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R.I.P. Paul Pontallier, Man of Margaux

I am deeply saddened by news today of the death of Paul Pontallier, managing director of Château Margaux. He was very young, aged just 59 years.

Paul Pontallier was the face of Château Margaux for as long as I have known it. Having studied in Paris, Montpellier and Bordeaux, he took up a position at Château Margaux, working for Corinne Mentzelopoulos, in 1983. In 1990 he replaced Philippe Barré, who was set to retire, as managing director. It was a post Paul (pictured below) was to hold for more than 25 years.

My first ever visit to Bordeaux, a press trip in the depths of December as it happened, included a few hours at Château Margaux. It was, I think, the first time I had ever met Paul. He was charming and clearly deeply knowledgable about not just Margaux and its vineyard, but about all things Bordeaux. About rootstocks, terroir, varieties, canopy management and more. His mind was insightful and enquiring, evidence of which I was fortunate to experience many years later when tasting some of the wines from the Margaux Research Programme.

Paul Pontallier

Paul Pontallier was, technically speaking, an employee, although to see him and Corinne Mentzelopoulos working together at Château Margaux it was clear that there was a relationship of mutual respect and trust. I recall one tasting, perhaps back in 2008 or 2009, when Paul captivated the crowd of assembled tasters with his report on the vintage and opinion of the wine, while Corinne bustled away alongside, pouring the wines. Each was completely at ease in their respective roles, even though you might have thought they had it the wrong way round. It was a joy to watch.

Many of those visits were diluted by the number of people present. During the primeurs there are always crowds of tasters at the big-name châteaux, but I soon discovered that when I visited Bordeaux alone Paul was no less open, amiable and free with both his knowledge and his time. And yet he always remained humble. I recall standing in the usual tasting room (before tastings were moved down to the orangerie because of the recent building work), just Paul and I around a bottle or two of his wine, chewing the fat regarding recent vintages. I expressed an opinion that 2010 was particularly strong in the Margaux appellation. He seemed genuinely interested, and it soon became clear why – “I wouldn’t know”, he said, “I really haven’t had the chance to taste many”. His mind and palate had been focused solely on Margaux’s grand vin.

Under Paul’s direction Château Margaux rose from the doldrums of the 1970s, when it was frequently accused of under-performing, to produce some of the finest wines this estate has ever produced. He focused more and more on the heart of the domaine, its gravelly core, and pushing quality, expressed through the finesse rather than the power of the wines, ever higher. Is it possible for one man to achieve anything more significant in wine? He leaves behind a formidable legacy, and many, many people who are very saddened by his premature departure. These include a son Thibault who also now works at Château Margaux. My condolences to Thibault and the rest of Paul’s family, and to Corinne and the team at Château Margaux.

Winedoctor 2015 Disclosures

Is there any more eagerly awaited blog post than my annual disclosure statement? Well, to be honest, the answer is probably yes. But I will carry on regardless.

Independence and transparency is important. On independence I maintain my position that wine writers should always avoid conflicts of interest, write for their subscribers or readers and not the producers or winemakers, and avoid being duplicitous or even being ‘economical with the truth’ at all times. I also believe to be credible writers should avoid being sucked into the wine marketing machine, a big risk when the region you are writing about is wealthy and well-positioned to encourage that sort of behaviour through boozy lunches and pouring lots of old vintages.

On these issues, relating to independence, I have not shifted, but where I have shifted is on the issue of transparency. I think today that this is more important than ever. This is because to write about wine in an informative manner it is pointless trying to cut yourself off from the people who make it. Writers have to interact with producers (importantly, in the region the wine is made), and that can incur costs, from travel, accommodation and dining. Not boozy lunches or parties, just the costs of living. Rather than trying to cut this cord, feedback given to me in 2015 is that readers seem to value transparency on such matters more than any attempts to reduce the interaction/dependency to zero. I found that really interesting and something of a surprise.

