New cru bourgeois classification and tasting of 2017 Médocs

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I was invited to a presentation by the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc on the 5th of April 2018, followed by a mammoth tasting of wines from the 2017 vintage.

I was interested in attending because I had rather lost sight of the crus bourgeois system. Dating back to 1932, this presently encompasses 256 estates producing some 28 million bottles of wine, i.e. 30% of the Médoc’s entire production.

I was aware that Alliance had gone through some turmoil in recent years, including court cases calling into question their most recent classification, in 2012. They are planning a new classification for 2020 with the greatest of care.

This will re-introduce the three levels that existed years ago:
– cru bourgeois
– cru bourgeois supérieur
– cru bourgeois exceptionnel

Olivier Cuvelier, President of the Crus Bourgeois

The methodology will be carefully controlled by an outside agency (Qualité Bordeaux Vérification) to ensure rigor and impartiality. The wines will be judged according to blind tastings of three vintages chosen by the château between 2008 and 2016. No more than a 10% increase in the number of châteaux will be allowed in the upcoming classification, as well as all future ones.

As a transitional measure, estates classified between 2008 and 2016 will be exempted from taste testing and those estates that cannot submit samples from 5 different vintages can present just two, 2015 and 2016.

Criteria are more exacting for the Crus Bourgeois Supérieurs and Exceptionnels, requiring an evaluation of their vineyard and environmental practices, cellar facilities and management, as well as efforts made to promote the wine (château building, distribution, wine tourism, etc.). In addition, two random controls will be made before bottling in two different vintages after the classification.

The new classification will be official in early 2020 with a 5-year validity, which applies to all future classifications. The judges appointed to taste the wines blind will undergo specific training, including different parameters for the three categories, such as ageing potential. Châteaux have the right of one appeal to a negative decision, or to apply again in another of the three categories.

After this fairly technical explanation, it was time to taste some wine… I decided to focus on the Médoc appellation, rather than the Haut-Médoc or communal appellations. All of the following 18 wines were from the 2017 vintage. As usual, my notes do not include an appreciation of the color, because, with wines this young, I do not consider it a factor of paramount importance. Seeing as I am reluctant to give numerical scores to wines, I have noted only a broad overall assessment at the end of each tasting note.
The percentages of grape varieties in the final blend are indicated because these can change from year to year.

 

Château de Bégadan, Bégadan
60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose: Simple and pleasing, with lingering fermentation aromas, confirming that this may not be an ideal time to taste the wine
Palate: More personality here, but somewhat dilute. Lacking focus, however displays attractive minerality on the aftertaste. Best enjoyed young. Should be retasted later on. OK.

Château Le Bourdieu, Valeyrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Subdued with cherry stem and slightly cosmetic aromas.
Palate: Mouthfilling with layers of fruit, but stops short on the aftertaste. Made in a traditional style but slightly out of balance, with some roughness on the finish. Good.

Château La Cardonne, Blaignan
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Upfront, ripe bouquet very typical of its appellation. Marked by oak with a medium toast.
Palate: Pure and mineral with a fluid attack followed by good grip and a pleasingly long aftertaste. Good.

Château d’Escurac, Civrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Simple, with some tarry notes
Palate: Odd, with some medicinal nuances. Hot. Modern style. Harsh finish. Seems stifled by the oak in a way that age may not help. OK.

Château Fleur La Mothe, Saint Yzans
50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot
Nose: Rich and straightforward with crushed blackcurrant leaf and cranberry aromas
Palate: Big, round, and showing plenty of oak. A modern, commercial style, with oak also coming through on the finish. Good.

Château Gemeillan, Queyrac
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Nose: Brambly and fresh with berry fruit and aromas reminiscent of ashes
Palate: shows character, but finishes with hard oak and is somewhat out of balance. OK.

Château Laujac, Bégadan
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
Nose: Brambly wild berry aromas, with good oak and a sweetness reminiscent of fruit syrup. Some roasted nuances.
Palate: In a pleasingly old-fashioned mold with elegant tannin showing plenty of character. A thirst-quenching quality and an attractive gumminess. This was one of the revelations of the tasting to me, as I had never tasted this well-reputed wine before. Excellent.

Château Laulan Ducos, Jau-Dignac et Loirac
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, , and 3% Petit Verdot
Nose: fresh, “authentic”, and understated, with good oak and some floral nuances
Palate: Ripe, round, and seductive although unyielding on the finish in a way that may be overcome by further ageing. Lip smacking fruitiness. Well made. Some authority on the finish with a certain tarriness. Very good.

Château Loudenne, Saint Yzans
50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Merlot
Nose: sweet and enveloping, but lacks depth and complexity. Some fermentation aromas and lots of toasty oak.
Palate: A satin texture is overwhelmed by the oak and I had a poor opinion of the wine. However, as always, it is fair to state that these tastings are very early in the game, and I will need to revisit the wine for a fair evaluation.

Château Lousteauneuf, Valeyrac
48% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, and 7% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Dark fruit aromas, but not very expressive at this time.
Palate: Better on the palate, although a little diluted. Starts off elegant and then goes into a very gutsy aftertaste with virile tannin. Intense Cabernet fruit, in an unabashedly old-fashioned style.  Good.

Château Les Ormes Sorbet, Couquèques
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Soft, polished, and alluring bouquet with deep, but not very complex fruit
Palate: Lovely velvety texture. Good development on the palate with excellent sweet fruit backed up by good acidity. Generous mouth feel with a narrow, but long finish. Lovely wine, the best of the tasting. Excellent.

Château Panigon, Civrac
50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: The fruitiness is somewhat rustic with a talc and cosmetic component
Palate: Marked by red fruit flavors and tart acidity. A decent enough wine with a tangy finish. Will show better with food. Good.

Château Preuillac, Lesparre
58% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Stewed fruit and candied fruit (cherry), as well as ethereal kirsch overtones and some roast coffee nuances. Classy, subtle, sophisticated, and very Médocain.
Palate: Lovely texture. The sort of wine that will be enjoyable either young or with bottle age. Good volume, even if a bit hollow. Rich, with marked good acidity on the finish. Very good.

Chateau Roquegrave,
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Sweet fruit with some pencil shaving aromas, but rather one-dimensional.
Palate:  Medium in most aspects, with a tarry flavor. There is some staying power on the aftertaste but the oak is obtrusive. Fresh finish, but this does not quite live up to the promise at the beginning of the tasting. Good.

Château Saint Christoly, Saint Christoly
55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon,
Nose: Straightforward and simple with floral overtones. Some tanky aromas present at this stage.
Palate: Starts out very soft, but goes on to show significant acidity. Good fruit and tremendously fresh and vibrant flavor profile. Very good.

 

Tour Haut Caussan, Blaignan
50 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 50 % Merlot
Nose: Sweet, concentrated blackcurrant and berry fruit aromas. Fresh, with almost a fruit juice quality. Sweet and seductive.
Palate: Soft and mouth-filling, with the Merlot characteristics seeming to come through more than the Cabernet, in a crowd-pleasing style. Tart and relatively short finish reminding me (in a positive way) or sour cherries. Good.

Château Tour Saint Bonnet, Saint Christoly
50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
Nose: Fresh, very attractive candied fruit and blackcurrant aromas, very typical of the Médoc.
Palate: Traditional, even old-fashioned style. Rich, silky texture and a very juicy quality. Not long, but follows through nicely even so, with marked acidity. Good.

Château Vieux Robin, Bégadan
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot
Nose: Medium-intense plum and blackberry aromas accompanied by toasty overtones
Palate: Melts in the mouth, but there is a certain hardness due to oak. Good grip and noticeable acidity. Good.

 

 

 

 

A quarter of all St. Emilion crus classés have changed hands since 2012!

Interesting article in the locl Sud-Ouest newspaper of April 4th. Unfortunately, I can’t post the link because it only works for subscribers. So here are the salient points:

Nearly 25% of the 82 grands crus classées in Saint Emilion have changed hands since the 2012 classification (still not definitive because of being challenged in the courts…).

The newspaper explains that this is due to several factors. Increased international demand for luxury goods plays a major role, as does long-term return for institutional investors. French inheritance laws make it difficult for families to continue holding on to châteaux and the small size of estates makes it difficult to produce enough wine to establish a brand and satisfy world demand. Indeed, the classified growths of Saint-Emilion are much smaller than those in the Médoc, and it makes sense to reach a critical mass.

Owners must wait for the next classification in 2022 to request an extension to their estates (frequently by absorbing another grand cru classé), so there is much jockeying going on at the moment.

Who is buying?

