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Wine Paris 2019: Chalk and Cheese

I returned to Scotland from Wine Paris late on Wednesday night, after three days of tasting. This new wine salon felt exceptionally busy; I had no shortage of interesting tastings, with some of the highlights being Famille Bourgeois, Couly-Dutheil, Château Gaudrelle and Famille Lieubeau, to name just a few examples. More importantly, though, every vigneron I spoke to was happy with the number of visitors and the level of interest shown in their wines. And while trade fairs offer good opportunities for journalists, really it is how useful the growers find them, in terms of making contacts, getting their wines in front of buyers, and doing deals, that surely counts.

It is a far cry from the reports that came out of the first ever Vinovision in 2017. Then one prominent grower from Montlouis reported opening four bottles of each cuvée per day at the Salon des Vins de Loire, implying strong interest, but only one bottle of each at Vinovision. Perhaps unsurprisingly they never returned in 2018, and several big-name Loire Valley growers who also attended in 2017 followed suit. This was despite considerable growth in visitor numbers, up from 3,300 in 2017 to 5,000 in 2018. Reports from growers earlier this week suggested that visitor numbers might be higher again in 2019. The fact that the press release trumpeting the 2019 figures landed in my inbox on Thursday, just 24 hours after the doors were closed, also suggested the fair had been a success. It is in stark contrast to the rather subdued level of communication coming from the Salon des Vins de Loire, which seems to be treading water.

Wine Paris

Of course, we are comparing chalk and cheese here. Vinovision no longer stands alone, having joined forces in 2019 with Vinisud to create Wine Paris, so it has more than doubled in size across two halls of Paris Expo (Hall 4, and the curiously named Hall 7.1, which sounds like it might be a rebooted Hall 7), and I suspect its interest to buyers has increased exponentially as a result. In truth visitor numbers were bound to rocket, and indeed they have; in 2019 Wine Paris saw an incredible 26,700 visitors cross the threshold, which is more than a 500% increase on 2018 numbers. And this is more than three times the number of visitors to the Salon des Vins de Loire, which whimpered along with “nearly” 7,500 visitors.

Even more importantly, if you are trying to sell your wine, Wine Paris welcomed a lot of international buyers. Of the attendees, 30% arrived from beyond France’s borders, principally from the USA, Belgium, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, these five countries accounting for about half of the international visitors. I know of one foreign buyer who, charged with finding entry-level white, rosé and red vin de pays style wines for his firm at a punchy (i.e. very low) price point, realised a week or two before Wine Paris that it would be the perfect opportunity to track down what he needed. Contacting the organisers to see what support they could offer him in getting there, with time so short, they immediately offered to pay for his air fare and hotel accommodation. This clearly reflects this salon’s strong financial position, not a description I can imagine applying to the Salon des Vins de Loire at the moment.

The Salon des Vins de Loire seems, at the moment, to have the support of many big names in the Loire Valley. I wonder, however, with the success of Wine Paris 2019, how long this will continue? The dates for Wine Paris 2020 are already set (February 10th to the 12th) and 70% of the 2019 exhibitors have already signed up. I hope the Salon des Vins de Loire can build on the successes of the 2018 vintage to regain some lost ground in the next year or two. But if they aren’t convening a crisis meeting to see how they can respond to the threat of Wine Paris, which is surely set to grow further next year, then I think further decline seems likely. We could, sadly end up with only chalk, and no cheese at all.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2019: Treading Water

Last weekend I published some reflections on the 2019 Salon des Vins de Loire, when I expressed surprise at not having received any official figures on visitor numbers for the 2019 edition. Despite four days having passed since the doors had closed, my inbox remained unbothered by Salon missives. I checked the user-unfriendly Salon website, hard work at the best of times, and there too the press-release-cupboard was bare. It was a shame, because personally I found the Salon a success, with lots of good tasting opportunities, and at times it felt busy. But just how busy was it?

