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One Week to go: Loire Valley Master-Level

Just about a week to go now until the first-ever Loire Valley Master-Level programme from the Wine Scholar Guild kicks off. I’m delighted to be taking part, alongside a slew of famous names from within the region.

The Wine Scholar Guild has established itsef as a leader in wine education for interested amateurs and professionals alike, their system of printed study materials combined with online seminars offers applicants a fun and unique way to learn about wine. They already have well-established programmes dealing with Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône Valley and other French regions, not to mention overarching French, Spanish and Italian programmes. This is a first brave foray into the Loire Valley for them, and I’m excited to be involved in its creation and delivery.

Loire Valley Master-Level

The programme kicks off on September 23rd, with two seminars every week for eight weeks, and here’s how it looks:

Loire: The Idea of North, Andrew Jefford
Digging Deep into the Soils, Chris Kissack
The Viticultural History of the Loire, Pascaline Lepeltier
The Nature of the Loire: Climate, Soils, Topography and Sub-regions, Jim Budd
Pays Nantais, Jo Landron
L’Anjou Noir, Pascaline Lepeltier
L’Anjou Blanc – Le Saumurois, Pascaline Lepeltier
Touraine, Damien Delecheneau
Centre Loire, Benoit Roumet
Upper Loire, Pascaline Lepeltier
Future of the Loire – Viti Vini, Benoit Roumet
Parcellaires & Crus, Pascaline Lepeltier
Loire Economics, Benoit Roumet
Loire & Food, Veronique Rivest
Biodynamics, Nicolas Joly
Loire: The Epicenter of the Natural Wine Movement, Alice Feiring

As you can see I’m speaking on the region’s rocks and soils, and it will be a ‘no holds barred’ foray through the many and varied terroirs of the region. So if you want to see me try and squeeze in detailed explanations of Kimmeridgian vs. Oxfordian vs. Portlandian soils in Sancerre, the differences between the première côte and deuxièmes côtes in Vouvray, case studies of terroir in Chinon and Anjou as well as the new Muscadet crus into one hour, why not sign up?

For more information and registration check out this link: Loire Master-Level. If you do register, you can have a 10% discount with coupon code LV-CHRIS.

Another Low-Volume Muscadet Harvest

The Fédération des Vins de Nantes has set a date for the beginning of harvest, kicking off on Thursday September 5th.

The federation predict this will be another low-volume vintage, more like 2016 and 2017 than the bountiful 2018 vintage. Both of those first two vintages were afflicted by frost, and the problem in 2019 is again the same. It was the drop in temperature overnight between April 3rd and 4th that did the damage. This makes this the third frosted vintage out of four in this region.

The federation predict a reduction by perhaps 50%, estimating a harvesting of about 250,000 hectolitres, a depressing figure. Of course, as always with frost, the damage done is disparate and heterogenous; while the loss overall is 50%, some domaines will surely have lost a much higher figure, while there can be domaines just down the road who have fared better. It depends where your vines are, the local topography, and whether this exposes or protects your vines from frosty air.

What is set to be picked looks to be of good quality, the weather having been largely warm and dry this year, which explains the early start date. Sadly I think the picking in Muscadet will have finished before I even get out to the Loire this harvest. Fingers crossed for good harvest weather. And fingers crossed for less frost (or more frost protection) in the 2020 season.

Seven Years On: Trouble in St Emilion

If you thought the next event in the saga of the St Emilion classification, most recently reworked in 2012, was the forthcoming revision due (presumably) in 2022 then I am afraid to say it look like you may be wrong. As it turns out, seven years after the current classification was published, seven years since Château Angélus and Château Pavie were promoted to the top tier of the ranking, seven years after innumerate other châteaux were shuffled about, and seven years since Château Corbin-Michotte and Château La Tour du Pin Figeac were demoted, it seems the dust has still not settled.