The answer is foreigners, wealthy French buyers, and other great growths.Here is the list of the 18 châteaux to have changed hands since 2012 Château

L’Arrosée  – Domaine Clarence Dillion (Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion)
Bellefont Belcier – Vignobles K (Chinese)
Berliquet – Wertheimer family (Chanel)
Chauvin – Sylvie Cazes (Lynch Bages, etc.)
La Clotte – Vauthier family (Ausone, etc.)
Côte de Baleau – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Faurie de Souchard – Dassault (Château Dassault and jet aircraft firm)
Fonroque – Jubert Guillard (insurance)
Grandes Murailles – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Clos le Madeleine – Jean-Pierre Moueix (Pétrus et al)
Monbousquet – CARMF (mutual insurance firm)
Moulin du Cadet – Lefévère family (Château Sansonnet)
Petit Faurie de Soutard – AG2R La Mondiale (insurance – Châteaux Soutard and Larmande)
Le Prieuré Artémis – (François Pinault – Château Latour)
Ripeau – Grégoire family
Clos Saint-Martin – Sophie Fourcade
Troplong Mondot SCOR (insurance)

A long day out in Sauternes (visits to 15 estates)

November 2017

I spent a very busy day at the end of last year on a whirlwind tour of Sauternes estates. Here’s the report – better late than never!

The first château I went to was Filhot, a second growth with a beautiful sprawling château quite close to the town of Sauternes and Château Guiraud. I tasted 2 wines here. The first, 2013 Zest, is a successful attempt to give Sauternes a more youthful and modern image. The wine is quite inexpensive, upfront, ready to drink fairly soon, and comes in an attractive 37.5 cl. bottle. The 2013 had simple pineapple, white peach, and lemon aromas. It was easy-to-drink, uncomplicated, and lively on the palate. A fun wine.
The 2009 Filhot showed fairly intense overtones of honey and vanilla on the nose. The wine was medium-heavy on the palate with a very good, long, and sophisticated aftertaste. Not big and full, but very satisfying, even at this stage.

Then it was on to Château Guiraud, owned in large part by the Peugeot family of automobile fame, along with Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier and Stephan von Neipperg of Canon La Gaffelière. I sampled 2 wines here as well: 2014 Petit Guiraud (very pale color, somewhat of a one-dimensional nose, and a plenty of fresh fruit acidity on the palate) and 2010 Château Guiraud (a more golden color, along with a nose of toasty oak and menthol nuances and made in a fruit-forward, more modern style – good, but not great). Guiraud was the 1st first great growth in Bordeaux to be certified organic, which it has been since the 2011 vintage.

Château La Tour Blanche is not far away. This first growth is also an agricultural school that was left to the French state in 1907. I tried 3 of their wines, starting with 2016 Les Brumes which, as a third wine, was better than I expected, with lots of tropical fruit on the nose, but also a whiff of sulfur – a great anytime wine. The second wine, 2012 Les Charmilles featured a chartreuse and golden color. It was rather closed on the nose, with some rustic nuances. However, the wine expressed itself better on the palate with a silky texture along with vanilla, meringue, and marzipan flavors. There was a long aftertaste as well as mineral component that balanced the sweetness. This was better than expected. The grand vin, 2013 La Tour Blanche, was very pale with a rather closed-in nose and a little sulfury coming through at this stage. The wine showed good volume on the palate and had a nice botrytized (what I call “furry”) finish.

 

Next stop was another first growth, Château Rayne Vigneau. I started off with their second wine, 2013 Madame de Rayne. The color was fine and had some green tinges. The nose was closed and a touch medicinal, but the wine was somewhat more endearing on the palate: pure and short, but a nice tipple even so. The 2007 grand vin, Château Rayne Vigneau, had a medium-deep and very bright golden hue. The nose seemed much older than its years and the wine featured dried apricot, honey, and botrytized fruit flavors. As opposed to the red wine appellations, 2007 was a good year in Sauternes. This Rayne is nevertheless at its peak in my opinion. It will hold, but not improve in my opinion.

The following estate, first growth Sigalas Rabaud, is a favorite of mine and is tantalizingly different from neighboring Rabaud Promis (just a stone’s throw away). The flavor profile is much more svelte. I started off with a new wine from the estate, 2016 Number 5 (the first vintage). Very pale in color, this had a simple, but attractive bouquet and was light on the palate. A seductive, vin de plaisir in a pleasant style. The 2009 Lieutenant, the second wine, was slightly deeper in color and had a light, floral bouquet. It was much more expressive on the palate with bright fruit, good acidity, and a mineral element I associate with gravel soil. The aftertaste was long and good. The 2006 grand vin had a very deep color and a nose of candied fruit and botrytis, even if it lacked some definition. The wine was vivacious and vibrant on the palate finishing with the sort of dry mineral note I love in Sauternes. This is fine to drink now or within the next 3-5 years.

The next château was yet another first growth, Rabaud Promis. I would describe this as your grandfather’s sort of Sauternes. By that I mean is it is full-bodied, rich, quite sweet, and bordering on the heavy side. The 2014 Raymond Louis (the second wine) was medium-gold and had a rich, old-fashioned, but fresh nose with peachy nuances. The wine was weighty on the palate and there did not seem to be much evidence of botrytis. This was nevertheless a good typical Sauternes. The 2009 grand vin was deeper in color with a honeyed, concentrated bouquet accompanied by hints of menthol. As befits the château style, it was unctuous and can be enjoyed either young (now) or in years to come. There was a certain minerality and a botrytised taste on the finish. The château was selling this at 24.50 euros a bottle, making this a great bargain for a fine 10 year-old first growth from an excellent vintage… Who said Bordeaux was expensive?

The last of the first growths I went to was Château Coutet in Barsac, where I tasted two wines. The 1998 Chartreuse had a medium-deep color and a waxy and slightly chemical nose. Furthermore, the wine was a little watery and not very interesting on the palate. In Coutet’s defense, this was a very difficult year in Sauternes. The 2009 grand vin, on the other hand, was sublime, and the best wine I sampled all day. The color was what one would expect in a 9 year-old wine and the nose showed subtle pear and peach aromas. But where this Coutet really shone was on the palate, which the wine embraced with tremendous class, ethereal balance, and tremendously long, infinitely subtle aftertaste.

Next on the agenda was second growth Château Doisy-Daënes. This was the first time I had visited since the death of Denis Dubourdieu – owner, world-famous enologist, and one of the great figures in Bordeaux wine. His son Fabrice welcomed me and poured several wines. The first was a white Graves, 2016 Clos Floridène, which has quite a fine reputation. This is hardly surprising seeing as Denis Dubourdieu was considered the guru of dry white wine. This 2016 (50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Sémillon) was nearly transparent in color. It had a markedly Sauvignon Blanc nose, but softened by Sémillon. The wine started out soft and then want to show lovely fresh acidity and pleasing minerality on the aftertaste. The next wine was a dry Sauternes, 2016 Doisy-Daënes sec. This was similarly pale in color and displayed a lovely restrained bouquet of blackcurrant buds and gunflint. The wine was quite appetizing on the palate and needs time to reveal its full potential. We then went on sweet wines starting with a Durbourdieu estate in the rather esoteric Cérons appellation, 2016 Château Haura. The color was deeper here and the nose was soft and reminiscent of pâtisserie. The wine showed good volume on the palate along with a luscious, downright delicious flavor. Cérons is a curious appellation that can be either medium-sweet or very much like a Sauternes, depending on the vintage. This Haura came into the former category, and will appeal to anyone who finds some Sauternes too thick and perhaps off-putting. There were two more wines yet to come. The 2014 Château Cantegril in Barsac was fairly lacklustre, but the 2013 Doisy-Daënes that followed clearly showed more depth and complexity, as well as the mineral finish Barsac is famous for.

 

Château Gravas is just across the road from Doisy-Daënes. I tried two wines there. The 2015 Esprit de Gravas perhaps lacked weight, especially in light of the vintage, but the 2015 Château Gravas itself was more serious, with a soft, understated bouquet. It was richer than I usually find Gravas, with good acidity to match and a fine, relatively long aftertaste and good ageing potential.

 

The next estate is a small one I love enormously: Château d’Anna, also in Barsac. The cellar is one of the tiniest I have ever seen in Bordeaux. Barely large enough to swing a cat! Their annual production is just 2,500 bottles. The 2014 Cuvée Louis d’Or was medium-pale in color with a good, but rather muted nose. The wine was more expressive on the palate, along with a thirst-quenching quality that sets Barsac apart from Sauternes and the inevitable mineral element on the aftertaste. A good middle-of-the- road wine. 2012 Château d’Anna had more of a golden hue. It displayed candied fruit aromas and was rich and silky on the palate. The balance between acidity, sweetness, and botrytis on the finish was very engaging.