Well, the answer, according to a press release I have just prised from the Salon website, is rather vague. There were more exhibitors this year, up 330, which is an increase of either 15% or 20% depending on which press release you read (it clearly can’t be both). A number of these exhibitors were local beer, perry, cider and gin producers, which is pushing the definition of vins somewhat. And I was amusd to hear yesterday that Yves Cuilleron – of Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu – apparently had a stand this year. Having checked the Salon website I can see no trace of him among the exhibitors, however, so I cannot verify whether or not this is true. If so, it would be a new concept of where the boundaries of the Loire Valley end. Not since Australia’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest have geographical boundaries been so thoroughly stretched.

It is visitor numbers, rather than exhibitor number, I am interested in though. The press release suggests visitor numbers matched the 20% (or is it 15%?) increase in exhibitors, but this appears to be <ahem!> not quite true, as the text then declares the number as “nearly 7,500”. That is the same figure declared last year, as I documented in The Results Are In, 2018 visitor numbers having also been about 7,500, down from about 8,500 in 2017. It seems, despite increased exhibitors, the Salon has been treading water this year. Which is (popping my rose-tinted spectacles on), I suppose, better than further decline. I hope this is the start of a turnaround, and that next year we get a serious return in serious exhibitors, with visitor numbers that really match this increase, keen to look at what will be some seriously good 2018 red and sweet wines which should be ready for tasting at that stage.

“Le Salon des Vins de Loire est LE rendez-vous légitime de l’offre Loire” the press release goes on to say. The capital letters are their doing, not mine. I hope that remains true in 2020.

Reflections on the 2019 Salon des Vins de Loire

Earlier this week I set foot in the 33rd edition of the Salon des Vins de Loire, in Angers. It was my eleventh time at this salon, and in writing this I realised I must have missed the celebrations that will have inevitably been in place to commemorate my tenth consecutive visit last year. I would have expected trumpets, cheering crowds and maybe a small-firearms volley in salute. Perhaps I went in via the wrong entrance? In truth though, ten (now eleven) salons is nothing. There is currently a thread on Facebook between merchants sorting out who has been the most often, and eleven lags behind their figures by some considerable margin; the British wine trade know how popular the wines of the Loire Valley are with British consumers, and quite rightly many famous (and some not so famous) merchants seem to have a presence here.

There also seemed to be a strong presence from the USA this year, although I noted this was more evident in the ‘off’ events, or rather the one ‘off’ event I actually had time to attend, which was the Salon St-Jean, an organic-biodynamic tasting previously named Renaissance, than I did in the Salon proper. This might just be coincidence though; the Salon proper is much more spread out, in a huge hall, and it can be difficult to be certain of anything just eyeballing the number of people around you. Even so, it felt like a busier Salon this year, especially on Monday, especially nearer the entrance to the tasting halls. Moving deeper into the halls, admittedly it felt quieter. I have been waiting for a press release confirming visitor numbers for this year, but four days after the doors closed I am still waiting. I hope that doesn’t signify anything of note…..

On the press side of things, representation from the UK was, as usual, pretty dismal. Here my attendance ranks somewhat higher, second behind long-time Loire expert Jim Budd who has attended every year since it began, save for last year, when he had a sick note. Indeed, I would not be surprised if it turned out the first-ever Salon was his idea, such is his influence and the high regard that he is held in the region. So on the score card I come in second place, but who is in third place? Nobody, it seems*. Considering the size of the region, the volume of wine produced, the fame of some of its appellations (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray, Chinon, Coteaux du Layon, Muscadet) and the value it offers this is utterly shameful. Bearing in mind that there are several global wine publications with huge teams of writers and tasters, it is amazing that one cannot be dispatched to the biggest annual event in the Loire Valley. It seems it is more interesting to have yet another yawn-inducing deep dive on the latest Bordeaux vintage (I’m all for reviewing Bordeaux obviously – but I’m also for achieving a sense of balance) than it is checking out the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, all of which emanate from this region. It’s an approach I just find head-scratchingly impossible to understand.

