1890, 1990, 2005 & 2015 Branaire-Ducru


Proprietor François-Xavier Maroteaux whipped out a quartet of vintages on a recent visit to Branaire-Ducru. Nothing new there. However, this quartet spanned 125 years. I recall Maroteaux mentioning in passing about a handful of ancient bottles from a collector. So, to clarify, the bottle of 1890 had not laid undisturbed in the château’s cellars since birth. Instead, it resided in a private cellar until “coming home”.

François-Xavier Maroteau and head winemaker Jean-Dominique Videau gently prizing out the cork using a trusty Durand.

The 1890 Branaire-Ducru is labeled under the name “Duluc” as the Cru was titled in this era. Underneath is written “C. Balaresque,” who was probably the courtier at the time. Interestingly, the saturated, though fully intact, original cork is branded with its present name – Branaire-Ducru. Its appearance is commensurate with its antiquity, thankfully clear in color with wide bricking. The bouquet is immediately entrancing. It unequivocally has not faded in its dotage, blossoming over the course of two hours: remnants of red fruit commingling with furniture polish, molasses, marmalade and earthenware. It coheres beautifully in the glass with each and every pour and articulates the heat of that summer long ago. The palate follows suit, almost viscous in texture to the point where I speculate whether there might have been residual sugar. Too late to ask the winemaker now. Ineffably harmonious with candied orange peel, marmalade and wild honey, it is beautifully balanced with a generous, almost viscous finish. This is one of the most impressive and delicious 19th-century clarets I have been fortunate to drink. Indeed, Maroteaux remarked that this bottle was superior to the first he opened. Magical! 98/Drink 2023-2033.

Maroteaux then served three recent vintages that, unlike the 1890, are not only within the realms of attainability but are keenly priced within the context of the Bordeaux market today. The 1990 Branaire-Ducru is a vintage that, strangely, I had not encountered before. It has an attractive nose of black fruit tinged with peppermint, well-defined considering the warmth of the growing season, with a hint of aniseed. The palate has moved decidedly into its secondary phase, veering slightly towards more red fruit, mint and juniper. Maybe there is a soupçon of Brettanomyces here – not unusual in this vintage. Yet there is adequate freshness to keep this Saint-Julien on its toes. 90/Drink 2023-2033.

The 2005 Branaire-Ducru is really stepping up through the gears and is definitely worth seeking out. Deep in color, it has an exquisite definition on the nose: blackberry, cedar, wild mint and sous-bois. There is a vibrant energy to this 2005 that sets it apart. The palate is extremely well-balanced with crisp acidity. Tensile towards its pliant finish that has softened slightly in recent years. This vintage is perfect to drink now, though personally, I would afford it another three or four years in bottle. 93/Drink 2025-2050.

The 2015 Branaire-Ducru has a deep hue, almost opaque in the glass. The nose is quite precocious, more so than the previous bottle, with scents of black cherries, cassis and blood orange. Energetic and focused, crushed violet scents surface with continued aeration. The palate is quite sweet. I just have one concern about the warmth of alcohol on the back palate, though that seems to be addressed by considering aeration, allowing it to coalesce and muster more composure, especially on the finish. Give it several years in bottle. 92/Drink 2028-2050.

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