Home > Winedr Blog

Bordeaux 2013: Pessac, Sauternes

I tend to run my primeurs week on the same sort of timetable each year. That statement makes me sound like some sort of old hand who has been coming here for five decades, but that certainly isn’t the intention. But I have been out here every year since 2007, not as long as some I know, but in the last two years I have definitely found myself in a fairly fixed routine. And yesterday was Monday, so for the moment that means Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes. I might change things around next year, although it is hard not to take advantage of the fact that the Pessac-Léognan syndicat tastings start on the Monday, while the UGC tastings don’t kick off until Tuesday.

I was at Château La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am, where the red wines were good especially when taking into account the difficulties of the vintage, although they were eclipsed by the white wines, which were full of charm and energy. As with other difficult vintages, including 2012 and 2011, the earlier-harvested white varieties outclass the reds; the cooler weather kept the acidities prominent, fine for white wines, but not so desirable in the reds. Having said that, the wines here were some of the better red wines I have tasted, especially Château Haut-Brion.

Then it was on to Château Carbonnieux for the Pessac-Léognan press tasting. I arrived at 10am, half an hour after the tasting started, and yet I was the first person to walk through the door. By the time I left at 12:30pm no more than eight tasters had been and gone. Is this a reflection of the level of interest in 2013, I wonder? Whatever the reason, the tasting environment was as a result fabulous – it was bright, calm and free of disturbance (although it was also a little cold in the tasting room, an empty barrel cellar) – but it’s a great shame for those who provided their samples for the tasting to be so poorly attended. Perhaps numbers will pick up later in the week. Strangely, two significant châteaux were missing, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Château Haut-Bailly. So once finished I nipped over to Château Malartic-Lagravière where the trade tasting was being held; I also thought this was less busy then usual – I have attended the trade tasting before and found it elbow-room only at times. I soon found Smith-Haut-Lafitte which was duly tasted in red and white, but still no Haut-Bailly. Eight minutes later I was at Château Haut-Bailly, where I succeeded in interrupting their lunch, sans-rendezvous (oops – I am always uncomfortable turning up without an appointment), in order to taste the wine. So I worked hard for my Haut-Bailly tasting note this year! As it turned out though, Château Haut-Bailly are participating in all the appropriate tastings, but only from the Tuesday, which is when the primeur tastings really kick off. As my only day in Pessac-Léognan was on the Monday, I was fortunate that they were so welcoming at the château in allowing me to taste.

Then it was on to Sauternes. I stopped off first to take a few photographs around Pessac-Léognan, as I had a thirty-minute gap in my schedule, but by 3pm I as at Château Climens. Like the Pessac tasting it was very quiet here – I was the only taster again – and I walked and tasted with Bérénice Lurton for the best part of an hour before a horde of tasters suddenly turned up, all eager to fit in Climens as their last appointment, I suspect. We first did a quick stock-take of this year’s plants, drying in the tisanerie, ready for going into the biodynamic brews that are used here; the marigolds (pictured above), freshly picked, were drying in the sunlight beneath the window. This walk-round soon developed into an impromptu competition to see who could best translate the names of the plants from French into English. I was taken to the cleaners; Bérénice won, I lost count somewhere about 12-2.

Then it was downstairs for a tasting from the barrels. I remember the first time I heard of Bérénice’s preference for tasting individual barrels rather than an assemblage. It seemed a pretty unusual approach which obviously hindered forming an opinion on the new vintage’s wine. How can you assemble and score eight or more barrel tasting notes? In more recent years, however, I have completely changed my tune on this, and my feelings reflect my thoughts on the usefulness of the primeur tastings. I know many critics see these tastings as an opportunity purely to provide buying guidance; 400 wines are tasted, the favourite 100 (or maybe all of them) written up, scores are assigned, and it is down to the consumer to choose whether or not to buy. Job done, said critic moves on to doing the same with Barolo, or Beaujolais, or maybe various vintages of Buckfast. Fair enough. But the tastings provide a much broader education if you look for it, and this can provide a much greater depth of knowledge than a string of isolated tasting notes, which I choose to communicate to my readers in my primeur report; this is why my communal reports always have several pages of background information – chats with the proprietors, harvest dates and anecdotes from the growing season and harvest, opinion from the winemaker and so on – as well as my appropriately detailed tasting notes and scores.

