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Bordeaux Value from Blaye

More Bordeaux values today, this time from Blaye. One of Bordeaux’s larger appellations, Blaye (or Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux to give it its Sunday name) sits on the right bank of the Gironde, directly opposite the famous communal appellations of the left bank. The major difference is that instead of deep gravel beds the soils are more typically clay over limestone, and correspondingly Merlot dominates rather than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Château Magdeleine Bouhou, which has been in the ownership of the same family since the late-19th century, is a leading estate in this appellation. I first tasted its wines a few years back with Stéphane Derenoncourt, who has consulted here since 2010. I was recently glad to have the opportunity to taste some subsequent vintages of the grand vin, as well as Boha, a Merlot-dominant entry-level wine, that I thought rather good.

Château Magdeleine Bouhou

Here are a couple of other tasting notes on the grand vin:

Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2012: A dark, matt, black-tulip hue. A fascinating warm and welcoming nose, with rose petals, smoke, violets, degraded fruit, and a lightly macerated character. There follows a cool, fresh, correct and balanced palate, with roasted and degraded fruit notes, quite savoury, set against a lean, cool and stony backbone, with a twist of vanilla flower, a delineated endpalate, and a short finish. 15/20 (March 2017)

Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2011: An opaque black-tulip hue, with a bright, dusty, claretty rim. Lightly roasted berry fruits on the nose, bright, with peppered confit cherry, charming and expressive. A cool start, well measured, with supple weight and a slightly chalky texture to the fruit. A dry, savoury and fairly grippy style, with a substantial but ripe tannic structure, and it is still carrying some toasted, charcoal oak. Lots of lovely fruit wrapped around it though, with red cherry, red plum, soft, textural and veering towards plush in the finish. Nicely poised now, but with potential too. 16/20 (March 2017)

These are clearly good wines which I will look out for in future.

Bordeaux Value from Listrac

I’m always on the look-out for good value in Bordeaux, which can mean looking outside the most famous appellations. On the left bank, Moulis, Listrac, the Haut-Médoc and Médoc appellations are all potential hunting grounds.

I was happy to have the opportunity recently, courtesy of Château Fourcas-Dupré, to taste a few samples. I was impressed with the Château Fourcas-Dupré Blanc 2015, a wine which marks a revival of white winemaking on the estate, and in the region.

Here are notes on a couple more samples:

Château Fourcas-Dupré Cuvée Hautes Terres 2012: A dusty hue, with a moderate depth of colour intensity, with a cherry red tinge. The nose is all smoky, with dry-grilled berry-skin and stem. There follows a softly composed palate, with a touch of candle grease texture, smoking fat, and a bitter structure beneath. A bit lean, with a very old-school feel throughout the middle and end, culminating in a short, peppery finish. 13/20 (March 2017)

Château Fourcas-Dupré

Château Fourcas-Dupré 2011: A dark and dusty hue to this wine. The nose is full of roasted fruit, with some savoury notes of leather, liquorice and black pepper, with a white limestone freshness. There follows a charming and similarly savoury palate, the fruit touched by black olive and currant, with a soft, plump, easy-going texture, fixed in place by a ripe and sweet backbone of tannin. Long, grippy, a pithy finish, with a textured and yet dry substance. Good. 15.5/20 (March 2017)

I think it is fair to say on this occasion I preferred the 2011 grand vin to the more entry-level Cuvée Hautes Terres, and I would happily drink a little more from this domaine. I think it is the white I liked best though.

Disclosure: These were samples received from the estate.

A Taste of 2016 Bordeaux

The impending arrival of the Bordeaux primeurs in a few week’s time brings, in a potentially good vintage as we have in 2016, a sense of anticipation. If you’re interested in Bordeaux, that is.

The official primeurs tastings kick off during the first week in April, and I will be flying out the weekend before for eight days of visits and tastings. Of course, some critics are already out there, determined to be the first with their notes and scores. Good luck to them.

Château Brown Rosé 2016

While barrel samples are already being poured in Bordeaux, so über-embryonic that even Nietzsche would have been scratching his head searching for the right term, I had my first taste of 2016 from bottle over the weekend. Yes – from bottle!