Château Laville was back in the Sauternes appellation, in the commune of Preignac. The second wine, 2015 Château Delmond was medium pale with a forthright, unflashy nose of tropical fruit and gumdrops. The wine was full-bodied and traditional in style, but with fresh acidity – absolutely adequate, and sold at a very reasonable price. The 2013 Château Laville featured a bouquet of candied fruit and a flavor that belied the undeserved reputation of the vintage (once again, erroneously based on the red wines): good mouth feel, depth, and length. The last wine I tasted here was very rare and quite interesting. Les Carrières de Laville is made from an itsy-bitsy plot of Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Muscat vines in Preignac. It is, therefore, a late harvest wine made with Alsatian grape varieties in the heart of Sauternes although, needless to say, it is not entitled to the appellation! The 2016 vintage of Les Carrières was rather pale with an aromatic nose more reminiscent of Muscat than anything else. Luscious and not overly sweet, this was a great sticky, as well as a great conversation piece…

Haut Bergeron, also located in Preignac, has long been one of my favorite Sauternes. It is in the traditional mold, tends to be rather sweet, and has the advantage of showing well even quite young. I tried the 2015 and 2016 vintages. The former had a pale colour and a closed, but promising nose that smelled of confectionary. The taste was quite rich and tremendously fruity, but with good acidity and a nice bite on the finish to serve as a counterpoint. Altogether quite sweet and with a long aftertaste. The 2016 seemed less rich and less well-focused at that time (not surprising at such an early stage). Please note that the photo is of the 2011 vintage.

I next went to Château Haut Mayne (no labels shown) just across the road to taste two vintages of their wine. The 2014 was medium-deep in color with a nice understated bouquet. The wine was rich and silky on the palate, developing well and showing good acidity. The 2015 Haut Mayne had a similar color with a nice grapey aroma. Even though it did not follow through seamlessly from beginning to end, it showed good minerality on the finish so, if pushed, it would have to say I preferred it to the 2014.

 

It was then back to Barsac for the two last estates. Second growth Château de Myrat belongs to the de Pontac family, who family owned Château Haut Brion for many years. The interesting thing about Myrat is that it was a classified growth that ceased to produce wine from 1976 to 1990, at which point brothers Xavier and Jacques de Pontac decided to replant the vineyard. The 2007 Château de Myrat was somewhat amber in color with a slightly herbaceous and botrytised fruit nose, but lacking in freshness. The wine showed good tension on the palate. Quite a classic Barsac with the trademark mineral aftertaste. A nice bottle. The 2011 was very pale with a bouquet that was more open, but displayed unwelcome asparagus notes. The wine coated the palate with elegance. Vibrant and sophisticated, it turned out to be much better than the bouquet would lead one to believe.

The 15th and last visit of the day (believe me, that makes a very full day…) was at Château Caillou, also in Barsac. I must be honest and admit that despite fond memories of this wine, I was disappointed with most of the range (2015 vin sec, 2013 Les Tonnelles, 2011 Les Erables, 2010 Château Caillou, 2011 Château Caillou, and 2009 Cuvée des Centennaires). But I must also be honest and say that if I had started out that day at Caillou, I might have been more indulgent! I must go back to Caillou again and give the wines another try.

Enira: a unique link between Bordeaux and Bulgaria

Bordeaux imperialism? Well, not exactly… I prefer to see it as investing and sharing expertise in everyone’s best interest. And the “Bordelais” in question is, after all, German…
The von Neipperg family have been growing vines and making wines in the Württemberg region of Germany for some 800 years. The family began acquiring estates in Bordeaux in 1971 and Stephan von Neipperg came to live permanently in Saint-Emilion in 1983.

The family are part owners of first growth Château Guiraud in Sauternes, as well as full owners of six other wine estates in Bordeaux – Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé), La Mondotte (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé), Chateau Clos de l’Oratoire (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé), Chateau Peyreau (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), Chateau d’Aiguilhe (Côtes de Castillon), and Clos Marsalette (Pessac-Leognan) – along with the Capaia winery in South Africa’s New Philidelphia region… and the Bessa Valley winery in the Pazardzhick province of Bulgaria.

 

I visited Bulgaria for the first time two years ago (indeed, this was my first time in Eastern Europe) to attend the Digital Wine Communication Conference. This took place in Sofia and Plovdiv. I did, on that occasion, tour several wineries, but not in the Bessa Valley. Because of the Bordeaux connection, I very much wanted to bring back a bottle of the von Neipperg wine, but did not come across any in the wine shops I went to.

Well, lo and behold, I was delighted to see that Cave Briau (owned by the Borie family of Ducru-Beaucaillou), a 3-minute walk from my house in Bordeaux, are selling the wine, at the modest price of 10.50 euros!

2013 Enira consists of 55% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Petit Verdot. It has a ruby-red color with some brown tinges on the rim. The nose features some simple, but attractive black fruit aromas and obvious oak ageing. The wine starts out on the palate very much like a New World wine (14.5% alc./vol.), but goes on to reveal Old World subtlety and restraint. A nice combination. The aftertaste is not particularly long, but this is a good, sound wine that constitutes a real conversation piece! And it is definitely good value for money. I’ll be interested to try this Bessa Valley wine in future vintages, and also to taste their top-flight cuvée.

 

Bessa Valley winery

I might add that Enira goes to show how foolish prejudices can be. Before I went to Bulgaria, I was expecting to find a poor, backward country stuck in the Stalinist period. How wrong I was! Although Bulgaria may have one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the EU, the standard of living seemed perfectly adequate. And Bulgarian wine, which once, and not altogether undeservedly, had the reputation of being cheap, but not particularly cheerful – a bit rough shall we say – is making huge progress. When I visited, I saw splendid new wineries run by well-educated, well-travelled Bulgarians, and tasted good wines. I hope to go back again and to see the von Neipperg estate (pictured below) one day

 

A week in Burgundy – Jan. 2018

 

Les Hospices de Beaune

My heart may be in Bordeaux, but I am also a great fan of Burgundy and spend a week of intense tasting there every year. This also enables me to come back home with many wines that I could not buy otherwise. Fine Burgundy also has the advantage of being much more open when young than Bordeaux of a similar category.

Upon arriving in Burgundy on the 13th of January, my friend Ian Westcott welcomed me with a dish of fresh pasta and wild mushrooms accompanied by two wines: a 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchame from Roland Laventureux and a 2010 Charmes Chambertin from Hubert Lignier. The former had all the hallmarks of traditional Chablis with some added richness, but I cannot say that the earth moved. The red wine was a different story. It was deeply-colored with beautiful subtle aromatics and a great deal of authority on the palate – a lovely virile wine with the structure I often find missing in Burgundy.

The next day, Sunday, I shared lunch with friends from Australia and the UK along with two winegrowers (Patrick Essa of Domaine Buisson Charles in Merursault and Jean-Marc Pillot of the eponymous estate in Chassagne-Montrachet) and their wives at the Hostellerie de Bourgogne in Verdun-sur-le-Doubs in the Saône-et-Loire department, about a half hour drive from Beaune. This proved to be a Pantagruelian feast with things like a whole black truffle in puff pastry and lièvre à la royale. Delicious! We enjoyed 1996 Guy Charlemagne “Mesnillésime” Champagne as an aperitif, then 3 village wines from Meursault from the 2014 vintage. The latter brought forth much discussion. The consensus seemed to be in favour of the Pierre Boisson, followed by Buisson Charles, and then Coche Dury. We also had a 2012 Chablis grand cru Bougros and a very old Paul Pernot Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. Not to worry, there were red wines as well, including 1995 Groffier Les Amoureuses as well as some superb Bordeaux donated by Ian Amstad: 2000 Château Beychevelle and a 1988 Mouton Rothschild, both of which showed well in “enemy territory”. In fact, Jean-Marc Pillot guessed the Beychevelle blind!

The following is an overview of my experiences visiting estates. It is very long, so perhaps I can be forgiven for not posting full notes for every individual wine…

Our visits to domaines (arranged by importer Ian Westcott from Melbourne, without whom none of this would have been possible) started with Domaine Amiot-Servelle in Chambole-Musigny, where we tasted through wines from the 2015 vintage with Prune Amiot: the village wine, premiers crus Les Charmes and Les Amoureuses, and grands crus Charmes Chambertin (from the Mazoyères part) and Clos Saint Denis. The house style is classic – elegant wines of great precision with good ageing potential and not too much extraction or oak. I quite liked them and came away with a bottle of the Clos Saint-Denis, a wine I have not often encountered.