Will this little nugget encourage others to be more transparent about their wine writing work? Who knows. It is no doubt a daunting thought, to bite the disclosure bullet. While I ponder that, here are the details of my disclosures for 2015:

Salon des Vins de Loire: The Salon has been struggling in recent years, and contemporaneously with this change InterLoire has cut funding for visiting journalists. No formal funding was received. It’s a sign of the times. I did accept two dinner invitations though, one with Loire courtier Charles Sydney, and one from new association Loire Latitude. In the interests of transparency, this latter group includes Pierre Luneau-Papin, Le Rocher des Violettes, Nicolas Grosbois, Henry Pellé and Le Clos des Quarterons. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Bordeaux primeurs: I stayed in Bordeaux for seven nights, and I accepted accommodation for some of these. I began with one night in Château des Vigiers, and I also had four nights uncatered accommodation in Château Preuillac, courtesy of négociant Yvon Mau. The night at Vigiers (a bit off the beaten track) was to facilitate attendance at a tasting of Château L’Église-Clinet, held at Château Thénac, in Bergerac. I also accepted dinner at Château Thénac, and stopped in at Château Sociando-Mallet to take advantage of their buffet lunch. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Loire Valley, Saumur & beyond: I covered most costs for my trip to the Loire Valley in June myself (see below), but I did accept two nights accommodation from a generic body, the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre.
Bordeaux Harvest Visit: I visited in October to taste 2013s, and also to learn about the 2015 vintage. I accepted accommodation in Château Le Pape for three nights, Château Clément-Pichon for one night, and Château La Dauphine for three nights. I accepted three dinner invitations, from Château Haut-Bailly, Vignobles Fayat and Château La Dauphine. I also attended an end-of-harvest lunch with Jonathan Maltus, and on another day had lunch after tasting at Château Le Gay. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: A case of wine from Château Brown was received as a token of gratitude for having organised half of the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting. The highlight of the year, however, was the receipt of my ‘Château Teyssier 2015 Harvest’ t-shirt. In order to confuse my neighbours I wear this when I go out blackberry picking.
Samples received: Only a small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

This concludes the ‘support received’ section of my 2015 disclosures report. I try to keep support received to a minimum, and where taken I prefer more ‘generic’ support from associations, négociants or regional bodies nevertheless (in Bordeaux in particular) some suport received during 2015, in the form of dinners and accommodation, did relate to individual châteaux. Where appropriate, such as at Château Clément-Pichon, this has also been disclosed on relevant reports and profiles.

Winedoctor 2015 Disclosures

As is customary, I also like to balance this information with a report on which tastings and trips have been funded by me, or to be more precise by my subscribers.

Angers, Salon: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included flights, rail fare in France, six nights accommodation in Angers and subsistence on all nights but two.
Loire Valley, Saumur & beyond: In June I spent three days visiting in Savennières, Saumur and Sancerre, checking out Clos Rougeard and other top domaines. I covered most of the costs myself; this included flights to Paris, car hire, accommodation in Saumur and all subsistence costs, not to mention the fine from the car hire company for exceeding the agreed mileage on a short rental. That’s the last time I forget to read the Europcar small print.
Loire Valley, More Saumur: In July I returned to the Loire for the third time in 2015. I spent a week based in Parnay. I covered all costs, including flights to Paris, car hire, accommodation in Saumur and all subsistence costs myself. No excess-mileage fine this time, but a speeding ticket instead, plus the car hire firm’s ‘handling fee’ for shopping me to the French traffic FBI. I really am going off Europcar now.
Portugal: My only non-Loire-non-Bordeaux trip of the year, I spent the best part of two weeks checking out Portuguese wine. There is a single-variety revolution in Vinho Verde that is very exciting, with some delicious wines – almost as good as Muscadet in some cases. I covered all costs, including flights, accommodation, car hire and subsistence myself.
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I met my travel costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. I paid for two nights in a budget hotel in Libourne, previously endorsed by Neal Martin. I paid for all my own subsistence except for the lunches and dinner described above.
Bordeaux Harvest Visit: For this eight-day trip to Bordeux I met my travel costs myself; this included transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. I accepted assistance with accommodation. I was hosted at dinner three times, but paid for the remainder of my subsistence myself.
London, Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tasting: I was already in London judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards, and took a day out of my judging schedule to attend this. I thus covered all my own travel costs. I also had dinner at Terroirs with Daniel Primack, UK Zalto rep. We split the bill, but I did come away from the evening one Zalto wine glass better off, which if you believe in karma at least makes up for that speeding ticket earlier in the year.
Other London tastings: These were numerous, and included the Bordeaux Index 2005 tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting, the Real Wine Fair, the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the 2013 vintage at Covent Garden, the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting (where I was both organiser and taster) and the IMW Bordeaux tasting of the 2011 vintage. In each case I paid for my entry fee where applicable, and flights and transfers. On most occasions I also benefited from a free lunch (which I guess disproves the relevant adage). The one exception was the IMW tasting where lunch is not provided, so I scoffed a cheese sandwich I had cunningly secreted in my rucksack; it went surprisingly well with 2011 Lafite-Rothschild.
Chester, High Time with Haut Brion: I covered my own costs for this Friday-evening tasting of wines from Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, including parking, entry fee, rail fares and the cost of an over-priced hotel room in Chester city centre. I was back in Edinburgh the next morning before any thought of a free lunch even entered my head.

