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A Few from the 1980s

After my recent review of the wines of the ever-popular Barsac estate Château Climens, featuring vintages back to 1981 and 1979, I was reminded that one of the aims of buying and cellaring wine was that, eventually, you’re supposed to retrieve the bottles from those dark and dingy corners of the cellar where they slumber, and drink them. With that in mind I pulled a few more bottles from the 1980s (I’m a bit short on representation from the 1970s, to be honest) in the past few weeks.

Two red wines first, beginning with an old favourite from my early days of wine exploration when I think I probably knew a lot more about the Rhône Valley than I do now. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of this vintage of Vieux Télégraphe over the years, and happily I have one or two bottles still remaining. This one showed very well, on a par with the very appealing 1989 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Marqués de Murrieta. Having said that, I think I would choose the latter over the former on most occasions; there’s just something very special about older Rioja. As for the 1989 Chasse-Spleen, I approached this with caution, as my last bottle had been rather off. This one, however, was just singing.

Three sweet wines follow, again from the 1988 and 1989 vintages. The 1989 Coutet has to be my favourite of the three, although I was very impressed by the 1989 Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux from Domaine de la Roulerie. The wine over-performed for the appellation I think, even if the style was quite tertiary and unusual. I asked modern-day proprietor Philippe Germain about Les Coteaux and he didn’t have a clue which part of the vineyard it came from. The property was in the hands of the previous owner in 1989, and it doesn’t seem that very good records were kept. The 1988 Quarts de Chaume from Château Bellerive was also showing well, although perhaps not at the level I have experienced with other bottles. Perhaps this vintage is just tiring a little now. Perhaps, being honest, I have changed my expectation of what Quarts de Chaume can and should be. I have a few left; they should perhaps be drunk up, but I think I will keep them for some time yet, as an academic investigation into the plateau and decline of aged Quarts de Chaume if nothing else.

The final wine, from Warre, is still going strong even at over 30 years. It is a long way from the most highly regarded of vintages, but these bottles prove a consistent source of pleasure.

Tasting Notes

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: For the appellation this has a surprisingly pale hue, showing moderate depth at its core, but fading out to an orange-tawny rim. The nose is evolved and expressive, and more interesting than I recall from previous tastings, with rich black truffle aromas, and sweet leather notes on top. There are faint tinges of game as well, but it is somewhat brighter than this description suggests, as there is also bay leaf and juniper berry to be found here. This is fleshy on the palate, so there is no suggestion that this might be drying out, and there is still quite some grip and spice to it; there is quite some energy here in fact. Long and savoury. Showing a slightly more convincing character than my poor memory tells me it has done before, although looking back at previous notes I said very similar things. A good wine indeed, and clearly very long lived. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1989: My last bottle of this, unless I am mistaken. Still plenty of colour in the decanter and glass, and as we would expect after prolonged wood-aging very little sediment too. The nose is really quite bright and feels a little lean at first, and it takes a couple of hours to really open up. Nice charcoal-tinged and cranberry-cherry fruit character on the nose, with the sweetness of fresh leather, scented with notes of sage, rosemary and black olive. Dark and slightly introverted, and yet defined and bright, like a slightly sour black cherry, to be more precise. Certainly an interesting nose here, captivating now, but with potential still. Some of these elements come through on the palate, with piles of fresh acids, gentle and rather reserved substance and a firm, bright, acid-bound character. A middle-weight wine, still with a savoury extract and substance, and plenty of fresh structure though. Still very good indeed. And very long too. 18/20 (September 2013)

