2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pomerol

Château Beauregard
N: Subdued black fruit and some toastiness with floral overtones. In a relatively dumb phase.
P: Mouthfilling and saved from flabbiness and banality by good fresh acidity. Big, friendly, Saint Bernard of a wine. Good.

Château Bellegrave
N: Deep, dark, lovely Merlot fruit. Soft, with black cherry nuances. Really attractive.
P: Structure to accompany the plush roundness. Big with a huge follow-through. Majestic, with a long red fruit aftertaste. Sensual. Very good.

Château le Bon Pasteur
N: Intriguing fragrant understated nose with an ethereal floral aspect.
P: Those floral aromatics carry over onto the palate. Excellent Pomerol with good ageing potential. Good acidity and maceration that was carried out enough for good longevity, but not too much. Perfumed aftertaste. Very good.

Château Bourgneuf
N: Attractive ripe floral and fruity (blueberry) aromas, as well as a little caramel.
P: Meaty, broad-shouldered, and sensual. Melts in the mouth, then shows great texture. Fine acidity and tight, velvety tannin. Shows intrinsic pedigree with power and authority. Good to very good.

Château Clinet
N: Aromas of iron, licorice, and cotton candy. Something earthy here too.
P: Rubbery high-quality tannin that is more remarkable than the fruit. Leathery, blueberry, and stewed fruit nuances. Maybe a little heavy-handed, but good to very good.

Clos du Clocher
N: Fresh blackberry and floral aromas. Not deep, but not troubled by oak.
P: Attractive tactile sensation and exuberant fruit. Great acidity and “rubbery” Pomerol tannin on the finish. Sensual. Excellent.

Château La Conseillante
N: Pure sophisticated fruit and a decided floral component (iris), as well as spice.
P: Incredibly velvety and sensual tannin. Violet nuances. Wonderful. Long. A dream. Excellent, one of the very top wines of the vintage.

Château La Création
N: Rich, but not complex berry fruit.
P: Quite rich on the palate too, but with good acidity. Satisfying and vinous but lacks a spark. Oak on the finish complements the sleek Pomerol tannin, but is still somewhat overbearing i.e. may make the finish too dry in the long run. Time will tell. Good.

Château L’Ecuyer
N: Meaty, brambly, and blackberry liqueur aromas with an iron nuance. Makes you expect to taste a big plush wine on the palate.
P: Heavy mouth feel followed by really powerful tannin with a coarse texture. Earthy, typical of its appellation and quite concentrated. A big wine, but with typical Bordeaux elegance. Very good.

Château L’Eglise Clinet (sorry, no photo)
N: Just starting to come out.
P: Superb tannin that melts in the mouth. The rich fruity flavors are followed by new oak which will take time to marry with this Pomerol’s sublime roundness. Good to very good.

Château L’Evangile
N: A little dusty, but showing tremendous potential. Overtones of blueberry, as well as black fruit jelly.
P: Satiny texture accompanied by beautiful acidity and length. Both ripe and subtle with exotic aromatics, including violet. Superbly elegant tannin. Excellent.

Château Feytit Clinet
N: Fine and ethereal, with toasty oak bringing up the rear.
P: Chewy and big. Plenty of oak there to complement the exuberant fruit. Round, satisfying finish, although somewhat dry. Natural well-made wine, just watch out for the oak during the rest of ageing. Good to very good.

Château la Fleur de Gay
N: Classic aromatics. Ripe forward black fruit. Not profound, but very pleasant.
P: Well-made with a great interplay between fruit, tannin, and acidity. However, the oak is too strong and leaves a dry aftertaste. This needs to be re-tasted at a later date. Good.

Château Le Gay
N: Inky, wild, floral and rich with loads of personality.
P: Chunky and mouth-filling with superlative velvety tannin. Big wine, but with plenty of elegance and will age well. Wonderful aftertaste with considerable, but not insurmountable oak. Excellent.

Château Gazin
N: Dark berry aromas and good oak.
P: Lots of volume here. Seems to start out light, but then spreads out beautifully on the palate. Melts in the mouth to reveal delicious red fruit flavors. Elegant with good acidity. Will age beautifully. Fine-grained tannins add a great deal to the finish. Very good.

Château Le Moulin
N: Subtle, sophisticated, and slightly cosmetic (perfumed talc) nose.
P: Delicious and well-balanced with a delightful puckery aftertaste that will make this shine at table. Very classy and poised. Long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château La Patache
N: Pure, faithful to its Pomerol origins, understated, undoctored, ripe, and very engaging.
P: Big and full with velvety tannin and marked acidity. Not your fat kind of Pomerol. Very good.

Château Petit Village
N: Dried fruit and spring flowers.
P: Chewy and fruity with smooth, velvety tannin. Seems simple before moving on to a strong tannic aftertaste. A little empyreumatic. Quite enjoyable, but still top of the second tier rather than belonging to the top one. Very good.

Château Pierham
N: Suave black fruit. Ripe and sweet, but not complex. Hint of cranberry jelly.
P: Starts out quite rich, and then the tannin and acidity coat the palate and teeth. I have the impression of someone trying very hard to make a great wine, but less interventionist winemaking and less oak would be a better path to follow. Good.

Le Pin
Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the label. I tasted the wine at Jacques Thienpont’s house in Pomerol rather than at the cellar.
N: New oak, truffle, and red fruit. Obviously young, but many fine aromas clearly around the corner.
G: Magnificent texture to the tannin. Luxurious, but very much under control. All the finesse of a legendary Pomerol. Not disappointed. Excellent.

Château La Pointe
N: Vaguely fruity with some toasty notes.
P: A narrow register of flavors, but concentrated within it. Earthy funky flavors and rubbery tannin. Not light as I have known this wine to be in the past. Not showing especially well and needs to be retasted at a later date. Good.

Château Rouget
N: Ripe stewed fruit aromas some nice blackcurrant, but rather one-dimensional at this stage.
P: Sensual and big with good follow-through, but seems more of a technically flawless wine than a vin de terroir. A bit empyreumatic. Crowd-pleasing. Good.

Château Sacré Cœur
This means “sacred heart” in French. The label is tremendously kitsch, but let’s get past that…
N: Pure and showing potential, but not expressive at this time.
P: Rather big and certainly velvety. To nitpick, the finish is a little weak, but this is a quintessential Pomerol that is worth getting to know. Very good to excellent.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Flawless, subtle, polished, and showing great potential.
P: Juicy and incredibly poised. Unbelievably fine tannin. As Alexandre Thienpont says: “cashmere”. Far more elegant than big despite its 14.4° alcohol. Excellent.

Château Vieux Taillefer
N: Smells like cough medicine (black fruit syrup). A little overdone.
P: Thick, rich berry fruit, almost New World in style, but then good acidity kicks in and lightens the wine up. Almost a caricature of Pomerol, the epitome of a big, rich Merlot. Still, quite enjoyable. Good to very good.

2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Saint-Emilion

Château Angélus
N: Soft, with some spice.
P: Chunky, but silky. It appears at first to be medium rather than heavy-bodied, and then strong oak kicks in on the aftertaste. I mark the wine down for excessive oakiness but, in all fairness, would need to retaste it 10 years from now to see if I have been too severe or not. Good.

Château Ausone
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious.
P: I could invent something here to rise to the occasion and gush about this first growth. However, I will be neither critical nor full of praise. I will state that that 2018 Ausone is playing hide and seek at present and is only a shadow of what it will be one day and is difficult to taste today. It shows great acidity, power, elegance, and restraint. And the texture is wonderful. But this wine is presently hiding its light under a bushel. I will rate its potential as excellent, but in a line-up it I’m sure its reticence would not make it stand out as it should – or as it undoubtedly will in a few years’ time.

Château Beauséjour Bécot
N: Very closed at this time.
P: Much better on the palate. Rich and tight, with good structure and texture. Not overly broad, alcoholic, or overdone. Wonderful long, but slightly dry (at this time) aftertaste. Very good if aromatics develop as they should.

Château Bellevue
N: Pure, slightly spirity, and discreet.
P: Great balance and texture. Moreish. Classic. Good oak. Manages to be both stylish and traditional. Tasted alongside Angélus, I far preferred this. Excellent.

Château Canon La Gaffelière
N: Deep, satisfying, ethereal bouquet with notes of dried cranberry.
P: Seems rich, but paradoxically dilute at first before the fruit is unmasked. Priority has obviously been given to careful winemaking according priority to freshness. The Cabernets (together making about 50% of the blend) come through on the delicate attack and then again with the unbridled fruit. Fine, very long aftertaste. Excellent.

Château Le Châtelet
N: Nice, but rather neutral at this stage. Some coffee/toasted notes, but these are not overly strong.
P: Rich, spicy, and saturates the palate. Very concentrated, yet elegant. A big mouthful with loads of fruit. The aftertaste is strongly marked by oak at present, but indications are that if will integrate. A nice discovery. Excellent.

Château Chauvin
N: A little smoky with good fruit. Deep and interesting.
P: Good volume and mouth feel. Lovely Merlot fruit going into angular minerality on the aftertaste. Finishes a tad dry due to the oak, whose influence should be watched carefully. Good.

Château Cheval Blanc
N: Earthy as much as fruity, but clearly in the very early stages.
P: Gorgeous texture and tremendous fruit. Medium-weight on the palate with a commanding aftertaste worthy of a first growth. Excellent. One of the best wines of the vintage.

Château Corbin
N: Some stewed fruit, cedar, and incense aromas, but rather closed-in at present.
P: More expressive on the palate. Full and rich with a fairly weighty mouth feel, but nevertheless balanced. Big, muscular and sweet. Dark fruit flavors. Terroir-driven and fairly traditional. A fine wine for medium-term ageing. Very good.

Château La Couspaude
N: Toasty oak and a little on the spirity side (blackberry liqueur). One can nevertheless not help but be drawn in to it.
P: Soft on entry, almost to the point of being flabby. Pomerol-like except for the finish, in which the limestone minerality is attenuated. Really soft. Not terribly balanced and the aftertaste is a bit harsh, but it the lingering red fruit is quite attractive. Good to very good.

Château Destieux
N: Smoky with dark fruit, but not very expressive. Have to look for the bouquet at present. Give it time.
P: Definitely brambly with strong (slightly over-extracted?) tannin. Too hard and grippy. Will undoubtedly soften, but enough? Good.

Le Dôme
N: Slight reduction at this stage, but there are elegant truffle and raspberry aromas.
P: Mouthfilling, with a wonderful tannic texture and deep flavors. Very good.

Château la Dominique
N: Inky and ethereal, but not very complex bouquet.
P: Big, with a richness that comes in waves before the finish with hard tannin that does not preclude elegance. Soft framework ending in a certain relentlessness. Unbalanced at this stage, but certainly an ageworthy wine that deserves to be retasted later. Good.

Château Faugères
N: Odd, withdrawn, lurking.
P: Crowd-pleasing up-front fruit followed by slightly artificial tasting oak influence and strong acidity. Out of balance now, but may come together over time. Good.

Château de Ferrand
N: Subtle with notes of incense, white pepper, and underlying fruit.
P: Starts out big and swaggers, only to skip the middle palate to go into an oak-dominated aftertaste that is really dry because of this. Care needs to be taken during the rest of barrel ageing. Good.

Château Figeac
N: Pure, but rather closed.
P: Concentrated and develops beautifully on the palate with good acidity and soft tannin. Great long finish with a desirable sort of firmness that gives the wine ageing potential. The 14° alcohol does not show through. Minerality at the end gives tremendous balance. Very good to excellent.

Château La Fleur Cardinale
N: Subtle cherry-vanilla aromatics I associate with this estate. Enticing, with just the right touch of oak.
P: Big volume and seamless development on the palate with superb tannin. Elegant rather than powerful. The château is going from strength to strength. Long aftertaste with great tannic texture. Excellent.

Château La Fleur Morange
N: Bit reduced and not showing particularly well. Graham cracker overtones.
P: Out of balance and mean at this time. Harsh, rather dry tannin. Too much oak. Needs to be retasted at a later date.

Château Fonroque
N: Old-fashioned in a good way. Unmessed with expression of the terroir. Pure black fruit with some coffee overtones.
P: Plush, oh-so-soft and then the tannin makes itself felt with circumspection and restraint. Big. Some vanilla flavor. Lovely balance and typicity. Very good.

Clos Fourtet
N: Toasty oak along with red and black fruit. Some spice. Understated and subtle.
P: Starts out delicious and sophisticated, neither too big nor too rich, going into a long drawn-out aftertaste with excellent tannin. Not your hulking Saint- Émilion, but certainly not a wishy-washy one! Antithesis of a Parkerized wine. Very good.

Château Franc Mayne
N: Fresh, concentrated, and penetrating, but in a subtle sort of way. Fruity and floral notes emerge with aeration.
P: Fresh and pure, but there is the curious sensation of dilution on entry. However, the wine develops from then on and the aftertaste comes back with a vengeance to show tremendous minerality typical of the limestone plateau. Good to very good.

Château La Gaffelière
N: Fresh chocolate mint aromas as well as good red fruit (strawberry) and slight camphor overtones.
P: Great tannic template that does a sort of somersault from plush cushioned richness into a high-quality fine-grained aftertaste. Will age beautifully. A beautiful performance. Excellent.

Château Grand Mayne
N: Really exuberant blueberry notes, very aromatic.
P: Seems somewhat spirity with strong tannin from both oak and grape skins. Your archetypal big Saint Emilion rather than your refined one. Still, forthright and fruity. Good to very good.

Château Haut Sarpe
N: Little dusty, with pure sweet ethereal red fruit.
P: Very full and compact, but the rich, smooth attack goes immediately into hard tannin without transition. Watch out for the oak influence during further ageing! Potential is there for something very nice. Good to very good.

