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Vouvray / Chinon / Bordeaux / Muscadet

I’m living the high life this week; I’m posting this little update from a seedy hotel just metres from the Rocade, the ring road around Bordeaux. I’m here for four days of tasting, an opportunity to revisit the 2016 vintage.

This is an unusual trip, because I have also shoehorned some Loire Valley tastings around my time in Bordeaux. I flew out to Nantes on Friday afternoon, and then dashed up to my house south of Chinon. The heating isn’t really up to the wintry weather (note to self; must get log burner installed next year) so I spent Friday night shivering beneath the covers. It was worth it though, as on Saturday I sped up to Vouvray to visit Vincent Carême. As I headed along the top of the première côte and then through the vines heading down to Vernou-sur-Brenne I was treated to the sight of a wild boar trotting across the road a hundred metres in front of me. This was 10:30 am, in broad daylight, so it was a real surprise; I once saw a family of boar in Tuscany, but I’ve never seen one in the Loire Valley before (whereas I have seen hundreds of chevreuil and other fauna when out on my morning runs). As I drew level with the creature I was treated to the sight of a dwindling boar bottom, spotted between two distant rows of vines. As it disappeared deep into the vineyard I regretted having left my camera in the boot of my hire car, although who wants to look at a boar bottom anyway?

Chez Carême I tasted the current releases, from the excellent 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages, before I got stuck into a multi-vintage vertical of Vincent’s work. We started back in 1999 (not a great vintage to start in Vouvray – in fact it was a shocker) with a blended Vouvray Sec, and then we had one wine from every vintage that followed. The lieux-dits of Le Peu Morier and Le Clos appeared in later vintages, and of course some years were represented by demi-sec or moelleux cuvées. I will publish a full report soon, maybe January. Then after lunch I headed down to Domaine de la Noblaie, where Jérôme Billard was also pouring his recent releases, as well as a horizontal of the 2008 vintage.

After another night listening to the wind and rain battering against the windows, on Sunday I drove down to Bordeaux. What a miserable drive – over three hours behind the wheel in wet weather, the rain varying from moderately heavy to very heavy, and nothing else, for 275 kilometres.

Over the next four days I will be tasting the 2016s at almost all the top names of the region, and as I know it gets some readers salivating (partly at the names listed, but I think some just enjoy my use of pencil and paper) I have included a snapshot (above) of my tastings for the end of the week. Some of my timings are a bit tight, especially on Monday and Thursday, so I am hoping things go smoothly. My apologies in advance to anyone who I keep waiting this week. Again, I hope to have this report out very soon, maybe January.

Then on Friday, as I am flying back from Nantes in the afternoon, I thought I would visit a couple of domaines in Muscadet. The first on my list is Fred Lailler, of Domaine André-Michel Brégeon. I fell in love with André-Michel’s wines, especially his long-lees-aged Gorges cuvée, years ago, especially the 2004 Gorges (a cuvée which had spent 81 months on the lees). It was simply stunning. This is my first opportunity to visit, and the domaine has since changed hands, so it will be interesting to see if the wines of today live up to my memories of older vintages. After that I am off to see Manuel Landron at Complemen’Terre. Manuel, who has a famous father, seems to make his wines with minimal intervention (I confess I have limited experience of them though) and they might be a touch atypical as a result, but I am looking forward to seeing if my singular encounter with his wines can be extrapolated correctly to the entire portfolio. We shall see.

Normal updates shall resume next week.

Loire 2018 Harvest

October is upon us and up and down the Loire Valley (and lots of other wine regions too I guess) harvest is well underway. In the Loire Valley I have been watching from afar the harvest of the early-picked varieties, principally Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon Blanc, but picking of the later-ripening Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and so on has also begun.

With that in mind I won’t be watching it from afar any longer; today (Friday 28th September) I leave for the Loire, for a little more than two weeks. As usual I will be staying in my house near Chinon, so this is part harvest trip, part business and part holiday. I am hoping the first and the last of those three dominate.

