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Bordeaux 2016: The Primeurs

I am now back in the UK now after a week of tasting the 2016 primeurs in Bordeaux. It has been one of the most enjoyable week of barrel-sample tastings in this region that I have had the good fortune to experience. I am already proof-reading notes and composing my reports.

Before I get to that, what sort of primeurs has it been? This year I had eight days of tasting in the region, running from Saturday before the primeurs-week proper, when I started with a very comprehensive Sauternes tasting, through to the next Saturday, when I finished up tasting some white and red Bordeaux Supérieur and Vin de France which had been delivered to my accommodation (yes, you read that right – as a dog is not just for Christmas, Vin de France is not just for Anjou). After that I headed out to check out the vines – taking my first 2017 Bordeaux photographs (like that below) – before heading to the airport. Last year I did try a longer trip, departing earlier, planning for ten days in the region, but thanks to an air trafiic control strike I wasted the first two days stranded in an airport hotel in Gatwick. I decided this year not to tempt fate by trying the same thing again.

Primeurs is of huge significance to the Bordeaux wine trade, and I have to admit that there are a lot of things I don’t like about the way they are reported; I am not a fan of the actions of the early tasters who solely wish to trump others with their scores. I don’t like it when opinions are tweeted from the road, before the tannins from the barrel sample in question have even had time to stain the taster’s tongue. I am also very aware some visitors nosh heavily at the trough, taking boozy lunches and longer dinners each day, interspersed with a little tasting. I previously raised this as an issue here, my prime concern being impartiality, although to their credit a number of wine-writing peers also raised the issue of afternoon blood-alcohol levels and whether such tasters should be getting behind the wheel. I also take issue with wine writers who feel they have the authority to declare they have found the only valid way to “do” the primeurs, typically in a programme that is said to last two or three weeks. These “weeks”, however, tend to run from Monday lunchtime until they return home on Friday at gin o’clock, which is of course no more than four and a half days. Repeat once and you’ve had nine days of tasting, ten if we round up. If that’s what you understand by two weeks, please get in touch, I have some timeshare I would like to sell you.

Bordeaux 2016

My primeurs tastings took just over a week. And when I say a week, I mean a week, and I spent as much time as I could tasting, and not relying on the Bordelais to feed me to the gills. Funnily enough, I have noticed that some who follow a more ‘gustatory’ programme may spend two or three weeks in the region (you can only fit in one lunch and one dinner per day, after all) which indicates to me it is the personal philosopy, work ethic and experience of the taster that is probably most important in determing the validity of a primeurs report, and not the length of time one spends in the region. Having said all this, though, I acknowledge that wine writing is not a regulated profession. Nobody signed up to a code of ethics, there are no annual appraisal meetings with your line manager, no regulatory body to summon you to a hearing should you overstep the mark, and therefore the truth is everybody visiting Bordeaux can do exactly what they like. Perhaps us critics (myself included) should focus more on the wine, and less on how our peers choose to work. It is up to readers and subscribers to decide whether or not they want to support the critic in question by judging their methods, reading their work, interacting with them on social media, and if they feel like it subscribing to their website or publication.

With that in mind, here are some details of my primeurs trip. I have been going to the primeurs for more than a decade now, running my own timetable for the last four years (making all my own appointments, doing all my own driving, tasting and writing, and meeting all costs incurred). Over that time I have developed what I think is a pretty decent schedule which doesn’t vary much from year to year. I have already mentioned the Saturday Sauternes tasting. Sunday was for the right bank, and there were as always a variety of tasting opportunites. I made a handful of visits to those willing to see me on a Sunday (three domaines this year, if you are interested). I remain amazed that I get any appointments at all; there have been Sundays in France when I have come close to starvation as I failed to find a supermarket, bar or restaurant that had opened its doors and yet, during the primeurs, Bordeaux is very much open for business. After these visits I spent much of the day at the Rolland tasting, and also had lunch with Michel Rolland (more on this, and disclosure, below). On Monday I started at Château La Mission Haut-Brion at a very foggy 8am (as pictured below), and worked south, ending up in Château Raymond-Lafon sometime between 6pm and 7pm. Tuesday and Wednesday were for the left bank, mostly visits, starting at Château Calon-Ségur at 8am on the first of these days, although I did also make use of at least one of the UGC press tastings. Then on Thursday and Friday it was back to the right bank (or the ‘wrong bank’, as one well-known Bordeaux négociant refers to it), again mostly for visits, starting at Château Ausone, but there were also larger tastings I attended hosted by Jean-Luc Thunevin and Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, as well as the UGC St Emilion and Pomerol tastings, and the St Emilion Grand Cru Classé tasting.