Clos des Jacobins
N: Lively raspberry aromas and a refined, engaging spirity side.
P: Tight, rich, and – surprisingly – slightly herbaceous with dark fruit. Tannin on the aftertaste may be too much in light of the wine’s intrinsic structure, and seems to come more from oak than skins. Starts out straightforward, but the tannin on the finish is disproportionately harsh. Good.

Château Jean Faure
N: Marked wildberry aromas. Really fresh and powerful. Sensual and strangely reminiscent of Côte Rôtie!
P: Bright natural fruit flavors with great acidity and good tannin too. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fine linear development on the palate. Teeth-coating, but refined tannin. Strong minerality on finish. A revelation. Excellent.

Château Larcis Ducasse
N: Modern style with sleek new oak and bright fruit in the background along with a powdery (talc) cosmetic component. Clean and impeccable.
P: Melts in the mouth and then fresh acidity checks in even more than the tannin. The assertive oak is a little obtrusive at this time, but let’s give this wine the benefit of the doubt. Excellent.

Château Larmande
N: Upfront, complex, and understated bouquet of black cherry, vanilla, beet juice, and floral elements.
P: Quite soft with flawless follow-through, but lacks depth. Limestone minerality on the long finish for this wine that is more delicate than sister château Soutard. Very good.

Château Laroque
N: Distinguished, classic bouquet. Tremendous sublimated fruit notes with some coffee aromas.
P: Not entirely clean. A gout de terroir whose aromatics are not found on the nose. Massive body, but lacks grace. Tannins in the same mold. Plenty of blackcurrant on the aftertaste. Good to very good (when helped by further ageing).

Château Laroze
N: Layered bouquet of cherry, vanilla, and berry fruit. Suave and not too oaky.
P: The smoothness and seduction on the nose carries over to the palate. Spreads out beautifully with fine-grained tannin. Sensual mouthfeel with structure and length to match. Touch dry on the finish at this stage. Very good.

Lynsolence
N: A medley of various aromas: incense, oak, stewed black fruit, and… soy sauce.
P: Meaty and mouthfilling with a strong tannic profile to go along with the considerable body. Assertive aftertaste with tannin that needs to age for a long time to be resolved. Beefy and a touch dry on the finish, but a pleasurable hearty wine. Good to very good.

Magrez Fombrauge
N: Attractive raspberry aromas. Concentrated, but suave and classy. Not overly oaky as I had feared.
P: Rich, with high-quality resonant tannin. Stops short of showing too much oak on the palate too although this is hardly shy. Obviously a carefully crafted wine. Good tension. Big, yet restrained. A nice surprise. Very good.

Château Montalbert
N: Berry fruit with mocha, strawberry, and forest floor nuances.
P: Good tannic tension from the get-go. Lovely fruit accompanies the development on the palate. Great texture to the tannin and fine ageing potential. Very good.

Château Moulin du Cadet
N: Very ripe with some mint and crushed blackcurrant leaf nuances.
P: Big and strong. I expected it to be a little hollow but, no, it fills out nicely and goes into a fine, fresh aftertaste with good tannin. Concentrated and has a weighty mouth feel. Verging on XXL in style, but avoids overkill. Good to very good.

Château Pavie
N: Rich, concentrated, and resonant, with some violet and emyreumatic overtones.
P: Rich and big, as expected, but not as in-your-face as in previous vintages. Long aftertaste. Let’s be fair here. Good to very good.

Château Pavie Macquin
N: Deep, quite classy, and very attractive bouquet with some prune and polished wood/old library aromas.
P: Great volume and fine velvety texture that does not obviate a certain hardness. In fact, the wine is ultimately soft on the whole, with high-quality tannin bringing up the rear. Despite the slight dip on the middle palate, there is a long, textured, black fruit aftertaste. Very good.

Château Péby Faugères
N: High-class fruit to oak ratio. Obviously well-made.
P: Normally, I don’t like to talk about fruit that “explodes on the palate”, but that pretty much describes this wine. It also features great acidity. Vigorous and assertive, but not top-heavy or aggressive. Quite concentrated. Much better than Faugères. Good to very good.

Château de Pressac
N: Fine, understated bouquet, but needs time to evolve recognizably.
P: Curiously a bit green at first, then shows somewhat aggressive tannin and overwhelming oak. Chunky with a dry finish. Really too early to taste this wine, as is not rare in March after the vintage… Good.

Château Le Prieuré
N: Pure candied black fruit aromas with considerable freshness.
P: Soft and rich going into a tangy aftertaste. Big volume and zippy acidity on the finish. The oak is as it should be. Lovely red fruit flavors. Very good.

Château Ripeau
N: Some reduction so not ideal at this time.
P: Rich chocolate here, but dips on the middle palate. Subsequent flavors then come back with authority, accompanied by tannin which shows the wine will age well. Broad-shouldered and concentrated. Good to very good.

Château Rochebelle
N: Enticing subdued candied black cherry aromas that are sweet, but not obvious.
P: Big mouthfeel. Full-bodied with lovely follow-through going into decided minerality. Very long aftertaste with lovely texture and altogether typical of the best Saint Emilion. Thrist-quenching and well-made. Very good to excellent.

Château Rol Valentin
N: Almost Pinot-like with clove, Viandox, and new leather nuances.
P: Starts out with sheets of flavor and a satiny texture, going into tannin that is a little unyielding. This quality may well last throughout the wine’s life. Good.

Château Saint Georges Côte Pavie
N: Soft, wafting, simple, and rather muted blueberry bouquet.
P: Blueberry flavors on the palate too. Very fluid, fresh, and relatively short, but fine, very mineral aftertaste. Quite representative of its appellation, but lacks punch. Good.

Clos Saint Martin
N: Good Merlot nose. Pure, somewhat peppery, and redolent of Saint-Emilion.
P: Gorgeous mouth feel and texture in keeping with the region’s finest wines. Great minerality on the extremely long aftertaste ultra-representative of the limestone plateau. Medium body and acidity. Very good.

Château Sansonnet
N: Strong, spirity, and a little jammy with some cosmetic overtones. The alcohol is obvious here.
P: Extremely rich, concentrated, and seemingly literally sweet. Big, fat, and strong. Would tire one out if more than a couple of glasses were consumed. The oak is mercifully not too strong. Good.

Château La Serre
N: Pure primary fruit that seems strangely dominated by Cabernet (only 20% of the blend…). Oak complements the fruit beautifully.
P: Big, with a welcome bite to follow the sweet fruit. Strong , with toasty oak and fruit galore. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Somewhat New World in style, but not overwhelming. Great berry finish. Very good.

Château Soutard
N: Nice enough, but rather non-descript.
P: Shorter, seemingly more early-maturing, and altogether less good than sister château, Larmande. Open and easy to drink. Serviceable. Good to very good.

Château La Tour Figeac
N: Soft, but not very expressive. Berry fruit with a floral component.
P: Beautifully smooth, and caresses the palate. Seems to be lacking a little in personality, but then blossoms to reveal enticing flavors and polished tannins. Although a little weak on the aftertaste, this is a very charming wine hard to resist. Very good.

Château Valandraud
N: Sweet uplifting and well-focused red fruit. Precise and natural.
P: No reason to fear too much oak or extraction as in the past. Subtle and fruity above all. A fine wine, not a modern monster. Very soft, going into infinitely long tannic aftertaste. Oak influence is there, but under control. I overcome my prejudices and rate this wine excellent.

Château Villemaurine (label not shown)
N: There’s understated and understated. What is showing at present is faint hints of black fruit jelly.
P: More personality than the nose would lead one to expect. Hearty, but high-quality tannin. Needs to come together. Good.

Château Yon Figeac
N: Full and open with aromas of freshly-pressed grapes, blossoms, and spice.
P: Not quite as positive as the nose. Bit rustic, but honest and very vinous. Long textured aftertaste, with tannins that are not very polished. Good.

Trip to Burgundy – February 2019 (27 domaines)

Living, as I do, in the world’s foremost winegrowing region, you may wonder what motivates me to regularly visit another region, indeed, one that has the temerity to consider itself a rival… The simple fact is that viewing Bordeaux and Burgundy as mutually exclusive is exceedingly silly. For complicated reasons (essentially a superiority-cum-inferiority complex), I daresay the Burgundians are more chauvinistic than the Bordelais, who freely acknowledge that the white wines of the Côte d’Or are better than those of the Gironde, and admit to having only a limited acquaintance with red Burgundy. That is due in no small part to the fact that it is not easy to buy fine Burgundy. French supermarkets – i.e. where most people buy wine – often stock classified growth Bordeaux, but rarely premier and grand cru Burgundy.

My personal opinion (what are blogs for, after all?) is that the type of wine one chooses depends to a certain extent on the food that accompanies it. For instance, I would prefer a good Médoc with a grilled steak, but a Burgundy with meat in a sauce, or a stew.

The Bordelais were roundly and bitterly criticized when the prices of their great growths rose dramatically in the mid-2000s. A “fox and the grapes” situation set in and many consumers turned away from Bordeaux, finding reasons other than just expense and, somewhat unfairly, equating the name “Bordeaux” with just the tiny tip of the pyramid (the famous grands crus classés).

In the past 5 years, Burgundy has come more into the limelight on the global market, including China, but at a time when the region had several small or even painfully small vintages in a row. This inexorably led to price rises as staggering as those in Bordeaux the previous decade. Bordeaux now figures nowhere near as prominently as Burgundy on the list of the world’s most expensive wines.

The difference is, of course, that even the finest châteaux in Bordeaux can be quite large. Compare Lafite Rothschild’s 112 hectares with La Romanée’s 0.85 hectares… And the latter is not only a grand cru, but an entire appellation unto itself.
In short, we are talking about two very different realities.

In any event, I have made an annual pilgrimage to Burgundy for the past decade and love the region. This year, I was able to spend two full weeks and visited 27domaines. I am deeply indebted to my friend Ian Westcott, an importer in Melbourne, for making the appointments.

My report is listed in alphabetical order. I have abridged tasting notes and, in most instances, simply omitted them and listed the wines in order to avoid overkill. In fact, if I had included my impressions of each and every wine, this post would have taken on the size of a small book. If anyone is interested in a particular wine, please contact me by e-mail.

I will share a few general observations at the end, as well as my take on the restaurants I went to.

Domaine Arlaud (Morey-Saint-Denis) – Cyprien Arlaud epitomizes the new face of Burgundy. Circumspect and forward-looking, he also practices biodynamic viticulture, certified as such since 2014. His modern winery in Morey is impeccably kept and Cyprien is at ease explaining the situation at his 8-hectare domaine and in Burgundy as a whole. He described 2017 as a “cool vintage” with freshness and true Burgundian character. We tasted 12 wines, all red and all 2017s. These included: Chambolle-Musigny Village, Morey-Saint-Denis Village, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, and Vosne-Romanée Village (and I might add that all of these were fine examples of their appellation, a definite cut above average), followed by Vosne Aux Réas, Nuits Premier Cru Les Porrets Saint Georges, Morey Premier Cru Les Blanchards, Morey Premier Cru Les Ruchots, Gevrey Premier Cru Les Combettes, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, and Clos Saint Denis. The house style is pure, well-focused wines of high quality. I was particularly impressed with the Clos de la Roche.

Domaine des Beaumont (Morey-Saint-Denis) – We tasted seven red wines from this 5-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. All were 2017s except the 2016 Les Cherbaudes. In order, these were : Chambolle-Musigny Les Chardannes (with a nose marked by oak and strawberry and somewhat hollow on the palate), Morey-Saint-Denis village (deep black fruit bouquet, full body, and nice tart finish), Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Les Millandes (spirity nose and not quite balanced on the palate), Gevrey Chambertin village (some spice and possible brett on the nose, but showing better on the palate), Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Les Combettes (sweet fruit aromatics and then quite poised and velvety on the palate, very attractive and in another dimension from the others), Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cherbaudes (not noted, a winemaking problem there), and Charmes Chambertin (classy nose and sinewy, silky, big, and powerful on the palate with more than a little oak showing – very good).

Olivier Bernstein (Beaune): Olivier is quite a character and, much like me, he is voluble and has strong opinions on just about everything… After several years making wine in the Roussillon, he decided to set up shop in Beaune. His newly-equipped cellars are in a large historic building in the town of Beaune. Although Olivier’s business is relatively recent (his first vintage was 2007), his wines have achieved critical acclaim and are imported into the UK by Berry Brothers & Rudd and the US by Wilson Daniels. Olivier buys most of his grapes (he also owns plots in Gevrey Premier Cru Les Champeaux and Mazis-Chambertin), but insists that he should be considered a domaine because he looks after the vines from A to Z. In other words, he rents land from the vineyard owners, but he is the grower, completely in the driver’s seat. We tasted 11 wines, all red and all from the 2018 vintage: Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Lavrottes, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Champeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cazetiers, Charmes-Chambertin, Clos Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, Bonnes Mares, Mazis-Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, and Chambertin.
The wines were exuberant, fruity, and fairly oaky. I would venture to stay they are in a “modern” style, and I’ll be interested to check back with them after some bottle age.
Oliver was kind enough to invite us to lunch at the Bistro de l’Hôtel de Beaune, where the high standard of traditional French cuisine is perpetuated.

Jean-Claude Boisset (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – Boisset is the largest négociant in Burgundy, and the 4th largest in France. It is such a big organization that it has several completely independent subsidiaries producing wines ranging from large-volume basic ones to some of the best in Burgundy (Domaine de la Vougeraie). The Jean-Claude Boisset négociant firm we visited in Nuits-Saint-Georges is somewhat between the two, and has one of the most beautiful winemaking facilities I have ever seen. It is housed in a former Ursuline convent daringly and successfully renovated by Frédéric Didier, the architect in charge of architecture at the Château de Versailles. No expense was spared, and the result is impressive. In fact, the day we were there they were preparing to welcome the Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, for a meal.
Back to wine, we tasted six altogether. The four whites were 2017 Bourgogne Chardonnay, a 2015 Aligoté, 2016 Château London (!) Mâcon Igé, and 2016 Marsannay. The reds were 2017 Bourgogne Pinot Noir and 2013 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves. The wines (all from purchased grapes) were good, well-focused, and in the affordable mid-range vein.
Above and beyond the pleasure of discovering them, we very much enjoyed talking with Grégory Patriat, the ambitious, energetic, and, somewhat iconoclastic winemaker (“corks are toxic”) since 2002, who would be very much at home in the New World.
The name Boisset is frequently associated with a megafirm that churns out cheap and cheerful products. However, a visit and tasting at J.C. Boisset in Nuits will undoubtedly dispel that idea.

