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Decanter Judging: Sauvignon City

Today was a good day judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards. I think the strongest feature of these awards is the regional focus, and I always judge on the Loire panel. And always intend to, for as long as they keep inviting me back, anyway.

Today’s panel was a strong one; pictured below are panel chairman Jim Budd (on the right) who I suspect needs no introduction. He appears to be listening intently here to fellow panel member Véronique Rivest (on the left), who came fresh from success in a global sommelier competition in Tokyo, where she finished in second place. She is French-Canadian, and has a newspaper column and radio slot as well as working as a sommelier.

Decanter World Wine Awards

Also on the panel was Richard Kelley MW (pictured below, deeply engrossed in a glass of Cheverny, his new favourite appellation). I have a lot of respect for Richard, who knows his stuff and knows the Loire very well, but this is the first chance I have had to taste alongside him. As I expected, I learnt from him during the course of the day, as I listened to his opinions on the wines. Judging with Decanter can be very beneficial that way, I have found.

Decanter World Wine Awards

The tasting day went smoothly; organisation here, led by Sarah Kemp and her team, is always good. Today started with Muscadet, where there were some good wines, with the 2009 and 2012 vintages showing strongest, and we handed out some medals. The same was true with a later flight of Pouilly-Fumé, with the 2012 strutting its stuff here, giving us another medal-awarding opportunity. Along the way we saw sparkling wines, Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny, Saumur, Chinon, Touraine whites and reds and of course plenty more Sauvignon Blanc, from all appellations. There were medal opportunities in every flight.

I will be judging again tomorrow but that will be it for this year, as I have commitments later in the week I can’t break. Let’s hope there are some sweet wines tomorrow, as these are always the highlight, and so I don’t want to miss them with not judging on Thursday or Friday. There may still be some 2010s and certainly some 2011s in the system, both good vintages. Who knows, we might see some more gold medal candidates to add to the golds awarded today.

Decanter Judging, Bordeaux 2012

If it’s April, and the primeurs have passed, then it must be time for Decanter World Wine Awards judgng. Indeed it is, so I’m heading down to London today for a few days judging on the Loire panel, with Jim Budd (pictured below) and no doubt one or two other Loire-knowledgeable tasters.

Jim Budd, DWWA Loire Chairman

I really enjoy judging at Decanter. The wines are streamed into categories and prices, so alongside the reams of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc I know I can anticipate flights of Anjou (Blanc and Rouge), Savennières, Coteaux du Layon, Vouvray, Sancerre, Chinon and more. We even get the occasional Romorantin. It’s always fascinating to compare and contrast the wines in flights, totally blind as to the identity of the wine other than appellation and price point. And there are usually some real gems in the line up, somewhere; the tasting has certainly switched me onto one or two domaines I was previously unfamiliar with, once the results have been revealed in the Awards edition later in the year (there is absolutely no revealing of labels during the tasting week).

Despite being holed up in London I will continue writing and updating my Bordeaux 2012 updates. This was going to be the case anyway, but with the campaign likely to crack on this week – there’s no reason for any domaine to wait now that Parker’s scores are out – it seems even more important. Because of this, as I wrote in my last post, I will be jumping forward to the major communes of the right bank this week, going to Pomerol and St Emilion first, then Castillon and the other appellations including the satellites and Fronsac. Hopefully the only notable effect of posting while on the road will be in timing of some updates.

Bordeaux with Bill

I’m cracking on with writing up Bordeaux 2012 notes this weekend. As the campaign already seems to be gathering pace, a pace which is sure to pick up over the coming week, I have decided to jump forward to some of the major communes of the right bank, skipping the wines of the Haut-Médoc, Moulis, Listrac and the Médoc appellations. I will come back to these the following week.

So today I’m focusing on Pomerol, for publication Tuesday, and then St Emilion, hopefully Wednesday, although with it being the largest report of all – I’ve lost count of the number of wines I tasted – I do feel slightly daunted at the prospect of beginning it.

