2003 Chateau Haut-Ballet Canon-Fronsac

Chateau Haut-Ballet Canon-Fronsac After all the madness of the 2005 vintage, you probably haven't heard the phrase "great value Bordeaux" lately. Leave it to Olivier Decelle to make one.

A few years after he sold his stake in a frozen food company and dedicated himself to turning around the once-famous Roussillon estate Mas Amiel, Decelle recognized a similar opportunity in Chateau Haut-Ballet, and he seized it. Chateau Haut-Ballet languished in Bordeaux's all-but-forgotten Canon-Fronsac appellation, which (along with Fronsac) is situated across the Isle River from Pomerol. Wine historians estimate that Canon-Fronsac's decline began some 200 years ago--it was due, Decelle thought, for a comeback.

Olivier DecelleDecelle and his vineyard manager, Antonio Videira, implemented proven quality-enhancing techniques that worked at Mas Amiel: To reduce yields, they introduced a green harvest and thinned vines' shoots and leaves; where chemical fertilizers had been used in the past, they switched to organic treatments; more importantly, they obsessively attended to every detail and began harvesting by hand; and after the harvest, Decelle and Videira sorted the grapes not once but twice.

To no one's surprise, Chateau Haut-Ballet has become one of the few "great value Bordeaux." The estate's chalky clayey vineyard, planted exclusively to Merlot, sits on an 800-meter-high limestone ridge that juts north from a bend in the Dordogne River. At this elevation, the vines are protected from the frost that can play havoc with harvests for farmers with plots farther down on the ridge.

The 2003 growing season was infamously hot, but as Stephen Tanzer noted, "vines on cooler chalk and moisture-retentive clay soils made it through the worst of the heat relatively unscathed, and were in the best position to take maximum advantage of showers that fell during the second half of August and near-ideal weather during the last two-thirds of September."

Shimmering red ruby color with a very complex nose of sandalwood, pepper, licorice, tropical red fruits, and flowers. In the mouth, very integrated tannins, firm acid, and discreetly hidden notes of oak and menthol. A Merlot with a long finish and great elegance considering the ripeness and power of the vintage. Clearly ageworthy. Drink now-2012.