Anyway, back to Climens. The tasting is informative because regardless of how much you might hear or read about the Sauternes harvest, the waves of botrytis, the concentration (or lack of it) from wind and sunshine, the pickings or tries as they are known, the sorting and so on, unless you are there when the decisions are made, or can at least taste the results of these tries, it is all just second-hand information. Unless you are somebody like Bill Blatch (of Bordeaux Gold), who resides in the region and who lives and breathes Sauternes, who visits the châteaux regularly especially around harvest time, tasting the barrels with Bérénice is the only way to gain a real first-hand insight into the significance of the various tries. I would never now miss visiting Château Climens during the primeurs; there is just too much that can be learnt here to miss out. Nothing could lodge the significance of the first tri against the second and third tries more than actually tasting them.

After Climens, it was a quick dash down to Château Raymond-Lafon, another favourite visit of mine, before heading back to my accommodation for the night. On Tuesday, I kick off with Château Latour, a visit I know some now miss out as a consequence of this estate having withdrawn from releasing en primeur after the 2011 vintage. Again, it all boils down to how you view the tastings; purely a chance to generate notes and numbers, or a chance to understand the vintage in more depth? If the latter, how do you place the wines of Pauillac into context if you don’t taste Latour?

Happily, it’s a 9am start, a bonus after my 8am start at La Mission Haut-Brion. An extra hour in bed!

Bordeaux 2013: Around St Emilion

On Sunday I spent the day in and around St Emilion; it was more a question of what tasting opportunities were available, rather than picking and choosing. Normally I would have gone to the tasting held by Vintex Vignobles Grégoire, a good négociant, but this wasn’t on this year. And so I headed over the right bank, for two significant tastings.

I kicked off with La Grappe, an annual tasting hosted by Château Gaffelière but featuring the wines of the châteaux to which Stéphane Derenoncourt consults. The tasting featured 54 wines, poured by Simon Blanchard and Frédéric Massie, two of Derenoncourt’s team, and both good guys. The tasting was right-bank heavy, as you might expect, although the team also consult to a number of left-bank properties, including Château Talbot and Château Poujeaux, among a few others.

Château Bellefont-Belcier

Then it was on to Château Bellefont-Belcier (pictured above), for the Cercle Rive Droite and Cercle Rive Gauche tastings. All told there were 188 wines here for tasting, just a little too many (by just a teensy-weensy amount) to get through in just one afternoon. I probably tasted another 50 or 60, focusing on the right bank, not just Pomerol and St Emilion, but also Fronsac, Castillon and the satellite appellations.

Obviously I can’t report on all these wines individually here, but I shall write them up as soon as possible for my Bordeaux 2013 report, begining next week. It is certainly a variable vintage, although whereas I found some good (but not truly great) wines in among the Sauternes on Saturday, this was a more difficult task in today’s tasting of reds. The 2013 vintage was a very difficult one, described here in Bordeaux as “the worst in a generation” or the “worst in my lifetime” (which it is seems to depend on the age of the individual giving their opinion more than anything else) and this certainly comes through when tasting the wines. Having said that, of course, Sunday’s tastings were not rich in cru classé level wines; there were a few (Chevalier, Clos Fourtet, those mentioned above), but not many. I will be able to form a better opinion on this over the next few days, as I hit Pessac-Léognan (on Monday) and the Médoc (Tuesday and Wednesday), followed by a return to the right bank on Thursday. I start at 8am on Monday, at Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

Bordeaux 2013: A Sauternes Start

Time for a litte Sunday morning news. Well, it’s Sunday morning here in Bordeaux, and I spent most of yesterday travelling – an early start for a flight down to London, quite a lot of hanging around at Gatwick airport, and then another flight over to Bordeaux. Happily all went smoothly, and I was settled into my hotel by 4pm. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave a lot of time for tasting.

What to do with my evening then? While some might have danced and drank the hours away at the inauguration party for the new cellars at Château Angélus (pictured below – when I passed by in October last year), I tend to avoid the schmoozing seduction of the parties, grand dinners and similar fêtes that characterise the primeurs week. The Bordelais are very good at this sort of thing, and it is an important part of their relationship with the wine trade. But critics, in my opinion, should consider themselves distinct from the trade. I’m here to taste the wines and report without undue influence. Besides, as we will see, perhaps I just can’t handle the late nights any more.

