It’s Thursday morning, and I am now on my primeurs home straight. I have left behind the glories of the Médoc, settling temporarily in Fronsac instead. Not because Fronsac is the centre of the Bordeaux universe (everybody knows that is Parempuyre), but because from here I can strike out on two days of visits in St Emilion and Pomerol. First, though, how did Wednesday go?
Well, thanks for asking.
The morning went very smoothly, much to my surprise. I attended the press tastings of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe, Moulis, Listrac, Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac held at Bordeaux’s new football stadium. The first thing I had to do was get there, and having had plenty of grim experiences with the Rocade this week I planned a route which took me away from this ring road, through the Médocain countryside. This turnd out to be ridiculously successful decision, as I arrived with more than an hour to spare. At least I was able to spend some time admiring the stadium’s architecture, and I am not bitter about missing out on an extra hour’s sleep, not at all.
Much has been made of the move to have journalists taste at the stadium, the story intertwining with many different primeurs themes. First, it was criticised because it centralised journalists away from the vineyards and châteaux, distancing them from proprietors. There were a number of proprietors on hand after the tasting, but I still think this is a valid complaint. Second, the tasting conditions were called into question, after all this is a football stadium, not a dedicated tasting room. This wasn’t an issue at all, the venue being spacious, light and bright, and just perfect for tasting. Third, the move was accompanied by a re-evaluation of the blind tasting process, undoubtedly the most controversial part of these recent changes. All tastings are now open-label.
There was quite a lot written about these changes before the primeurs kicked off. I didn’t make any comment though, because any new venue should be evaluated before we pass judgement. In any case this is the first year I have slipped into the press tastings, as in presvious years I have quite enjoyed the more relaxed, flexible and anonymous environments found at the trade tastings. So I didn’t really have an axe to grind on the issue (there is a first time for everything). Having now experienced the press tasting at the stadium, however, I have to confess I will come back next year, that’s if Bordeaux hasn’t given up growing grapes by then as a result of climate change, who knows?
As for the issue of blind tasting barrel samples, I think the idea is nonsense, as understanding primeurs samples is about the chat with the team who made the wine, as well as tasting it. I do find some amusement in the paradox that, on the one hand, there is a body that feels primeurs samples are sufficiently representative of the wine that we should be tasting and scoring them blind, as if they were bottles just plucked from the shelves of a wine merchant, and on the other hand there is a body who feels primeurs samples are so unreliable, doctored misrepresentations of the wines to come that we shouldn’t even be tasting or writing about them at all, so presumably when the wines are released to the market in a week or two hopeful buyers should just buy without any advice at all.
Blind tasting also provided a very uneven playing field, as many wines can only be tasted at the property, the whole point of which is definitely not to taste blind. So if you ever read a primeurs report that stated the wines were tasted blind, if the author didn’t point out this didn’t apply to Lafite, Mouton, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Pontet-Canet, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon-Lalande, Palmer, d’Issan, Haut-Bailly, Ausone, Pavie, Angélus, Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Le Pin, L’Église-Clinet, Le Gay, La Violette and the other Péré-Vergé wines, La Conseillante, Vieux Château Certan, Tertre-Roteboeuf, the Maltus wines, Beauséjour and other Nicolas Thienpont wines, Figeac, L’Évangile, all the Moueix wines such as Trotanoy, Bélair-Monange and La Fleur-Pétrus and all Jean-Luc Thunevin’s wines such as Valandraud, not to mention all the more peripheral wines only encountered at tastings hosted by Michel Rolland, Stéphane Derenoncourt and the like, then they were pulling the wool over your eyes.
Enough of that. After a quick bite to eat at the stade (I was hoping they would keep the footy theme going with a grease-laden meat pie and a plastic cup of luke warm over-stewed tea, so was disaapointed to see them serving smoked salmon and foie gras) I headed north to Château Margaux, then next-door to Château Palmer, and then on to Château d’Issan. I also called in on Château Rauzan-Ségla again, as when I tasted there last Sunday they had run out of 2015 Château Canon echantillons, which to me feels a little like a butcher running out of beef. Next up, Château La Lagune, where I chatted with Caroline Frey (pictured above) about the vintage. I retasted the 2015 (I had already tasted it earlier during the morning, but I taste twice or three times wherever possible, to get a feel across multiple samples) and a couple of older vintages, as well as a personal cuvée from 2015, pure Cabernet Sauvignon, just two barrels of which Caroline is keeping back for her own interest.
I ended the day with a couple of hours spare, and couldn’t decide whether or not to go to the Cru Bourgeois tasting at Château d’Arsac, or Stéphane Derenoncourt’s La Grappe tasting at Château La Gaffelière. I tossed a coin, which told me to go to Château d’Arsac. I duly ignored fate and headed for St Emilion instead, and in return fate kicked me in the shin with gridlock about a mile from the sliproad onto the Rocade. After ten minutes in standing traffic, and able to see the very long queue stretching down the road in front of me, I turned around and went to Château d’Arsac after all. Never ignore fate.
Today, I kick off at Château Ausone at 9am, with a busy day thereafter.