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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.

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.

Tasting of 25 great Médocs from the 2014 vintage

 

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

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

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

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

Here are my notes.

Saint-Estèphe
==========

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

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

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

2014 Château de Pez

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

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

SAINT JULIEN
===========

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2014 Château Talbot

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

PAUILLAC
========

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Overview of the 2016 vintage from the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (University of Bordeaux)

As we go into en primeur week, this is the first “official” look at the 2016 vintage now that the wines have begun to age:

Professor Laurence GENY and Doctor Axel MARCHAL
Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenological
in conjunction

V. LAVIGNE-CRUEGE*, E. GUITTARD*, N. DANEDE*, C. BAZ*, L. RIQUIER*, A. BARSACQ* and Ph. PIERI**

*Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, Oenological Research Unit

** Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, UMR 1789 Functional Ecophysiology and Genomics of the Vine, INRA (the French National Institute of Agricultural Research)

 It is always somewhat risky to announce a second great vintage in a row without appearing unduly optimistic. However, 2016 is unquestionably remarkable in Bordeaux, combining quality, quantity, and a very classic

Before looking into the effect of weather conditions on vine physiology and grape composition, let us once again consider the main parameters of a quality vintage in Bordeaux. A successful red wine vintage depends on five essential conditions:

(1) and (2) – Relatively quick flowering and fruit-set during weather that is sufficiently warm and dry to ensure good pollination and predispose towards even ripening,

(3) The gradual onset of water stress thanks to a warm, dry month of July in order to slow down and then put a definitive stop to vine growth no later than the beginning of véraison (colour change),

(4) Full ripening of the various grape varieties thanks to dry and warm (but not excessively so) weather in the months of August and September,

(5) Fine (relatively dry and medium-warm) weather during the harvest making it possible to pick the grapes in each plot at optimum ripeness without running the risk of dilution, rot, or loss of fruity aromas.

An incredibly wet spring was quite worrying for winegrowers at the time (danger of fungal diseases), but later proved to be a godsend. The soil’s water reserves were largely reconstituted, enabling the vines to cope with the exceptionally dry, hot summer. The grapes finished ripening during beautiful, relatively warm weather, with very little rain and cool nights. This unhoped for, simply incredible weather for Bordeaux made it possible to harvest deeply-coloured, aromatic grapes with beautiful acidity.

The best white wine terroirs in Bordeaux (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel soils) protected the vines from premature or overly severe water stress. Sauvignon Blanc grapes retained surprising aromatic freshness and acidity on these types of soils. The Sémillon grapes were also very successful: plump and tender.

The dry, hot summer of 2016 was also conducive to the perfect maturity of grapes in Sauternes and Barsac prior to the development of botrytis. This is a vital prerequisite for the quality of sweet white wines. Two short, but significant rainy periods triggered the development of noble rot starting in mid-September. This was followed by a return to an anticyclone propitious to concentrating the grapes. Very spread out in 2016, the harvest began in the latter half of September and finished in early November.

A mild and extremely wet winter, followed by a gloomy spring, caused a delay in vegetative growth.

 Although 2015 ended on a particularly dry, sunny note, the first three months of 2016 had above-average rainfall with accumulated precipitation close to 500 mm compared to the 30-year average of 230 mm.

Despite this grey, wet weather, temperatures were mild. In fact, the winter of 2016 was the most clement since statistics have been kept. No daytime sub-zero temperatures were recorded and there was frost on just five days.

That is why the first signs of vegetative growth (swelling buds) that appeared in late February gave the discomforting impression of extreme precociousness. However, temperatures dropped to the seasonal average starting on the 20th of February and even less in the second ten-day period of March.

Cold temperatures in March and waterlogged soils due to heavy precipitation in the early part of the year delayed bud break, which began the last week in March, one week later than usual, but earlier than 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015 (and later than 2011 and 2014).

Cool temperatures beginning in late February lasted until May. As often happens at that time of year, there were alternating warm and cold periods, with a large diurnal temperature difference that did not facilitate regular vine growth. Despite the rather early bud break, the weather until late May delayed vine growth. Phenological development was also slower than usual. This situation was compounded in some regions by frost on the last three days of April that caused major damage in localised areas.

This meant that, by late May, precocious vegetative growth was no longer the case and phenological maturity was comparable to 2014.

A providential window of fine, dry weather at the beginning of flowering limited coulure

After a gloomy winter and rainy spring, there was some apprehension about flowering. Depending on the type of soil and its water retention capacity, some vines showed normal development, whereas others with a skimpy leaf canopy or on cold clay soil were behind. That explains why coulure (as in 2013) was feared.

