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Exploring Sherry #13: Don Fernando

I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since the last bottle of Sherry popped up on this blog. That was the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado back in August. I blame 2015 Bordeaux; I have spent some time travelling and tasting, and writing too. Sherry ended up on the backburner for a while.

But now it’s back! I continue today with episode 13, featuring a supermarket bargain.

I almost never write about supermarket own-labels and brands (the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado – exclusive to Waitrose unless I am mistaken – was a rare exception). The reason for this is two-fold; first, own-label wines never teach you anything about a region, and second, wines available only from a UK retailer are of little interest to the majority of my readership, which has a much more global feel.

I will make an exception today, though, because the wines are so good.

Don Fernando Oloroso

Don Fernando might not be a familiar name even to regular Sherry drinkers, but these wines are sourced from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a renowned and well-regarded bodegas. It is a boutqiue operation, only really established a few decades ago, and quality is high. Both of these wines, available in Marks & Spencers, are very good, but it is the Oloroso that really does it for me.

Don Fernando Fino: An unfiltered fino. This has a fair, lemon-gold hue. Quite confident aromatics, good flor notes here, with a dry, sandy, driftwood backbone, and touches of green olive. It is also lightly salty, a touch marine, but it is still appealing. It has a substantial start on the palate, certainly textured, quite seamless in its presence, fresh with good bite, bright acids, and a long warming finish. Challenging, upright, and very nicely polished. Very good. With all its texture and character, this feels a little like a halfway-house between your standard fino, and an upmarket en rama bottling. 16.5/20 (November 2015)

Don Fernando Oloroso: Things move up a gear here. This wine is sourced from the first criadera (the level just before solera, the final stage in the solera system before bottling) of the Antique solera system, Antique being the upper-class range at Fernando de Castilla. This has a very rich, deep, shimmering golden-brown hue, tinged with red. And it has a wonderful nose, hugely expressive, filled with walnuts and wood polish, lifted by an orange zest freshness. What is most striking about the palate, apart from the hugely characterful concantration that is, is the texture, which is as broad as it is deep, the wine sliding across the palate like liquid velvet. Despite this it remains dry, energetic, grippy, tense and structured. It is also really long in the finish, which is infused with nuances of dried walnuts. Reamrkable quality for such a widely available wine. Fabulous. 17/20 (November 2015)

One thing’s for sure, I did learn something from these wines. I learnt that I need to investigate the wines of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla more thoroughly.

Bordeaux 2015: David Suire, Larcis Ducasse

Somehow another five days have passed since my last Bordeaux 2015 report, featuring the words of Thomas Duroux. Time to put that right now.

After finishing up in Margaux, and on the left bank in general, I headed over to the right bank (stopping of at Château Reignac on the way, profile and tasting report to follow). One of my first ports of call was Château Larcis Ducasse, in St Emilion, where I met up with David Suire.

The estate is owned by the Gratiot family, but in 2002 they turned its running over to Nicolas Thienpont, who in turn installed David Suire to manage the vineyard and chai. He has been doing some really interesting work here, increasing his understanding of the vineyard and fine-tuning its management, running each parcel differently, sometimes identifying micro-parcels within others that need more specific attention. In the cellars, he has instigated a partial shift away from small oak to larger, 500-litre barrels. It’s fascinating stuff.

During my visit, I asked him how 2015 had gone.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

David: It’s not a bad vintage [said with a knowing grin], but there are some things you should know. June and July were very important on the limestone of St Emilion because it was very dry, and a dry summer on this soil is almost always synonymous with a great vintage.

So we were confident at the end of July that the potential was great, but we had to wait at least two months to see if the potential would be realised. At the end of July the berries were tiny, with strong skins. The vines were a little early, not like in 2011 when they were really very early, but certainly a few days earlier, just like 2010 at this stage.

Then August came, and with it we had a lot of rain, and a cooler climate too. It changed our vision of the vintage, because we went from from concentrated and tannic berries to berries where the tannins could be diluted by the rain. Maybe things would be a little more tender.

