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INTRODUCTION – SEPTEMBER 2014

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, not another Bordeaux wine site, who on earth needs that?”… In reality, though, there are precious few sites focusing on the wines of the Gironde out there! I am assistant manager of one, www.bordeauxwinenthusiasts.com, but Bordeaux is usually just one region out of many.

Bordeaux takes a lot of knocks these days. A “fox and the grapes syndrome” has set in. The price increases in the great growths over the past few years have made them unattainable for many consumers – so it has become trendy to say that the wines are not worth it, that Bordeaux is “old hat”, and that is best left to the likes of stockbrokers and the decrepit bourgeoisie! Of course, it is also claimed that “modern” Bordeaux is over-extracted, over-oaked, Parkerized, and not nearly as good as it once was…

The fact is that I’m as put off as anyone by the recent price increases of the crus classés. But these wines represent only 5% of Bordeaux! Of the remaining 95%, to be fair, there is a certain amount of dross: thin weedy wines selling at bargain basement prices. But there are also numerous gems and a full spectrum of terroirs and styles

The media love to discover and highlight estates in the Lubéron or the Languedoc or the Loire Valley, but rarely enthuse about non-classified growths from Bordeaux. Despite the region’s 9,000 châteaux, Bordeaux is perceived as a known entity, so journalists don’t often go there – except to see the famous names…

The main purpose of my blog is to write about these lower-profile estates, to give a face to châteaux eclipsed by the high and mighty.
Based in Bordeaux, I also intend to write about what it’s like to visit and live here, to speak about the people behind the labels, and in my own little way to breathe new life into Bordeaux’s somewhat fossilized image.

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.

 

 

Tasting of 2017 Margaux

Boyd Cantenac
N: Fresh and pure with brambly overtones. Subtle.
P: Rich and chocolatey, with high-quality tannin. In a very classic mold. Very good.

Brane Cantenac
N: Strong, toasty oak and roast coffee aromas predominates at this point, somewhat hiding the fruit.
P: A different story on the palate, with a lovely, soft, caressing mouth feel and great purity leading into a long mineral aftertaste. Considerable delicacy and elegance, i.e. very Margauxlike. Great, long, cool aftertaste. Very good.

Cantenac Brown
N: Lovely floral aromas along with sweet black fruit nuances.
P: Medium weight, but oh so soft… Great balance. Svelte with fine acidity. Long textured aftertaste. Gives every indication of delivering much at an early age. Very good.

Dauzac
N: Bit dank, closed-in, and lacking focus. Penetrating in an odd way with a noticeable alcoholic presence. Not positive at the present time.
P: Better, with an inky palate and upfront fruit.  Vibrant acidity with a medium-long, slightly dry, and definitely oaky aftertaste. A more commercial style. Good.

Desmirail
N: A little one-dimensional with plenty of oak, although this may well integrate over time. Some blackcurrant, black olive, and mint/eucalyptus aromas.
P: Lively and fruity, but somewhat hard. Better than in recent vintages. Tangy, fresh finish. Watch out for the rest of barrel ageing so as not to overwhelm the wine. Potential sleeper. Good.

Durfort Vivens
N: Menthol aromas overlaying blackcurrant, along with some polished wood overtones.
P: Starts out soft, then goes on to show considerable tannic backbone. Assertive aftertaste with velvety texture. Somewhat old school. Some dryness on the finish. Needs to digest the oak. Good.

 

Ferrière
N: Lovely, well-integrated oak. Ripe, but not overripe, with berry fruit. Slight greenness, but this does not detract. Subtle coffee and blackberry aromas.
P: Refreshing and lively. Pure, but somewhat short. Attractive mineral aftertaste, but lacks personality on the middle palate as well as richness. A light Ferrière. Good.

Giscours
N: Berry fruit (perhaps a little jammy) along with interesting floral (iris, jasmine) nuances.
P: Rich attack going into an oaky roundness with not much going on in between. Margaux characteristics there, but the oak comes across as really overdone at this stage. Needs retasting to form a valid opinion. OK

Issan
N: Muted. Some polished wood aromas.
P: Very soft and velvety. Lively and classic. Lovely vibrant fruit but on the simplistic side. Unquestionable finesse. Good to very good if the bouquet blossoms.