The 2016 Bordeaux Rosé from Château Brown has a very pale pink hue, much more in the Provençal style than most pink wines coming out of Bordeaux. This delicate colour does not reflect the intensity of aroma though, which is rich yet pure, the nose defined by leafy fruit, clean and bright, with notes of creamed strawberry, raspberry and vanilla flower. This translates into a fresh, crisp and bright style on the palate, with pretty and peppery summer berry fruits, white pebbles, the overall feel dry but substantial. There is some really nice grip here, delicately framed fruit, but with nice structure, underpinned by a tingling acid wash. An impressive Bordeaux rosé, surely one of the best I have tasted. 17/20 (March 2017)

Roll on the primeurs (in a couple of weeks).

Chateau Latour: 2017 Releases

News has been released today of the latest late-release wines from the cellars of Château Latour. In the words of the Latour press release:

“For several years now we have been selecting wines from our cellars that we consider ready to drink. Whilst they can already be enjoyed by connoisseurs of the Estate, they also have excellent cellaring potential.

This year we have chosen to release the Grand Vin de Château Latour 2005 and Les Forts de Latour 2011.

2005 is a landmark year for Château Latour.. The Grand Vin is an exceptional wine that is result of a harvest carried out in perfect conditions and it possesses all the hallmarks of an outstanding vintage. After undergoing twelve years of aging during its early youth in our cellars, this racy, opulent and full-bodied wine is starting to reveal the full depths of its magic and complexity. Its impressive structure, fine tannins and wide range of aromas will continue to evolve and surprise us in the decades to come.

2011 was a more challenging year to deal with, due to a hot spring and an uncharacteristically cold and wet summer season. However, as it is often the case, a hot and dry September enabled us to harvest perfectly mature grapes. Les Forts de Latour 2011 is an elegant, fruity and pure wine. Having reached its first stage of maturity, this wine unveils a deliciously fruity and delicate structure.

These two wines will be released onto the market mid-March via a selection of Bordeaux wine merchants. They will join the Pauillac de Château Latour 2012 (offered for sale at the beginning of the year), which is the first wine of this vintage to be released by the Estate.”

Winedoctor 2017: Coming Soon . . . .

I don’t normally write about forthcoming articles on Winedoctor but at the moment I have so much raw material piled up waiting for me to write, edit and publish I thought subscribers probably deserved to know what feeble plans I have for getting everything done, and in what order I intend to get through it all.

First up I have dozens of tasting updates and something like 30 new Loire profiles for domaines not previously covered in-depth on Winedoctor which I will have to roll out over the course of many months. It won’t be that long before many Muscadet-makers are bottling their first sur lie wines of the 2016 vintage though, so there is perhaps a need to get these published first. These inclde tasting reports on the latest releases from Domaine Luneau-Papin, Domaine du Haut Bourg, Domaine des Herbauges, Jo Landron, Famille Lieubeau, Jérémie Mourat, Marc Olliver (pictured below) of Domaine de la Pépière and others.

Marc Ollivier, Domaine de la Pépière

A also have new profiles looking at the wines of Jérémie Huchet, Les Bêtes Curieuses, Domaine la Foliette and Domaine la Haute Févrie. In addition the Winedoctor guide to the Loire Valley kicks off again this weekend, looking at the wine regions of the Nantais, instalments to be published every other week over the next few months. It’s Muscadet, Muscadet, Muscadet all the way (plus some Folle Blanche and Fiefs Vendéens, obviously).

In order to provide some relief from my Bordeaux 2014 reports (which I started yesterday), I will be mixing and matching the Bordeaux and Muscadet articles over the next four or five weeks.

Once done I will probably be close to heading for the primeurs, so I will have to focus on as yet unwritten Bordeaux 2016 reports. And then, when that madness is behind us, I have a Loire Valley 2016 vintage report, a huge tasting update on the 2014 Loire Valley vintage (with some brilliant wines lined up – what a great vintage this is, especially for whites), a Bordeaux 2007 ten years on report, a Bordeaux 2001 mini-tasting report (with some great Sauternes – still stunning at over fifteen years), a Bordeaux 2002 mini-tasting, a vertical tasting of more than fifteen vintages of Savennières from Domaine du Closel, and reports on visits to Aurélien Revillot in Bourgueil, Château La Dauphine in Fronsac, Château La Dominique in St Emilion and others.

And this is before I even look at all the Anjou, Vouvray, Sancerre, Montlouis, Côte Roannaise and similar I have tasted over the past two weeks. I had better get back to writing…..

