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The 2014 Winedoctor Bordeaux Tour

It has been a very busy October, and a month I look back on fondly. The highlight of the month was without a doubt my first opportunity to lead a SmoothRed tour to Bordeaux. This was an immensely enjoyable experience for me, and I hope (and feedback seems to suggest my hopes have been realised) that the clients were just as pleased with the experience as I was.

Even though I was already quite familiar with the numerous châteaux we visited, I found something new on every visit. I suspect this is because, in Bordeaux, so many of my visits are quick dashes in to taste, often during the primeurs. I always try to build in a little time so that I can find out what is new, to hear the latest gossip, nevertheless it is still a hurried affair, a twenty-minute chat, and then another frantic drive to the next appointment. This trip was, of course, very different. Most visits lasted an hour or two, and there was plenty of time to walk in the vines, check out the harvest (the 2014 harvest was in full swing during our visit) and to taste some musts straight from the vat (always great fun, and the 2014 Château Haut-Bailly rosé we tasted, just a couple of days into its fermentation, promises to be delicious). Of course, we also tasted (and drank!) some older vintages, often over lunch or dinner.

Château Haut-Bailly

We visited many châteaux during the trip, and the programme took in some very serious Bordeaux names, including Château d’Yquem, Château Haut-Brion and Château Angélus. For me a couple of visits really stand out; the very first visit to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière was memorable, an informative talk in the vines being followed by a four-course lunch with a slew of mature wines, including 2000 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and 2001 La Mondotte, among others. And our evening at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above) was also very special, kicking off with a Champagne reception and then we had a three-course dinner accompanied by various vintages of the wine, back to the delectable 2000 Château Haut-Bailly. This was all very different to my usual Bordeaux trip, which usually involves a cheese sandwich for lunch, eaten while driving, in order to maximise tasting time.

Reflecting on the trip, I think it was a great success. The organisation behind it was impeccable, for which SmoothRed must take all the credit. And the roll-call of names we visited (I haven’t even mentioned Château Pichon-Baron, even though that was voted ‘top lunch’ of the trip by the clients, or Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, or Château Pontet-Canet, all of which put on excellent visits and tastings) was remarkable, as were some of our restaurant visits (Brasserie Bordelaise, La Tupina and others). Roll on the 2015 Winedoctor Bordeaux tour!

Bordeaux: Time Out

This is just a quick ‘heads up’ to all Winedoctor subscribers that I doubt I will be able to make any further posts this week, as I am flying out to Bordeaux this evening.

When I visit Bordeaux, such as for the primeurs, it is not unusual for me to suspend site updates, but in their place I usually update the Winedr blog instead, writing less formal posts on what I have been up to, which châteaux I have visited, and what I have tasted that day. I usually steer clear of the primeurs party scene, which gives me the time to do this during the evening, even after a full day of driving and tasting. This next trip is different though; I will be leading a group on a tour of Bordeaux, and the schedule is full of tastings, lunches and dinners (possibly long, drawn-out dinners, who knows?), and I doubt I will have enough time to think, never mind update the site and/or blog as well.

For this reason the site may well be quiet for a few days. If I have time I promise I will post something. In the meantime, here’s my rough schedule for the next few days:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and Château Angélus (pictured below).

Château Angélus

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion, Château d’Yquem, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Château Pontet-Canet, Château Pichon-Baron and Château Rauzan-Segla.

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: Dinner at Château Haut-Bailly, then back home.

Each visit will be long and relaxed, a luxury compared to my swoop, taste and spit primeur tastings. And some will involve lunch, and I expect to be having dinner at La Tupina and the Brasserie Bordelaise, among other places. As some wine writers might say, it is going to be a mind-blowing trip!

Images from the Climens Tisanerie

I report today, on Winedoctor, on a visit I made earlier this year to Château Climens (subscribers only). As well as tasting a number of recent vintages, including Cyprès de Climens (the second label) back to 2010, and Château Climens itself back to 2005, I was also able to take an impromptu tour of the tisanerie. If you had asked me a year or two ago what a tisanerie might be I am sure I wouldn’t have had a clue; but now I could at least hazard a guess. If you have ever finished a dinner in France with a tisane, a tea or herbal infusion, rather than a coffee, then you will at least be familiar with the origin of the word tisanerie.