Kirwan
N: The fruit is not overshadowed by the oak, but there is not much there.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel but rather diluted on the middle palate. However, the powerful, long aftertaste bringing up the rear saves the day. This is vibrant, velvety, and characterful. Obviously needs time to come together. Somewhat of a liqueur/spirity aspect. Good.

Lascombes
N: Coming out of a dormant period with some original graham cracker, liquorice (zan), and chalky aromas.
P: Starts out rich, fruit-forward, and enveloping… and then drops. Shortish aftertaste. Going on round, then segues into a hard aftertaste. OK.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Muted, slightly alcoholic.
P: Lovely and soft, but with a decided tannic presence and good acid backbone as well. Good balance and cool, long aftertaste. An elegant Médoc. Good.

Margaux
N: Softly penetrating inimitable trademark bouquet. Fresh, elegant, crystalline.
P: Striking silky quality going on to show a lovely acid backbone. Not big, but velvety and super long. Not monumental, but excellent.
I also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc, which I normally speaking wouldn’t mention here, but this vintage is nothing short of extraordinary. Extremely poised and aromatic, with a finish that goes on and on. The best white Margaux I’ve ever had (there have been a number of hits and misses…) and one of the best white Bordeaux I’ve been privileged to taste as well. Great success.

Marjolia
N: Closed (at this early stage, of course) with more beeswax and oak than fruit.
P: Fortunately much better on the palate. Ripe fruit, yes, but far too oaky. Good, but nothing special.

Marquis d’Alesme
N: Attractive dark fruit underdeveloped at this time. Some toasty oak.
P: Silky, layered attack, then drops. A natural, fresh wine with well-integrated oak, but short. Good.

Marquis de Terme
N: Lovely blackberry liqueur and blackcurrant aromas. No terribly complex, but seductive. Oak as it should be.
P: A little dilute, and somewhat hollow, but this is a vinous crowd-pleasing sort of Médoc that will be enjoyable young. Good.

Palmer
N: Lovely sophisticated nose of candied red and black fruit
P: Rich, a little spirity, with some tarriness, and develops beautifully on the palate. Tremendously long, seductive finish. Velvety texture. Very good.

Prieuré Lichine
N: Unusual, wild, New World type aromas. Not typical of its origin or seemingly of its grape varieties. Intriguing, almost Grenache-like bouquet!
P: Thickish texture and melts in the mouth. Starts out quite rich and spherical, and then drops, nevertheless going into a good mineral aftertaste. Off the beaten track. Will show well young. Marked oak on the aftertaste should integrate. Good.

Rauzan Gassies
N: Light, attractive, typical Margaux bouquet.
P: Watery, but goes into a decent aftertaste. Better than many other previous vintages. OK

Rauzan Ségla
N: Fine, polished, sweet Médoc nose of blackcurrant. Not overoaked. Haunting. Not pronounced.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satin texture and finishes with an attractive minerality. Quite round for its appellation. Light on its feet with a fine velvety aftertaste. Very good.

du Tertre
N: Off smells. Some stink. Not showing well.
P: Bretty quality carries over to the palate, which also displays loads of oak that overshadows the fruit. This may be just a difficult phase, or a bad sample.

Tasting of 2017 Pomerol

I’ve been later than most in posting my tasting notes for the 2017 primeurs. I’m starting with Pomerol and will continue with the other appellations in short order.

Beauregard
N: Ripe, with a subtle ethereal perfume of violet. Understated and elegant.
P: Classy, melts in the mouth with luscious Merlot fruit, empyreumatic ovvertones, and almond flavours, and then stops fairly short. Light and elegant. Lovely tension with a velvety texture. Not one to stand out in a tasting, but lovely with refined. Vin de gastronomie. Reminds me of La Fleur. Very good.

Bon Pasteur
N: Very natural and pure, but underdeveloped at this time. Some chocolate and tar nuances. Elegant and promising.
P: Somewhat heavy mouthfeel going into a certain hardness, but accompanied by granular tannin. Oaky, but less so than in the past. Floral aromatics come through surprisingly more on the palate than on the nose. Obviously needs age to even out. Shortish aftertaste. Good to very good.

La Cabanne
N: Deep black fruit and fruit jelly. Aromas are quite primary, but potential there to evolve.
P: Round, upfront mouth feel followed by refreshing acidity. Lovely fruit (cherry, blackberry). Voluptuous and somewhat tarry. Quite well made. Very good.

