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Rives-Blanques Revisited Again

After a recent tasting of wines from my cellar from Rives-Blanques I was delighted that proprietors Jan and Caryl Panman sent some bottles of more recent vintages of a number of their cuvées for me to taste. I have to admit that these bottles, largely from the 2010 and 2011 vintages, with a little 2009 here and there, tended to show much better than those from my own cellar, which tended to be from the 2006 and 2008 vintages.

Château Rives-Blanques

The best in that bunch was the Trilogie, the top-end cuvée, a blend of all three eligible Limoux varieties. Here though, the focus was on the single-variety cuvées, Odyssée (Chardonnay), Dédicace (Chenin Blanc) and Occitania (Mauzac). Perhaps I should look to drink these cuvées within a few years of the vintage, and just save the Trilogie (which certainly looked very youthful on my previous tasting) for the cellar?

There was pretty good quality across the board here. I was also taken by the quality of the entry-level 2010 Limoux and the IGP Chardonnay Chenin Blanc blend, both under screwcap, and also the sparkling rosé, which has a soft, fruit-rich, easy-going character. They would all be very popular when poured for non-wine-geeks over Christmas, and I expect they will all offer excellent value-for-money.

Tasting Notes

Château Rives-Blanques Crémant de Limoux Vintage Rose Brut 2009: Quite a strong and confident colour here, with a dark salmon-pink hue, with peachy-golden tinges at the rim. The nose is open and rich, with plump red fruits with a an obvious biscuity edge. It has the feel of a wine that is ready to please. And there is a fine and widespread bead, the surface of the wine a little sea of bubbles. In keeping with the character on the nose the palate is broad, open and fruit rich, with lots of appealing flavour and a fleshy texture underneath it all. A full mousse, and good acidity. Overall a real delight, accessible and easy to enjoy, with just an attractive note of bitterness in the end to offset that fleshy approachability. Good. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Chardonnay Chenin Blanc (IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude) 2011: Bottled under screwcap. An attractive nose, slightly raw and obvious at first but it soon develops into a more appealing, punchy-fruit character, full of grapefruit and other more subtle citrus fruits, as well as some crunchy, stony, just-ripe pear elements. The palate has all the chutzpah that the nose suggests, with good substance, plenty of confident fruit, a powerful citrus and stone fruit character, showing the bite of pear skin and peach stone at the edge. Nice acidity. Overall, considering the likely price point, a very appealing wine, full of character and life. 14.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux 2010: Bottled under screwcap. A very attractive and well defined nose, with bright and expressive fruit, melons and peaches, with minerally, stony, smoky nuances rather than too sweet a character. The palate is full, expressive, and like the nose defined and bright. The texture feels supple, nicely balanced with an underpinning of pithy substance and an appealing, mouth-watering acidity, leading into a firm and grippy finish. A very attractive wine indeed. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Occitania 2011: This is 100% Mauzac. A vibrant, pale straw gold here. Fresh orchard fruits on the nose, lightly polished with the grey sheen of oak. Very stylish, feeling rather harmonious. A full, supple, fleshy and yet also bright and defined character on the palate. There is a good texture to it, with a good weight of fruits, partly from the orchard, partly citrus, but certainly fresh and defined. Plenty of good depth and substance here; a rich and characterful rather than delicate wine. This feeling is reinforced by a pithy bite to it in the end which I like, a bright and crunchy grip, and a long finish. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Odyssée 2011: This is 100% Chardonnay. A pale straw gold. Nose of sweet fruit, intense melons and peaches, a riper warm climate style. Nevertheless, given time in the glass, it shifts from being a vehicle merely for the pure, sweet fruit to a more pithy, challenging and certainly more appealing character. The palate has some fleshy fruit, with a glossy finish to the wine’s tangible, bitter, very appealing grip, There are more orchard fruits here, with a citrus freshness, and a dry pithy character to it, with texture and weight. Good bite to it in the finish. Give it time in the decanter and it works now, but there is surely potential for the cellar here, for a year or two perhaps? 16/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Odyssée 2010: This is 100% Chardonnay. There is a rich blend of fruit on the nose, prominent orchard fruit aromas, and some tang-sherbetty citrus tones. Very confident, firmly expressed, but bright too. The palate has a confident flesh, with plenty of supple substance. There is plenty of zippy, tangy acidity to it as suggested on the nose, with some good grip as well. There is a little frame of oak here, giving some grip, but other wise it is very subtle. Lots of crunchy, sherbetty acidity on the finish. A very appealing wine, very long too. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2011: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. Pale straw hue. The nose is fruit-rich, expressive, with some tropical tinges to it, especially melon, but also with some citrus tinges, providing a bright and cool frame. There is also a little edge of chalky pith, and a lick of cashew nut, from the oak perhaps? The palate is full, cool, with plenty of style, supple and yet with good weight and character, but it still shows a bright and defined midpalate. There is some grip in he finish here. There is oak here, but it shows through structure more than flavour. Good. 15.5/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2010: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. A pale lemon gold hue. The nose is very reminiscent of youthful Aussie Semillon at first, with a very firm, defined, slightly honeyed and creamy-curdy lemon fruit character on the nose. It is certainly fresh and bright, but also very firm. On the palate it is full and robust, with lemon and stone, and plenty of grip and substance behind it. An impressively solid and confident mouthful. Vigorous and full of sour and fully expressed fruit. A good effort here. 16/20 (December 2012)