Jo Pithon

So how was the 33rd Salon des Vins de Loire? It was a busy four days. Day one I spent at the Salon St-Jean, with the wines of Nicolas Joly, Eric Nicolas, Mark Angeli, Vincent Caillé, Damien Laureau, Tessa Laroche and many others. These are all famous names, and some of their wines I adore, some I am completely ambivalent about, and subscribers will no doubt see (or already suspect) which is which. On day two I ditched the usual Salon schedule and headed out into the vines with Jo Pithon and Ivan Massonnat; Jo has sold his domaine to Ivan, who has augmented it with new vineyards, and he has christened it Domaine Belargus.

This was a great visit, checking out vineyards in Savennières, Quarts de Chaume and Anjou/Coteaux du Layon, before a tasting at the cellars. Jo will continue to advise and work with Ivan and his team for a while, and I feel very positive about the project as a whole, but at times it did feel as if it was a sad farewell for Jo, something which I thought came across when we visited Les Treilles (pictured above). I will profile this new domaine very soon, probably as soon as I have my Loire 2018 report and Muscadet reports for this year done (unless the Bordeaux primeurs get in the way, which is possible). Later on day two I headed back to Salon St-Jean for a final hour or two there. Days three and four I spent at the Salon des Vins de Loire, and with just two days (the fair was cut from three to two days a few years ago) to taste, this meant checking in with the crème de la crème rather than exploring. So I enjoyed tasting with Domaine Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, Philippe Alliet, Xavier Weisskopf, Vincent Carême, Paul-Henry Pellé, Alphonse Mellot, Domaine Vacheron and more. By 4 pm on day four I was really flagging, and gave up, heading for the railway station and home.

I will put many of my thoughts about the 2018s tasted in my aforementioned Loire 2018 report and Muscadet reports, but the key is 2018 is a very fine vintage, perhaps a truly great one, at the very least to be ranked alongside the likes of 2009, 2005 and 2003, maybe even 1990 and 1989. There are many reasons for the success, but climate is clearly one of them. That is something I think I will examine in a future post. Tomorrow I am off to Wine Paris, so expect another delay in posts next week, followed by my Loire 2018 report the week after.

*If you are a UK blogger or journalist and you were at the Salon des Vins de Loire, do get in touch and put me straight.

Bordeaux 2016 Redux

Having published the final instalment of my report on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage yesterday, I am already occupied with the arrangements for my trip back to the region in April to take a first look at the 2018 vintage. But before I really get down to that, I think I need to spend a few final minutes reflecting on the wines of this vintage.

It was pretty clear to anybody who tasted the wines at the primeurs back in April 2017 that the 2016 vintage was special. There were brilliant wines in St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien, and excellent wines in Margaux, albeit with a slightly broader spread of quality. On the right bank there were superb hotspots of quality in St Emilion and Pomerol, and there were great successes in Pessac-Léognan too. I think praise for the vintage was fairly uniform, and no one critic can claim to have ‘called it’ before any other. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet, for once.

Looking at the wines today, they have lived up to this early promise, in some cases more than lived up to it. On the left bank the wines are vigorous, fresh, energising and lively, from the top to the bottom of the Médoc. The first growths and super-seconds of the Médoc have all put in steller performances, and one wine ‘maxed out’ with a perfect score from me. I don’t dish out such scores easily, as I abhor the hyperbole that surrounds the marketing of wine, but in a vintage such as 2016, with many high-ranking châteaux having made their best wine for many years, and with all of these wines jostling for position at the head of the pack, it was perhaps almost inevitable that one of them stepped over the line. Compared to my original score ranges, most châteaux scored at the centre or top of their primeurs range, an indication that I liked the wines at least as much (and sometimes more) as I did at the primeurs. I wound back my score on just one wine which just didn’t seem to cut it. Aside perhaps from the appellation of Margaux, where 2015 was excellent, 2016 is clearly ahead on the left bank.

