I'll admit, I struggle with Bordeaux. I've been lucky enough to have older bottles of the most famous estates from time to time, and there's no denying their greatness. But do I crave Bordeaux? Not really. Most often, I find bottles of Bordeaux too technical, too industrial, too concerned with being "great" and not concerned enough with being delicious. But then I tried the "Les Caprices" from Domaine Les Carmels. This had everything I'd been missing from Bordeaux: pure, unadorned fruit, a light touch with the winemaking, and incredible freshness. It immediately became a contender as one of the best values we have in the shop.
Domaine Les Carmels is in Cadillac, one of the lesser-known appellations of Bordeaux. It's less than 40 miles from the major villages like Margaux and Pauillac, not far from Sauternes and the appellation is primarily known for producing botrytized whites, but the classic Bordelaise reds – Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon – are also grown here. Yorick and Sophie Lavaud purchased what became Domaine Les Carmels when Yorick was working as a negociant for the Rothschilds and discovered it. Since 2009, they've farmed their small property organically. Strange as it sounds, organic farming is extremely rare in Bordeaux. The relatively humid climate, combined with the businesslike mindset of most estates, means organic viticulture is just seen as too risky In fact, despite being certified organic for many years, the Lavauds didn't label their wines as such, because it actually hurts sales in Bordeaux! But the Lavauds have bucked the trend and now have a farm with not just grapes, but an incredible array of fruits and vegetables.
That care in farming is immediately evident when you taste the wine. The wine is 100% Merlot, all whole berries fermented entirely in stainless and cement, with extremely gentle extraction. There's no new oak, or pruny fruit, or excessive tannin like in so many entry-level Bordeaux. What comes through is purity of variety and place: classically lush Merlot texture, deep undertones of earth and cedar, and extremely refreshing structure. It's bold and rich, but still vibrant and lively. This is the sort of bottle that disappears way faster than you expect it to, something I don't think I've ever said about Bordeaux (or Merlot for that matter). Can't get enough of this stuff!