July seems to have consisted so far of very little Bordeaux wine, as I have spent a week at the beach at Cap Ferret, and most consumption has been of Provence roses (Chateau Pibarnon from Bandol I was pleased to know makes just as good a rose as it does red), and Loire whites.
But I am now getting round to writing up a few recent tastings I have done, and one of the most enjoyable was at Chateau Raymond Lafon in Sauternes towards the end of June. This is a property that I have long championed, and is so much the 'insider's choice' of Sauternes wines that I am constantly amazed they are not beating clients away from their doors. But it is not classified (because its vines had only been planted for five years 1855) and is therefore not included in the UGC en primeur tastings - perhaps this is why itis sometimes missed out in roundups of the appellation. The wines are also aged for three years in barrel instead of the more usual two, which can make commercial purchase decisions a little tougher from the buyers' side; I was not entirely surprised to learn that from this year they are planning to bring it down to two (as Yquem also did a few years ago).
Today Raymond Lafon (I know I've said it before, but this is just a great name, should be a seedy Soho strip club and screams decadence) is owned by the Meslier family and is run by brothers Jean-Pierre and Charles-Henri, and their sister Marie-Francoise. Their father Pierre was cellar master at Chateau d'Yquem for most of his career, and this vineyard overlooks the vines of Yquem.
I met up with Jean-Pierre, who used to live in Napa but has been back working with his family for almost a decade now. He still speaks perfect English and is an enormously warm and welcoming host. They have received a publicity boost this year - as their fellow Sauternes properties took the opportunity of the great 2009 vintage to raise their prices, Jean-Pierre came out at just over 22 euros, a drop of 12% on the 2008 price and of 24% on the 2005 price. And for a wine which was one of the best I tasted from the appellation. I asked him if he regretted it now, 'No. Whatever people might pretend, there is still a recession on. And we are not owned by a big corporation, so can not afford to wait a few years to sll our wine, we need to put bread on the table now. We will keep some back for later sale, but we hope that even if we could have got more per bottle, this will help us gain market share.'
I tasted a barrel sample of the 09, plus a vertical down to the 01.
My notes (in the order they were tasted, which was :
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2009 - A lovely pale gold but still vibrant glow, with lovely fresh acidity but still oozing with sweetness. 70% of the harvest will go into Raymond Lafon this year, a very high percentage (the rest goes into Les Jeunes Pousses de Raymond Lafon, the second wine). 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon, with 50% new oak. After 30 minutes in the glass, I retasted, and it had exploded in taste and complexity - easily one of the most balanced Sauternes that I have tasted this vintage. 95-96.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2008 - The sugar is more prevalent here, don't quite get the same bite on the finish. The frost was not so bad at this property as elsewhere in Sauternes, so they lost just 50% of their crop (compared to La Tour Blanche, for example, which lost nearly everything). 90.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2007 - Due to be bottled in a few months (and Jean Pierre believes it often takes a further year after bottling for his wines to really start expressing their full potential). This is beautiful. Soft but determined and incredibly well defined. Lemon and lime gently playing with your tongue, absolutely delicious wine. 95.
Chateau Ramond Lafon 2004 - The colour is getting richer as the wine ages. This was a difficult vintage, with rain and sun during harvest and again lost around 50% of the crop. A good wine though, with an attacative sour note, a thick-cut marmalade served on brioche! Again, it is the length that is so inpressive with these wine. 92.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2006 - Very deep in colour, the richest of the line-up. Botrytis was particularly rich this year for Raymond Lafon, and the texture looks viscous and clings to the glass. They harvested around two weeks later than many of their neighbours, and so lost some volume but gained in botrytis richnes. A grogeous concentration and is very silky and textured. it's a rich one, so not my personal favourite, but very impressive. 93-94.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2002 - A cool summer with even maturing. Aromas and acidity are good -in fact acidity soars in places (4.5 instead of the more typical 3.5). This is delicate, really a pleasure and again has that playful feeling that makes you want to linger over the glass and enjoy the subtleties. Maybe not one for did-hard Sauternes fans, but a great wine to convince sceptics that there is more to this area that 'luscious syrup'. 93-94.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2005 - Quality and quantity in this vintage - double the normal production with wonderfully healthy grapes. This is a classic Sauternes (in fact a classic Raymond Lafon, because it has the sweetness and exuberance of Sauternes but never loses the twist of definition that comes with clean acidity). Very good - but perhaps surprisingly not my stand-out wine of the line up. 93.
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2001 - A classic, much lauded year for Sauternes. This has fabulous russety colours tinged with apricot, and is so soft, with gentle flavours that float along your palate. Not all all intrusive and yet all-envoloping. Truffles are just starting to form on the palate, but grapefruit and candied lemon are still paramount. Mmmm! 95+
Chateau Raymond Lafon 2003 - Of course left to the end, because this is the humdinger of residual sugar (at 177 g/l compared to a usual 135 g/l - only 1893 had similar levels apparently!). Had to pick as quickly as possible before acidity disappeared completely. Many were not fully botrytised but had such high sugar that they had to rush. This is caramel, toffee, some liquorice. So different from the others here. Far lower acidty of course (although still was 3.3 but hard to tell). Wonderful richness, truly dessert in a glass. 91.