of wine which can serve as a benchmark, and life-long measuring-rod in any focussed taster's palate education (20). Why did I put it there, you might ask. Because the remaining four wines had one thread in common, all being rounder wines, more merlot-influenced, and they formed a sequence from the plush, youthful, and so-rich 2009 at position nine (19.5), through the magical like-velvet 2003 (19.5 +), the complex 1990 similar in style but contentious for some due to academic brett (19 +, see review), and finally the fully mature and rounded 1982 (18.5 +). Examples of this great vintage are not now commonly seen in New Zealand, and in one sense it seemed appropriate to have it last. In the event, its beauty and complexity seemed a little subtle, after the wines that had gone before, but the wine still earned a good rating. Clearly there are many ways in which a tasting like this can be sequenced. The goal here was to achieve a better feeling for Ch Montrose the wine as a concept and sensory experience, rather than by for example starting with the inaccessible youngest, and ending on the perhaps disappointing oldest. For me, this was one of the great tastings of my wine life. Font>
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the second deepest wine. Bouquet on the 2010 Ch Montrose is reticent at first, but over 24 and 48 hours it expands considerably, to reveal a relatively aromatic and cassisy aroma with great berry hinting at blackberries in the sun, darkly plummy depths, dark tobacco and cedary notes, yet also excitement and dark roses / violets floral lift. It is in the style of the 2005, 1996, 1975 and 1966, but richer, riper, and more ample than all those, the 2005 closest. Palate continues this seamless amalgam of magnificent pure aroma, subtle oak, and rich berry, more plummy again now as well as cassisy, the merlot coming to the fore. With the 2009, this wine shows a concentration of berry, a weight of body, and a dry extract which are off the scale, yet there is no hint of over-ripeness, heaviness, or dullness. In short, it seems a perfect young Montrose, though reflecting a higher merlot percentage than I grew up with. This is a wine which all New Zealand wine-makers aspiring to make world-class cabernet / merlot should be familiar with. Likewise, those in New Zealand who write about wine, and judge it, also need to be tasting wines of this calibre, so that our results maintain some reality by international standards / do not become too frankly parochial or commercial. There was not the slightest doubt in tasters' minds either: seven (out of 21) votes for first place, and another seven votes for second-favourite. No hint of technical defect crossed anyone's mind. You can see why the Chateau regards this 2010 as the definitive modern example of Ch Montrose: it contains the most exciting features of all the other 11 wines, in a presentation / dry extract comparable only with the slightly over-ripe 2009. A tragedy the chateau did not use 55 or 54 mm corks, for this is a 70 – 90-year wine. GK 07/21
Ruby, still some carmine, and velvet, the third-deepest wine. This is another wine that opened up dramatically over the 24 and 48-hour interval. It gradually reveals components in the style of the 2010, but more aromatic and zingy, with the cassis characteristic of cabernet sauvignon very evident in the cedary complexity. In the set it is therefore related to the 1996, 1986, 1975 and 1966 in style, but is markedly richer, and better fruited, the darkly plummy higher proportion of merlot filling out the palate nicely. The wine is still essentially primary, but the tannins are starting to soften. It sits with the 2010 beautifully, shares some of its floral complexity, and defines the concept cassis on bouquet even more perfectly, but is not so dramatically rich. Nonetheless, there is a crystalline purity to this wine, and it is still richer than virtually all good New Zealand examples of the cabernet / merlot wine-style, so thus has much to teach us. This 2005 was well-liked, with three first places, and four second-favourite. Though not quite as rich as the 2010, it is technically pure, and will cellar beautifully for another 40 years. On the qualities showing today, some of Parker’s marks for the 2005 seem a little conservative. GK 07/21