Château Angélus

Instead, I spent the evening with Bill Blatch, tasting through about 30 Sauternes from the 2013 vintage, from entry-level wines such as Château Partarrieu and Château de Veyres up to grand cru wines including Château Suduiraut, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and others. These were then followed by a selection of older wines, all of which had been provided by the châteaux. Unfortunately, we had only really started on these when I had to call it a day, unfortunately missing out on some older bottles, back to the 1960s. I had been travelling since 4am, so I hope I am forgiven this early finish – as I said above, it looks like I just can’t hack them any more!

At the top end the Sauternes of 2013 were very good, very pure in style, with a lot of energy from the acidity – this is an acid-rich vintage. But there are those that show the weaknesses of the vintage, especially at the lower end. Some are ‘fresh’ to the point of being leafy, minty or infused with menthol scents. Others show a saline, salty mineral edge which would probably be delicious in Muscadet, but it doesn’t seem to work here. One or two were unclean, a little grey rot mixed with the botrytis (which was plentiful in 2013), but this problem was confined to the lower price-bracket wines, so this isn’t a re-run of the 2012 vintage, where there were many grey-rot flops. It’s a vintage where there are good wines to be had at the top end, but it is not a buy-blind vintage either. So it is not a repeat of 2001/2009/2010/2011 then.

Today, I’m planning on heading over to taste the wines of Stéphane Derenoncourt first of all, probably followed by some from the Cercle Rive Droite at Château Bellefont-Belcier. Well, we’ll see how the day goes.

2014 Subscriptions

It has been almost one year now since I changed Winedoctor to a pay-to-view site. On the anniversary of my subscription service’s ‘birth’, which is March 31st, I will be in Bordeaux for the 2013 primeurs. On the day in question I have appointments at Château La Mission Haut-Brion (pictured below), Château Carbonnieux for a tasting of 2013 Pessac-Léognan, Château Climens, Château Raymond-Lafon and one or two other châteaux, and so I think I am going to be rather busy (althought that’s a quiet day, actually). But I can’t let the end of this first year drift by without making any comment. And if I’m going to be too busy next Monday, I will just have to say it now.

First I would like to thank everybody who has subscribed during the past twelve months. For some of you, that was on March 31st 2013 – I hadn’t even finished putting the system fully in place before the first payment came in – for others it was as recently as yesterday. I am grateful for every subscription and hope everybody who shows their support for Winedoctor in this way finds something of use within. I have been deeply humbled by the number of subscriptions received – exactly (on the nose, in fact) twelve times more than my year-one/break-even target. I never dreamed I would have such support. Thank you again!

Château La Mission Haut-Brion, April 2013

Secondly, I would like to announce that there will be no price increase for new or repeat subscriptions during 2014. The fee remains £45 per annum, equivalent to £3.75 per month (see here for what this gets you if you don’t subscribe). In addition, all the discount opportunities for IMW, WSET and AWE students, educators and similar have been reconfirmed. Current subscribers who wish to continue should be able to do this without any problem from within their account, once logged in (you can still log-in to the account page even if the subscription has lapsed). If you have any difficulties, please let me know by email. As those of you who have been in touch with me by email will know, I’m usually fairly quick to respond, but I will be checking emails infrequently during the primeurs, so can’t promise a perfectly timely response during next week.

Lastly, a quick word on next week’s updates. As is usual I don’t make updates to the paywall-protected part of the site during the primeurs week – it’s just too busy to taste all day (I kick off at La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am on Monday) and then write something of the required standard for the site as well. I will try to blog daily though, with lighter commentary, news, pictures and brief impressions from the tastings. It should be an interesting vintage to taste. The word ‘interesting’ can mean very different things at different times, I suppose.

Thanks to all again. Here’s to a great 2014, and a great year full of wine!

Pontet-Canet 2013: First Out

It is only a few days until I leave for Bordeaux to taste the 2013 barrel samples, and – as if we expected something else – this vintage is already shaping up to be an unusual and distinctive one. That much became apparent this morning, with the first significant release of the vintage, from Château Pontet-Canet. We have seen some long, drawn-out campaigns in recent years, fair enough in a great vintage perhaps, but neither 2011 nor 2012 merited such behaviour. I doubt very much 2013 does either. The release of the 2013 Pontet-Canet this morning, before the primeur tastings have even begun, is perhaps an indication that Alfred Tesseron and Jean-Michel Comme feel the same way.