Bordeaux 2016

On the right bank (where, during my tasting trip in December 2018, I photographed this remarkable sunrise at Château Quintus), I have to say I was even more impressed than I was during the primeurs. At the time I felt that the left bank had the edge a little. That was not to say I thought it was a left-bank vintage, just that those wines were slightly more convincing. Now I would say there is no pulling apart right bank from left; I rated many right-bank wines in their primeurs range, but some of the very best wines show even better than they did during the primeurs, their palates brimming with savoury black fruits but also sinew and tension, and their scores have edged upwards accordingly. And two wines here were simply breathtaking, literally so in the case of one which I struggled to spit as I tried to absorb and comprehend the joy it radiated. I simply didn’t want to let go of it; it was one of those wines that left me shaking my head, dumbfounded at the quality within. That was my perfect score in St Emilion, and I also gave one such score in Pomerol, to a classically styled wine that seemed perfect from every viewpoint. The 2015 and 2016 vintages on the right bank will give great drinking for decades to come, but in strongly contrasting styles, 2015 rich and velvety, 2016 dense but sinewy and fresh. Unlike the left bank, we have here back-to-back great vintages.

There were also brilliant wines in Pessac-Leognan among the reds, stunning efforts with an increasing number of châteaux here haranguing the long-accepted appellation leaders with the sheer quality of their wines. Among the whites, the wines have delicious flavours, but not the acid cut or freshness of a truly great vintage. This is no re-run of 2003 though, so the wines are worthy of our interest, indeed if you prefer softer acidity they are delicious. But if you enjoyed the twang of acid we had in 2002, 2006 or 2013 (to name just three examples) then this is not a vintage for you.

In my reports (for subscribers), which start here with my introduction, I present ten regional views with 222 accompanying tasting notes. After my en primeur reports I usually publish some ‘favourite’ lists, my top wines, and top bargains, so today I thought I might publish my dozen most memorable bottles from my tastings in December 2018. These aren’t, obviously, simply the most high-scoring wines, but wines that nevertheless deserve a nod, for quality, or consistency, showing improvement, or simply because they offer great value for money.

Château Calon-Ségur: an estate on the up in new hands.

Château Pichon-Baron: an estate that combines stunning quality with great consistency now, over multiple vintages.

Château Beychevelle: the new cellars appear to be paying dividends already, although no doubt the vintage has helped.

Château Branaire-Ducru: just one of many over-performing châteaux in this commune which has clearly enjoyed a great vintage in 2016.

Château Saint-Pierre: see my comments on Château Branaire and Château Beychevelle, above.

Château Palmer: the haunting perfume which is the Palmer trademark in full flow here.

Grand Vin de Reignac: everybody loves a bargain.

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte: one of several châteaux punching in the same category as the first growths – well done.

Château Pavie-Macquin: it is hard to know were to start in St Emilion, but here is one savvy buyers should be checking out.

Château La Dominique: another estate on an upward trajectory at the moment.

Château La Conseillante: quite certainly the best La Conseillante I have tasted – better even than the 1945 (which I have tasted – so there!).

Château Montlandrie: see my comments re Reignac, above.

Right, while subscribers hopefully check out my reports, I am off to book my next flights to Bordeaux.

Winedoctor 2018 Disclosures

Well, a new year is upon us and it is time to look back upon the heaps of illicit benefits I have received as a result of completing yet another year as owner, author, editor, technical director, secretary, accounts manager and tea boy at Winedoctor Towers.

Before going any further, an important point I must first address. Those readers who were paying attention about twelve months ago will have noticed that I did not publish a disclosures statement for 2017. My excuse is that I was extraordinarily busy, my year having been complicated by the purchase of a house (completion date, December 31st 2016) just to the south of Chinon. Twelve months later I think I was still in a state of shock, and it was only midway through 2018 that I realised I had made this grave omission. Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Any rumours you might have heard suggesting I could not bring myself to write about all the bungs I received during 2017, including pay-offs from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, InterLoire, the Saudi government and Alice Feiring are categorically untrue.

