Home > Winedr Blog

Bordeaux 2015 Harvest: Jean-Christophe Mau Reports

I have quite a few vintage sound-bites, from the likes of David Suire (Château Larcis Ducasse), Thomas Duroux (Château Palmer) and Philippe Dhalluin (Château Mouton-Rothschild) lined up for publication. First though, here is a harvest report not long received from Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown. Why feature another second-hand report, you might ask, when I have so much lined up from my time in Bordeaux last week? The answer to that is simple; Jean-Christophe has always displayed a refreshing candour in his vintage reports, telling it like it was in difficult vintages such as 2013 and 2012. They are free of excess and hyperbole. They’re always worth a read.

“Our grape-pickers finally emerged from the vines on 13 October, under glorious sunshine, after 3 weeks of successive selective harvests of the red grapes (beginning on 21 September). We began picking the Cabernet Sauvignon in waves on 5 October, based on the weather conditions and the levels of maturity observed – the plot-by-plot division of our vineyard demands a precise, customised harvesting schedule.

“Overall, the weather conditions for the harvest have been very satisfactory, almost identical to the conditions we saw in 2014. It could hardly have been worse than in 2012 and 2013, with really complicated harvesting conditions and mixed results”, explains Jean-Christophe Mau (pictured below).

Jean-Christophe Mau

No such difficulties this year, as the harvesters brought in box after box of beautiful, healthy grapes. Even the kids from the primary school next door – who visited the château during the harvest – agreed that “there are no bad bits on the grapes,” and “they’re very sweet.” (!)

The numbers are encouraging: yields which are close to the ten-year average at 45 hl/ha (only slightly more than 2014), in a year which was more generous to the Cabernet Sauvignon vines than the Merlots. The latter saw extensive bunch selection earlier in the season, as a result of the hot, dry conditions in July. The alcohol contents should be naturally high at around 14°, and even 15° for the Petit Verdot.

After three weeks of maceration and pumping over, the results from the first plots to be harvested are very promising: silky tannins, great ripeness and strong colours.

We have now begun stirring the lees of the white wines in the barrel. In light of the excellent quality of the samples tasted so far, and the low yield of the white plots this year, it looks like we will be seeing a strong showing from the château’s grand vin. Sauvignon Blanc will dominate the blend of our 2015 whites, reflecting the replanting operations conducted over the past few years.

To sum up: harvesting conditions which were very nearly perfect, with decent volumes and obvious quality. Now it’s up to us to get the vinification just right for 2015, which is already shaping up to be a vintage of vivid colours and flavours!”

Bordeaux 2015: Final Taste

St Emilion always comes last (more or less, mixed with Pomerol a little) in my en primeur schedule, and this was also the case on this tasting trip. Friday was 100% St Emilion, from 9am until the sun went down, kicking off a day of mixed 2013 and 2015 tastings, as well as more detailed, lengthy visits. I started with Château Angélus, to taste the 2013, followed by Château Larcis Ducasse for more from the same vintage. This was a really informative visit, as I spent an hour with winemaker David Suire talking about his work on the estate, how he reacted to the difficulties of the 2013 vintage, and looking at how the harvest of the 2015 vintage was managed.

From there I saddled up and rode out to Vignonet, on the sandy plains of St Emilion, to Château Teyssier and Jonathan Maltus. After taking a look at the 2013 vintage, I’m grateful for another opportunity to put myself around something from the 2015 vintage. And there was no sticking my glass under a dripping tap here, as winemaker Neil Whyte drew off three samples for me.

Bordeaux 2015

Sample A4, Destieu: Merlot, for Château Teyssier. Super-ripe, creamed-fruit nose. Delicious fruit, lovely energy, pre-malo acidity (same for the next two samples as well), and a ripe bed of tannins. Very superior quality.
Sample N3, Grand Pontet: Merlot, near the roundabout at the top of St Emilion, for Château Laforge. Black plum skin, sweet, textured, supple and ripe tannins. So succulent, perfumed and fresh.
Sample N5, Gaste Bourse: Merlot, for Les Astéries. A glossy hue. Just amazing minerally, perfumed, smoky character here. Dense, concentrated, vibrant, with a perfume no less amazing than the nose. Surging minerality. Fabulous.