Domaine Buisson Charles (Meursault) – It is always a great pleasure to visit Patrick and Kate Essa, for whom wine is not just a business, but a passion and a lifestyle. Patrick teaches physical education, but still finds time to work in the vineyard and cellar, as well as make frequent learned contributions about the wines of Burgundy on the internet. He is the best blind taster I have ever encountered and has a wonderful way of describing wines. A tasting with Patrick is by definition time-consuming and fascinating. Buisson-Charles have 6.5 hectares of vines, but also buy grapes.
We started the tasting with the 2018s.
There were 8 whites: Aligoté “Sous le Chemin”, Bourgogne Côte d’Or “Hautes Coutures”, Meursault Pellans, Meursault Vieilles Vignes, Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru Les Bouches Chères, and Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or.
Patrick is justifiably well-known for his whites. As good as his premiers crus were, I have a penchant for his Meursault Vieilles Vignes, one that was confirmed when I tasted the 2018.
These were followed by five 2018 reds: Bourgogne Rouge (traditional), Bourgogne rouge (without sulfur), Corton Bressandes, Volnay Premier Cru Les Santenots, and Volnay Champans. The Volnays exceeded my expectations and the Corton was both good and powerful.
We then went through a series of 2017s:
White: Chablis, Bourgogne Blanc, Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys, Meursault Vieilles Vignes, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Romanée, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru les Folatières, Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or, and Corton Charlemagne. I thought La Romanée was particularly good and that La Goutte d’Or and Corton Charlemagne did honor to their prestigious terroirs.
We finished with two 2017 reds: Volnay Premier Cru Les Santenots, and Volnay Champans, which I purchased for my cellar, along with the 2017 Meursault Vieilles Vignes.

Domaine Philippe Charlopin (Brochon) – We tasted one white and five reds from this 25-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. The 2015 Bourgogne Blanc was a very good example from this entry level appellation, a fun wine that is ready to drink. The red wines, unfortunately, were a mixed bag. The 2015 Pernand-Vergelesses village was old-fashioned and grippy, whereas the 2015 Marsannay village was brilliant: expressive, seductive, easy-drinking, and moreish. From this point on, the wines seemed unfortunately to go downhill. The 2015 Morey-Saint-Denis village had a peppery, reduced nose and was rather unpleasant on the palate. The Gevrey-Chambertin Terres Blanches had off-putting gunpowder aromatics, and even the 2015 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru was not up to scratch. I’m no enologist, but these reds clearly had some sort of winemaking flaw.

Domaine Robert Chevillon (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – We were welcomed by Bertrand Chevillon, a friendly, no-nonsense, and gifted winemaker. Many Burgundy lovers tend to snub the wines of Nuits, but Domaine Chevillon produces some very classy wines and sells them at prices that do not make one stumble and faint. From the delicious 2017 Nuits-Saint-Georges village, we went on to taste the whole range of NSG premiers crus from the same vintage: Les Chaignots, Les Bousselots, Les Roncières, Les Perrières, Les Pruliers, Les Cailles, Les Vaucrains, and Les Saint Georges. It is always a fascinating exercise to see the nuances between these. I preferred Les Bousselots, Les Perrières, Les Cailles, and Les Saint Georges. As for Les Saint Georges; I asked the ritual question: how is the candidacy for grand cru status coming along? The answer is that things are moving at a snail’s pace and some Byzantine local politics are involved… Be this as it may, Chevillon does good work and it is always a pleasure to visit his cellar.

Domaine Bruno Clair (Marsannay-la-Côte) – It is hard for me to be objective about this domaine because I have known winemaker Philippe Brun since my California days several decades ago. Bruno Clair has 24 hectares of vines (big for Burgundy) including in some of the greatest climats. The range is quite large. We tasted 20 wines, all from 2017. The reds started off with three Marsannays: Les Grosses Têtes, Les Longeroies (which is aspiring to premier cru classification), and a blended village wine. These were all light and elegant. We went on to taste Vosne-Romanée Les Champs Perdrix, Chambolle-Musigny Les Véroilles, and Morey-Saint-Denis En La Rue de Vergey , followed by four Gevrey-Chambertin premier crus – Clos de Fontenay, La Petite Chapelle, Les Cazetiers, and Clos Saint Jacques. I must say that this set of Gevrey’s was wonderful, especially the Clos Saint Jacques that Bruno Clair is famous for. The end of the series was a firework display of Clos de Bèze and Bonnes Mares.
There did seem to be a house style here: fruity, supple, wines enjoyable young or with age.
The reds were followed by 6 whites: Bourgogne Blanc, Marsannay Blanc, Marsannay Sources de Roches, Marsannay Langeroies, Pernand-Vergelesses, Morey-Saint-Denis En La Rue de Vergey, and Corton Charlemagne. I found the white Marsannays very good and bought some for my cellar.
Bruno, Philippe, and the three of us went on to have lunch at the Rôtisserie de Gevrey Chambertin and there was no lack of things to discuss: trends in Burgundy, the Chinese market, the gilets jaunes, etc., etc.

Domaine Bruno Clavelier – Bruno Clavelier is a real salt of the earth kind of guy, unprepossessing and constantly smiling. Terroir is like a religion to him and every visitor is entitled to a detailed explanation of the geology of his various vineyard plots, which are farmed biodynamically. The table in his tasting room is strewn with rocks to illustrate his points. We tasted 13 of Bruno’s wines. The two whites, an Aligoté and a Bourgogne Blanc were good, but not remarkable. The reds were another story. These included Bourguigne Passetoutgrains, Bourgogne Rouge, three Vosne-Romanée village wines (Les Hauts de Beaux Monts, La Combe Brûlée, and Les Hautes Mazières), as well as a long series of premiers crus: Gevrey-Chambertin Les Corbeaux, Vosne-Romanée Aux Brûlées and Les Beaux Monts, Chambolle-Musigny Les Noirots and Combe d’Orveaux, and Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Cras. Bruno was proud to have recently acquired a plot of grand cru vineyard, Corton-Rognet, which we tasted for the first time.
It would probably be long and boring to reproduce all my tasting notes. Let it suffice to say that the style here is pure and mineral. The Combe d’Orveaux is a special treat, and Bruno was kind enough to open a 99 of this for us to drink, not just taste!

Domaine Philippe Colin (Chassagne-Montrachet) – We tasted two 2017 white wines from this 8.5-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. The Saint-Aubin Premier Cru les Charmois was rather disappointing. The Chassagne Montrachet village was, of course, a step up, but I also found it weak and not particularly impressive.

Domaine Digioia-Royer (Chambolle-Musigny) – We were welcomed at this small domaine (under 5 hectares) by the friendly Michel Di Gioia (whose name means “de la joie”, or “joy” in Italian!) and tasted through his entire range. From the sympatico 2017 Bourgogne Blanc, to a fruity, light Bourgogne Rosé (I bought a case), to 8 red wines. I will list these (all 2017) and then give a summary: Bourgogne Rouge, Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, Savigny-lès-Beaune Dessus-Les-Vermots, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Charmois, Chambolle-Musigny village, Chambolle-Musigny village vieilles vignes, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Gruenchers, and Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Groseilles. The house style is middle-of-the-road in terms of quality with an honest and not unappealing rustic aspect. As to be expected, the premiers crus showed more class. The notion of value for money must be introduced here because these good, honest wines cost significantly less than most of his neighbors’.

Joseph Drouhin (Beaune) – With 80 hectares of vines (including 40 in Chablis), Drouhin is not only a major Burgundy négociant, but also one of the largest vineyard owners in the entire region. Viticulture is entirely organic. They also have a domaine in Oregon. The Drouhin cellars in Beaune are very picturesque and quite mammoth. We tasted 8 wines by candlelight in the company of the affable Cyril Ponelle.
There were 3 whites: a 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu, 2016 Pouilly-Vinzelles, and 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet Embazées.
The reds were, in order: 2014 Fleurie, 2014 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru (blend of 6 different plots), 2014 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves, and 2012 Corton (a blend of Bressandes and Perrières).
Seeing as how we were very interested and generally well-behaved, Cyril also opened a mystery wine, which turned out to be 1983 Musigny, which was consumed rather than spat out J. This was just as well, because the wine was delicious, with a monumentally long aftertaste.

Domaine Drouhin Laroze (Gevery-Chambertin) –
I have visited the domaine a number of times and always appreciate Christine Drouhin’s warm welcome. She speaks good English and has a very outgoing personality. Her husband, Philippe, has largely handed over winemaking to their two children, Nicolas and Caroline. I used to think of wines from this estate as more stolid and affordable than exciting, but they have recently taken on another dimension in my opinion, perhaps as a result of the new generation. I think this is definitely a domaine to watch. 46% of their vineyard holdings (11.5 hectares) are grands crus. We tasted through the entire range of wines (2017 vintage): Gevrey-Chambertin village, Gevrey-Chambertin En Champs, Gevrey Premier Cru Au Closeau, Gevery Premier Cru Lavaux Saint Jacques, Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Bonnes Mares, Clos de Vougeot, Clos de Bèze, and Musigny.
As good as the Musigny was, the Bonne Mares and, especially, the Clos de Vougeot were in the same league.

Domaine Duroché (Gevrey-Chambertin): We were welcomed at the cellars of this 8.5 hectare domaine by Pierre Duroché, who has represented the fifth generation of his family to make wine here since 2005. Demand for wines from this producer is great, and the better wines are in short supply. We tasted several of his 2018s before repairing to his tasting room where he served us 2015 and 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Etelois, followed by a 2012 Latricières-Chambertin. The level of winemaking is quite high and I hope to be able to buy some Duroché wines for my cellar next time around (this was not possible in 2019).

Domaine Anne Gros (Vosne-Romanée) – Seeing as Anne was vacationing in the Caribbean, her son Paul looked after us. He was back in Burgundy after a long stint at his parents’ estate in the Minervois. We tasted 10 wines from the domaine’s six hectares of vines – two 2018 whites, Bourgogne Blanc and Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, followed by eight 2018 reds: Bourgogne Rouge, Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau, Vosne-Romanée Les Barreaux, Echézeaux, Clos Vougeot (from the Grand Maupertuis part), and Richebourg. As for the Richebourg, we tried this from two different barrels. The first was from the lieu-dit “Les Verroilles”, which showed tremendous class, with an ethereal violet bouquet and a velvety texture, and the second was the same wine from a new barrel which, as good as it was, perfectly illustrated why 100% new oak would unquestionably have overshadowed this great wine.
I have visited Anne Gros several times, and have usually found that promoting her Minervois wines, there in Burgundy, was not such a good idea. But I have mellowed on that and enjoyed the 8 Minervois I tasted with Paul, who knows them intimately. He too felt that La Ciaude, from a vineyard with pebbly soil, was the best of the lot, and I bought a few bottles for the cellar.

Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat (Vougeot) – Young Charles Van Canneyt is a competent winemaker as well as a very friendly guy. His wines have a loyal following, especially in the UK, and it is not hard to see why. We started off with the Domaine’s first ever white wine, 2017 Meursault Clos des Ecoles (a leaseholding recently taken over from Coche-Dury), which left a very good impression. The 2017 reds had mostly just been bottled, so we did not taste the usual range. Instead, we focused on 2017 Vosne-Romanée Village and Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Murgers. Having a go at Vosne-Romanée Premier Crus Les Malconsorts and Les Suchots, as well as Richebourg will have to wait for another time

Domaine Jobard-Morey (Meursault) – I must say I have a soft spot for this 6-hectare domaine. Young Valentin Jobard is very go-ahead young winemaker who had just returned from a trip to Asia. We tasted four of his white wines and one red (all 2017s). The Bourgogne Blanc was all you would want from an entry level appellation, and I bought a few bottles for the cellar. Although the Meursault Village appeared a little weak, the Les Narvaux lieu dit was better. Meursault Premier Cru Les Poruzots showed more character, length, and depth, as well as good potential. The Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes was in a different, more rich and traditional style. Valentin also makes a red Coteaux Bourguignons from old vines, a very friendly, fruity wine. This time around we did not taste his rare Meursault rouge. The prices are definitely in the moderate category.

Domaine Gérard Julien (Comblanchien): Although on the main Route Nationale passing through the Côte d’Or, this domaine has a low profile. For instance, it is not listed in Jasper Morris’s excellent “Inside Burgundy”. Truth to tell, the first impression of the place is rather ramshackle. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving… We were welcomed by the affable Etienne Julien, fifth-generation winemaker since 2010. We tasted through 8 of his wines, all from the 2016 vintage, except for the first one, a 2018 Aligoté. The reds included Aloxe-Corton Village, Côtes de Nuits Village, Nuits-Saint-Georges Village, Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Saints Juliens, and Echézeaux. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines, especially in light of their attractive prices. This is a place for people who love good, authentic, if not unspeakably elegant Burgundy at an affordable price point, and are not interested in the darlings everyone is scurrying after. I bought a case of the Aux Saints Juliens for my cellar.