There was always going to be a court case with regard to any classification which demoted châteaux. The only way in which the failed 2006 classification could be temporarily shored up, pending the stricter 2012 classification, was by ‘un-demoting’ all those châteaux which were downgraded or ejected. The 2006 classification thus ended up a ranking of promotions only, with no demotions. As a short-term solution this can, I guess, be lived with. But for a definitive reclassification it would naturally have no credibility. Just like stocks and shares, the fortunes of some châteaux will go down as well as up. There were naturally complaints, accusations and some legal action.

Château Angélus

Not having followed the process intensely I had thought, however, that the dispute had fizzled out, and drawn to a close. Apparently not. Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (as published here, in La Presse) that Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (proprietor of Château Angélus along with other members of his family, but also a key figure in the reclassification process) and Philippe Castéja (head of the négociant Borie Manoux, and proprietor of Château Trottevieille, and not – to my knowledge involved in the classification process) have been requested to appear in a Bordeaux court to answer to accusations of “unlawful taking of interest”.

The key figures behind this move are the proprietors of the two aforementioned demoted châteaux, as well as Pierre Carle, proprietor of Château Croque-Michotte, a property which was demoted in 1996 and which has failed to regain promotion since. They are represented in the legal process by Éric Morain, a local lawyer. It is expected to be several months, though, before this new case comes to court.

That the three ‘wronged’ proprietors should be so determined is perhaps not a surprise. I often hear consumers tell me they pay no attention to the classification, preferring to seek out independent critical opinion instead (sometimes even mine). But that is to miss a hugely significant effect of the classification, which is the positive effect it has on your standing within the appellation and world of wine, the prices you can charge for your wine (the kick up in prices of Angélus and Pavie after 2012 was tangible) and the value of the land you own. Having said that, I can’t help wondered what the outcome might be in 2022 if the ‘wronged’ proprietors focused their efforts on their vineyards and wines rather than the legal process. It might be an easier and more credible route to promotion than that which might be won through the courts.

Some Detail on those New Bordeaux Varieties

This week saw a significant development in Bordeaux as the members of the Syndicat Viticole des AOC Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur voted in favour of seven new varieties being added to th elist of what they could plant in their vineyards. Choosing seven (mostly) warm-climate and (mostly) disease-resistant varieties shows the growers are clearly thinking ahead; climate change is making it increasingly difficult in Bordeaux to keep planting and replanting the same old varieties, especially Merlot which simply doesn’t cope well with warm vintages when the sugar levels (and thus the potential alcohol) can race ahead of the ripening of the phenolics in the skins and pips. Mildew has long been a problem in the region, but the 2018 vintage was greatly hampered by it. The growers are naturally looking for solutions.

I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at the seven varieties, four of which are red, and three white.

Touriga Nacional: Undoubtedly the best known of the four reds, this is one of the classic grapes of Portugal. I am sure many would consider it a ‘noble’ variety, alongside the Cabernets, Chardonnay and so on. It is a major component in Port, as well as some of the best table wines of the Douro, Dão and other Portuguese regions. It is clearly a good candidate for planting in an increasingly warm Bordeaux.

Marselan: A grape I have encountered occasionally, usually in Southern Rhône and Languedoc blends. It is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, developed by Paul Truel at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in 1961. Initially rejected because of small berry size and low yields (the 1960s was an era when high-yielding varieties were still prized) it was not until 1990 it was added to the list of official French varieties.

Castets: An obscure variety discovered growing wild in southwest France in the late-19th century. It was propagated in the Bordeaux region by a man named Castets, hence the name. It has since disappeared from the region again, but is poised to return thanks to its reputed resistance to downy mildew (but not oidium, sadly).

Château du Retout

Arinarnoa: Like Marselan, another cross, this time said to be Merlot x Petit Verdot, so it has an obvious Bordeaux connection. It was developed in 1956 by Pierre Marcel Durquéty in the region. However, later DNA analysis revealed the parents to be Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, so the scientists slipped up somewhere. Whatever its origins, it is late-ripening and disease-resistant, two strong features.

Alvarinho: Of the three whites, this is one of two well-known names. A Portuguese-Spanish cultivar, this is the variety of the Rías Baixas region in Spain. It is early-ripening, and not particularly disease-resistant, so I assume the syndicat has requested it be permitted for planting based purely on the high quality of its wines.