Lunch was at a new restaurant in the center of Nuits, Le Café de Paris. This was started by the owners of La Cabotte in the same town. It is a very different place, but ideal for people who want just one dish and relatively quick service at a very reasonable price. Since the restaurant is small, I suggest booking ahead.

 

Suitably fortified, we went to Domaine Claude Dugat, next door to Rousseau on the little square next to the church in Gevrey-Chambertin built of amazing pink-colored stone. Bertrand and his siblings have recently taken over from their famous father Claude and the challenge obviously weighs heavy on Bertrand. He made a mistake in with treating, or rather not treating, part of the vineyard, tended organically, and lost a goodly bit of the crop. He was embarrassed by what happened and is determined to do better (one wonders why he told us this…). We tasted through the Domaine’s 2016s: village, premier cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques, and grands crus Charmes-Chambertin, Chappelle Chambertin, and Griotte-Chambertin. These wines lived up to the domaine’s excellent reputation: deep, structured, serious, on the big side, and with grip. I was happy to discover them.

 

The last visit of the day was to Domaine Jean-Marc Millot in Nuits-Saint-Georges (8 hectares), where we were welcomed by young Alix Millot, the second woman winemaker of the day, along with Prune Amiot, to have done an internship in New Zealand. The Millot cellars are in a part of Nuits where you would least expect it, and were once the premises of a négociant. We tasted thorugh a series of 2016s: Côtes de Nuits village and grands crus Les Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot, and Grands-Echézeaux. The style was pure and fruity and the Clos de Vougeot was one of the best wines I tasted all week (lovely violet nuances). We also had a look at the 2017 premier cru Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots, but I’m not very clued in to tasting such young Burgundy, so I mostly listened to others comment on it. Alix shows that the future of winemaking in the Côte d’Or is in excellent hands.

 

Several of us dined at Auprès du Rocher in Pommard that evening. This has a fine reputation, but that evening the cuisine was just good rather than very good or superb. The wines, however, were a different story. We had two 2013 village Meursault wines from Bernard Boisson-Vadot (Les Grands Charrons and les Chevalières) that we quite enjoyed, even though the 2008 Pommard-Rugiens from Thierry Vilot-Guillmard did not light our fire.

Our next day stared out with a visit to Domaine Bruno Clair. I have followed this domaine for years and have known winemaker Philippe Brun since his Napa Valley days, some years ago. We tasted through a vast array of 2016s, and I was particularly impressed with the Marsannay Longeroies, the Savigny-lès-Beaune premier cru La Dominode, and the whole range of wines from Gevrey-Chambertin, especially Clos Saint Jacques, Les Cazetiers, and Clos de Bèze. We ended with a delicious Corton-Charlemagne as an apéritif before going to lunch with Bruno Clair and Philippe at La Table du Rocher in Marsannay, which features a very odd decor with a story behind it… Anyway, I can recommend this restaurant, which features very good food at reasonable prices. While there, we drank a white Marsannay, 2015 Le Clos from René Bouvier, and a red 2012 Marsannay from Huguenot. I was particularly impressed with the former (apparently Bouvier is recognized as a fine producer), but not so by the latter.

The afternoon visit was to Domaine Bruno Clavelier in Vosne-Romanée. The owner is amazing in that he perpetually smiles, especially as he goes into detailed explanations of geology, helped by an impressive cluster of stones spread over the tasting table. If you never believed in terroir before, you would be utterly convinced after about 15 minutes with Bruno Clavelier! As with most growers, we sampled his 2016s, starting with Les Hauts-de-Beauxmonts, La Combe-Brûlée, and Hautes-Maizières, all village wines from Vosne-Romanée.
We then went on to his premiers crus (Les Corbeaux from Gevrey Chambertin, Aux Brulées and Les Beaux-Monts in Vosne, Les Noirots and La Combe d’Orveau in Chambole, and Aux Cras in Nuits), finishing with grand cru Corton Le Rognet. What can I say except that these showed class, great winemaking, and a wide spread of profiles depending on their… terroir.
We also tasted two older wines: 2015 La Montagne and 2015 Les Beaumonts from Vosne and a 2011 Combe d’Orveau from Gevrey, which I am at ease admitting that I drank rather than just tasted, or as the Bourguignons say “craché à l’intérieur”.

Our third day began at Domaine Comte de Vogüé in Chambolle-Musigny. I was really psyched to visit this famous producer for the first time. The cellars radiate a sense of place and tradition. We were warmly received by François Millet who is not only a great winemaker, but also very skilled at explaining, including the use of unusual analogies and a dash of humor. The wines are timeless Burgundies that make no concession to trends. They are dense and need to age. I am not surprised that they are not necessarily the darlings of people who want flashy or easy-going wines. They are made to last. This is evident from the first taste of the 2016 Chambolle-Musigny village. The domaine suffered greatly from hail in that year, losing some 70% of the crop, a story we were unfortunately to hear all up and down the Côte. We went on to taste three other 2016s: Les Amoureuses, Bonnes Mares, and Le Musigny. The character of each climat certainly comes through, and the overall style reminds me – in a very good way – of the sorts of Burgundies I drank when I was young. Very classic and uncompromising. My notes include such adjectives as “well-muscled” “mouthfilling”, and “velvety”, among a host of others. It was a real treat to taste them and to benefit from Monsieur Millet’s insight.
We did not taste the extremely rare white Musigny. The domaine sold the wine as AOC Bourgogne for years because they felt that the vines needed to age to be worthy of their grand cru appellation. This has been the case starting with the 2015 vintage.

Lunch was at La Part des Anges in Beaune. We enjoyed a good meal there and the wine list is also worthwhile.

Afterward, we went to see a young winemaker, Valentin Jobard, at Domaine Jobard-Morey in Meursault, where we had a look at two village wines from Meursault, 2016 Les Tillets and Les Narvaux, as well as the premier cru Les Charmes from the same year. I quite liked the wines and bought some, since I was especially taken with the Charmes. I also picked up some light and feminine 2015 Meursault rouge, since it was a rarity I had never seen before. I feel unqualified to comment on the 2017s I tasted, as I need more experience with such young Burgundy. Valentin has also encountered commercial success with his Coteaux Bourguignons rouge, a fruity, thirst-quenching wine sold at a very attractive price.

The evening ended with a marathon tasting (not far from 20 wines) at the cellars of Jean-Marc Pillot in Chassagne-Montrachet. I will not reproduce my notes, but will summarize by saying that Jean-Marc’s Chassagnes (red and white) are reasonably priced and very good indeed. He was the former head of the winegrower’s association there and strongly believes in preserving the appellation’s red wine production (on the appropriate terroirs) even if growers can make more money by producing only white. His own reds are top-notch, and he agreed to sell me 6 bottles of his premier cru Clos Saint Jean. We were invited to dinner at Jean-Marc’s house along with his Portuguese cork suppliers and enjoyed a wonderful evening.

The fourth day started out at Domaine Chevillon in Nuits Saint-Georges where, like so many others, they had been very badly hit by frost in 2016. However, this happily did not detract from the quality of the wines. We were looked after by Bertand Chevillon. I have visited the domaine several times, but I cannot remember ever appreciating his wines as much as his 2016s: from a superb village wine to his premiers crus: Les Chaignots, Les Bousselots, Les Roncières, Les Perrières, Les Pruliers, Les Cailles, Les Vaucrains, and Les Saint-Georges. The last three were just great. Chevillon is simply one of my favorite growers, especially in terms of value for money. Every time I go there, I ask Bertrand how the process to upgrade Les Saint-Georges to grand cru status is going. As in the past, he shrugs and says that it is more or less in the hands of the gods – and the French civil service – and that the whole thing is absurdly complex.

The second and last visit of the day was to Domaine Mugnier in Chambolle. Freddy Mugnier is a philosopher winemaker, who always seems very thoughtful and a tad melancholic. He also makes wines that the whole world beats a path to his door to buy… We tasted his usual range from 2016, all from Chambolle, except for the last: a fine village wine, a vivacious Les Fuées, a sweet sensual Bonnes Mares, a sophisticated Les Amoureuses, (in a style so different from de Vogüé’s!), a seamless Bonne Mares, and a Clos de La Maréchale from Nuits, rich and full of black fruit. We ended the tasting with a 2015 village Chambolle, a 2015 Clos de la Maréchale, and a 2015 Clos de la Maréchale blanc. It helps that the Nuits is so good, because it is the only one I can afford!