Domaine Pierre Labet (Vougeot) – This 9-hectare domaine has cellars at Château de La Tour, which is actually located within the Clos de Vougeot (although we did not sample the family’s grand cru wine). We were welcomed by enthusiastic young Edouard Labet and his father, François. The domaine has been organic since 2015 and will soon receive certification to that effect. They have joined forces with about 25 other producers to sell their wines in Asia, which explains why we tasted wines from three other domains while we were there. These are listed elsewhere. The Labet family also makes wine in Corsica, which we did not have time to taste.
We started with the red wines (all 2017): a pretty Bourgogne rouge, Beaune Clos de Dessus des Marconnets (a feminine, upfront wine with a serious aftertaste that will show well young), Beaune Premier Cru Aux Coucherais that was a bit on the light side, and a Gevrey-Chambertin village which was quite big, with some candied fruit and a tart finish.
The whites, also all from the 2017 vintage, included a Bourgogne blanc (better in its category than the red), the white Beaune Clos de Dessus des Marconnets with an immediately appealing bouquet (although slightly less good on the palate), and Meursault Les Tillets with a very seductive nose and a fine silky texture, if not very concentrated.

Domaine Michel Lafarge (Volnay) – Burgundy lovers revere this estate not only because Frédéric Lafarge and his father, Michel, are adorable, but because the cobwebbed cellars exude tradition, as do the wines.
We tasted a range of 2017s. The whites included an Aligoté Raisin Doré, Meursault Village, Meursault Village Vendanges Sélectionnées, and Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots blanc.
Then came no fewer than fifteen 2017 reds :
These included 11 Burgundies: Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (more about that at the end of the report), Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Volnay Village, Volnay Vendanges Sélectionnées, Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots, Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves, Volnay Premier Cru Les Pitures, Volnay Premier Cru Les Mitans, Volnay Premier Cru Les Caillerets, Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes, and Volnay Premier Cru Clos du Château des Ducs.
The four remaining wines (also 2017s), were from the 4-hectare Domaine Lafarge-Vial in the Beaujolais (belonging to Frédéric Lafarge and Chantal Lafarge-Vial): Chiroubles, Fleurie, Fleurie Clos Vernay, and Côte de Brouilly.
As stated at the beginning of this report, reproducing tasting notes for 19 wines would be too overwhelming, so let me summarize by saying that the whites were good, if unremarkable, the red Burgundies were elegant and more forward/easy-going than I have found in previous years, and that the Beaujolais were juicy and typical of their appellations, except perhaps for the Côte de Brouilly which seemed to have a “gout de terroir”.

Domaine Lamarche (Vosne-Romanée) – It is always a pleasure to see Nicole Lamarche. When I first met her, she had a ring through her nose, had recently become the single mother of twins, and the thought of receiving foreign wine lovers was intimidating and not exactly her idea of fun. She has acquired tons of experience and self-assurance since then, and now runs the estate as well as any man. She was just back from a trip to Hong Kong. We sat down in a small, cosy tasting room and sampled 8 wines from the domaine’s 8 hectares of vines: Bourgogne Rouge, Vosne-Romanée Village, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Malconsorts, Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot, and La Grande Rue. I had a good impression of the premiers crus and my notes speak highly of all the grands crus. In fact, I had found Nicole’s wines somewhat lacking in power and richness in the past, but not this time around. They showed beautifully, including the rare La Grande Rue.

Domaine Vincent Latour (Meursault) – Vincent Latour welcomed us as neighbours because he rents his 4-bedroom house next door as a gîte, and this is where I stayed with my mentor, Ian Westcott from Australia, and two other friends. Vincent has a small négociant activity to complement the wine from his 12 hectares of vines. We were warmly welcomed and tasted through 13 wines, all white save the last one, and all from the 2017 vintage: Bourgogne Côte d’Or, Saint-Aubin Cuvée Thomas, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru Les Frionnes, Puligny-Montrachet Village, Chassagne-Montrachet Les Benoîtes, Meursault Cuvée Saint-Jean, Meursault Clos des Magny, Meursault Les Pellans, Meursault Les Narvaux, Meursault Les Grands Charrons, Meursault Premier Cru Les Genevrières, and Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or. The red wine was a pretty Meursault Premier Cru Les Cras. The Latour wines are friendly, easy-to-drink and in an attractive commercial style. Many of the wines are aged in large, 600-liter barrels to avoid exaggerated oak influence.

Domaine Hubert Lignier (Morey-Saint-Denis) – I have visited here many a time and it is always a pleasure to meet Hubert and his son Laurent. Hubert is retired, but never far away… Once again, we sampled a huge range of wines (14 in fact). All were red and the first eleven were from the 2017 vintage: Pommard En Brescul, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Poisets, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Chambolle-Musigny Les Bussières, Morey-Saint-Denis trilogie (3 climats), Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes, Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Chaffots, Morey Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Aux Combottes, and Clos de la Roche. We then proceeded to enjoy 2016 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Chaffots, 2012 Morey Vieilles Vignes, and a 2011 Morey Vieilles Vignes.
Laurent’s wines are delicious and terroir-driven i.e. the terroir clearly has the upper hand over his winemaking style.

Domaine Jean-Marc Millot (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – Inheriting a domaine established in 1955, Jean-Marc Millot has handed over winemaking to his young daughter, Alix, who is not only extremely competent, but also very personable. Their cellars are located in a rather nondescript part of Nuits and there is a very genuine, non-chichi feel about the place. We tasted through 9 wines from the 2018 vintage, all red: Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Côtes-de-Nuits, Vosne-Romanée Village, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Grands Echézeaux. As might be expected, the grands crus were the most impressive. I was especially fond of the Clos de Vougeot and Grands Echézeaux.
I was therefore pleased when Alix agreed to sell me a bottle of the 2016 Clos de Vougeot. Growers are so heavily assailed by requests and have so little wine to sell that I was grateful to acquire even one bottle…

Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier (Chambolle-Musigny) – I have been to visit Frédéric Mugnier at the Château de Chambolle Musigny on a number of occasions and discussions with him are always very interesting because of his atypical background (his is a former airline pilot). Frédéric is also somewhat of a philosopher with original views on any number of subjects. He has made a great success of the estate, producing some of the most sought-after and highly-priced wines of Burgundy on his 14 hectares of vines. As at most other domaines, we tasted through the 2017s: Chambolle-Musigny Village, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Fuées, Bonnes Mares, Les Amoureuses, and Musigny. The wines were pretty impressive across the board, and the grands crus showed enormous precision, class, and length.
In Burgundy, if you seem genuinely interested, growers will often bring out older wines to continue the discussion and to share a drink, as opposed to just tasting. This was the case here, where we sampled three vintages of Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Clos de la Maréchale (a monopole, or exclusivity): 2016, 2008, and 2004. I enjoyed the 2016 most of the three. The common thread was the gutsy, tannic nature of the wines, but which did not preclude elegance.

Domaine Georges- Noëllat (Vosne-Romanée) – We were welcomed by Antoine Barthelmé from an Alsace winegrowing family. The Domaine has 5.5 hectares of vines as well as a négociant activity. Many of the 2017s had just been racked. All the 20 wines we tasted were red: Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne rouge, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Nuits-Saint-Georges Village, Chambolle-Musigny Village, Beaune Premier Cru Clos de la Mignotte, Beaune Premier Cru Tuvilains, Vosne-Romanée Village, Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Fonteny, Gevrey Chambertin Les Echézeaux, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Feusselottes, , Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Aux Boudots, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Cras, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Petits Monts, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts, Clos Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Grands Echézeaux. In a nutshell, these were serious, well-made wines in a classical mold. At the end of the tasting we drank, rather than tasted, a 2011 Vosne-Romanée.

Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot (Chassagne-Montrachet) – Jean-Marc Pillot is a friend, and I’ve always appreciated his reasonably-priced fine white and red wines. He has travelled widely, as has his son Antonin, currently learning the wine business with a leading négociant in Beaune. It would probably be on the boring side to transcribe my notes for the 22 wines from the 2017 vintage we tasted before going out to dinner… As is often the case, we started with the red wines. Jean-Marc’s Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Crus Morgeot and Clos Saint-Jean were fine examples of what the appellation can do with Pinot Noir. It would make more financial sense to plant Chardonnay, but Jean-Marc and others have such respect for terroir that they perpetuate the tradition of fine red wines on soils that are better suited to them. Of course, this is what Burgundy is all about: tiny climats, and even microscopic plots within climats – as evidenced by Premier Cru Moregot that features both red and white vines. The range of white wines we sampled displayed the “salinity” of the vintage. For the first time, Jean-Marc is making a Rully (from grapes he buys), although he has had another Côte Chalonnaise, Montagny, for years. However, this négociant activity is far less important than the wines produced from the domaine’s 10.5 hectares of vines: Puligny-Montrachet Les Noyers Bret, Chassagne-Montrachet Village, and Chassagne Premiers Crus (Maltroye, Les Champs Gain, Les Macherelles, Les Chenevottes, Les Vergers, Clos Saint Marc, Morgeot, Les Baudines, and Caillerets). A small amount of Corton Charlemagne and Chevalier Montrachet are made from grapes sourced from outside the domaine.

Domaine Poisot (Aloxe-Corton) – Rémi Poisot is in charge of a tiny (2-hectare) vineyard holding that was originally part of Domaine Louis Latour. Rémi is building a new cellar in Aloxe and his business is developing nicely. We tasted two 2017 whites, a pleasant Pernand-Vergelesses and a steely, serious Corton-Charlemagne, followed by three 2017 reds: a light and easy-drinking Pernant-Vergelesses, an aristocratic Corton-Bressandes, and a superb Romanée-Saint-Vivant. We also tried the 2018 Saint-Vivant from barrel, and the 2012, 2011, and 2010 later that week back at the gîte. This is a tremendous wine, in a plot literally just across the small road from La Romanée-Conti.

Domaine Gérard Raphet (Morey-Saint-Denis) – Having called on Gérard a number of times, I was surprised to find him not his usual fairly taciturn self. He was not only expansive, but was accompanied by his daughter Marion, slated to take over one day. Gérard has some impressive vineyard holdings (total 12 hectares). We tasted 11 red wines from 2017: Bourgogne Rouge, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Morey-Saint-Denis Village, and Chambolle-Musigny Village, followed by Morey Premier Cru Les Millandes and Gevrey Premier Cru Lavaux Saint Jacques, and then the big guns (Clos de Vougeot, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Clos de Vougeot, and Clos de Bèze). Raphet is somewhat under the radar, but he makes fine, traditional Burgundy at reasonable prices. I think the overall level is better than before and that new blood is helping. Good value for money.

Domaine Comte de Vogüé (Chambolle-Musigny) – It is always an honor to visit this ultra-traditional and much-respected domaine. We were once again welcomed by winemaker François Millet, with 33 vintages behind him at de Vogüé, and whose take on Burgundy is always very original and fascinating. Since a number of 2017 wines had recently been bottled, we tasted three from barrel – but not just any three: Les Amoureuses, Bonnes Mares, and Musigny. At this early stage, my heart went out to Les Amoureuses, but the Musigny has tremendous potential. These are beautiful, structured, monumental wines made to age.

General observations:

I go to Burgundy regularly, but always feel like a beginner. There is so much to learn, so many intricacies! The “one-on-one” contact with winegrowers is precious. At some of the small domaines you wonder how they manage to cope with tending the vines, making the wine, selling it, doing all the office work, etc. – not to mention finding the time to welcome visitors and clients! Families seem to be at the heart of everything and money talks a lot less than it does in Bordeaux. Someone showing up with unlimited funds cannot simply buy the wines they want, or acquire vineyards. Relationships need to be established and, while the Burgundians are by and large a welcoming lot, they are wary of outsiders and far less prone to sell to the highest bidder.

Burgundy is already so tremendously sub-divided that growers worry how their children can afford to pay inheritance taxes on land now worth a fortune in order to keep the domaine in the family.

Even though I feel that making generalizations about vintages is like walking on eggs, let’s take a look at the past two years.

2017 has proved to be much more worthwhile than widely thought just after the harvest. Although perfect phenolic maturity may not have been reached in many instances, ripening was good, with little or no disease issues. The wines have put on weight during barrel ageing and their hallmarks are elegance, medium body, and lovely crunchy Pinot fruit. They look to have mid-term ageing potential. Overall quality seems to be consistently good through the various appellations and hierarchies. Vintage style? That’s always subjective, but 2017 is perhaps reminiscent of 2001 or 2014 with a bit more flesh.

2018 is an altogether different animal. A warm summer followed by hot weather during the harvest led to early picking and a large crop of very ripe fruit. Since sugar levels rose quickly as acidity dropped, the flavour profile of the wines depends to a great extent on exactly when the grapes were harvested. There seems to be more variation in quality than in 2017, but the best wines are big and plush. The whites give every indication of superb quality.

The market for Burgundy is buoyant, but is it too buoyant? Will the region lose its traditional customers with the hefty price increases? The steep rise in exports to China constitutes good news, but many growers expressed concern about the huge demand from that country. Then, of course, there is the big question mark about Brexit…

There is definitely a new focus on peripheral regions (the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise, and the Beaujolais) in light of the scarcity of wine from the Côte d’Or and the corresponding jump in prices. I think these regions will be more popular in the near future, and probably be motivated to improve quality.

In terms of winemaking, the big issue in years past has been whole bunch fermentation. People seem less hung up about this now, and many incorporate 20/30% whole bunches without making a huge issue of it. On the other hand, the subjects of remontage (pumping over) and pigeage (punching down the cap) were frequently mentioned during my visit. There seems to be a new priority to doing these with more finesse in terms of frequency, duration, and “gentleness”. Climate change is, of course, a major concern. There was some criticism of growers who compensated for this by picking earlier, but perhaps too early, thereby obtaining unbalanced wines.

The change in the appellation system on a regional level is popular all around. The not-very-prestigious Bourgogne Ordinaire and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire denominations were replaced by the much more user-friendly Coteaux Bourguignons in 2011. Furthermore, entry-level red wines from the Côte de Nuits or the Côte de Beaune can call themselves Bourgogne Côte d’Or instead of just plain Bourgogne starting with the 2017 vintage.

I was heartened during my travels to see the number of young people taking over winemaking, and that many of them had acquired experience abroad, oftentimes in Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, you can’t fault the Burgundians for being male chauvinist pigs. Women winemakers are to be found all up and down the Côte!