La Clémence
N: Sweet, pure black fruit. Not much depth now, but shows good oak.
P: Lovely, sensual, round, and assertive. Candied fruit flavors and well-integrated oak. Not boring. Promising. Very good.

Clinet
N: Tremendously lively and interestingly fruity nose. Slightly confected and almost Burgundian!
P: Plum and cherry flavors. As the French say, “a basket of red fruit”. Nice follow-through on the palate, almost as good as the nose, but weak on the middle palate and a tad thin. Brambly, rubbery and oaky notes on the finish. Good.

Clos l’Eglise
N: Empyreumatic and fresh, but closed.
P: Spreads out beautifully on the palate with bright fruit. A bit hot. Medium-long aftertaste. Borderline too much oak, but this can change with the rest of barrel ageing and afterward. Good to very good.

La Conseillante
N: Floral, subtle, wafting.
P : Clean-cut, rich going into vibrant acidity. Long tangy aftertaste with finish showing rubbery Merlot tannins. Spherical. Velvety/soft with an iron rod for a backbone. Very good.

La Croix de Gay
N: Somewhat confected, roasted aromas along with ethereal fruit. Not very forthcoming.
P: Big, round, and cushioned on the palate with an alcoholic presence and some hard oak. Modern style. Good.

La Croix Saint Georges
N: Not expressive at this time. Some violet overtones.
P: Silky and spherical, with easy-going roundness giving way to tannin of a quality only found in Pomerol. Obvious new oak on the finish, along with marked acidity. Unusual balance, long aftertaste, and here’s hoping that the oak does not get the upper hand in the next year/year and a half. Good.

Fayat
N: Black fruit with oak and an odd cheesy smell.
P: Much better on the palate, but something’s a little off here. More acidity and less roundnessthan other Pomerols tasted alongside. A good wine that needs to age. Shows red fruit, a touch of spice, and lots of oak that may well become well-integrated on the aftertaste. Good – despite the strange nose.

Feytit-Clinet
N: Lovely understated bouquet of blueberry and blackberry. Toasty oak fits well into the profile.
P: Very ripe and rich. Lively, and with great balance. Very much of an up-and-coming estate, as well as good value in an expensive appellation. Fine, well-modulated aftertaste. Pure pleasure. Very good.

La Fleur de Gay
N: Powerful blackberry aromas, with some humus.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel and then shows more balance than expected. Round and full, yet light on substance. Too much oak on the finish, but does not reach sledgehammer level. Good to very good.

Gazin
N: Lovely lift of sophisticated black fruit jelly and an attractive, less obvious sweetness, then some. Sensual. Glossy.
P: Very round, but not fat. Delicious cherry flavours and a silky texture with a lovely follow-through on the pure, refreshing, very long aftertaste. Velvety tannin. Impeccable. Not big, but flavorsome.  Very good/excellent.

Maillet
N: Bursting with berry fruit. Fresh, with good oak and incense aromas.
P: 1,000% Merlot. Melts in the mouth and shows plenty of volume. Sensual. Rubbery, emyreumatic flavors and a slightly hot aftertaste. Not so long, but the experience is like good sex. Very good.

Petit Village
N: Showing a little dumb at this stage. Fruit in hiding.
P: Starts out very round and rich, almost flabby then, as if skipping the middle palate, segues into fresh, strong acidity. Gummy, persistent tannin, but perhaps too much oak. Definite hardness on the finish that is somewhat at odds with the fruitiness. Textured tannin on the aftertaset. May move up significantly over time. Good.

 

Rouget
N: Lovely, subtle, ethereal nose of blackberry liqueur.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Lovely tension and velvety texture. Will age well. Strong oak presence, but this should incorporate over time, I believe. A wine to follow. Good to very good.

Saint Pierre
N: Blackberry liqueur, fine oak, understated, and showing lovely balance.
P: Elegant on the palate as well. A class act. Merlot tempered with good acidity and moderate use of oak. Some floral overtones. An exciting discovery for me. The Pradel de Lavaux family own 9 Right Bank properties, including half of Ch. Bellevue, across from Angélus (who own the other half). Very good.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Aristocratic fruitiness with some coffee overtones
P: Liquid elegance. Mouthwatering and creamy. Incredible texture. Lipsmackingly good. Lovely fruit bringing up the rear. Aftertaste nothing short of regal. In a week of tasting, I think this is the wine that provided me with the most pleasure, even if others were more “serious” or “classic”. Outstanding.

