My final day in St Emilion (and Pomerol) was a little more relaxed than some others, with long appointments, each one lasting at least an hour. That’s quite appropriate though, as many estates here produce a broad range of wines. You think you’re turning up to taste a premier grand cru classé, then you remember that the wines offered also include a second wine, one from Castillon, a couple of other cuvées from less classified St Emilion vineyards, a wine or two from the satellite appellations, and maybe a white wine. Sometimes the winemaker at a grand estate also owns his own plot of vines somewhere, and it can of course be advantageous for him to have his wines served alongside those of the classified estate where he works. I remember once turning up to a top St Emilion estate to find this was the case, as a result the number of wines being poured had increased from five to about a dozen
I kicked off at Château Pavie, where I was greeted by Gérard Perse, although he soon left me in the hands of his staff, who were pouring the Perse range in one of the new tasting rooms. The entire château has been razed to the ground and rebuilt in recent years, and I now struggle to remember what it looked like before the work began. Now, though, the completed rebuild is remarkably palatial, with glistening stone, gleaming marble and walls of glass and gilt. It all feels very appropriate, and it is difficult not to be impressed by the work now it has been completed. After tasting here, I then made the short trip up the steep hill to Château Ausone, to taste the wines, and also to get some chat from Alain Vauthier, who reaffirmed what many have already told me this year, in particular the difficulties with Merlot, and the appeal of the Cabernet Franc. This a strong year for this variety, and I find that blends with even a relatively low percentage of Cabernet Franc – say between 15% and 20% – are often aromatically dominated by its perfumed scents. So you can imagine what a wine such as Lafleur, Ausone, or Le Dôme, all of which major on this variety, are like.
After Ausone it was over to Château Angélus, another recently refurbished château. The new château and cellars were inaugurated during the primeurs, an event which I did not attend, as I am uncomfortable with the glitz of such events, bearing in mind I am here to review their wines. Here I tasted not only Angélus and Bellevue, but also a host of other wines from across Bordeaux where Hubert de Boüard de Laforest consults. Anyone who doubts that a consultant has an impact on the style of wine should come to a tasting such as this; many of the wines had the same deep plummy fruit, the same broad but ripe tannic structure. They were largely successes, and they showed what could be done with the vintage, but after a while the wines began to taste the same so I left to take a break. I stopped off for lunch, and took a few photographs in the region, before moving to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière to taste the wines of Stephan von Neipperg. The vintage was just as difficult here as elsewhere, and the yields told the story; 10 hl/ha for Canon-la-Gaffelière itself, just 8 hl/ha at La Mondotte. Before leaving I also took some time to take a look at their wines in the 2004 vintage; I often try and squeeze in a few non-primeur tastings, especially on my last day, and this was the first of several. The wines, at ten years of age, were largely very firm and structured, and are clearly still on the way up.
The it was over to Château Tertre Roteboeuf to taste with François Mitjavile; this was a fascinating visit (isn’t it always?) and I have to admit I learnt a lot more about Tertre Roteboeuf, as well as the 2013 vintage. I tasted all three of his wines, Domaine de Cambes, Roc de Cambes and Château Tertre Roteboeuf. I also then moved on to look at a 2012, and then all the wines from 2011, the most recently bottled vintage, including Les Aurages, the Castillon made by his son Louis. I finished up with the 2004 vintage again here. Some of these wines were just wonderful, and as with the Neipperg wines I will be writing these up as soon as possible. This appointment did over-run somewhat (note to self; more time for François next year) and so I was twenty minutes late for my final appointment at Château Bonalgue in Pomerol. Here Jean-Baptiste Bourotte and his technical director Cécile Dupuis make a very good example of off-plateau Pomerol, a real stylistic contrast to the wines from the estate that they have up on the gravel plateau, Clos du Clocher. I tasted all four of Jean-Baptiste’s wines in 2013, three Pomerols and a Lalande-de-Pomerol, none of which I would turn my nose up at. Finally, I finished off with a vertical tasting of the wines of Bonalgue, starting at 2011, now in bottle, and working my way back to 1988. Some of these wines were really good; not at the level of a plateau Pomerol, maybe, but in some viintages they showed delightful pencil-straight structure, polished textures and a lovely tobacco, cigar, truffle and autumn-leaf complexity as they mature. From the gravel and sand terroirs on the edge of Libourne, these are good wines indeed. Sometime over the next few months I will these up in a Château Bonalgue profile.
That is it for my Bordeaux primeurs diary; as I type these final words I am sitting in an airport lounge, on my way home. Updating the Winedr blog has been a more interesting experience than in previous years; I update the blog with these informal posts during the primeurs week simply because I don’t have time to write detailed articles for behind the paywall, so hectic is the week’s schedule. They are meant to be diary-like comments, light reading, broad impressions, nothing more; despite that, I have had emails from both château-proprietors and wine merchants regarding my comments, usually disagreeing with what I have written. This is a vintage where the two, producers and merchants, seem set to pull apart even harder than usual, and both are looking to the critics for support in where they stand. That’s something I have had cause to reflect on during this journey home, and I will write more about in coming weeks.
Also coming next week: first, my 2013 vintage report, kicking off with a vintage summary on Tuesday, and St Estèphe the day after. If this campaign is really quick wines may well come out before I have published relevant notes or scores; that shouldn’t be a worry, as the wines aren’t going to sell out in this vintage. Gradual publication is a consequence of all the detailed background I give, and I would rather stick with that than simply rush to publish long lists of notes, to be released into an information vacuum. Does anybody find notes like that of any use? And second, I will be announcing the winners of my new Winedoctor primeurs award, which is Bud of the Week. Totally serious of course. Any notion that I just thought it up as I sit with a pint of airport beer in my hand would be well wide of the mark, obviously.