After all this excitement, I headed back towards the limestone slopes, and after rewinding the elastic band in the engine of my diminutive hire car one more time I forced it to ascend the côtes once again, to Château de Pressac, where I spent a couple of hours in the company of proprietor Jean-François Quenin. What a great visit this was; a fascinating history, a charming proprietor, an unusual blend of varieties in the vineyard, and delicious wines which helped push the estate up to the Grand Cru Classé level in the 2012 St Emilion classification. I’m looking forward to writing this one up. Finally, I finished the day at Château Tertre Roteboeuf with none other than François Mitjavile. This was everything in one. A really good 2013. A taste of 2015, with all its explosive fruit. And then some wines from bottle, including the hugely confident 2010 Tertre Roteboeuf, and wines from Roc de Cambes as well. What a finish!

I will publish a review of Bordeaux 2013 (for subscribers) in the next few weeks, and will reflect further on both 2013 and 2015 on the blog on another day, including some ‘from the horse’s mouth’ reports on the 2015 vintage.

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

Bordeaux 2015: Fourth Taste

My week in Bordeaux is drawing to a close, and today is my last day of proper tasting (although I will be hanging around a bit on Saturday, as my flight bank to the UK is not exactly an early one). It’s St Emilion today, while yesterday (Thursday) was Pomerol almost all the way. There was no slumming it as I first tasted at Château Lafleur, taking a look at all the 2013s, followed quickly by Château Cheval Blanc and then Château L’Église-Clinet, in both cases for the 2013s again, and then I hot-footed it over to Château Le Gay to see what they achieved in this most difficult vintage.

While all three visits were of a different style, each one was fascinating in its own way. At Lafleur it was a chance to look not only at how this very favoured terroir had behaved in 2013, but also to see what the Guinaudeau family and their very taleneted team had managed on their other terroirs, including the white wines from around Grand Village. These are, to my mind, some of the most convincing white wines in all Bordeaux. It was interesting to see that the 2013 Les Champs Libres, on which I reported here back in June. I noted that on this tasting the wine seemed to have regained all its confident minerality (which seemed rather subdued when I last tasted it) and at Lafleur they said they noticed the same thing over the last 6-8 months, the wine bouncing back after seemingly going through a rather quiet phase.

Meanwhile, at L’Église-Clinet, after a tasting of 2013 and a chance to chew the cud with Denis Durantou, we tasted the 2014 L’Église-Clinet from barrel, using different lengths of pipettes, sampling the wine near the top, middle and bottom of the barrels. Amazingly, there was a difference. Then we followed that up with a whirlwind tasting of the 2015 L’Église-Clinet from vat. Oh boy! Here goes….

Bordeaux 2015

Cuve #3: Young Merlot, aged 10 years, on gravel. Spicy, dense black cherry. Creamy, warm, pre-malo acidity (true of all vats tasted, I won’t bother to mention it again). Beautiful fruit presence.
Cuve #1: Old-vine Cabernet Franc, from clay and gravel. Spicy fruit, sweet, darker with a charcoaly density. The palate feels really creamy, flashy and sweet. It has lovely aromatics.
Cuve #2: Young Merlot, aged 10 years, on clay. Dense, sweet, exuberant fruit, just crazy texture and fatness here, with a bigger tannic structure here, ripe, grippy in the finish.
Cuve #4: Merlot, on gravel, in front of the house. Lovely savoury fruit-skin character, warm and ripe and sweet, good fruit complexity. Tense too, fresh and grippy with more ripe tannins here.
Press Wine: A mix of Cabernet Franc and Merlot press wine. Gentle vertical pressing, only the premier presse. Dense and perfumed, exotic wild fruit character. Cool, yet pretty, even perfumed, tannic but not aggressive, ripe and confident. Delicious – in this vintage even the press wine tastes beautiful.
Mini-assemblage: Not a final assemblage, if I understood correctly, basically overflow from the other vats. Pretty, with damson fruit, beautiful purity, good grippy tannins too. A touch of grilled almond. Very convincing.

“You’ve tasted everything separately”, said Denis, as I gathered together my things and headed out the door. “Come back and taste it altogether during the primeurs”. I intend to; this little tasting shows we have a vintage bursting with potential here. The 2015 L’Église-Clinet is going to be delicious.

