Arriving in Bordeaux yesterday was something of a shock to the system. In the last week East Lothian seems to have progressed very rapidly from winter to spring. To illustrate my point, only one week ago I was beginning to consider the possibility that my flight to Bordeaux might be delayed or otherwise affected by the ice, snow and sleet under which much of the UK has been labouring recently. Then, suddenly, sometime on Wednesday I think, the sky began to change colour, displaying patches of blue between the cloud. I honestly don’t think I have seen blue sky in Scotland since last year. By Thursday, the sky was entirely blue, and it remained so through to my flight on Saturday. The snow all disappeared, and crocuses and daffodils seemed to advance their growth, perhaps worried that they had missed out on spring. I boarded my flight thinking summer had arrived; it was even warm!
Then I alighted in Bordeaux, under grey skies, misty fog, and it was colder than it had been in Scotland. If it wasn’t for the call of the wine I might have turned around and boarded the next plane back.
Fortunately I managed to get at the front of a long queue to collect my hire car. Ten minutes later I was outside, telephoning Bill Blatch to check he was still on for our tasting. Another ten or fifteen minutes later I was looking for a parking space outside his house. Two more minutes and I was confronted by a line up of 31 Sauternes. Hurrah! Also there were three greats of the UK wine scene, starting with Derek Smedley MW, who – having first come out to the Bordeaux primeurs on a buying trip in 1961 – has now seen out more than fifty vintages. Alongside him were Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe, both well known figures and – in my opinion – both voices that are certainly worth listening too. The cynic will ask what on earth this minion was doing there, in such exalted company. Well, I was there by the gracious invitation of Bill, facilitated by Charles. Thanks Bill and Charles.
It was a great introduction to the vintage; unfortunately I started an hour behind everybody else I think, as my arrival time was dictated by my flight time, so by the end of the tasting I was ensconced in the corner while everybody else around me was tucking into barbecued sausages, chicken and unbelievably good steak (I did get some later, when I had finished my work!). It would be premature to make any comments on any one individual wine, as I have simply not finished with Sauternes yet; I will be visiting the region on Monday 8th, and I will be retasting the wines of the UGC members later in the week. Nevertheless, it is clear that this has been a difficult vintage, and although I don’t deny that there are some good wines, perhaps unfairly overshadowed by Yquem and a few others pulling out of the vintage, the range of quality within the tasting gave me a big message. But I will be more certain of this, and have reports on individual wines for Winedoctor subscribers, once my tastings are finished.
After the Sauternes came the barbecue. Poor Bill barbecued outside, while his guests sat inside in the warmth. Later our host regaled us with tales of his adventures uncovering wines for auction at Christie’s, his new role having given up his ownership of the Vintex négociant company last year. It was just one of a legion of stories that took in Latour’s performance in the 1980s, how he won his first allocation of Léoville-Barton, the ‘Jack Daniels’ factor in the 1989 vintage, opinions on the garagiste movement of the 1990s, and much more. Bill’s life in Bordeaux – he started work here in 1974, if I recall correctly – would make for an amazing set of memoirs. I would be first in the queue to buy it.
Sorry, I have no pictures of the tasting, as I was squeezed into a corner for much of the evening, so couldn’t escape to get my camera. I will try harder today. My timetable for Sunday includes the Vintex tasting first, and then hopefully the Ulysse Cazabonne (another négociant) tasting, assuming it is on. I never checked (a minor slip in my organisation). I guess I will just turn up and see.