In the meantime, here are five notes on older wines served with some excellent Toulouse-style sausages (I add ‘style’ because they were in fact made by a local butcher in Bordeaux), grilled chicken and rare steak served by Bill Blatch at the very start of the primeurs week. After a tasting of 30 or 40 barrel samples, all 2012 Sauternes and Barsac, red meat and red wine were both very welcome.

Gatepost at Angélus

Château Léoville-Poyferré (St Julien) 1989: Very polished and elegantly maturing aromatics here, the sensitive aging fruit laced with notes of black tea and bergamot. Very classic in terms of style, reserved and yet expressive with what it has, and very correct in character. A rather cool, slightly diffuse composition on the palate, but nothing that is unacceptable, in fact it feels quite stylish and lifted, balanced, and showing a very fine trace of liquorice alongside the tea and maturing fruit here. Surprising backbone of grip underneath it, but still balanced and harmonious. Very impressive. And from before the Cuvelier revitalisation in the 1990s too, I note. 18/20 (April 2013)

Château Angélus (St Emilion) 1989: A touch of roasted fruit to the aromatics here, moving towards a less appealing baked character, Rather bold and solid feel to the fruit because of this, not a wine imbued with finesse at this point at least. I do like the little notes of mature black tea it has though. The palate brings the same character to it, showing a solid and very grippy character, with sweetness to the fruit, and some soft, deeply buried acidity. The finish is rich, but soon shows a dry character. An upside and a downside here. 16/20 (April 2013)

Château Angélus (St Emilion) 1990: A really appealing colour here, deeply pigmented still, very dark. And the aromatics have a very different character to the 1989, as here we have moved away from the iron fist in an iron glove (not a typo) to something more scented and interesting. There are notes of black bean here, tea leaves, black bean and soy sauce, all very savoury and complex. The palate shows the sweetness of the vintage though, with some rather confected fruit draped over a dry and tannic structure. The substance is slightly coarse, the finish rather grippy and blunt, but there is certainly some appeal here. 17/20 (April 2013)

Château La Tour Figeac (St Emilion) 2009: A huge contrast to the wines just poured, all much older. This wine shows some an appropriately rich fruit for such a young and warm vintage. The fruit character veers into the blue fruit spectrum, and it also shows a lacing of toffee and chocolate, most probably remnants of the oak. The palate has all the intensity we should expect, with flavours that match the aromatics, wrapped up in a ball of blueberry fruit. Very primary, quite supple. Not pleasant to drink at present (but then why should it be?) but it does hold promise for the future. 16/20 (April 2013)

Beaujolais and Beyond

I’m delighted that Clare Harris of Beaujolais and Beyond recently got in touch, eager to send some samples my way. Clare and her father Roger Harris are the ultimate in Beaujolais specialists, and have a handsome list of wines from this appellation, and from the Beaujolais crus too of course, as well as other wines from Mâcon, including Viré-Clessé, Pouilly-Loche and the like, all good sources of potential value in the little world of Burgundy.

Clare and co. first sent samples over more than ten years ago, notes for which are now buried deep within Winedoctor, and surely no longer relevant. Nevertheless, this demonstrates nicely the faith Clare and Roger have in the region. They sent over three wines and, while I can say something about all three of them, the clear winner in terms of drinking pleasure was the Viré-Clessé from Domaine des Chazelles, which started off all oatmealy, slightly reductive and serious, before revealing a wealth of sweet, peachy fruit. Very nice!

Three wines from Beaujolais and Beyond

Domaine des Brureaux Chénas Cuvée Prestige 2011: The domaine of Nathalie Fauvin – so the label says. A rather dark, matt hue in the glass. The nose feels rather slow to open up, and remains rather reticent. It doesn’t express a lot of fruit, although there is an attractive fruit skin character to what I perceive. Rather firmly poised on the palate, quite classic lines, a good frame to the fruit, which has a lightly bitter, fruit-skin character like the nose, with a rather medicinal, cherry-like flavour coming in through the middle. A reserved texture to it, rather stony, which I like, with plenty of acid lifting it along. Rather short and spiky finish. 14/20 (April 2013)