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis) 1989: The last bottle I had of this, probably about three years ago now (where does the time go?) was obviously not showing well; this wine is absolutely singing on this occasion. The colour in the decanter and glass is confidently dark, with a nicely pigmented although certainly maturing rim. But it is in the nose that the wine truly reassures, with perfumed black fruits laced with hints of violets, and as it evolves in the glass also black tea leaves, bloody iron filings and even a hint of game. The palate shows a lovely harmony, and gentle sweetness, some really appealing grip and substance, and in the finish tangible extract and fresh structure. There’s a little length to it. Hugely convincing despite the wine’s age, with complex tertiary nuances of citrus alongside the more classically evolved character. On the whole, this is quite lovely. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux 1989: This wine has a gentle, burnished gold. The nose is intriguing, opening out slowly over the course of an hour or so, showing scents of coffee and orange cake, with crunchy fruit. Overall it is fairly intense, with tertiary nuances of baked ham and cigar smoke. Despite this overly evolved character on the nose there is no suggestion that this wine is at the end of its life on the palate. There is still a glorious substance to it, a gently fleshy character with subtle hints of Demerara sugar, coffee, roasted plantain, baked corn and even a touch of sage. This is certainly complex and multi-faceted, although to be fair as the wine is given more time it does seem to tighten down into a lightly chewy, tangerine and peach sweetness, with a gently mellifluous texture. Overall, a lovely wine. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1988: A moderately rich orange-gold hue. The fruit on the nose is rich although certainly tempered by an organic and savoury edge to it. There is a seam of straw, desiccated fruit, dried apricot and lightly baked oranges. Does this latter element suggest a little oxidation on this particular bottle? The palate has a beautifully polished character, still showing a rich and deep sweetness despite the wine’s age, Very harmonious, with gentle acidity. Certainly no oxidation here, the fruit rich and concentrated, with a firm phenolic substance to the wine giving it a really appealing pithy grip towards the end, finishing up with some spice and a really fine length. Still showing the straw and sweetness of previous bottles, but not the caramel tinges I have noted. Overall, still delicious, but perhaps not at the level I have scored some bottles previously. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Coutet (Sauternes) 1989: In the glass this has a rich, really quite fabulous orange-golden hue. The aromatics are no less remarkable than its rather radiant appearance, the fruit character redolent of bitter oranges, but this is more than matched by the scents of almonds, hazelnuts and praline also in evidence. It feels very lightly high-toned as well though, a sensation swirled with touches of quince and more of that bitter orange. The palate shows all of these flavours, with roasted botrytis character, carried along by a fabulously sweet, polished texture. There is also a layer of caramel underpinning it all, a great texture and obvious residual sugar. This is still going strong; no rush here. 18/20 (September 2013)

Warre’s Vintage Port 1980: A very fine, pure hue here, still with plenty of pigment and life to it. A very fine, savoury but pure and rather fragrant fruit on the nose, with some slightly sooty notes under the violets, but it is the fragrancy that dominates. This sense of purity comes through on the palate, which is very harmonious at the start and it maintains this character through the middle, and although it has grip and spirit to show here it remains appealing, composed and fresh. A wine of substance and light structure, more perhaps the texture and approachable sweetness is more prominent. There are figs, a fine macerated fruit character, and a firm, spicy backbone. The vintage is not regarded as a great one, but this is still a very fine and approachable wine. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Harvest Reports: Useful or Useless?

There’s some interesting chat on Twitter today about reporting on a vintage before, during or after harvest time, and whether such early reports have any validity. Some say it’s too soon to make any meaningful comment on the vintage, and that journalists lacking in viticultural qualifications and winemaking experience are not in a position to comment anyway. Others, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn, feel different.

Any tasting report has to have some context; there are issues with primeurs samples, just-bottled wines and even older samples that have to be taken into consideration. The further in advance the report is of the moment when we will eventually want to drink the wine, the more caveats there should be. Harvest reports are really an extreme version of this; they have validity, and provide information, but the caveats are huge, and any ideas we might develop on the wine’s future would have to be very broad. Nobody, for instance, would start scoring at the point of the grapes having just been pressed (I can hear it now, “I give this fantastic Merlot juice a hundred points”).

Although the ideas formed may be broad, they are at least evidence-based. Here is a list of some useful information that can be gleaned from a harvest-time visit.

1. The growing season. A report on the weather during the season and through harvest can give a strong indication as to whether or not there is any hope for good quality.

2. Technical analyses of ripeness can be made, even out among the vines. Knowledge of sugar concentrations and potential alcohol can be informative; my Pithon-Paillé report coming tomorrow provides a good example.

3. Yields. Tying in with the weather report, information can be gained on the yields, and whether this reflects the growing season, or the wishes of the vigneron.

4. The condition of the grapes; are they clean and healthy, or are they peppered with rot? And if so, what’s the discard? What are the mechanisms for examining the grapes and excluding rot?