Then, at Le Gay, I tasted the 2013s, followed by a tour of the cellars where all the Péré-Vergé wines are now vinified, using 100% vinification integrale for all. Although I have visited the cellars before, it was fascinating to see them in action, with all the rooms running at different temperatures according to the how far on the wines are in the process, to see the team breaking up the cap of skins in each barrel (done four times a day), and to meet Argentinean winemaker Marcelo Pelleriti for the first time. It was also advantageous to revisit the 2014 vintage from barrel, as well as a couple of older vintages from bottle.

During the afternoon, I zipped down to Libourne to taste the Moueix portfolio courtesy of Édouard Moueix, taking in Château Latour à Pomerol, Château La Fleur-Pétrus, Château Trotanoy and Château Bélair-Monange. And then it was out to meet Ronan Laborde and Monique Bailly at Château Clinet, which was just as fascinating as my morning visits. I checked out all the Clinet vineyards with Ronan, an eye-opening exercise because although I know all the major châteaux of the appellation, understanding exactly who owns which vines is almost impossible, even with all those vineyard markers I occasionally photograph. Then after poking around Clinet I also took a look around the new Ronan by Clinet facility (due to ‘officially’ be inaugurated next week), where he makes his relatively new (since 2009) Bordeaux Rouge which is excellent value (keep an eye out for it if you fancy drinking good Bordeaux on a budget). We finished off with a Clinet vertical (it’s a hard life), before I then headed off-piste again in Fronsac. I visited Château La Dauphine, a fascinating property heading from organics into biodynamics and one I am very glad to have visited. The 2010 showed particularly well.

Sorry, I think I wrote too much there, but it was a full and fascinating day. Right, off to Château Angélus I go.

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

Bordeaux 2015: Third Taste

On Wednesday I ventured north again, as far as Pauillac. I kicked off at Château d’Issan first though, and because of a tight schedule they kindly agreed to see me at 8am. When I arrived it was still pitch-black, and approaching the entrance to the estate from the south (as I stayed near the city of Bordeaux on Tuesday night) instead of from the north (my usual route in) I reached the gateway by driving through a few unfamiliar backroads and seemingly a children’s playground, which was a bit weird. But I got there in the end.

Thankfully, while I was tasting the 2013 vintage here the sun appeared above the horizon, and things seemed much clearer on the way out. My next stop was Château Léoville-Las-Cases, where I tasted the full range of wines in 2013, including Nenin, Potensac, Clos du Marquis and Léoville-Las-Cases, as well as any associated second wines you care to mention. I tasted with the maitre de chai Bruno Rolland, and I also had a quick peek at the gardens which have been extensively renovated since I last saw them.

I didn’t think I could allow standards to drop after this, to it was on to taste 2013 with Jean-René Matignon at Château Pichon-Baron, where again I tackled a small range of wines from the vintage, including not only the grand vin, but also Les Tourelles, Les Griffons and Pibran. Jean-René is an absolute mine of information when it comes to the vines and the wines, and I learnt a lot here about the 2015 vintage. The same is true of Thomas Duroux at Château Palmer, as he is always helpful and informative, and he is always forthcoming with information on the vintage. It was fascinating to hear about year two (2015) of Palmer being 100% biodynamic. We tasted the 2013s of course (when the vineyard was 55% biodynamic).

Bordeaux 2015

Then it was over to the right bank, first via E Leclerc to buy a few provisions (man cannot live on wine alone….), and second via Château de Reignac. This château perhaps needs no introduction; it is well known for beating much more famous châteaux from much grander appellations in blind tastings. I spent a full two hours here, touring the vineyards and cellars, tasting wines from the 2012 and 2014 vintages, and checking out some 2015s from vat and barrel with technical director Nicolas Lesaint (hands featured above). And with that, you know what’s coming next.

