Interview with Jean-Charles Cazes of Chateau Lynch Bages

By Gavin Smith

Jun 10th, 2020

Last week we were fortunate to have a one-to-one tasting with Jean-Charles Cazes, the managing director of Chateau Lynch Bages, as well as Chateau Haut-Batailley and Chateau Ormes de Pez. Not only did we have the opportunity to taste the fantastic range of 2019 wines from the estates, but we were also given the opportunity to dig a little deeper into what makes Chateau Lynch Bages such a special and unique wine in Pauillac.

The 2019 release earlier this week saw a huge uptake selling out in just a couple of hours. If you missed the offer last week there are details on purchasing the second wine Echo de Lynch Bages 2019 as well as Chateau Haut- Batailley and Chateau Ormes de Pez in the article.

The Lynch Bages Recipe

Whilst there is plenty of talk in Bordeaux these days about restraining the extraction of tannin  during vinification and for many Chateaux this has been to their benefit, it was also comforting to hear Jean-Charles talk with tenacity about how a high level of extraction remains a huge part of the recipe for Chateau Lynch Bages and today remains a key factor in the wine’s signature structure and its consequent ageing ability. There is confidence in this method and the levels of extraction the estate can go to, whilst retaining balance in the wines is impressive. It is no doubt thanks to the distinct gravel terroir in Pauillac, which seems particularly present at Lynch Bages, where the magical union between Cabernet Sauvignon and gravel soils seem to exude possibly more than anywhere else.

It is clear that in the past, the Chateaux that lack that special terroir but have copied the approach and style have ended up with over-extracted wines and a loss of character and freshness. Whether its is the trend in the reduction of extraction, better technology for the handling of tannins or a better understanding of individual terroirs and their varying abilities to absorb tannin whilst remaining balanced, high levels of extraction is on the decrease in the Medoc. But thankfully Lynch Bages has not swayed to the fashion, knowing that their terroir is built for such a purpose. The 2019 is a stunning wine and Lynch Bages does seem to flourish in a warm vintage. Asked where the suppleness comes from in the 2019, Jean-Charles sates "rather than any restriction on extraction, it is more to do with the glycerol rich quality of the Merlot in 2019 that adds wonderful flesh to the distinct Cabernet Sauvignon structural profile. It is this warmth of the vintage that brings suppleness to the wine as the freshness exudes from the union of graphite minerality and mouthwatering Cabernet tannins."

The 2019 Vintage

Whilst it was a warm vintage in 2019, Jean-Charles states that "the winter of 2018-2019 was very wet and with high humidity periods both in April and June which provided a huge amount of water reserves that meant the vines suffered no vine stress despite what was to be a very hot, dry summer. Temperatures at times were similar to those seen in 2003 but whereas then the vines completely shut down, in 2019 they remained active and pushed on through, reaching a beautiful phenolic ripeness in the tannins."

The Echo de Lynch Bages is also easily the best example I can remember tasting and for Jean-Charles the quality of the second wine is a great indication of the overall quality of the vintage. He states "whilst the Echo has distinct vineyards closer to the river with more clay in the soil, how the grapes behaved in these lesser sites is quite remarkable." The IPT (tannin levels) between the two wines are different with Echo at 78 IPT and Lynch Bages at 91 IPT. While technically Echo is therefore less structured, Jean-Charles explains that "the tannins tend to be slightly grippier in the Echo and with the general refinement of the tannins being a signature of the 2019 vintage, it has produced a very serious second wine."

The Lynch Bages Specially Cultivated Yeast

Vinifications at Chateau Lynch Bages are quite particular in that since 2013 the property has cultivated their own indigenous yeast that originates from their vineyard. They worked with the University of Bordeaux experimenting with the yeast strains until they found the perfect formula. Using indigenous yeasts these days in Bordeaux is fairly rare due to the  potential risk of bacterial spoilage as alcohol levels have risen, but for Lynch, with their own cultivated yeast they have found what is essentially a compromise between the two, an incredibly reliable fermentation, even in warmer vintages, whilst the indigenous yeast adds a distinct character and complexity to the Lynch Bages flavour profile.

Pioneers of Pauillac

The reputation of Chateau Lynch Bages as an over-achieving Fifth Growth was initially built up by Jean-Charles’ great grandfather (his namesake) who was a real pioneer in Bordeaux during the 1950s and 1960s. Jean-Charles describes him as a real risk taker. He was the first winemaker in Bordeaux at that time to take the risk of picking later. Jean-Charles explains "in those days most producers in the Medoc were too nervous of autumn rains to hold out", the result harvesting grapes with unripe, green tannins, that required years to soften. Alongside Jean Bouteiller of Chateau Pichon Baron and Edouard Gasqueton of Chateau Calon Ségur, Jean-Charles believes "they single handedly steered Bordeaux towards a richer, riper style." The wines of Lynch Bages became recognised for their opulent, fruity style. But this was not without forfeit. The family used to joke about his risk taking. In 1964 with the onset of rain he refused to pick, preferring to wait until the bad weather passed, but it just rained and rained and the vintage was ruined. But it was the great vintages of 1953, 1955, 1959  and 1961 along with the lesser vintages of 1952 and 1957 that built the reputation for Chateau Lynch Bages, producing some of the finest wines of the vintage.