5. Otherwise, what is the fruit like; small hard berries with thick skins, or larger berries, with a higher juice-to-solids ratio?

Sorting at Sociando-Mallet, October 2012

6. Has the decision to pick been made on the basis of the fruit having reached optimal technical and physiological ripeness, or has it been rushed on by the threat of rain or some other problem?

7. Are the harvest dates relevant? Is it an early harvest, or a very late one? Either can have some influence on the style and quality of the eventual wines.

8. What’s the juice like, is it tasting fresh, rich and clean? Is it a bit green (like some I tasted in Bordeaux in the 2012 vintage)?

9. Visitors also see for themselves what’s going on in terms of selection in the vineyard, method of picking (machine or hand), sorting by hand, table de triage, machine-sorting (such as a Tri-Baie machine) or digital-optical sorting.

10. Finally, it’s also a good chance to connect with the vignerons. They may be busy, but it is one time of the year that you are guaranteed that they will be there, and not on holiday, or off showing their wines at one of the many Salons.

In short, no harvest report is a cast-iron guarantee of the quality of the wines that will result. It’s a first glance at the potential for the vintage. Reports should in my opinion be delivered in that context, expressing hope or concern for the quality of the wine, but no more than that. Harvest reports that declare “this is the vintage of the millennium” or indeed “this vintage is a wash out” are unwise and ultimately probably misleading.

Bordeaux Harvests: Quality vs. Quantity

I really should be returning to my posts on minerality today, but first up something of a plea for distinguishing between quantity and quality. They are different, and it is misleading to use qualitative terms to describe quantitative problems.

A recent release from the Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) on the forthcoming harvest for 2013, as distributed by the Associated Free Press (AFP), a not-for-profit news organisation based in New York, is the story I have in mind when I write this. The AFP release has been re-run on a number of websites, such as this Wine Searcher article.

The headline declares that the 2013 Bordeaux harvest will be the “Worst Harvest Since 1991“, which is an impressive piece of future-gazing as nobody yet knows the quality of the 2013 harvest. The fruit has yet to ripen, it’s only early September, picking probably won’t begin until October at the earliest, and if the weather holds I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bordelais picking into late-October. So, the Bordeaux 2013 harvest does not exist, and quality cannot therefore be assessed. It’s not like to be very high, with a late harvest projected, but late harvests (such as was seen in 2000) don’t always immediately equate with disaster.

Read the article though and a new meaning emerges; as it turns out Bernard Farges, appointed president of the CIVB in July this year, actually said “In terms of volume, the 2013 harvest is going to be the worst since 1991“. This is of course a very different matter. There is no doubt quantities will be reduced this year; this much can be predicted, with some degree of accuracy, from looking at the crop being carried by the vines. It’s a matter of extrapolation of course, but at least the statement is based on something. Nasty weather during flowering caused a lot of coulure, like that pictured above (in 2012 rather than 2013 to be honest) in a Margaux vineyard. The bunch has both coulure (the stems where the berries are missing), as well as millerandage (the hen-and-chicken appearance of the fruit).

So let’s please get it straight. The Bordeaux 2013 harvest will be small volume, the smallest since 1991. This will be bad for the bank balances in Bordeaux perhaps, because fewer grapes means less wine to sell, but as for quality, only time will tell. It could be dreadful. It could be very good indeed. I will go out to Bordeaux in late October to try and get a handle on it for myself, first hand.

Rayne-Vigneau: Visitors Welcome

Bordeaux hasn’t been renowned for welcoming wine-interested visitors; buyers, merchants, journalists and other professionals, yes, but it wasn’t that long ago Bordeaux châteaux were forbidden fruit for wine drinkers. This, in an era when many New World estates offer visits, tours, on-site sales, dining experiences (I cringe when I write “dining experience”, but dining on the terrace overlooking the vines is certainly about more than just the food for us wine geeks) and even functions, everything from concerts to weddings, seems increasingly anachronistic.

Times are changing though, and more and more Bordeaux is realising the importance of welcoming the wine-buying and wine-drinking public. With this in mind, Château de Rayne-Vigneau (pictured below) has recently begun welcoming visitors to the estate.

