Monday started earlier than I would have liked. With an 8am appointment at Château La Mission Haut-Brion, in the southern Bordeaux suburbs, and at least a one hour drive (not accounting for rush hour on the Rocade, Bordeaux’s ring road) to get there, I left my accommodation at 6:10am. This turned out to be a fairly sensible decision, as the slow crawl of the traffic down towards Bordeaux added 25 minutes to my journey. As a consequence I arrived with a little over 20 minutes in hand; the last time I was this early for anything it may well have been my A-levels, circa 1988.
The weather was grey and drizzly; much is written of the effect of the weather on tasting during the primeurs, but as I have already explored in a post a year or two ago, entitled Pressure Sensitive, I have significant doubts about the reality of any effect of atmospheric pressure on wine. Nevertheless, the association continues to crop up in primeurs reports. Maybe it has some unknown affect on the tasters; this would be more difficult to explore or discount than carbon dioxide solubility, the focus of the post linked above. Certainly, some wines tasted this afternoon seemed quite leaden; very correct in terms of structure, but just not showing the aromatics I would have expected. Perhaps there is something in it after all.
The morning was given over entirely to Pessac-Léognan, starting with Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, then the Union des Grands Crus tasting at Château Olivier, followed by a tasting at Château Haut-Bailly early afternoon. In this appellation the white wines are very fine, but the red wines are more mixed. Given the story of the vintage, I was expecting green and lean wines, but strangely for many the problem was tannin quality. I have at least one theory about why this might be, but want to talk more this week before putting it down on paper.
Then, for the rest of the afternoon, I trundled down to Sauternes to visit Château Climens and then Château Raymond-Lafon. The visit at Climens was fascinating, incorporating a tasting of six or seven barrels from the 2012 vintage first. What this showed was that they have some good quality at Climens, which Bérénice Lurton accredited largely due to their biodynamic philosophy (Climens have been fully biodynamic since 2010 – anybody stating that Pontet-Canet is the only biodynamic cru classé estate in Bordeaux is a little behind the times). What the final wine will taste like I have absolutely no idea, although the barrels sampled would suggest that it will not be at the level of the 2011 (now assembled, tasted from barrel), nor the 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 vintages, all tasted from bottle during my visit.
Then it was onto Raymond-Lafon, where Jean-Pierre Meslier (pictured above) was telling me – over a bottle or two of his wine – of his high hopes for exports to China in the next few weeks. The 2012 here is one of the lighter wines of the vintage, and as such has been demoted to a second label, Les Jeunes Pousses de Raymond-Lafon. It paled into insignificance against even the 2002, which Jean-Pierre also opened for me, as well as the 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005. Of all these, the 2009 is the one to buy, followed closely by the 2010 (although sticking with 2009s from other estates would also be a valid approach I think).
Tomorrow, the northern Médoc appellations; appointments are lined up for at Calon-Ségur, Pontet Canet, Pichon-Baron, Latour (yes, even though there are no 2012 primeur sales planned, I have an appointment), Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, and other sources of midweek drinking claret for those with money to burn. Another early(ish) start then.