Vignoble Charmet Goyette d’Or Beaujolais Blanc 2010: A very pale wine with a lemon-gold tinge where it catches the light. The nose suggesting fruit with a bite, pear skins, peach skins and white pepper, all in a very restrained and lightly bitter-feeling fashion. The palate has a similarly restrained texture, stony and cool, with an appealing, tense substance and bright acid backbone. A touch of unusually tropical fruit here, including banana, but it is subtle. Yeast-related, perhaps? On the whole, though, a fairly quiet and introverted style with a bitter grip to the finish. 14/20 (April 2013)

Domaine des Chazelles Viré-Classé Vieilles Vignes 2010: Organic, certified by Ecocert. A straw-gold hue here. The nose speaks very clearly of cashew nuts and oatmealy oak at first, with faint peach and apricot tones, tightly bound together by a matchsticky streak of reduction which does not show so clearly here as it does on the palate, but it is certainly present. With time, though, the fruit dominates, the peachiness coming through clearly and yet elegantly. The palate has a good supple substance to it, feeling rather solid through the middle, with some grip and a little suggestion of a tannic backbone. Taut acidity and a lightly mineral streak help keep it feeling alive. A good wine, the finish tingling with energy at the finish, with nuances of citrus fruit freshness. 15.5/20 (April 2013)

For more on Clare and Roger Harries, and to see their full range of wines, visit the Beaujolais and Beyond website.

Domaine de la Mordoree, 2011 Vintage

Although I used to drink a lot of wine from the Southern Rhône, it is a region I have turned away from in recent years, for various reasons. It’s good to catch up, and some primeur samples recently received and tasted have allowed me to do that.

To the best of my knowledge the 2011 vintage in the Rhône Valley followed a pattern very broadly similar to that in Bordeaux or the Loire, namely a warm spring, cool and disappointing summer, but then a long, warm benevolent autumn which allowed good ripening of the fruit before picking.

Two wines from Domaine de la Mordorée

These two wines from Domaine de la Mordorée (pictured above) struck me as particularly good quality; they don’t have the turbo-charged sur-maturité that ruins many of the wines (to my palate), but instead have concentration allied with freshness.

Domaine de la Mordorée Reine de Bois Lirac 2011: Very deep, concentrated, slightly matt but certainly very convincing hue. An equal blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with little or no wood influence. The fruit is 100% destemmed, macerated for 34 days, with a maximum temperature of 34°C, followed by élevage in 30% oak and 70% enameled steel tank. It shows attractive and concentrated fruit on the nose, most importantly with freshness and definition; it is ripe, overt and confident, but not over-ripe. The fruit profile maintains a smoky definition. The palate follows on in the same vein, being full of concentrated fruit, but still fresh and defined, with a full and grippy substance. Dark in character, with concentrated berry fruits, tinged with liquorice, roasted plum skin too, there are a ripe seam of tannins showing through at the finish. A delicious stye, good value, with a good structure. 15.5-16.5/20 (April 2013)

Domaine de la Mordorée Reine de Bois Châteauneuf du Pape 2011: This blend is Grenache 80%, Mourvèdre 10%, Syrah 5%, Counoise 2.5% and Vaccarese 2.5%. Like the Lirac this is 100% destemmed and macerated with a controlled temperature. It is fermentated in cement, then into 30% oak and 70% enameled steel tank for the élevage. A very concentrated, vibrant, crimson rim to this wine. Dark smoky concentrated fruit, with berries and plum skins, but also licked by honeyed oak. The palate is polished, concentrated too, bringing a sense of cream to it. It is grippy, with savoury and slightly bitter substance, with fresh fruit character too. Overall this is a really attractive wine, fresh and also more-ish, with a long finish. Really enticing. 16-17/20 (April 2013)

Bordeaux 2012 Plans and Paywall News

I’m getting back into the swing of things again, now that I have returned from a week tasting the 2012 primeurs in Bordeaux. I have a lot to write about, and I started today with my introduction to Bordeaux 2012 (subscribers only), giving a detailed backdrop on the growing season, the peculiarities of the weather, and what happened when harvest time arrived. Tomorrow I will get on with the wines, starting with Pessac-Léognan. Thereafter I will roll out at least three reports each week, interspersed with some new profiles and updates on the Loire in order to give the more Ligérian-minded readers something to mull over during this Bordeaux-heavy period of the year.

