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From Merignac to Yquem

I landed in Bordeaux right on time yesterday morning. It was quite a surreal flight; I flew with Ryanair, the most budget of all budget airlines. There is no in-flight service unless you pay, and the quality of the offerings might just be open to culinary criticism (although I admit to not splashing out to explore this first hand), so it is de rigueur to take something on board yourself. It is only two hours from Edinburgh to Bordeaux though, so after a 6am coffee and pain au raisin at the airport I took a bottle of water with me. The old (by which I guess I mean older than me) couple sitting next to me, however, each brought a full lunchbox, with ham and coleslaw sandwiches, crusts removed, and two roasted chicken legs each, the knuckle ends wrapped in foil so they could eat them without getting greasy fingers. All it needed was Hugh Johnson to pop up, wearing striped blazer and boater, clutching a chilled bottle of Clairette de Die, and the picnic would have been complete.

I don’t mean to make it sound as though I was on a mission yesterday but I was off the plane, through border security and through baggage collection (without stopping – I almost always do carry-on only) and en route to the location des voitures and I coulld see there were still passengers ambling down the steps from the aircraft. I picked up my hire car, a pristine VW Polo no doubt pumping out twice the legal emissions limt, without any problem. Less than fifteen minutes later I was at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion which, to put it bluntly, has been turned on its head in recent years. There has been huge investment by the new owner, Patrice Pichet, including new cellars, built in a river. Yes, you read that correctly. The approach to viticulture and winemaking has also changed dramatically, with micro-vats, foudres and terracotta amphorae (pictured below) being just some of the innovations.

From Mérignac to Yquem

I spent a couple of hours at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, before a very short drive to Château La Mission Haut-Brion, just eight minutes away. I gained entry through a gate I didn’t even know existed, although it obviously knew me, as it magically swung open as I approached. After a few minutes of hanging around (I was early – it’s a new bad habit I seem to have fallen into) I was in and checking out the 2014 vintage. From here on the afternoon was all about getting to grips with the 2014s, the most recently bottled vintage, and I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather kick off than here.

It was a much briefer visit to Château Haut-Brion, a mere hour in fact, after which I headed south to Château Brown, where I met Jean-Christophe Mau, to taste the 2014 Château Brown and the 2014 Château Preuillac, the Médoc estate Jean-Christophe owned until selling up after the 2014 vintage. This was also a good opportunity to hear a little more about the 2016 vintage, because if there is one person in Bordeaux you can trust to give you an honest and trustworthy opinion, rather than following the hyperbole of the crowd, then it is Jean-Christophe. I really think he is one of the great guys of Bordeaux. It was another short visit though, as after 30 minutes I had to head further south to Château d’Yquem, to meet up with technical director Sandrine Garbay for a taste of her two 2014s, the dry ‘Y’ and of course the grand vin.

After four visits I headed north to bed down for the night in the northern Médoc, ready for today’s visits, which start in St Estèphe and which will end in Margaux. On the A62 the windscreen of my hire car took a hit from a flying stone which I never saw (I only heard it – what a fright that gave me) but it must have been the size of a brick, judging by the three-pointed stellate chip in the glass. So my Polo is no longer pristine. This might be a more expensive tasting trip than I had hoped for.

Five Days of Fourteens

There will be a change of pace on Winedoctor during the next few days, as I am off to Bordeaux to taste more of the 2014 vintage. I tasted quite a few in London with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux a few weeks ago (although it already feels like it was several months in the past – it has been a busy month). The UGC tasting included many great names, as always, but of course there are any number of interesting châteaux that do not participate, from left-bank first growths (and their neighbours who see themselves in the same light) as well as any number of worthwhile estates on the right bank, especially in Pomerol. So now it is time to top up my tasting experience of this vintage at these châteaux before I publish my in-bottle report, hopefully early in 2017.

Five Days of Fourteens

I have five days of visits lined up; that isn’t as much time as it sounds, and so they will be five busy days of mainly quick in-and-out visits purely to taste the 2014 vintage, and of course I will be sure to ask how the 2016s are looking at the moment (although I think I can predict the answers already). I do have a few longer visits lined up though, with the option to taste a broader range of vintages, so these should be interesting. I also have a free hour (and I do mean just an hour, no more) on Friday afternoon, so if anyone in or near Pomerol would like me to pop in and won’t be offended that I have only 60 minutes to spare do get in touch!

The upshot of all this is that I won’t be making behind-paywall updates for the remainder of the week, as I have learnt through experience during the primeurs that with long days of driving, tasting and scribbling (this isn’t a press trip in which I get chauffered around, wined and dined) that writing multi-page profiles and tasting reports before I start out each day just isn’t feasible. I will hopefully update the Winedr blog each day though. Provided my flight departs on time (glancing at the departure board in Edinburgh airport as I write this, no worries so far) I should be calling in later on Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Château La Mission Haut-Brion (pictured above), Château Brown and Château d’Yquem. It’s not a bad line-up for day one.

The Return of The New

There are few activities more exciting than making new discoveries, whether it be in wine or in countless other fields. It is something I get a particular kick out of, and in previous years I have highlighted some of these new additions to the site with my New in the Loire posts.

This year is to be no different, and I have a bunch of new Loire valley profiles coming up, of new domaines, of young up-and-coming vignerons, or sometimes even domaines which, despite being long-established, I simply haven’t visited before. Here’s what has just been published, and what I have in the pipeline…..

Just published:

Domaine des Haut Baigneux: an old domaine expanded and revitalised by two friends who are turning out great-value wines from under-the-radar appellations.

La Source du Ruault: another old domaine, here reanimated by the next generation, Jean-Noël Millon (pictured below), who is turning out interesting Saumur-Champigny.

Jean-Noël Millon

And some others in the pipeline:

Laurent Herlin: A young guy who left behind the world of SIM card manufacturing to take up winemaking in Bourgueil.

Domaine Jaulin Plaisantin: A domaine in Chinon to watch, born from an association between Yves Plaisantin, recently returned from the USA, and Sébastien Jaulin, old-school viticulteur.

Domaine Grosbois: Another name to watch in Chinon, where Nicolas Grosbois is turning around the family domaine.

Clos des Quarterons: Yet another name to watch in Bourgueil – I check out the wines of Thierry Amirault.

Verdier-Logel: A superb source of Gamay from the upper reaches of the Loire.

And there’s more to come. Stay tuned