When I spoke with Jean-Michel Comme (pictured below) just as the harvest had been completed in October last year it was clear it had been a difficult vintage for them. The yields were way down at 15 hl/ha, less than half the 34 hl/ha that was achieved in the 2012 vintage (also not an easy year). The major problem was a long, cool and wet spring, producing every flowering problem imaginable, hence the low yield. And the vines simply never caught up, despite good weather in July. Then came the rain and the rot at harvest, forcing picking before it was ideal. Pauillac also bore the brunt of one of the two major storms of 2013 of course, although on the whole damage was reported to trees and buildings rather than the low-lying vines (this wasn’t the same hailstorm that devastated the vineyards of the Entre-Deux-Mers by the way – that was a week or so later).

Jean-Michel Comme, October 2013

What does the release of 2013 Pontet-Canet tell us? First there is the timing. Is it really that Tesseron and Comme want a quick campaign for the 2013 vintage, or is it more to do with generating a little interest and trade before the scores are out? And if the latter, whose scores are they worried about? Parker isn’t going to taste the primeurs this year, and although there will by many other voices commenting on the wines in the next few months, there is no-one wielding the same level of power (by far). Whatever the reason, this is certainly not a vintage to buy blind, even with a top-performing estate such as Pontet-Canet. It is probably not a vintage to buy en primeur at all, although I will reserve definitive judgement on that until I have tasted.

Second, there is the price. The release price of 2013 Pontet-Canet is 60 Euros, the same as the 2012 vintage, and this price can be interpreted in several different ways. On the one hand, a dramatically reduced price would have indicated that the wine was of a lesser quality, and so matching the 2012 does perhaps express some “confidence” in the wine, which was how Jean-Michel said he felt about it when I met him (although this was just after harvest, and the fruit was not long in the vats, and so I’m not really sure what else he could have said at the time). But then, on the other hand, with yields slashed by half, many winemakers would reason that with reduced volumes to sell, prices should rise. If the quality was really there, surely that would have been the way to go? Instead they have gone for the middle ground.

The price of 2013 Pontet-Canet looks like a real tester for the market. With a price comparable to that of the 2012 (on which notes and scores are available of course), serious doubts about the vintage as a whole and no influential opinions/scores to sell the 2013 on, it will be difficult to see the trade taking this first release up in any quantity. This is a vintage where serious price reductions and good independent opinion are essential, and we have neither here; I expect it will be hands-off-wallets all round.

Taking a Break

I am taking a break from Winedoctor posts this week (meaning the week beginning Monday 10th February). Instead I will be spending more time with my family (which sounds a little like politician-speak for retirement in disgrace, I know) and hopefully having some fun with my children; the first item on the agenda will almost certainly be trying to remember their names.

I suspect the break will do me good (I think I need it after a tiring Salon des Vins de Loire followed up by an even more tiring stomach bug last week) and I will return with normal updates on Monday 17th February.

As I have stated in previous posts (somewhere!), in terms of my Loire profiles and updates I will try to concentrate on the Central Vineyards first. But I have also used my spare time over the past week to crack on with my Bordeaux guide, and so I will began updating that again next weekend also (I reached an impasse with Margaux – I will have to write about why I got stuck another day, as it is an interesting tale that relates to the importance placed upon having the right terroir). I am looking forward to finishing that as not only will it mean the completion of what is (I think) the most comprehensive guide to Bordeaux online, it means I can then slowly begin working my way though the appellations of the Loire.

It has always been an aim of mine to give the Loire the same treatment that other more obsessed-over regions (i.e. Bordeaux and Burgundy) receive. It is a source of a complex array of fascinating wines, and yet so often it is disregarded as a region that produces “crisp summer-drinking whites” and “light and fruity reds for early drinking”, both statements being very short of the full picture. As such my profiles are as detailed as possible, and I includes a much history as possible (often not much though!) where available, just as I do for my Bordeaux châteaux profiles. My Loire vintage guides include detailed weather reports as well as notes on harvest and the wines. And I also believe the wines deserve to be reviewed as expensive Bordeaux and Burgundy are reviewed, praised as appropriate, but also criticised when they deserve it. To do otherwise as a critic would be pointless; the region needs a critic to take it seriously, not a ‘cheerleader’. My Loire guide will therefore be detailed but also broad, covering every possible aspect of the Loire and its wines.

But that’s for the future. For now, have a good week, and I will be back here next Monday.

The Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience

Been back at the office desk for a week or two now? Memories of high-days and holidays rapidly fading? Wondering where the next serious Bordeaux fix will come from? Well, why not bypass the bottle and the corkscrew and come straight to Bordeaux with me, and gain entry (for exclusive tastings and lunches) to some of the top addresses in all Bordeaux?

This trip, The Bordeaux Grand Cru Experience, is one Adam Stebbing of SmoothRed (a well-established company offering tailor-made wine tours, holidays, events and experiences) and I have been mooting for some time now, and one I first wrote about on this blog back in October.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

Now though, the dates are set, the appointments are made, and the full itinerary is online. Here’s a taster of what the trip will involve:

October 1st 2014 – St Emilion: Flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux, coach to St Emilion, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (for lunch) and then Château Angélus (to spot the new carillon, pictured above). Dinner and hotel in Bordeaux City.

October 2nd 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 (pictured below).

October 3rd 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 – where lunch, I’m told, is not to be missed! In the afternoon, we head south to Margaux and Château Rauzan-Segla.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 4th 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, some 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).

There are fourteen places, so this will be a very intimate tour. If interested, 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.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

For several years now I have made an annual statement of support for Winedoctor; a way of ensuring transparency regarding who in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley (and anywhere else for that matter) helps me out, so that readers can take this into account when I report on the wines. I used to store these disclosure statements in my ‘Features’ section, and although this part of the Winedoctor website is still free to read, outside the paywall, I thought I should bring my disclosure statement out onto the blog lest I be criticised for hiding it in an inaccessible corner of the website.

I would usually publish this review in late December but the past six weeks have been particularly hectic chez Winedoctor, hence the delay.

First of all, as is customary, some details of support and other benefits received during the course of 2013:

InterLoire: Through Sopexa, who currently handle marketing for InterLoire, the generic promotional body for most of the Loire’s appellations, I received support to attend the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers in February. I was reimbursed the cost of my petrol, airport parking, flights and rail fares in France. InterLoire also paid two nights accommodation directly to my hotel. I paid for the other nights myself. In addition, I also accepted a trip to the Muscadet region in spring, funded by InterLoire and arranged through Sopexa. Costs involved included flights from Edinburgh to Nantes, via London City Airport, accommodation for two nights, transport over three days, and subsistence including lunches and two ‘winemaker dinners’.
Le Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre: I accepted two nights accommodation in a hotel in Chavignol, the expense met by the BIVC, the regional body for the Central Loire appellations including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and so on. Other expenses I met myself.
Bouvet-Ladubay: I attended a spectacle, a party in the Bouvet-Ladubay cellars during the 2013 Salon des Vins de Loire. I took advantage of free transport there from Angers and back again at the end of the evening.
Yvon Mau: I was grateful for accommodation provided by the Bordeaux négociant Yvon Mau during the primeurs week. I accepted five nights in a left-bank château, uncatered accommodation and possibly the most spooky stay in Bordeaux I have ever experienced – I was alone in a very big cru bourgeois château, in the wilds of the Médoc. Other aspects of the trip and expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: A Christmas hamper from Sopexa, sent to all journalists who submitted suggestions for the Cracking Wines from France tasting. I received two bottles of wine, from Domaine Luneau-Papin and Les Vignerons du Pallet, during my trip to Muscadet.
Samples received: a small number of wine samples were received, principally from UK merchants such as Cadman Fine Wines and Hyde Park Wines, and where the wines have been written up this has been declared.
Lunching and dining: I accepted dinner on one night paid for by Yvon Mau at Les Sources de Caudalie during the Bordeaux primeurs. I also had lunch at Château Haut-Bailly. I had lunch with Claude Lafond, in Reuilly (pictured below). During the Salon des Vins de Loire I had dinner with Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard which the three vignerons paid for.

On the whole I think I have managed to cut back further on my dependence/association with the wine trade in 2013. Much of the costs associated with my trips to Bordeaux and the Loire I have met myself, and in each case outside funding has come from négociants or generic bodies rather than individual producers. The only other region I visited during 2013 was Madeira, again I funded this myself. I have not taken any other press trips, single producer or otherwise.