Petit Manseng: A high quality variety, and an obvious choice, being late-ripening and disease resistant. Widely planted in the Jurançon, alongside Gros Manseng (which is already planted on the Médoc at Château du Retout, vines pictured above) the wines can be excellent. Of note, it works in both dry and sweet styles.

Liliorila: An unusual variety, a cross again, this time between an obscure variety named Baroque and the better known Chardonnay. Developed by the INRA in Bordeaux in 1956, again by Pierre Marcel Durquéty, it has a reputation for flavoursome wines, albeit ones low in acidity.

To conclude, a couple of points. First, the vote still has to be approved by France’s Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (previously known as the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine and still often referred to by many, including me, as the INAO); this means, in reality, it is likely to be many years before these varieties are added to the list of those permissible in the cahier des charges, the rule book for these two appellations. Secondly, the syndicat only speaks for the Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur appellations, so don’t expect the owners of châteaux in more prestigious appellations to be rushing to plant these varieties. I don’t think Château Latour or Le Pin will be replacing Merlot with Marselan any time soon. Nevertheless, someone will plant these varieties (which will be limited to 5% of the vineyard but 10% of a blend), and it will be fascinating to see what effect it has on their wines.

Four New Crus for Muscadet

I was delighted to learn today that the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine have, on Wednesday 19th June, officially recognised four new cru communal zones in Muscadet. The four new crus are Goulaine, Château-Thébaud, Monnières-Saint-Fiacre and Mouzillon-Tillières. These four join the three crus which were ratified back in 2011, these being Clisson, Gorges and Le Pallet, as described in my Guide to the 2011 Crus Communaux.

Together these seven crus represent the highest level of Muscadet, wines of high quality and very limited production. The 2018 harvest brought in just 6000 hectolitres eligible for the three designations in existence, from just 150 hectares of vineyard (40 hl/ha on average, if you were just about to get your calculator out) which met all the cru criteria. The arrival of four new crus should see that figure rise, but it won’t be an explosion. Vineyards are not automatically eligible, they must be identified by a willing vigneron, submitted for cru status, inspected and signed off, then worked in a manner which meets the criteria, and the harvest, vinifications and time the wine spends on the lees must also clear the bar.

Four New Crus for Muscadet

Despite these crus being newly ratified I already have plenty of experience with the wines, as many vignerons have been working to a level that meets the criteria for some time (as illustrated above, a Mouzillon-Tillières released more than ten years ago), the development of the new cru communal system being very much a vigneron-led process. For more on Château-Thébaud and Monnières-Saint-Fiacre, see my Muscadet Crus Communaux Retrospective Tasting published in January this year. I will add a guide to the four new crus to my Muscadet Sèvre et Maine wine guide as soon as possible, and hopefully get around to tasting more from Mouzillon-Tillières and Goulaine.

Congratulations to all those in Muscadet who have been pushing this through! I know it has taken many years of effort. Now the attention must turn to the remaining cru candidates, La-Haye-Fouassière, Vallet and Champtoceaux – maybe after a celebratory glass of Château-Thébaud first!

Wine Paris and Vinexpo Paris Join Forces

Three years ago a new cool-climate wine fair, Vinovision, sprang into life in Paris. Attendance from the Loire Valley was pretty good, well worth me going.

Since then the fair has expanded considerably, and earlier this year it was joined by ViniSud, making it a much bigger and more impressive event, under the title Wine Paris. Having said that, the presence from the Loire Valley was not, in the second and third editions, quite as strong as it was in year one.

Many exhibitors found they poured a lot more wine at the Salon des Vins de Loire, and understandably they decided to attend that fair in preference.

Next year, however, Wine Paris will be joined by Vinexpo Paris. The dates wil be February 10th – 12th, 2020, and I know I will be attending. And I think it is time for those Loire exhibitors who drifted away from Vinovision/Wine Paris to come back I think. This is going to be a pretty amazing wine fair.

