Those who battled the biting conditions to make it to the Chateau Lynch-Bages event in the Grainstore in Ballymaloe on Sunday were treated to a truly memorable tasting conducted by Jean-Charles Cazes, head of the Cazes family vineyards.
This event was eagerly awaited since its announcement in early December – it’s not every day you get to rub shoulders with wine royalty or taste wines of such high pedigree. The fact that this was part of the Wine Geese calendar of events made it even more special. A group of winegrowers from Sonoma and Napa, in Ireland for a “Gathering” event of their own, evidently viewed this as a gathering that needed to be added to their itinerary. They were clearly delighted they made the trip.
Jean-Charles proved a worthy Wine Geese representative. He may have been a little disappointed after the unsettled Six Nations duel between “les bleus” and ‘les verts” the previous day, and no doubt a little tired after the post-match revelries, but his demeanour betrayed none of this – he was effortlessly professional, warm and, above all, humorous. Sporting a red and navy striped tie with the famous Wine Geese logo, he cut a striking figure in an exquisitely tailored navy suit.
Proceedings got underway with Michel Lynch Blanc 2011, which was served on arrival. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, this is an easy-drinking wine with ‘crisp’ acidity, light straw in colour with aromas of green apple and cut grass and a palate brimming with grapefruit, melon and lime. Our host informed us that the grapes for this wine come mostly from the Graves and Entre-deux-Mers regions in the south of Bordeaux and that it was named after the man who founded the current Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chevalier Michel Lynch, whose family arrived in Bordeaux from Galway in the 17th century. Michel was a passionate winegrower and the man largely responsible for introducing the practice of de-stemming. Michel was also the mayor of Pauillac during the French Revolution.
Next, Chateau Villa Bel-Air Blanc, a wine made on the Graves estate purchased by the Cazes family in 1988. Chateau Villa Bel-Air is located in the southern part of Graves and boasts a magnificent Chartreuse house reminiscent of an Italian villa. Upon taking over the estate, the family replanted the vineyards to breathe new life into them. And this wine was testament to those efforts – vibrant and fresh. Another Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, this one is barrel-fermented giving it a rich, creamy texture with a waxy lemony feel.
The next two wines were the red counterparts of the first two whites: Michel Lynch Rouge 2010 made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the best terroirs in Bordeaux under the supervision of the technical team of Chateau Lynch Bages. Deep ruby in colour with aromas of forest fruits, blackcurrants and damsons and a hint of sweet spice. As Jean-Charles so eloquently put it, this was definitely a “glug-glug wine”.
This whet the palate nicely for the next red: Chateau Villa Bel-Air Rouge 2010– an elegant wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and carefully aged in oak barrels for 12-15 months. Rich and smooth with blackcurrant and red plum fruit and a velvety texture – drinking well now, but with the potential to age for 3-4 years.
Jean-Cazes was a lively narrator, entertaining us with anecdotes from Chateau Lynch-Bages’ long history. The estate was not always known by that name. For a while the wines were sold under the name of Jurine Bages, which had unsavoury connotations. The Chateau Lynch-Bages name was wisely restored by the Cayrou brothers who bought the property in 1862 – a wise marketing move! In the 1930s, they leased the vineyard to Jean-Charles Cazes (our host’s great grandfather and namesake), who was in charge of Château Ormes de Pez in St. Estèphe. Jean-Charles Cazes went on to purchase both properties on the eve of the Second World War and the Lynch-Bages estate has been run by the Cazes family ever since.
The penultimate wine was labeled “Pauillac de Lynch-Bages” after the Haut-Medoc town where the family is based, located between St Estephe and Saint-Julien. A delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the Chateau’s younger vines. This is the estate’s third wine but is given the same care and attention as the first and second wines. Deep in colour, the wine is elegant and fresh with ripe red fruits, some sweet spice and a velvety mouth-feel.
Finally, onto the pièce de résistance – Chateau Lynch-Bages 2004. Jean-Charles informed us that we would have to address any complaints about this wine to his father Jean-Michel as it was one of the last vintages made with Jean-Michel Cazes at the helm. Jean-Charles took over from his father 2 years later in 2006.
Although he grew up in Pauillac surrounded by wine, it wasn’t until his late 20’s, that he really got into the industry, having studied economics and finance at the University of Bordeaux and spent some time working abroad. He joined the wine distribution company J.M Cazes-Sélection in 2001, taking over the valuable baton as CEO of all the Cazes vineyards in 2006. Aside from the other Bordeaux estates, the family also has properties in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the Languedoc, as well being involved in a number of collaborations in the Duoro (where Jean-Charles’ mother is from) and in the Adelaide Hills with Brian Crosier and Bollinger.
And as for the wine – not sure I can find words to do it justice: a beautiful nose with cedar, leather and dark fruit and a palate that’s rich, complex and pungent with sweet blackcurrant, dried herbs and ripe mouth-filling tannins. And as for the length – 2 days on and I’m sure I can still taste it! It’s been waiting silently since 2004 for its moment of glory and it certainly did not disappoint, although I’ve no doubt that holding onto it for another few years would do no harm.
All too often the greater we anticipate something, the greater our disappointment, as expectations can be disproportionate. I’m glad to say that this was not the case with Jean-Charles and his wines. He’s clearly a very busy man, so we were privileged to have been given a little of his time. Without doubt, this was one of the highlights of the Wine Geese Calendar!
We would like to thank Barry & Fitzwilliam for co-ordinating Jean-Charles’ visit and providing the wines and to Ballymaloe for orgnaising yet another professional tasting in the Grainstore.