Château Rives-Blanques Limoux Dédicace 2009: This is 100% Chenin Blanc. A pale golden hue here. The aromatics call to mind some classic varietal elements, with notes of straw and light, crystalline, golden fruits, and there is also a nice edge of minerally crunch to it as well. It certainly seems fresh and defined which is welcome in this vintage. This first impression is backed up on the palate, which although showing a lightly creamed, lemon curd element through the middle also has good acidity, this providing some backbone along with some appealing grip as well. It feels really quite energetic and citrus-spritzy in the midpalate, before softening a little towards the end. Overall, a good wine. 16.5/20 (December 2012)

New UGC President: Olivier Bernard

Just a little over a month ago I posted regarding the unexpected departue of Sylvie Cazes from her position at Pichon-Lalande, in Sylvie Cazes: End of a Very Short Era. At the same time she resigns from her role as president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC). Today I was pleased to learn from Decanter that the new UGC president is to be Olivier Bernard, of Domaine de Chevalier.

Olivier was the only candidate for the post, so this isn’t exactly a ‘shock’ result. Nevertheless he had an interesting prospectus, which included a plan to enhance the co-operation between the châteaux and the négociants; I was unaware that Olivier’s brother was Patrick Bernard, of the négociant Millésima. This co-operation, which may lead to us seeing some changes in the way Bordeaux is marketed, will be encouraged by the creation of a new eight-person commission, which will included four members each from the body of châteaux and négociants.

Domaine de Chevalier

I like Olivier Bernard; he has always seemed friendly and approachable, and I wonder if that reflects his family’s relatively recent entry into the little world of Bordeaux château-ownership. The Bernard’s original business was distilling, and it was only in 1983 that Olivier acquired Domaine de Chevalier. It has been Olivier, aided by Claude Ricard for many years, who has catapulted the domaine towards the top of the Pessac pile. I would expect, even with Olivier’s new commitments, that these high standards will be maintained.

Although seemingly immutable, the UGC has not been around forever. There is a tendency to look at how Bordeaux is today and think that it has always been that way, but it is not so. The primeurs tasting circus, and the futures ‘campaign’, for example, are both relatively recent phenomena, having been born – I am reliably informed – in the early 1980s. The UGC is only slightly older, having been created in 1973. Next year, Olivier will have the privilege of presiding over some celebratory events as the organisation marks 40 years of existence.