Moulin Touchais, tasted at Vinovision, February 2018

At this point I don’t think it would be useful to revisit 2017, so I will focus on 2018. I will of course respond to any questions regarding 2017 you send my way, provided I am permitted time to check my responses with Prince Mohammed and Alice first.

So here goes then with my support report (I can’t believe I haven’t paired those two words together in a sentence before) for 2018:

Salon des Vins de Loire: As in previous years, no formal funding was offered or accepted, InterLoire having decided long ago that as the wines of Savennières and Chinon are now more popular and selling for higher prices than Burgundy and Bordeaux, and with this annual salon regularly swamped with visiting wine hacks, they no longer need to offer any support. <wakes up from dream> I do recall accepting a dinner invitation from Latitude Loire though, this being a collaborative group including Luneau-Papin, Clos des Quarterons, Nicolas Grosbois, Domaine Pellé and Le Rocher des Violettes. The group get together and hold a competition to see who can open the greatest number of magnums, and obviously I go purely for journalistic reasons. All other expenses on this trip I met myself (see below).

Vinovision: I headed to Paris for Vinovision (where I tasted the Moulin Touchais pictured above), accepting no financial support. Putting my trust in Chris Hardy, Loire courtier extraordinaire, to locate a bar for some evening R&R, I found myself buying beer at €20 per pint. I soon regretted not being able to submit an expenses invoice to Antonio Galloni or Jancis Robinson.

Bordeaux primeurs: I headed out to Bordeaux for eight days, or nearly three weeks if adhering to the definition of the ‘working week’ used by most Bordeaux journalists. My trip started with a hectic run through Stansted airport as I left myself 75 minutes to make a connection, only for my first flight to be delayed by 45 minutes. In the half hour remaining I needed to exit the airport, and go through security clearance once again. Wisely I bought a pass for the express lane, but the queue there was longer than in standard security, somewhat defeating the aim. Thankfully my second flight was with Ryanair, so naturally it was delayed, so I made it on time. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful (which makes a change). I accepted accomodation with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (three nights, including one dinner with disclosure statement), Château La Lagune (two nights, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (three nights, uncatered). The last of these tested my fitness as on the final night I was locked out and had to clamber over a wall to gain entry. Other expenses I met myself (see below).

Loire Valley & Bordeaux, May: Keen to catch up on my Bordeaux vintage reports I headed back to Bordeaux in May to retaste the 2015 vintage (some of the wines which came under my gaze are pictured below). I accepted accommodation in Château La Dauphine (two nights, self-catered) mainly to see if they would lock me out again. They didn’t. I was almost disappointed. At the end of an afternoon at Château Lafleur to learn about their approach to Cabernet Franc I acccepted an invitation to have a tasting and dinner with the Guinaudeau family (disclosure statement included) at Château Grand Village. Other expenses, including all those relating to the two following weeks which I spent in the Loire Valley, I covered myself (see below).

Loire Valley, October: A rather gentle harvest trip with just a handful of visits. I accepted no support (although to be frank nobody was offering any, and I do have a house there). I thus covered all expenses myself (see below).

Loire Valley and Bordeaux, December: I arranged a complicated trip starting in Vouvray and Chinon, with four days in Bordeaux retasting the 2016 vintage the meat in the sandwich, finishing up with a day in Muscadet. Frankly I am still amazed that it all went to plan, and not even the gilets jaunes and their blockade of petrol stations could sway me from my schedule; it’s great to know that when the tank is nearly empty, you can always top up with Sauvignon Blanc. I accepted accommodation in Château Clément-Pichon, (one night, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (one night, uncatered). I also had lunch with Vincent and Tania Carême. All other expenses I met myself (see below).

