The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux is a self-formed association comprised of most chateaus in Bordeaux’s 1855 Classification with the exception of the First Growths that do not mingle with the less holy, and a few Second Growths that think they should be promoted. The group includes other quality-driven producers in Haut-Medoc, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

A few weeks ago, representatives of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux arrived in Manhattan for an afternoon presentation of their 2015 chateau wine. These bottles would have first been subject to assessment as barrel samples in Bordeaux’s 2015 en primeur, the one-week mad dash around estates, tasting rooms and parties when critics and buyers sample the wines in their infancy, and make declarations of their potential. The 2015 en primeur was compared to the excellent 2010, 2005 and 2000 vintages with the major magazines declaring the Margaux and Saint Emilion appellations being the best of the best.

But my tasting of the wines, now bottled after 18 months of aging, give us pause for a moment before joining the chorus.

The wines presented in the Grands Crus de Bordeaux tour have been blended, bottled, aged and shipped to the market. My tasting notes and evaluation are based on the final wine—the one you will purchase.

I always begin a Bordeaux regional tasting with the wines of Margaux, the one appellation to cultivate all five grapes (cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec). If there is a strong or weak point to the vintage, it should appear in Margaux.


Madame Marie-Helene Dussech, Director Chateau Brane-Cantenac.

Ch. Brane-Cantenac: Dark black cherry color, toasted oak, red fruit and black-pepper aromas grabbed my attention. And its rich, blackberry taste, supporting tannins and excellent balance held it through a perfect finish. 95 points. $63-$95.

Ch. Giscours: Brilliant crimson hue, black cherry, floral smoky vanilla-oak perfume is delightful. Very flavorful red fruit with excellent balance and length. Very well made. 94 points. $60-$90. (A collector of Giscours since the 1980s, I was very pleased with this vintage.)

Ch. Prieure-Lichine: Desirous, thanks to its floral and black cherry aromas and tasty blackberry and black cherry flavors with a plush texture from the integrated tannins.  93 points. $44-$65. (Prieure-Lichine is another wine I always have room in my cellar for.)

Ch. Marquis de Terme: The dark, black cherry color, smoky, toasted-oak aroma and flavor, and the full mouthfeel are pushing this wine towards the New World, but its black cherry flavor and gravelly underbelly keep it anchored in Bordeaux. A traditional Margaux, it’s not. 92 points.  $42-$55. Best buy.

Ch.Rauzan-Segla: Brings an appealing flora and cherry scent with blackberry-flavored fruit carried on a medium body with a pleasing finish. A little earthy background brings an extra dash of complexity. 92 points. $85-$160.

Ch. du Tertre: Its black cherry color is more translucent than others, and it’s more red berry perfumed and flavored. Soft tannins keep it balanced and its tasty springtime-like cherry flavor glides to a pleasant finish. 91 points. $39-$50. Good value.

Ch. Dauzac: An elegant floral and red-fruit nose is a pleasant introduction to plum-like flavor with a mildly smoky, toasted oak background. 90 points. $47-$60.

Ch. Siran Very floral and black cherry nose. Ripe blackberry-flavored fruit with balance and length will please everyone. There’s no reason to wait on this 2015. 90 points. $30-$45. Good value.

Ch. Kirwan: Black fruit and herbal aromas, tasty blackberry-like fruit, soft tannins and mellow texture are Kirwan’s DNA. You can enjoy this classic immediately. 90 points. $42-$70.

Ch. Cantenac Brown: Pronounced floral and red-fruit aromas combined with tasty cherry and red-plum flavors make this an instantly appealing wine. A mild gravelly finish adds complexity. 90 points. $53-$75.

Ch. Durfort-Vivens: A black-cherry and herbal nose, blackberry flavor underlined with vanilla and a stony, dry finish. Enjoyable now. 89 points. $44-$55.

Ch. Ferriere: Appealing cherry aroma and flavor with mild tannins and soft tannins deliver a pleasing finish and current drinkability. 89 points. $40-$59.

Ch. Lascombes: Floral and black cherry aromas and tasty cherry and plum flavors grab your attention, but a thin mid-palate interrupts it. Soft tannins let the fruit flavors reappear in the finish. 89 points. $68-$124.

Ch., Rauzan-Gassies: Black cherry runs through this wine from its translucent color to its aroma and flavor. Its soft tannins make it easy to drink, but the short finish is not easy to ignore. 88 points. $60-$67.

For me, the Margaux wines have the delicacy of watercolor paintings, and my tasting of these Grand Crus showed very appealing fruit and aromatics with soft, round tannins allowing for youthful drinking.

There are good reasons to buy the 2015s—such as enjoyable drinking for the next 10 to 15 years. But “fabulous,” as declared by one New York retailer’s digital sales pitch, is not one of them.


The major appellation immediately north of Margaux, Saint-Julien Is more reliant on cabernet sauvignon, giving its wines more structure than its southern neighbor. It’s an appellation with multiple chateaus in my collection.

Although Chateau Beychevelle is not the highest rated in my tasting, its history and setting make it a natural choice to begin the appellation’s review.

Ch. Beychevelle: With an ancient sailing ship on its label, the largest gardens of any chateau, and its classical 17th-century architecture, Beychevelle, part of the 1855 Classification (Fourth Growth), is the quintessential image many wine consumers have of Bordeaux.

Its 2015 wine will do no harm to that vision. A mild toasted oak and black cherry nose, very pleasing ripe blackberry fruit with balanced tannins are classic Beychevelle traits. You’ll have a pleasing decade-long voyage with this elegant wine. 91 points. $75-$125.