Bernard Baudry

Preliminary reports on the harvest suggest quality is very good. Unlike certain other regions I could mention the vignerons of the Loire Valley aren’t particularly known for their hyperbole, so when I see the vintage likened to either 1947 or 1990, two of the greatest vintages of the 20th century, I take notice. I am really looking forward to seeing what the fruit looks like, and of course to tasting the wines next year. After four fine red vintages in a row (2014 – 2017), could this be a fifth? And after two frosted vintages (2016 and 2017 – the picture above is the 2017 harvest with Matthieu Baudry), will the volumes be better for all this year? I hope so.

I won’t be making any behind paywall updates over the next two weeks. I may post a few pictures on the free-to-read blog, although these days I much prefer to put these things on social media, so watch out for Twitter, Instagram or even Facebook updates if you are interested.

Notes from a Wine Dinner

Some notes from a recent wine dinner, the bottles all pulled from my cellar.

Before dinner….

Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Brut 2011: I normally restrict myself to Philippe’s réserve cuvée, so it was fun to check in on this, his straight brut cuvée. It has a rich golden hue in the glass, looking ripe, with a delicate bead. The nose is all crushed apples, confit pears, tarte tatin, praline, toasted nuts and smoke. There follows a fresh and bright palate, but also a rich flavour profile, sweetly ripe confit fruits, candied apple and dried pear, showing a pithy depth, a very fine-boned mousse and correct acidity. It is a wine which seems to me to convey the very sweet and rich nature of the vintage, 2011 being the first year in which Philippe made a sweet Goutte d’Or cuvée since 1990. 92/100

With dinner, from the Loire Valley….

Régis Minet Pouilly-Fumé 2006: This is one of those bottles with the power to upset popular beliefs such as (a) Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t age well, or (b) if Sauvignon Blanc ages well, it is only the Dagueneau family who can achieve it. This has a polished, lemon-gold hue. The nose is beautifully poised, filled with the scents of dehydrated fruit, dried peaches, lemon zest and blanched almond. It has a fresh (yes, fresh) and textural character on the palate, carrying notes of peach stone, apricot and citrus fruits, all pithy and slightly bitter. A charming wine, a little pithy, showing some grip, with a lightly bitter length. I came back to the bottle the next day and it was even better. 94/100

Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004: At nearly fifteen years of age this has a surprisingly fresh hue, showing a dark core, with a tinge of oxblood to the rim. The nose is quite curious, starting off with the scents of desiccated coconut, although this yields to toasted cherry fruit with time. It presents a chalky, full and fresh palate, supple, but also grippy and tense, with a firm, chalky backbone and a peppery base. There are some classic notes of dried cherry stone and tobacco in what is a rather grippy finish. It is long and still substantial, with good potential here yet. 92/100

Philippe Alliet

An interloper….

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: Now thirty years old, this not-quite-final bottle from my cellar has a rather pallid appearance, and is clearly aged, with a dusty orange-red hue. There follows a classically evolved nose, showing leather, orange peel, rolled tobacco and cigar ash. The palate feels supple though, fresh and correct, showing the same tobacco and ash notes, along with a peppery spice, all wrapped up in a supple and taut frame, the finish spicy and acid driven. An intriguing wine, characterised by notes of orange peel and leather, with a faded but still present frame of chalky tannins. For its age, this is delightful, showing great structure, the wine having barely moved in style or evolution since its last outing from the depths of my cellar. Delightful. 94/100

With dinner, from Bordeaux….

Château Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) 1994: Now not-quite 25 years old, this wine is holding up well. I took one to a wine dinner with friends in London back in February, and it seemed to go down well, as did this bottle. It still has a very dark core, with just a thin mahogany rim. The aromatics are initially marred by a little warm and gamey note, but happily this seems to be just a little bottle stink, as it blows off with another half hour in the decanter. From then on it is all perfumed smoke, blackcurrants, green peppercorn and bay leaf, with a touch of currant. The palate is cool and energetic, with piles of dry and fading tannin and acidity, with a taut, acid-framed and gently succulent texture, laced with little veins of blackcurrant and black olive fruit. Fresh, sappy and long in the finish. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan) 1996: Great colour, dark, central black tulip core, with a thin raspberry and mahogany-tinged rim. The nose is one of classically evolved Graves, with none of the curious tomato leaf notes seen previously (admittedly, that was three bottle ago, so maybe I should just let go), just the very typical aromas of tobacco, gravel, rose petal, currant, dried blackcurrant and juniper berry, and a lightly meaty-peppery spice. It has a fabulously correct palate, cool and relaxed, elegant, very reserved and with a rather tense, vinous texture, not generous, more of a middleweight, but with a fine definition, bolstered by a backbone of dry and peppery tannin, fading very slowly over the years, but still undeniable. Beautiful typicity, and a long, dry, tense and rather serious length. 95/100

After dinner….

Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2001: From a half bottle, one of a dozen purchased after I tasted this wine in its youth, when I was taken by its sweet caramel tones. It has an appropriately rich burnished golden hue in the glass. Aromatically, this is a wine of caramel (it’s still got it), macaroon, vanilla, orange and peach cream, with toasted almond praline and macadamia nut. The palate feels beautifully fresh, pure, cool and sweet, a very complete picture, plush and yet harmonious. It as a fine and pithy substance, textural, with some nicely evolved botrytis character too, it should be said. Lovely balance, with undeniable energy, a great acid freshness, and a great long pithy finish. Well done. 95/100

Château Climens (Barsac) 2005: Expect to see more tasting notes for this vintage in future, as I seem to have ended up with a bin-full of half bottles. Happily, drinking Climens is no hardship. It has a golden-orange hue in the glass. The aromatic profile is tense but easy to get into, with marmalade, barley sugar, apricot and bitter orange notes, with a rich and somewhat lactic note to it. There is a beautifully creamed concentration on the palate, bitter and wonderfully sweet at the same time, precise, quite fresh with super botrytised character and fresh acidity. Fabulous. 96/100

Even later….

Warre’s Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003: A perennial over-achiever, this doesn’t disappoint. It has a dark and glossy hue. The nose is similarly dark, rich too, with dried fruits, figs and dates, a rather roasted character, veering a little into raisin, with a hint of toasted cashew nut too. The palate is rich and voluminous, with a baked blackcurrant and fig character, loaded with sweet and peppery tannin. It is bold, grippy, peppery, with plenty of sweetly rich energy, the only contrary note that holds it back a little being those slightly raisined, baked, figgy notes. Overall, rich, charming but a rather sweet, nutty and figgy style. 94/100

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1991: A maturing hue here, with a lightly caramelised touch to the pigment. The nose is full of roasted fig, toast and baked black cherry, with a little raisined note and dried black olive too, although it remains very fresh, a sensation previous helped by the notes of rosemary and peppery sandalwood spices. It has a solid, impressive, upright structure on the palate, with piles of peppery bite, a swirling core of tannins and rapacious acid energy. Overall a sumptuous, and yet fiery wine, with plenty of charming character, although again it has a little raisined edge which I have seen in other bottles. All the same, a very good wine. 94/100

Housekeeping: Winedoctor Security and GDPR

I take the security of Winedoctor subscribers seriously. This is why, when I set up the Winedoctor paywall, I engaged the services of Sagepay and Paypal to take all my payments off this site, on their own servers, with all the high level of protection these dedicated financial services deliver. Financial data (e.g. credit card numbers) are not handled by the Winedoctor server. That has always been the case, and will continue to be the case.

I am aware, however, that subscribers still submit personal information to Winedoctor, including name, a choice of password (which should of course be a password unique to Winedoctor and not the same as your banking password – this is a rule to follow with all websites) and an address. Even this data can be considered sensitive, and thus today I have upgraded the security level on Winedoctor. For the geeks, I installed an SSL certificate. For the non-geeks, you will see that Winedoctor’s URL is now https://www.thewinedoctor.com rather than http://www.thewinedoctor.com. The ‘s’ indicates a secure connection between my web server (where the website sits) and your browser, and guarantees the security of the information travelling between the two (your name, address and password).

Hopefully this will reassure subscribers that your personal information is safe when travelling through the ether.

As far as my testing of the site has determined, it all seems to work OK. But if you find a broken link, or a missing image, or if you have trouble logging in, do please email me (email button next to social media buttons on the left).

As for GDPR, the paywall software is being upgraded by the manufacturer to make it GDPR compliant. That’s enough said about that I think!