Then things changed again in September, which was good, the weather was now hot and dry again, and this continued into October too. We had alternating dry and humid weather, and this was good to mature the skins and tannins. I think this helped the quality of the tannins. When you have only dry weather you can taste that in the tannins, and of course when it only rains they are green.

This year though they are ripe, and yet also softened by the rain, they are more tender than in 2011. Today, when we taste the first wines we have made, we can taste the richness of the vintage in them. They have a very nice, very beautiful complexity, they have rich but fine tannins, which is good at this stage. You can’t really feel the tannins are there, you can only feel them through the power of the wine.

Me: Thanks. Is it like any other vintage?

David: Concerning the balance we think it is between 2009 and 2010; the richness is like 2009, but the wines have more freshness than that vintage, although they also have a little less acidity than 2010. They are more approachable than the 2010s, with better balance than the 2009s.

Me: Can you talk me through the harvest?

David: We started on September 21st on Murmure [a specific parcel] for the second wine also called Murmure, which we started making in 2010. The first picking for Larcis Ducasse was on September 28th, on the lower parcels.

We had a very long period of picking, it lasted three to four weeks on some properties. The maturation was moving slowly. We had to pick, then wait, pick, then wait. It was a very comfortable way to harvest! We finished on October 12th, concluding mainly with the Cabernet Franc and a few last Merlots, having started the Cabernet Franc on October 7th.

Me: How about yields and potentials?

David: The yields are maybe 37 hl/ha. The potential alcohols are like 2009 and 2010, perhaps 14.5-14.6º, quite high, but with quite high acidity. When we tasted we didn’t feel the alcohol.

Me: Thanks David.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Thomas Duroux, Palmer

I can just about manage to squeeze in another quick post on the 2015 Bordeaux vintage and harvest before we hit the weekend. And it’s a good one, because Thomas Duroux (of Château Palmer) always gives a frank and insightful report on how the growing season and harvest went. He speaks with the authority that comes with running (successfully, it has to be said) one of the great (in my opinion) cru classé vineyards, one which outclasses other third growths with regularity, certain second growths with equal regularity, and (wording this bit carefully) in a couple of recent vintages it has certainly been my favourite wine in the Margaux appellation when tasting during the primeurs week. These days, however, he also brings us news of the vintage as seen from a biodynamic point of view; over several years the proportion of the vineyard managed using biodynamics has increased, so that by the 2013 vintage the majority of the vineyard was biodynamic, by 2014 it was 100% biodynamic, and so 2015 was its second year in full biodynamics.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Thomas: It was fabulous, a perfect season. From June 12th to the end of July we had no rain. The vines stopped growing early, and we had small berries, at the end of July we were a little concerned about this.

But then at the end of July and into August we had a little rain, not too much – we had 70 mm by the end of August which is average for the month – and this really helped after such a dry June and July.

Then we had a beautiful September to begin with. During mid-September there was a little concern, because we had some more rain. That made us worried that we would miss out on what was promising to be a super vintage, but I don’t think we did in the end.

Me: When did you start picking?

Thomas: When it came to picking, the harvest was at the same time as our neighbours, no earlier or later. We started on a few blocks of young Merlot on September 15th, but we only really started on the 22nd. We finished on October 7th.

I am happy with all the varieties this year. Thankfully we didn’t have any botrytis with the rain in September. We ended up with ripe fruit, ripe tannins in the skins and the pips were ripe too. With such ripeness there is no risk of over extraction in my opinion, so 2015 will see a bit more extraction than is usual for Palmer.

Me: How about your yields? Have they been impacted by biodynamics?

Thomas: We have a yield of about 35-36 hl/ha this year, which is normal for us. We never aim for more than 40 hl/ha anyway.

Me: This is your second year of full biodynamics. Has that made a difference?