Vat #1: Merlot, from gravel, picked September 14th. Now macerated for over one month. Dark, floral fruit. Sweet, concentrated palate. And a good, ripe, tannic grip.
Vat #2: Merlot, from clay. An inky-dark hue. A little reduced aromatically. Dark fruit and plenty of it, toasted almonds, tense, grippy, with obvious pre-malolactic fermentation acidity (this is true of all four samples in truth).
Barrel #1: Merlot, from gravel, vinification integrale, for the cuvée Balthus. Picked September 15th, went into barrel one week later. Spiced wood, sandalwood, warm and voluminous. So sweet and so energetic in the mouth (pre-malo again of course)
Barrel #2: Merlot, from clay, vinification integrale, for the cuvée Balthus. Sweet, perfumed fruit, toasted, flashy, with dark fruits and a lacework of minerals. Texture and tannin here.

Once again, 2015 looks really promising. What I find most stiking is how rich, delicious and expressive these (and other) Merlots have been. Young Merlot can be, frankly, dull, but that is not true of these or other wines I have tasted. And yet the prevailing opinion – where one is expressed – is that although all varieties did well, the Cabernets did best of all. Of course, being picked later, the opportunity to taste Cabernet has not been so frequent.

On leaving Château de Reignac I passed a lady driving in the opposite direction into the château. We exchanged a look of recognition and for fear of being rude I immediately stopped my car to say hello, as did she. I thought it was Charlotte Dagueneau (Didier’s daughter) although what she would be doing driving around in Bordeaux is beyond me. Of course it wasn’t, it was a case of mistaken identity, which left me with the cheesy line “sorry, I thought I recognised you” as a reason for waving and stopping to say hello. I must have looked a right schmuck. Nothing new there then. When I next see Charlotte (the real Charlotte) I must tell her she has a Bordeaux doppelganger.

I finished up with a tasting at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, taking in all the von Neipperg wines, including La Mondotte, Clos Marsalette and others, before eventually calling it a day at about 6pm. Today, it’s Pomerol, with seven visits lined up. Wish me luck. I’m not sure where today’s 2015 samples will come from, but if I were a betting man I would wager a guy called Denis may be able to help me out. We’ll see.

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

Bordeaux 2015: Second Taste

It’s Wednesday morning, and before I strike out for my first very early tasting there is time to reflect on a long day of visits yesterday. I had an early start on Tuesday, mainly to make sure I had time to get around the Rocade, the Bordeaux ring road, in time for my first appointment at Château Pontet-Canet. I stayed the night down near Léognan, and so it was easily an hour door-to-door, but that time could probably have been doubled if the Rocade was busy. Over time I have learnt to be wary of the Rocade. For example, during the primeurs, there was a crash during a rain-soaked rush-hour causing huge delays, and I arrived 45 minutes late for a tasting at Château La Mission Haut-Brion, having spent nearly three hours in my car. It was only a 60-minute appointment. You can imagine how the rest of the morning went.

Happily yesterday morning there was no rain, no crash, and no delay. I arrived at Château Pontet-Canet in good time. Jean-Michel Comme, winemaker and biodynamic guru was on good form. I spent about 40 minutes with him and came away with enough information to write a book chapter on the estate, biodynamics, the 2013 and 2015 vintages, and the use of horses in the vineyard. I will post a full update in time. Then it was on to see Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton-Rothschild who, especially considering his position at one of Bordeaux’s five left-bank first growths, has to be one of the most warm, charming and welcoming characters in Bordeaux. We tasted his 2013s, and chatted about 2015 of course.

Afterwards it was time to head north to St Estèphe, first to Château Montrose, then to Château Calon-Ségur, in each case again checking out the 2013 vintage, and talking around 2015. These were also informative tastings. The construction work ongoing at Château Calon-Ségur (and Château Pontet-Canet as it happens) was also impressive.

Bordeaux 2015

As usual (if anything can be said to be ‘usual’ after just one or two days of tastings and visits) the day was a mix of 2013 Bordeaux and hearing news of Bordeaux 2015, but I also visited some less familiar cru bourgeois châteaux. THe first was Château Lanessan, where I spent a couple of hours with general manager Paz Espejo. Paz was just a delight, charming, affable and clearly talented. I have long liked the wines of Lanessan, especialy the 1996 (when it wasn’t corked) and the 2000, but tasting a vertical running from 1998 through to 2014 showed a clear step up in quality after her arrival, which was in 2009. When you like an estate’s 2014 more than the 2009, it is obvious that something important has changed. And the 2015 should, therefore, be very interesting. Which brings us to today’s 2015 tasting note, from Lanessan.