Flowering began during rainy weather in the last days of May. However, there was a providential window of dry, warm weather between the 3rd and the 11th of June. Mid-flowering in our reference vineyards took place around the 11th of June, i.e. 8 days later than the 20-year average (Table II). The change in the weather fortunately avoided widespread coulure. The end of flowering in certain late-ripening plots was slightly perturbed by a a final rainy period that caused some millerandage.

Fruit set occurred 8 days later. Bunches were relatively homogeneous and the number of seeds greater than average – the sign of good pollination.

After three days of rain in mid-June, beautiful weather finally set in and proceeded to lasted for quite some time. This definitively changed the nature of the vintage. High temperatures in the last ten days of June enhanced berry development. These grew very quickly, and became “pea size” by the end of the month.

At this stage, the first two prerequisites for a good vintage, i.e. quick even flowering and fruit set, were fulfilled in most plots. Overall maturity was uniform with little coulure.

An exceptionally hot, dry summer leading to lasting water stress

The remarkably fine weather in late June continued into July and August.

A few very hot days around the 15th of June degraded the herbaceous aromas without bringing growth to a halt. Rainfall was infrequent and light, while temperatures were normal and there was slightly more sunshine than usual. (Table I). Due to heavy winter rains, the lack of water stress during vegetative growth accounts for the rather large size of the berries. Bunch closure took place about the 20th of July, as in 2011 and 2015.

The water balance in late July was not conducive to stopping vegetative growth definitively (figure 6) or triggering véraison in a significant way, except on clay-gravel soils. The grapes first began to change colour in the last days of July on terroirs prone to early ripening. However, seeing as vegetative growth had not completely stopped, véraison got off to a slow start. It took until the first week of August for colour change to become noticeably widespread.

Water stress was accentuated by the absence of rain. The situation was comparable to 2010 midway through véraison. These conditions were conducive to good structure in the cell walls and the accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as facilitating the end of véraison.

A halt to vegetative growth, the 3rd condition for a great red wine vintage, was attained by mid-véraison. Although this occurred slightly later than hoped, colour change was complete enough for a perfect start to ripening.

The month of August featured real summer weather.  It was very hot (5°C more than usual) with a remarkable amount of sunshine (+30% compared to an average year). Fortunately, minimum night-time temperatures were close to the thirty-year average, and even less on some nights. This large diurnal temperature difference guaranteed the potential formation of anthocyanins, while limiting the degradation of aromas and acids in the grapes. The absence of major precipitation caused excessive water stress in some locations, especially in plots of young vines, ones with high yields, and ones with shallow soil.

Much-welcomed showers in early September gave a new boost to ripening

In late August, a few instances of scorching were noticed in vines that had undergone excessive leaf thinning and everyone began to wonder about the danger of inhibited ripening. A heat wave arrived in early September, with average temperatures of 30-32°C. The first 13 days of September were the hottest since 1950, reaching a record 37°C in Sauternes on the 12th of September.

A storm arrived from the Basque Country late in the afternoon of the 13th of September. It rained throughout Bordeaux the following night, with varying intensity depending on the region. A depression lasting three days brought as much as 40 cm of rain in some parts of Bordeaux.

However, the sun returned on the 20th of September and, with it, fine weather that lasted until the end of the harvest.

This rainy period gave a new impetus to ripening. Cabernet Sauvignon and late-ripening Merlot grapes benefited particularly from this.

A sunny mid-September and month of October virtually without any rain completed ripening and made for a leisurely harvest

Once again, the month of September was decisive for the quality of the vintage. October was dry and sunny, with cool nights making it possible to wait serenely for the best time to pick all grape varieties.

The rain in early September gave a boost to maturity, which nevertheless took more time than usual to be reached. The sunshine and relatively cool night-time temperatures were conducive to the unusually large accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as the preservation of aromas and acidity.

These weather conditions stopped grey rot from developing, except in certain parts of Bordeaux where fairly heavy rain in early September forced winegrowers to pick early.

The rain in early September, followed by a dry, but not excessively hot period, ensured that ripening would start up again – the fourth condition for a great red wine vintage. The month of October was just as sunny, but cooler, enabling the Cabernets to ripen fully. 

Despite the heat in June and July, the 2016 vintage was not particularly early.