Our final day began with a visit to Domaine Lamarche in Vosne-Romanée. I have followed them for several years and see the extent to which winemaker Nicole Lamarche has blossomed and become confident. We were poured a series of 2016s: Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Vosne village, Vosne premiers crus Les Chaumes, Les Malconsorts, and Les Suchots, Nuits premier cru Les Cras, and two grands crus, Clos de Vougeot and La Grande Rue. The latter is a “monopole”, or exclusivity.
They say that the mark of a good taster is to objectively evaluate wine irrespective of one’s personal preferences. I think all of Nicole’s wines are impeccable: well-made and very Burgundian. However, I think you have to be a Burgundy fanatic to appreciate them fully because they are on the pale, pure, and light-bodied side – a style that clashes with what I usually seek (except for the pure part!).
Nicole did not barrel-age her 2016s, which is quite unusual and, apparently, somewhat controversial.
We got to talking about the meaning of the word “climat” in Burgundy and I asked a question about the one bordering on La Grande Rue: Les Gaudichots. Is La Tâche part of the Les Gaudichots climat? This developed into a “How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?” discussion that went somewhat over my head. But Nicole was thankful for the question and went on to say that Domaine Lamarche had in fact traded some land in Echézeaux with the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for a slice of La Tâche in 1959. This had been incorporated into La Grande Rue, but Nicole decided to make a tiny cuvée from that itsy-bitsy part of the vineyard that had previously been La Tâche. You can tell by the numbers 1959 (the year of the acquisition) on labels of La Grande Rue. She was kind enough to pour us a taste of this rare wine, which Nicole calls “La Tâche vue par moi”. It is the only one of her wines for which she uses unstemmed bunches (50%). I also felt it was her best.

The next-to-last visit was Domaine Duroché in Gevrey Chambertin. I had bought some of their village wine at the Caveau Municipal (chez Rateau) in Chassagne-Montrachet on the strong recommendation of the staff, so was anxious to try the wines. We tasted mostly 2017s here, but the quality was clear, even as young as they were: village Gevrey, premier cru Lavaux Saint Jacques, and Clos de Bèze. We also tried a 2016 Gevrey village Les Jeunes Rois and a 2015 Gevrey Village, and finished with a mystery wine, that turned out to be a 1981 Lavaux Saint Jacques. Young Pierre Duroché is the fifth generation of his family to make wine at the domaine, and he does very good work. His is a wine to follow, if you can find any!
The final visit was to Domaine Dublère in Savigny-lès-Beaune, owned by American Blair Pethel. Once again, the domaine was badly hit in 2016.

We tasted through a series of wines from that vintage: Chorey-lès-Beaune Les Maladerottes (one of the better wines I’ve had from that AOC), Beaune premier cru En Orme, Volnay premiers crus Les Pitures and Taillepieds, Morey Saint-Denis premier Les Blanchards, Nuits premier Aux Bousselots. The level was very good.
The whites were Savigny premier cru Aux Vergeleesses, Chassagne premier Les Chaumées, and a tiny amount of Chassagne premier cru he will label “La Cuvée de la Gelée Noire” because of the disastrous frost. We finished with a very classy Corton Charlemagne.

My last night in Burgundy was another extravaganza repast at the Hostellerie Bourguignonne. We started off with the 2012 Louis Picamelot “Cuvée Jean-Baptiste Chautard” crémant de Bourgogne. This was slightly oxidized, but no more than a good Champagne can be. We went on to drink a 2015 Bourgogne Blanc Coche Dury, a 2012 Meursault Grands Charrons from Boisson-Vadot (we had had the 2013 earlier in the week), a 2001 Léoville Barton, a 2013 Racine du Temps Gevrey Chambertin from René Bouvier (his Marsannay is mentioned above), and a Gevrey Chambertin premier cru “Les Corbeaux” from Lucien Boillot.

I slept soundly and am looking forward to another trip to Burgundy next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas dinner with Château Lagrange white and red

Our family celebrated Christmas a day early because we are travelling on the 25th. Our holiday meal consisted of shrimp cocktail and tournedos and I thought it might be fun to drink both the red and white wine of a Médoc great growth: Château Lagrange.

Château Lagrange in Saint Julien

With the former, we enjoyed a 2015 Les Arums de Lagrange (60% de Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Gris, and 20% Sémillon)

The color was pale yellow and the nose was soft and understated with marked gooseberry aromas. There were also some butterscotch and meringue nuances.The wine featured more personality on the palate. The first impression was of vanilla and almond overtones due to barrel ageing. But, fortunately, there was more to the wine than that. It started out quite round on the palate with an impression of sweetness (although it is probably perfectly dry) and some lanoline notes before dipping somewhat and then returning with a delicious mineral aftertaste.

2015 Les Arums is fine to drink now, i.e. it has not much to gain by further cellaring. The odd thing is that, if tasted blind, I might more easily have taken it for a Loire Valley white than one from Bordeaux! In that, it is similar to another Médoc white, Alto from Ch. Cantenac Brown.
White Médocs are not as rare as they used to be. They must be sold under the Bordeaux appellation, because all Médoc must be red.

Château Lagrange is a huge estate – at 118 hectares, as large as some entire appellations in Burgundy! Of course, most of this is given over to red wine production. Lagrange was included among the third growths of Saint-Julien in the 1855 classification. It was acquired by the Japanese Suntory group in 1983. I have long considered Lagrange a reliable, trustworthy wine. Not top tier among the classified growths, but sold at a very reasonable price.

So, I was interested to try the wine from the well-reputed 2000 vintage (76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot), which I decanted 4 hours prior to serving.
The wine had a very dark core and, surprisingly, some youthful purplish highlights on the rim.
The sweet bouquet had decided blackberrry and liquorice aromas, but was rather one-dimensional. There were also some beeswax/old library overtones.
The wine started off by melting in the mouth, continued with a fluid, fresh, unctuous texture, and then finished with some grippy tannin as well as cranberry and chocolate nuances. As expected, there were blackcurrant flavours and, even in this ripe vintage, a soupçon of greenness. The wine featured a medium-heavy mouthfeel and a touch of heat and dryness on the finish.
I consider it a worthy representative of the Médoc aristocracy, but more the petite noblesse
The inevitable question arises: was this 2000 ready to drink? The angular tannin on the finish says no, but most other aspects of the wine contradict that. I have one more bottle and figure that 3 more years can do it no harm…

Oh, one last thing, we had a special cheese at the end of the meal: a truffled brie from a farm owned by Edmond de Rothschild of Châteaux Clarke and Lafite. Wonderfully décadant, and not bad with aged claret…

Délices de Favières Truffé

Bordeaux: what’s in a name?

This may seem like a rather odd question to ask in a blog about Bordeaux wine. And yet, there is enormous misunderstanding about just what the word actually means…
For a start, Bordeaux is not a little wine town with a famous name like, let’s say, Gevrey-Chambertin or Châteaneuf-du-Pape. It is France’s fifth largest city, a port on the Garonne river with a population of 250,000 and three times that in the metropolitan area.

So, Bordeaux is a major city and also the center of a centuries-old wine trade.

Bordeaux – Place de la Bourse

For the French, Bordeaux is also a color. Larousse describes it as rouge violacé, or purplish-red, although I don’t think that is the best description. I’d plump for maroon… And isn’t it odd that we say “Burgundy” in English for wine-colored (even though there is a slightly different nuance)?

And then, of course, there’s the wine. Thanks to this wine, Bordeaux is the most well-known French city after Paris. The vineyards cover about 115,000 hectares and produce anywhere from 400 million to 800 million bottles of wine a year, depending on the vintage. There are 57 appellations and, according to a conservative estimate, some 6,000 châteaux. This is where the problem arises.

What problem? On certain export markets, especially the English-speaking countries, consumers are only aware of the top wines, meaning essentially the classified growths. When many English and American wine enthusiasts say “Bordeaux”, as often as not what they really mean to say is “great growth” – when those wines account for just 5% of total production! This makes generalizations about Bordeaux frustrating and seriously off the mark.

Bordeaux went through a bad patch starting with the 2005 vintage when the great wines – the tip of the iceberg – increased their prices significantly. The Bordelais were accused of being greedy bastards and it was endlessly predicted that “the bubble would burst”. Which it never did. The irony here is that even though the overwhelming majority of Bordeaux estates did not increase their prices unconscionably, that did not prevent them from being stigmatized and erroneously lumped in with the 5% that did…

Why are the affordable, fruity, early-maturing wines of Bordeaux so little-known on certain markets, especially the US, where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are such popular grape varieties? The answer is complex, and there is plenty of blame to share around… It must be admitted, for a start, that with so many estates there are bound to be hits and misses. It cannot be denied that there are thin, weedy wines at the lower end of the price range. However, there are also many beauties that can hold their head high compared with wines from anywhere else in the world in terms of value for money.