I thought, as I have more detail to impart and more tasting notes to present than in previous years, that I would just give a quick run-down of how the reports will proceed. After Pessac-Léognan I will continue with the communes of the left bank, including St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux, as usual. This year, however, I have tasted quite extensively beyond these appellations, and so instead of finishing with a “Mopping Up” report, I will continue on with separate reports for Moulis & Listrac, Haut-Médoc and Médoc this year.

The sandy plain and limestone-clay côtes of St Emilion, April 2013

Then it will be on to the right bank, with a monster report on St Emilion (pictured above, the sandy plain in the foreground, and the clay-limestone côtes of the plateau – that’s Pavie bottom right); always the biggest report by far, reflecting the huge size of this appellation, this year’s promises to be bigger than ever. I haven’t really counted, but it looks like there are at least 60 tasting notes; contrast that with the likes of St Julien or St Estèphe, both of which would be doing well to muster up one-quarter that number. Then it will be on to Pomerol to report on some of the stars of the vintage; when Château Gazin released yesterday I was concerned the campaign might sweep forward before I could get my notes out, but I would be surprised if it does. The Bordelais remember too well getting their fingers burnt with early releases in the 2008 vintage, only to later realise Parker liked the vintage and post-sale trading saw profit go to the dealers and merchants instead of the châteaux. There have been enough murmurings from Monkton for the Bordelais to know there is hope of a high score (especially in Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol) and I believe, unless a first growth or other big name leads the way, that they will hold out.

After these two more famous appellation, three more updates, the first of which is named Castillon & Co. for the wines of Castillon, Fronsac and the St Emilion and Pomerol satellites. Actually, I don’t think I have any tasting notes on wines from the St Emilion satellites but who knows, I might uncover one buried somewhere in my spreadsheet of notes. Then I will move on to generic Bordeaux; this might not sound like a particularly interesting instalment, but I would disagree. It includes wines from Suduiraut, Guiraud, Cos d’Estournel, the Guinaudeau family of Lafleur, Jean-Luc Thunevin of Valandraud, Clos des Lunes (owned by the Bernard family of Domaine de Chevalier) and plenty of other interesting wines. Finally comes Sauternes; something of a damp squib to finish on this year, such was the vintage, but hardly surprising. Surely there must be some sort of rule against having a fourth great vintage in a row? As last year, I will tag on a final post on my Primeur Picks, highlighting some of the more attractive wines of the vintage.

In other news, I am in the processing of improving and expanding the payment options for subscribers. First, I set up a Paypal option on Sunday, and have been meaning to draw your attention to it since then. Well, finally I have gotten around to it. Secondly, I have applied to have American Express added to the list of eligible cards, and I hope this can be finalised in the next week or two. Many thanks to all those of you who have subscribed (more than I expected!), I really appreciate your support.

Bordeaux 2012: Final Day

My penultimate day in Bordeaux was spent catching up in St Emilion. Even though the Union des Grands Crus tastings have finished, there are still plenty of opportunities to visit and taste, and quite often a broad range of wines at each visit.
I kicked off at 9am at Château Pavie, which remains a building site at present; below is an image of some “terroir” being returned to the vineyard from within the tracks of a digger at Pavie, taken at 8:55am on Friday morning. As for the wines, they showed well this year I thought, with none of the baked, sur-maturité that bores me so much. But then, it’s not really a vintage for sur-maturité, so I’m not about to predict a broad and sweeping change in style here. The rest of the range followed suit, even Monbousquet showing rather well, with only one wine teetering on the brink of being overtly over-worked. By chance I also bumped into Jeff Leve who has a well-known Bordeaux-focused site, Wine Cellar Insider. Jeff is a huge Bordeaux fan and it was a pleasure to meet him.

