Branaire Ducru Le Haut Medoc 2014
It’s fun to have fun, but in Bordeaux, knowing just a touch of history can lead you to even better libations and cheaper fun – you just have to know how. Such is the story of Branaire-Ducru.
Back in 1680, Branaire-Ducru was part of the enormous Beychevelle estate. When Beychevelle’s owner passed away in massive debt, the estate was split up and Jean-Baptiste Braneyre purchased a portion, creating what would become Branaire-Ducru. That gives you part one of the name.
Jean-Baptiste was no dummy. Branaire is perfect Cabernet land – deep-draining gravel soils slope to the Gironde, producing wines of structure and elegance. While none of Jean-Baptiste’s Cabernet vines survive to this day, Branaire-Ducru still boasts some of the oldest ones in Bordeaux (some now 90 years old), as well as one of the highest Cab concentrations in Saint Julien. This is truly a Bordeaux with breed.
Part two of the name, Ducru, came through marriage. Marie Braneyre married Pierre de Luc, giving us Branaire Duluc. In 1875, with no direct descendants to manage the property, a distant relative, Gustave Ducru, took control and set the name as we know it today.
Sadly, from there, the chateau took a turn for the worse (but rest assured, my dear hearts, all will turn out well for us). With no direct family member passionate about the winery, production and quality begin to slide until ultimately, the winery fell out of family hands in 1988.
This was the best thing to happen at Branaire-Ducru in a very long time. Patrick Maroteaux bought the chateau in 1988 and became its great champion. Mr. Maroteaux, who died of cancer in 2017, made immeausurable contributions, both to Bordeaux and to his beloved Branaire-Ducru.
He put a massive investment into the chateau. Branaire-Ducru became the first winery in Bordeaux entirely fed by gravity. An intensive program of interplanting of vines up to 10,000 per hectare soon followed. And finally, he hired a talented new winemaker who, after his work at Branaire, left to become the winemaker at First Growth Mouton Rothschild. Think about that – his work – what you are tasting here in this bottle, got him the head winemaker job at Mouton.
Before my first taste of the wine, I was entirely attracted by its price, so far below that of most major Bordeaux estates. In other words, my bargain detector was going off like crazy. This wine is from a parcel of rarely seen Haut Medoc vines made by Branaire Ducru that are just across the appellation boundary. No, these are not young vines. No, they’re not high-cropped vines. And no, this wine is not made from inferior grapes. The wine has its own grapes, from its own vineyards, and is completely owned and made by the team at Second Growth Branaire Ducru – and it comes in at a third of the price.
This is a stunning effort, with an explosive-knockout Cabernet nose of framboise, pencil lead, cedary smoke, violets and wild roses. Mr. Maroteaux looked for wines of longevity (there is lots of Cabernet in here) and the palate clearly expresses this – it is impeccably balanced yet robustly powerful at the same time. Smooth tannins are present but clearly integrated. The texture is of grace and refinement, echoing into a stunningly long finish. It is from the hallmark 2014 vintage, and that greatness shows in the bottle. Mr. Maroteaux believed that Duluc starts its drinking window within five years, but can keep for another 25.
Truly a Saint-Julien Bordeaux masterpiece, Le Haut Medoc de Branaire Ducru is perfect now, and for another 25 years from now. Cheers.