In his new role he steps into shoes that have been worn by some prestigious names, as follows:

2008 – 2012 Sylvie Cazes
2000 – 2008 Patrick Maroteaux
1994 – 2000 Alain Raynaud
1991 – 1994 Anthony Perrin
1989 – 1991 Peter Sichel
1975 – 1989 Pierre Tari
1973 – 1975 Jean-Bernard Delmas

Somehow I don’t expect Olivier to call an end to the primeurs circus, (which president would?!) but it will be interesting to see what effect his other proposals have on life in and around Bordeaux. It would be especially interesting to see some novel ideas when it comes to Sauternes, although I expect we will have to look to the Sauternais themselves for that.

Yquem 2012: Time for a Second Wine?

An Associated Free Press report from Friday December 15th, carried by several news outlets, including this one (in French), has Pierre Lurton (pictured below), MD of the LVMH-owned Château d’Yquem, declaring that there will be no Château d’Yquem grand vin released in the 2012 vintage. Usually this would mean the production of large volumes of a second wine, but even the existence of such a wine at Yquem seems to be shrouded in mystery (is it Château Haut-Charmes, or isn’t it?). As a consequence 2012 Château d’Yquem will effectively ‘disappear’, either into a disinherited and unacknowledged second wine, or sold off for blending by négociants. There is no mention, so far, of Ygrec, which I imagine will be produced as per the usual practice. Although my exposure to the vintage has so far been very limited, what I have tasted suggests there is potential for some good wines among the dry whites.

Pierre Lurton, MD of Yquem

Château d’Yquem has a long track record of declassifying and disposing of less than adequate vintages, and it is worth bearing this in mind before the fingers start to wag and the “luxury brand, price management” accusation mantra takes hold. Yes, I am sure that maintaining the brand image and identity as a consistent and reliable (and reliably expensive) product is a key factor in this latest decision. LVMH surely wants a product worthy of the amount of cash that buyers must splash, rather than ‘interesting’ wines that ‘display the character of the vintage’. Nevertheless, it was the Lur-Saluces family who declassified the 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974 and 1992 vintages and not LVMH, who only acquired the château, in a somewhat hostile manner, in the late 1990s. Clearly in the rejected vintages the aristocratic proprietors felt that the quality was not up to what Yquem’s customers would expect.

The decision is, therefore, surely partly reflective of the absolute quality of the wine, and partly about maintaining the brand image and thus its value. Some have already questioned whether or not this is the ‘right’ decision. It is something of a Catch-22 situation for a high-flying estate such as Yquem when facing a harvest of rather lacklustre fruit. The alternative, of course, would be to enhance the rigor of their already very severe selection, make the best wine possible, and then sell it an appropriate price if the quality remains below what we would see in good vintages such as 2009, 2010 or 2011. This might please wine geeks, as they might have a chance to get their hands on Yquem at a lower price. It is a decision which would nevertheless also be subject to very valid criticism, for bottling something substandard under the Yquem label. Casting my net further afield for an example of this brings me to Tuscany, and 2002 Sassicaia. A cooler vintage which engendered a rather greener style of wine, I recall Sassicaia fans at a vertical tasting back in 2007 being remarkably vocal in their criticism of Tenuta san Guido for bottling the 2002, feeling that it should have been skipped just as Yquem is doing with 2012. Regular buyers of Sassicaia weren’t interested in such a wine, even if a lower price could be set to reflect and communicate the quality; they wanted the instantly recognisable gold-star-on-a-blue-background to be a marker for a high quality wine which could be bought, cellared and drunk with confidence. I suspect that it is these sorts of drinkers, rather than Yquem-interested wine geeks with a limited budget, that LVMH will be most interested in.