Restaurants:

I find the cuisine in Burgundy more varied, elaborate, and ultimately better than in Bordeaux. Don’t ask me why this is so… One weak point, however, is seafood, which is understandable when you consider how far Burgundy is from the ocean.

The local restaurants maintain a high standard, but there is a huge problem with regard to wine pricing. It is not rare to find a really good three course meal for under 20 euros, and then get hammered once you order even the least expensive wine, immediately doubling the price of the meal. An excellent example of this is the Part des Anges in Beaune: great food and obscene mark-ups on the wine.

A wonderful exception to this sorry situation is Le Soufflot in Meursault. I went there three times during my stay. They have a set menu (a 3 course menu for 32 euros at lunch and a 6 course tasting menu for 45 euros at dinner) featuring imaginative, delicious food, as well as a tremendous wine list with reasonable mark-ups – http://www.restaurant-meursault.fr/cartevins.html
We were invited to the restaurant’s first anniversary party attended by a host of growers, with more wines than you could shake a stick at!

The small Maison du Colombier is a popular place in Beaune, but I have only ever had drinks there.

Le Millésime is a perennial favorite in Chambolle-Musigny. Their lunch menu provides excellent value for money and the quality seemed even to have improved the twice we went there in February.
We ate at two restaurants in the centre of Nuits-Saint-Georges. I have been to La Cabotte in the past, but frequented their affordable bistro, Le Café de Paris, on two occasions this time. This is fine for a quick, simple, inexpensive meal.

We shared mammoth ribs of Irish beef with great fries at Le Grill de Nuits, and I would recommend the restaurant if it weren’t for their list of mediocre and horribly overpriced wines – in the heart of the wine country. So sad.

The Rôtisserie du Chambertin in Gevrey served us a very good lunch. The hotel and restaurant have been entirely renovated and the latter divided into two parts. We ate in the bistro part.
We heard that the Castel de Très Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis, also recently renovated, had been subject to arson in January and I don’t know if and when it will re-open.

As mentioned above, Olivier Bernstein invited us to the Bistro de l’Hôtel de Beaune, which is an excellent traditional sort of establishment in the medium price range.

We did not make it to one of our usual haunts, L’Auberge des Coteaux in Villars-Fontaine, a short drive from Nuits-Saint-Georges. This “restaurant populaire” is run by the same people as Le Millésime in Morey. It caters to local workers and provides wholesome, hearty food at an unbeatable price.

Cook your own!

If you are planning a trip to Burgundy for more than a few days, I strongly advise renting a gîte (https://www.gites-de-france.com/en/location-vacances-en-bourgogne-franche-comte/holiday-rentals-cote-dor) or an Airbnb rather than booking a hotel. This is not only cheaper, but more comfortable and you can cook your own meals, taking a break from the rich Burgundian cuisine and, above all, drinking good wines without paying through the nose for them!

Discovering Madeira

This post will be as much about tourism and cuisine as it is about wine because these three things are inseparable to me when it comes to Madeira.

I went there with my family at the tail end of December 2018. In fact, this trip to one of the world’s great wine regions had been on my bucket list for quite some time. Fortunately, I was not disappointed with the experience: the island, the people, and the wines.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Madeira is a long way from anywhere – almost 1,000 km from Lisbon and 600 km off the Moroccan coast. The island (in fact, one big island and three little ones) is a popular tourist destination, with about a million visitors a year. Although many of them come on cruise ships, the overall impression I had was of relatively up-market tourism involving people who go out of their way to discover a unique 750 km² sub-tropical paradise. In fact, Madeira is nicknamed the “island of eternal spring” because the weather is never too hot, nor too cold.
We stayed in the capital city, Funchal, population 110,000.

The first evening, we went to a restaurant named “Beef and Wine”, where we ordered the house speciality, espetada. This is usually chunks of beef but, in this case, it was actually a variation, picanah, top sirlon rubbed in garlic and salt, and grilled on skewers. The waiters come around as many times as you wish with their skewers, like the Brazilian churrascaria. The meat was served with a variety of vegetables. I took advantage of the extensive wine list to try a local red table wine, 2013 Xavelha, made from a blend of Portuguese and international grapes. This proved to be a good middle-of-the road effort. I later learned that table wines are quite rare, accounting for just 5% of production. We ended the meal with two glasses of ten-year-old Madeira, a Sercial and a Verdelho from Barbeito. I had heard very good things about this producer, but unfortunately was unable to visit because the firm was closed over the Christmas season. Be that as it may, the two wines we tried were delicious, in a more modern style.

We also enjoyed the unusual Madeiran bread, bolo do caco, usually served with garlic butter.

 

The next morning, I was taken in hand by the IVBAM, or Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, IP-RAM. I was greeted by Rubina Vieira, who does a wonderful job of presenting a wine that most people have heard of, but few know much about… Rubina started off by putting the wine in a historic context – its more than 500 years of ups and downs, as well as its current market status. A famous story goes that the Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV of England, when sentenced to death for treason in 1478, chose to meet his creator by drowning in a butt of Malmsey. Indeed, Duke of Clarence is the name of a wine sold by Blandy’s, one of the largest producers of Madeira! In Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”, Falstaff sells his soul to the devil “for a cup of Madeira”. Later on, Madeira found great favor in Europe and especially the United States, where the Founding Fathers used it to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Exports were greatly helped by Madeira’s strategic geographical location, a stopover point on trans-Atlantic voyages. It was soon discovered that the wine benefitted from being stored in the warm holds of ships, and so a practice developed of imitating this effect on the island. This is achieved in two ways. The most common is the estufagem method, consisting of placing the wine in stainless steel vats that are heated with a serpentine or other kind of heating system to a maximum temperature of 50°C for a minimum of three months. The wine is then left to age and cannot be bottled before the 31st of October of the second year following the harvest. The more sophisticated canteiro method calls for maturing in barrels on the top floors of cellars, where the temperature is higher, for a minimum of two years. This leads to slow oxidative ageing accounting for unique, complex aromas. Canteiro wines must age for at least three years and can only be sold after a minimum of three years starting from the 1st of January of the year following the harvest.Madeira has an alcohol content of 17-22% by volume and is fortified with wine spirit of at least 96% (compared to Port’s 77%).

Much Madeira is marketed according to style (dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet) but the finest usually carry a varietal name:

Sercial is nearly dry (≤ 59 g/l), but seems dry because of the wine’s intrinsic acidity
Medium-dry Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial, and residual sugar content varies from 54-78 g/l
Bual, classified as medium-sweet, has a sugar content of 78-100 g/l
Malmsey is quite sweet, with ≥  100 g/l of sugar

The most widely-planted variety in Madeira is Tinta Negra, accounting for 85% of production, although the name rarely appears on a label. There has been a tendency to consider Tinta Negra a “workhorse” grape rather than one of the finer varieties, but a 1929 Tinta Negra I tasted showed that to be an unfair generalization. And then there is the rare Terrantez, which produces a medium-dry or medium sweet wine of excellent quality that is making somewhat of a comeback.

 

 

Rubina was kind enough to take me through a tutored tasting of the following wines:

CAF Cooperative Agrícola do Funchal five year old (blend)
Barbeito “Rainwater”, medium dry
Henriques & Henriques 10 year old Sercial
Borges 10 year old Verdelho
Barbeito 10 year old Bual
Justino’s 10 year old Malvasia (same as Malmsey)
Henriques & Henriques 20 year old medium dry Terrantez
1973 Madeira Wine Company Verdelho
1964 Justino’s Bual
1937 Pereira Oliveira Sercial
1929 sweet Pereira Oliveira Tinta Negra

This master class was utterly fascinating, and the older wines were gorgeous.The style called “Rainwater” is very popular in the US. It is lighter and similar in sweetness to Verdelho, but usually made with Tinta Negra. Explanations of the origin of the name and how the style developed vary.

There was a time not so long ago when extremely old Madeira could be bought for a song – in fact, for ridiculously low prices, making it one of the wine world’s greatest bargains. Those days may be over, but fine Madeira remains well worth seeking out.

The wine law was recently overhauled, and the broad categories are now as follows:·

Reserve (five years) – This is the minimum amount of ageing for a wine labelled with one of the premium varieties.
Special Reserve (10 years) – At this point, the wines are often aged naturally without any artificial heat source
Extra Reserve (over 15 years) – This style is richer and relatively rare, with many producers preferring to extend the ageing to 20 years for a vintage, or produce a colheita.
Colheita – This style includes wines from a single vintage, but aged for a shorter period than true vintage Madeira. The wine can be labeled with a vintage date, but includes the word colheita on it. Colheita must be a minimum of five years old before being bottled. However, most producers drop the word Colheita once a wine is a minimum of 20 years old, at which point it can be sold as vintage.
Frasqueira (“vintage”)  – This style must be aged at least 20 years in cask and one year in bottle. However, the word “vintage” cannot appear on labels because it is a trademark belonging to the Port producers.

In France, Madeira suffers from an unusual handicap in that it is an ingredient in numerous classic sauces. Like many households and restaurants, I always have an open bottle to use in cooking. However, this overshadows the wine’s qualities in its own right… That having been said, Rubina pointed out what I had heard elsewhere: while Port and Sherry, the other great European fortified wines, are losing ground, exports of Madeira are on the rise.

The sugar content of Madeira, including dry Sercial, is actually quite high. This is because the wines feature such high acidity that sweetness is necessary to provide proper balance.

 

The IVBAM was kind enough to take me on a tour of the wine country, guided by Lionel Vieira, the Institute’s viticultural consultant. This was utterly fascinating and something I could never have done on my own.Rubina stressed that Madeira is by definition a rare wine. The entire vineyard covers just 500 hectares (compared with 650 hectares in Pomerol, practically the smallest of Bordeaux’s 57 appellations). These are scattered around the island in one of seven microclimates and divided among some 2,000 grape growers. The soil is basically the same everywhere: basalt of volcanic origin, which accounts for the high acidity. The island is very mountainous and so the vines frequently grow on terraces located on steep slopes. The grapes are mostly trained according to the latada system, i.e. making use of a pergola 1.5 to 2 meters high. This provides good ventilation and reduces the risk of rot or mold. In times past, vegetables were grown underneath, but this practice is disappearing. I also saw something in Madeira that was quite esoteric: vines trained horizontally, i.e. with the canes spread out on the ground, with no trunk. The key here is to work the soil so as to keep the ground well-aerated and totally devoid of other vegetation.

 

There are just 8 producers of Madeira. The largest, by far, is Justino´s Madeira Wines Company. The most well-known is the Madeira wine company, owners of such brands as Blandy’s, Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s, and Miles. The historic Blandy’s Wine Lodge, on Funchal’s main street, located practically next door to the Tourist Information Office, is a major attraction. I went on a tour there, which was well done. Unfortunately, tasting more than two entry level wines entailed a charge for each wine, so I contended myself with buying a bottle of Terrantez because this is so difficult to find.

The only other producer I visited was Pereira D’Oliveira. This traditional firm, also in Funchal, is famous for their old wines. Oliveira’s is not geared up to receiving foreign wine enthusiasts. The several young hostesses were not really clued-in and communication in English was not easy. It took some convincing to taste anything other than the basic blends. Their attitude changed completely when I was finally given a rare and expensive wine to taste, and bought a bottle. Evidently, I was not a freeloader, so other wines were poured and a few souvenir items were added free of charge…

 

In terms of dining, allow me to go through the restaurants we frequented. Lionel from the IVBAM invited me to the restaurant at the Four Views hotel in Funchal. This included poached egg soup and the emblematic black scabbard fish with bananas and passion fruit sauce. We had another Madeiran table wine with this, 2016 Barbusano Verdelho, perhaps a bit too tart for me. Lunch the next day was at a seafront restaurant, O Regional, that provided excellent value for money as we ate outside on a warm December afternoon.

That same evening we dined at Chris’s Place, on a par with a one-star Michelin restaurant. The three of us ordered the tasting menu with wines to match and the bill came to 100 euros, representing great value for money. In addition, we enjoyed lunch one day at Cachalote in Porto Moniz on the northern side of the island, which I also recommend. I sampled a dish there revolving around limpets that went well with a white Douro wine.

 

 

The highlight of our trip was nevertheless the New Year’s Eve gala dinner at the Belmond Reid’s Palace hotel in Funchal, an establishment normally out of my price range, but one of those luxurious things one does from time to time… The food was exquisite, as was the setting, and we had a window seat with a gorgeous view over the city and the harbour.

This mattered, because the fireworks display on the 31st of December in Funchal is world famous. There was a blaze of color all over the town and on the water. Spellbindingly beautiful.

Although Madeira is a major tourist destination, I had the impression that wine is very much of a footnote in regional promotion, which is a pity. That having been said, wine tourism is slowly, but surely taking off. Furthermore, Rubina travels all over the world to present the wines and suggest how to enjoy them with food (frequently a question mark with sweet wines). One of the unusual characteristics of Madeira is that it does not budge once the bottle is open. I was repeatedly told that you can go back a year later and it will not have suffered from contact with oxygen.

The challenge for Madeira is to close the gap between a famous name and the realities of today’s market so as to shake off a 19th century image and turn young people on to one of the world’s great wines. I get the feeling that thanks to the intrinsic quality of fine Madeira and people like Rubina to spread the good word, a renaissance is in the making.

A final anecdote: I attended a service at the Anglican church in Funchal and was delighted to see that along with the traditional tea and coffee after the service, worshipers were also given the option of a glass of Rainwater Madeira. Needless to say, that is what I chose… I found this mighty civilized and think that churches in other winegrowing regions – such as Bordeaux – would do well to offer the same!