2013 Winedoctor Disclosures

As is customary I also document below the expenses I met myself during the course of 2013:

London, Loire Benchmark: I met the cost of a trip to London for the Loire Benchmark Tasting, principally for the Loire 2012 vintage. Costs included rail fare to London and subsistence.
Angers: Most travel expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met my InterLoire, but I paid for three nights in a hotel and all my subsistence other than my dinner with Claude Papin & co (see above).
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I travelled to Bordeaux for a week and met my travel costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. Other than one meal paid for by Yvon Mau I met all subsistence costs myself. I paid for two nights in a hotel in Libourne to complement my stay in the château on the left bank.
London, RAW and Real Wine Fairs: In 2013 these fairs were at different times (I enjoyed the convenience of ‘competing’ fairs in 2012) and I paid for travel from Edinburgh to both, by train in each case, myself. Extra costs were incurred in each case, (a) by missing my train and having to stay overnight in London for one, and (b) hitting a deer on the way home from the railway station on the other. These were expensive tastings to attend; I probably could have bought all the wines I tasted online and had them shipped to Edinburgh for less than the cost of the repairs to my car. Such is life. Still, I suppose I came off better than the deer.
Madeira: I covered the costs of transfers, flights, hire car and accommodation in Madeira myself. I paid for travel to visit Barbeito and Blandy’s.
London: Costs associated with attendance at four London tastings in March, September, October and November, these being the Union des Grands de Bordeaux, Institute of Masters of Wine, Cru Bourgeois and Bordeaux Index tastings were met by me. In the latter case this was by train; for the other three tastings, the costs included flights from Edinburgh, transfers, parking and so on.
Loire, Harvest Trip: I covered the expenses incurred during this trip, including parking and flights, myself. I did not pay for the two nights in Chavignol (see above). I stayed and travelled with Jim Budd so there were no other accommodation costs, but I contributed towards subsistence.
Bordeaux, Harvest Trip: I covered the cost of this trip myself; this includes flights from London and back to Edinburgh, airport parking, hire car for four days, subsistence and three nights in Bordeaux hotels.

That concludes my disclosure statement for 2013. As indicated above, I have added disclosures to wine sample reviews where appropriate, so I hope transparency is adequate. As for the year ahead I will, as I stated in my recent report on the Gitton Père et Fils Sancerre X-elis, be focusing on Sancerre and other Central Loire appellations (as I have neglected them for so long, and my enthusiasm has been reignited by my recent trip to the Loire), reporting on Loire 2013, and expanding my coverage throughout. For Bordeaux, I will have my usual cycle of Bordeaux reports (expect detail on the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2004 vintages, as well as from-my-cellar reports on 2001 and 1999), more Bordeaux profiles for smaller estates (smaller in ambition, and in price too) from left and right banks, and the completion of my Bordeaux guide (at which point I move onto the Loire, a daunting prospect indeed). Santé!

The Death of Sauternes

I was concerned to learn today, thanks to this piece written by Jane Anson, of a move by a number of Sauternes producers to apply for the Graves appellation for their dry wines. History can teach us something of what might happen should they succeed.

First, a little background. In Sauternes, many estates produce a dry cuvée alongside their sweet wine, a move which has in many cases gone a long way to help balance the books. With sweet wines chronically unfashionable, dry wines are a useful addendum to an estate’s portfolio; not only do they reduce the volume of Sauternes building up in the cellars (helping to balance supply and demand, and supporting already fragile prices) but they are a distinct revenue stream in themselves. They may sell for less money (although not that much less, to be honest, especially when you get away from the really famous estates) but the yields are much higher; the volume of juice and thus wine obtained might be three or four times what you get with dehydrated, botrytised grapes.

The Sauternes producers have a problem though; although you might think most people buy on the basis of critics’ recommendations, or your own knowledge and experience, on the domestic French market appellations are still very important. A Graves is held in higher regard than a basic Bordeaux, and the Sauternes producers feel they have been held back by the fact that their dry wines only have the basic Bordeaux appellation, and not the more prestigious Graves appellation. They see a chance to label their dry wines as Graves as a route to higher prices and better sales; hence the call for just such a reclassification.

Château d'Yquem

They may well be right; just to the north of Sauternes and Barsac is a little sweet wine appellation called Cérons, and it is one I have recently described in my newly expanded Bordeaux wine guide. Here in Cérons, the dry whites have always had the Graves appellation. And so when interest in sweet wines fell away, there was a lucrative route out of destitution; stop making lesser-known and unfashionably sweet Cérons, and start making more appealingly dry Graves. That’s exactly what the majority of estates did, and this is why Cérons is today little more than a Bordeaux curiosity; only a handful of estates still make sweet wines, while most have converted totally to dry.