Ch. Saint-Pierre: Fragrant black fruit with a peppery accent, good body and delicious blackberry-like fruit with density and structure makes this an excellent wine. 95 points. (If you are not familiar with the wines of this chateau, it is one that will reward your exploration.) $65-$70.

Ch. Lagrange: I’ve collected this chateau for decades as it produces elegant wines no matter the challenges of a vintage. Its 2015 delivers a black cherry, floral and vanilla nose, tasty black cherry and blueberry fruit flavors with perfectly integrated tannins. Classic Lagrange. 93 points. $45-$55. Best Buy.

Ch. Leoville-Poyferre: Dark fruit hue and a strong smoky, toasted-oak scent has been the style of the estate since the mid-1990s. It has a bigger body and fuller mouthfeel than the other Saint-Juliens in this tasting, and carries blackberry and black plum flavors through the finish. 92 points. (As a collector of Poyferre since the 1980s, the change in style was not one I applauded.) $77-$125.

Arnaud Frederic, Commercial Director, Chateau Gruaud Larose

Ch. Gruaud Larose: One of my favorite Bordeaux chateaus, the 2015 displays the vintage’s charm and appeal with its very approachable cherry, red plum and blackberry aromas and flavors. You’ll enjoy this one while you let the 2005, 2009 and 2010 age gracefully. 91 points. $67-100.

Ch. Branaire-Ducru: Businessman Patrick Maroteaux purchased this run-down chateau in 1988. With a commitment of money and vision, he turned it around. The 2015’s floral and black cherry aromas are matched with delightful black cherry and blueberry flavors carried on round tannins to a long, finish. 91 points. (Maroteaux died in November 2017, and the chateau is now directed by his son Francois-Xavier.) $55-$75.

Ch. Gloria: Another chateau from this appellation whose vintages dating to 1989 occupies my cellar. The 2015 has the red-fruit and floral accent that appears in other wines from this appellation and vintage. Its round tannins and mild minerality match the fruit, giving it a pleasing finish and immediacy. 90 points. $40-$62. Good value.

Ch. Talbot: Often one of the best values in Saint-Julien, the 2015’s appealing floral, cherry and vanilla aromas and very tasty plum-like fruit flavor glides to a gentle finish. 89 points. $55-$80.

Ch. Leoville Barton: Normally a favorite, I was surprised by the lack of structure in this wine. Its aromatic and tasty fruit is a degree or two too juicy and might have been affected by the September rains. 89 points. $80-$150.

Ch. Langoa Barton: A hallmark of this estate for a number of years, the approachable juicy red fruit did not come as a surprise. 88 points. $53-$60.


Separated from Margaux and Saint-Julien by the Garonne River and some 40 miles, Pomerol is further detached from those appellations by its overwhelming use of merlot, and the absence of a single grand chateau.

With no center other than the town hall and a church, Pomerol is a village that a teetotaler would easily drive by. It is refreshingly the most unpretentious of Bordeaux’s appellations.

But wine consumers know it not only as the home of Chateau Petrus, the most expensive wine in Bordeaux (though sometimes neighboring Chateau Le Pin lays claim to that distinction), but also where merlot creates wines of complexity and long aging ability unlike anything in the New World.

Ch. Le Bon Pasteur: Very fragrant floral and cherry nose with savory fruit flavors built on a firm body offering balance and length. Well made. 94 points. $73-$96.

Ch. La Pointe: Raised to a high level in 2015 with its magnetic fruit aroma and delicious, rich blackberry and red-plum flavors. Integrated tannins provide a silky texture and structure for this well-made wine. 93 points. $35-$55. Best buy.

Ch. Beauregard:  Black cherry and black tea aromas and flavors are an enticing combination and round tannins deliver it with a pleasing and lengthy finish. 92 points. $50-$64. Good value.

Edouard Labruyere, owner of Chateau Rouget.

Ch. Rouget: Perhaps my most surprising sample in the tasting was this dark, black cherry colored wine featuring toasted oak and black-fruit scents. Owned by Edouard Labruyere (whose family also owns Burgundy’s prestigious Domaine Jacques Prieur, and estates in Champagne and Beaujolais’ Moulin-à-Vent), Rouget is not a widely known chateau in America. But its ripe, blackberry flavor and supporting tannins will please many palates and broaden its name. 92 points. $50-$66. Good value.

Ch. Clinet: Over the last few vintages, I’ve taken a liking to the wines from Clinet. The fruit has become the centerpiece and there is less woodiness. In 2015, the blackberry and cherry aromas and flavors are ripe and flavorful and the integrated tannins bring balance and length. 91 points. $110-$169.

Ch. Gazin: The blackberry and blueberry aromas and flavors and soft tannins remain true to this estate’s reputation for always being drinkable. 91 points. $64-$90.

Ch. La Cabanne: Slightly more rustic than the other Pomerols. Its herbal aroma and flavor is intertwined with blackberry and cherry character. 90 points. $33-$43. Good value.

Although the Pomerol tasting was limited, these chateaus showed that merlot on the Right Bank of the Garonne produced balanced and elegant wines in 2015.

Overall, the three appellations left me with the impression that merlot is the most successful grape variety in 2015. And the pleasing structure and approachability of the wines recalled the style and early pleasures of the 1988 and 1995 Bordeaux wines. Both were very good, not great vintages. And only last week, I opened a bottle of 1995 Chateau de Pez, Saint-Estephe, one of many 1995s I am still enjoying from my cellar. That is its own recommendation for the pleasing qualities of the 2015 vintage, which I find similar at this point of its development.

Next: Bordeaux 2015 Part 2: Pauillac, St. Estephe, Pessac-Leagnon, Saint-Emilion.

Photos by John Foy