Ruby and velvet, just above midway in depth. Bouquet is quite different from any other in the set, though in its complex, fragrant, rich, nearly sultry complexity it shares something with the 1990, but here all a little crisper, purer, and more aromatic. It is the volume of ripe darkly plummy berry plus cassis and fragrant cigar leaf-tobacco, all wrapped up in slightly spicy and cedary oak, that is captivating in this 2003. It is beyond words. The palate is velvety, no other word for it, yet not as plush as the 2009. There is just a hint of leafy tobacco-y complexity in the berry that is refreshing and distinctive, but there is virtually no hint of over-ripeness, just the epitome of bordeaux complexity in a ripe year. It is much more ‘straight’ than the 1990: it takes me back to the equally magical 1959. The fusion of all the bordeaux sensory elements in this wine is extraordinary – so different and more complex and subtle than the berry plus oak plus all too often pH control of even the richest Australian cabernet / merlot. This wine was well received, with three first places, three second places, and no hint of technical defect seen. In one sense this wine is forward in its development, compared with classical Ch Montrose, with already some suggestions of tertiary components. It will cellar for 30 years all the same. GK 07/21
Ruby, carmine and velvet, impenetrably deep, clearly the richest and deepest wine, magnificent. The bouquet is almost as rich and velvety, absolutely plush dusky berry inclining more to blackberry and the darkly plummy, almost suggesting merlot dominance, the cassisy cabernet component losing some aromatics in this warmer year. It is somewhat more Napa Valley cabernet / merlot wine in style, alongside the 2010 and particularly the 2005. Yet the wine is still fragrant, and nearly floral in a dusky, darkest roses way, so there is still much to please the classical claret lover. Palate follows naturally from the bouquet, but this is the only wine in the set where there is a hint of a higher alcohol level coming through, making the oak more noticeable. This wine and the 1996 represent the two ends of a desirable Ch Montrose character-spread, the 1996 intensely aromatic and leaner, the 2009 almost roly-poly in comparison. The style has its appeal, three first places, four second-favourites, but one taster rated it their least of the set. Too big for that taster – interesting ! Conversely, were this a San Francisco-based tasting, the 2009 would probably be the undoubted top wine. The dry extract in this wine is colossal, way over 30 g/L … I am sure. It was seen as technically pure. Cellar 50 years at least, but again, how you wish for 54 / 55 mm corks. GK 07/21
Bright ruby and some velvet, a classic claret colour at 20 years, above midway in depth. Bouquet is quite different from the younger wines, this 2000 suddenly having spread its wings, with secondary and even hints of tertiary aromas apparent in the cassis, blackberry and darkly plummy aromatic berry complexity. This impression of harmony and complexity is greatly reinforced in mouth, the firmer aromatic cassis component now melding with softer merlot and dark tobacco, to produce a classic claret, fragrant, complex, sufficiently rich to be exemplary by last century standards, but a little lighter than the modern top wines. In this set, its absolute style-mate is the 1982. This is the complete ‘textbook’ claret, the balance of berry and oak perfect, the wine just starting on its plateau of maturity. Being a little more modest than the contemporary wines, only two top places, and two second. But the charm and balance of this 2000 is now ready to provide tasters with a great deal of pleasure at table. Cellar 20 – 30 years. GK 07/21
Ruby and velvet, not so much older than the 2000, but lighter in overall depth, below midway. Bouquet here is related to the 2003, with a great volume of soft aromas even more complex and integrated and tertiary than that wine. The amount of complex berry with brown cigar leaf-tobacco, brown mushrooms, and thoughts of truffles and spices is captivating – another wine to defy description in mere words. The most experienced bordeaux taster in the room summed it up as ‘simply gorgeous’. My reaction to the wine was one of delight, my previous bottle of 1990 Ch Montrose having shown quite a baked character, more as hinted at by the chateau's ‘empyreumatic’ descriptor. Careful tasters did find some signs of brett complexity in this wonderful bouquet, but it simply has to be said, like the 1989 Ch de Beaucastel, the total beauty of the wine on bouquet and its velvety palate overwhelms the technical detail. Palate is immediately closer to the 2003 than any other wine, and yes, on the late palate, perhaps you can see it is not quite ideally technically pure – a little too exotic and spicy. Six tasters rated the 1990 their top wine of the evening, and two more their second-favourite. Conversely, four had it as their least wine, with nine tasters recording brett. Interesting and divisive wine, in which those preoccupied with the detail of technology, pH and the like simply cannot recognise the total beauty and achievement of the whole wine. To an average palate, or even a fairly experienced one, there is very little sign of objectionable brett character in this bottle. But as is obvious from the Net, other bottles are totally different … as is always the case with brett-affected wines. We were lucky. Future cellar life is a gamble with any wine containing brett, but there is the richness of fruit here for good bottles to last many years yet. Just luck from now on. GK 07/21
