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Bordeaux 2015: Lost in Barsac

I have an 8am appointment this morning (Tuesday), so this latest update from the road in Bordeaux had better be a quick one. Yesterday was my Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes day, which always looks rather light on paper but usually starts early, and finishes late, with some long drives in the middle.

I kicked off at Château Pape-Clément yesterday morning, as noted in yesterday’s blog post. It’s a good thing I wrote that, because otherwise they wouldn’t have known I was coming. This year I seem to be making a habit of turning up for tastings which either don’t exist. or where I am not expected until some other time or date, or perhaps not at all. Not to worry, it was all very flexible chez Magrez, who very sensibly runs an open ‘self pour’ tasting (I like to think of it as a buffet, but with wine) and I soon got stuck in.

Thereafter I called in on Château La Mission Haut-Brion, where upon my arrival the estate seemed deserted, save for a handful of other recently arrived visitors who were wandering around the car park, seemingly wondering what to do. Usually they have hosts (it is a better word than bouncers) waiting to direct you, but they seem to have disappeared. After my trials getting here last week I did wonder if perhaps they had gone on strike. I marched round and entered via one of the 28 back doors, and went up to the wood-panelled tasting room. The other visitors weren’t brave enough to enter the first growth château without a quill-written invitation though, and I never saw tham again. I presume they were herded off into another tasting room, or perhaps they just went to pray in the chapel (for good release prices maybe) for a while?

Bordeaux 2015

The tasting at La Mission was informative as always, and Jean-Philippe Delmas (I recall last year one British visitor who was tasting alongside me insisted on calling him Jean-Bernard, his father’s name, throughout the entire tasting, so I try not to make that mistake) was of course a mine of information on the vintage and harvest. So it was a good tasting. I tasted all the usual wines, and I even tasted Clarendelle, the Bordeaux blend they make. This is really good quality in 2015, and it is staggering to think that this quality is combined with a 1.2-million bottle production (yes you read that right).

Then it was on to Château Haut-Bailly, and I managed not to get lost finding my way out of Bordeaux’s suburbs despite not having my sat-nav. Here I tasted with Véronique Sanders and was delighted to meet Robert Wilmers for the first time. Another great tasting here, and afterwards it was over to Château Bouscaut for a few hours tasting other Pessac-Léognan domaines, before a slog down to Barsac to call in on Château Climens. I am not sure I should make any comment on whether or not I got lost here without my sat-nav, but suffice to say within ten minutes of coming off the autoroute I had a sudden case of desert syndrome, losing all sense of which way is north or south, east or west. Having metaphorically lost my camel there was, sadly, no Lawrence of Arabia (played in the movie of my life by négociant and Sauternes guru Bill Blatch) riding back into the wilderness to lead me out, and I had to figure out whether the Garonne was on my right, or my left. I think I may have driven right through Barsac without noticing it – maybe I blinked. Whatever, I was now just as lost as those visitors at La Mission. Maybe I should also have paid the chapel a visit, and prayed for good signage?

I arrived twenty minutes late, not up to my usual standard. The barrel tasting with Bérénice Lurton (pictured above) and Frédéric Nivelle (the technical director) was as informative as ever. I really like tasting with staff as well as proprietors, as they offer keen insights different to those the proprietor gives you. The barrel samples were very elegant and remarkably consistent from lot to lot. Although I could sense the richness varying with the pickings, the differences weren’t as profound as they were in other years as you can often see one picking obviously weighed down with botrytis intensity, whereas others may be lighter, fresher and more elegant. Then it was on to Château Raymond-Lafond for a flying tasting before the long drive to my bed for the night, carefully picking my way around the Rocade on the way.

Today, a full programme, but no long drives. Calon-Ségur, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Lafite, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Léovile-Las-Cases, the two Pichons, Pontet-Canet, Mouton, Latour and Ducru-Beaucaillou. I aim to finish before midnight.

Bordeaux 2015: Bed Collapse

It is Monday morning and I am about to head out for Chateau Pape-Clément, my first visit in a day of tasting Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes. It’s April, and of course I am in Bordeaux for the primeurs.

It has been an eventful few days. I could write a book chapter on it, the outline for which would include a cancelled flight, one and a half days living as Mehran Karimi Nasseri, a broken sat-nav device (fortunately all my days of driving around Bordeaux do seem to have sunk in so I am coping with this, only two wrong turns so far), a damaged hire car, a 4am bed-collapse and two exploding tanker trucks. No wonder Bordeaux tourism is picking up – it’s simply amazing how much you can squeeze into a weekend here.

Although you may find it hard to believe, I have also tasted some wine since arriving in Bordeaux. This includes a shed-load of St Emilion, piles of Pomerol, a miniscule amount of minor right-bank and left-bank wines, and a slew of Sauternes.

Jonathan Maltus, April 2016

I kicked off yesterday with a visit to see Jonathan Maltus (pictured above), in St Emilion, who was on fine form for a Sunday morning. I was particularly proud to have located him at Château Teyssier in Vignonet without the help of my sat-nav. This is especially impressive when you consider that many vignerons living up the road in St Emilion don’t even know where Vignonet is. Jonathan impressed with a tasting sheet with my name printed on it, automatically qualifying him for 100 points. Afterwards I called in at Château La Dominique, not only to taste their wines but I also bathed myself in the Michel Rolland collection. Even though he gave up consulting at a number of properties quite a few years ago he was still showing over a hundred wines.