That’s all for now. I am anticipating many more great tastings in 2016, as the 2015 vintage holds much promise in both Bordeaux (pictured above – 2015 budbreak in April) and the Loire Valley. Thanks to all my subscribers for making all of the above possible.

Have a Happy New Year!

And so 2015 draws to a close….

It has been a great year for Winedoctor, now with over one thousand subscribers. As far as updates go, I have written more words during 2015, updated more profiles, added more new tasting notes, written more new profiles, and written more on the latest Loire and Bordeaux vintages (as well as some older vintages) than ever before. I really enjoyed looking back through my ten Wine in Context posts – it reminded me what a super twelve months 2015 gave me. Thanks to all my subscribers for making it possible, and for giving me the reason to do it all.

I would count up all my words, posts and tasting notes as proof of how Winedoctor has grown, but in all honesty I have better things to do – right now I can hear corks popping, and I don’t have a glass in my hand yet. Shocking, I know.

I will take New Year’s Day off (I took Christmas Day off too – I am such a sloth!), but normal updates will resume January 2nd. I have to start again soon, I have a lot of updates, articles and reports piling up. And there is my annual disclosure statement, providing full transparency on support received throughout the year, to pull together as well – I wouldn’t want to forget that, especially as I know some out there look forward to it with baited breath and more than a hint of trembling anticipation.

I am looking forward to getting to grips with the 2015 vintage, both from the Loire and Bordeaux, in the next few months. Both sound very promising. I will start with the Loire, with my first tasting planned for January, then it is off to the Salon des Vins de Loire in February.

For now though, it is time to chill out with family and fizzy fermented juice. My best wishes to all for your New Year’s Eve celebrations, and all the best for 2016.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

I’ve been a regular attendee of the Bordeaux Index annual tasting of ten-year old Bordeaux for a few years now. To me, Bordeaux has always been about wine in maturity; I realise there are many wines made in the region that are great to drink young, but the region has a place in my heart not because of these wines, but because of experiences with mature bottles from which emerge wines that twist and turn in the mouth, revealing layer after layer of confidence and complexity as they do so. This is why I buy and cellar Bordeaux.

Over the years I have cast my eye back to older vintages, sometimes wines tasted with a tasting group, sometimes a collection of wines from my cellar. This is fun, and I plan to continue doing it for that very reason; I have some 2003s lined up at the moment, as much because I have a feeling we need to be looking more closely at whether some wines from this vintage need drinking up as much as exploring their “confidence and complexity”, and after that I think I may take a look at the 2000 vintage again, as I didn’t touch on these wines in my recent 2000 Fifteen Years On tasting. But these tastings will only ever give us a glimpse of a vintage, ten or fifteen tasting notes from which we can extrapolate to other wines, other communes or appellations even. There are obviously some pitfalls with this premise; all such extrapolations have to be taken with a decent pinch of salt.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

That’s why tastings such as the one held by Bordeaux Index are so useful; this is a more comprehensive look at the vintage, taking in the left-bank first growths, as well as big names from the right bank including Petrus and Le Pin, with perhaps 50 or 60 wines up for tasting. I wrote up my report of the 2005 tasting here: Bordeaux 2005 at Ten Years.

