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Bordeaux 2013: Around St Emilion

On Sunday I spent the day in and around St Emilion; it was more a question of what tasting opportunities were available, rather than picking and choosing. Normally I would have gone to the tasting held by Vintex Vignobles Grégoire, a good négociant, but this wasn’t on this year. And so I headed over the right bank, for two significant tastings.

I kicked off with La Grappe, an annual tasting hosted by Château Gaffelière but featuring the wines of the châteaux to which Stéphane Derenoncourt consults. The tasting featured 54 wines, poured by Simon Blanchard and Frédéric Massie, two of Derenoncourt’s team, and both good guys. The tasting was right-bank heavy, as you might expect, although the team also consult to a number of left-bank properties, including Château Talbot and Château Poujeaux, among a few others.

Château Bellefont-Belcier

Then it was on to Château Bellefont-Belcier (pictured above), for the Cercle Rive Droite and Cercle Rive Gauche tastings. All told there were 188 wines here for tasting, just a little too many (by just a teensy-weensy amount) to get through in just one afternoon. I probably tasted another 50 or 60, focusing on the right bank, not just Pomerol and St Emilion, but also Fronsac, Castillon and the satellite appellations.

Obviously I can’t report on all these wines individually here, but I shall write them up as soon as possible for my Bordeaux 2013 report, begining next week. It is certainly a variable vintage, although whereas I found some good (but not truly great) wines in among the Sauternes on Saturday, this was a more difficult task in today’s tasting of reds. The 2013 vintage was a very difficult one, described here in Bordeaux as “the worst in a generation” or the “worst in my lifetime” (which it is seems to depend on the age of the individual giving their opinion more than anything else) and this certainly comes through when tasting the wines. Having said that, of course, Sunday’s tastings were not rich in cru classé level wines; there were a few (Chevalier, Clos Fourtet, those mentioned above), but not many. I will be able to form a better opinion on this over the next few days, as I hit Pessac-Léognan (on Monday) and the Médoc (Tuesday and Wednesday), followed by a return to the right bank on Thursday. I start at 8am on Monday, at Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

Bordeaux 2013: A Sauternes Start

Time for a litte Sunday morning news. Well, it’s Sunday morning here in Bordeaux, and I spent most of yesterday travelling – an early start for a flight down to London, quite a lot of hanging around at Gatwick airport, and then another flight over to Bordeaux. Happily all went smoothly, and I was settled into my hotel by 4pm. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave a lot of time for tasting.

What to do with my evening then? While some might have danced and drank the hours away at the inauguration party for the new cellars at Château Angélus (pictured below – when I passed by in October last year), I tend to avoid the schmoozing seduction of the parties, grand dinners and similar fêtes that characterise the primeurs week. The Bordelais are very good at this sort of thing, and it is an important part of their relationship with the wine trade. But critics, in my opinion, should consider themselves distinct from the trade. I’m here to taste the wines and report without undue influence. Besides, as we will see, perhaps I just can’t handle the late nights any more.

Château Angélus

Instead, I spent the evening with Bill Blatch, tasting through about 30 Sauternes from the 2013 vintage, from entry-level wines such as Château Partarrieu and Château de Veyres up to grand cru wines including Château Suduiraut, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and others. These were then followed by a selection of older wines, all of which had been provided by the châteaux. Unfortunately, we had only really started on these when I had to call it a day, unfortunately missing out on some older bottles, back to the 1960s. I had been travelling since 4am, so I hope I am forgiven this early finish – as I said above, it looks like I just can’t hack them any more!

At the top end the Sauternes of 2013 were very good, very pure in style, with a lot of energy from the acidity – this is an acid-rich vintage. But there are those that show the weaknesses of the vintage, especially at the lower end. Some are ‘fresh’ to the point of being leafy, minty or infused with menthol scents. Others show a saline, salty mineral edge which would probably be delicious in Muscadet, but it doesn’t seem to work here. One or two were unclean, a little grey rot mixed with the botrytis (which was plentiful in 2013), but this problem was confined to the lower price-bracket wines, so this isn’t a re-run of the 2012 vintage, where there were many grey-rot flops. It’s a vintage where there are good wines to be had at the top end, but it is not a buy-blind vintage either. So it is not a repeat of 2001/2009/2010/2011 then.

Today, I’m planning on heading over to taste the wines of Stéphane Derenoncourt first of all, probably followed by some from the Cercle Rive Droite at Château Bellefont-Belcier. Well, we’ll see how the day goes.

2014 Subscriptions

It has been almost one year now since I changed Winedoctor to a pay-to-view site. On the anniversary of my subscription service’s ‘birth’, which is March 31st, I will be in Bordeaux for the 2013 primeurs. On the day in question I have appointments at Château La Mission Haut-Brion (pictured below), Château Carbonnieux for a tasting of 2013 Pessac-Léognan, Château Climens, Château Raymond-Lafon and one or two other châteaux, and so I think I am going to be rather busy (althought that’s a quiet day, actually). But I can’t let the end of this first year drift by without making any comment. And if I’m going to be too busy next Monday, I will just have to say it now.