Thomas: Is it vintage for biodynamics? I don’t know but it has been really intriguing. My intuition was that going over entirely to biodynamics would make it easier to understand the individualities in the vineyard, but it was just a feeling. But this year it really happened.

This is my twelfth vintage here, and it is the first time in twelve years that we pre-blended, because from the moment we had the wine in the vats it was incredibly clear which were destined for Palmer, and which was heading for Alter Ego.

Me: Thanks Thomas.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Bruno Rolland, Leoville-Las-Cases

During my little tour of Bordeaux to check out the 2013 vintage I had just one appointment in St Julien, that being at Château Léoville-Las-Cases. As usual I was greeted by Bruno Rolland, the maître de chai here. Bruno is not a well-known face outside Bordeaux, but he has Léoville-Las-Cases running in his bloodstream. His father, Michel Rolland (no, not that one, this is a different Michel Rolland) was previously the maître de chai before Bruno took on the role.

Usually when tasting with Bruno he takes me into a half-laboratory half-tasting room off the side of the Las-Cases cellars, but on this occasion we went up to the château, where I usually find myself tasting during the primeurs. Once we had worked our way through the 2013s, and admired the newly landscaped garden behind, I opened the batting on 2015. As with my meeting with Jean-René, this meeting was in French, so the words below are translated by me.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Bruno: It is certainly a great vintage, the tannins are voluminous, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignons. The Cabernet Sauvignons have done best here.

Me: How did the picking go?

Bruno: We began the picking on September 22nd, Merlots first and Cabernets later, so at the moment not all of the later-picked Cabernet Sauvignons have finished fermenting. The harvest went on for eighteen days. At the beginning it was magnificent, with beautiful long days, and cool nights.

On the whole all the châteaux began the harvest early, and we all began together. There was very good homogeneity in the fruit, it was very clean, perfectly clean in fact. Fruit in this condition should mean a beautiful vintage, perhaps not the very best, but beautiful.

Me: How does it compare to other vintages?

Bruno: I can’t compare it with another vintage at the moment. One reason for this is the Cabernet Sauvignons are still fermenting, some vats have finished but not all have finished yet. The vats that have finished have an extraordinary structure though. It should be a vintage of powerful tannins. The IPT for Léoville-Las-Cases is 73 at the moment, the potentials were good too.

Me: What about your other domaines?

Bruno: In Pomerol there is great potential also. It is difficult to position the vintage at the moment though. It will be better than 2014 though. It was also a great vintage for whites, indeed the conditions for whites were optimumm!

Me: Thanks Bruno.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Jean-Rene Matignon, Pichon-Baron

After a break last week – I was on the road quite a lot and although I managed to write a few words on the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting there wasn’t much time for anything else – this week it’s back to seeing how some of the good guys in Bordeaux are feeling about 2015.

After getting the low-down from Jean-Michel Comme of Château Pontet-Canet and Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton-Rothschild I didn’t have far to go for my next appointment. I called in Château Pichon-Baron, where the extraordinarily knowledgeable winemaker Jean-René Matignon had been left holding the fort.

After tasting the 2013s, we chewed the cud on 2015 for a while. The meeting was held in French (pidgin-French on my part) so treat the words below as an amateur translation of Jean-René’s words.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Jean-René: It has been a beautiful vintage, although it was full of challenges. It is too early to say with any precision the profile of the vintage though.

Me: What challenges are your referring to?

Jean-René: The vintage has a relative homogeneity, with good quality in all the wines, and in the cellar I don’t see any weaker cuves.

However, the vintage was not straightforward, there was rain sometimes, and the climatic impact on the vintage varied from one part to another. Some parts of the Médoc were more affected than others. This challenge, for us, was an important one, as across the vineyard the maturity was less regular than we thought it was going to be. So we had to be very attentive to maturity. We had a long wait, observing each terroir independently, so we could pick each at the best time.

Me: Is there any difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot?