The dry white wine harvest began in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations at the very beginning of September, about one week later than in 2015. After a remarkably dry month of August, the grapes were in perfect condition, without a trace of grey rot. Although they quickly attained sufficient sugar levels, their potential fruitiness, which had stayed in the background for a long time, also came to the fore at the end of ripening. The showers in mid-September did not have a major effect on the grapes, which could be picked without any need to hurry. Yields were very satisfactory, especially for Sauvignon Blanc, where such prolific production had not been seen in years.

The freshly-picked grapes had lower sugar levels than in 2015, but in keeping with the previous 5-year average. Total acidity was slightly lower than in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and similar to 2011 (Table IV). The balance between sugar and acidity gave rise to hopes that 2016 would be a good vintage for white wines, especially those from soils where they are traditionally successful (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel) and which are conducive to retaining good acidity.

The red wine harvest began with the most early-maturing plots of Merlot in the third week of September, but most grapes were picked in early October, i.e. one week later than usual. Harvesting of the Cabernets and Petit Verdot went on until just after mid-October during sunny weather.

Therefore, the fifth and final prerequisite for a good red wine vintage – fine weather during the harvest – was perfectly fulfilled in 2016.

Ideal conditions for harvesting excellent quality grapes

The red wine grapes in 2016 were characterized by a reasonable degree of potential alcohol and an outstanding phenolic composition.

As opposed to other French regions adversely affected by violent weather, the vintage in Bordeaux was generous. This can be explained by the large number of grapes per cluster as well as their size.  Because water stress manifested itself rather late, the berries were comparable in weight to 2015, but lighter than in 2010. The very low malic acid content – the lowest since 2009, except for 2011 – was due to the hot, dry summer weather.

These meteorological conditions enhanced the degradation of isobutyl-methoxypyrazine. This compound, responsible for “green pepper” aromas in Cabernet, was practically unable to be detected from the very beginning of the ripening.

Alternating cool nights and sunny days in September was conducive to the remarkable accumulation of anthocyanins. Content was higher than in 2015 or 2009, and close to 2011. Extraction took place slowly and varied according to grape variety. Extractability was greater for the Cabernets than for Merlot – proof of excellent maturity in the later-ripening varieties. Colour was deep and the tannin in the seeds was most often ripe and of high quality in 2016.

Due to the lack of rainfall until mid-September, botrytis took its time to appear and so grapes in Sauternes and Barsac were essentially concentrated at first thanks to raisining. However, showers on the 13th and 30th of September triggered the development of noble rot on perfectly ripe grapes, and their concentration was enhanced by the return of fine weather. Picking during the second trie, or pass, constituted the lion’s share of the best part of the harvest, which lasted until early November. The quantity of wine made at several estates reached a record high.

 Good dry white and sweet white wines, and outstanding red ones

The 2016 dry white wines are good. They are fruity and flavoursome, less acidic than the three previous vintages, and well-balanced. The Sémillon wines were especially successful in 2016, adding body and softness to the blend, but without heaviness.

The great wines of Sauternes and Barsac are extremely pure. Very rich and showing candied fruit overtones, they display a style that emphasises power rather than bright aromatics or freshness.

At the beginning of ageing, the 2016 red wines give every indication of being outstanding. They have an amazing colour. They are also fruity, without any herbaceousness, and combine the tannic power of great vintages with a deliciously velvety texture. Their relatively high level of acidity gives them an admirable freshness and tremendous balance, without any hardness. The vintage is unprecedented, more classic than 2009 or 2015, and seems to have very long ageing potential.

 

Book review: “From Yquem to Fargues” by Alexandre de Lur Saluces

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At the age of 82, Alexandre de Lur Saluces has written a book telling us of his trials, tribulations, and joys in the many years he has made world class wine in Sauternes.

d’Yquem à Fargues – l’excellence d’un vin, l’histoire d’une famille” was published by Gallimard in November 2016.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/253-1422515-3899335?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=d%E2%80%99Yquem+%C3%A0+Fargues
Gallimard (one of the largest French publishing houses) only distribute the French version.
However, an English version does indeed exist, and can be ordered directly from the château :
www.chateaudefargues.com/librairie
or
https://www.chateaudefargues.com/en/bookstore/

This relatively short (175 pages), but many-faceted book is a very interesting and entertaining read. There’s even a section on “Sauternes in Literature”. It has a handsome royal blue and gold binding, as well as the crown all wine lovers will recognize from the labels of both Yquem and Fargues.