First I would like to thank everybody who has subscribed during the past twelve months. For some of you, that was on March 31st 2013 – I hadn’t even finished putting the system fully in place before the first payment came in – for others it was as recently as yesterday. I am grateful for every subscription and hope everybody who shows their support for Winedoctor in this way finds something of use within. I have been deeply humbled by the number of subscriptions received – exactly (on the nose, in fact) twelve times more than my year-one/break-even target. I never dreamed I would have such support. Thank you again!

Château La Mission Haut-Brion, April 2013

Secondly, I would like to announce that there will be no price increase for new or repeat subscriptions during 2014. The fee remains £45 per annum, equivalent to £3.75 per month (see here for what this gets you if you don’t subscribe). In addition, all the discount opportunities for IMW, WSET and AWE students, educators and similar have been reconfirmed. Current subscribers who wish to continue should be able to do this without any problem from within their account, once logged in (you can still log-in to the account page even if the subscription has lapsed). If you have any difficulties, please let me know by email. As those of you who have been in touch with me by email will know, I’m usually fairly quick to respond, but I will be checking emails infrequently during the primeurs, so can’t promise a perfectly timely response during next week.

Lastly, a quick word on next week’s updates. As is usual I don’t make updates to the paywall-protected part of the site during the primeurs week – it’s just too busy to taste all day (I kick off at La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am on Monday) and then write something of the required standard for the site as well. I will try to blog daily though, with lighter commentary, news, pictures and brief impressions from the tastings. It should be an interesting vintage to taste. The word ‘interesting’ can mean very different things at different times, I suppose.

Thanks to all again. Here’s to a great 2014, and a great year full of wine!

Pontet-Canet 2013: First Out

It is only a few days until I leave for Bordeaux to taste the 2013 barrel samples, and – as if we expected something else – this vintage is already shaping up to be an unusual and distinctive one. That much became apparent this morning, with the first significant release of the vintage, from Château Pontet-Canet. We have seen some long, drawn-out campaigns in recent years, fair enough in a great vintage perhaps, but neither 2011 nor 2012 merited such behaviour. I doubt very much 2013 does either. The release of the 2013 Pontet-Canet this morning, before the primeur tastings have even begun, is perhaps an indication that Alfred Tesseron and Jean-Michel Comme feel the same way.

When I spoke with Jean-Michel Comme (pictured below) just as the harvest had been completed in October last year it was clear it had been a difficult vintage for them. The yields were way down at 15 hl/ha, less than half the 34 hl/ha that was achieved in the 2012 vintage (also not an easy year). The major problem was a long, cool and wet spring, producing every flowering problem imaginable, hence the low yield. And the vines simply never caught up, despite good weather in July. Then came the rain and the rot at harvest, forcing picking before it was ideal. Pauillac also bore the brunt of one of the two major storms of 2013 of course, although on the whole damage was reported to trees and buildings rather than the low-lying vines (this wasn’t the same hailstorm that devastated the vineyards of the Entre-Deux-Mers by the way – that was a week or so later).

Jean-Michel Comme, October 2013

What does the release of 2013 Pontet-Canet tell us? First there is the timing. Is it really that Tesseron and Comme want a quick campaign for the 2013 vintage, or is it more to do with generating a little interest and trade before the scores are out? And if the latter, whose scores are they worried about? Parker isn’t going to taste the primeurs this year, and although there will by many other voices commenting on the wines in the next few months, there is no-one wielding the same level of power (by far). Whatever the reason, this is certainly not a vintage to buy blind, even with a top-performing estate such as Pontet-Canet. It is probably not a vintage to buy en primeur at all, although I will reserve definitive judgement on that until I have tasted.

Second, there is the price. The release price of 2013 Pontet-Canet is 60 Euros, the same as the 2012 vintage, and this price can be interpreted in several different ways. On the one hand, a dramatically reduced price would have indicated that the wine was of a lesser quality, and so matching the 2012 does perhaps express some “confidence” in the wine, which was how Jean-Michel said he felt about it when I met him (although this was just after harvest, and the fruit was not long in the vats, and so I’m not really sure what else he could have said at the time). But then, on the other hand, with yields slashed by half, many winemakers would reason that with reduced volumes to sell, prices should rise. If the quality was really there, surely that would have been the way to go? Instead they have gone for the middle ground.

The price of 2013 Pontet-Canet looks like a real tester for the market. With a price comparable to that of the 2012 (on which notes and scores are available of course), serious doubts about the vintage as a whole and no influential opinions/scores to sell the 2013 on, it will be difficult to see the trade taking this first release up in any quantity. This is a vintage where serious price reductions and good independent opinion are essential, and we have neither here; I expect it will be hands-off-wallets all round.