 

 

 

Three absolutely extraordinary wine dinners

I was privileged to taste a number of remarkable wines in a 10-day period in late September. In fact, I have never before tasted as many great aged wines in such a short period of time in my entire life. It was not possible to take detailed notes on these, since they were served at table, but here are a few brief impressions.
I would like to acknowledge the outrageous generosity of Tim Mc Cracken who contributed most of the wines, as well as Ian Amstad and others.
Tim had rented a château in the Entre-Deux-Mers (Château Casanova in Saint-Sulpice-et-Cameyrac) to celebrate his 50th birthday and invited friends from seven different countries, all wine lovers, to come and spend a memorable weekend.
The wines at the first dinner were shared with Canadian friends Danny and Danielle Tenaschuk in Bordeaux.

Dinner on 22/09/18

2002 Savennières Roche aux Moines, Cuvée des Nonnes, mœlleux
This was looking very old and had a bouquet that was clearly quite evolved. There was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked, or if was more a question of balsamic aromas. In any event, it was only medium sweet and more of an oddity than good.

2014 Bourgogne Aligoté, bottled by Anne Buisson in Meursault
This barrel-aged unfiltered Aligoté was served blind and stumped all of us. I was thinking Germany and others were also thinking of a more northern clime. The wine was elegant and precise, if lacking in depth. Several of us thought this was one of the better Aligotés we had ever had.

2008 Château Grillet
This was the sixth time I have had Ch. Grillet. All the previous ones had left me nonplussed (no wonder that pre-Pinault vintages are not mentioned at all on their website) and left me wondering if the wine’s rareness and price tag had not clouded the judgement of other tasters. However, this 2008 was subtle and refined, with complex aromas and a lovely long, cool aftertaste. Very classy. Could even improve with age (as opposed to the other Grillets I have had, which had nothing to gain by long ageing).

1998 Ch. Petit Village
Served blind, this had us guessing a much younger Left Bank wine. An elegant wine with a silky texture. Fine indeed. Not yet at peak.

2010 Ch. Belles-Graves, Lalande de Pomerol, cuvée “Calypso”
This was correctly guessed as a fine Right Bank Bordeaux. It was a notch down from the Petit Village, but received praise from everyone. I have one more bottle and will sit on it (so to speak). A great wine to serve blind as it punches seriously above its weight. If it is said that a good Lalande is the equal of a lesser Pomerol, this is more like a middling one, at the very least. By the way, this cuvée is named after the bathyscape used by the famous explorer Jean-Yves Cousteau, to whom the owners are related.

1996 Ch. Léoville Barton
As to be expected, a classic Saint-Julien, but one of my friends kept insisting that there was a greenness there. It did perhaps lack some body and focus. I have two more bottles and wait to open the next one. The overall verdict was that we are slightly disappointed.

2013 Two Sisters Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula
A 20 cl. bottle was enough for the 6 of us to have a small glass of this bracing, crystalline wine whose high sugar content was countered by sufficient acidity. Not overly aromatic, but delicious. I wonder how a wine like this will age?

Dinner on 28/09 (16 wines for 15 people, including one jeroboam).

Champagne Drappier Brut
OK, but a little sharp.

1995 Hospices de Beaune, Meursault, Cuvée Jehan Humblot (maison Bichot)
In fine form with some tertiary hazelnut and cherry-vanilla nuances on the nose.
Good development on the palate and length. A point.


2003 Montrachet, DRC
Bright medium pale golden color. Beguiling, subtle nose with the oak very much under control.
Pure and mineral on the palate with restrained power, yet ethereal. Well-muscled, needs time, but quite the treat now. An experience.

2005 Bahans Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan
This second wine no longer exists, replaced by Le Clarence.
Lovely deep color with a bouquet of coffee, vanilla, and cedar.
Big, strong, and youthful on the palate, but some medicinal notes there. Good rather than great.

1978 Haut Brion
Thinnish purplish rim. Lovely earthy bouquet with a strong Graves signature. Showing age on the palate and more interesting than vital with some rubbery overtones. As the Italians say “a wine of mediation”.

1958 Haut Brion
The color was light, but looked much younger than its years. The nose was smoky and unmistakably Haut Brion. In light of the vintage reputation, the wine should have been dead on arrival, but it was still alive. Although light, it was worthy of the château’s reputation. Most other Bordeaux in this vintage have turned to dust.

1989 Haut Brion
Deep vibrant color. Sleek, youthful nose that is still relatively closed at the present time. Splendiferous and polished on the palate, with lovely fruit, tannin, and acidity. Not a baby but, an adolescent. Tremendous velvety texture. All the majesty of the finest Bordeaux. Far from peak.

1953 Haut Brion
My birth year wine was, in my opinion, the best of an unforgettable series. The color was a bit diffuse, but no one would have guessed its age. The bouquet was redolent of truffles and oozed elegance, the sort of wine you could “nose” forever. It was resonant, long, and simply wonderful on the palate. Were I to give notes, this would be at the very top end of the scale. There are wines to equal this, but I cannot imagine any better.

1928 Haut Brion
One of the great vintages of the 20th century, back-to-back with 1929. The wine’s color would have thrown anyone for a loop, appearing at least two or three decades younger! The nose was exotic with mint, eucalyptus, plummy aromas, as well as some fortified wine (Madeira) notes. The wine was incredibly smooth and complex on the palate, but had – unsurprisingly! – lost much of its vigor. Drinking such a wine is like contemplating a Rembrandt or a Da Vinci painting, a work of art from another time period that demands respect. A hush came over the table and we were all delighted.

 

The next two wines were donated by the famous Parisian connoisseur and lover of old wines, François Audouze:

1948 Rauzan Ségla
The color was deep, beautiful, and almost disturbingly youthful (I’d have said a wine from the 1960s).
The ethereal and balsamic bouquet showed hints of gentle oxidation paradoxically well integrated with the fruit, along with slight raisiny quality and an “old library” smell. The nose needed to be appreciated in the third… or fourth degree.
The wine showed graphite overtones and was very silky on the palate and a little dry, but still vital. It also showed hints of leather. Seemed more butch than most Margaux.

1945 Léoville Las Cases
Although a little diffuse and having a somewhat watery rim, the color once again would have fooled (just about) anyone as to this wine’s age. The exuberant, sexy nose showed lovely cherry aromas, and there was something almost Burgundian about its sensuality. This was served alongside the Rauzan and the table was split as to which they preferred. I opted for the Léoville.

1982 Ausone
How many people you know would bring a 5-liter bottle of an 82 first growth to a dinner party? Well, this is exactly what Ian Amstadt of London did. And his gift to us all was very much appreciated. The color was quite fine, looking perhaps a tad older than its age. The nose was subdued at first, with some rose petal aromas, but came out over time to reveal sweet autumnal nuances. The wine spread out beautifully on the palate and shows that, as opposed to what some say, Ausone never went through an off-period when Pascal Delbeck was winemaker. When tasted the next day, the wine was even better. While approachable now, it has a long way to go, and was even better the next day. One of the guests with far more experience than me said that, although magnums are justifiably reputed to age more slowly than 75 cl. bottles, once you move up the scale, this is not true due to the rare outsize custom corks which, he said, don’t work as well.


1961 Gaja Barbaresco
1967 Gaja Barbaresco
These were very much of a pair, with similar qualities. I preferred the 67. The color of both the wines was fairly pale and the nose very subtle and ethereal (rose petal). I thought both wines fell down somewhat on the palate where the acid edge took over, and I would have preferred them much younger.

1976 Yquem
Color was light amber. The bouquet was light, wafting, soft and understated. The wine was medium-bodied with lovely white fruit, yellow fruit, and vanilla flavors. Not overly sweet or rich. Exquisite. Fine now and will be just as good, although in a different way, for decades to come. Very successful.

1967 Yquem
There are only two Bordeaux wines I “covet”, i.e. I would like to taste before I go to the great wine cellar in the sky. One is 61 Palmer. The other was 67 Yquem. I was therefore delighted beyond words with the opportunity to taste this wine which thankfully wholly lived up to its reputation. The nose of barley sugar and botrytis was followed by the most exquisite flavor. The expression “iron fist in a velvet glove” is most often used to describe red wines, and yet I couldn’t help thinking of it for this Yquem. The flavour was both tangy and creamy with that tell-tale vanilla element. The aftertaste was of marathon length. Superb. I am well-known for giving low scores by other people’s standards. But if I were to rate this, it would be at the extreme end of the quality spectrum.

Dinner on 29/08/18 (17 wines for 14 people)

2011 Chablis grand cru Les Clos, Domaine Pinson
The color was normal for its age and the nose was lovely, with lemony overtones. The oak was well-integrated and the wine was mercifully not as sharp as some Chablis. I felt that it was firmly within its drinking window.

2002 Morey Saint Denis premier cru Les Buissières, Domaine Georges Roumier
Brownish rim with deep smoky Pinot leather bouquet. The wine was sleek, but too old on the palate with a shortish aftertaste. Disappointing in Iight of the producer’s reputation, and the vintage.


2008 Clos de Tart, grand cru
Good medium-deep color. Bewitching, pure, flawless bouquet. Very fresh on the palate with great tannin. Big, regal, well-made, and with a velvety texture. The structure I so often find missing in Burgundy is here. Great long aftertaste. We had two bottles. Some people said they detected a little acetic acid in the first (not me), but the second was marginally better.

2008 Littorai (Sonoma, California), Haven Vineyard
Color as expected for a wine of this age. Bouquet of buttery oak, slightly smoky, and with a herbaceous element. Fine varietal character with a caramel, almost sweet quality on the palate. Very good, but a little simplistic.

2007 Vosne Romanée Les Beaumonts (please forgive me for not noting the producer, will fill in later)
Medium-thin purplish rim. Nose a bit one-dimensional. Harsh and, to my mind, flawed on the palate.

1990 Le Chambertin, Domaine Rossignol-Trapet
Looking old and a bit turbid. Slightly porty on the nose, but better on the palate. Virile, strong, but lacking focus. Would have been better younger.

2001 Sociando Mallet, Cuvée Jean Gautreau, Haut-Médoc
This was served double blind. I guessed Saint-Julien and my better half guessed Saint-Estèphe. She was closer since Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne is just a stone’s throw from Saint-Estèphe… Given a choice of four vintages, I was on the money though. The color showed some age, but with a very deep core. The nose was smoky, deep, and perfumed. This tasted quite fine.

2001 Pontet Canet, Pauillac
Colour was good and youthful. The bouquet was beautifully ripe, uplifting, and elegant. Some spiciness on the palate (cinnamon) and a graceful, smooth tannic structure. One of the stars of the evening. Pontet Canet has risen greatly in recent years but, even so, I didn’t expect this wine to be quite as good as it was.

2001 Latour à Pomerol
Fine color and a slightly odd nose with coffee and celery overtones. Very typical of its appellation on the palate. Big, almost massive and definitely rich. Probably a good time to drink this.

1959 Léoville Poyferré, Saint-Julien
Good color for its age with still some purplish highlights. What I call a very graham cracker bouquet with cosmetic and graphite components. Very interesting balance on the palate with rich tannin, but a fine backbone as well. The aromatics on the nose very much in evidence on the aftertaste.

1983 Château Latour, Pauillac
The wine appeared a little turbid and looked just about its age. The nose displayed sweet cedar and graphite nuances. The wine was big, round, and monumental on the palate. Cabernet Sauvignon at its very best. Long, imperious, and impressive. I see it as fine to drink now.

1982 Sociando Mallet, Haut-Médoc
Lovely vibrant color. Marked coffee-vanilla notes on the nose with some green pepper, but not too much. This mercaptan factor has been toned down over the years – it was overwhelming when the wine was young. This 82 Sociando is big and assertive on the palate and still has good ageing potential.

1982 Ausone, Saint Emilion
Retasted from the previous night, this wine had not lost one iota of its qualities and had, in fact, blossomed. Subtle, sophisticated, and seductive with a velvety texture, puckery aftertaste and refined sweetness. Tremendous.

1998 Léoville Barton, Saint Julien
Looking younger than its years, this had an attractive, but overly discreet nose. The taste was very much in keeping with the château profile – smooth and soft, but in this vintage the tannin is too unyielding, and not in a way that time will cure. Fine with food but on its own too tough. Best enjoyed sooner rather than later to take advantage of the fruit.

1988 Montrose, Saint Estèphe
Color OK for its 30 years. Ethereal, wonderful nose with touch of graphite. Proved to be a great Médoc on the palate, but lacks a bit of freshness and panache.

2001 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Medium-deep amber-gold color. Very youthful bouquet with some tropical fruit (pineapple) overtones. Good acidity on the palate with lovely follow through. Very fine wine with sweetness well under control. The mineral touch on the aftertaste is still there and helps to make the wine so delicious.

1953 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Deep amber color and a wonderful nose with hints of vanilla. The first impression on the palate is of a seemingly “fat” and sumptuous wine. However, the wine’s acid backbone kicks in and helps carry this wine into a super-long controlled aftertaste of sheer beauty.

The one wine not noted was from Tim’s birth year, a 1968 Lafite Rothschild. I knew it as a very light rosé in the 1970s and time had not done it any good since. But it is indicative of the extremely high level of all the other wines that it attracted little attention. Come to think of it, the percentage of off or corked bottles was very low, thank goodness.

An altogether phenomenal time!!!

 

Visits to 4 châteaux in the Pessac-Léognan appellation

My friend Izak Litwar from Copenhagen arranged visits over two days (Oct. 10th and 11th 2018) in Pessac-Léognan and the Médoc and asked me to come along. Izak comes to Bordeaux twice a year, once during the En Primeur circus and again during the harvest.

We started out with Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, a wine I once knew well since it was the exclusivity of the négociant I worked for at the time, the maison Chantecaille (in fact the Bordeaux branch of the Bichot company in Beaune). I was amazed to learn that the new owners, the Pichat family, who made their fortune in the regional construction industry, had allowed Philippe Chantecaille’s wife, Bijou, to go on living in the beautiful château. She has just turned 100! Les Carmes is a lovely small property with 5 hectares of vines surrounded by a sea of buildings (houses, offices, and the local hospital). In fact, it is the only vineyard estate with a postal address in the city of Bordeaux!
The new Carmes Haut Brion is a different animal from the one I knew. The state-of-the-art cellars and avant-garde winery building designed by Philippe Stark are put to good use by winemaker Guillaume Pouthier, who had previously worked for Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley.