Jean-René: The Cabernet Sauvignons are close to 2005 with regard to their tannins, in that they are a bit austere, there is good quality of tannins, they feel juicy. Our wait for good maturity was for the tannins, as we wanted them to be silky and ‘gourmand’. The tannins were like this in 2005. I think there will be silky tannins again in 2015.

The Merlots are very homogenous, really satisfactory. But the complexity is really there in the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The truth will be in the glass though. Right now I am concentrating on a slow extraction. The skins are firm, closed, and they need a slow and gentle extraction. This characteristic of the fruit reveals for me the quality of the vintage. It is a bit unusual. But the wines so far seem to have great definition and complexity.

Me: Thanks Jean-René.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Part 2

Continuing on from Oaked Sauvignon Blanc Part 1, I want now to reflect on what I learnt at this tasting. Having sourced all the wines from the Loire Valley, you might think I would already know them well, but that’s not the case. This tasting was definitely an eye-opener for me.

Although I have tasted older Sancerre before – some vintages as old as 20 years – it has sometimes seemed a little hit and miss. I find older Muscadet the same, by the way. My experiences with them has taught me that both wines can age well (I acknowledge this goes against the grain of accepted wisdom, but happily stand by my assertion – because the accepted wisdom is hogwash), but some older wines I have tasted clearly haven’t done so well. The wines that turned my opinion around and gave me the confidence to participate in this event are those of Bertrand Minchin, particularly his Cuvée Honorine. Tasting this in its youth, I have always wondered about the purpose of the oak (and I thought the same when tasting other oaked Sauvignons). Why? But tasting the wines at 8-10 years of age I suddenly realised just how well they age. The oak seems to change the potential of the wine in this regard. These aren’t wines to be drunk young, as we would most Sauvignons. These are wines for the cellar.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

So I went ahead, and the eight domaines (see my previous post for their identities) sent vintages that ranged from 5 to 13 years old (i.e., 2010 back to 2002). I should point out that Henri Bourgeois graciously offered a range of vintages back to 1989, but I decided we should stick with 2002. But how would these older wines show? Would the oak integrate? Would the wines be tired? Would the lesser vintages (e.g. 2008) be too green? Old, tired, green but oaky wines could be a disaster. I was nervous. On the day, however, I was delighted, as soon as it became clear that the wines had aged beautifully. Sure, some were stronger than others, but on the whole they were fresh and vibrant, as a group of wines a wonderful showing. Generalising, they seemed to have greater focus than I expected, with defined evolving fruit, and the oak seemed to give structure but not influence the flavour once integrated. Even the younger wines (all from 2012) showed more harmony and integration than I expected.

By contrast, several of the wines from Bordeaux seemed quite tired, certainly oxidised in the case of one or two, the rest too young to perhaps make any definitive statement on aging. I expected these wines to sing with absolute confidence (after all, Bordeaux is for aging, isn’t it?) but on the day it wasn’t so. Some seemed a little flat by comparison. The younger vintages were, it has to be said, quite classic and defined though, and delicious. It was the older wines that let the side down here.

And so the tasting taught me three things (or at the very least it prompted me to ask three questions of myself). First, the ability of Loire Valley Sauvignon to age is surely under-rated. Yes, you have to know the domaine and the cuvée to go to, but the wines – oak-fermented and oak-aged – are out there. Denying it seems, to me, to be living in the past, inside the pages of a three-decade-old wine guide trotting out the ‘drink youngest available’ mantra. Second, Bordeaux Sauvignon-Semillon blends are perhaps (speaking of dry, non-botrytised wines) over-rated in their ability to age. Sure, we all know Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion do well with age, but experience with some wines from my own cellar suggests that this success cannot necessarily be extrapolated to other wines. It’s probably a little like my Loire Valley conclusion – you have to know which wines to go to.