"Terroir" being salvaged at Pavie, April 2013
Thereafter I zipped up to Château Ausone for a tasting of the range there. Although the grand vin and even the second wine showed well, the difficulties obtaining ripeness in Cabernet Franc came through in some of the lesser wines, which showed rather leafy characteristics. It’s clear that you can’t simply regard 2012 as a ‘Right Bank Year’ for this reason as much as anything else.
After finishing there I flew over to Château La Fleur de Boüard where Hubert de Boüard de Laforest was hosting a tasting of wines on which he consults, as well as his own properties, including Château Angélus. Despite being in Lalande-de-Pomerol it was only ten minutes from one venue to the next. The tasting would usually be at Angélus but as this has been nothing more than a building site for the past few years the tasting called for a change of venue. A good Angélus this year, and a few other decent wines here too.
Then it was back to St Emilion again to taste through the wines of Comte Stephan von Neipperg at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, including the Pessac-Léognan Clos Marselette, which I have already tasted several times during the week, right up to La Mondotte. Interestingly, here the Cabernet Franc component showed better than it did at the lower levels at Ausone, so greenness is not a fait accompli.
I popped into Château Figeac to taste their 2012, which was classic Figeac, and showing just as we would expect given the characteristics of the vintage. More fuel for Parker’s disdain of the château here then; it will be fascinating to see what happens here now that, having failed to gain promotion in the 2012 St Emilion classification, Michel Rolland has been signed up to consult. Reflecting on this after tasting the wine, it seems to me that his being signed up is a clear indication of what drives promotion in St Emilion. You need good terroir, yes, and there are all sorts of other hurdles to jump, but reputation – in other words price, surely – accounts for 35% of the score for the premier grand cru classé ranking. Prices depend on points, of course, so those estates supported by Parker are much more likely to be elevated. Parker seems to despise the wines of Figeac – comments on his forum recently have been almost vehement – and so it is clear that if you want to remedy the situation, even at the expense of the style of wine you are known for, you hire a consultant who makes wines that appeal to Parker’s palate. How far will they go with Rolland, I wonder? A little picking advice, as per Léoville-Poyferré? A little blending advice? Or something more drastic? The 2013 vintage will be the one to watch.
Then it was on to taste the wines of Jean-Luc Thunevin, including Château Valandraud; the samples were very good, but it was pointed out that they were not finished blends, and so they have t be taken with a larger pinch of salt than my other barrel sample notes. The wines of Jonathan Maltus were next, down at Château Teyssier. Lots of good quality here, and proof that you could ripen Cabernet Franc this year. It was also great to meet the team from the US retailer JJ Buckley, who have a strong interest in Bordeaux, and so have flown in pretty big team. I’m flying solo in Bordeaux (as you probably know by now); they had about 15 staff tasting and judging. It was a pleasure to meet them all, especially (but not exclusively) Edward, Roland and Chuck. I’m afraid three names is the most I can remember in any one day.
After Maltus, the wines of François Mitjavile. I tasted with François first, then his son Louis, looking at Château Tertre-Roteboeuf first, but also the wines of Roc de Cambes and L’Aurage. I tasted 2012 and 2011 across the range, then selected wines from 2010 and 2009. These are very distinctive wines, very savoury, spicy and complex, a complete contrast to the richness and polish of Le Dôme. And it was a good way to end the day. I finished up with a long drive back to my accommodation, with heavier traffic than expected for Friday evening.
That’s it for my blog updates on Bordeaux 2012. Saturday morning I am visiting an interesting Médoc cru bourgeois estate, and then typing up some of my reports in the afternoon, before heading back to the UK for some fizz and a good sleep, I hope.

Bordeaux 2012: Merlot Calling

What a day Thursday was; nine hours of tasting, each individual encounter separated by a high-speed drive usually last about 45 seconds, such is the very close, compact nature of the Pomerol appellation. But it was a good day, with one or two truly exceptional wines – not necessarily the most obvious names, either – and many deliciously ripe, textured, richly structured and balanced wines from the lower levels. If prices come down as much as many people hope (I have my doubts, but I can’t see buyers taking up this vintage without significant incentive) then it may well be among the lower rungs of the Pomerol ladder, with wines from smaller and less well known estates, that the best buys are to be found.