Following an expensive refurbishment of the cellars, the team – led by Vincent Labergére who runs the estate on behalf of owners Crédit Agricole Grands Crus – now welcome visitors who can receive a guided tour of the cellars before making their way to the tasting room to try a small selection of the wines. More importantly, the wines are available for sale on-site – something quite rare in Bordeaux with its long-established system of selling through the Place de Bordeaux, with all its courtiers and négociants, and there is also the option to dine on-site (no doubt with a glass or two of Rayne-Vigneau, or perhaps the dry Sec de Rayne-Vigneau, to wash it all down). The tours are overseen by the newly appointed Élodie Vargas.

One thing that won’t be available is a tour of the rather attractive château, which has remained in private hands ever since 1961, when the proprietor at the time – Vicomte François – sold his vineyard.

The tours cost €7, and this includes a tasting of three wines.

Sauternes #7: Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001

It has been a few weeks since I returned to my irregular posting of random Sauternes notes. Well, I say random; you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see I have been going for my 2001s first, peppered with the occasional 1998 and 2007.

Here, in episode seven, a return to this vintage that I love so much with an estate that I have long favoured. Although I think Climens would have to be my favourite in Barsac, in Sauternes the book would be wide open. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey would surely be a front-runner though.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001

This 2001 is typical of why I love this vintage, and this estate, so much. As is often the case with Sauternes, the wine remains available on the open market at a very fair price. Look at it against the prices of the most delicious Pomerols from the same vintage, and the disparity between the two is all too apparent.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2001: A fine, slightly matt, but certainly rich golden hue. Wonderful concentration and complexity on the nose, with the rich golden fruit aromas tempered by more savoury nuances which segue very readily into botrytis, lightly salted caramel, baked honey and more. It seems to have a very convincing and composed character, with plenty of evolved elements. There is a fine richness on the palate, broad and with a sweet substance to it, with some of the intense, baked honey elements seen on the nose. This has a very fine combination of harmony, great depth and a glycerine-infused richness, despite the savoury, bitter-orange characters presented by the fruit. This wine has exactly the same confidence and pure yet heavyweight integration that Rieussec possesses in this vintage. In other words, it’s a stunner. 19/20 (June 2013)

Sauternes #6: Chateau Lafaure-Peyraguey 2007

Take a straw poll of favourite Sauternes vintages and I suspect 2001 will come high up the list, and it would most probably come out on top. It is certainly one of mine, and this is why I have been featuring many wines from 2001 recently.

Next, we might have 2009, 2010 or 2011. Although these are very young, those who have tasted them (and I know that is going to be trade and press only for those still in barrel) know these are three very fine vintages.

Where next? Actually, there are many recent vintages I would happily buy, including 1999, 2005 and 2007. The latter is of some interest because my tasting impressions go right back to my primeur assessments. And although early on they impresed with vibrancy and purity, more recent tastings – such as this IMW 2007 tasting – indicate that the wines (a selection, at least) have taken on some weight and substance since those early first tastes.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2007

The 2007 from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey is one very fine example of this……

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2007: A rich golden hue. Very pure, bright and aromatic character, with apricot, quince, pear and peach, along with some overt, fragrant, floral overtones. The fruit feels rich, and it is undercut by a very incisive, effusive, sherbetty vein, with a slightly high-toned suggestion. The palate is broad, fleshy, seductive, much more so than you would expect from the reputation of the vintage. Underneath there is a really vibrant feel to it, a stony cut, with bitter fruit elements framing the rest of the palate. Good acidity too. Sweet, rather primary fruit, oranges, but matched by promising sensory elements that suggest botrytis. 17.5/20 (May 2013)

Decanter Judging, Bordeaux 2012

If it’s April, and the primeurs have passed, then it must be time for Decanter World Wine Awards judgng. Indeed it is, so I’m heading down to London today for a few days judging on the Loire panel, with Jim Budd (pictured below) and no doubt one or two other Loire-knowledgeable tasters.