In Sauternes, a move to the dry whites also being eligible for the Graves appellation will ultimately have the same effect. Sure, big name estates will carry on, and it may be that with improved income from the dry whites the future of the sweet wines at these estates is even more secure. But – regardless of the moaning of merchants who must suffer the Lafite-Rieussec tie-in, and who find Sauternes a chronically difficult sell – there is still at least some interest in the wines of Yquem (pictured above), Rieussec, Suduiraut, Lafaurie-Peyraguey and the like. These wines will continue on. But you can wave goodbye to the likes of Haut-Bergeron, Dudon, Bastor-Lamontagne and other small châteaux that are more likely closer to the fiscal edge. Even lesser classed growth estates, like d’Arche, Romer, Romer du Hayot and the lesser-spotted Suau will feel the pull of dry wines. A move like that proposed may well make those with dry wines to flog a few extra sous (are there any involved in the process that have a vested interest in the prices of the dry wines, but are not worried about the sweet wines, I ask myself), but it would change the landscape of Sauternes forever. I hope that the move is soundly rejected by all those who care about the future of Sauternes.

2013 Reflections: Bordeaux

Looking back at the past twelve months, I see Bordeaux has kept me busy just as much as the Loire, perhaps more so. I visited the region twice, for eight days in April, and then three days in October, taking in predominantly the wines of the 2012 and 2011 vintages respectively. These were the most significant updates of the year, with a 73,000-word report for Bordeaux 2012 with 350 tasting notes, and a 22,000-word report and 120 new notes for Bordeaux 2011. Thanks to the annual Ten-Years On Tasting hosted by Bordeaux Index I was able to make a thorough review of 2003 Bordeaux (11,000-word report, 70+ notes), and earlier in the year I published a review on 2010 Bordeaux (22,000 words, 120+ notes), following tastings late in 2012. I’ve also published a briefer look back at Bordeaux 2000 with wines from my cellar (16 notes). That’s not a bad schedule for twelve months, and I don’t think there is any other source of Bordeaux coverage – in print or online – that is as broad or as detailed. If there is, please do let me know – I might just subscribe.

To me, though, taking all the enjoyment from wine that is possible isn’t something that can be achieved through lists of notes and scores. It’s a buying guide, but it doesn’t bring you real depth of knowledge. That is why I persist in publishing other Bordeaux reviews, specifically a broad range of new and updated château profiles, as well as tasting updates and other reports – all told I have made over 130 such Bordeaux updates over the last twelve months. The past year has also seen a huge expansion in my Bordeaux guide, now in 44 instalments (a few at the tail-end have yet to be published, but I’m getting there). Hopefully this gives all subscribers, novice or experienced, the required depth of information on Bordeaux. When I finish the Bordeaux guide (I’ve called a temporary halt on updates while I clarify an important discrepancy on the accepted wisdom concerning Bordeaux terroir with contacts in the region) I will roll out one of similar detail for the Loire.

So what of my favourite Bordeaux wines of 2013? As I tend to avoid the Bordeaux party scene during the primeurs, and am not important enough to be invited to dinners where older vintages are poured, most of my favourite wines come from the past decade. Mine won’t be a list rich in 19th- or 18th-century rarities. Still, at least I can honestly state that I have never been duped by a bottle of 1787 Lafite or similar, and I haven’t yet fallen foul of mysterious millionaires pouring unattainable (or indeed impossible) wines, nor has anyone offered me Thomas Jefferson bottles from a suspiciously undisclosed source. In short, there are no fakes on Winedoctor! The wines featured here are also attainable; if any float your boat, there is at least a chance you might be able to track one down, if your wallet is sufficiently bulging, admittedly.

Bordeaux 2013

Early on in the year I published notes on the 2010 vintage, as mentioned above, and I shouldn’t really include these wines here as they were tasted in 2012 nevertheless there is no doubt that this is a great vintage that deserves to be in any Bordeaux-drinker’s cellar. Most striking were the 2010 Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and 2010 Château Haut Bailly (pictured above) in Pessac-Léognan, in the case of the latter this being just one in a string of brilliant wines I tasted this year. During a visit to Château Haut-Bailly in April I retasted the 2010, which was consistently impressive, but I was equally besotted with the 2009, 2005 and 2000 vintages.