My visits today read like a Who’s Who of Pomerol. I began at the Moueix offices on the quay-side in Libourne, tasting through the range. I was struck by recent news reports of the so-called “early release” of Moueix wines, with prices 15% lower than in 2011, onto the Belgian market. Those reporting the news – I honestly can’t remember where I read it now – were clearly implying that this was a reflection of a weak vintage, one to be released and sold as quickly as possible, before Parker’s scores come out. But as Edouard Moueix pointed out today, they always release early in Belgium, so the act – with, frankly, an inadequate price cut to generate interest in most markets in my opinion – meant absolutely nothing. The Moueix portfolio includes some nice wines, although the focus is often on pretty fruit rather than the tannic structure that would imply great longevity.
Thereafter came a long string of châteaux visits. I have fallen into the habit of using my sat-nav a lot in Bordeaux these days; having programmed in all the notable châteaux, I use it to guarantee getting from one appointment to the next in the tightest amount of time possible. In Pomerol, however, the spoken instructions were frequently along the lines of “drive 300 metres in a straight line to your next destination“, at which point I realised it probably wasn’t adding anything to my timekeeping, and I stopped using it. First up was Vieux Château Certan, then Petrus, Château Lafleur (when the whole family – except for Jacques, who was overseeing bottling at Grand Village – came out to greet me…..how honoured did I feel?!), Château L’Église-Clinet (run by Denis Durantou – pictured below) and then to Château La Conseillante for the Union des Grands Crus tasting.

Denis Durantou of L'Église-Clinet, April 2013
The morning had already thrown up one really stunning wine and several that were just a notch below I think, and the UGC Pomerol tasting revealed more success within this appellation. What was really notable, however, was that lesser estates, such as Château Beauregard and Château La Cabanne were also pouring good wines, dark in hue, rich in fruit, with some good structure within. For La Cabanne this feels like a particular step up in terms of quality. Considering their location on the plateau, not at all far from Clinet and L’Église-Clinet, the wines here should be better though.
Then this afternoon I continued the Pomerol onslaught, with visits to Château Le Gay, Le Pin (my usual Thursday night tipple), Château L’Évangile, Château Cheval Blanc (I agree with Neal Martin in according this château honorary Pomerol status in view of its location and soil), Château Le Bon Pasteur and finally Clos du Clocher, where I had a quick-fire tour and tasting of the wines with the delightful technical director Cécile Dupuis. Perhaps the most significant news from the afternoon’s tastings comes from Cheval Blanc, where the tasting has in recent years consisted of four wines, Château Quinault L’Enclos, Château La Tour du Pin, Petit Cheval and Château Cheval Blanc itself. This year, however, Château La Tour du Pin was missing from the line up. Disappointingly, it appears that the château has effectively been liquidated. In the recently renewed St Emilion classification, the Cheval Blanc team submitted Quinault L’Enclos for the ranking, confident that the gravelly soils would help it gain a listing (it did). But with La Tour du Pin they were not so sure; the decision was taken to divide the estate, and absorb 1.4 hectares with the best, gravelly soils into – with the assent of the classifying committee – Château Cheval Blanc. The rest of the land has less attractive soils, and has been used for the production of a generic St Emilion, and I am sure it will eventually be sold off. Which makes the bottles of the 2009 La Tour du Pin I bought something of a rarity.
It’s appropriate that we finish here with St Emilion, as that will be the focus of Friday’s tastings, starting with Château Pavie at 9am.

Bordeaux 2012: Left Bank Complexity

It is Wednesday evening as I type this, and I’m now holed up in a hotel in Libourne, in anticipation of two days of tasting on the right bank. If it’s Thursday, it must be Pomerol. If it’s Friday, it must be St Emilion. If it’s Saturday, it must be……well, I have a couple of non-primeur visits back on the left bank lined up for the morning, before my flight back to the UK.