Thanks for reading, and happy drinking! – Chris

Chateau Suduiraut Damaged in Fire

I was very sorry to learn today, via Sud Ouest, that Château Suduiraut (pictured below, back in 2011) was damaged in a fire last week.

The fire broke out at 8 am on Wednesday 20th June, the cause as yet undetermined. Up to 400 m2 of the château has been damaged.

Château Suduiraut

Fortunately, nobody was injured in the fire, and the vineyards and cellars were not affected. If they had been, Château Suduiraut would certainly not have been the first to lose their stock through fire. A large team of 80 firefighters were on the scene, tackling the blaze, so it was clearly a serious threat to the château.

I wish Christian Seely and his team all the best in the recovery from this dreadful event.

Read more – including images – here: Sud Ouest

Chaptalisation: Chateau Giscours to Appeal

Back in March 2018, news broke that Château Giscours stood accused of alleged illegal chaptalisation. Various outlets covered the story – here is the take on it from the Drinks Business.

Sadly, it seems as though human error was to blame, together with poor communication from local wine authorities, and the affected wine was excluded from the blend of Château Giscours. Nevertheless, the case went to court, and the court found against Château Giscours. Believing they have a good case, there is a plan to appeal the court’s decision.

Château Giscours

Below is a full account of the proceedings, from Alexander van Beek of Château Giscours.


SE Château Giscours has been reproached for irregular chaptalization operations on two vats.

These operations are accounted for, on the one hand, by an error committed by the Organisme de Défense et de Gestion de la profession (ODG), who acknowledged the fact that they had sent an erroneous e-mail; and on the other hand, by a misreading of a hand-chalked slate indicating the permitted quantity of sugar that can be added.

SE Château Giscours solemnly reaffirms that it was the result of human error, without any fraudulent intention –just an unfortunate chain of events brought about by cumbersome bureaucracy and faulty communication of information.

The chaptalized musts in question were put aside, separated from the final blend, and were not used at all for distribution to the market.

As a result, SE Château Giscours has naturally decided to appeal the court decision.


Appendix 1: Clarifications on the chaptalization of the Merlot musts in 2016

SE Château Giscours has been reproached for having intentionally chaptalized the wines produced from its Merlot grapes in contravention of the provisions of the prefectural decree issued on 11/10/2016.

SE Château Giscours formally contests the fraudulent intentions referred to by the administrative authorities.

This merits a number of clarifications.

As part of the mission entrusted to the Margaux ODG (the Syndicat de l’Appellation Margaux or appellation wine regulating body), the latter communicates every year to the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), and on behalf of the wine producers of the appellation that it represents, the requests for chaptalization for all the grape varieties. This sometimes necessary operation, practised according to the weather conditions of the year, was requested in 2016 by all the wine appellations of the Médoc.

These appellations received a positive response from the INAO.

The INAO centralises the requests and transmits them to the relevant administrative bodies (prefecture, ministry and so on). The prefecture, instructed by the different administrative bodies, makes its decision and signs a prefectural decree establishing the framework in which the chaptalization is authorised.  This bottom-up and top-down chain of consultations prior to the final decision is cumbersome and complex, while the window available to the producer for chaptalizing is narrow, since it must be performed at a specific moment during the vinification.

A request for authorisation to chaptalize was made by the Syndicat de Margaux.

Some wine estates, one of which was Château Giscours, had made a formal request for all of its grape varieties.

While waiting for the prefectural decree, and at the urgent request of a large number of the appellation’s producers who had already begun their vinifications, the ODG asked the INAO for a reply. The latter answered that they had received the confirmation that the authorisation for chaptalisation would be given.

The ODG confirmed to its members by e-mail on 10/10/2016, that “producers needing to chaptalize urgently could do so without risk” by up to 1°.

By mistake, this e-mail made no mention of distinction of grape variety. However, the correction of the mistake was later made by the ODG on the same day in the afternoon, confirming this time that the chaptalization was authorised with the exception of the Merlot grape variety. This second e-mail, sent to Giscour’s Technical Manager under the subject line “Enrichissement 2014 – suivi de la maturité” (“Must enrichment 2014 – monitoring of grape ripeness”), was evidently unrelated and not opened by the interested party, who was busy managing the harvesting.

SE Château Giscours was one of the producers for whom the urgency was real.