The wine distribution system obviously has its failings too. The weaknesses are on both the Bordeaux end (lack of investments in marketing, promotion, and sales trips) and the importing end. It is maddening that the same journalists who are tickled pink to discover a little gem of a wine from the Luberon or the Jura never seem to make the effort to ferret out such wines in Bordeaux – where there is plenty of scope! One of the reasons for this is that Bordeaux is so big, when wine merchants and critics can devote only so much time to one region… Most of them try to make it to the en primeur tastings in the spring. But, I can tell you from experience that even if you do nothing but taste for a full week you will only have scratched the surface. The sheer size and variety of Bordeaux are impressive, in fact overwhelming. So what do most professionals do? Focus on the great growths…

This equation – Bordeaux = great growths – is particularly prevalent in America. It stems from a time when the crus classes where much more affordable. One also needs to factor in the classification system that categorizes wines into neat slots. Once upon a time, if you more or less memorized the classifications, you were pretty much on your way to understanding Bordeaux. Or rather 5% of Bordeaux…

Of course, the advent of Robert Parker changed all that. He upset the apple cart and (to begin with in any event) noted wines without a pious regard for their hierarchical standing. While the number of non-classified wines Parker reviewed was greater than his predecessors, the choice of wines he chose to review were still very heavily lopsided.

This situation reminds me of two other regions. New Zealand is identified with Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina with Malbec. Since world demand associates each country with that one type of wine, it is not easy to step outside of that paradigm. In the case of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc is by far the leading grape variety (although Pinot Noir may have made some headway in recent years, it still accounts for just a quarter of Sauvignon Blanc, whose area under vine has grown more than fourfold since 2003, compared with Pinot Noir’s doubling). Malbec’s paramount position in Argentina is a similar story. So, a wine’s reputation is often a question of well-established commercial niches, which are paradoxically both an advantage and a disadvantage. Bordeaux’s image is decidedly double-edged. In some rich countries, it is perceived much more as wine with a grand château on the label to be ceremoniously decanted after long ageing and consumed at a formal candlelight dinner than a fresh, fruity, uncomplicated, affordable wine to have with a sandwich or a steak… And yet, believe me, there are many fine examples in the latter category!

France drinks more Bordeaux than any other country. The French, the Belgians, the Germans, and the Dutch are huge consumers of Bordeaux selling in the 5-15 euro range. China, Bordeaux’s largest export customer, also brings in container-loads of these wines. But they are little-known in my native country, the USA. Bordeaux needs a super-hero to fix this!

Meanwhile, please let us be careful about making any sweeping statements or generalizations about Bordeaux… The wines from a classified growth in the Médoc, a producer in the Côtes de Blaye, a petit château making white wine in the Entre-Deux-Mers, and an estate in Sauternes all represent very different realities, as well as different products at different price points…

When my friends and fellow wine lovers bitch about price increases for the great growths, I’m on the same wavelength. The sticker shock can be alarming. But when people start to extrapolate from this, and badmouth “Bordeaux”, they have lost sight of the very meaning of the word. And, without being a superhero, I come swooping down to the region’s defense ;-).

Let us treat Bordeaux as a complex reality.

 

 

 

From Down Under to the End of the World…

This title calls for an explanation, even though the first half is fairly obvious. Down Under, of course, refers to Australia, which is where Richard and Shelley Serisier come from. Shelley is a biologist and Richard had a successful career in management. However, Richard’s roots are actually in Bordeaux. His great-great-grandfather, Jean-Émile Serisier, emigrated from there to Australia in 1839. He even planted vines in the Dubbo region of New South Wales from which he made wine receiving critical acclaim…
The French word “cerisier” means cherry tree, and so the Serisiers have adopted this as their family emblem.


Undoubtedly encouraged by their family history, the Serisiers fell in love with France and the French way of life, and decided to buy a house there. Fate led them to acquire nothing less than a full-fledged castle close to Libourne in 2004. The Château de Cadillac in Cadillac-en-Fronsadais (not to be confused with the château of the same name 60 km distant in the eponymous town on the Garonne) has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. The Serisiers beautifully renovated the impressive building both inside and out. It now corresponds in every way to one’s mind’s-eye representation of a French château.


The estate included 3-hectares of vines on the plateau leased to the previous owner of the chateau who had retained the rest of the vines. However, Richard, who could easily have settled into a comfortable early retirement, decided that he wanted to take control of and extend this vineyard holding. A man of action, he reasoned that the limestone plateau overlooking the Dordogne had much the same terroir as nearby Saint-Émilion and wanted to make his own wine. He strongly felt that winegrowing here was “a geographical inevitability” and that, surrounded by vines, it was only natural to try his hand at winegrowing.
So, when the former owner of the chateau sold their estate in 2011 to the Chinese, Richard bought the rest of the best parcels on the plateau adjoining the chateau. Taking a very “can do” New World approach, he does not have much truck with Bordeaux hierarchies of appellations and classifications. All his wines are either Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur, and he believes they should stand on their own merits. He sells much of them to the local restaurant trade, where they have done rather well.

Richard could not call his wine Château de Cadillac because there is a Bordeaux sweet wine appellation of the same name. So, he chose that of the vineyard plot poetically designated Champ du Bout du Monde, or “the End of the World”, on the land register. He did not attach the word “château”.

The first vintage of Le Bout du Monde was in 2012. In 2013, Richard also bought another closeby vineyard estate, Château Meillac, in Saint-Romain-la-Virvée. This provided a much-needed and since-renovated winemaking facility centred around an 18th century windmill. Total area under vine now stands at 15 hectares which includes 5 hectares of new plantings. Average annual production amounts to 40-45,000 bottles a year. Le Bout du Monde accounts for 70% and Château Meillac 30%. A prestige cuvée, Château Montrevel, was first made in 2014 (2,500-3,000 bottles a year). This comes from the best part of the vineyard and undergoes vinification intégrale.


I sampled the full range of wines, which made a very good impression. Meillac is the entry level wine, easy-drinking and early-maturing. Le Bout du Monde is more serious and has already garnered several medals. Last, but not least, Château Montrevel has benefited from its vinification intégrale winemaking and mercifully avoids the trap of too much oak on the palate. It is a fine wine that would stump just about anybody tasting it blind. The proximity with Fronsac and especially Saint-Émilion is patent.
Richard Serisier has his sights set on the long term. By any standard, creating and marketing a new brand from the Bordeaux appellation is a difficult task, and even more challenging for a foreigner. However, Richard is following his star… Even such a serious setback as the horrendous frost damage this year (75% of the crop was lost) has not deterred him or Stéphane Renié, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the estate. The best wines so far have been made from 100% Merlot, but that will soon change when the new plantings of Cabernet Franc and Malbec vines come into production. The vines are grown sustainably.
Richard and Shelley Serisier belong to a long line of enthusiastic entrepreneurs from abroad who have contributed so much to Bordeaux wine. I have little doubt that their efforts will pay off, and their wines are well worth discovering.

Tasting of 25 great Médocs from the 2014 vintage

 

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For the past several years, I have been invited by the Union des Grands Crus to take part in a mammoth tasting organized during the Weekend des Grands Crus. This is always a wonderful experience and the 2017 tasting on the 20th of May was no exception.

Open to the general public, the UGC Weekend includes wine country tours, dinners in famous châteaux, a golf tournament and the monster tasting on Saturday with some participating 116 châteaux. The tasting takes place in the city of Bordeaux in a single huge room in a former warehouse, H 14, overlooking the Garonne, not far from the new Cité du Vin. Every UGC member is asked to show two wines: one from the same vintage (the 2014 this year) and another of their choosing. Most estates are represented by their owner or general manager, so this is a rare opportunity to meet the people who actually make the wine and talk with them. The tasting lasts from 10 am to 5 pm. Snacks are available as well as a sit-down lunch accompanied by older wines.

The tasting is well attended by wine lovers from all over the world.

The choice of wines is so great that I usually decide to focus on one region in one vintage.
This year’s choice was 2014 Médoc.

Here are my notes.