Press release below:

Identical dates and the same venue for a new encounter geared to the needs of the global wine and spirits industry.

Bordeaux, 15 May 2019 – In February 2020, Paris will be the global focal point for wines and spirits as WINE PARIS and VINEXPO PARIS take place concurrently. This shared desire is in response to market demand for the two exhibitions to come together in Paris to create a new, international landmark event at a key time in the buying calendar.
a collective ambition in response to market demand

WINE PARIS and VINEXPO PARIS have chosen to bring together their 2020 exhibitions from 10 to 12 February 2020 at Paris Expo Porte de Versailles.

This unprecedented and collective initiative by the two organisers (COMEXPOSIUM and VINEXPO), with the approval of the boards of VINISUD and VINOVISION PARIS, is a response awaited by members of the wine and spirits sector. The announcement aims to give visibility to all the professionals and further discussions will take place in the coming weeks.

This cohesive approach is a chance for producers, trading companies and brands to optimise their resources and benefit from an event with maximum impact. It will unquestionably promote the events’ appeal and act as a magnet for national buyers (wine merchants, Horeca channels, sommeliers, distributors, specialised wholesalers and sales agents) and draw international buyers to the French capital, at a time of the year which is conducive to buying.

It will also consolidate France’s undeniable wine expertise and culture and strengthen its international reputation.

WINE PARIS stems from the convergence of VINISUD and VINOVISION PARIS, of Mediterranean and cool climate wines, promoting their regional identities, their myriad attributes and diversity. The fusion of these two easily identifiable and complementary exhibitions marked the first collective approach by all the founding marketing boards to create the first major international wine business event in Paris.

By creating VINEXPO PARIS, VINEXPO’s ambition was to seize the growth opportunities slated for the global wine and spirits market. This new international business platform in the heart of the French capital will boast new services such as the INFINITE BAR and the LAB for the exhibition’s spirits area. Its inception aligns with one of the strategic development priorities set by VINEXPO’s board of directors, which is to provide expert exhibitions as close as possible to the major markets (Bordeaux, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai).

While both exhibitions will continue to encapsulate their own inherent characteristics, holding them simultaneously offers an additional asset that will strengthen France’s position as a major crossroads for engagement and the promotion of all French regions and vineyard sites, as well as international wine regions.

Supraliminal Bordeaux

Have you ever been subliminally influenced?

If you happen to be a psychology graduate you will immediately see the problem in asking and answering that question (for the rest of us, I will explain what this problem is in a moment). Nevertheless, this is a question I asked myself after my recent return from Bordeaux, following this year’s primeurs tastings. Well, truth be told, I did not first ask the question myself. I was prompted to consider it by this post, in which Jamie Goode wrote of a sense of “privileged access” in Bordeaux, and stated that “it is very hard as a visiting journalist or trade buyer not to be at least subliminally influenced by the grandeur of the top properties”.

I will be the first to admit that many aspects of the primeurs are flawed, and the notion that the process of visiting a château can exert inappropriate influence on the taster is a frequently heard and valid criticism. It is easy to come up with a few examples that might support such an argument. A taste of the latest vintage of Château Latour, for instance, with a view from the tasting room over the Latour vineyards and to the Gironde beyond, is perhaps enough to make the heart of any fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pauillac, Bordeaux or just very good red wine take a momentary flutter.

Château Cheval Blanc

Similarly, just down the road at Château Pontet-Canet the signposted route out of the annual tastings changes every year, and as a regular visitor I know that I am about to be walked through whatever new barrel cellar, vat room or stone-built stable has just been completed in the ever-ongoing rebirth of the domaine. It is part of ‘selling’ the domaine, its story, and a message about the quality of its wine. On the other side of the Gironde, I recall my first visit to Château Cheval Blanc after the construction of its cathedral-like cellars and undulatory vats (pictured above) which have the potential, perhaps, to inspire a reverential state of worship. And it would be easy to sell the story of a visit to Petrus, with its printed invitations to a tasting in the domaine’s inner sanctum, as being one of exclusivity.