Sample #1: Merlot, from the oldest vines on the estate, aged 40 years. Amazing colour (pictured above), lovely aromatic definition, for Merlot especially. There are rose petals here, floral fruit, the palate textured and vigorous. Impressive.
Sample #2: Cabernet Sauvignon, from 10-year old vines. A touch reduced. Blackberry, cassis and soot on the nose. Creamy cassis intensity on the palate. Vibrant acidity of course – all these samples are pre-malolactic. Ripe tannins though.
Sample #3: Petit Verdot, from vines more than 35 years old. Dense colour, with an inky intensity. The nose is rich, floral, with roses, peonies, the palate bright but textured, with ripe tannins and super depth.

Once again 2015 promises much. I finished off with a tour and tasting of another cru bourgeois château, this time Château Clement-Pichon; here I spent a few hours with Jean-Myrtill Laurent, general manager of the estate (plus others in the same ownership on the right bank including Château La Dominique), and Camille Poupon. I checked out the vineyards (from a rooftop vantage-point) and the cellars, enjoyed another vertical tasting, before calling it a day. Although there weren’t that many appointments, it was a long day, with a couple of hours each at the last two visits, so it was a late finish. And it is an early start today, with an 8am appointment at Château d’Issan, followed by more visits in Margaux and St Julien, then the Entre-Deux-Mers (off-piste again) and then St Emilion. Where will my next taste of 2015 come from, I wonder?

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

Bordeaux 2015: First Taste

Monday was a fascinating day with, as planned, a mix of visits taking in tastings of 2013 Bordeaux, a poke around the cellars looking at how the embryonic 2015 vintage is doing, and some visits to hitherto unfamiliar domaines.

I kicked off proceedings at Château Haut-Bailly, where after a tasting of the 2013 vintage (first and second wines) I joined winemaker Gabriel Vialard in the cellars to hear about the 2015 harvest and vinifications so far. We tasted from a lot of vats, including old-vine Merlot, young-vine Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. So here goes with the first-ever tasting note on 2015 you are likely to read:

Vat #1: Young-vine Merlot (pictured below). Planted in 2006. Not long finished maceration. Full and sweet, grippy, textured, with a big, firm structure in the finish.
Vat #2: Old-vine Merlot. Dark, spicy, and surprisingly perfumed for this variety. Exciting, creamed fruit, spicy like the nose.
Vat #3: Cabernet Franc. From 50-year old vines. Gabriel found this cuve to be very aromatic during remontage, with a prominent raspberry aroma. Dark and profound now. Perfumed, violets, creamy-textured fruit, spicy too.
Vat #4: Petit Verdot. From 3-year old vines, newly planted, their first vintage. A dense hue, almost black. A classic Petit Verdot nose, pencil shavings, spicy, perfumed just a little. Tannic but it is ripe, with a spicy, acid-cleansed finish.
Vat #5: Cabernet Sauvignon – the first vat to finish fermentation. From vines managed using organic methods. Softly textured, despite this being Cabernet. Lovely freshness and acid zip here, with a soft grip in the finish.

Bordeaux 2015

You can’t extrapolate from cuve samples to a wine with any validity, and you certainly can’t make a judgement on the vintage. But what I will say is these individual samples tasted better than anything I tasted from 2011, 2012 and 2013, and in themselves they taste more complete than many wines I have tasted from 2014 as well. There is certainly a huge potential in this vintage, but we will have to wait for the primeurs to taste anything other than components and half-made wines, and to make a more ‘formal’ judgement. But 2015 seems likely to cause some excitement – “everybody in Bordeaux is really happy with 2015″ is the stock phrase of the moment (I must have heard it half-a-dozen times since I arrived), and tasting these samples I can understand why.

I will give more detail on this visit and Gabriel’s comments in the vintage in a later post, this is just a taster. Thereafter it was on to Château Haut-Brion, where I tasted 2013s, and Château Pape-Clément where again I tasted 2013s, and had a quick tour of the various cuveries and cellars (I have never looked around here before – there is an impressive cellar of large formats). Lunch was on the road before I rolled up at Château Reynon to meet Denis Dubourdieu for a tasting of his wines and basically just to chew the cud with the man himself. This was a château I haven’t visited before, and I am grateful to Denis for his insights into Bordeaux terroir, and for the tasting of Château Reynon, Clos Floridène, Château Cantegril and Château Doisy-Daëne.