Ruby, some garnet and velvet, but (surprisingly) not so very much older in appearance than the 2000, below midway in depth. One sniff, and this wine, like the 2000, bespeaks complete harmony, balance and maturity in the claret / Médoc wine-style. Though cabernet was high in that era, being a warmer year this wine is not notably aromatic, but it is beautifully fragrant, nearly floral in a fading red roses and violets way, with lovely mature berry browning a little now, allowing the cedar to peep through. Palate is supple, harmonious and round, smaller in scale as befits its era, but simply a delight – so smooth. And you can still taste the cabernet. It is exactly the 2000, nearly 20 years later: phenomenal. This is much the best bottle of 1982 Montrose I have tasted, from my case. This wine showed such harmony, that I placed it as wine 12, the final three wines in the presentation being the softer and more fragrant 2003, 1990, and 1982, in that order. After the bigger wines which had come before, it was a challenge to see its absolute virtues, despite the lead-in wines. So while there were no first-place votes, it was a pleasure to record six second-place votes. Fully and beautifully mature, but I imagine past midway on its plateau of maturity. This wine will decline gracefully for 5 – 15 years yet. An attractive example of a 1982 Medoc. GK 07/21
Ruby, some velvet, midway in depth. This is the most cassisy, aromatic, and clearly cabernet-led wine in the set, partly because it is relatively younger and still shows some primary berry characters. And, at 76% cabernet sauvignon, it is in fact the highest ratio of cabernet sauvignon. The bouquet has a refreshing and sublimely aromatic quality to it, which it shares to a degree with the 2005, 1986, 1975, and particularly the 1966, though the latter three are clearly older. It is the aromatics of cabernet sauvignon showing through. Apart from cassis and browning cassis, browning tobacco-leaf and some plummy aromas mingle with cedary oak. Palate is very much last-century, a leaner and firmer wine, with very fine-grained tannins reminding me clearly of the 1966 when it was young – a palate-setting wine for me which I was proud to own a box of. Acid is more apparent too. Being so aromatic, 1996 Montrose was set as the first wine in the set of 12, to show the former cabernet sauvignon-led style that Ch Montrose displayed last century. The combination of higher acid and being first wine on the palate, meant there were no first or second places, and one least. So in a sense the wine was slightly overlooked / suffered from its placing. It is a surprise (to me) that Robert Parker has always rated this 1996 so highly, in the sense the size and acid balance of the wine is much more in the ‘Englishman's claret’ mould. But it is textbook cabernet sauvignon. It sits happily with the 1986, the 1975, and the 1966 once breathed. This will cellar for another 15 – 25 years, in its style, ending up much where the 1966 is now. GK 07/21
Ruby and garnet, midway in depth. Bouquet is clearly cassisy berry browning now, fragrantly cedary, and very much in the style of last century Montrose – on average. There is an attractive nose-clearing aromatic and piquant quality to the cedar / brown tobacco side of the bouquet. Palate is fragrant and tending lean, a slightly oaky balance of cassisy berry and new oak hinting at a New World wine (for a moment), good acid balance, and considerable length for a standard-sized wine. The ‘famous’ 1986 tannins are now softened and palatable, but the wine still sits with the 1966, 1975 and 1996 as a cabernet-led Montrose. No top places, but one second-favourite vote. Though not apparent at decanting, trace TCA / corked character was just detectable by the time of the tasting. Seven tasters noticed it. It cleared away totally very early in the writing-up phase. In a sense the 1986 is now fully mature, and past the middle of its plateau of maturity. It will fade gracefully, with good acid balance, for another 10 – 20 years. GK 07/21
Garnet and ruby, older than the 1986, yet redder than the 1976, the second lightest wine. Bouquet is fragrant, gentle, cedary browning cassis and brown tobacco all very fused and together, exactly what you would hope from 45-year-old claret. Given the reputation of the 1975s, and this lovely aroma, you taste it with interest. And like the 1986, what a pleasure to find the tannins nearly fully resolved, fine-grained and velvety, all part of an attractively-balanced but lean wine. This 1975 too had developed a light TCA / corked suggestion noticeable more on palate than bouquet, but very faint and again identified by only five tasters. Nonetheless it detracted, and seven people ranked the 1975 as their least wine. Over the following 24 and 48 hours, the wine cleaned up beautifully. This 1975 is at the far side of its plateau of optimum maturity, but there is no hurry. It will fade agreeably for 5 – 10 years yet. All such comments in this report refer to a very cool and equable Wellington-latitude cellar. GK 07/21