Indeed, the tisanerie is where proprietor Bérénice Lurton dries and stores the plant material she needs to make the herbal infusions so important to biodynamics. Here are a few more images, to complement those in my Climens report, of some of what Bérénice has stored.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is osier, which is willow (osier also translates as wicker, which can have many different plant origins, but in this case it is certainly willow). A tisane made from willow is one of several that is said to stimulate the vine’s natural defences, and thus it is useful against mildew and oidium.

The Climens Tisanerie

A sack of dried fenouil, or fennel. This is another commonly encountered tisane, used as far as I know in the same manner as willow.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is laurier, or bay leaf, which is also regularly used in the making of biodynamic tisanes at Château Climens.

The Climens Tisanerie

Here we have soucis, in other words dried marigolds, consoude, which is comfrey, a good base material for making a liquid fertiliser, as all gardeners worth their salt will know, and genièvre, which gin drinkers will know well, as this is juniper.

The Climens Tisanerie

Finally we have prêle, a staple in the production of biodynamic tisanes, as this is horsetail. It is used in much the same way as willow, as described above, being sprayed on the vines to ward off mildew and oidium. I have plenty of these in my garden, should any budding biodynamicists wish to come round and pull them up for me.

Read my full report on my visit to Château Climens here (subscribers only).

In Bordeaux: Day Two of Two

I continued making a nuisance of myself in Bordeaux on Wednesday with some more right bank visits. Kicking off at Château de la Gaffelière, I took a look at the very pretty chai before a walk around the vineyards with Alexandre Malet. Afterwards I retasted a barrel sample of the 2013, which was very typical for the vintage on the right bank, with freshness aplenty, ripe fruit character, but the generally rather fruit-led, supple texture with a light tannic structure. It was a great surprise to find in the tasting room a tesseri mosaic that was excavated nearby (detail from a small section below); I have long known of the existence of the Gallo-Roman villa near La Gaffelière, thought by some to have been the residence of Ausonius, but I had not realised the entire floor had been excavated and placed on display in this manner.

Tesseri at Château la Gaffelière

Next up I went out to Château Laroque, which is still on the limestone plateau but to the east of the town of St Emilion, on the way out to Castillon. There is no denying the ancient grandeur of this estate, and the wines are attractive, showing a very classic savoury and pencil-straight St Emilion character which is a world away from some of the rather sweet, concentrated and over-extracted wines made by some of the best known names in the appellation. This was a fairly detailed visit, looking first at the vineyards and then a vertical tasting back to 1998, as well as a very interesting tasting of five barrel samples of the 2013 vintage, each barrel from a different tonnelier. This was an interesting experience as in each case the fruit profile was the same (although the wood obviously impacts on the flavour as well), but each showed a subtly different tannin structure.

During the course of the afternoon I visited Château La Fleur de Boüard, run by the Boüard de Laforest family of course, and then Château La Patache, a Pomerol estate. La Patache can be found at the western end of the commune, on more sandy soils, but which also owns some vines up on the plateau, where there is more gravel, and also directly opposite Château Clinet, where there is more clay. Until recently the different plots have been blended, but since 2012 the plot opposite Clinet has been held separately and bottled as a special cuvée. The wines were good, and this is certainly an estate to watch in this appellation.

Roots at Château Les Grands Murailles

There then followed a whirlwind tour of several St Emilion estates in the ownership of Sophie Fourcade, including Château Côte de Baleau, Clos St Martin and Château Les Grands Murailles; this was a fascinating eye-opener to these estates, in the case of the latter two both tiny estates, each with a single parcel of vines, nestled close to famous names. Although I knew of all three domaines (especially as all three were elevated to grand cru classé status in the 2012 St Emilion classification), I haven’t visited any of them before. Château Côte de Baleau lies to the north-west of St Emilion, close to Château Fonroque, Clos St Martin lies in the shadow of L’Église St Martin, next to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, and the vines of Château Les Grandes Murailles are directly adjacent to the ruins of the cathedral at the top end of St Emilion, very close to Clos Fourtet. A descent into the cave of the latter, to see the vine roots (pictured above) penetrating the limestone roof (just 2.5 m of rock, and about 80 cm of soil above my head), is not an experience I will quickly forget.

Grapes at Château La Patache

The day finished with dinner at Château La Dominique, where the team behind La Brasserie Bordelaise – perhaps everybody’s favourite Bordeaux brasserie – have set up a very fine restaurant with an excellent view across the very western periphery of the St Emilion appellation and Pomerol, taking in the cellars of Château Cheval Blanc (or a little of them at least) as well as Château la Conseillante, Château L’Évangile and others. I rolled back to my hotel close to midnight, serum foie gras levels at a 2014 high.