Although I have been posting each day from Bordeaux, I haven’t said too much about the vintage. The main reason is that I don’t feel it is legitimate to throw out judgements without tasting a lot of wine. I’ve more or less finished on the left bank now (I say more or less because I would be surprised if a sample or two wasn’t poured on Saturday), and I’m beginning to build a picture of the vintage. And it is a complex one. There’s an interesting Decanter report here, credited to Jane Anson and Adam Lechmere, which opens with the statement that “there are differing reports as to the quality of the vintage“. I haven’t had a chance to hear any other reports – after tasting, and writing this, I don’t even have time to Tweet, and I value sleep more than surfing the internet when I have day after day of tastings – but I’m not surprised if the messages are mixed. They probably should be; it’s a very complex vintage which doesn’t lend itself to soundbites or simple throwaway descriptions. It is – and I wish to echo the words of James Lawther MW, quoted in the article linked above – a very uneven vintage on the left bank (no comment from me on the right bank yet, for obvious reasons). Looking purely at the red wines, quality varies from very high, in a tiny number of wines from leading left bank estates, to light and fruit-orientated wines possibly capable of providing charming early drinking, to uninteresting wines with very lean midpalates which are also lacking in flavour.

Understanding why some estates have done well, and some not, requires an understanding of the growing season. I’m adding a little to my introductory report each day, writing as I go along, as I learn more about the vintage through the wines. I’m obviously not ready to publish it yet (I will add it to the site for subscribers next week), but it will reference several key points in the growing season. Some of these are obvious – the wet spring delaying flowering, meaning from the outset the harvest would be later. The rain as the quality-conscious growers tried to eke out a few more days of ripeness. The risk, therefore, that Cabernet Sauvignons would not ripen giving a green character to the wines. The fact that the Merlots, which ripen earlier, were largely harvested before the rains. I suspect, if you’re interested enough to read this blog, you already know all this. Some are less obvious though, and explain why Cabernet vs. Merlot soundbites based on ‘green’ vs. ripe wines just don’t do the vintage or the reader justice.
Paul Pontallier, at Château Margaux, April 2013

I kicked off today with Paul Pontallier (pictured above) at Château Margaux where, as was the case with many grands vins, there was no greenness in the wines. In fact, if you taste the wines without the prejudice imbued by the vintage report, it is surprising just how little greenness and herbaceousness there is to be found in the wines. Crisp fruit character reflecting the vintage, yes; cranberry, redcurrant, red cherry, red plum and so on. And on the palate, there are plenty of leaner wines, light, without midpalate texture. But not overt greenness. I then moved onto Château Palmer, which would put to bed any doubts about the potential quality within the vintage, but here it was all about control in the vineyard based on the performance of the vines during 2011 – the vine, as I’m sure you know, has a life cycle that extends over two seasons, so the conditions during one growing season affect performance in the next. Then it was Château d’Issan, Château Léoville-Las-Cases and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, all of which contributed something to my understanding of the vintage. Green fruit profiles in second wines, for instance, and lighter midpalates again. I finished off the day with a string of UGC tastings, with the Haut-Médoc, Moulis and Listrac tasting, the Margaux tasting and the Sauternes tasting.

One aspect of the vintage that is very important, and liable to be overlooked by those selling the vintage as ‘green’ is the later-summer heatwave. August was the warmest since 2003, sufficiently hot to cause the vines to shut down, especially young vines. At Margaux, for instance, young vines started dropping their leaves in August. The effect of this hot weather is tangible in the wines in several communes, sometimes in a negative way – with robust, chewy tannins as a result – and sometimes beneficial – as with older vines, with better-established root systems, or with vines planted on more moisture-retentive terroirs – where the vines could cope with the heat, and use it to get on with ripening the fruit. And this is before we get to the effect of work in the vineyard, such as carrying out an extra green-harvest in order to encourage ripening. Like I said, it’s complicated. More detail next week.