Bordeaux 2016

That’s obviously a busy schedule, filled with long days, but I always factor in time to talk, and time to drive, so it usually runs like clockwork. I never move from one side of Bordeaux to the other during the tasting period of the day, so this avoids the Rocade and thus wasting time. Where an estate pours just one, two or three wines – e.g Vieux Château Certan, Petrus, Château Montrose, Château Pichon-Lalande, etc., I still allow 30 to 45 minutes for chat about the vintage. When they pour more wines, e.g. Denis Durantou, Château Haut-Brion, Château Ausone, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, I allot these tastings at least an hour in my schedule. The first growths tend to get an hour of my time, although I did nibble away at this a little this year. I always visit Château Latour as even though they don’t sell their wine en primeur they are an important piece of the Bordeaux jigsaw. A primeurs report should not be just a list of notes and scores, but should be the story of the vintage. Having read a few novels in my time, I know there is nothing more frustrating than discovering your copy has a missing chapter (unless it is the last chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses, of course). Latour is the missing chapter for some primeurs tasters.

Sample quality can be an important part of the tasting matrix. Tasting at the châteaux, the samples almost always feel pristine. Over the years I have learnt that other tastings are more variable, not only the négociant tastings but also the UGC tastings. This year, comparing my impressions on the same wine tasted at the UGC tasting and at the châteaux, sometimes they were comparable, but sometimes they were better when shown on home soil. In the same vein, one or two négociant tastings I actively avoid, while others are very reliable. The consultant tastings (Thunevin, Boüard de Laforest, Rolland, etc) in general feature samples of good quality and it was interesting this year that all three of those mentioned actively sought feedback on either sample conditions, tasting conditions, or both. On the issue of tasting blind, I don’t agree with this, as each barrel sample is an unfinished “half-wine”. Blind tasting is for finished wine, in bottles. These “half-wines” have to be understood, not assessed as if they had just arrived in a case of samples from the PR department of a supermarket. In the same vein, because these wines need to be understood, I don’t agree with those who say tasting notes should only provide brief impressions, i.e. no real wine, no real tasting note. I go in the opposite direction, as I think maximum detail – on picking dates (this is very significant in the 2016 vintage), alcohol, acidity, phenolic concentration, what music was playing in the cellars during vendanges, who the chef de culture was dating at the time and how many speeding tickets the relevant consultant acquired as he raced from one château to the next – are all important to building up a true picture of the wine. As well as my tasting impressions of course.

Finally, before I throw out a few details regarding my forthcoming 2016 primeurs reports, as I already alluded to above there is the issue of the critic’s relationship with the Bordelais and disclosure of it. Regular readers will already be aware that I disclose all support received at the end of the year, as I did here for 2016, but I will also do this now here before I kick off my reports this Tuesday. Forewarned is forearmed, after all. Although I know some critics have paid lip service to the issue of disclosure (usually with “I could do that” or “why don’t we all to that?” tweets, followed by a degree of inaction that would make even Henry David Thoreau shed a tear) to my knowledge no other critic of the region does this. While I am sure many would have no issue with it but just can’t be bothered grasping the nettle, I suspect in a handful of cases it would make for some embarrassing reading. “Night one: had dinner with Pierre and Marie-Antoinette of Château de Pomerol – they poured their 1945 and 1937. Day two: Château de Pomerol 2016 – 98-100 points”. You get the picture. So here goes:

Day 1: Stayed at Château Siaurac, self-catered. Sausages and Sauternes with Bill Blatch, of Bordeaux Gold.
Day 2: Again, stayed at Château Siaurac, self-catered. A bit of a trough-nosh day though, as had lunch with Michel Rolland and dinner at Château Pavie. Said extra prayers as penance at bedtime.
Day 3: Stayed at Château Preuillac, self-catered.
Day 4: Stayed at Château La Lagune, with dinner. Had a quick lunch at Château Pichon-Baron.
Day 5: Again, stayed at Château La Lagune, self-catered.
Day 6: Stayed at Château La Dauphine, self catered.
Day 7: Again, stayed at Château La Dauphine, self catered.
Day 8: Back to Edinburgh, no support.

I prefer self-catered accommodation and tend to avoid châteaux with lavish catering but you learn by experience and certainly Château La Lagune put on a very nice dinner for me, and maybe I should specify in future that they don’t do that. The location is superb for the city though, where the UGC tastings were held this year. I tend to restrict myself to one formal dinner per primeurs as long as it is going to be informative and certainly tasting through five vintages from Château Pavie before dinner fitted the bill. The primeurs week features many lavish dinners and tastings, for example the Academie du Vin dinner (which pours vintages going back many decades matching the year of the dinner, so this year they all ended in a ‘7’, although I have learnt this is really a tasting aimed at the trade) and I know Château Gruaud-Larose used to put on similarly lavish tastings of ancient vintages followed by dinner (I wondered if they still did, but learnt this came to an end back in 2013), as do other châteaux in the immediate run-up to and during the primeurs, from St Estèphe down to Sauternes. I tend to avoid such events for all sorts of reasons, but feel if a critic does go they should simply declare that and declare that they also had dinner afterwards (after all we all have to eat), especially if they want any declarations regarding their probity and use of hospitality to be taken seriously.

Finally, some words of forthcoming changes to my Bordeaux primeurs reports. A few weeks ago I was speaking to Benoit Roumet of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre, the topic of discussion being the Salon des Vins de Loire (yeah, I know, I always have to spoil things by throwing in a Loire reference). Having once seemed like an immutable feature in the annual tasting timetable, this fair has haemorrhaged exhibitors over the past three years, and its future is less certain. The organisers are trying to adapt and respond to their predicament but Benoit’s response was this; “But it is too late to change when you are failing. You have to change when you are successful”. Benoit’s words resonated with me; when you are at the top of your game – whatever that game might be – you can’t simply rest on your laurels. You have to evolve and adapt, reinvent yourself, keep things fresh. The problem is, of course, this can be a difficult road to take. It is always easier to continue as things were.

This year my Bordeaux primeur reports will see some changes. The vintage report which I open with will stay, and will remain rich in detail, this being the linchpin around which all future knowledge of the vintage revolves (and why the primeur tastings are about much more than just notes and scores, or buying and selling). And, for those who enjoyed reading episodes 1 (2014) and 2 (2015) of the adventures of Monsieur Propriétaire, rest assured he will return in the 2016 vintage for episode 3. My region-by-region tasting reports, however, will change. I plan to move the technical information (on harvest, analyses and the like) previously embedded in my introductions to the tasting notes, making them more detailed, and carrying this information through to all my chateaux profiles. This will leave me open to write a different type of introduction, more a synthesis of the vintage for each region, putting myself between the wines and the reader a little more. I think the introductions may end up shorter, but more informative, more critical, but perhaps also easier to read. But as with all changes, I trust subscribers will let me know what they feel.

