Well, that’s it, it’s done. My primeurs week is finished. Seven days (it should have been eight – thanks very much, French Air Traffic Control) of organising, navigating, driving, tasting, writing and blogging along the way are over for another year. It has been an absolutely fascinating primeurs week. The story of the growing season, month after month of warm and dry weather with a little rain at the end, suggested a great vintage was possible, and yet the Bordelais remained unusually quiet. Having been here and tasted for myself, now I think I understand why. As always the real story of the vintage is more complex than the weather. Today I will be putting together some thoughts on this, as I head back to the UK.
It has also been a curious primeurs for more peripheral reasons, such as the predictable sparring with other journalists who don’t agree with the process of primeurs, either the timing of tasting, the validity of barrel samples, or perhaps even Bordeaux’s right to exist. In addition, there was the unexpected diatribe from Michel Rolland in Terre de Vins (links to article in French), which I became aware of last week but which has only hit English language publications during the last couple of days. Cutting a long story short, when asked about “Bordeaux-bashing” Michel’s opinion of journalists seemed to be that they (sorry – I think that should be we?) are full of “bullshit”, lack “balls”, and nobody cares what we say now, or in the future.
Cue breathless indignation from one or two corners of the wine blogging world. You can almost hear the collective intake of breath.
Good for Michel Rolland. Not because I agree with what he says (how tiresome it would be if we all had to agree with one another all the time) but because he has at least spoken his mind. Wine writers have been bashing Bordeaux for ages, and a good number have specifically bashed Rolland and the Rolland-style over the years, most famously in Mondovino but that was hardly an isolated case. And now, after years of criticism, the shocked, gaping-mouth, indignation in response to Rolland’s words all seem rather precious. C’mon chaps and chapesses, time to grow up. Take it on the chin. Man (or woman) up, and move on. Rolland doesn’t like it when you criticise Bordeaux, its wines, and his wines. What, you weren’t aware of that? You only realise it now he has said this? OK, well, in that case I am even more happy that he has spoken his mind. All spheres of life need people secure enough in their position, experienced and opinionated enough to tell things as they see it, even if it upsets people, even if it seems a little loose-cannon and broad brush-stroke, even if it seems downright rude. Uncomfortable outbusts such as these can be productive. And, if nothing else, they can certainly be entertaining. Alright, so maybe it was a little sweeping in that it brought together all journalists as one body, some of whom never go to Bordeaux at all, but so what? If it doesn’t apply to you, get over it. If it does, then fair game.
Having said that, when I met Michel at Château La Conseillante a couple of days ago (sorry, no selfie, I’m a bit past that), I didn’t raise the issue, just in case he thumped me. I’ve suddenly become a pacifist. A Pomerol pacifist.
Anyway, what about Friday? What looked like a relaxing timetable was actually pretty busy – the problem being I forget just how many wines some right bank estates have to pour. I kicked off at the Moueix offices at 9am, with a tasting of 15 wines. This was more than I was expecting (I am sure there have only been 9 or 10 in the past few years) and I had another appointment at 10am, so I had to taste in a peremptory fashion, and leave promptly, hoping not to appear rude as I dashed off. I was late to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière where I should have been able to catch up, but I so enjoyed chewing the cud of the vintage with Stephan von Neipperg (I have shook the hands of one Prince, one Baron and one Count this week….. I am thinking of running a sweepstake on which had the best manicure) that I was late again when I arrived at Château Pavie. Thereafter it was on to Château Pavie-Macquin, before a trip out to another domaine with Thienpont man David Suire (pictured). Top marks if you can recognise the domaine from the château behind (answers on a postcard please). Having tasted the 2015, made by David, this could be the start of an exciting story…..
I then headed back to St Emilion for a tasting with Jean-Luc Thunevin. This is the best tasting of the week, not because of the wines, but because it is the only tasting access to which involves climbing a wall like a 13-year old Just William. Jean-Luc hosts the tasting in his garage (where else?) in the centre of town, and I usually park at the top of town and walk in. Even though every year I look for a better parking place, I always end up in the far corner of the car park, where it is easier to clamber over the wall to then walk up to the town than it is to go the long way round. I am now closer to 50 years old that I am to 40 (I know, I know, I don’t look a day over 60) so I am pleased to report I can still hop over a wall with all the panache of the most accomplished schoolboy scrumper. Or cat burglar. I would like to see Jancis Robinson do this to get to her tasting.
After the Thunevin tasting it was out to Château Le Gay to check out their wines (watch out for reports that say Château Montviel has 15.5% alcohol – it hasn’t, it was a typo on their fiche technique) followed by Château Nenin, then Château Barde-Haut, and finishing up with François Mitjavile of Château Tertre-Roteboeuf. And that was it. I left François just as a light scattering of hailstones danced off the roof of my hire car, happily not enough to do any harm to the vines though. Which is a good thing. After all, those tender buds and baby leaves carry the hopes of the 2016 vintage, And it is just 51 weeks until we do this all over again.