So why is this tasting one of my wine highlights for 2015? Simple; revisiting these wines, with the benefit of eight-or-so years of bottle age, and also the benefit of a few more years experience since I last tasted them (which, in any number, was six years ago, back in 2009) this vintage is clearly, for my palate at least, the real deal. Of course, it is one of several vintages anybody could trot off if asked to list their favourites from the last two decades. Everybody would throw 2000 into the ring, even though many wines have a methoxypyrazine freshness which I personally find very appealing, but it surprises me that wines which appear to major on green freshness and acidity rather than ripe texture and richness were so highly rated in the early days. Some would also throw 2003 into the ring, but this is in fact a really mixed vintage, with some great wines but also some dead and dying disasters (hence my intention to revisit it – there’s nothing like a bit of wine autopsy to while away the hours on a winter’s night). Nobody is going to argue with 2009 or 2010, even though they are very different vintages, 2009 a bit of a turbocharged 1982, while 2010 is a supercharged version of 1986. Or maybe 1988? Or maybe 1996 left bank? That one is, admittedly, a bit more difficult to tie down.

The 2005 vintage though has measured texture, balance, harmony, the aforementioned confidence although the complexity of maturity has yet to come I think. Most of all the wines have purity, they are fresh, the flavours defined, the tannins substantial but ripe and pristine, the acidity spot on for the wine that is built around it. They are very complete wines. It is I think the most charming and delectable of recent vintages, and as I sat in the Bordeaux Index offices, tasting with joy, I was glad that I had been able to put a few bottles away in the cellar (even if some wines, such as the one pictured above, were somewhat beyond my price range). It is a little like my older tasting companions telling me, twenty-or-so years ago, how glad they were to have put away some 1982s. The 2005 vintage is at that sort of level, one of the true greats of our lifetime, and I feel privileged to have been able to experience it.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #5: Haut-Brion

Heading down from Edinburgh to Chester to join Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I used to attend, in their 30th anniversary celebrations in May this year was a real blast from the past. The focus here has always been – as the name suggests – almost exclusively Bordeaux and I blame them, in part at least, for my continued focus on this region, even though having long left Chester for Edinburgh I haven’t attended a tasting in a decade.

Thirty years of monthly tastings is quite a feat! I was far from being a long-standing member (I think I toddled along to these tastings for about five years) so I was really grateful for being invited back as a ‘one-off’ special. First, because it was great to see some old faces, and because the trip brought back some fine memories of dashing to catch the train to Chester after a busy day in the office, and dashing to catch the last train home again afterwards. But most of all it was for the wines, eight vintages of Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, including some very smart years with 1990, 1988 and 1986 Haut-Brion and 1986 La Mission Haut-Brion being some of my favourites.

Château Haut-Brion

As a contrast to what I wrote yesterday on the importance of being open-minded and making new discoveries, and the significance of talented vignerons such as Vincent Caillé, this tasting proved the staying power of great domaines such as the two featured here. Although I have been to some great tastings this year (such as those yet to come in this year’s Wine in Context round-up) I think for sheer quality, complexity, maturity and drinkability these wines would win out. There were wines I tasted on other days I found no less breathtaking, but I am not sure everybody would feel the same way. Judging by the response to a few pictures from the tasting I posted on social media, there are a lot of people out there who would have liked to have come to this tasting. And having spent an entire evening savouring the wines, I don’t blame them! My full write up, for subscribers, is here: A High Time with Haut-Brion.

I can only hope 2016 throws up something just as special. I don’t suppose there is anyone hosting a vertical tasting of Le Pin before December 2016, is there? I’m willing to dress up as Neal Martin if it helps.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #7: Eglise-Clinet Extravaganza

Sometimes the dream invitation crops up. Well, I suppose for me, the true ‘dream invitation’ would be a tasting in Philippe Foreau’s cellars of every moelleux and moelleux reserve he or his father André and grandfather Armand ever made, back to and including the 1947 Goutte d’Or. Not forgetting the 1990 Goutte d’Or on the way. This is an invitation that I would only receive in a dream, so I’m not holding my breath in aniticipation of receiving the invitation.

Happily, even in the absence of such an invitation landing on my doormat, 2015 hasn’t been short of tastings that are just as special. One of the most envy-inducing invitations I received this year was to join Denis Durantou (pictured below), proprietor of Château L’Église-Clinet, for a retrospective tasting of his grand vin from 2005 back to 1995, with several vintages poured both from bottle and from magnum. The venue was Château Thénac, a very pretty estate in the Bergerac appellation where Denis consults. The date was a Saturday evening in late March, on the eve of the primeurs.

