THE WINE DOCTOR: 2015 En Primeur Review

April 18th, 2016 @ 12:21pm Jonathan Maltus En Primeur 2015, TheWineDoctor, EnPrimeur

In Saint Emilion only Ausone was higher than Vieux Chateau Mazerat, which was on the same points as Cheval Blanc, Tertre Roteboeuf, La Mondotte, and Pavie Macquin.

Challenging the supremacy of François Mitjavile on these pages is Jonathan Maltus. His wines are of a very different style, but they are certainly of comparable quality, and what is more he offers not one or two or three wines, but several times that number. And two of them are of supreme, 'great vintage' quality.

"We had a good flowering", said Jonathan as we sat down to taste his 2015s, "with a hot June and July, weather that suits clay over limestone, followed by the rain in August which we needed. The rain in September was not aggressive in any way. We started picking on September 21st, and stopped on October 15th. The single vineyards we started on October 2nd, with most of the Merlot there coming in between October 2nd and the 6th, and the Cabernet Franc we picked on the 12th and 13th". Noting that Jonathan picked much of the fruit for his single-vineyard cuvées well into October, I asked if he was troubled by the later rains. "We didn't have a problem with the rain. I recall employees drove in from Bordeaux to work and reported storms and showers of hail, and yet here in St Emilion it was sunny".


The portfolio opens with Château Teyssier, a good large-volume cuvée, followed by an impressive Château Laforge, a wine from a blend of all three St Emilion terroirs. It was with the single-vineyard wines that things got really interesting though. First, joining Le Carré and Les Astéries there is a third cuvée from the plateau, Le Pontet. With a moderate depth of clay and softer limestone, this cuvée sits between the other two single-vineyard wines in style, a little more serious than Le Carré but without the intense, smoky minerally character that the calcaire à astéries gives to its namesake wine.


It is with the two top cuvées that the fireworks start to go off though. I tasted these wines on Sunday morning, before the primeurs week kicked off, and they were my first real encounter with just what the 2015 vintage was capable of. If they poured wine on Star Trek (the proper Star Trek with cardboard sets, rubber monster suits and Tribbles, not these weaker modern efforts) it is with these wines that the action would begin. This is the moment when the alarm sounds, the backlighting flashes red, and the flight deck tips from side to side as the crew hold on for dear life, or alternatively run from one side to the other looking disorientated. The final wine to be poured was Le Dôme, 80% Cabernet Franc as always, with 20% Merlot, and it is an impressively dense effort. It displays the house style, dark and concentrated, with notes of spiced black fruits and dark chocolate. On this occasion, however, I found I preferred the dense flavour and complexity of Vieux Château Mazerat. Here the wine benefits I think from the richness of Merlot (65% of the blend) balanced with the freshness of Cabernet Franc (35% of the blend), rather than the Cabernet-dominated style of Le Dôme. This is an incredibly textured and complex wine, filled with toasted pip, grilled almond and dark chocolate complexity conveying the exotic ripeness of the Merlot, all lifted with Cabernet freshness. This is very impressive, a wine which shows Jonathan has definitely been prepared to 'boldly go' where few in the vintage have dared.


Vieux Château Mazerat 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
18-19/20 points.

The top Merlot cuvée in the Jonathan Maltus portfolio, from up on the plateau, close to Château Angélus. The blend as ever is 65% Merlot, picked October 6th, with a healthy dollop of old Cabernet Franc, planted in 1947, accounting for the remaining 35%. The Cabernet was picked on October 12th. The alcohol is 14.7%, the acidity 3.08 g/l. Real depth and interest here, the nose showing a little roasted black cherry pit, blackcurrant, toasted almonds, toasted pips and scents of black tea too. Alongside, there is a perfumed, floral note, presumably the Cabernet coming through. A very convincing palate, a massive step up from Les Astéries, pure, fresh, energetic, with cocoa bean and cherry stone fruit, and dry dark chocolate. When I taste wines of this sort of quality, I can understand why some have drawn comparisons between this vintage and 2005, 2009 or 2010. A huge confidence, great breadth, but also a wonderful frame and definition, right through to the finish. Top of the class; I think I like the balanced contribution from both varieties here, bringing complexity, texture, depth of flavour but also freshness. A remarkable wine.

Le Dôme 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
17.5-18.5/20 points.