Château d'Yquem

Perhaps the real disappointment here will be the aforementioned ‘disappearance’ of the 2012 vintage. Sauternes geeks, who will all be aware of this decision, would in many cases happily cough up for the second wine of the vintage if they knew it contained declassified Yquem, just as Burgundy geeks probably hunted down the 2004 vintage wines from Domaine Leroy, knowing as they did that Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy had declassified all her grand cru wines into village-level cuvées. Concerns about the vintage, quality or similar would be put to one side if the promise of a great wine at a lower price was there (although having said that, Leroy’s 2004s were pretty expensive, so I’m not sure it’s a great example). But if we had a reliable second wine we could turn to in this vintage, it would surely be the ideal solution. Perhaps now would be the time for LVMH to introduce or acknowledge the second wine of Yquem? LVMH Label drinkers would be happy as they move blithely from swilling back the 2011 vintage to the 2013. More astute buyers of Yquem are content, as this latest event is just another episode in Yquem’s long history of maintaining high standards, and they can always buy the cheaper second wine if they wish to see what the vintage is like. The more cash-strapped among us can have a taste of Yquem, in a petit-millésime, surely the way all of us on a budget should be able to enjoy the great domaines of the world from time to time? And Pierre Lurton, Bernard Arnault (France’s richest man, majority shareholder of LVMH and thus owner of Yquem) and everybody else at LVMH are content as the pricing of the 2013 will be contrasted against the 2011, not the 2012 second wine; brand value will be maintained.

Am I missing something? Time for a second wine, Pierre?

Parker Sells Wine Advocate?

In an announcement posted on his subscribers’ bulletin board yesterday, December 9th, Robert Parker revealed some significant changes to the structure of the Wine Advocate. Hidden within the announcement was enough information to conclude that Parker has, despite repeated denials that he intended to sell, indeed relinquished control of the Wine Advocate to a group of foreign investors. Although Parker does not reveal where these “highly qualified business and technology people and enthusiastic wine lovers” are located, rumours about Asian investment in the Wine Advocate have been circulating in Hong Kong for some time now, and with the other moves described below I would wager these new technology-based backers are also in Singapore or Hong Kong. And as is revealed in other news articles and blog posts (linked further down the page) the changes are much more sweeping than Parker admits to his subscribers.

Parker continues in his post with some soft news, describing his intent to increase coverage of “all the world’s wine producing regions“, by which he clearly means looking to up-and-coming nations such as China rather than more regularly featuring the Loire (thank heavens – prices there are going up enough as they are). He also announces the birth of the print version of the Wine Advocate as a pdf document, which will no doubt be music to the ears of current print subscribers; the time difference between receipt of the Wine Advocate in the post, and the publication of the same material online for electronic subscribers, has long been a sore point for print subscribers who felt they have been missing out in the chase for Parker points.

eRobertParker logoMore significantly, however, the Wine Advocate is turning towards Asia; Parker has long enjoyed the hedonistic hospitality on offer there, and with ever increasing levels of wine interest this new focus on Asia perhaps isn’t surprising. But the changes are sweeping; first, a new office is to be opened in Singapore, and while for the moment Baltimore remains, in Parker’s words, “the Headquarters“, I can imagine this balance of power shifting before long. Second, Parker is stepping down from his role as editor, in another move to reduce his workload. Having already turned over the review of California to Galloni, he is now appointing Lisa Perrotti-Brown (a Singapore resident) as editor-in-chief. Parker, meanwhile, will “focus on what I love most“, which no doubt means continuing to review the wines of the Rhône and Bordeaux.

Several key points appear to be missing from the announcement though, some of which can be gleaned from a Reuters blog post by Felix Salmon and a WSJ article (subscribers only) by Lettie Teague. The new nations deserving of coverage do indeed include China, with the appointment of a new Asian correspondent looming, and wine tasting events planned in China and Thailand. Wine tasting events mean new and closer relationships with wine producers, a significant shift away from the Advocate’s previously stalwart independent stance. This move is confirmed by the second point, that the Wine Advocate will accept advertising, although not wine-related. So the Wine Advocate is to become a glossy lifestyle magazine, with advertisements for watches, designer goods and the odd yacht, perhaps? Thirdly, the new investors (I read owners there; otherwise, why the sweeping changes in TWA practices?) plan an abbreviated edition, aimed at corporate clients such as luxury hotels and airlines, particularly in Asia.