 

 

Tasting of 16 Clos de Vougeot

People in Bordeaux rarely have more than a passing acquaintance with Burgundy, but I try as best I can from so far away to understand this fascinating region that, yes, makes wines on a par with the finest of Bordeaux. In fact, pitting one of France’s great wines against the other is plain foolishness in my opinion. I, for one, like both enormously!
Seeing as I had amassed a number of wines from the Clos de Vougeot over the years, I decided to invite several friends to a tasting dinner. There were 12 of us altogether. Traveling from Paris, Tim Mc Cracken added three wines to mine, and Ian Amstad from London brought two as well. That made a total of 18 wines. I have only ever heard of one such large scale tasting of Clos de Vougeot in Bordeaux. This was organized by Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour, whose boss had recently purchased Domaine de l’Eugénie (who produced one of the wines we tasted).

A description of Clos de Vougeot (or Clos Vougeot) can be found in any comprehensive wine book. Wine was made here by Cistercian monks starting in the 12th century and the medieval château is one of Burgundy’s most famous landmarks. This was bought by the Chevaliers de Tastevin in 1934 and is the setting for countless tastings and banquets.

Exceeded in size only by Le Corton (97.5 hectares), the Clos de Vougeot is the second largest of all the 36 grands crus in Burgundy (Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits). The 50 hectares are divided among 82 owners. Considering the variety of soil types, position on the slope, and different winemakers, there is enormous variation.

The tasting was not conducted blind and, for the grand cru, went from youngest to oldest.

 

 

We started off with a village wine, a 2014 Les Petits Vougeots, from Château de Charodon. The labels say that just 715 bottles were made. This was fairly light in color. It was slightly musty on the nose, which showed a little sulphur and not much else… The wine was very light and thirst-quenching on the palate with little body. A minor Burgundy that’s fine to drink now. Not a noteworthy village wine by any means. OK.

The next flight, if you can call it that (just one wine) was a 2009 premier cru, Clos de la Perrière, a monopole (exclusivity) from Domaine Bertagna. This proved to be the biggest surprise of the tasting.
The color featured a thin mahogany rim and there was a lovey nose of ripe Pinot, roast coffee, and a touch of alcohol. The wine started out very well on the palate before evolving into a very attractive candied black fruit aftertaste with notes of leather and earthiness. The finish was deliciously appetizing. Re-tasted the next day, this premier cru was still in great shape and I was not alone in finding it better than at least half of the grand cru wines we tried.
Very good, and I’d like to visit the domaine one day.

 

Grand cru (16 wines):

 

2011 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Medium-deep and just starting to show some browinsh highlights.
N: Very musky with some leather notes and definite sulphur.
T: Starts out silky and rich, but then becomes somewhat dilute. Picks up again on the aftertaste with pure fruit. Lacks breadth, but there is depth there. Lingering aftertaste. Good plus.

2010 Domaine Gérard Raphet
C: Rather watery with a weak core and some browning on the rim.
N: Smells older than its years and although not very expressive, there are some cranberry and fruit jelly aromas, as well as some tertiary notes there. However, the bouquet lacks oomph.
T: Seems slightly diluted at first, but then goes on to show a silky texture and the wine’s class comes through on the aftertaste. Worthwhile potential, but should have more energy at this stage. Good

2009 Domaine Chantal Lescure
C: Even brownish-red color. Looks too developed for a 9 year-old wine.
N: Sulphur, musky, leather, and somewhat meaty nuances.
T: Ripe berry fruit with a certain seriousness and weight on the palate. A clear alcoholic presence on the candied black fruit aftertaste. Disappointing up until that finish, which however justifies the wine’s grand cru status. Good.

 

2009 Domaine Louis Jadot
C: Much more youthful color than most of the wines with purple highlights.
N: Fresh, but alcoholic bouquet showing the wild, unbridled side of Pinot with some black fruit jelly aromas.
T: Displayed considerable weight and more tannin than most. Clearly too young, but promising. Well-made and elegant. Quite a long aftertaste. Needs plenty of time to come together. Very good.

2008 Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat
C: Looking a bit tired.
N: Very developed, subtle, earthy, and funky.
T: Starts out a little weak and then shows some guts with a long aftertaste. There’s nevertheless an imbalance here, but it’s not great. A wine that has prematurely aged. Good.