Saint-Estèphe
==========

2014 Château Cos Labory
C: Lovely, bright, medium-deep color.
N: Open, fruity, and plummy with graphite overtones. Expressive, subtle, and more elegant than usual for this château.
P: Unfortunately unbalanced because hollow on the middle palate. Starts out fluid and free-flowing, and then turns hard. The aftertaste is rough, and this is a shame after such a fine bouquet.

2014 Château Lafon Rochet
C: A little dull, but good enough with a thin purplish rim.
N: Lovely marriage of fruit and oak. Pretty rather than deep, although there is an attractive uplift. Nevertheless hides its light under a bushel.
P: Round and soft on the attack, then segues seamlessly in a fine structured aftertaste. More elegant than powerful. Medium-light in body with blueberry and blackberry flavors, as well as a tannic finish that indicates the wine is for mid-term drinking.

2014 Château Les Ormes de Pez
C: Relatively dense with a medium-deep purplish rim.
N: Fresh, upfront, and seemingly unoaked fruit with ethereal graphite aromas and cherry nuances in the background.
P: Somewhat lightweight for a Saint Estèphe. A good cru bourgeois not pretending to be otherwise. Relatively short aftertaste.

2014 Château de Pez

C: Medium dark core with a vibrant purplish rim.
N: Underwhelming blackberry aromas. Sweet but not very expressive.
P: A thirst-quenching, tangy sort of Médoc with fresh acidity. Light for a Saint-Estèphe. Shortish aftertaste, but with decent, slightly rubbery tannin on the finish.

2014 Château Phélan Ségur
C: Medium-deep, luminous purplish-red.
N: Underdeveloped (more understated or lacking in expressiveness?) at this time with black cherry and sweet cosmetic/perfumed aromas.
P: A little dilute, but well-constructed. The tannin on the finish makes this a serious wine, but one best enjoyed on the young side. Fresh and well-made, but not a heavy hitter.

SAINT JULIEN
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2014 Château Beychevelle
C: Medium-deep with a youthful rim.
N: Lovely. Ultra-classic fresh nose of super Médoc. Blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and earth. Subtle and perfumed.
P: Rich, soft, and mouthfilling on the attack followed by a flawless development towards a long fresh aftertaste. Fruit and tannin are very much in balance accompanied by that extra something that can only come from a fine terroir. Medium-bodied and truly elegant, this is not a huge wine, but one that will please claret lovers.

2014 Château Branaire Ducru
C: Medium and not particularly brilliant with a thinnish purple rim.
N: Too indeterminate at this stage. Some graphite there, but the bouquet is not quite up to grand cru level even though it is quite fresh.
P: Better on the palate. Tight and brambly, delicious and appetizing. Lovely texture with a classic, long, velvety afteraste. Well-made. A sleeper. The bouquet may not be expressive, but let us hope this comes around in time.

2014 Château Gloria
C: Attractive deep colour with a fairly watery rim.
N: A sweet, fresh, immediately rich and satisfying nose with hints of graphite, kirsch, and toasty oak.
P: Full-bodied, round, and with tannin that melts in the mouth. Penetrating, and then drops off somewhat before picking up again on the tannic aftertaste showing candied fruit and coffee overtones. A compromise between a classic and a crowd-pleasing commercial style. Open and attractive.

2014 Château Gruaud-Larose
C: Medium-dark with a wide purplish rim.
N: Showing sour cherry and berry fruit aromas, but underdeveloped at this time. There is a spirity quality here (blackberry liqueur).
P: Mouthfilling with sweet fruit, but there is some hollowness on the middle palate and dryness on the finish (too much oak?). Long aftertaste, but the oak is intrusive. A little top-heavy and clunky in this vintage, but I hope I will be able to revise my opinion down the road.

2014 Château Lagrange
C: Medium-deep with a watery purplish rim.
N: Expressive bouquet of primary fruit and toasty oak. Simple and forthright, with some graphite.
P: Starts out solid, going on to reveal fine-grained tannin. A natural, undoctored kind of Médoc with some dry oak on the finish. Not the red fruit flavors I would have hoped for. Tangy, medium-long aftertaste with good grip. The type of wine that is good young or old. Good value.

2014 Château Langoa Barton
C: Fine, youthful, and vibrant, including the rim.
N: Very typical of the Saint-Julien appellation with some graphite. Good, but not great.
P: Creamy, rich, and mouthfilling. Very long, tangy aftertaste with fresh acidty and red fruit flavors, especially strawberry. Needs loads of time. Promising, but not showing especially well at this time.

2014 Château Léoville Barton
C: Deep core, but also a very youthful color on the rim.
N: Subtle bouquet of candied cherries with some truffle overtones and a fascinating unpindownable floral element. Class rather than power with toasty oak bringing up the rear, but very much in harmony.
P: Sweet without being sweet… Tremendous black fruit and candied cherry flavors. Unfolds beautifully on the palate into a fine aftertaste consistent with everything the precedes. A long, long finish with bright fruit. Could perhaps use a touch more richness and volume, but this is a very fine wine indeed.

2014 Château Léoville Poyferré
C: Very deep and not totally clear. Thin rim showing different shades.
N: Concentrated bouquet of blackcurrant and throat lozenge. A little spirity.
P: Sweet and soft on entry, dips somewhat, and then comes back with significant, but not overdone oak. Fresh with a medium-heavy mouth feel. Some dryness on the finish. Very good, but not excellent. Reliable. The first vintage sold in a bottle embossed with the château emblem.

2014 Château Saint-Pierre
C: Comparable to the sister château, Gloria, tasted just before, perhaps looking a little more dull.
N: Fresh, subtle, and floral, with some candied black fruit and truffle nuances. Very interesting.
P: Starts out sweet and with the chunkiness I associate with Saint-Julien. Joyous, exuberant fruit that goes just a little too quickly into a dry aftertaste. The oak needs to blend more with the fruit.

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2014 Château Talbot

C: Lovely dark colour, much deeper than the other wines.
N: Classic sweet Cabernet Sauvignon nose with graphite and cedar overtones. Seductive and full of character, but oh-so-unlike most New World Cabs…
P: Mouthfilling, seems rather chunky and then thins out some. Controlled tannin on the aftertaste. Lovely finish with oak playing the role it should. Lacks some richness and depth, but very well-made.

PAUILLAC
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2014 Château d’Armailhac
C: Vigorous and deep with a bright purple rim. Brilliant, very good.
N: Forest floor and a definite greenness to accompany the traditional hallmarks of Pauillac. A certain herbaceousness needs to integrate better with age and/or aeration before serving.
P: A chunky quality, but without the elegance to back it up. Definite cedar and graphite aromatics, but unfocused at this time. Medium-heavy mouthfeel then dilute, then showing slightly clumsy tannin. Needs re-evaluation at a later date…

2014 Château Batailley
C: Not totally limpid. Medium-deep core.
N: Toasty oak dominates at this point and the nose smells more like coffee than wine… However, black fruit nuances are lurking.
P: Hard oakiness overlaying good back fruit, but this oak is just too much, and I do not see how time can overcome the imbalance. Dry finish.

2014 Château Clerc Milon
C: Deep, with purplish tones throughout.
N: Toasty oak, but in tune with the red fruit aromas, along with black cherry and truffle notes, as well as a touch of eucalyptus. Not celestial, but very good. Understated.
P: Silky smooth texture if a touch watery, going into a taste I can only define as Pinotlike minus the tannin! Mineral, and not very long, but a “digestible” wine that will be good young. Tangy acidity plays a major role here. A different profile from what I am used to, but Clerc Milon is still on a roll…

2014 Château Croizet Bages
C: Light and not very clear or appealing.
N: Soft and simple.
P: Smooth, light, and not much there. Rough tannin on the aftertaste. Off notes. I keep trying with Croizet Bages, waiting for the estate to be turned around, but that time is still in the future.

2014 Château Grand Puy Ducasse
C: Medium in every respect, with a purplish rim.
N: Rather rustic with hints of pencil shavings as well as odd and unexpected tropical fruit aromas!
P: Smooth, short, and simple. Dilute and ends with dry, bitter tannin. Not a winner.

2014 Château Haut Bages Libéral
C: Somewhat dusky.
N: Barnyard aromas.
P: A little better, but the bretty quality overshadows the rest.

2014 Château Lynch Bages
C: Very dark, much more so than the other wines.
N: Fine, subtle oak with trademark black fruit (cassis) and graphite aromas. Overtones of blackstrap molasses and coffee, but the aromatic profile is still largely closed at present.
P: A touch green, and acidity coats the teeth. This is a good Lynch Bages that will age well.