And the third thing I learnt? I was surprised how grateful I felt when people came up and said ‘hello’ on the day. It seemed to justify the whole experience and more particularly my involvement in it, and regardless of whether tasters liked the wines or not (because we all have our own tastes and preferences), it made the time and effort I put into sourcing the Loire wines, and the generosity the domaines had shown in sending them over, all worthwhile. I learnt that this is something I should remember next time I attend a tasting arranged and hosted by somebody else.

I guess what really matters, though, are the wines and how the tasters viewed them. I will publish some thoughts next week, for subscribers, and I look forward to seeing how other tasters found the wines when they publish their reports.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Part 1

Last Monday I hosted an Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting, along with Richard Bampfield and Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown. It was great fun. Jean-Christophe and Richard put forward a selection of white Bordeaux (so Sauvignon-Semillon blends on their side really) with vintages ranging from 1999 (although most wines were no older than 2006) through to 2012. My role was to sort out the Loire side of things.

I wanted to focus on the crème de la crème of the Loire Valley when it comes to oak and Sauvignon Blanc, so I chose domaines where the wine was fermented in oak with subsequent élevage in oak (not wines fermented in steel and then thrown into wood, or treated with chips or staves) and I also wanted domaines using a good proportion of new oak (not just a few old barrels they have had lying around for 20 years). Secondly, I wanted to ensure those domaines historically associated with the style, and who pioneered it (i.e. Henri Bourgeois especially) were involved. And thirdly, because oaked Sauvignon Blanc isn’t about drinking it young (this is where most people go wrong I think – oaked Sauvignon needs time in the cellar to show its best, just as we would expect with wines from Pessac-Léognan, or Burgundy, or anywhere else where white varieties and oak come together) I also wanted to ensure that for every young wine included we had a matching older vintage.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Perhaps most importantly, I just used my knowledge of who is just doing it, and who is doing it well. I therefore came up with a shortlist of eight domaines and wines, as follows (including the vintages I managed to procure):

La Tour Saint-Martin, Menetou-Salon Cuvée Honorine, 2012 & 2002
Alain Cailbourdin, Pouilly-Fumé Triptyque, 2012 & 2008
Masson-Blondelet, Pouilly-Fumé Cullus, 2012 & 2002
Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé Silex, 2012 & 2002
Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Cul de Beaujeu, 2012 & 2010
Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre Satellite, 2012 & 2008
Vincent Pinard, Sancerre Petit Chemarin, 2012 & 2008
Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre Cuvée Etienne Henri, 2012 & 2002

I will be writing up the tasting, including my notes on these wines as well as those from Bordeaux (which included Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, ‘Y’ d’Yquem, Domaine de Chevalier, Château Brown & others), for subscribers, in the very near future. First I just wanted to quickly reflect on the tasting, but also to give out some thanks to those who helped, especially Bertrand Minchin, Alain Cailbourdin, Pierre-François & Mélanie Masson and Arnaud Bourgeois, who all sent me bottles straight from their cellars. I would also like to thank Charlotte Dagueneau, Alphonse & Emmanuelle Mellot and Clémence Pinard, who all sent their bottles via Charles Sydney. And I would like to thank Charles himself for his help, as well as Jules Campbell of Justerini & Brooks, who brought Lucien Crochet on board. Thanks also to Richard and Jean-Christophe for inviting me to show the Loire off in this manner.

Thanks too also to all those who came to taste the wines, of course.

I think I learnt three things at this tasting, but reflecting on it here, following all these thanks, seems like an afterthought. I will save these reflections for a subsequent post, tomorrow.

Bordeaux 2015: Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton-Rothschild

After visiting Jean-Michel Comme at Château Pontet-Canet, it was just a two-minute drive (provided I drive slowly, that is) next-door to meet Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton-Rothschild. It is always a pleasure to meet up with Philippe; while the premier grand cru classé châteaux can naturally seem a little distant and aloof, Philippe is always warm and welcoming. Last time I visited (not including the primeurs) I enjoyed a tour of the new winemaking facilities with him. This year, however, we got straight down to tasting the 2013s.