Bordeaux 2016: Bruno Rolland

Last December, during my little tour of Bordeaux to taste the 2014s, I called in on Bruno Rolland at Château Léoville-Las-Cases. Bruno has his finger on the pulse of what happens across all the Delon domaines, not just here in St Julien but also at Château Potensac, up in the Médoc, and on the opposite bank, at Château Nenin, in Pomerol. Here’s what Bruno (pictured below) had to say on the 2016 vintage.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: What is 2016 like as a vintage?

Bruno: It is a vintage with good ripeness at harvest, giving us very beautiful raw material, but with a racy structure. The quality is at a very high level. We plan to do the assemblage tomorrow, so we shall know more of the vintage then.

Me: Were there any particular difficulties with the vintage?

Bruno: The young vines had a bit of difficulty in the heat. There was a long period of very dry weather. The old vines did better during this time.

Me: Is it similar to any other recent vintages?

Bruno: I think at Leoville-Las-Cases 2016 is closest to the style of 2006 and 2010.

Me: What sort of style is that?

Bruno: Here at Léoville-Las-Cases the wines have ended up quite powerful, with very firm tannins, but the acidity keeps them fresh.

Me: Sounds good – thanks for your time Bruno.

These early Bordeaux 2016 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2014s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor, for just £4.50 per month (or £45 per annum).

Bordeaux Primeurs, April 2017: Programme

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux have released details of this year’s tasting programme, commencing April 3rd. I have already made most of my appointments (yes, really) and so I was eager to see whether their schedule fits in with mine. Fortunately it does!

The most noteworthy change (from my point of view) is a change in venue for the UGC tastings. Last year the press tastings were held in the Stade de Bordeaux, outside the Rocade. Some visitors weren’t too happy about it, but I thought it was a good venue, with lots of space, good sommelier service to pour the wines, and good natural light (once we managed to get the blinds down a bit). Having said that, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, as it was the first time I went to the press tastings, having previously preferred to fly undercover at the trade tastings.

This year the UGC tastings move to Hangar 14, on the Quai des Chartrons, looking out onto the river. The building looks like a concrete prison wing (complete with mesh grills on the windows), but I have never been inside, so it could be a great venue. Here is a link if you are interested, and here’s the location on Googlemaps.

Otherwise, briefly, the programme looks pretty similar to last year:

Monday 3rd April – Sauternes and Barsac press tasting in the appellation, also a stand-up tasting of all appellations in two-hour slots at Hangar 14, this latter tasting open to the trade.

Tuesday 4th April – Hangar 14 for Graves, Pessac-Leognan, St Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes and Barsac press tasting, selected visits in the afternoon (new). Stand-up tastings in appellations (see below) are open to the trade.

Wednesday 5th April – Hangar 14 for all Médoc appellations and Sauternes and Barsac press tasting, selected visits in the afternoon (new). Stand-up tastings in appellations (see below) are open to the trade.

Thursday 6th April – Stand-up tastings in appellations (see below) are open to the trade.

Appellation tastings on the 4th/5th/6th which are open to the trade are as follows:

Ch. Carbonnieux – Graves and Pessac-­‐Léognan
Ch. La Couspaude – Saint Emilion Grand Cru
Ch. La Pointe – Pomerol
Ch. Cantemerle – Médoc, Haut Médoc, Moulis & Listrac
Ch. Kirwan – Margaux
Ch. Talbot – Saint Julien
Ch. Batailley – Pauillac & Saint Estèphe
Ch. La Lagune – Sauternes & Barsac

This is just the bare bones of the week – for more details including times contact the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux.

Bordeaux 2016: Jean-Christophe Mau

During my recent tastings of the 2014 vintage (report to come very soon) I found myself heading out from Château La Mission Haut-Brion, where I had just finished tasting all the Domaine Clarence Dillon wines (so Château Haut-Brion as well, reds, whites and second wines, and Château Quintus too) in the direction of Château d’Yquem. My route took me past the gate of Château Brown (well, almost – maybe just a small detour). What else to do but call in and see how the 2014 Château Brown was tasting?

I tasted the red 2014 with proprietor Jean-Christophe Mau (pictured below). There was no chance of tasting the white; this cuvée is in great demand, and Jean-Christophe was entirely sold out. That gave me a few minutes of free time, so I thought I had better ask how the 2016 vintage was looking. After all, in a region known for its hyperbole, you can rely on Jean-Christophe for an honest, no-nonsense appraisal of things.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2016?