2014 Château Lynch Moussas
C: Medium intensity with a watery purplish rim.
N: Not much fruit. Toasty oak and caramel overtones.
P: Starts out sweet, then becomes hot and oaky with granular tannin on the finish. Out of balance. More fruit and less oak needed. There is also a slight greenness on the finish.

2014 Château Pichon Baron
C: Very dark color, one of the best of the tasting. The rim is red rather than purplish.
N: Roasted aromas (coffee) and reticent black fruit. Pure and fresh.
P: A big wine with medium-heavy mouth feel. Luscious and ticks all the right boxes for Pauillac. Smooth and requires medium-term ageing. Spreads out beautifully on the palate. The tannin less virile than in many other vintages of this wine. Wonderful.

2014 Château Pichon Comtesse
C: Medium-deep with a purple rim.
N: Candied red fruit. Sweet, but not yet complex at this stage. Surprisingly, a little rustic and not showing particularly well at this time.
P: Better on the palate, which shows marked fresh acidity and a blackcurrant flavor. Seems a little harsh and needs to age. Should be revisited at a later date to re-evaluate.

 

A foray into the Côtes de Bourg / May 2017 (11 châteaux)

PO-2017[1]
I often refer to “Portes Ouvertes” on my blog. Taking place over a two or three-day weekend, these “Open Cellars” operations are marvelous opportunities to discover some of Bordeaux’s lesser-known appellations and estates – and to add to the cellar :-).

Most of the Côtes regions in Bordeaux (Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs, and Sainte-Foy) joined forces to promote their wine in 2009, and changed the name of their appellation at that time. Castillon thus became “Côtes-de-Bordeaux-Castillon”, Blaye became “Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux”, and so forth.

However, the Côtes de Bourg decided to remain apart.

My day began at the Maison du Vin in Bourg-sur-Gironde. The factoid here is that Bourg is not actually on the Gironde! The course of the river changed over the centuries, and it is now on the Dordogne. Anyway, the Maison du Vin (http://www.cotes-de-bourg.com/les-cotes-de-bourg/la-maison-des-vins/) is extremely well geared up for wine tourism with a beautiful modern tasting room overlooking the river and a huge boutique. The advantage of wines from Bourg, of course, is their price.  I visited eleven châteaux in the Côtes de Bourg, and not one wine was over 20 euros a bottle.

Bourg-vu-du-port-bis.-@OT-Bourg-700x380

The port of Bourg-sur-Gironde

Here is a list of the 11 estates I visited in alphabetical order with brief comments:

Château Brulesécaille: This was my last visit of the day. Historically, Brulesécaille is one of the leading estates in Bourg. While I found their 2015 white pedestrian, I very much enjoyed their fruity, delicate 2015 rosé and bought a couple of bottles. The 2014 red was as dependable as always. The Rodet family also own an estate in Saint-Emilion, Ch. Yon Saint-Christophe, which suffered terribly from the frost this year. The damage in the Côtes de Bourg seemed to be much less catastrophic, probably due to the tempering influence of the neighboring estuary.

Château Conilh Haut Libarde: I met the father and son at this small estate on a rise and tasted their regular cuvée from 2012 and their Cuvée Excellence in 2012 and 2014. The latter were especially good and screamingly good value for money. I also tried wine from a sister château located on a different terroir, Ch. Font-Guilhem, that was not quite as impressive.

Château Eyquem: Located a stone’s throw from Château Tayac, and also affording a beautiful view over the estuary, Eyquem is named after the famous philosopher Michel de Montaigne, whose family name was Eyquem. I was warmly welcomed in an attractive, spacious, and modern tasting room by Xavier Carreau, who is at the head of some 140 hectares of vineyards in Bourg and Blaye. The tasting started off with 2016 Ch. Barbé, a white wine from Blaye which was technologically impeccable and attractively priced, but did not seem much like a vin de terroir. 2014 Eyquem was in a tasty up-front commercial style and very good at its price point. Vignobles Bayle-Carreau also own Ch. Landereau, from a different part of the appellation, which was a more serious wine.

Château Fougas: This is one wine from Bourg I know is well-distributed in the US.  Robert Parker’s benediction is surely not for nothing here… The Bechet family vineyard is certified both organic and biodynamic. I tasted through 3 of their wines: the 2104 regular cuvée which was decent enough, followed by the well-known Maldoror which had a shortish aftertaste, but was otherwise a good middle-of-the-road wine. The top of the line, also from 2014, was the Forces de Vie cuvée. This was rich and interesting, if a bit dry. It punches above its weight. The 2012 vintage of the same was unfortunately much less good, with decided bretty aromas.

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave: This was my first stop of the day. The attractive 16th century château (renovated in the early 19th century) offers a commanding view of the surrounding vine-covered countryside. For what it’s worth, they also have guest rooms. I have enjoyed the château’s white wine for a long time and the 2015 vintage did not let me down. I bought 3 bottles. The reds were unfortunately not as good. We sampled the regular 2015, the 2014 Cuvée Caractère, and the 2014 Cuvée Nectar. The Caractère was the best of the three, but nothing special. And there was a certain dryness on the finish with all of them.

Château Gros Moulin: This château is located just outside the town of Bourg. Owner Jacques Eymas poured us several wines. His 2012 Lys du Moulin, a white Bourg, was fresh but lacking the personality and his rosé (sold as Vin de France rather Bordeaux because the tasting panel found it was not typical enough…) which was, in effect, a bit unusual, but gulpable and with a mineral finish – perhaps more interesting than good. The 2014 red Gros Moulin was characterful and assertive, if a bit rustic. The Eymas family also produce two special cuvées: Per Vitem Ad Vitam (Latin for par la vigne, pour la vie) is a very serious and interesting wine, and I came away with a bottle. I found the next wine, Heritage 1757, to be big and juicy, but perhaps a little too dry due to the oak. Stéphane Derenoncourt is winemaking consultant for Gros Moulin and his positive influence clearly comes through here.

Château Haut-Macô: This was the second estate I ever featured on my blog and I have been following it for years. The cellar is quite modern and the wine represents unbeatable value for money. I tasted the 2014 regular cuvée, which was good enough, but the not-much-more-expensive Cuvée Jean-Bernard was much better. Everyman’s fine Bordeaux J.

Château de l’Hurbe : I went here for lunch, but did not visit the cellars or have a tasting as such. I nevertheless enjoyed two of the wines over a leisurely lunch with the owner, Marc Bousseau on a trestle table in the vat room along with about 30 other people: the 2015 dry white wine and the 2012 red, sold under the name Château Sirac. If not memorable, both of these were good. I was not altogether convinced by their  small production (700 bottles) cuvée prestige.

Château Mercier: I have posted a profile of this tried-and-true Côtes de Bourg on my blog. Mercier is evidently well-considered in the region, because the place was mobbed for lunch. I did not taste here because I already know the wine and have several vintages in my cellar. I did, however, buy their excellent bag-in-box white wine. Three of them, in fact. At under 14 euros per three-liter box of delicious estate-bottled wine, how can you go wrong? I find this format especially useful for anytime wine and cooking wine.
Mercier was showing, wait for it, some 21 vintages of their red wine. My palate was a bit jaded at that point, so I begged off.  Mercier also produce a very interesting wine without sulfur called Atmosphères.

Château Nodoz: Nodoz is a well-known traditional estate. I found that their 2015 white was lacklustre, whereas the red from the same vintage was simple, soft, round, fruity, and delicious. Wine from the sister estate, 2015 Château Galau, was barrel-aged, but I actually preferred the unoaked version of Nodoz. 2015 Château le Nègre (a name that might not go over very well in some countries…) was overly tannic, i.e. was not very refined, whereas the barrel-aged version of 2015 Nodoz was well-integrated with a silky texture and a long aftertaste. A fine bottle.

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac: One of Bordeaux’s huge advantages is to have wine estates with impressive buildings. Tayac is one such estate, with an attractive château overlooking the Bec d’Ambès, that the pointy tongue of land where the Dordogne and the Garonne meet to form the Gironde. I was taken with the 2015 white wine in terms of value for money and also tasted the 2014 Rubis du Prince Noir, the 2014 Cuvée Réservée, and the 2014 Cuvée Prestige. All were good, solid, old-fashioned wines. I went on to sample the 2010, 2009, and 2000 Prestige bottlings. The shared profile was of fairly grippy, long-maturing wines.

Some of my “Anglo-Saxon” friends wail that Bordeaux has become too expensive. They should go to the Côtes de Bourg! Of course, not all the wines are worthy of special interest, but when you find a good one, the prices are ridiculously inexpensive. In fact, I think such wines can hold their own in terms of value for money with ones from anywhere else in the world.

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