With the 2013s still opening up in the glass, it was time to hear what Philippe had to say on the 2015 vintage.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Philippe: I think it could be a great vintage. There is good quality even in the little wines such as those for Mouton Cadet – that’s the mark of a really good vintage. At the moment though, we have only just finished the écoulage*, and the wines haven’t even undergone malolactic fermentation yet. So it is still early days.

Me: How was the growing season in 2015?

Philippe: It was very dry for a long time after the flowering, so overall it has been a warm and dry year. It was very dry in May, June and July, with very little rain indeed. There was some rain in August – it was important for the garden – but not much. The effect was to give us lots of little berries. They had lots of substance, but not so much juice. This helped the fruit’s resistance to the September rains – the berries seemed indestructible. We remained very calm.

Me: So how was the harvest? When did you start?

Philippe: We began at Mouton-Rothschild on September 14th, which is very early, with the Merlots which seemed to ripen very quickly. At Château d’Armailhac we began on the 16th, at Château Clerc-Milon we did so on the 17th. The Cabernet Sauvignons we began on the 28th – the Cabernet Sauvignons were really magnificent!

We finished picking on October 2nd at Mouton-Rothschild, on the 5th at Château d’Armailhac, on the 6th at Château Clerc-Milon. There was good maturity in the grapes, and a good volume from the harvest. The colours are fabulous, and the tannins feel compact, a bit like they did in 1995. Overall the quality is high, like 1982, 2005 or 2010.

Me: And what about yields in 2015?

Philippe: It will be only slightly higher than in 2014, perhaps just a few percent more.

Me: Thanks Philippe.

*écoulage – the running off, separating the wine from the solids (before the solids are then pressed).

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Jean-Michel Comme, Pontet-Canet

The day after meeting Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan I just happened to find myself in Pauillac (what luck!). My first port of call was to see Jean-Michel Comme, biodynamic guru at Château Pontet-Canet. After tasting the 2013 together talk naturally moved onto the 2015 vintage. Jean-Michel always gives a fascinating and very detailed account of the vintage as it applies to Pontet-Canet, which of course is biodynamic. And there is, I find, always something new to discover during my visit.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

J-M: Well, we are pressing the Merlot now. With everything harvested we can start to be confident in the quality. I do not want to say it is the vintage of the century as people don’t believe that anymore. But it will be a very good wine. An absolute statement of quality is difficult as some vats of Cabernet are still fermenting. But certainly this is the best since 2010. I don’t know if it is above the quality of 2010, I don’t want to say.

Me: What was the growing season like?

J-M: There was wet weather up to the flowering, May was wetter than average. The flowering was slow, as it was not sunny. In one week we had one flower here, then one flower there, but no quantity. Then the weather changed, in just a few days, and it was warmer and drier. Within just hours to days the flowering started and was completed.

Then the nice weather stayed for two months. We had some rain on June 11th, then it was dry until mid-August. There were a few millimetres of rain as the véraison kicked off, two spots if rain each just 5 millimetres, but overall there was not much rain. The drought was showing in the yellow grass, and so this little bit of rain was good as it helped the véraison, the vines were happy to have the rain, and they took advantage of it.

In later August we had a 100-millimetre downpour, that’s a lot of rain, but there was no damage to crop, no rot, quality remained high, because the soils soaked it up and the skins were very thick. Then in September we had sun again. There was some more rain when the moon changed in September, but skins remained strong and it all worked.

Me: How does 2015 compare to other recent vintages?

J-M: What is interesting about the weather conditions is that they were those of a great vintage. It was a bit like 2010. Now 2010 is the best wine in modern times for Pontet-Canet. In the vintages that followed 2010 we have more subtle, more complex wines, with higher quality tannins. The quality was not as good as it was in 2010 in 2011, 2012 or 2013 though. We made a good wine in 2014 but it was not a ‘great’ vintage. Maybe 2015 will be a great one. The combination of the work we do, plus the gift from nature, perhaps it will be great. The tasters will see in spring next year, in the primeurs, of course we will see it before.