Jean-Charles was in fact the first Cazes to own Chateau Lynch Bages - taking a huge gamble in buying the property. He was initially a lowly baker in the town of Pauillac and he bought the estate in the 1930s during the Great Depression, seeing an opportunity during the economic turmoil. He managed to accrue the money to secure the estate. With very little capital he had to sell every single bottle he produced, and this continued when his son Andre took over and is the reason why Lynch Bages has such a small back catalogue of vintages at the estate.  But the quality of the wines was evident even back in the early days.

During the 1950s and 1960s Alexis Lichine (then owner of Chateau Prieuré-Lichine) used to hold blind tastings with the trade in Bordeaux – typically made up of negociants, courtiers and merchants. In these tastings Chateau Lynch Bages famously performed well. Jean-Charles talks fondly about how his great grandfather would carry Alexis Lichine’s little book of blind tasting results with him everywhere he went and used this to build up the reputation of the Chateau to merchants around the world. It seems Chateau Lynch Bages has been over-achieving ever since and if the 2019 is anything to go by it continues to produce some of the best wines in the Medoc whilst retaining such a strong Pauillac quality.

The recent purchase of Chateau Haut-Batailley

Jean-Charles carried on in his ancestors’ risk-taking footsteps when he purchased Chateau Haut-Batailley in 2017 - a gamble that just a few years later seems to be paying off. The site is positioned in some of the finest terroir in Pauillac, neighbouring the vineyards of Chateau Latour, Chateau Pichon Lalande and Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste. Bordering Saint Julien the wine is much less structured than Lynch Bages but more seductive and elegant. 2019 is undoubtedly the top wine they have made at the estate.

With Cabernet Sauvignon performing so well in 2019 they were able to put more than ever before in the blend, producing real clarity on the fruit and a real flair and energy on the finish. The wine is very different in style to Chateau Lynch Bages, more of a cross between the seductive elements of Saint Julien and the graphite minerality of Pauillac. Both the second wine Verso and Chateau Haut-Batailley are fantastic additions to the Cazes portfolio. Their third Chateau in the Medoc – Chateau Ormes de Pez in Saint Estephe, is arguably one of the best value wines in Bordeaux producing fantastic consistency in recent vintages and adept at handling the different tannin profiles you find in Saint Estephe. The wine is juicy, fleshy and more open knit than the Pauillac wines but has a wonderful power and seriousness despite its roundedness. The quality and purity of the fruit typical of 2019 is also outstanding at Chateau Ormes de Pez. All three properties come highly recommended.

Tasting Notes

Chateau Lynch Bages 2019, Pauillac - SOLD OUT

Gorgeous dense, focused aromas -dark black fruit both fresh and ripe, scented tea leaf, clove, vanilla, chocolate, tobacco, graphite. Stacked fine, close-knit tannins provide impressive detail, density and intensity on the palate. There is fantastic energy in this wine, pulsing as a glycerol-rich fleshy concentration of fruit washes over a stony minerality. There is finesse and power and so much minerality. Stunning wine.

Echo de Lynch Bages 2019, Pauillac

Lovely lifted tones to the wine - open dark berry fruit, sweet leather and scented clove as well as distinct graphite minerality and pencil lead. Succulent palate, juicy,fleshy glycerol rich and then the tannins start to define structure underneath a generous fruited full body. Integrated, balanced power. Very clean, there is elegance and power and a lovely energy to the wine. Very impressive for a second wine. Click here to buy.

Chateau Haut-Batailley 2019, Pauillac

Inky purple colour, Brooding dark / black fruit aromas. High quality oak tones of scented clove, scented tea leaf and dark chocolate. Deep, beautifully ripe, delineated black fruit - cassis, blackberry, plum - puckering but refined, structural tannins. Earthy, savoury tones on the finish. The sustain on the finish and the energetic lift add complexity to the wine. Excellent. Click here to buy.

Verso 2019 (Second Wine of Chateau Haut Batailley), Pauillac - Not Released.

Dry spice, brooding nose. Soft, juicy blackberry coulis fruit - fleshy and generous. But there is also detail on the palate, the tannins have structure and layers. It doesn't have the refinement of tannins that the Haut-Batailley has but its still serious. Refreshing acid and mineral freshness off set the generous fruit. Definitely over-achieving in 2019.

Chateau Ormes de Pez 2019, Saint Estephe

Juicy, open knit fruit with distinct savoury saddle leather and violet St Estephe tones. Juicy, opulent, generous fruit with lovely mid-palate weight and concentration. Tannins are sinewy but beautifully integrated, and textural giving lovely framework and depth to the palate. Succulent and juicy, fully ripe but no hints of overripeness. Click here to buy.

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