Is this not the Bordelais trying to subliminally influence the visitor? It has been suggested, erroneously, that it is the case.

The notion that humans can be subliminally influenced dates back to the experiments of James Vicary in 1956, in which he flashed messages on screen during a movie encouraging theatre-goers to “eat popcorn” and “drink coke”. The two phrases each spent only 0.3 microseconds on the screen, too brief to be registered by the conscious mind. And yet the messages seemed to have a result, as sales soared, although it is now widely believed these figures were simply invented, and Vicary later retracted his results. Nevertheless, the idea has taken hold, and the notion that we might be subject to subliminal influence when watching television, or visiting the cinema, or indeed visiting a Bordeaux château, persists.

The term ‘subliminal’ has certain connotations. Vicary’s experiment, if it had proved effective and if its results were reproducible (they aren’t), would have opened the door to a new world of marketing, giving unimaginable power to America’s Mad Men and marketers. The term conjures up notions of nefarious deeds, iniquitous politicians planting political messages in the subconscious minds of floating voters, and unscrupulous marketers using mind control, instructing us against our will (and better judgement) to buy and drink Coca Cola. Jamie’s use of the term subliminal paints not only Bordeaux but also its visitors in a similar light. It suggests that the châteaux might not be above using underhand methods to inflate the scores their barrel sample is awarded. It also suggests that the visiting tasters are helpless receivers of this transmitted message, and that we might walk away, swooning, as if the defining characteristic of a Bordeaux reviewer is that they can be trained just as easily as Pavlov trained his dogs.

I have bad news for any marketing agencies who wish to persuade their clients in Bordeaux that a little subliminal marketing might produce a slew of 100-point scores. A successful subliminal marketing strategy simply does not exist; as nobody has ever managed to reproduce the results ‘achieved’ (or should that be fabricated?) by Vicary we know it does not work. What the Bordeaux châteaux are very good at though is supraliminal messaging, and this is what Jamie experienced during his visit to the region, and indeed all of the examples I cited above are supraliminal, not subliminal. Subliminal messaging is, by definition, undetectable by the conscious mind (hence the problem with asking the question “have you ever been subliminally influenced?” – if you were aware of the influence, then it inherently wasn’t subliminal). External stimuli such as a view over a grand vineyard, having cellars to rival the nave of Notre Dame (before the fire, obviously), inducing a feeling of privileged access, whatever, are overtly supraliminal, in that the external influence is obvious, apparent and detectable by the conscious mind.

So what, you might say, the Bordelais are still up to their old tricks. But I would argue this is much more than a semantic difference. Whereas the human mind cannot resist subliminal messaging, because we are not conscious of its existence, supraliminal messaging works but it can easily be rejected, provided you are switched on to it. A classic example for you was the German-French wine-selling experiment conducted in the 1990s (The Influence of In-Store Music on Wine Selections, North AC et al, Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2):271-276) when a British supermarket found that playing French music increased sales of French wine, and playing German music resulted in German wine outselling French wine. None of the shoppers felt they had been influenced by the music, so you might think this was a subliminal message, but it was not, it was merely that they were not switched on to the supraliminal message they were receiving. The music was readily audible (so inherently supraliminal); anybody who went in with the knowledge the supermarket were trying to influence their decision-making process with music would not be affected by it (or if suitably contrary as I can be at times they might even be pushed in the opposite direction – “play French music at me, would ya”, I might say, as I swipe a bottle of Extra Special Piesporter from the shelves).

A seasoned visitor to Bordeaux knows what that view over the Latour vineyard can do for the soul, and the Cheval Blanc cellars, as wonderful as they are, do not instil a sense of awe when returning to them for the twentieth time. Even if they did, I am very aware of what the intent might be, and find it easy to resist. As a regular visitor to the region I therefore reject any suggestion that I might wander around, in a sense of awe, filled to the eyeballs with supraliminal messages. Yes, there are problems with the primeur system, everything from the veracity and validity of barrel samples to the timing of the releases and the pricing of the wines, but the region’s supraliminal messaging is easily identified, and the most readily rejected. Unless your favoured reviewer happens to be a cathedral-obsessed mutt trained by a Russian physiologist on his first ever visit to Bordeaux, that is. In which case, good luck to you with your 2018 buying decisions.