Avant garde cellar at Carmes Haut Brion

I had noticed the rise of Les Carmes Haut Brion at recent en primeur tastings, and the excellent quality was confirmed by the wines I tasted at the winery. This included the 2018, the first I have ever tasted from this vintage!
The Pichats also acquired 24 hectares of vines in Martillac, likewise in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, when the Le Thil Comte Clary vineyards were sold. However, the wine from there, Le C des Carmes Haut Brion, will always be kept separate from Les Carmes Haut Brion, since the vineyards are 15 km distant with quite different terroirs.

I sampled three vintages. The 2014 had a nose that was fairly oaky, a little smoky, and had (restrained) New World characteristics. It was very fresh and fruity on the palate with good acidity as well as some tar, candied black fruit, and eucalyptus nuances. Very good, and promising.
The 2015 had a developed, ethereal, somewhat floral bouquet. This was once again fresh, with good oak, a touch of smoke, and pure berry fruit. The wine was bigger on the palate than expected with fine tannin. It was also round (but with no drop on the middle palate), tangy, and with good tannic texture. Oak is present, but under control on the long, tannic aftertaste.
The 2016 was the best of the three, with a perfumed, delicate bouquet and simply lovely aromatics, including violet. The wine was extremely appealing on the palate with good follow-through and a fine acid backbone. Despite this good acidity, the wine is rounder, richer, and fuller than the previous two vintages. The tannin is also, unsurprisingly, more unyielding and I predict a great future for this wine.

Chateau Haut Bailly, Leognan, Bordeaux, France.

We were next welcomed by Pia Lombard at Château Haut Bailly where the traditional gerbaude (meal to mark the end of the harvest) was being prepared for the pickers. This involved, among other things, roasting two whole sheep on a spit.
Unfortunately, because of the terrible spring weather this year, the estate lost over half of an average crop due to mildew. The saving grace is that the quality of their 2018 is very encouraging at this early stage.

I’m a great fan of Haut Bailly and was not disappointed by the three vintages I sampled.

The 2017 had an ultra-classic but somewhat one-dimensional nose at the present time, with coffee-vanilla overtones. The wine was very attractive and mouthfilling, if a tad weak on the middle palate. However, it segued into a plush aftertaste with black fruit flavors, well-integrated oak, and textured tannin. Although a little on the light side, it had good balance.
The 2015 had a subtle, but not very forthcoming nose (at the present time) of cranberry. The wine was round and big on the palate with a slight dip in the middle. It had a meaty side as well as textured, grippy tannin and a medium-heavy mouth feel. It finished with up-front crowd-pleasing fruitiness on the good, lively aftertaste.
The 2016 had an attractive berry nose with some smokiness. It succeeded in being both intense and nuanced with beautiful aromatics, including violet nuances. Very promising. The wine was juicy and lipsmackingly delicious on the palate, more foursquare and longer than the Carmes Haut Brion tasted an hour earlier, and also more assertive. It featured good texture and a fine puckery aftertaste, if perhaps a touch dry on the finish at the present time.

Next stop was Château Seguin in Canéjan. Owner Denis Darriet is a friend who is doing very good work making classic wines at reasonable prices. This was the third Pessac-Léognan estate in a row that produces only red wine, very much the exception rather than the rule in the appellation!
2015 Seguin had some caramel, black cherry and oaky overtones, without artifice. The wine was lovely, mouthfilling, “sweet” and with considerable finesse, approaching grand cru status. It was perhaps a tad weak on the middle palate and maybe a little short, but showed good dark fruit and a tarry quality. It will be very enjoyable even fairly young.
The 2016 displayed a wonderful Pessac-Léognan nose with hints of mint and smoke. The initial impression of sweetness on the palate followed into a smooth, velvety aftertaste with well-integrated oak on the tail end. A very fine wine indeed. I also sampled two other cuvées from the 2016 vintage: an as yet unnamed cuvée which sees longer oak ageing with a higher proportion of new barrels. This had a creamier flavor and more grip, as well as longer ageing potential. The top of the line at Seguin is “Confidences” which is made from the estate’s 3 or 4 best barrels. This proved to be of another magnitude, with enormous ageing potential. It is tightly-wound at present and needs quite a bit of time to strut its stuff.

Domaine de Chevalier

 

The final visit of the day was to Domaine de Chevalier, where we were welcomed by Olivier Bernard. He was in an ebullient mood because this was the very last day of the harvest, which had been untouched by rain. As is usually the case in Bordeaux, we tasted the reds before the whites.

 

The 2016 red has just been bottled. It showed fresh, well-focused, chocolate and black fruit (blackcurrant) aromas. The wine was full and very juicy with good acidity and a delicious aftertaste. It melted in the mouth and displayed really good balance. This proved to be a very drinkable wine rather than any sort of blockbuster. The oak comes through as it should, and no more.
2015 Domaine de Chevalier had some incense aromas along with perky red and black fruit that was not particularly complex at this stage. The wine was medium-heavy on the palate with strong tannin that coated the teeth with going-on-sharp acidity. The incense quality on the nose carried over to the palate. This seemed like a little bit of a bruiser for Chevalier.
2014 Chevalier had a stupendous color with a brambly black fruit jelly nose, along with cherry and leather nuances. This will surely become more complex over time. The wine was attractive and plush on the palate with tremendous cherry flavors. Although a little facile, it was round and showing extremely well even this young. Tremendously well-made with a fine textured aftertaste.
Then it was on to the whites.
2016 Domaine de Chevalier had a very Sauvignon Blanc nose that is quite primary at present. It was round on the palate and the wine’s intrinsic class came through on the finish.
Sémillon showed through more on the nose of the 2015, a wine that was quite delicious, pure, and mineral with understated pear and tropical fruit flavors. Great finish.
The 2014 white wine from Domaine de Chevalier featured enchanting beeswax aromas as part of a very complex bouquet. The wine was incredibly smooth and long on the palate. Simply a great wine.

 

2005 Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac

 

 

English speakers sat up and took notice of this wine when it did extremely well at a tasting organized by Decanter magazine. My previous experience with Pédescalux led me to consider it a wine not to age for very long. So, I opened the 2005 at lunch recently (decanted 2 hours before the meal). I was very impressed. My guests were served it blind and immediately targeted it as a classified growth from Pauillac. It had all the hallmarks of great Cabernet from that commune – a lovely nose of graphite and black fruit, in fact reminiscent of Mouton. The wine showed tremendous class on the palate, with medium body and a very fine balance between smoothness and good tannic structure. An elegant Pauillac rather than a broad-shouldered one. The aftertaste was perhaps not tremendously long and powerful, but that is largely quibbling. I wish I had another bottle because, in the event, the wine needs another few years to reach its peak. A very pleasant surprise.

 

 

Tasting of 2017 Saint-Emilion

These are the last of my en primeur tasting notes:

Beauséjour-Bécot
N: Fine, ripe, pure berry fruit with some tarry overtones and earthiness. Great bouquet.
P: Rich and fresh, but a little flabby despite the limestone minerality that comes through. Bit short and hard, but age will do wonders for the embryonic balance. Good to very good.

Bellevue
N: Bit wild and woolly with aromas of blackberry, oak, and terroir (earth).
P: Quite rich with a proper tannic structure that kicks in and a fresh tannic finish. Borderline too much oak. Traditional style. Vinous and ageworthy. A wine to watch out for. Good.

Canon
N: Powdery, backward at the present time.
P: Starts out like a great Pomerol, going on to show lovely fruit and an assertive development on the palate. Strong, but not overly so. Great balance and long, fine aftertaste. A true vin de terroir with wonderful potential. Very good, and if the nose blossoms, excellent.

Canon La Gaffelière
N: Very primary and rich with aromas of red fruit (redcurrant) jelly
P: Great structure with good tannin to complement the roundness. Unmistakably Saint-Emilion and a very well-made wine that truly brings out the best of each grape variety. Very good.

Clos Fourtet
N: Bright fruit in minor mode. Some sweetness just emerging.
P: Lovely texture and purity. Aristocratic with a velvety aftertaste and fine follow-through showing excellent minerality. Good, and very good if the bouquet comes out more.

Clos Saint Martin
N: Pure, sweet, blackberry fruit.
P: Heavy mouth feel. Lovely silky texture. Concentrated, but elegant. Tremendous balance. Good acidity. Tart red fruit flavors. Very long mineral finish. Good to very good if the bouquet develops more.

La Confession
N: Black fruit jelly. A little jammy and with an ethereal spirity quality.
P: Starts off with a very attractive velvety texture, then segues into a very rough and unyielding finish. Will surely even out to some extent over time, but the aftertaste seems to detract from the overall impression at the present time. OK.

Couvent des Jacobins
N: Smooth, slick, cherry-vanilla bouquet with lovely floral overtones. Quite elegant.
P: Big mouthful, then a little weak and diluted. Round, then showing tea-type tannin not of the highest quality. Cherry and blackcurrant flavors. Natural, not doctored. Nippy aftertaste with decent length. Not as promising as the nose. Good.

Faugères
N: Seems not very expressive at first, but hints of chocolate, smoke, cranberrry, and cherry-vanilla come out after all.
P: Fine mouth-filling attack going on to show some hotness and virile tannins. Long tangy aftertaste without dryness on the finish. Limestone terroir comes through. Good to very good.

Ferrand
N: Showing some mint and camphor aromas. Not much fruit and a bit odd.
P: Strong liquorice/aniseed component. Spreads out well on the palate with textured tannin. A little harder than most – but also more serious than most. Long tannic aftertaste. Worthwhile ageing potential. Good.

Fleur Cardinale
N: Toasty oak, touch spirity, dark fruit.
P: Great gentle start, but then goes into piercing acidity. Gummy texture accompanied by a certain hotness. Not a good time for this wine. Needs to be retasted with some age. Not as positive as I’m accustomed to from this estate. OK.

Fombrauge
N: You have to look for it, but there are some cherry-vanilla aromas.
P: Big sensual mouth feel. Hearty, definitely alcoholic, and fairly oaky on the palate, but is there enough fruit to back this up? Average on the attack and then, wham!, lots and lots of tannin. Unbalanced, but perhaps upgraded in ten years’ time. OK.

Fonplégade
N: Little dusty. Engaging, deep, enticing wildberry aromas.
P: Lovely, tight-knit, yet smooth texture. Quite fine. Goes on seamlessly to show good acidity, great balance, and a velvety aftertaste. Very good.

La Gaffelière
N: Soft and simple, with good oak. Not very expressive at this stage.
P: Good Merlot attack followed by the backbone and length of Cabernet Franc. Medium-long, mineral, fresh, and slightly thin aftertaste. The oak is not obtrusive. Lively with a candied fruit quality. Nothing forced. Fresh, subtle finish. Good to very good.

Grandes Murailles
N: Powdery, with candied black fruit and some toasty oak.
P: Good attack and follow-through with plenty of grip and characterful oak on the finish.  Serviceable, but watch out for that oak ageing. OK.

Larcis Ducasse
N: Soft, with some floral notes as well as meaty overtones.
P: Seems a little flabby at first and with a somewhat weak middle palate, but this impression is followed by waves of fresh fruit, new oak, and minerality. A bit dry on the aftertaste, but chances are everything will coalesce. When all is said and done: very good.

Laroque
N: Prune and liquorice nuances along with black fruit jelly.
P: Very soft to begin with, moving on to show healthy acidity. Silky, layered, and pure. Well made. Gutsy, yet refined. Long aftertaste. Good plus.

La Tour Figeac
N: Subtle briar, cherry, and tobacco aromas. Excellent.
P: Rich and showing tremendous balance, then gradually and effortless goes into a fine tannic aftertaste with good minerality and acidity. Great balancing act between roundness and rigor. Maybe a tad dilute on the attack, but still: excellent.

Magrez Fombrauge
N: Graham cracker and ethereal fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel and an impression of sweetness. Big and powerful with plenty (too much?) oak. Somewhat alcoholic and a little dry on the finish. Needs to come together. Too hard and overwhelming at this early stage. Good.

Pavie Macquin
N: Oak and bright fruit. Primary red fruit aromas.
P: Sensual mouth feel. Vibrant and upfront. Medium light at first, dips, and then goes into a very long mineral aftertaste with candied fruit flavors. Exceeds expectations. Very good.

Péby Faugères
N: A little something metallic, accompanied by hints of roast coffee beans, beeswax, and varnished wood, as well as empyreumatic notes and a biscuity quality.
P: Big, sweet, strong, and somewhat hot. Heaps of toasty oak on the massive aftertaste. Heavy mouth feel. Is it permissible to prefer the little brother (Faugères)? Good.

Poesia (PHOTO NOT SHOWN)
N: Modern, upfront, fruity (berry fruit). Reminiscent of New World wines.
P: This New World quality carries over to the palate, with is rich and powerful, but nevertheless backed up by good acidity. Exuberant with good tension. Original and successful modern style. Good.

Pressac
N: Pure, natural, and direct with forest floor aromas. Subtle and attractive with a definite floral component.
P: Chunky and round, than curiously hot and a bit acidic. As wonderful as the bouquet is, the wine falls down somewhat on the palate. Too tannic and top-heavy with a dry finish. OK.

Quintus
N: Attention-getting and very seductive. Some slight fermentation (tanky) aromas.
P: Plenty of volume with vibrant acidity and delicious blackberry flavors. Great velvety texture and some violet nuances. Very good.

Ripeau
N: Very green with some floral notes, as well as roasted and brettlike aromas.
P: Some greenness on the palate too, but this is much better than the bouquet. Polished rusticity and the floral component on the nose comes through again. Curious. Textured, but harsh aftertaste. OK.