Denis Durantou

It was a pretty small affair, with fewer than a dozen tasters gathered around the table. I was able to kiss the hand of Jancis Robinson, and gave Neal Martin the secret BB (‘before blogs’) handshake known only to those who began writing about wine online prior to July 31st, 2003 (it’s a secret society thing – sorry I can’t disclose any more about it). But it was not the attendees who shone, but the wines, with some particularly fine efforts. I was most impressed by the 2005 vintage (from magnum and bottle), then 2000 and 1998, then the 1995 and 2001 vintages. But there were plenty of good efforts from ‘lesser’ years too; it was a ‘no-gap’ warts-and-all tasting which included 1996, 1997 and 2002, all of which showed well. If subscribers want to refresh their memory, I wrote the tasting up here. Afterwards we all had dinner together as guests of Château Thénac (which reminds me, I must also write my 2015 disclosure statement soon) which was good fun.

Many of my Wine in Context moments feature times I learnt something new, or when I realised something about myself, poignant or instructive ‘wine moments’. In the case of this tasting, however, it was really the wines, plus a few hours in the company of Denis (another of Bordeaux’s good guys) that makes the evening stick in my mind. It was a great tasting. Here’s hoping 2016 will bring out one or two more tasting opportunities like this.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #8: Tasting with John Kolasa

Being based in Edinburgh means I am somewhat detached from the rest of the British wine writing community, who largely congregate around London. That’s not to say there aren’t people doing good things anywhere else in the UK, as that’s certainly not true. But the people whose work most interests me most, and who I read regularly, and whose opinions I trust most, are largely based in London. People like Neal Martin, Jamie Goode, Jim Budd, Andrew Jefford, Hugh Johnson and no doubt a few others, all of whom I have enjoyed meeting over the years and in some cases getting to know them quite well.

The association between London and the wine trade is of course long-standing, going back centuries, long before privateers began landing the “new French clarets” on the docks of the Thames in the early 18th century. And so it was only natural that an association between London and the wine writing world (which I maintain is distinct from the wine trade, although the boundaries may be blurred in some cases) would also grow up. And so today most of the major UK tastings are held in London, and I travel there frequently in order to taste. Which is why it is always interesting to see a wine event suddenly pop up much closer to home, especially if the wines in question just happen to be from two high-flying, high-quality Bordeaux domaines.

Château Canon

The tasting in question featured a number of vintages of Château Canon and Château Rauzan-Ségla, and was led by John Kolasa. Thanks must go to the Wine Society. who hosted the tasting and invited me along. It was a celebration of some very fine wines, and yet it was also a poignant moment, as 2015 was the year of John’s retirement. I was saddened that in all the years I have been tasting and writing about Bordeaux that I haven’t had the opportunity to become better acquainted with John. I don’t think any of the accusations of hyperbole and greed that have been thrown at Bordeaux in recent years could be directed towards him; on this occasion, and when we met up in Bordeaux during the primeurs just a few weeks later, he seemed to me to be one of the region’s good guys, someone who fell into wine at a young age and has worked his way up. John has clearly been driven by a passion for the wines of the region, and a belief that a job worth doing is doing well. He has a philosophy, born out of the recognition that all the wines he enjoyed when he arrived in Bordeaux were the product of someone else’s work, that in such a region, where the wines take several decades to mature and a freshly-planted vineyard takes several decades more to reach its peak, that it is only right that if you take from the region (by savouring the very best it has to offer – as John started at Château Latour he certainly did that), you must also give something back before you leave. John has thus spent much of his life working for the generation that would follow him, building up these two domaines over many years. It is easy to forget, with the very negative image Bordeaux seems to have cultivated for itself in recent times, that people like this still exist.