J-C: The 2016 vintage is a bigger style than 2015. I have tasted them side by side. In 2016 the acidity is higher, presumably because of the stress in vineyard. We had a long dry summer, and the vines shut down in these conditions. From September onwards we had some rain, but the time between the arrival of the rain and the need to pick was too short for the vines to be able to get the acids down.

The tannins feel large, but it is difficult to say more at the moment. I will look at the tannins again after a year of evolution. But with these tannins and acidity the wine should keep well.

Me: What about picking and alcohol levels?

J-C: We started picking the reds on October 3rd, and finished on October 22nd. Obviously the whites were picked much earlier than that. In 2016 the alcohols varied at picking between 14.5% and 15%. This is for Château Brown of course. I can’t comment on other châteaux and what they have in 2016, but I assume it is something similar.

Me: Is it better than 2015?

J-C: I think to say 2016 is better right now is a little arrogant. We will need to wait and see.

Me: Although you sold Château Preuillac, in the Médoc, I know you still manage it for the new owner. How did the vintage go up there?

J-C: We had a similar experience at Preuillac, although we started picking slightly later, starting October 6th and finishing October 21st. I think here 2016 could be a great vintage. We haven’t finished the malolactic fermentations yet, but it seems like the quality is very good.

Me: Thanks Jean-Christophe.

These early Bordeaux 2016 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2014s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor, for just £4.50 per month (or £45 per annum).

Bordeaux 2016: Jean-Michel Comme

It is only January, which to the UK wine trade means Burgundy, London having just hosted a smorgasbord of tastings featuring the 2015 vintage. And yet my thoughts are turning towards Bordeaux. First, after my latest trip to Bordeaux in December I have a few new reports and tastings to write up. Second, I am currently working on a huge tasting report on the 2014 vintage. And third, because I am already looking at the organisation of my trip to taste the 2016 vintage in April. Well, you know what they say about the early bird and the worm.

With that in mind here is some opinion on the 2016 vintage from Jean-Michel Comme (pictured below, I confess an older picture from 2013), of Château Pontet-Canet. I met up with Jean-Michel in the cellars to taste the estate’s 2014, but couldn’t resist asking for his early thoughts on 2016.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2016?

J-M: This was an amazing year, because from early on in the season we could not have foreseen the evolution of the vintage. At the start it was cold and wet, but during the last days of June the weather changed, when it became dry and hot. It was then mostly dry, for three months, with almost no rain at all. The concentration in the grapes in this vintage was amazing.

Me: How was the harvest? What would you say about the quality this year? And what about your yields?

J-M: There was no hurry, no rush, we were able to prepare the crop as we wished. There was a high level of ripeness in this vintage. As for quality, it is really very difficult to tell right now, although I think the worst case scenario is that we have, at the very least, a very good year in 2016. As for yields, we have 34 hl/ha.

Me: Yields can be impacted by organic and biodynamic viticulture, and of course we all know Pontet-Canet is biodynamic, so 34 hl/ha seems like a good yield?

J-M: Some people make some unfair comments about yields at Pontet-Canet – because of the biodynamics they say one year in three we produce nothing, that we have a crop missing. In truth the average yield here, over ten years, is 33 hl/ha. That is including the very low yield we saw in the 2013 vintage. Also, this yield is good for us, because we know what quality we will obtain with a yield like this. We don’t know what the quality would be like with a yield that was 10 or 20 hl/ha higher. As it stands, we have high quality, so it is not a big deal for us to stick with this yield.

Me: Thanks Jean-Michel. Before I go, what else is new at Pontet-Canet?

J-M: Well, we are still building stables for our horses, we have building works planned for another year yet. And we now have a Californian estate as well, in the Napa Valley, which takes some of our energy, but it is a great project for us. We have tried to apply our biodynamic approach in 2016, our first season. I am responsible for the estate, so I have been visiting California every six weeks. Having said that, although I am not a fan of dynasties, I leave the day-to-day running to my son.

Me: Thanks again.

These early Bordeaux 2016 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2014s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor, for just £4.50 per month (or £45 per annum).

Looking Back, Looking Forward: From 2016 to 2017

As 2016 draws to a close I can’t resist some brief reflections on the year that has passed. I haven’t made my usual sequence of ‘Wine in Context’ posts (like these from 2016) this year, simply because I have had too much on my plate over the past few week to ruminate that much. It has been a madcap race to the end of the year! It makes me wonder why this time of year is often referred to as the ‘holiday season’ – it hasn’t seemed like much of a holiday so far.