Jim Budd, DWWA Loire Chairman

I really enjoy judging at Decanter. The wines are streamed into categories and prices, so alongside the reams of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc I know I can anticipate flights of Anjou (Blanc and Rouge), Savennières, Coteaux du Layon, Vouvray, Sancerre, Chinon and more. We even get the occasional Romorantin. It’s always fascinating to compare and contrast the wines in flights, totally blind as to the identity of the wine other than appellation and price point. And there are usually some real gems in the line up, somewhere; the tasting has certainly switched me onto one or two domaines I was previously unfamiliar with, once the results have been revealed in the Awards edition later in the year (there is absolutely no revealing of labels during the tasting week).

Despite being holed up in London I will continue writing and updating my Bordeaux 2012 updates. This was going to be the case anyway, but with the campaign likely to crack on this week – there’s no reason for any domaine to wait now that Parker’s scores are out – it seems even more important. Because of this, as I wrote in my last post, I will be jumping forward to the major communes of the right bank this week, going to Pomerol and St Emilion first, then Castillon and the other appellations including the satellites and Fronsac. Hopefully the only notable effect of posting while on the road will be in timing of some updates.

Bordeaux with Bill

I’m cracking on with writing up Bordeaux 2012 notes this weekend. As the campaign already seems to be gathering pace, a pace which is sure to pick up over the coming week, I have decided to jump forward to some of the major communes of the right bank, skipping the wines of the Haut-Médoc, Moulis, Listrac and the Médoc appellations. I will come back to these the following week.

So today I’m focusing on Pomerol, for publication Tuesday, and then St Emilion, hopefully Wednesday, although with it being the largest report of all – I’ve lost count of the number of wines I tasted – I do feel slightly daunted at the prospect of beginning it.

In the meantime, here are five notes on older wines served with some excellent Toulouse-style sausages (I add ‘style’ because they were in fact made by a local butcher in Bordeaux), grilled chicken and rare steak served by Bill Blatch at the very start of the primeurs week. After a tasting of 30 or 40 barrel samples, all 2012 Sauternes and Barsac, red meat and red wine were both very welcome.

Gatepost at Angélus

Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) 2001: A remarkably pure and youthful appearance here, and the aromatics seem to have some sympathy with this first impression, as they show a very defined, rather crunchy style of fruit. There are darker tones beneath though, as well as a streak of black liquorice alongside the smoky, damson and red-black hedgerow fruits. The palate feels very reserved, with a cool character to it, polished but gentle in style. Stony textured, tense, quite long and certainly a wine still full of promise. 17/20 (April 2013)

Château Léoville-Poyferré (St Julien) 1989: Very polished and elegantly maturing aromatics here, the sensitive aging fruit laced with notes of black tea and bergamot. Very classic in terms of style, reserved and yet expressive with what it has, and very correct in character. A rather cool, slightly diffuse composition on the palate, but nothing that is unacceptable, in fact it feels quite stylish and lifted, balanced, and showing a very fine trace of liquorice alongside the tea and maturing fruit here. Surprising backbone of grip underneath it, but still balanced and harmonious. Very impressive. And from before the Cuvelier revitalisation in the 1990s too, I note. 18/20 (April 2013)

Château Angélus (St Emilion) 1989: A touch of roasted fruit to the aromatics here, moving towards a less appealing baked character, Rather bold and solid feel to the fruit because of this, not a wine imbued with finesse at this point at least. I do like the little notes of mature black tea it has though. The palate brings the same character to it, showing a solid and very grippy character, with sweetness to the fruit, and some soft, deeply buried acidity. The finish is rich, but soon shows a dry character. An upside and a downside here. 16/20 (April 2013)

Château Angélus (St Emilion) 1990: A really appealing colour here, deeply pigmented still, very dark. And the aromatics have a very different character to the 1989, as here we have moved away from the iron fist in an iron glove (not a typo) to something more scented and interesting. There are notes of black bean here, tea leaves, black bean and soy sauce, all very savoury and complex. The palate shows the sweetness of the vintage though, with some rather confected fruit draped over a dry and tannic structure. The substance is slightly coarse, the finish rather grippy and blunt, but there is certainly some appeal here. 17/20 (April 2013)