Tour Saint Christophe
N: Fine, well-focused. Very fresh and rather uncomplicated.
P: Thick, rich, smooth, and round. Seemingly flabby to begin with, then going into a weak middle palate before showing power, acidity and minerality. A fruit-driven commercial style with a finish that gives it a more serious flavor. Good.

Troplong Mondot
N: Toasty oak and candied black fruit. Strong, sweet blackberry overtones with meaty nuances.
P: Almost syrupy on the attack and definitely powerful (high alcohol – 14.6°). Lashings of oak. Not my kind of balance. Somewhat redeemed on the aftertaste. OK.

Valandraud
N: Deep, inky, subtle and upfront.
P: Starts out with a syrupy quality. Very rich indeed and very Merlot, with textured tannin. Not overoaked, but seems a little short. Good.

 

 

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

Bouscaut
N: Lots of toasty oak with smoky nuances.
P: Fortunately, the oak is not overwhelming on the palate. Tasty, well-balanced, and typical of its appellation. Lipsmacking bright fruit. Natural with lovely aromatics (redcurrant, etc.). Good to very good.

Carbonnieux
N: Oak dominates the fruit at present, but not by a great deal. Red fruit (candied cherries) and smoky nuances.
P: Medium rich with sweet fruit, going on to show fine acidity. Light on its feet. Also cushioned and velvety. 2017 Carbonnieux reaffirms the improvement of the estate’s red wines (the whites were always good). Good.

Carmes Haut Brion
N: Exuberant cherry fruit aromas, almost Pinot Noir-like. Lovely, sexy, and deep.
P: Wonderful mouthful of wine. Sweet and hedonistic. Despite the considerable softness, the tannin says Bordeaux. Fine flavors, mineral freshness, and just the right amount of oak. Very good.

Chevalier
N: High-quality oak with glossy, impeccable black fruit (blackberry) aromas.
P: Concentrated and pure, with great development on the palate, continuing into a sensual aftertaste showing sweet fruit as well as minerality very typical of Pessac-Léognan. Fine acidity at the core of a delicious softness. Very Good.

de France
N: Liquorice and roasted aromas. Some smoky overtones, as well as interesting violet ones.
P: Quite sweet on the palate with flavors reminiscent of black fruit jam. Seems a little flabby, then weak, then comes back with a perfectly creditable aftertaste. Lots of black fruit here. Typical Pessac-Léognan. Good.

Larrivet Haut Brion
N: Subtle forest fruit aromas along with roast coffee and candied black cherry. Harmonious nose with a strong personality.
P: Great attack bursting with concentrated fruit. Pure, with nice acidity and high-quality tannin. Appetizing. Only flaw is a slight diluteness on the middle palate. Good to very good.

Malartic Lagravière
N: Pure fruit and a perfumed quality I often find in this château. The oak is under control.
P: Sweet, luscious, elegant cherry notes. Classy and neither big, nor dainty. Good to very good.

Olivier
N: Soft and polished, but not tremendously expressive.
P: A little syrupy at first, but then shows marked acidity and good fruit. Sturdy rather than exciting.
Good.

Pape Clément
N: Toasty oak (hardly surprising for this estate), but also sweet fruit to go with it. Multi-faceted.
P: Thick, with resonating tannin. Mercifully, no oak overkill. In fact, the wine’s intrinsic smokiness goes well with it. Great balance. Aristocratic. The tart finish is also somewhat dry. The only thing missing is a little more oomph. Very good.

 

La Tour Martillac
N: Classic cherry aromas. Clear-cut, sweet bouquet of medium intensity.
P: Starts off with a plush, round texture, then reveals sharp, but fresh tannin that will probably even out over time. Attractive red fruit flavors. Good.

2017 primeurs: Saint Julien, Pauillac, and Saint Estèphe

SAINT JULIEN

 

Beychevelle
N: Perfumed, lovely, fresh, and understated bouquet with fancy oak nuances.
P: Medium-weight showing great delicacy and delicious fruit flavors. Seems almost Margaux-like. Lacy texture, fine balance, and great acidity. Very good.

Branaire Ducru

N: Suave, but not very complex. Quite fruity with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Not full-bodied, but tasty, with marked acidity. More tannin than Beychevelle, but not quite up to its quality. Good.

Ducru Beaucaillou
N: Sweet, subtle fruit, the expression of fine Médoc through the ages.
P: Dense, resonating fruit and considerable concentration. Powerful ripe Cabernet character with some black olive nuances. Extremely long aftertaste. Very good.

Gruaud Larose
N: Very classic, very Cabernet nose with some pencil shaving aromas. Fresh and attractive, but I was hoping for more…
P: Rich cassis flavors with a good texture, going on to show acidity, then minerality. Not particularly well-balanced. The sudden drop disappoints. The degree of acidity means the wine will age well but it lacks richness, body, and if the truth be known, fruit for its standing. Nevertheless good.

Lagrange
N: Very reserved, a little smoky, and already leads one to believe the wine may be lacking in concentration on the palate.
P: Starts out relatively full-bodied, then goes into acid mode. Will age well thanks to this, but will always remain a little hard and a little short. Good.

Langoa Barton
N: Soft, sweet bouquet, but not very concentrated. Oak is in the background.
P: Seems chunky at first, but then fresh piercing acidity shows through. Classic blackcurrant notes, but the range of flavours is relatively narrow. Somewhat thin on the finish. Good.

Léoville Barton
N: Strong cedar aromas to match the fruit. Both classic and charming.
P: Silky/satiny texture with good concentration. Showing plenty of blackcurrant, and enough body to back up that 2017 acidity. Very long and dry (not negative here) aftertaste. Streets ahead of Léoville Poyferré. Very good.

Léoville Las Cases
N: All the hallmarks of the château with fresh, mythical blackcurrant nose.
P: Great velvety texture and develops beautifully on the palate. Both sensual and mineral. Tremendous finish. In no way can this be considered a poor or even middling vintage for Las Cases. Very good.

Léoville Poyferré
N: Not very expressive, but inevitable blackcurrant and tobacco aromas.
P: Seems both soft and a little diluted. Does not spread out on the palate as hoped. Lacks body and richness. Somewhat redeemed by a long and fairly mineral finish. Needs re-evaluation later on. Good.

Saint Pierre
N: Sweet upfront bouquet with toasty oak. Charming and immediately attractive rather than deep.
P: Some richness there and lots of fruit and, once again, oak. This needs to integrate. A more modern style, but one that suits both connoisseurs and people with less experience. Fine, tangy aftertaste superior to many other classified growths in Saint Julien on this day, and perhaps less acidic. Good to very good.

Talbot
N: Rather closed. Not much fruit showing at present, but with some cedar notes.
P: On the thin side for a Saint-Julien though it will undoubtedly put on weight and mellow out with age. Definitely not a great Talbot, however there is a nice long aftertaste with some black olive nuances. Good.

PAUILLAC

 

d’Armailhac
N: Pretty, perfumed, even a little cosmetic (in a positive way – elegant and under control).
P: Lovely, rich, and generous, going into that 2017 acidity, but still very fine. Medium-bodied. Tarry and slightly mineral aftertaste with plenty of oak. I was not alone in thinking that this is a rare instance in which d’Armailhac is better than sister château, Clerc Milon. Excellent.

Batailley
N: More developed than most with intriguing red berry (raspberry) fruit. Some earthiness, a touch spirity and a little green.
P: Spherical, but hollow and short. More commercial style than sister château Lynch Moussas, and also less good. Lots of tannin and oak here. OK to good.

Clerc Milon
N: Roast coffee notes and a little spirity. Withdrawn and less refined than d’Armailhac.
P: Better on the palate. Richness gives way to acidity. On this day d’Armailhac outclasses Clerc Milon, but what will things be like in the long term? Good to very good.

Croizet Bages
N: Fruit in minor mode, but attractive and fresh. Fine, if restrained blackcurrant nuances along with new oak.
P: Medium heavy mouthfeel. Starts out fresh, with decent fruit, but a little watery and then dips before going into an aftertaste with textured tannin and plenty of oak. This may very well integrate over time. Croizet Bages is on the upswing. About time too… Good.

Grand Puy Ducasse
N: Unfocused, with fermentation aromas and a bit of a stink. Showing poorly, which just goes to show how tasting these wines at such an early stage can give a false impression.
P: Very acidic and frankly poor at this stage.  Not up to cru classé standard. To be fair, needs to be re-tasted later on.

Grand Puy Lacoste
N: Subdued, but good potential there.
P: Rich, round, and much, much more expressive on the palate than on the nose. Lovely development. “Sweet” without asperity. Fine red and black fruit flavors. Not too much acidity, oak, or anything else really. Good to very good (if the bouquet comes out).

Haut Bages Libéral
N: Not a great deal there, just some blackcurrant leaves.
P: Starts out rich and showing medium-heavy mouthfeel, but then seems somewhat on the thin side. Fine flavour, and plenty of good acidity as it develops on the palate. Really good balance. In fact, significantly better on the palate than on the nose. A nice surprise. Very good.

Lafite Rothschild
N: Trademark violet nuances with some lead and plum aromas. Fresh and dashing.
P: Quite tannic, but tannins of exquisite quality. Not particularly rich, and presently holding back, but will be a great bottle. Lafite defies trends and changes little – because it doesn’t need to. Excellent.

Latour
N: Aromatics are low key now, but that apotheosis of Cabernet on gravel soil is all there and needs just time.
P: From the attack and up until the aftertaste, this was not particularly impressive. However, the finish is nothing short of tremendous. Medium bodied and very juicy. A baby born under a lucky star needing only to fill out and develop.

Lynch Bages
N: Fine, ripe blackcurrant nose with some emerging cedar notes. Promising.
P: Round, then sinewy. Lovely satisfying aftertaste with well-integrated oak.  Good acidity. Classic wine in a good, rather than a great vintage. Rich, vigorous fruit and acidity is under control, as is the effect of barrel ageing. Very good.

Lynch Moussas
N: Interesting floral as well as ripe, slightly candied, and jammy black cherry notes.
P: Easy-going and rich on the palate. Melts in the mouth and is then followed up by ripe tannin, complemented by new oak that it just a little too harsh on the finish. Perhaps a little light for a Pauillac but a very good effort and a pleasure to discover. An estate that deserves to be better known. Good to very good.

Mouton Rothschild
N: Oak, graphite, cigar box, and deep fruit.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel and the lead/graphite component on the nose comes through, followed by great fruit and that acidic component so common in 2017. Virile, velvety, and aristocratic aftertaste. Tremendous length. A stand-offish Mouton, but by no means a poor one, and should age well. Excellent.

Pichon Baron
N: Super elegant nose, clear, pure, and rich. Complex and very promising.
P: WIldberry and blackcurrant flavors. The only drawback is the lack of oomph on the aftertaste. And easy-to-drink even slightly dilute Baron –  that is until the finish, which features the requisite high-quality oak and tannin. Tasted just after the Comtesse, I confess I preferred the female. Still: very good.

Pichon Comtesse
N: Soft, straightforward black fruit. Good, but nothing special at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouthfeel. Rich, sensual texture going into an aftertaste with plenty of smooth tannin. Finishes with fine, sweet fruit. Everything is in place and the wine is extremely well made. Very good and a potential star when the nose starts delivering. I often prefer the Baron, but not in this vintage or, should I say, at this point in their life cycle.  Very good.

Pontet Canet
N: Juicy, soft, and a little musty, with subtle candied fruit aromas. Very enticing.
P: Fresh, with excellent structure. Straightforward, with a fine tannic backbone. A delicate balance and great finish. Long mineral aftertaste. Very good.

 

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

 

Calon Ségur
N: Dark fruit and a little beeswax, but not very expressive at this stage.
P: Fairly heavy mouth feel. Dense, penetrating and very Cabernet Sauvignon. Lovely, long, persistent aftertaste with good acidity as opposed to others in this vintage with more shrill acidity. Very typical of its appellation and estate (…so different from Cos). One for the long haul, but with charm even so. Very good.

Cos d’Estournel
N: Penetrating black fruit aromas with some roast coffee overtones.
P: Sleek and well-made. No longer flirting with a bigger, more modern style, this Cos shows great class with superb tannin. Very good.

Cos Labory
N: Soft, ethereal Cabernet fruit with interesting nuances.
P: Richer than expected on the palate, but goes into an aftertaste that is not only strong, but rather rustic. Somewhat harsh finish. OK.

Lafon Rochet
N: Very closed at present, but with underlying classic Médoc nuances and a little earthiness.
P: Fresh, vibrant, and refreshing and with some weight on the palate. Lovely fine-grained tannin, but lacks some richness and there is a certain hardness there. However, the estate’s profile comes through beautifully on the aftertaste. An elegant Saint-Estèphe, as always. Good to very good.

Montrose
N: Lovely coffee, violet, and ripe black fruit aromas. Serious, complex, and very pleasing.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel, moving forward towards a rather unyielding, but very promising aftertaste. Fine ageing potential. Very good.
(I usually don’t include notes on second wines and associated estates, but I’ll make an exception here because the other Bouygues estate in Saint-Estèphe, Château Tronquoy Lalande, was particularly successful in 2017 and this is now a wine deserving of special attention).

Ormes de Pez
N: Fine marriage of fruit and oak and clearly above average thanks to exuberant red fruit (rather than black fruit). Not intense, but expressive and appealing.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel. Fresh and straightforward. Fine, pure fruit. Good tension and tight tannin. Very good.

de Pez
N: Fresh and restrained, with black fruit overtones and medium body, with the oak influence under control.
P: Marked acidity and a bit mean on the finish, but should age into a decent lightish (for Saint-Estèphe) wine. Good

Phélan Ségur
N: Odd, slightly synthetic nose backed up by some leathery notes. More unusual than good or bad…
P: Better on the palate, showing some richness to start out with, but also some sharpness thereafter. The tannin coats the mouth. Good, medium-term ager. Well-made, although perhaps a little too much tannin in light of its body. Good.