Today (which I have finally decided must be Thursday) I fly back to the UK. Which is a shame, as the weather in Bordeaux is great, and the vines are certainly lapping it up, with plenty of tiny berries appearing already (as above, in Pomerol). I have a good feeling about the 2014 vintage.

In Bordeaux Again

I’m in Bordeaux again, outside of the hubbub of en primeurs. It’s important to visit when the focus isn’t just barrel samples followed by more barrel samples. Last year I also visited in October, to look at bottled wines too. This year, October is planned, but I am out here in June to visit some properties and taste wines old and young, as well as getting a deeper feel for the soils and the vineyards.

Château Hannetot

Landing in Bordeaux at about 10:45 yesterday I hot-footed it over to Château Hannetot, in the Pessac-Léognan appellation; a rather bijou operation (the rather pretty ‘château‘, above, is in fact a converted stable block). This is effectively a new start-up, the vines only planted seven years ago, the first vintage 2010, the quantities small (2010 was the first vintage). It was an interesting visit and it is an estate I will have to look out for in the future.

Olivier Bernard

Then it was on to Domaine de Chevalier to meet Olivier Bernard (pictured above). I tasted the 2013 vintage from Clos des Lunes, his new venture in Sauternes here, as well as updating my Chevalier tasting experience with a mini-vertical of five recent vintages. Olivier is a great guy, clearly an individual passionate about wine, who buys, cellars and drinks wine from across the world, which is not that common in Bordeaux. This includes the Loire, and I came to realise during the course of our conversation that he has tasted more old vintages of Vouvray than I probably have.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of several properties in St Emilion, looking at soils and vines, before a tasting at Château Cantin, a very pretty château clearly aiming, with the Michel Rolland team on board, for grand cru classé status. The day then finished with a visit to the space-age winery of Château Faugères (pictured below). It has been a long time since I paid this estate any attention, and it was good to get to grips with its effective dissolution into three estates, the two St Emilion properties Faugères and Peby-Faugères (once really a super-cuvée but now an estate in its own right) and the Castillon estate Cap de Faugères.

Château Faugères

Today (which is probably Wednesday, but I have lost track a little, so maybe it’s Tuesday – we have had the weekend, haven’t we?), I am off to Château La Gaffelière, Château Laroque, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Château La Patache, Clos Saint Martin and Château La Dominique. Each property has some story to tell, I think. It promises to be a busy but very informative day.

Chateau Preuillac: 80% Hail Damage

I was saddened to learn today that, yet again, Bordeaux has been hit by hail in the past 24 hours. This time the affected area was in the northern Médoc, affecting a relatively concentrated zone just to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, well into the Médoc appellation. Some vignerons are reported to have lost everything, the vines shredded by the hail.

Château Preuillac

Several notable properties have vines here, including Château Preuillac (pictured above) and just across the road are vineyards belonging to Château Potensac. I spoke to Jean-Christophe Mau, proprietor of Château Preuillac, who told me “I have lost more than 80% of the harvest at Preuillac“. Clearly dejected, he concluded “it is very sad, but that’s life“.

I am deeply upset that once again Bordeaux has been hit by hail. Once again it has wiped out entire vineyards, and once again it has hit little, less well-known domaines hardest. All we can hope is that we don’t have a repeat of 2013, when the first storm was only an opening act.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

The Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience

In October this year I’m looking forward to leading a trip to some of Bordeaux’s most remarkable wine estates with Adam Stebbing of SmoothRed, a long-established company offering tailor-made wine tours, holidays, events and experiences. The Bordeaux Grand Cru Experience promises great wine, superb château visits and fine dining.

The tour is now mostly booked up but there are still some places left. It would be great to fill those last few places with a couple of long-term Winedoctor readers!

Here’s a taster of what the trip will involve:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux, private chauffeur-driven coach to St Emilion, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (for lunch) and then Château Angélus. Dinner and hotel in Bordeaux City.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion first, and as if one first growth weren’t enough, after a tasting and lunch it’s onto Château d’Yquem.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Tour up the famous ‘Route des Châteaux’. Visit Château Pontet-Canet, now turning out wines to challenge the very best in the commune. Then it will be lunch at Château Pichon-Baron (pictured above) – where lunch, I have recently learnt from first-hand experience, is not to be missed! In the afternoon, we head south to Margaux and Château Rauzan-Segla.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: There is no let up in terms of quality on the final day. The morning allows us all time to take in Bordeaux city, followed by lunch and tasting at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above), the origin of one of the very best wines of the entire appellation. Fly back to London early evening.