My Bordeaux 2016 coverage will begin this coming Tuesday, 11th April with my overview, followed by region-by-region reports, starting in St Estèphe the next day, progressing down the left bank before the right bank, the lesser appellations and the sweet wines.

Bordeaux 2016: Halfway

It is early Wednesday morning as I write this, and so I am already halfway through my week of primeur tastings. Finding the time to sit, think and write a few words on the 2016 primeurs has been a challenge. Hooking up my laptop to some dodgy wifi provision has also been a challenge. The only think that hasn’t been a challenge is tasting the barrel samples of this young vintage.

I read a comment somewhere which was along the lines of “I feel sorry for anyone having to taste raw, unfinished, tannic barrel samples”. Let me assure you visitors to the 2016 Bordeaux primeurs need no such sympathy. Putting the dry white and sweet wines to one side and focusing solely on the red wines, these are the easiest barrel samples to taste that I have ever experienced. The only thing about them that is unfinished is the élevage; in every case where I have had the opportunity to ask, I have been tasting the finished blends, which were generally made in late-December or early-January and put into barrel thereafter. And in every case this finished blend included the press wine, a significant contributor of tannins to the wine.

Bordeaux 2016

And there is certainly nothing raw about these samples. The aromatics are pure, perfumed, fruit-driven but also floral, and certainly ripe. The archetypal 2016 palate has what feels like a medium body, with beautiful fruit ripeness, but the tannins rarely pop out to say hello until after the finish. Only in a handful of ambitious wines, selected first growths and super-seconds on the left bank, for example, do the tannins make their presence known through the palate itself. This is despite the fact that the wines do have a firm structure, with plenty of tannin, but somehow it remains hidden behind the rest of the palate. And to mirror that aromatic freshness on the nose, the wines show bright, lifting acidity throughout, giving the palate a light-footed character. No, these are very complete wines, much more harmonious than many barrel samples I have tasted in my time.

Bordeaux 2016

The schedule so far has been Sauternes on Saturday, followed by the right bank including some visits to Jonathan Maltus, Château Pavie-Macquin and Château La Dominique on Sunday. Monday was a day in Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Sauternes, starting out at a very foggy 8am (as pictured above) at Château La Mission Haut-Brion and heading south, ending up at Château Climens and Château Raymond Lafon. Tuesday was a left-bank day, threading my way from another 8am start at Château Calon-Ségur down to Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, with just about every significant name you care to mention in between. Those that I didn’t squeeze in I will visit today, Wednesday, as well as other properties in Margaux and the Haut-Médoc. Then it will be over to the right bank for Thursday and Friday tastings. If I can find another semi-reliable wifi connection, I might even be able to make another blog post before the end of the week.

Bordeaux 20016: Sandrine Garbay

Taking a break for packing my bag for Bordeaux, I thought I would finish this week’s little series of comments from the region with a few words from Sandrine Garbay, the extremely talented winemaker at a litte place in Sauternes that goes by the name of Château d’Yquem.

Having posted my Sauternes 2014 notes today, finishing up my latest series of 2014 Bordeaux reports, it seems somehow appropriate to finish this prelude to 2016 Bordeaux on the same note.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: What can you tell me about the 2016 vintage?

SG: The 2016 vintage is looking very pretty. We had a dry summer, and lots of dry fruit on the vines. The first picking of the harvest accounts for 25% of the crop, and this was mostly passerillage fruit, concentrated by the warm, dry weather.

Me: Did you get botrytis later?

SG: Yes, happily, on 20th September, we had lots of rain. Although it was only in mid-October that the botrytis really got going. The main part of the harvest started after that attack of botrytis, on 18th October. We had second, third and fourth pickings. The fourth picking ran from 28th October through to 4th November. These last grapes were very botrytised, with top quality noble rot.

Me: How about the yields in 2016?

SG: The yields are really good. We had a great flowering, which was really generous. In the end we brought in 21 hl/ha, when a normal harvest would be more like 10 to 12 hl/ha. But not all the passerillage fruit will be used. It is good for giving acidity, but not complexity, so we will only use a little of it.