At the Decanter World Wine Awards

I went to London for the marathon earlier this week. No not that one. I’m talking about the marathon that is the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). A week (which in this case is a ‘working week’, meaning five days – I know some in the wine trade have a different definition of a ‘working week’) of tasting all of the Loire submissions to the 2019 Awards.

This was the 16th year for the Awards, and I am not sure how many years I have been judging on the Loire panel, but it must be seven or eight years now. I started off just doing a couple of days, at a time when the Loire panel would sit for perhaps three days in total. These days the Loire submissions have increased in number (as have submissions to the Awards in general) and both last year and this year the judging extended across five days. I try to participate for the entire Loire judging, and that is exactly what I did this year. The panel was chaired by Jim Budd (who needs no introduction), while my tasting colleagues were Nigel Wilkinson (once of the RSJ, home of London’s best Loire list, now retired) and Chris Hardy (of Charles Sydney Wines, and now undoubtedly the leading wine trade figure in the Loire Valley). The panel was the same across all five days.

The system at the DWWA, for those unfamiliar with it, is as follows. Wines are served in themed flights, anything from four wines to twelve, the principal themes being variety and appellation, sometimes nuanced by style, vintage or price. So we might have a dozen Muscadets, followed by a dozen Touraine Sauvignons, then a dozen white Sancerres, and so on. The tasters have all the information on appellation, vintage, price, residual sugar, alcohol and so on, but the blinding as to the domaine and cuvée is rigorous; I imagine anybody who attempted to unblind a wine by removing it from its bag, a cardinal sin, would never be invited back. Tasters don’t even get to handle the bottles, as everything is poured for you by the ‘red shirts’ as they are known. Our ‘red shirt’ was Abdel, who was a star.

DWWA 2019

All four panel members work their way through the entire flight, tasting and retasting as they see fit, writing notes, and awarding marks out of 100. Faulty bottles are always replaced during the tasting of the flight, no mean feat considering the number of wines being tasted in any one day and the logistics involved. A few words might be exchanged at this time (especially regarding faulty wines) but otherwise we keep our opinions to ourselves for the moment. Once all four of us have finished, it’s time for the panel chair to review the notes and scores, for discussion, and for the decision on a final score and a medal position.

Any judging system has strengths and weaknesses. One accusation commonly made about the system used here is that it is ‘tasting by committee’, which would I think be a fair accusation if the final score and position were achieved simply by taking an average of the four submitted scores. But of course that isn’t how it works; there is the opportunity for discussion, to advocate for each wine as you see fit, and the process varies from one wine to the next. If all four tasters are in close alignment – awarding scores, for example, of 86, 88, 88, and 89, all in the bronze medal category – then taking an average is not inappropriate (although an individual could still argue for a specific score if they wish). When the marks start to straddle medal categories, for example 86, 88 (both bronze), 90 and 91 (both silver) then the discussion becomes more important. We all revisit the wine, and the supporters of a bronze award may decide they have underscored the wine, and revise their marks upwards, or they may stick to their guns and persuade their colleagues that silver is too generous. And vice versa for the advocates of a silver medal. A lot of effort goes into ensuring each wine is given due consideration, and the right level is found.

If agreement can’t be reached, there are floating super-judges who can also be asked to chip in with an opinion. The super-judge system worked well this year, although sometimes the decision went against me, and sometimes for me. There was one wine on day two where half the panel were rooting for gold, while half (including me) were less eager, and an opinion from a super-judge nudged it over the line. I lost. But then a couple of days later we were in the same position with a different wine, with at least two tasters rooting for gold, and I was holding back, holding my ground, as I didn’t feel the wine was worthy of that merit. The super-judge came down in my favour. Vindicated! However the wines get there, though, all the gold medal winners are tasted again next week, by the super-judges, and can be knocked back down if not deemed worthy. I doubt that will happen with any of the Loire wines; we’re a careful lot!

