Chateau Malescasse 2016 (SRP $24) is an exceptional Left Bank value from Haut-Medoc, the result of a classic growing season that yielded Bordeaux’s biggest production output since 2006. While the highly acclaimed vintage pushed up Bordeaux prices an average of 13 percent – some Grand Crus jumped 60% – Chateau Malescasse bucks the trend and is selling for $21.99 at New Hampshire State Wine Outlets. Only 5,594 cases were made, yet if you hurry N.H. has a 200-bottle allotment according to a online check of its store inventory.
Wine Spectator rated Chateau Malescasse 91 points and James Suckling gave it 92. Compared to other coveted Bordeaux cru from Margaux, Paulliac, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe, this “Cru Bourgeois” fits the bill as an overachiever for high quality and affordable price.
So why is it worth a try?
You’ve probably heard the age-old real estate axiom – location, location, location. The same is true of wineries and vineyards, especially in France. Prestigious “Grand Cru” estates routinely get all the attention while commanding top dollar for their collectible wines. But savvy consumers know that the best-kept secret is the little-known next-door neighbor who, year in and year out, turns out consistently good wine at far lower prices.
Ignore Chateau Malescasse at your own wine-tasting peril.
Chateau Malescasse dates back to 1824 as a winery. The estate is situated at the highest point in the Medoc where its prime perch overlooks the commune of Lamarque, near the border with Margaux. The latter is the home of the legendary Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer and their Grand Cru wines. The Gironde River estuary is close by and plays an important viticultural role in providing moderating temperatures during summer heatwaves.
Philippe Austruy purchased Chateau Malescasse in 2012 and revived it after years of neglect. His complete restoration of the chateau included modernizing the winery and equipment. Today, the 100-acre estate is run as a single “cru” vineyard in the Haut-Medoc AOC, one of eight appellations in the Medoc region.
The Left Bank is famous for crafting red blends based on Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils here are well-suited for the task – gravel, clay and mineral rich – and produce wines that are dense, tannic, and spice-laden with cassis, tobacco, cedar and sweet herbs.
Interestingly, the Chateau Malescasse 2016 is distinguished by a Merlot-dominant blend that is more in line with Right Bank wines. According to wine consultant Stephane Derenoncourt, the wine breaks down as 53% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Petit Verdot. This is not by accident. In recent years, climate change has adversely impacted Cabernet Sauvignon crops, and vintners have responded by using more Merlot in their Bordeaux blends to make up the difference. While the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are still selected for cru wines, there’s less of them. Choice fruit was not a problem in 2016, when a cool spring yielded to warm and sunny weather through summer and early fall.
The 2016 Chateau Malescasse is an outstanding effort in my view. Warm, supple, flavorful and generous, the wine is a small snapshot into just how good Bordeaux can be at this price point if you research the place, conditions and options. The purple-colored Bordeaux (14.5% alcohol) opens with fresh black currant and field herb aromas and a trace of stone minerality. It’s major appeal comes on the palate, however. It’s full-bodied and layered with dark fruit – plum, raspberry, blackberry – that melds harmoniously with warm spices and sweet, mellow tannins. According to Derenoncourt’s tasting notes, special care is taken in three steps to develop the plush sensations. The initial fermentation is conducted in steel vats when, over four weeks, the cap is gently punched down for “selective extraction of tannins.” Malolactic fermentation follows in oak barrels (30% new) and then the wine is aged for 14 months in wood (35% new oak). Chateau Malescasse comes through with a mature tannic structure that is smooth and comforting. If properly cellared, the wine can keep for up to 20 years.
But it would take a resolute individual to be that patient with this ready-to-enjoy Bordeaux. Pair with a grilled sirloin steak – medium rare – and give your senses a wonderful savory experience.