I finished the day in sweet mode, first calling in at Château d’Yquem to taste the 2013 with the winemaker, the absolutely charming and very helpful Sandrine Garbay, and then I concluded my visits at Château de Cérons, where I spent an hour or two with proprietor Xavier Perromat and his wife Christine. Xavier and Christine have only secured possession of the property in the last three years, so it was fascinating to hear of their grand projects for improving the estate. They have 30 hectares of vines, which includes 27 hectares for Graves (and the wines are very pleasant) and 3 hectares for Cérons, a significant chunk of the 21 hectares eligible for this appellation in all Bordeaux (surely the region’s smallest appellation by far?). Well, I did say I was going to spend some time off the beaten cru classé track during this visit.

Later today (Tuesday), Château Pontet-Canet, Château Montrose and more big names, and also off-piste again with a couple of left-bank cru bourgeois estates.

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

Bordeaux 2015: Starting at Thieuley

There’s a change to the usual programme of updates on Winedoctor this week, as I have left behind the cold and damp weather of Scotland, and moved south…..to the cold and damp weather of Bordeaux.

After last week’s Bordeaux 2013 tasting in London I thought I would come to Bordeaux and expand my knowledge of this vintage, the most recent to be bottled. And so over the next few days I have a number of visits lined up to see what the crème de la crème of Bordeaux have achieved in this, the most trying vintage for thirty years. Visits include Château Haut-Brion, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château L’Église-Clinet, Château Lafleur and more than a handful of others, so add that all to my tastings from last week and I should have a fairly comprehensive overview by the time I am done.

Château Thieuley

I won’t be concentrating purely on 2013 though; I’m not that much of a masochist. I also want to hear how 2015 went, and so I will be finding out first-hand as and when I can. I think now is a good time to check; the harvest is more or less done (a good job too – it has been pouring down for most of yesterday), the wines are busy fermenting, and there is perhaps a little less guess work involved than there is looking at bunches of grapes on the vine and crossing your fingers that the weather will hold. So hopefully I will get some good reports; I will be sure to hear how Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer has done, now in its second year of biodynamics, among others.

And there’s a third objective to the week. Critics love coming to Bordeaux because we are all like moths to the flame, drawn in by the bright lights of the cru classé châteaux (just look at the names so far mentioned in this post). But I have long harboured a desire to expand Bordeaux coverage on Winedoctor beyond purely this very top level, something that is easier said than done as it can take more than a week to get round just these leading domaines, leaving no time for ‘lesser’ names. This week will be different though. I started yesterday (yes, a visit on a Sunday, who would have thought?) by calling in on Marie Courselle of Château Thieuley (pictured above, under the rather bleak skies of Bordeaux), and during the next few days I have visits lined up to several left-bank cru bourgeois estates, properties in Graves, Cadillac, Cérons and on the peripheries of St Emilion, a couple in Fronsac and even a Pomerol domaine making waves with a generic AoC project I want to cover. It should be a fascinating week – and all will be written up in full on Winedoctor in good time.

The upshot is that I won’t have time to update the site this week with new profiles or tasting updates, but I will be posting daily blogs on where I have been, and what I have been up to. For the moment though I must dash – it’s Château Haut-Bailly at 09:30, and Château Haut-Brion after that.

Oh, and by the way, this isn’t a press trip. I have drawn up my own programme and made all my own appointments and arrangements, so I work free of other people’s agendas. I have accepted some nights in left- and right-bank châteaux to keep costs down, and all declarations of such assistance received will be made in association with relevant articles, and in my end of year summary.

Discovering Bordeaux; Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Yesterday I attended the 2013 Bordeaux tasting at Covent Garden. The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux saddled up for their annual ride into London, and when they do so they usually appear ready to whip everybody into a Bordeaux-buying frenzy with a show of their newest wines. Yesterday’s affair was more muted though; quite a few proprietors seemed fairly circumspect regarding the wines – 2013 was a very difficult vintage, in case you hadn’t realised – and the tasting was the quietest I have seen it, in more than a decade of attending.