2008 Domaine de l’Eugénie
C: Not deep, but vibrant and more dynamic and youthful than most.
N: Roasted aromas and some menthol. A little exotic. Pure, fresh, and unusual. A more modern style?
T: Bright black fruit with fine acidity to provide a good backbone and length. Long, lingering aftertaste. Perhaps too much oak, but this one is made for the long haul and it may very well integrate. Very good.

 

2008 Domaine Tortochot
C: Good, deep, dark purple and crimson.
N: Some sulphur, but there’s also fruit in the background. Too much oak comes through in roast coffee aromas.
T: Chewy, big, but clearly out of balance. Does not have the class of a grand cru. Charitably: good.

2008 Domaine Lamarche
C: Bit dull, but OK.
N: Sulphur, but also good Pinot fruit, showing some of the variety’s wild side with overtones of leather and terroir.
T: Spherical but somewhat hollow. And OK finish, but I was expecting a more vigorous expression.
Good.

2006 Domaine Jacques Prieur
C: Lovely deep color with a thinning brownish rim
N: Unusually powerful candied fruit aromas. Altogether penetrating bouquet.
T: Caressing texture on the palate. Strong mouthfeel. Big, somewhat old-fashioned style of Burgundy with a long aftertaste. Well-made. Great ageing potential. Very good.

 

2006 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Good for its age with some definite browning on the rim.
N: Roasted, earthy aromas, but not enough fruit.
T: The finish is a bit hot and harsh. However age may even this out, because that harshness may be a sign of promise, i.e. ageing potential. The afteraste is puckery, then hard. Good plus.

2004 Domaine Daniel Rion
C: Thin browning rim.
N: Green, green, and green. Unroasted coffee beans.
T: Oops, green meanies here. Herbaceous. Not successful.

2002 Domaine Joseph Drouhin
C: Medium, about right for its age.
N: Lovely ripe Pinot nose. Balanced and classy. Made me sit up and take notice.
T: Sweet fruit. Juicy. Fine long aftertaste. A joy now or in years to come. Excellent.

 

2002 Domaine Lamarche
C: Rather wishy-washy
N: Odd with a touch of vinegar
T: That acetic quality carries over onto the palate and there was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked or not too. Not rated.

1998 Domaine Méo-Camuzet
C: Very pale, going on rosé!
N: Sulphur and brett. Not pretty.
T: Off, over-the-hill. Not rated.

1991 Château de la Tour
C: Good for its age.
N: Cosmetic and subtle with a soupçon of liquorice. Seems more interesting than good at first. As the Italians say “a wine of meditation”. Surprisingly long aftertaste. Old but worthwhile. Good plus.

1977 Jean DeLaTour, négociant à Beaune
C: Burgundy going into Madeira!
N: Very ethereal. Rose petal and… soy sauce aromas.
T: Soft, with some iron oxide nuances. Long, tender, gentle aftertaste. Somewhat indeterminate, but a great pleasure to sip and appreciate the subtleties. Good plus.

Tim tallied up the group scores, which revealed some wild variations. One man’s funky tertiary was another man’s tired, bretty mess!
There was, however a strong consensus about the number one wine: 2002 Jospeh Drouhin.

As an apéritif, and with the first course, we enjoyed a magnum of 2010 Clos Blanc de Vougeot from Domaine de la Vougeraie (Boisset). This is a monopole, or exclusivity.
This premier cru, consists of 2.3 hectares of vines (95 % Chardonnay,  4 % Pinot Gris, and 1 % Pinot Blanc) on the middle of the slope. White wine has been made here for centuries.
This 2010 we had featured a brilliant medium gold color and a nose that turned some people off because of the new oak. While this was strong, I felt that it was nevertheless attractive and that the vanilla nuances will blend in more with age because the wine clearly has some way to go yet. It was very sensual, melt-in-your-mouth Chardonnay and I enjoyed it.

Had I been better organized, I’d have plotted the vineyard holdings of each of the domaines within the Clos on a map, but I’m afraid I didn’t really have the time to do my homework there…

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

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

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

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

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

Who is buying?

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

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

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

November 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Enira: a unique link between Bordeaux and Bulgaria

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Bessa Valley winery

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

 

A week in Burgundy – Jan. 2018

 

Les Hospices de Beaune

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Down Under to the End of the World…

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


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


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

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

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


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