Perhaps Le Dôme needs no introduction. The flagship wine in the Maltus portfolio, although I find Vieux Château Mazerat to be of similar quality, albeit in a completely different style. This is 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot, the former picked on October 12th, the latter picked on October 6th. The alcohol is 14.8%, the acidity 2.96 g/l, the Cabernet clearly bringing a different edge to the structure here. This is a very different kettle of fish compared to the other Maltus wines, understandably, with a very perfumed nose, dark and expressive, still with all the toasted character of the vintage, but here conveying notes of ripe but perfumed Cabernet Franc, all vanilla and dark chocolate. A very richly textured wine, very harmonious, pure, perfumed, quite tense, a more direct style on the palate than the Merlot cuvées, with dark perfumed fruits, toasted almonds, cocoa bean, all backed by a much broader tannic structure than seen in Vieux Château Mazerat. A quite lovely wine, which should age beautifully, but it will need some time for those tannins to come around. A great Le Dôme in the making here.

Les Astéries 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
17-18/20 points.

Here Jonathan Maltus gives us an expression of the St Emilion plateau, from a vineyard featuring hard calcaire à astéries bedrock, and thin soils. It is just around the corner from Château Fonroque. The picking chez Maltus was on October 2nd for the Merlot, which is 83% of the blend, and October 13th for the Cabernet Franc, which makes up the balancing 17%. The alcohol is 14.8%, with 3.47 g/l acidity. This is always one of the more minerally cuvées here, and it shows true to form in this vintage. A vibrant hue in the glass, and a very precise nose, pure and perfumed, with that tell-tale minerally smoke coming ahead of the fruit. There follows a very tightly coiled palate, textured but very pure and delineated, with a real elegance to it. I get dark cherry fruit, with a touch of curranty concentration, with floral notes, vanilla flower, culminating in real energy in the finish, and an elegant fading grip. A lovely style of wine that carries its alcohol well. Winemaker Neil Whyte has turned in a fine performance here.

Le Carré 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
16.5-17.5/20 points.

This is always a fascinating contrast with Les Astéries, the 'other' plateau mid-range cuvée from Jonathan Maltus, featuring more clay and softer limestone. Having said that, in 2015 a third plateau wine joins this part of the portfolio, Le Pontet, which sits between the two. Concentrating on Le Carré for a moment, this is 85% Merlot, picked October 2nd, and 15% Cabernet Franc, picked October 13th. The alcohol is 14.8%, the acidity 3.08 g/l. It has an appealing smoky nose, quite reserved style, with berry stone fruit. There is great texture here, great purity too, with beautifully defined fruit, black cherry, toasted almond, cocoa bean, and coming underneath a fine and firm backbone of fine-grained tannins accompanied by some fresh acidity. A lovely gras to the substance here, a spicy energy too, with supple confidence. I like the long, spicy, tannin-infused finish. Top work from the Maltus team here.

Château Laforge 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
16-17/20 points.

This is the first step up from Château Teyssier in the Jonathan Maltus portfolio, traditionally a blend of fruit from the three terroirs of St Emilion, clay-limestone, gravel and sand. Indeed, Jonathan considers the two cuvées as first and second wines, which makes sense looking at their origins. Recent vintages have seen less limestone and clay, more gravel and sand, although there is some fruit from young vines in Vieux Château Mazerat included. The assemblage is 92% Merlot, picked from September 21st to October 5th, and 8% Cabernet France, picked on October 13th. Despite this earlier picking of the Merlot the alcohol is 14.7%, with acidity 3 g/l. It has a perfumed nose, with a real sense of limestone freshness, so I was surprised to hear it contributes so little to the blend these days. The palate is rich in dark berry fruit, laced with coffee and vanilla. There is a beautifully textured start to the palate, elegant with roasted red cherry fruit, more coffee and dark-chocolate spice, with real energy and a fresh acid backbone. Pure, quite cool in the finish despite the richness of the vintage. An elegant, classically poised wine, with a beautifully defined grip within that texture. At the value end of the portfolio, and produced in larger quantities than Jonathan's single-vineyard wines, this is going to give a lot of drinkers some real joy.

Château Teyssier 2015 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion)
15-16/20 points.

The bread and butter of the Jonathan Maltus portfolio, surely the biggest brand in St Emilion today? The picking of the Merlot, which is 70% of the blend, was from September 21st until October 8th, while the 30% Cabernet Franc was picked from October 9th to the 15th. The alcohol is 14.5%, the acidity 3.4 g/l. A fresh, expressive nose, with dried fruit skins, fresh berry fruit too, with a little touch of smoke. Very appealing palate, very classic, quite an elegant start for Teyssier, then more body and real spicy energy in the middle. A dry, elegant tannic structure, with rich cherry fruit, and a strident finish, with lots of peppery energy. A good vintage for Teyssier.

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