The book is divided into several parts: a forward by Natacha Polony (a French journalist and essayist of Polish origin), a preface by Marguerite Figeac (a professor of history at Bordeaux University), an introduction and a conclusion by the author, a postface by Jean-Paul Kaufmann (a journalist, writer, and noted lover of Bordeaux wines), and a series of appendices on various technical and historical subjects.

One is struck by Alexandre Lur Saluce’s modesty, candor, grounding in his rural environment and, of course, his deep sense of history. Château de Fargues has been in his family since 1472. He represents the 15th generation and has produced 48 vintages there…

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Château d’Yquem

The Lur-Saluces name will, of course, forever be associated with Château d’Yquem. This came into the family when Louis-Amédée de Lur Saluces married Joséphine de Suavage in 1785. At one time, the Lur Saluces owned some 700 hectares in Sauternes (over a quarter of the combined present-day area of Sauternes and Barsac), including châteaux de Malle, Filhot, and Coutet.
Alexandre de Lur Saluces was in charge of Yquem for 36 years, from 1968 to 2004. The sale of the estate to LVMH involved a long bitter fight, but this is wisely dealt with dispassionately and in summary fashion. That is not the point of the book.

Château de Fargues

Château de Fargues

What is the point then? In fact, there are several. The book is necessarily autobiographical (for instance, I was unaware that Alexandre was the 8th of 9 children), but also describes the renaissance of Château de Fargues and goes into considerable detail about the making of one of the world’s great wines: Sauternes. That is because Alexandre de Lur Saluces has always been a sterling ambassador for Sauternes as a whole, not just his family estates. He has clearly lost none of his sense of wonder at the transformation by Botrytis cinerea of grapes grown on a unique terroir to produce a wine like no other. And he is very concerned about the appellation’s future. He points out the danger of a proposed TGV high speed train line that would upset the region’s delicate ecosystem, decries the production of dry white wine at the expense of one of the world’s great sweet wines, and criticizes the lack of commercial support from Bordeaux négociants.  He also writes about matching Sauternes and food, a subject that often puzzles wine lovers.

One must admire Alexandre de Lur Saluces’ ability to rebound after leaving Yquem and invest his energy in the renovation and expansion of Château de Fargues, an estate that has gone from strength to strength. This is described in a lively way and illustrated with beautiful photos.

I would recommend this book by one of Bordeaux’s greatest figures to anyone with even a passing interest in Sauternes. It is informative, entertaining, thought-provoking, in easy-to-understand French, and full of anecdotes.

What to do when an expensive wine is corked? Why, ask the château to replace it, of course!

 

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It is always a disappointment when a fabled and/or expensive bottle of wine proves to be undrinkable. Many of my Burgundy-loving friends have stopped buying that region’s white wines altogether because of the number of prematurely oxidized bottles they encounter. Unfortunately, Burgundy has, as yet, found no cure.

Then there are the corked bottles, which bedevils producers everywhere… As we all know, this is caused by trichloroansol, or TCA, a substance found in both cork and wood. Once again, no sure way of avoiding this has been found, other than multi-piece, colmated, agglomerated, or synthetic corks and, of course, screw caps, keeping in mind that none of these have proved to be appropriate for fine wines meant to age for decades.

It is estimated that 7% of all wines with natural cork closures suffer from cork taint.

In the same way that most people will not complain about food or wine at a restaurant if asked by a waiter if everything is fine –  when this is not the case – the majority of wine lovers just shrug their shoulders when confronted by a corked wine at home, considering this as destiny, a necessary risk to take, and a low-level form of Russian roulette. The price to pay.
This is what I have always done.

However, I hosted a wine dinner at my house in November and invited two enologists. One of them works for a Médoc great growth. I had wanted to compare a bottle of 2001 Mouton Rothschild and one of 2001 Pichon Baron. This was impossible since the latter was indisputably corked to high heaven. I was prepared to go tsk, tsk, shake my head and move on. However, my friend said “At the château I work for, when someone reports a corked bottle, we replace it”.

So I thought, why not try? So, I wrote a letter to Château Pichon Baron and enclosed the cork. Shortly thereafter, I received an e-mail from Jean-Marie Matignon, the estate’s technical director, confirming that the cork was indeed infected and that the château would be glad to replace the wine. Of course, I was delighted, and the bottle arrived on my doorstep in due course.

I salute the château’s great sense of fair play in replacing a 15 year-old bottle, and will never again be defeatist when I come across a corked wine. Of course, I’m aware that not every producer will be as conscientious, but Pichon Baron has set a fine standard.

If any of you have similar stories to tell, I’d be glad to hear them.