Me: And you will be making a dry wine this year as well?

SG: Absolutely – we started picking early for this, on 5th September, and finished on November 4th.

Me: Thanks Sandrine.

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 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: Guillaume Thienpont

Another take on Bordeaux 2016 today, moving on from yesterday’s ‘visit’ to St Emilion with Frédéric Faye of Château Figeac, today we have Guillaume Thienpont (pictured below) of Vieux Château Certan.

I called in on Guillaume last December, and this is what he had to say on the 2016 vintage at that time.

Me: What can you tell me about the 2016 vintage?

GT: We had a lot of rain at the start – in 2016 the early rain was equal to the entire rainfall for 2015. Then we had a huge drought from the month of June right through to the end of the growing season. So about two-and-a-half months with hardly a drop of rain. We had during that time maybe 20 millimetres, an insignificant amount.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: How did the vineyard handle that?

GT: On the young vines we lost leaves. We can’t irrigate, it is forbidden, and so for these vines – say those less than fifteen years old – it was not a good year. But the older vines, those with sufficently deep root systems, they coped well with the stress. They continued to give water and sap to the fruit. The fruit from the older vines was great.

Me: How was the harvest?

GT: The yield was good, about 42 to 43 hl/ha. And the concentration was good, probably more so than 2015. The new wines were extra colourful, a rich purple-red colour, that’s quite rare. Certainly on some plots it was better than 2015. Not on the young parcels, but the vineyard’s average age is 45 years, so we have plenty of older vines.

Me: So how do you feel now about style and quality of 2016?

GT: I am happy about it. I think we will end up with good, fresh wines, with better acidity than 2015. We are still doing the malolactics right now, although the majority have finished. The alcohol levels are around 14%. And the flavours are exotic, which is something we don’t usually find at this time. The aromas when we were devatting were remarkable. We get that at Le Pin sometimes, but not usually at Vieux Château Certan. There are even touches of pineapple and other exotic fruits.

Me: I have heard a lot of positive opinion on 2016 from all regions, left and right banks. Was any particular variety favoured in your experience?

GT: No, I am not sure there was a favoured variety or a favoured terroir. The warm and dry weather at the end of the season meant that all the varieties could reach optimum ripeness.

Me: Does it remind you of any particular vintage?

GT: I think the last time we had this experience was 1958. That was a year when the Cabernet Franc was fantastic, but the old Merlot was also great. The dry weather gave us a good vintage in 2016. That’s the way it should be every year!

Me: Thanks Guillaume.

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 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: Frederic Faye

I have just, a half-hour ago, finalised my Bordeaux 2016 primeurs timetable. It follows a now well-established trend, with more château visits than ever before. I will even be knocking on cellar doors come Sunday morning.

But, I suppose, so what? Who wants to read about the logistics of such things, of techniques and timetables? All that really matters about a primeurs visit is the condition of the samples. At the châteaux, this should be guaranteed, and I have learnt over the years which generic tastings feature bottles at the right temperature, in the right condition, and are thus worth attending, and which tastings tend to feature tired wines, too warm or even oxidised, and are best avoided.

And I guess all that really matters to buyers is the quality of the wine (or barrel sample, to be correct). While there are a few more days to go before I get stuck into the vintage and form my own opinions, here is what Frédéric Faye (pictured below) of Château Figeac had to say when I called in on him last December.

Bordeaux 2016

Me: So what’s new at Figeac?

FF: I think at Figeac we have a renewed aim to increase the focus of the wine, to fine tune it. And there is a lot of work ongoing in the vineyard, with continued turnover and then replanting of a variety of parcels.

Me: And what about 2016?

FF: The 2016 vintage was a journey from hell to paradise. The flowering was good, this being the one week we didn’t have rain. It was rapid too, all done in the space of the week. Otherwise it was very wet all the time at the start of the season. It was a year when good management of the vineyards was very important. Good ploughing of the soils was beneficial.

