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!
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.