Prices: £1679.00 per person for 3 star hotel option (based on double room occupancy), £1994.00 per person for 5 star upgrade option (also based on double room occupancy). For four days with all those visits (including Yquem and Haut-Brion!) that seems like money well spent.

There are (or were – more than half have sold) fourteen places, so this will be a very intimate tour. If you would like to come along check out the SmoothRed itinerary here: Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience or phone Adam on +44 (0) 207 1988 369, or email him on sales@smoothred.co.uk.

Bordeaux 2013: Final Day

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.

Château Pavie

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 Stefan 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.

Bordeaux 2013: On the Right Bank

My primeurs week continues, and I’m now on the right bank. Thursday was a day of Pomerol in the morning, and a mix of Pomerol and St Emilion in the afternoon. The weather was absolutely miserable, with grey skies and rain all day, sometimes light but sometimes very heavy. Dashing from car to tasting room in order not to get soaked to the skin was the order of the day.

The morning was fascinating, as I toured sme of the top names of the Pomerol appellation, starting at the Moueix offices on the Libourne quayside. This tasting usually includes a full line-up of their Pomerols, plus a handful of St Emilions, but there were a few wines missing this year, and these absentees served as an indicator of the difficulty of the vintage. First, in St Emilion, no Château Puy-Blanquet this year, as the vineyard was hit by hail and they took the decision to sell off the enture crop in bulk. Secondly, coming back to Pomerol, due to millerandage there is no wine from Château Hosanna nor from Providence. So it was a somewhat contracted line-up here.

Thereafter it was on to Vieux Château Certan where Guillaume Thienpont (pictured below) was pouring the 2013. The story told here was in contrast to that I heard elsewhere, in that most reported problems with Merlot more than any other variety. Here Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont found the Merlot to be of good quality, and were less convinced by the Cabernets this year. As a consequence, the wine here has more Merlot and less Cabernet than it has had for many decades. After that, it was a dash to Château Église-Clinet, to taste with Denis Durantou, Château Lafleur to taste with Baptiste Guinaudeau, Petrus and then Château Le Gay. To say there were some good wines in amongst this little lot would be an understatement. This really has been a primeurs worth coming for – it is a vintage where you can sift through all that is on offer and find some real successes. And isn’t that what wine critics are for – to guide willing drinkers towards wines worth buying? I’m in danger of repeating myself here though, of getting back on the you-can’t-judge-without-tasting track, and so I’ll move on now.

Guillaume Thienpont

The afternoon kicked off with the UGC Pomerol tasting, and then a quick stop at Château L’Évangile before heading next-door to Château Cheval Blanc to taste with the very knowledgable technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet. Here I also picked up a taste of Château d’Yquem, before heading next-door again (you see, there is some planning in my timetable!) to Château La Dominique for the UGC St Emilion tasting. I have never been to this château before, but sadly as it was still bucketing down I wasn’t going to hang around to take any photographs, although I would have very much liked to have done so.

There were some surprisingly convincing wines at this tasting; you might think with the tendency at some estates in St Emilion to over-extract that the wines would end up terribly over-worked. But there are in fact some really notable successes here, wines brimming with fruit, as there are in Pomerol. They are wines of genuine structure, and the fruit is really fresh yet ripe and dark; some are very convincing wines, remarkable efforts when you time the time to consider once again the trials of the growing season.

Although it was now late afternoon I had two more tastings to go. First I headed into St Emilion, parking up at the top of town and then braving the rain (the evening before I flew out last weekend I had been hunting for an umbrella but couldn’t find one – just my luck) to walk through the cobbled streets to Jean-Luc Thunevin’s tasting. As usual (as there were in 2012), there were some pretty smart wines here. And then for a final hurrah, I headed out to the wilds of Vignonet, on the plain below St Emilion, for a tasting of the wines of Jonathan Maltus. That was a pretty good way to round up a long day of tasting. It was, to say the least, a late finish.

Friday is my final day of primeur tasting. Some more big-name St Emilions today, including Château Pavie, Château Angélus, the Neipperg wines, Château Tertre-Roteboeuf and then back into Pomerol to mop up there. My timetable is a little lighter – I have even allowed myself a lunch break today. Perhaps I will be able to use it to catch up on some sleep!