The year has been rich with interesting bottles, but I have a confession to make. I find lists of “here are my best 25 bottles of the year” a little boring, and also a little detached. Wine is about context; sure, when it comes to critiquing wine to aid buying decisions, there isn’t really any valid method other than lists of tasting notes and scores (anyone who comes up with a new system that works is going to make a big name for him/herself very quickly). But when it comes to looking back over the year for your ‘best bits’, is that really the way we should think about wine?

Reflecting on 2016 I think the ‘wine moment’ that really stands out for me was my visit to meet Alphonse Mellot Senior (pictured below) in July. I spent perhaps three hours in his company, scampering through the Alphonse Mellot cellars in the heart of Sancerre, enthralled by his anecdotes and his confidently voiced opinions. The fact that the wines were fabulous also helped of course. And what is more, these aren’t ultra-rare unicorn wines from the 1940s, as anybody with a few quid can buy and drink his wines. I necked the entry-level 2015 Sancerre Blanc just last week, widely available, very affordable, and it was great. Although it was perhaps the 2012 Cuvée Edmond that most impressed during the visit, as well as a whole host of red wines.

Looking back, looking forward: From 2016 to 2017

Was there an equivalent wine moment in Bordeaux this year? Yes, and I think my visit to Château Cos d’Estournel in December was the highlight. It wasn’t the lunch I shared with Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts that made the visit so enjoyable, nor was it the wines we drank (2008, 2005, 2003 and 1989) even though there were three great wines there. I enjoyed the visit so much firstly because we took a really good tour of the vineyards together, something that is rare during a visit in besuited-Bordeaux. And because it was great to taste the different varities of 2016 from vat; this is a vintage with a lot of promise, a year in which Bordeaux seems to have done rather well when much of France was blighted by the spring frosts.

These were my two highlights of 2016, but there were lots of other great wine moments. In the Loire I enjoyed calling in on Henri Bourgeois, where I expanded my knowledge of Sancerre’s ability to age, I raced down to La Tour Saint Martin to taste the latest from Bertrand Minchin, tasting the 2014s and 2015s with Matthieu Baudry was great fun (and the wines promise a lot….I mean, in 2015, a lot), and I found the same joy at Charles Joguet. I called in on Domaine de la Noblaie during the summer, and just before harvest, both visits informative and fun, and I enjoyed checking out the vines with Benoit Amirault too. In Bordeaux I had a fine vertical tasting and dinner at Château Lagrange that sticks in the memory, but on the whole I try to avoid the boozy party scene in this region. There is a continued potential for conflict of interest here I wish to avoid.

I had a few good dinners during the course of the year, the most memorable at La Tour in Sancerre, and Social Wines & Tapas in London. Yes, there are plenty of stuffy restaurants that offer more ‘fine’ dining experiences than that second choice (and I dined at a few), but it was one of those dinners where everything went so well, and the meal seemed to build in a crescendo of delights, that it left a lasting impression on my taste buds.

Looking back, looking forward: From 2016 to 2017

As for other significant developments during 2016, it was great to see that Richard Leroy seems to be able to continue hitting the bull’s eye with his zero-sulphur wines; I must check in on the 2011 (the first zero-suphur vintage) sometime soon. I was delighted by the revitalisation of Domaine aux Moines by Tessa Laroche (pictured above), and by my discovery of Domaine Jaulin-Plaisantin. I enjoyed greatly trips to London to taste on Decanter panels (the Decanter World Wine Awards and three panel tastings for the magazine – the most recent, looking at Loire Chenin Blanc, yet to be published), and looking back to Bordeaux 2006 at Ten Years (a large tasting) and Loire 2006 at Ten Years (not such a large tasting), as well as many more recent vintages of course.

I capped the year in a fabulous manner by buying a house in the Loire Valley. It is about 30 minutes south of Chinon. It has been a long and tiring process, co-ordinating a bank, an insurance company, an agent and a notaire, but we have at last jumped the final hurdle. We signed yesterday, December 30th (hurrah!!). So there is a lot to look forward to in 2017, with my first trip out to Winedoctor House (I did think about rechristening it as that, but actually settled for something more generic) set for January 7th. Looking forward to 2017, expect more reports from Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil…..

Best wishes for a Happy New Year to all!