I was also delighted to meet a couple of Winedoctor subscribers at the tasting – this is always a pleasure! I wrote the tasting up in two reports, a Château Canon 2015 Retrospective and a Château Rauzan-Ségla 2015 Retrospective, adding in a few notes from another tasting that followed after the primeurs. I wish John the very best for a long and happy retirement.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley

A few years ago (well, maybe more than a few) December would always feature my Wine in Context reports. It was meant to be an antidote to the usual festive ‘top ten wines of the year’ lists. These lists always featured 18th-century Madeira, numerous first growths, Rousseau Chambertin and at least one vintage but maybe more of Petrus. Sometimes, and I have no problem with admitting jealousy here, they included old vintages from Domaine Huet from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Then there was another list of “the next best ninety wines that didn’t quite make it”. Such lists never really spoke to me, with my cellar full of Saumur-Champigny and middling Bordeaux. Do they speak to anyone?

Wine is much more than a list of impressive vintages as long as your arm, necked back at dinners hosted by the wine trade, for the wine trade. Wine in Context is more about circumstances than scores; sometimes what’s outside the glass is more important than what’s in it. Sometimes wine teaches us something, and the lesson is more significant than whether the wine itself was a Savennières or a Sancerre (shocking thought, I know). And so, in a mad rush between here and the end of the year, here is the return of Wine in Context, and a rapid countdown starting today of my best wine moments of 2015.

Château Thieuley

Starting us off at number ten is a recent visit to Château Thieuley, a name which only the value-conscious buyer will be aware of. If you spend all your spare time posting shots of the Le Pin, Lafite-Rothschild and the like you drink at home on a Tuesday evening to Instagram, then this estate might not be familiar to you. Indeed, it wasn’t familiar to me when I visited it many many years ago on one of my first ever press trips to Bordeaux. So unfamiliar, in fact, that I couldn’t place it in the context of what I understood about the region. It wasn’t in a famous appellation, those through which I had learnt about Bordeaux, and yet here we were visiting it. This was of course long before I learnt that beyond the top cru classé châteaux there are actually a lot of domaines worth knowing about in Bordeaux. Most of its production was white wine, and yet this wasn’t Graves or Pessac-Léognan, this was the Entre-Deux-Mers. Again, I have since realised that the gravelly-sandy soils here can be great for white varieties. And was the domaine important? Don’t people just want to read about the aforementioned Le Pin and Lafite-Rothschild? I have since come round to the notion that these smaller domaines, in lesser appellations, are just as significant for the region as all the famous names (even if they don’t generate as many ‘likes’ on social media).

As a result of my doubts (and self-doubt, perhaps?) I never wrote about that first visit, and in more recent times I came to rue that decision. With more experience I understood the context for this domaine, and where it sits in a region that has so much more to offer than just cru classé bottles. I came to appreciate the little guys in Bordeaux, those turning out lovely wines that are great value, and which overturn the idea that Bordeaux is just for the super-wealthy now. And revisiting the estate I understood more clearly the work they do here, on a large vineyard, to a tight budget, turning out significant volumes of tasty wine. And of course I understood how that needed to be publicised, because the Courselle family at Château Thieuley need their moment in the spotlight just as much as more famous estates in Pauillac and Pomerol.

This more recent visit in October 2015 was, in a way, me closing the loop. It was a little like returning to a school you once attended, long after you have moved on. It wasn’t so much what I learned during the visit that was important (although it was interesting enough, and the profile has been written, and is set for publication in the next couple of weeks), it was more the realisation about what I have learned in the intervening years that made this visit significant. I have changed a lot in the interim. And that is, I think, a very good thing.

More Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Bordeaux Tourism: Chateau Le Pape

I visit Bordeaux fairly frequently, always to taste, taste and taste. Why else come to Bordeaux? And when I do I often find myself living it up in the Ibis Budget or similar (Room rules: no smoking, no eating, no workboots, no ‘extra guests’). That’s fine for a business trip, but what if you fancy a holiday in the region? A stay in one of the region’s many budget hotels, which more often than not are located on zones industrialles on the outskirts of town (which means you will probably be sandwiched between the local Buffalo Grill and a van rental depot), just isn’t going to cut it.

I highlighted one rather more attractive option for the hopeful Bordeaux tourist in a recent blog post, A Bordeaux Guesthouse. Château Le Pape, purchased by Robert Wilmers of Château Haut-Bailly a few years ago, has been sensitively but thoroughly restored, the gardens landscaped, and the vineyard is undergoing extensive replanting. The château now serves as a fully-serviced guesthouse, and I accepted their invitation to check it out.