Thursday kicks off with the Moueix tasting; as their offices are something like a two-minute walk from my hotel, and I don’t kick off until 9am, I feeling very relaxed about the morning.

Bordeaux 2012: Eggs and Cameras

Monday was a day of early starts and long drives. Tuesday has been a little easier, with a strong focus on the northern communes of the left bank. I’ve been tasting the wines of St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien today, concentrating slightly more on the first two than the latter.

As I am sure all followers of Bordeaux primeur reports already know, many châteaux consider themselves too important to pour their wines at communal events, and so getting to grips with a commune such as Pauillac – where there are now four first growths if you include Pontet-Canet – can mean a lot of stop-start driving and knocking on doors. The morning flowed pretty well, and I was never more than ten minutes late for any one appointment, so I must have some organisational skills. Perhaps if I tire of Winedoctor I could embark on a career as a personal assistant? I started at Château Calon-Ségur at 8am, followed by a breather before the aforementioned Château Pontet-Canet at 9am. Then it was on to Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Château Pichon-Baron (neither of which insist on a visit, by the way, but they are still worthwhile), Château Latour and then Château Mouton-Rothschild before lunch. Naturally, that could have been one of the many fine lunches available – I did receive an invitation from a very desirable second growth estate – but I’m afraid I opted for a hastily scoffed sandwich so I could get on with the tasting.

Then I spent a couple of hours at Château Phelan-Ségur (where a lot of people were also enjoying another fine lunch – and I can’t pretend I haven’t eaten here myself once, on a press trip last year) where this year’s Union des Grands Crus St Estèphe-Pauillac-St Julien tasting was being held. Two hours was more time than the number of wines (probably about twenty) perhaps warranted, especially as I have tasted quite a few of them at négociant tastings at the weekend, but I wanted to ensure I gave each wine as much deliberation as the wines of the UGC-abstainers – those châteaux listed above, for example – buy their wines through forcing your attendance at the châteaux. Thereafter, it was a quick trip back down the D2 to Château Lafite-Rothschild, then back up to Château Montrose and finally Château Cos d’Estournel. Not a bad day!

Jean-Michel Comme of Pontet-Canet, April 2013

I’ve learnt a lot today, not just about the 2012 vintage, but about new developments in these communes. I had a good chinwag with Jean-Michel Comme (pictured above) of Pontet-Canet, and heard about his latest introductions to the cellars to replace oak barrels and last year’s concrete ‘eggs’. I met the new man at Cos d’Estournel, who has replaced Jean-Guillaume Prats after his move to pastures new; having spent half an hour with Aymeric de Gironde, I believe things are going to change at Cos d’Estournel. In my opinion it will be for the better, as I have never been a fan of the over-ripe, turbo-charged style the estate has sought in recent vintages. I understand others do, and that’s fine; I am tired of critics who disparage other people’s tastes, and would like to acknowledge that the new Cos had many fans. It’s just that I wasn’t one of them. And I think I see a fresher style in the future here. I also had an interesting tasting at Latour, which took in not only the three wines of the 2012 vintage, but the 2009 Pauillac, 2005 Les Forts de Latour and 1995 Latour – in other words, the wines of their recent ‘cellar release’ programme. Notes to come. As for Pichon-Baron, well somehow I ended up being interviewed for Christian Seely’s video blog (I’ve never had so many cameras pointing at me at the same time before in my life), saying sweet things about the wines of Pichon-Baron. I said sweeter things about Petit-Village though, which in the last couple of vintages has finally been showing the results of the work AXA Millésimes has put in here. Knowing my televisual skills, however, I expect I will end up on the cutting room floor.

Full details on all the news from my visits will make it into forthcoming updates. Full opinions on the wines and the vintage at hand will, of course, make it into my 2012 report to start (for subscribers only) next week.

As for Wednesday, I will be mopping up in St Julien, knocking unannounced on the door of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (“please sir, can I taste your wine…?”), and heading down to Margaux for Palmer, Margaux itself, d’Issan and all the rest of the gravelly gang. And some Haut-Médocs as well. Oh, and a chance to revisit Sauternes.