Later I popped into Château Cambon-la-Pelouse to see how the Biturica group of estates (Château Belle-Vue, Château Agassac, Château Cambon-la-Pelouse and a few others) did in 2015, but was disappointed to find it deserted. I subsequently found out the group seems to have disbanded, a real shame, as the tasting often revealed a few cru bourgeois gems. Fortunately, I picked up many of the wines at Château Rauzan-Ségla, at the Ulysse Cazabonne négociant tasting, so it all came good at the end. Thereafter I headed up to Château Lagrange, for a tour, tasting and dinner, featuring wines from 2010 back to 1985. It was the only formal dinner I am attending during the primeurs, and it was a good choice.

That was Sunday. On Saturday I was no less busy tasting, although the day was less fragmented. Having risen at 4am I flew in that morning, picked up my hire car and then drove to St Emilion. I spent the best part of the day with the Cercle Rive Droite at Château Bellefont-Belcier, tasting about 60 or 70 right-bankers (and trying not to fall asleep after that early start, easier said than done), followed up by an evening of Sauternes, from the very entry-level wines up to top classed growths. It was a pretty smart tasting, in a really interesting vintage, one where there is quality to be had, but there is also variability, although I don’t think I will get a handle on that until I get to the Médoc, on Tuesday.

More detail on all this, especially that collapsing bed (I know this is why people subscribe, nothing to do with detail, analysis, tasting notes and all that nonsense), in my subscriber reports which start next week. For now, I am off to Pessac-Léognan via the Rocade, Bordeaux’s delightful ring road which is always very quiet, and never becomes gridlocked with rain or accidents, especially at this time of the morning.

Winedoctor Philosophies, Year 4

In the past week Winedoctor passed an important landmark. It is not a true birthday – this site first appeared in May 2000, so it will hit its 16th birthday in about seven weeks time – nevertheless it is now three completed years since I moved away from the business model of advertiser dependence, to a subscription-based model. So at about this time of year, as well as pondering the forthcoming Bordeaux primeurs, I always take a look back at the past twelve months, and ponder the year ahead. The fact that I am holed up in an airport hotel en route to Bordeaux with little else to do might also have something to do with it.

My philosophy when it comes to wine writing online has developed as Winedoctor has grown. I came to realise that if I was to write something with real depth that would inform readers, I should probably focus on one or two regions, and then dig as deep as I could, year after year. Naturally I settled for the two regions I knew and loved most, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. This meant I could ditch the dependence on press trips; having done press trips both to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in the past, but having also explored both regions much more extensively alone, it is clear to me what a blinkered, tunnel-vision view of a region press trips give, even those arranged by regional bodies rather than single producers. I have read too many vacuous press trip reports filled with pretty pictures of beaming faces, lush lunches and boozy dinners, as well as fleeting impressions of wines, but seemingly devoid of substance.

Happily, having a subscription-based income isolates me from this endless marathon of stuffed-cheek blogging, because thankfully I now write for graciously paying subscribers, and thus I don’t see an endless stream of freebies as my imbursement. I have a week in Bordeaux just kicking off now, and shall be busy maintaining my distance from the besuited Bordelais, not because I don’t like them (I do!) but because that’s a professional, non-freebie-dependent approach. I see serious reporting on wine, reporting that readers are actually prepared to make buying decisions on, as a business rather than a lifestyle, and I feel happiest doing it while standing some distance from the trough. During the forthcoming week in Bordeaux I have only one dinner scheduled; I generally allow myself one per primeurs trip, and this year Château Lagrange tempted me in with the promise of a vertical tasting first. As always I will declare this support on relevant articles, and in my annual support disclosure. It would be a very professional approach for freebie-chasers to do the same, but it won’t happen, for obvious reasons.

Detailed reports and a willingness to describe wines both good and bad in an honest, open and transparent fashion has long seemed, to me, to be the right way to go with Winedoctor. This applies both in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. After my Bordeaux 2013 reports were published I had several emails from Bordeaux complaining I had scored the wines too low. It struck me that this was great feedback, implying I was doing something right. No wine writer should ever find only positive things to say, it isn’t realistic. The word ‘critic’ does carry some meaning, after all, unless you are happy being part of the marketing machine that says only positive things (I can feel myself returning to press trips here). The same applies in the Loire Valley, where I get the feeling some writers, merchants, bloggers and sommeliers coo too much over wines based on the naturalista-style viticultural and winemaking dogma involved, rather than the finished result. I have had too many oxidised, refermenting, Brett-laden, rotten and botrytis-laden wines to follow this mantra. The latest report from the Loire Valley, published this week for subscribers, hopefully makes that clear.

Hopefully Winedoctor subscribers agree with these philosophies, and they seem to be spreading the word. Subscriber numbers grew again in year three, by just under 14%, and I would like to thank all those who renewed their subscriptions, and welcome all those who signed up for the first time. Looking at the year ahead, building on this success I will for year four hold the subscription price down to just £45 per annum, the same price I launched at three years ago. As far as I am aware the number of months in the year hasn’t changed, so this is still the equivalent of £3.75 per month for almost continuous daily updates (I do have a summer holiday, and I still take Christmas Day off!). There is a trial period open to those who haven’t subscribed before, and that remains £15 for a month’s access (you can top up the remaining eleven months for £30). I intend to leave this trial offer available during the entire year, including during the publication of my primeur reports. If you’re wondering what my themes for the year ahead are, as well as my usual vintage reports (2015, 2012 and 2006 Bordeaux to come, also 2014 but I might carry that over into 2017 after another visit to the region, in the Loire just 2006 to come) I will be continuing the expansion of my coverage of both St Emilion and St Julien, and in the Loire I will home in on some of the red wine appellations, with tastings and reports of the successful 2014 and 2015 vintages from visits lined up for July. Complete with first tastings from barrel of the latter, I hope.

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.