Château Le Pape

First of all, the location is ideal; Château Le Pape is in a secluded spot just to the south of Villenave d’Ornon. Even though it is only a few minutes from the Rocade, and therefore a very short drive indeed from the airport, this really feels the part. The immediate surroundings are very rural, with vines on three sides, woodland on the fourth. This is a working vineyard (there was plenty of pruning and tieing-in going on when I stayed) and so you can experience life on a Bordeaux estate first-hand, although there is no need to limit yourself to Château Le Pape – the estate is within walking distance of Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Louvière, Château Carbonnieux and even Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (although mind you don’t get lost in the woods heading there – can I suggest you take the car instead?).

Inside, the château has been gutted and renovated from the ground up; the eye-catching ceiling paintings in the foyer are original, but I am told everything else is new. The breakfast room and bedrooms are immaculately appointed, yet the feel is welcoming and homely rather than aloof or palatial. The bedrooms are all en-suite and obviously all newly decorated, and there’s no faulting the bed; this was the best night’s sleep I ever had in Bordeaux. There are some luxurious touches, Hermes toiletries for one, and a delicious breakfast served each day with more options than I can remember was another. This latter feature is down to the château’s host Hervé Audibert, who lives on-site and who will gladly cater for your every need. Hervé came here having carved out a very successful career in hospitality in Savoie, but he fancied a change in scene and Château Le Pape clearly suits him well. He rustles up a pretty smart bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast, and considering he has probably never even heard of Delia Smith his soft-boiled eggs aren’t bad either. And I suspect he will go the extra mile for any visitor; during my brief stay, there were just two other guests, and Hervé gladly ferried them to a local restaurant where they had a table booked for dinner, and he picked them up again at the end of the night. Meanwhile I was happy in my room, flouting the usual Ibis rules to which I am usually subjected, eating a sandwich while wearing my workboots in as casual a manner as possible (but that’s as far as it went, just to be clear).

Twenty years ago Bordeaux tourism was something of an oxymoron, but that’s clearly no longer the case. Things have changed, as there are an increasing number of options for the wine-curious tourist in Bordeaux now, and Château Le Pape must be one of the strongest. Rooms start at €220 per night, although I think a stay here would be so much more than just a roof over your head. Just remember to pack your workboots.

For more information, check out the website: Château Le Pape.

Disclosure: I stayed at Château Le Pape as a guest of the proprietors.

Bordeaux 2015: Sandrine Garbay, Yquem

It seems somehow right to leave my visit to Yquem, to hear what winemaker Sandrine Garbay (pictured below) thought of the 2015 vintage, to last. Well, at least I think this is my last Bordeaux 2015 report (before the primeurs anyway). I will have to scour my notes to see if there is anybody I overlooked.

After a slurp of the 2013 Yquem in the new tasting room, I asked Sandrine how 2015 had gone for Sauternes, and for Château d’Yquem in particular.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Sandrine: We haven’t quite finished the harvest at Château d’Yquem yet – we are due to finish tomorrow. [this was October 19th] The beginning of the season was actually quite difficult, up until June anyway. Then things changed, and we had good weather which lasted until the harvest. It was warm, with a little rain now and then, which always came at the right moment.

Me: How has the harvest progressed?

Sandrine: We started the harvest very early, as we began picking for the dry wine on August 25th. The Sauvignon, which dominates Ygrec which is a 70/30 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was really delicious this year. We didn’t pick for the sweet wine until September 3rd. And since then the harvest has continued, gradually, over six 6 weeks now.

Me: Is there any particular tri that stands out?

Sandrine: We have had four tries in 2015. The main period of picking was from September 28th until October 6th, we picked more than 60% in this window. It is a tri with good concentration in terms of sugar, but also good acidity.

The first tri began on September 3rd, and lasted a long time, running until September 20th. Then we had a pause which lasted for just over a week. We started again with the second tri as described above on the 28th. Then we began picking for the third tri at the start of October.

Combining the second and third tries gives us most of the harvest, and the highest quality too. The first tri a good volume, even though we were picking small amounts here and there it added up, but the quality is not as high as it was in tries two and three.

The fourth and final tri started perhaps on October 10th, and there was straggled picking from this point on. Last week, for example, out of the seven days we had just two days of picking.

Me: Thanks Sandrine.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.