It therefore proceeded, on reception of the first e-mail, to chaptalize its musts, one vat of which contained 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.

The next day, on 11/10/2016, a decree was issued by the Préfecture.

This decree confirmed the authorisation of chaptalization by up to 1° but excluded the Merlot.

The decree was sent by the INAO on 12/10/2016 to the ODG which in turn sent it to the producers.

The chaptalized musts were kept in reserve, separated from the final blend, and were not bottled or released for distribution.

There was no fraudulent intention whatsoever in this unfortunate chain of events, which was the consequence of bureaucratic red tape and inadequate communication of information, as the Margaux ODG acknowledged in its letter of the 1st February 2018.

The slowness and the high degree of complexity in the administrative decision-making chain for chaptalization, which is always requested urgently, is the source of this malfunction.

SE Château Giscours was one of its victims, far removed from the fraudulent intentions with which it was reproached.

Appendix 2: The mistake on the slate

In October 2016, at the beginning of the vinification process, in compliance with the authorisations issued by prefectural decree on 11th October 2016, chaptalisation* was carried out on several vats of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Traditionally, in order to perform this operation, the cellarmaster chalks on a slate the amount of sugar to go into each vat.

At the end of the day’s work, remaining sugar stocks are checked by the cellarmaster, the results of which are entered into an official register called a chaptalization register (registre de chaptalisation).

During the internal control of 22/10/2016, this check showed a deficit of 50kg of sugar.

After an immediate search had been undertaken by the cellarmaster, it was concluded that a mistake had been made in the reading of the slate corresponding to vat number 7.

The person who had chaptalized it had read 75kg instead of the 25kg written on the slate by the cellarmaster, which is confirmed on consultation of the vinification register, an internal book which enables all the vinification operations to be monitored and guarantees the traceability of each vat.

This error led to the authorised chaptalization being exceeded by 0.3°, i.e. a total of 1.3° instead of the 1° permitted by prefectural decree.

During the inspections carried out by the Direccte on 14th October and 24th November 2016, the wine estate, in total transparency and in complete good faith, handed over the chaptalization register mentioning this mistake, together with the vinification register.

While the wine estate acknowledges that it made a mistake, albeit totally unintentional, and assumes this error as such, it does not understand how this mistake which was never dissimulated can lead to prosecution.

For the 2016 harvest, the wine estate was permitted to use a precise quantity of sugar for chaptalization. In the end, it used only half of that.

Thus, even if this vat hadn’t been set aside, for all the vats (chaptalized or not) destined to be blended together to create the final blend of the wine, a slight over-chaptalization of one single vat would have been very largely compensated by all the vats which hadn’t been chaptalized.

In any case, vat number 7 was set aside from the rest, and the final blend for the 2016 vintage was carried out in accordance with the standard procedures, and the wine in Château Giscours bottles is in total compliance with the regulations.

* Chaptalization is a legal technique for the enrichment of musts in order to slightly raise the natural alcoholic degree of the wine. This operation is subject every year to a request for prefectural authorisation.

From Bordeaux and the Loire

I’m at the very beginning of a combined Loire-Bordeaux trip. Well, when it is barely more than a three-hour drive from my house south of Chinon to the vineyards of Bordeaux, it would be silly not to visit both regions, wouldn’t it?

I drove down from Scotland on Saturday (this explains my web-silence for the day – although I expect most people just assumed I had been invited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding), and arrived to find the Loire Valley basking beneath a blue and cloudless sky. It was warm and bright, the temperature 24ºC, certainly very different to what I left behind in Scotland. My neighbour’s fields are planted with wheat, lush and green, but just starting to fade to a golden hue in parts, and the air above swarmed with little puffs of windborne seed. It was simply glorious.

I can’t comment on any vineyards as I spent Sunday carving out a new running route through the woods, undertaking an emergency fence repair (one which looks like it will last until the next vaguely energetic breeze arrives) and making some last-minute adjustments to my plans for the week ahead. Happily, however, with the region having escaped any significant frost this year (phew!) I would expect them to be in good shape.