I will write a report on the vintage, now in bottle, after my visit to the region next week. First, though, posting my “quiet tasting” comment (with associated photograph of a half-deserted tasting room) on social media produced some interesting discussion, much of it focused on how consumers have turned away from Bordeaux which is perceived by some to offer poor value for money. But one point that I found really interesting concerned how consumers get into drinking Bordeaux. Is it from the bottom up, or from the top down?

It is not uncommon to hear in the trade talk of getting consumers to ‘spend up’. Speaking from a UK perspective, I have seen many brands do this, e.g. some well-known Australian brands snare consumers with good value supermarket bottles before then putting more ‘up market’ (and more pricy) versions into the same retail spots in the hope that buyers will follow the brand. I have also seen entire nations do this, with Chile’s entry into the UK featuring value-end Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, before they looked to interest consumers with the mid-range (or icon) wines. Perhaps some French regions work in the same manner, buyers learning to trust the region and understand the general style long before they step up to Domaine de Trevallon or Didier Dagueneau, or from premier cru to grand cru Burgundy.

Château Phélan-Ségur

The point was made, however, that Bordeaux is different. With Bordeaux, it was proposed that, in the UK at least, drinkers tend to start at the top, and then work downwards. I hadn’t really thought about this before but for me, personally, this is true. I didn’t get into Bordeaux at the bottom end; during my student days when I was buying cheap I bought mostly Australian, with a few bottles from New Zealand, the Languedoc, even Bulgaria and Romania, no doubt others. Bordeaux just didn’t come to play at this level; I can recall one memorable supermarket-label 1991 AoC Bordeaux, but it was a one-off (and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons). I got into Bordeaux a few years later, when new wine buddies introduced me to classed growth Bordeaux, and so I started adding them to my new cellar (i.e. understairs cupboard). So as I spent up in Australia, buying more pricy (but not super-expensive) mid-range wines from Lindeman’s, Tatachilla and so on, following the prescribed path for consumers, I entered Bordeaux at the top, buying Château Leoville-Barton, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Troplong-Mondot and others. Exploring mid-priced wines came later, as I understood what I liked and then sought good-value wines from Château Meyney, Château Potensac and Château Phélan-Ségur to give me more affordable drinking.

Seeking out wines from more peripheral, more affordable appellations came even later, and remains an occasional pastime, as here and here. These are the points – in Canon-Fronsac and Castillon – that I have drunk down to after more than two decades of drinking Bordeaux. For others, though, they are perhaps entry-points into the region. At least that is what some would propose. How did you get into drinking Bordeaux (if at all)? From the top-down, or the bottom-up?

Bordeaux 2015 Harvest: Report from Smith-Haut-Lafitte

I get quite a lot of harvest news dropping into my inbox. This report from Fabien Teitgen of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte is so detailed, and although it presents a lot of positive information it is refreshingly free of hyperbole (no comparisons to 2010, 2009 or 2005 – I’ve read them all during the past few weeks), that it seemed a crime not to bring it to the blog. It’s a report on the entire growing season as well as the picking, beginning with the 2014/2015 winter rainfall.

“Weather conditions during winter (temperatures and rainfall), within decade average, refilled soil reserves after two rainy years. Then temperatures rose at the end of March and we had a homogeneous and quick budbreak in early April (classical dates).

In March we embarked into a phase of hydric limitation until the end of July with a total of 144 mm against 311 decade average. Moreover temperatures slightly higher than decade average in April and May fastened the vine growing cycle leading to a homogeneous, fast and quite early flowering.

The scorching episode at the end of June beginning of July did not cause any harm to the grapes that were still green at the date and well-protected behind their leaves. We decided it was not year of early leaves-thinning at Vinexpo…

The other consequence of this warmth-drought combination was the early end of vine growing and therefore the early beginning of grape maturation with skins thickening and an important polyphenol accumulation (tannins and color) within them. It also generated a hydric stress on young vines: we even had to irrigate some plants as now allowed. Our old vines, well deeply rooted in our soils of gunzian gravels, were able of find freshness and humidity to safely go through this period. The hydric stress, both early and moderated, is the key of great maturations.