The Loire did well this year, and while I can’t reveal anything about the result it won’t be giving too much away to say there were a number of really fine wines submitted, and a nice number of gold medals awarded. The success of recent vintages shone through; although there was frost in 2016 and 2017, the region has had several good vintages in a row, up to and including 2018 (most Muscadet and Sauvignon submissions come from the most recent vintage, for obvious reasons). And quality overall was consistent; although I don’t have any figures, I am sure we rejected fewer samples as simply substandard this year. And among the golds, there were some real superstar wines. Sadly, unlike that other more famous marathon, it takes a good few months for the results of this particular competition to be published. I hope it won’t be too long though; I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what theose superstar wines were.

Bordeaux 2018: Reports Schedule

I am currently beavering away typing up all my Bordeaux 2018 tasting notes, and synthesising my thoughts on the vintage in order to create my region-by-region tasting reports. For those who have missed it, I already started with my introduction to the 2018 Bordeaux vintage, featuring a report on the growing season (tropical humidity and mildew, and then a glorious three-month-long summer lasting right through to the harvest…..that covers it, although I do use a few thousand more words in my full summary), on the harvest, the vinifications, and some broad impressions on the style of the vintage and the wines. Most importantly (I am told), my 2018 report sees the return of Monsieur Propriétaire and his new sidekick, his biodynamic consultant, Vaquero Méjor Hobomüncher.

I also published my St Estèphe 2018 report today. It has been a fascinating and quite unique vintage in this appellation (and in others too, I have to say).

Here then are my plans for the remainder of my Bordeaux 2018 updates. These may be subject to change, but at the moment I don’t expect to deviate from this schedule (although in terms of sheer number of tasting notes week two looks pretty full on):

● Tuesday, April 9th – Bordeaux 2018 Vintage Summary (posted)
● Wednesday, April 10th – St Estèphe (posted)
● Thursday, April 11th – Pauillac
● Friday, April 12th – St Julien
● Sunday, April 14th – Margaux

● Tuesday, April 16th – St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
● Wednesday, April 17th – St Emilion Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru
● Thursday, April 18th – Pomerol
● Friday, April 19th – The Rest of the Right Bank (Castillon, Fronsac, satellites, etc)
● Sunday, April 21st – The Rest of the Left Bank (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Moulis, etc)

● Tuesday, April 23rd – Pessac-Léognan Red Wines
● Wednesday, April 24th – Pessac-Léognan White Wines
● Thursday, April 25th – Sauternes, Barsac and other sweet wines
● Friday, April 26th – Primeur Picks, my choices, and summing up

To the City of Wine

April looms large, and so too do the primeurs. I’m here in Bordeaux for two weeks of tasting the 2018 barrel samples.

It is already looking like this is going to be an interesting two weeks of tasting, scribbling and scoring. It is a vintage which, after a very difficult start, still promises much, although I think anyone who imagines the wines will be like the deliciously fresh, fragrant and frankly very ‘digestible’ 2016s all over again is going to be diappointed.

The City of Wine

Although most of my days this week and next are taken up with château visits, today (Thursday 28th) and tomorrow (Friday 29th) I will be tasting with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux. This is the third new venue for this tasting in four years; initially it was at the Bordeaux football stadium (close to the Rocade and easy to get to), while for the last two years (or maybe three, my memory fails me) it has been in Hangar 14, a convention centre on the banks of the Garonne (less easy to get to for someone like me who tends to avoid driving into the centre of the city – there are no vineyards there). La Cité du Vin is very close to Hangar 14, so I am prepared for some jostling in the rush-hour traffic this morning. In the afternoon I am off to Margaux, to visit Château Margaux, Château Palmer, Château d’Issan and the like.

It is traditional at this early stage to include a snap of my timetable (pictured above). This usually invokes one of two responses, either (a) “oooh, nice line up of visits”, or (b) “oooh, pencil on paper, very old school”. Which one are you?