“Quantity being sacrificed to quality”: A Dinner with Henri Lurton of Château Brane-Cantenac
This past Tuesday I was fortunate to join Henri Lurton, proprietor of Château Brane-Cantenac, for a wine dinner at Cityzen restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Henri was in Washington, DC for just one night and graciously hosted a wine dinner as his sole event. For this dinner he personally carried samples of the 2012 Brane-Cantenac and had the 2010, 2006, and 2000 vintages sent from the Château. He sourced the 2008 Baron de Brane and 2005 Brane-Cantenac bottles from MacArthur Beverages. There were only six of us including Karen Taylor(France Magazine), Christian Schiller (Schiller-Wine), Michael Besche (Commanderie de Bordeaux), and Lou Marmon (GrapeLines). I sincerely thank Mark Wessels for putting me in touch with Corinne Conroy who invited me to the dinner and responded to my many emails.
Château Brane-Cantenac was founded by the Gorsse family in the 18th century. In Classification et description des vins des Bordeaux published by M. Paguierre in 1829 we find the estate named Gorse, a Cantenac with a production of 40-50 tonneaux. The estate was purchased by Baron de Brane in 1833 who then renamed the property in 1838. In 1850 Charles Cocks in Bordeaux ses envirions et ses vins classes par order de merite names the estate as Gorse (De Brane) Cantenac producing some 90 tonneaux. In the County Courts Chronicle Volume VII of 1854 appears an advertisement for “DE BRANE CANTENAC at 48s. per dozen, or 48L per hogshead.” It was also noted that “Every club in London supplied with these Wines except three.” That same year the Foreign Vineyard Association placed an advertisement in the Lancet London. Under “First-growth Clarets” along with “Chateau Margaux, Laffitte, Latours” they list “the famed Château Brane Cantenac Margaux of 1851, now 44s; ditto of 1848, late 55s., now 48s.” After being acquired by the Roy family in 1866 followed by the Societe des Grand Crus de France in 1920 it was eventually purchased by Leonce Recapet and Francois Lurton in 1925. In those intervening years it appears in the American Congressional Serial Set of 1875 as well as Charles Cocks and Edouard Feret in 1883 as Château-Brane-Cantenac with a production of 100 tonneaux.
It was some two decades ago in 1992 that Henri Lurton took over the estate. Henri has implemented many changes such as the ploughing of the vineyards, improved drainage, and hand-harvesting. In 1999 he opened a new winery facility. As of the 2010 vintage he also installed an Air Tec Wine suspension system and Vystalis optical sorting line. The optical sorting line analyzes berries in real-time sorting the good from the bad using air jets based on programmable criteria. The optical sorter not only shortens the sorting time but improves the quality of the fruit in both bad and good vintages. As an example, in the 2010 vintage the destemmer let some Merlot berries with green stems through but the optical sorter was able to remove them. It helped moved things along by sorting through the large numbers of grapes in the 2011 vintage. It would have been helpful in the 1999 vintage when there were green berries in the center of some clusters which made it through. The optical sorter cannot eliminate the necessity of field sorting for it is important to leave any botrytis affected fruit in the vineyard.
The fruit is fermented in a mixture of wooden, concrete, and stainless steel vats. Typically the Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in wood and concrete, the Cabernet Franc in wood, and the young vines in stainless steel. Henri employs vats of various sizes. These he can match to parcel sizes as well as to separate very small sections of a vineyard which have unique soil characteristics. These he marks with flags. With such an array of vats he can aim to maximize the balance of each vat.
CHEF’S TASTING MENU
For our dinner Chef Eric Ziebold created a special five-course tasting menu. There was also an amuse-bouche upon settling down and tiny chocolates to finish off the evening. Over the course of several hours we ate our dinner, drank the wines, and discussed a variety of topics.
SOFT BOILED PATH VALLEY HEN EGG
CityZen Scrapple and Darden Ham Emulsion
HAWAIIAN SWORDFISH EN PERSILLADE
Savoy Cabbage Ribbons, Braised Rhubarb, and Dijon Mustard Broth
BRAISED OAKLEIGH RANCH VEAL SHANK
English Pea Tapenade, Julienne Snow Peas, Pea Shoot Tempura and Paloise Aïoli
SLOW COOKED ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB SADDLE
Spring Garlic Stuffed Crêpe, Red Wine and Rosemary Panade
A SELECTION OF ARTISANAL CHEESES FROM OUR TROLLEY
The wine service was in the hands of Sommelier Andy Myers. Except for the 2012 sample, he decanted the wines about half an hour before our arrival. Over the course of the evening they saw up to four hours of air. We started with the first two wines then added glasses and wine with each course. The Merlot was excellent in the 2012 vintage. Harvest was rushed for fear of dilution and botrytis but the later did not occur. The Cabernet Franc was unusually late, it typically comes in between the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As a result it was not included in the Grand Vin. The Carmenere was not ripe enough so it was excluded as well. The wines progressed from strength to strength. I found the 2012 and 2010 lovely calm wines, and the 2006 still young. The 2005 and 2000 were my favorites of the evening. The 2005 was perfumed, concentrated, and confident. The 2000 was showing complexity from age giving insight as to what the other wines might come to be.
2012 Château Brane-Cantenac, Echantillon, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon and 32% Merlot. Alcohol 13%. The glass revealed a lot of color and extract. The nose was youthful and grapey at first before taking on deep red and purple, textured aromas. In the mouth there was racy, grapey red fruit, extract, minerals, and acidity. This was approachable and made pleasurable by the grip in the finish.
2008 Baron de Brane, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak. The nose was more serious with berry aromas. In the mouth there was focused red fruit with the presence of an integrated structure. The wine was not obtrusive, not quite tart, showing firmness in the finish. There was ripe fruit but a drying quality with some black fruit flavors in the aftertaste.
2010 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose was low-lying with vintage perfume and eventually attractive berries. The mouth followed the nose with richness and weight but also focus and calmness. The structure is there but there is a great balance.
2006 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 18 months in 60% new French oak. The deepest nose yet with familial aromas. There was power behind the aromas causing the higher toned, earthy notes to step out of the glass. In the mouth there was red and black fruit that was still coiled followed by a little juicy acidity.
2005 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 18 months in 60% new French oak. The nose was lovely with perfume and youthful aromas. In the mouth the wine was finely textured with some structure evident in the middle. The cool acidity caused salivation at the end followed by grip in the back of the throat. It showed a good concentration of flavors.
2000 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
This wine is a blend of 55% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 18 months in 60% new French oak. The aromatic nose revealed wood box aromas, red fruit, and brambly perfume. The mouth followed the nose but added earthy notes. The wine gave the impression of calmness with existing structure for further development. There was good complexity to the flavors which shed fat with air and became expansive. There was a long, pervasive and scented aftertaste.
Lou asked everyone what their epiphany wine or earliest memory of wine was. Henri could not recall his first wine experience for he was surrounded by wine since his birth. There are not many old vintages in the cellar as it was not until 1954 that he father Lucien Lurton moved into the Château and began to cellar the wine. As to his favorite vintages, excluding those of the evening, he promptly described a double-magnum of 1961, which was not only excellent but also his birth year. He then started to recollect and smile as he periodically named a vintage: 1959, 1945, 1928, 1970, 1978, and 1966.
Title quote from The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 60. London, 1885.