Ruby and garnet, younger in hue than the 1975 and 1976, the third to lightest wine. Those who say that old wines don't benefit from breathing, simply don't drink enough claret. This 1966 was quite shy the first day, but over the 24 and 48-hour interval it simply blossomed. Much more often than not, this has been my experience with good old bordeaux. It gradually re-acquired the high-cabernet, aromatic quality of bouquet it showed when young, very like the 1996 now, but in the 1966 now naturally all much browner. Palate retains that measure of curranty austerity and hint of acid that characterised so many 1966s, but by the end of the second day it had become a lovely, cedary, crisp example of old claret – real Englishman's claret, with surprising berry weight and freshness. None of the plushness of some vintages in the current century, though. At the tasting, only a few hours after decanting, tasters found the 1966 hard to interpret, no top places, but one second-favourite. That was offset by six least places. Five tasters thought there might be trace brett, but if so it is at a level so vanishingly light that it is hard to be sure, the aromas and flavours being so similar to the cedary old tannins which are noticeable in this firm, slightly acid wine. At 55 years, a pretty good bottle, helped by corks then being 54 mm. The wine is fading now. GK 07/21
Garnet and ruby, the lightest wine, but still a good mature claret colour. Bouquet is quite different from the 1966, 1975, 1986, and 1996, in this hotter year the cabernet having lost its aromatic intensity. Bouquet is much more a browning tobacco-y merlot / cabernet blend, browning dark plums and some soft cedar, and tertiary mushroomy aromas. Palate is lighter and less concentrated than the other last-century wines, the berry well-browning, the fruit fading, but still some body and tannins. It is clearly claret, and would be harmonious and pleasant with a meal, but it could be marked a little lower ... were one feeling critical. A fairly anonymous wine for tasters, no first or second places, two least places. A wine a little beyond its plateau of maturity, in terms of fruit, but fading gracefully. Time to finish it up. GK 07/21
2001 Ch Montrose Saint-Estephe Second Growth, Bordeaux, France
12.5%; $223 cork; original price c.$110; cepage then approx. CS 65%, Me 25, CF 8, PV 2, planted at 9,000 vines / ha; c.18 months in barrel, % new likely increasing towards the modern 60%; Montrose website: Vintage: Sept. 24 – Oct. 9; … by the harvest season, the grapes were in good condition. The wines were very fat, with an exceptional density and viscosity predicting a great potential of ageing. Wine: The nose hints black fruit and wood. Massively full-bodied, the wine was elegant with a long finish; R. Parker, 2002: backward, tannic, and impressively concentrated. The wine possesses good freshness, full body, high tannin, low acidity, admirable extract, and loads of creme de cassis fruit intermixed with chocolate, liquid minerals, and earth. There is more noticeable tannin than in the blockbuster 2000. The 2001 will require a decade of cellaring to shed its tannic clout, 2012 – 2030, 90 – 91.
1981 Ch Montrose Saint-Estephe Second Growth, Bordeaux, France
– %; $231 cork; original price c.$40; cepage then approx. CS 70%, Me 15, CF 10, PV 5, planted at 9,000 vines / ha; c.18 months in barrel, % new then unknown, less than now (60%); Montrose website: not on website, so must be modest; R. Parker, 1998: ... is fully mature, but seems to lack the necessary concentration and richness to last very long, 84.
1978 Ch Montrose Saint-Estephe Second Growth, Bordeaux, France
– %; $231 cork; original price c.$23; cepage then approx. CS 70%, Me 15, CF 10, PV 5, planted at 9,000 vines / ha; up to 24 months in barrel, % new then unknown, less than now (60%); Montrose website: Vintage: Oct. 3 – Oct. 17; … a cloudy sky with fresh temperatures for the season settled till September 10th. Then the sunny weather came back nonstop till the harvest, allowing the grapes to ripen in good conditions. Wine: Fresh nose with slightly sour fruits (plum) and leather. The wine is fine, light with a slight acidity. ... The finish is a little short with a little bitterness. R. Parker, 1998: Similar to the 1979, although deeper in color, this restrained, tannic wine displays good ripe fruit, a stylish, medium-weight texture, yet lacks character, complexity, and richness. This vintage marked the beginning of the new lighter-styled Montrose. Anticipated maturity: Now, 84.