There were also great successes up the left bank, and I fell in love with 2010 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (which has since been added to my cellar), as well as 2010 Château Pichon-Baron, 2010 Château Pichon-Lalande and 2010 Château Léoville-Barton. It is not always the highest scoring or most famous names that stick in the mind, however, as one of the most memorable wines was undoubtedly 2010 Château Gloria, punching way above its weight (and also now tucked away in the cellar).

Over on the right bank, 2010 Château Clinet is brooding and memorable, while numerous Sauternes châteaux also made the most of a good vintage; the 2010 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, 2010 Château Climens and 2010 Château Coutet are all tip-top. The vintage also showed me what good value everyday drinking Bordeaux can give us, provided we know where to look for it. Appellations such as Montagne-St-Emilion and Castillon are happy hunting grounds, as the 2010 Château Guadet Plaisance and 2010 Château L’Estang proved; I have these names lodged in my memory as a ready response to anyone who says Bordeaux is only for the rich and the foolish.

Bordeaux 2013

The 2012 vintage isn’t likely to throw up any truly great wines, although I was impressed by the 2012 Château Haut-Brion, 2012 Château Lafleur from Jacques Guinaudeau (pictured above) and 2012 Château Clinet on tasting (in keeping with my thoughts that the ‘hot-spots’ in 2012 are Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol). Best of all though was the 2012 Château L’Église-Clinet which, in a perhaps rare moment of concordance (I say perhaps because I generally avoid reading other people’s notes, especially at primeur time) between my palate and that of Robert Parker, this was my favourite wine of the vintage, and his favourite too.

Looking back to wines pulled from my own cellar, the most memorable was certainly the 2000 Château Gruaud-Larose, a wine of huge stature and composition which has an identity crisis, as I believe it thinks it is a first growth. This vintage naturally threw up many good wines, although none that have stuck in my mind like this one. Interestingly, many showed a surprising streak of green, not something I expected from the vintage in question. I have also tasted and reported on a lot of wines from 2003 this year, and it says something about my palate I think that none of these have made it onto my ‘favourite wines’ list – and my tasting history this year includes the supposed ‘greats’ such as 2003 Château Montrose and a number of first growths, left bank and right. No, I’ll pass on the Pavie, thank you.

Bordeaux 2013

My tastings towards the end of the year bring us forward in time once again, to another vintage which, on first inspection, I would have thought would throw up no great wines, in red at least. But the 2011 Château Lafleur is a triumph, even before we take into account the character of the vintage, and although the 2011 Château Palmer (tasted with Thomas Duroux, pictured above) is a notch behind it is a remarkable wine for the vintage and I believe the best in the commune in 2011 (although I have not retasted Château Margaux yet, but this was my impression from the primeurs last year). As for the 2010 Château Margaux, however, tasted in October, this was a true stunner, a great wine from a great vintage.

So 2011 is not much of a success story for reds, but for the sweet whites it is a rocking vintage, with my top three wines (not including Yquem which I didn’t taste this year) being 2011 Château Suduiraut, 2011 Château Climens and 2011 Château Coutet, but there are many other choices of a close level of quality. As with some of the 2010 reds, I have also added one of these three to my cellar (metaphorically at least – it hasn’t been delivered yet), this being the Climens, an estate that I visited and provided an update on earlier this year. The 2010 Château Climens was just as memorable as the 2011, although both were eclipsed by the 2009 Château Climens tasted at the château, and the 2001 Château Climens from my cellar; these are both spectacular wines.

Bordeaux 2013

So as with the Loire, there are plenty of Bordeaux buying and drinking options around; the difference here, of course, is that the prices can be a major barrier to many, me included. But with the very difficult 2013 coming onto the market soon, I suspect it will be to these other vintages that buyers will now turn. But let’s not judge 2013 before it has turned up for the trial; I will go to Bordeaux in April, to the primeurs, to assess quality for myself.

As for 2014, I will finish my Bordeaux guide soon, and continue to add new profiles and update old ones. Expect in-depth reviews of the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2004 vintages. In the next few months I also have small ‘from my cellar’ reports on the 1999 and 2001 vintages, as well as a large report on Bordeaux 2009, which I alluded to in my recent post on 2009 Giscours. And, if you fancy going to Bordeaux to see it all for yourself, there will be a Winedoctor-led tour with SmoothRed Wine Tours in October. I will publish more details online here soon.

Later in the week, time permitting (hopefully before the year is out), my favourite wines from beyond Bordeaux and the Loire. It might be a short list though!