Me: But things changed in time?

FF: The end of June was when the change came. The weather improved, and it was really warm. But at the same time the nights were cooler, and so we knew it was not going to be like 2003. The drought was sufficient to cause some problems, but only with the young vines, those up to five or six years old. In response to this we picked these earlier, even if they were complanted with older vines. On average I would say we picked them ten days earlier.

Me: What about the harvest?

FF: On the whole we picked later than we would usually. We started on September 23rd, finishing up on October 20th. We had a good yield in the end, so we got both quality and quantity.

Me: Can you say a little more on the style of the vintage?

FF: Well, the malolactic fermentations are not quite finished yet, so it is too early to say any more than that. But the quantity is really amazing.

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 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: Thomas Duroux

I was last in Bordeaux in December 2016, just three months ago. I am not a ‘primeurs only’ or ‘Vinexpo only’ visitor to the region, because – as I know I have said so many times before – I don’t go to the region for the parties, but to try and get under the skin of the châteaux, the winemakers and the wines. It’s a matter of ethics; are you there to provide impartial review of the wines for readers (or subscribers in my case) or simply to have a wine-based holiday with plenty of schmoozing along the way?

Anyway, I know I sound like a broken record on this. But it is important to me.

After my December trip I did start giving space on the Winedr blog for opinions on the vintage from the region’s leading directors and winemakers, starting with Jean-Michel Comme back in January, but this series of posts then faded away as I got caught up in a series of Loire-themed trips, including the first to my house (which is – if you will excuse the quick advert – available for rent in the summer if you are looking for a place to holiday in the Loire Valley), then to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers, then to Vinovision in Paris, all in the space of a few weeks. I could hardly remember my name at the end of it all, never mind where I was up to with news on Bordeaux 2016.

My mind is now brought back into focus by the looming primeurs week. This year I hope not to get stranded in Gatwick Airport for 48 hours, and to avoid injurious bed collapsesif I can pull just that off then I think I will label the trip a success. So before I head out to begin putting together my independent and impartial report, this week I will give space for a few more opinions from the shop floor in Bordeaux, starting with Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer.

Bordeaux 2016

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

TD: The 2016 vintage was a challenging one, but with a happy ending. We had a difficult spring with a lot of mildew pressure, and as we follow biodynamics it wasn’t easy. We lost maybe 20% of the crop at this time. Then the summer came, and the weather through to September was exceptional. From July to September we had no rain. The drought was a bit difficult for vines on low-clay-content soils though, and it had some impact on the young vines too, but these are minor concerns. The plateau which has clay and gravel managed well.

Me: In view of your biodynamic philosophy and this bad start to the season, what about your yield in 2016?

TD: The result in this vintage is 30 hl/ha. We had super-small berries. Others will perhaps have higher yield, but this is of no concern.

Me: And what about quality?

TD: We have incredible quality in this vintage. There are two key points to the vintage. The first is the timing of the harvest decision – there has been a lot of variation across the region I think, and when you decided to pick could have a very big impact this year. The second brings us back to yields. I am convinced that having low yields – between 30 and 35 hl/ha, or at the very least less than 40 hl/ha – really makes a difference to quality. I saw just one of our parcels give a yield of 52 hl/ha, and the wine was just not of the same quality.

Me: Can you make any comment on the character or style of the vintage?

TD: Well, we will do the blends next week, so I will have a better idea then. But I can say now that the wine seems to have less flesh than the 2015 vintage, but it is more sophisticated. There was not one variety favoured over any other. So I feel about 2016 a little like i did about the 2012 vintage. Then there was a big contrast between the Merlot and Cabernets, the Merlot ripe and rich, the Cabernets very precise and sophisticated. The combination of the two in 2012 was fantastic. We have something similar in 2016.

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 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 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.”