Gifts received: I received a magnum of a recent vintage from Château Montrose. I don’t believe I am alone in receiving such a fine gift, the difference is that I have actually told you I received it. In addition, Tania Carême gave me a bottling of 2015 Ancestrale at the end of the Salon des Vins de Loire, which turned out to be a lifesaver (see below). I don’t recall receiving any other gifts.

Samples received: A small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

This concludes the ‘support received’ section of my 2018 disclosures report. I try to keep support received to a minimum, but more important is to be transparent about exactly what support has been received, and the details presented above meet that requirement. In addition, where new articles have been published after support was received, this has been disclosed.

Bordeaux 2015, revisited May 2018

If you are still reading, while it is possible you have merely run out of more interesting free content to browse, perhaps you are also interested in the second part of my disclosures statement, looking at the Winedoctor expenses which were footed, through their monthly/annual payments, by Winedoctor subscribers.

Salon des Vins de Loire: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included travel in the UK, flights, return rail fare in France, a hotel room for four nights in Angers, one night in Paris CDG airport, and all subsistence save for dinner with Latitude Loire. Of note, France ground to a halt under snow in February 2018, so I was glad I had booked a hotel room at the airport, and that I had a bottle of Vouvray from Tania Carême, both of which made my overnight stay there more bearable. I did consider subletting my room to some of the stranded passengers sleeping on the floor in the terminal, but was fearful they would also want a share of the Vouvray. No way, Jose.

Vinovision: I met all my own costs, including flights to Paris, local connections, hotel accommodation and subsistence. Through the purchase of beer I subsidised two years of private school fees for the children of one Parisian bar owner.

Bordeaux primeurs: I met my travel costs myself; this includes travel in the UK, flights to Bordeaux via Stansted, and a hire car for eight days. While I accepted accommodation, I covered all my own subsistence expenses except for the one dinner described above. I must also make clear that any rips in my trousers suffered when clambering over walls I have repaired myself.

Loire Valley & Bordeaux, May: I spent a week in Bordeaux, followed by two weeks in the Loire. Feeling masochistic I drove from Scotland, which gave me an excuse to borrow my wife’s brand new car for three weeks, rather than take my 18-year-old banger. Aside from the two nights accommodation and one dinner described above I covered all costs, including driving to the Loire Valley via Hull, ferry tickets, driving from Chinon to Bordeaux, three nights in a Bordeaux hotel, the drive back to Chinon, and all subsequent expenses in the Loire Valley. This was a really tough trip, tasting wine with Bernard Baudry, Jérôme Billard and the like by day, relaxing in the jacuzzi by night. Nose to the grindstone stuff.

Loire Valley, October: After a summer break it was back to Chinon for a harvest visit. I flew there via Nantes. As suggested above, I met all my own costs, including travel in the UK, flights, hire car and subsistence.

Loire Valley and Bordeaux, December: For this trip I flew via Nantes again, meeting all costs associated with my Loire Valley visits myself, save for lunch at the Carême’s kitchen table. In Bordeaux I paid for four nights in four different hotels (I like to move around a bit). Other costs, including flights, car hire for a week, and subsistence aside from that mentioned above I paid for myself.

London tastings: These were fewer than in some previous years, but included a Clos L’Église vertical tasting at 69 Pall Mall, the Bordeaux Index 2008 tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting, the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the 2016 vintage, the annual Cru Bourgeois tasting and the IMW Bordeaux tasting of the 2014 vintage. I paid for my entry fee where applicable (this only applies to the IMW tasting), and for all tastings I covered my own costs, including flights, airport transfers and subsistence.

This concludes my disclosures statement for 2018. The year ahead will be a fascinating one, with excellent murmuings on 2018 from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley suggesting there are going to be some amazing wines coming our way. I just hope that neither region suffers the kind of frost in 2019 that we saw in 2016 (in the Loire) and 2017 (in both regions). Fingers crossed everybody.

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