This is a huge sea-change for the Wine Advocate; a new Asian focus, tastings of Chinese wine, and luxury-lifestyle advertising. This is a very new direction, surely indicating that TWA has, either now or imminently, in part at least, some new owners. And these changes have – behind the Parker paywall – been only partially revealed to Parker subscribers, it seems.

Wines of the Year: Pathological Conspicuity?

You can tell when December has arrived; tell-tale signs exist, there for our interpretation. It is not the dismally dark mornings or depressingly darker evenings (depending on your hemisphere of residence, of course – but that’s the situation in Scotland) to which I refer. Nor is it the sub-zero overnight temperatures, each day the sun’s rays (once it has eventually risen) revealing to us all a world coated with a white, glistening, frosty glaze. Nor am I referring to anything more clichéd; not the appearance of the red-breasted bird on the feeding table, nor the jingle of sleigh bells overhead. No, there is a more sure sign that December has arrived. All over the world, wine anoraks of the world unite as one, staring zombie-like at their computer screens, hitting return, return, return, scrolling through their electronic store of wine notes as if in a note-reading trance. The luddites, meanwhile, can be seen thumbing through the dog-eared pages of their latest tasting notebook, their eyes deep and soulless, their mouths lightly foaming. It is, of course, time for them to construct their Wines of the Year list, a process that begins in December as surely as the month follows November.

One thing that has not escaped my notice over the years is that the construction of a Wines of the Year list is an almost exclusively male activity. Why is this? It can not be said that other online wine activity is entirely male. Women have a high quality presence in online wine writing (Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, for example) and there are plenty of female wine professionals writing blogs, or communicating through social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. At the consumer level, however, the picture is somewhat different. Take a look at the most popular online wine forums, where wine geeks congregate to post tasting notes and generally chew the wine-related cud, and it soon becomes apparent that these forums are populated almost entirely by the male of the species. Women are to be found here, but they are rarely sighted, an inexplicably small minority.

This gender imbalance is further exacerbated when it comes to the annual Wines of the Year list. This is, in my opinion, perhaps more easily understood than the dearth of female participation elsewhere online. An obsession with collecting and cataloguing is a very male pattern of behaviour. This is why ‘collectors’ – whether we are talking coins, stamps, wine, butterflies, rare books, old toys or a dozen other fields of interest – are nearly always male. When was the last time, as an extreme example, you saw a woman among the gaggle of anorak-clad obsessives huddled together with camera, notebook and pen at the end of platform 9 in the railway station at Crewe? Train-spotting is an extreme example of collecting with no real purpose. Go beyond this example and the obsession can become pathological. Obsessive behaviour is, of course, a feature of autism. And kids and adults on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder are nearly always male. These facts are surely not unrelated.

Writing a Wines of the Year list is also, I feel, an offshoot of conspicuous consumption. You buy and drink expensive, aged and fine wines. These wines become Veblen goods, a mark of your wealth and success, as written about earlier this year by Jamie Goode in his blog post Cost, Quality and Conspicuous Consumption. Buy a 1990 Petrus off a restaurant list for an exorbitant sum of money only to thoughtlessly knock it back with your burger and chips and you display your wealth to only a few fellow customers. Write about it online and you share your success more conspicuously, with many more readers. Include it in a list of your favourite wines of the year, along with all your other grand old bottles, featuring great wine after great wine from the most desirable vintages and châteaux, and your success is multiplied exponentially.

This is why I never refer to the wines in my cellar as a ‘collection’. Meh. They are not a collection to be catalogued and obsessed over. Each one is a discrete unit of joy, there to be opened, consumed, shared and talked about, at home with real people (shock!) and online as well.

And this is also why I gave up writing a Wines of the Year list about four years ago. Wine should not be a Veblen Good. Wine is about life, pleasure, experiences, wonder and sometimes comedy. Regular long-term readers will know to what I refer: coming next week, my fourth annual Wines in Context report, involving mid-air emergencies, mystical philosphies and probably the odd malapropism. Will I be writing about 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1921 Yquem? No. Will I come out of it looking like the epitome of the suave and sophisticated writer? No. Will it be worth reading? Hopefully. Tune in next Tuesday.