Bordelais Nouveau: Chateau Argadens

5 04 2022

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

OK, these Bordeaux aren’t THAT new, but in a region that often measures time in centuries, a winery that is a scant two decades old counts as a fresh face. The wines (to my palate, anyway) also come across as efforts best explored while they are young and energetic, without the need to let them sit, mellow and expand as often seen in their counterparts. But it’s Bordeaux, so even the new wines from the new source are steeped in ancient history.

Maison Sichel is a lion of the mid-range Bordeaux scene, with an astonishing array of labels and brands under its expert umbrella. In 2002, it expanded its holdings by buying a property ringed with vineyards located in Entre-Deux-Mers, about 60 km south of the town of Bordeaux, and it harkened back to the site’s ancient origins to come up with a name. Argadens was the name of the noble family that first founded the estate back in the 13th century (NOW this sounds more like a true Bordeaux timeline), so the Sichel family decided to pay homage, and Chateau Argadens was born. They immediately made significant investments in all areas of the estate, from vineyard restructuring to planting adjustments to modernizing the winery facilities and constructing a brand new maturation cellar. The property produces a single red and a single white wine each year, released as a standalone label within the Sichel atmosphere. These are Chateau Argadens, bridging the old and the new in one of the world’s most historic regions.

2019 Chateau Argadens Blanc (~$25)

This appears to be a nondescript Bordeaux blanc at first glance, with a generic AOC Bordeaux designation (meaning that the grapes could technically have come from anywhere across the wider Bordeaux appellation) and an entry-level price tag. What makes it special? Of the 45-hectare Argadens estate plot, only 3 hectares is devoted to white grapes: a single sub-plot, graced with clay and limestone soils, up in the highest hills of Entre-Deux-Mers and thus benefitting from exceptional drainage, sun and wind exposure. The Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc vines are decades old, and the Sauvignon grapes are treated to an extended cold soak in reductive conditions prior to fermentation. The final blend is 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon, all from a top single vineyard in an underrated subregion. Not all AOC Bordeaux is as it seems.

This immediately attracts notice thanks to a surprisingly vibrant, piercing, shimmering lemon colour, as well as an unsurprising Sauvignon-dominant, tropical, borderline-wacky nose: papaya, pina colada, pineapple and even funky durian fruit aromas are bolstered by Rockets candy (every flavour) and a savoury undertone eerily like Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Confectionary, meet pungent. A sip introduces both a rounder, generous mouthfeel and a bitter-tinged, rocky, mineral finish. In between lies a tighter-knit and more constrained flavour set, with the fruit almost trending towards tangy currant underneath a gloss of citrus and the herbal nature of Sauvignon Blanc rearing its head in the form of dandelion leaf, basil, fennel and Ricola. The fleshiness of Semillion helps mask and control the fearsome acidity of its varietal mate, but overall the blend doesn’t quite achieve the stateliness often associated with Bordeaux. The bottle disappeared quickly enough, but at times it almost seemed like three wines in one, jostling each other about, as opposed to a cohesive whole. There is something here, but it is not quite knit together.

87 points

2016 Chateau Argadens Rouge (~$25)

This is what the remaining 42 hectares of Chateau Argadens’ esteemed site were working towards while the remaining three were on white wine duty: a classic blend of 63% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. I immediately noticed that this bottle bore the enhanced “Bordeaux Superieur” designation while the white was a plain old Bordeaux, despite hailing from the same site and costing the same price. Why? To achieve a Bordeaux Superieur title, wines are subject to more rigorous standards with respect to vine age, sugar levels at harvest (a.k.a. grape ripeness), and limited yields, and they also have to undergo a minimum of 12 months of barrel aging. That last one may be the limiting factor for the Argadens white, which sees little to no oak in its maturation process. The red grapes in the Argadens Rouge are fermented in stainless steel tanks, but then aged for 12-14 months in barrel.

I again have to pause to appreciate the gorgeous semi-translucent ruby-garnet colour of this wine — Argadens has visual appeal on lockdown. The Argadens red hitches its wagon firmly to the siren song of pure red fruit, which dominates the aromatics: Bing cherry, raspberry, and redcurrant, laced with leather, firewood and copper cups, a more straitlaced and classic formulation. That stately Bordeaux presence finds its feet even more firmly as the fruit grows darker and the palate more restrained, if not quite austere. Middleweight but fleshy, this is far from a powerhouse, but it captures the attention with a quiet sense of grace and confidence thanks to well-earned developing notes of tobacco leaf and humidor, as well as feathery tannins that layer in structure with a delicate touch. You can’t expect the complexity of a higher-end Bordeaux here, but this bottle would absolutely incite someone to get drawn more deeply into this world (from which, I can affirm, there is no escape). At six years past vintage, Argadens’ flagship red is in a wonderful place right now.

89 points

Cork Ratings: 7.5/10 & 4/10 (Bordeaux Supérieur may be a higher designation, but it’s a clearly inferior cork.)

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