Bordeaux Timetable

Today (Monday) I am off to Bordeaux, for five days of visits. It has all been a bit last-minute, as I couldn’t get my head around arranging visits until I had come back from my primeurs trip. Nevertheless, I think I have a pretty decent timetable ahead (as my snap above should suggest), one  which runs at a slightly more relaxed pace than the primeurs. The main aim is to taste some 2015s, as for various reasons I forewent my usual in-bottle tasting trip last year, so expect an in-bottle report on the 2015 vintage soon. Secondly, I have a handful of longer visits and more extensive tastings lined up, in Margaux and in Pomerol, Château Lafleur in the case of the latter, so expect some tasting reports and verticals before too long. And thirdly, I have some research for another project I am working on lined up; I’m keeping this one under my hat for the moment.

Then it is back to the Loire Valley, for some more visits in Chinon and nearby environs, and although I haven’t made any appointments yet I expect I will be calling in on Matthieu Baudry and Jérôme Billard, as well as a mix of other domaines, in Chinon, Bourgueil and maybe Savennières too. I also have a trip across to La Promenade, a well-known restaurant in Le Petit-Pressigny, lined up, so I am looking forward to that. And no doubt I will also find some (many?) more jobs to do around the house before this year’s rental season kicks off.

Well, time to go. My first appointment is at Château Haut-Brion. The next three hours in the car will pass quickly, I think. Because of my plans for the next three weeks I won’t be making any behind-paywall updates, but will post on social media and maybe this blog if time permits.

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 4

Here is the final instalment of my Primeur Picks report, brought out from behind the paywall. See part one, part two and part three if you have not already read them.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

OK, so if 2017 is not as good as 2016 and 2015, it must be a bit like 2014?

Another undeniable human characteristic is the fallibility of our memory. Even if we ignore the devastating frost, and focus solely on the quality and character of the best wines in 2017, there still isn’t a recent vintage that serves as an ideal comparison. The majority of people I spoke to in Bordeaux accept that 2017 isn’t as good as 2015 or 2016, so attention naturally turns to the next good-but-not-great vintage, which is 2014. The problem with 2014 is that it has in my opinion been generally over-rated, being a ‘saved’ vintage light on texture and strong on acidity (except in St Estèphe, where it was much stronger). It belongs with the ‘also ran’ vintages such as 2012, 2008, 2006 and 2004, years that gave us nice wines but which are nothing to write home about. The 2017 vintage is (in parts at least) better than that.

What we have in 2017, even in the best wines, are elegantly medium-bodied wines with ripe tannins and equally ripe flavours. They are not huge, rich or textural wines, which has led several in Bordeaux who could look back beyond 2014 to suggest 2001 as a match, and I can see why. The 2001s are polished wines, elegant but correct, and at release they were unfairly overshadowed by the preceding vintage just as 2017, with its ‘frosted’ reputation, is likely to fade in terms of repute compared to 2016 (this might help to moderate the pricing…..well, fingers crossed). Another vintage that comes to mind is 1985, always elegant, persistent on the palate but with a silky shimmer. I always enjoyed my encounters with wines from the 1985 vintage, so pure and finely drawn, and I could easily see the best wines of 2017 evolving in a similar style. If only they were priced like the 1985s. Speaking of which…..

Pomerol 2017

Buying En Primeur

It seems almost inevitable that, for the majority of wines, prices are going to come down for the 2017 vintage. I wish I could say I was clairvoyant, but at the time of writing a good number of châteaux have already released, in some cases with prices 20% lower than the corresponding release price for the 2016 vintage. So it is not as if I am sticking my neck out in making this statement. Of course, this still means that the wines may be more expensive than previous releases, as in many cases the releases in 2015 and 2016 were significantly more pricy than preceding years. Even with reductions between 10% and 20% in 2017, the release prices may not compare favourably with prices of other vintages on the market such as 2012, 2011 or 2008, all of which are physically available and which are well on their way to being ready for drinking.

While lower release prices are always welcome, the relatively modest reductions we have seen so far will be insufficient to create the necessary interest in the vintage, either from drinkers or investors. While the relative success seen in the 2016 and 2015 en primeur campaigns showed that the interest is still there when there are great wines up for sale (even if it falls far short of the fervour that surrounded 2009 and 2010), the reputation of the 2017 vintage is simply not at the same level. Having said that, there are clearly some very good wines in this vintage, and if some desirable wines were to be released at the ‘right’ price I would expect a flurry of interest from merchants and consumers alike. If we don’t see such a response then it tells us one thing; it is not that consumers are not interested, nor is it evidence that en primeur is dead and defunct. It is simply that the price was not right. In that case, the Bordelais will rely on the négociants and their expansive warehouses to soak up the stock.