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte

At the end of July beginning of August, we moved to a low-pressure episode. Freshness and moderated rainfall were welcomed. The véraison was then triggered the last week of July for whites, first of August for reds, with good homogeneity according to terroir type of each plot.

Homogeneous characteristics of budbreak, flowering and veraison: signs of quality and characteristics of the 2015 vintage!

The decrease of temperatures in August that went on in September during the grapes maturation phase considerably modified the aroma style of our berries, preserving the acidities and a very “Bordeaux” aromatic freshness.

The maturation phase started early, went on peacefully with moderated temperatures yet sunny beautiful days in September. The vines were balanced with a green leaves canopy as we never saw at Smith Haut Lafitte at this season of the year.

The harvest of white grapes started on the 31st of August with young vines of Sauvignon Blanc (13.2% potential, pH 3.2) with very fresh aromas of grapefruit, lemon… a beautiful start. The plots of first wine starting on the 7th of September, with similar balances, offered more complexity and greatness: dense juices, concentrated with a stronger acidity perception than what forecasted the pH measures and very beautiful aroma complexity of yellow fruits (peach, fresh mango), citrus fruits (lemon, white grapefruit), flowery notes of lime-tree, acacia… The harvest of Sauvignon Blanc ended on the 15th of September: only 8 days of Sauvignon Blanc harvest, which is very short at SHL. Sauvignon Gris were harvested on the 14th of September (full-body and rich in this vintage) and we finished the whites with Semillons on the 18th.

The harvest of white grapes at SHL were early and very short (17 days instead of 23 days in 2014) which is a direct consequence of the homogeneity of the vine cycle, sign of great quality for the vintage.

The first lots of white finished their fermentation. We observe the first balances that are more acidic than what we thought while tasting the juices; which is indeed very positive for our white wines that combine good matter and volume underlined by a great acidity. The aroma profiles are still very blurred by recent fermentations, by indigenous yeasts, so we forecast very pretty things…

The harvest of reds started with young vines of Merlot on the 14th of September, which is quite late for an early vintage, to finish on the 1st of October. We notice the homogeneity of flowering and veraison in the short picking period (one week less than 2014). The weather conditions at the beginning of September were perfect, average daytime temperatures of 24,3°C, average night temperatures lower than 12°C, limited rainfall of 27 mm in September (compared with over 100 mm in the Médoc), for optimum maturation of our older Merlots: their juices are ripe, full, rich with good acidity (13.5%, pH 3.55) and beautiful fresh red fruits… wonderful Merlots. We started our Cabernets with 130 harvesters yesterday on the 5th of October. Skins are perfectly mature, pips are crunchy like dry wood and we think we will finish harvests Monday 12th or Tuesday 13th of October with our traditional Gerbaude on the 16th.”

Great to know that the Cabernet harvest is underway. I’m looking forward getting some first-hand information when I fly out there myself, in a little over a week.

Bordeaux 2015 Harvest: Video Report, Jonathan Maltus

Picking is underway in Bordeaux. The whites are all finished and it is the reds that have people’s attention now, starting with Merlot of course. I haven’t heard of anyone picking Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc yet.

There has been some heavy rain during the past couple of weeks, but the weather now seems to be dry and cool again. It is looking very promising, and I have heard some very positive comments coming from the region, not just the Bordelais but from independent visitors too. But you never can tell for real until you get to taste the wines.

Here is a brief video report from Jonathan Maltus, made on Friday October 2nd, from Les Astéries, a parcel on calcaire à astérie (what else?) and which is the source of one of his single-vineyard cuvées.

I will be in Bordeaux in a couple of weeks, by which I expect picking of the Cabernets will be well underway and may even have finished, depending on how soon they start and the size of the vineyard in question. I have plenty of appointments, most with a focus on tasting 2013s (although I have some other visits lined up to châteaux I have never visited before, where I hope to taste more) but I will be sure to get the low down on 2015 as well. Last year when I visited at this time I also managed to taste some 2014 must which was fun (being basically sweet and mildly alcoholic grape juice).

I will be keeping an increasingly attentive eye on harvest news over the next few weeks, and will continue to bring any notable snippets to the blog.