Me: What was the harvest like at Pontet-Canet?

J-M: We started with the Merlots on September 18th, then after one week of picking we stopped and started again with the Cabernets on September 28th. We ended on October 3rd. With more than ten years of biodynamics now behind us, we find the fruit ripens earlier, especially the Cabernets. Usually we have no gap in picking between the Merlot and Cabernets, although this year we had to wait, but only two or three days.

The fruit was very healthy. There was no damage, no rot on the sorting tables, we harvested early simply because the fruit was ripe and there was nothing more to wait for. After we finished in early October then was another 50 millimetres of rain but it doesn’t seem as though those other estates still picking were affected. It seems things worked well until the end.

Me: What sort of yields do you have in 2015?

J-M: The yields are as yet uncertain, maybe a bit more than 2014 which was 30 hl/ha, maybe 10% more.

Me: What else is new at Pontet-Canet?

J-M: We have a three-year programme of construction ongoing, with several new buildings. A key part of the project is new stables – we could only house five horses until now. We have waited and the time was right to expand now, so soon we will be able to lodge up to 20 horses, although we will only have 15 or 16.

Out of respect for the original 18th century buildings, all the outside walls of the new buildings are made in true stone like 18th century, they are not built using modern materials and simply faced off to match. Nowhere is there a project this big in France. We have the same respect for the buildings that we have for the vineyard. The walls are 60 centimetres thick, and we have used only stone, sand, lime and water. Any sand or gravel used is taken from the grounds of the building. The walls will have the soil – and the soul – of the place.

Also, being the only cru classé estate that is both organic and biodynamic, we did not want to increase our electricity need. We decided to establish geothermy. We now have hoses that go 100 metres deep, bringing water out of the soil at a temperature of 15ºC. We will dig 60 or 70 wells to achieve this, simply because of the size of the estate.

Me: You mentioned horses – how much of the vineyard is worked using horses now?

J-M: We work 50% of the vineyard using eight horses. We are different to others who use the occasional horse for selected jobs – we do everything by horse, it is a global approach, we use them even for the difficult jobs such as spraying. We use all the old tools to achieve it.

Me: Thanks Jean-Michel.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Paz Espejo, Lanessan

In Bordeaux last week I made sure to visit some less frequently trumpeted domaines, and here is a quick Bordeaux 2015 report from one of them.

Château Lanessan is an Haut-Médoc estate worth knowing; there is some good gravelly terroir, and a vineyard rich in Cabernet Sauvignon. For the past few years the domaine has been run by Paz Espejo (pictured below). We took a walk around the estate together, and Paz kindly laid on a fairly broad vertical of wines for me to taste. More on that on another day. For the moment, this is what Paz had to say on the 2015 vintage.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Paz: It has been an amazing vintage. We are going to be surprised during the primeurs, because it is going to be better than we originally thought.

Me: When did you start picking?

Paz: We started on September 21st, and finshed on October 9th. The weather during the picking was nice. There had been some fairly intense rain on the 12th and 13th of September, which was worse, and before that there had been some on August 22nd. But really, this first bit of rain was much needed. In August it was good for the ripening of the tannins and the skins.

Me: And in September?

Paz: The rain in September was more annoying, but it didn’t matter in the end, because the ripeness was already there, and the rain didn’t damage the fruit at all.

Me: How are the vinifications going?

Paz: Things are going well. Everything tastes very neat, with good aromas, good intensity, and the structures are quite strong, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignons and Petit Verdots. The Merlots are perhaps less structured, but not much, and they are expressive. We have pushed the extraction a bit more in 2015 because the ripeness is so good.

We will leave the wines for now but will take a look at the blending in December; we do it every year at this time, between the 15th and the 20th. We may add the press wine after blending. It is going to be very exciting.

Me: Thanks Paz.

For a report which includes a tasting of some just-fermented samples of the 2015 vintage direct from cuve at Château Lanessan, see this earlier blog post.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.