Read my full vintage review, including 15 regional tasting note reports as well as a weather and harvest report, in my Bordeaux 2017 report.

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 3

Here comes the next part of my Primeur Picks report from behind the paywall. See part one and part two if you have not already read them.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

Alright, so is it a left-bank or right-bank vintage?

It is understandable to want to categorise the vintage in this manner, but the successes and indeed the failures on both side of the Gironde simply don’t permit it. While there is undoubtedly a quality hotspot in St Emilion and Pomerol, where the top wines from higher ground in both appellations (especially the latter) are simply excellent, there are also moments of brilliance in St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien. And while there are some lean and leafy wines from the western Médoc, there are also some equally disappointing wines from the St Emilion and Pomerol lowlands. There is no clear distinction between the two banks, not like there was in 1996 or 1998, left- and right-bank vintages respectively.

Bordeaux 2017

It is only natural for regular drinkers of Bordeaux to want to squeeze a new vintage into a pre-existing system such as the old left-bank-right-bank dichotomy. But if I throw confirmation bias out of the window, and take account of all the data points, the only way I can think of 2017 Bordeaux is as a topography-altitude vintage. What mattered in this vintage was the proximity of your vineyards to the Gironde, or their altitude, both factors that protected the vines from the frost. Some very successful wines without either of these protective factors do exist, for example Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac and Domaine de Chevalier, three examples of such wines that piqued my interest, but they are few in number, and they are the product of an extreme level of effort. So after local topography and altitude what mattered was how prepared you were for frost (many who weren’t learnt a lesson in 2017, and new anti-frost devices are appearing all over the region, such as at Château Le Gay, above), and how much effort (which means money) you were able to put into managing a mix of first- and second-generation crops during the growing season and harvest.

Concluded in part 4……

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 2

Continuning my summing up, here comes the next part of my Primeur Picks report from behind the paywall. See part one here if you have not already read it.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

Even focusing on the most successful domaines and appellations, while the wines are very good, the quality in 2017 does not match that seen in 2016 and 2015. This much is reflected in my scores, which hit a peak with the 96-98 range for a small handful of top-flight wines from both the left and right banks, with one exceptional wine at 97-99 points, but with the majority of top-scoring wines coming in at 95-97 or less. This is not a vintage in which we are going to find spine-tingling 100-point wines (and I deliberated long and hard about that 97-99-pointer too, it has to be said). If we are to score wines at that level in this vintage, where on earth would we all go in truly excellent years such as 2016, 2010 or 2005?

Bordeaux 2017

On the other hand, I have also discovered many less convincing wines in this vintage. They come principally from the frost-affected regions, including the St Emilion and Pomerol lowlands, as well as those vineyards on the left bank which were too far from the protective influence of the Gironde. While the warm and dry weather ripened the first-generation fruit admirably, ridding the top wines of any hint of green pyrazine aromas, the same cannot be said of many of the wines which have been built – presumably with no alternative – around second-generation fruit. This fruit was usually picked at the very end of harvest, and it is clear that even picking at this late stage the fruit was still not phenolically ripe. I think if you were to visit Bordeaux on a luxury wine tour, calling in on only the top domaines, you could come away with the impression there is no ‘greenness’ in this vintage. But having spent eight days tasting in the region, looking at wines from all appellations and all levels, I have found any number of wines at the entry-level in St Emilion, as well as basic Pomerol and some well-known names in Graves and Margaux, not to mention in the Médoc and Haut-Médoc appellations, which are herbaceous, leafy and overtly green. Some wines tasted more like off-vintage efforts from an under-performing Loire Valley co-operative than from leading Bordeaux winemakers.

So while this is a very good vintage (in parts), it is not a great vintage, and it is not a ‘buy blind’ vintage. It is a vintage in which purchasing decisions must be fully informed.

Continued in part 3…….