Château La Tour Figeac (St Emilion) 2009: A huge contrast to the wines just poured, all much older. This wine shows some an appropriately rich fruit for such a young and warm vintage. The fruit character veers into the blue fruit spectrum, and it also shows a lacing of toffee and chocolate, most probably remnants of the oak. The palate has all the intensity we should expect, with flavours that match the aromatics, wrapped up in a ball of blueberry fruit. Very primary, quite supple. Not pleasant to drink at present (but then why should it be?) but it does hold promise for the future. 16/20 (April 2013)

Bordeaux 2012 Plans and Paywall News

I’m getting back into the swing of things again, now that I have returned from a week tasting the 2012 primeurs in Bordeaux. I have a lot to write about, and I started today with my introduction to Bordeaux 2012 (subscribers only), giving a detailed backdrop on the growing season, the peculiarities of the weather, and what happened when harvest time arrived. Tomorrow I will get on with the wines, starting with Pessac-Léognan. Thereafter I will roll out at least three reports each week, interspersed with some new profiles and updates on the Loire in order to give the more Ligérian-minded readers something to mull over during this Bordeaux-heavy period of the year.

I thought, as I have more detail to impart and more tasting notes to present than in previous years, that I would just give a quick run-down of how the reports will proceed. After Pessac-Léognan I will continue with the communes of the left bank, including St Estèphe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux, as usual. This year, however, I have tasted quite extensively beyond these appellations, and so instead of finishing with a “Mopping Up” report, I will continue on with separate reports for Moulis & Listrac, Haut-Médoc and Médoc this year.

The sandy plain and limestone-clay côtes of St Emilion, April 2013

Then it will be on to the right bank, with a monster report on St Emilion (pictured above, the sandy plain in the foreground, and the clay-limestone côtes of the plateau – that’s Pavie bottom right); always the biggest report by far, reflecting the huge size of this appellation, this year’s promises to be bigger than ever. I haven’t really counted, but it looks like there are at least 60 tasting notes; contrast that with the likes of St Julien or St Estèphe, both of which would be doing well to muster up one-quarter that number. Then it will be on to Pomerol to report on some of the stars of the vintage; when Château Gazin released yesterday I was concerned the campaign might sweep forward before I could get my notes out, but I would be surprised if it does. The Bordelais remember too well getting their fingers burnt with early releases in the 2008 vintage, only to later realise Parker liked the vintage and post-sale trading saw profit go to the dealers and merchants instead of the châteaux. There have been enough murmurings from Monkton for the Bordelais to know there is hope of a high score (especially in Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol) and I believe, unless a first growth or other big name leads the way, that they will hold out.

After these two more famous appellation, three more updates, the first of which is named Castillon & Co. for the wines of Castillon, Fronsac and the St Emilion and Pomerol satellites. Actually, I don’t think I have any tasting notes on wines from the St Emilion satellites but who knows, I might uncover one buried somewhere in my spreadsheet of notes. Then I will move on to generic Bordeaux; this might not sound like a particularly interesting instalment, but I would disagree. It includes wines from Suduiraut, Guiraud, Cos d’Estournel, the Guinaudeau family of Lafleur, Jean-Luc Thunevin of Valandraud, Clos des Lunes (owned by the Bernard family of Domaine de Chevalier) and plenty of other interesting wines. Finally comes Sauternes; something of a damp squib to finish on this year, such was the vintage, but hardly surprising. Surely there must be some sort of rule against having a fourth great vintage in a row? As last year, I will tag on a final post on my Primeur Picks, highlighting some of the more attractive wines of the vintage.

In other news, I am in the processing of improving and expanding the payment options for subscribers. First, I set up a Paypal option on Sunday, and have been meaning to draw your attention to it since then. Well, finally I have gotten around to it. Secondly, I have applied to have American Express added to the list of eligible cards, and I hope this can be finalised in the next week or two. Many thanks to all those of you who have subscribed (more than I expected!), I really appreciate your support.

Bordeaux 2012: Final Day

My penultimate day in Bordeaux was spent catching up in St Emilion. Even though the Union des Grands Crus tastings have finished, there are still plenty of opportunities to visit and taste, and quite often a broad range of wines at each visit.
I kicked off at 9am at Château Pavie, which remains a building site at present; below is an image of some “terroir” being returned to the vineyard from within the tracks of a digger at Pavie, taken at 8:55am on Friday morning. As for the wines, they showed well this year I thought, with none of the baked, sur-maturité that bores me so much. But then, it’s not really a vintage for sur-maturité, so I’m not about to predict a broad and sweeping change in style here. The rest of the range followed suit, even Monbousquet showing rather well, with only one wine teetering on the brink of being overtly over-worked. By chance I also bumped into Jeff Leve who has a well-known Bordeaux-focused site, Wine Cellar Insider. Jeff is a huge Bordeaux fan and it was a pleasure to meet him.

"Terroir" being salvaged at Pavie, April 2013
Thereafter I zipped up to Château Ausone for a tasting of the range there. Although the grand vin and even the second wine showed well, the difficulties obtaining ripeness in Cabernet Franc came through in some of the lesser wines, which showed rather leafy characteristics. It’s clear that you can’t simply regard 2012 as a ‘Right Bank Year’ for this reason as much as anything else.
After finishing there I flew over to Château La Fleur de Boüard where Hubert de Boüard de Laforest was hosting a tasting of wines on which he consults, as well as his own properties, including Château Angélus. Despite being in Lalande-de-Pomerol it was only ten minutes from one venue to the next. The tasting would usually be at Angélus but as this has been nothing more than a building site for the past few years the tasting called for a change of venue. A good Angélus this year, and a few other decent wines here too.
Then it was back to St Emilion again to taste through the wines of Comte Stephan von Neipperg at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, including the Pessac-Léognan Clos Marselette, which I have already tasted several times during the week, right up to La Mondotte. Interestingly, here the Cabernet Franc component showed better than it did at the lower levels at Ausone, so greenness is not a fait accompli.
I popped into Château Figeac to taste their 2012, which was classic Figeac, and showing just as we would expect given the characteristics of the vintage. More fuel for Parker’s disdain of the château here then; it will be fascinating to see what happens here now that, having failed to gain promotion in the 2012 St Emilion classification, Michel Rolland has been signed up to consult. Reflecting on this after tasting the wine, it seems to me that his being signed up is a clear indication of what drives promotion in St Emilion. You need good terroir, yes, and there are all sorts of other hurdles to jump, but reputation – in other words price, surely – accounts for 35% of the score for the premier grand cru classé ranking. Prices depend on points, of course, so those estates supported by Parker are much more likely to be elevated. Parker seems to despise the wines of Figeac – comments on his forum recently have been almost vehement – and so it is clear that if you want to remedy the situation, even at the expense of the style of wine you are known for, you hire a consultant who makes wines that appeal to Parker’s palate. How far will they go with Rolland, I wonder? A little picking advice, as per Léoville-Poyferré? A little blending advice? Or something more drastic? The 2013 vintage will be the one to watch.
Then it was on to taste the wines of Jean-Luc Thunevin, including Château Valandraud; the samples were very good, but it was pointed out that they were not finished blends, and so they have t be taken with a larger pinch of salt than my other barrel sample notes. The wines of Jonathan Maltus were next, down at Château Teyssier. Lots of good quality here, and proof that you could ripen Cabernet Franc this year. It was also great to meet the team from the US retailer JJ Buckley, who have a strong interest in Bordeaux, and so have flown in pretty big team. I’m flying solo in Bordeaux (as you probably know by now); they had about 15 staff tasting and judging. It was a pleasure to meet them all, especially (but not exclusively) Edward, Roland and Chuck. I’m afraid three names is the most I can remember in any one day.
After Maltus, the wines of François Mitjavile. I tasted with François first, then his son Louis, looking at Château Tertre-Roteboeuf first, but also the wines of Roc de Cambes and L’Aurage. I tasted 2012 and 2011 across the range, then selected wines from 2010 and 2009. These are very distinctive wines, very savoury, spicy and complex, a complete contrast to the richness and polish of Le Dôme. And it was a good way to end the day. I finished up with a long drive back to my accommodation, with heavier traffic than expected for Friday evening.
That’s it for my blog updates on Bordeaux 2012. Saturday morning I am visiting an interesting Médoc cru bourgeois estate, and then typing up some of my reports in the afternoon, before heading back to the UK for some fizz and a good sleep, I hope.