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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.

New Crus Bourgeois Classification Announced

A couple of years ago, in my 2010 Cru Bourgeois report, I laid out the problems as I saw them with the current annually renewed Cru Bourgeois classification system. To be brief to the point of bluntness, I wrote that:

● Producing a new listing every year was too frequent.
● The system should take a more long-term view of work at each château, rather than being based on individual wines (we have critics to score individual wines).
● The bar for entry was too low – and moving it up and down each year was open to criticism.
● There was no granularity to the system, no internal layers, no information for consumers on which were the best châteaux, and thus no incentive to improve. This could easily be achieved by reintroducing an internal ranking system.

Happily, the members of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc seem to agree with some of my points. A recently received press release reads as follows:

At an Extraordinary General Meeting on 18 September 2015, nearly 75% of the members of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc again expressed a desire to create a classification system for the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.
A provisional timetable for this new classification was submitted to a vote by secret ballot. It was carried with nearly 75% (74.38%) of the vote.
With a view to obtaining a broad consensus and to enable all those involved to have time to plan ahead as fully as possible, the publication of the classification is not anticipated to take place until 2020.
Members have been invited to participate more actively in the next stages of the project. The working committee will welcome collaboration and assistance in creating the new classification.

Congratulations to the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, and to Frédéric de Luze (President) and Frédérique de Lamothe (Director) for having the vision to push this forward. I am sure, in view of previous events, it will not all be plain sailing.

The annual tasting of the 2013 Cru Bourgeois selection will take place in Paris on Wednesday and in London this Thursday. Sadly, for the first time in several years, I will be unable to attend. I hope it goes well.

Is Natural Wine Spoofy?

Spoofy wine. You have probably heard the term. If not, a quick 101; the term ‘spoofulated’ or ‘spoofy’ seems to have come out of the East-Coast US wine scene (although I welcome corrections on this – it’s not as if I have spent time researching the etymology) and is on occasion used to describe wines that are made in an overly slick, international style. There’s no definition of what it is that makes a wine spoofy, but a few typical features might be a long hang-time (giving over-ripe and indistinct flavours, sweetness and low acidities), cold maceration (giving a slick presence of fruit and plenty of well-fixed colour – at least that’s my take on it), and plenty of new oak (to tart it up). Of course, one person’s tarted up wine might be another persons nirvana, so from that point of view it isn’t a term I have ever used (before now, anyway). Such wines naturally deserve critique, but to me the term ‘spoofy’ always seemed to be imbued with more than a hint of derision, not just for the wines but also for those who drink them.

Spoofy wines are ‘wines of process’; they aren’t so much about the the fruit, they are more about the winemaking, about the technique. Spoofy wines hide their origins; taste a spoofy wine from St Emilion and it doesn’t speak of the terroir, whether it be sandy (I have to confess when thinking of the style certain sandy-terroir St Emilions spring to mind first) or from the clay or limestone of the plateau and côtes (I can certainly think of one or two here as well). What you get is jammy and ill-defined fruit, sweet oak, the whole package polished to a state of ambiguity.

What is the antithesis to spoofy wine? Natural wine is surely the answer, wines that are ‘honest’, some would say ‘authentic’ or ‘real’, or some similarly indefinable term.

The word ‘natural’, when applied to wine, is imbued not with derision, but with superiority. Our wines are natural, ergo yours are unnatural. The term is no less challenging to define than ‘spoofy’, so I’m not even going to try, but ‘natural’ wines do tend to follow a schema in the same manner as spoofy wines, although here it is nothing to do with hang-time or oak. Instead, the important aspects of the fermentation are the negatives; no enzymes to clarify the juice; no manipulations with added acid, tannin, colour or similar; no preservatives, most notably no sulphur dioxide. There are some positive rather than negative correlations though, the most notable of which would have to be the widespread use of novel fermentation vessels. There is, apparently, nothing more ‘natural’ than a wine fermented in qvevri, amphorae or a concrete eggs. Another correlation is extended skin contact, in some whites, giving us orange wines.

However you look at it, ‘natural’ wines are also ‘wines of process’. Even though much of the winemaking schema is about what the winemaker shouldn’t do, as opposed to what he/she should do, there is to my mind an undeniable dogma to it. Even though the original intention may well be to let the wine express its origins without manipulation, as a consequence of following this dogma many ‘natural’ wines I have encountered do not achieve this stated aim, and instead they display characteristics reflecting the winemaking process, obscuring the origins of the wine. This isn’t true of all ‘natural’ wines of course, an example that ticks all my boxes being the 2012 La Lune from Mark Angeli, a wine which sings so clearly of Chenin Blanc and schist. But so many fall short of achieving this. Instead, their origins are obscured by features such as oxidation (the most common problem), refermentation, Brettanomyces or other funk, all of which are direct consequences of the winemaking dogma. Indeed, these are the ‘natural’ wine equivalents of the slick texture, ill-defined fruit flavours and the new-oak vanilla and toast we find in spoofy wine. Therefore, is it not true to say that the two wines are fundamentally the same; whether ‘natural’ or ‘spoofy’, are both not basically process-driven wines that fail to speak of their origins?

Bordeaux 2015 Harvest: Word from the UGCB

The pace of activity in Bordeaux seems set to pick up in the next couple of weeks. While the season has on the whole been warm, dry and sunny, the rain in August reminded everybody that it could all go wrong at any minute. There was rain last night around Bordeaux, and there are storms forecast across much of France for the rest of the weekend. The most severe weather forecast looks to be restricted to the Mediterranean coast, but there is a possibility of storms in Bordeaux, as well as the eastern and upper Loire Valley.

Bordeaux 2015

Here is an update received this morning from Bernard Olivier (pictured above with wife Anne), president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, and proprietor of Domaine de Chevalier. It is, of course, typically upbeat.

2015: the dawn of a great vintage…

Located on the 45th parallel, the northern limit for the world’s great red wine regions, Bordeaux likes sunny summers to produce great vintages. The months of May, June, and July 2015 were among the hottest and driest on record. Water stress, so important for stopping vegetative growth and starting the ripening process, took place early, in July, and brought on a magnificent véraison (colour change) in early August. I have not seen such an early, even véraison since 2009. All our grapes were red by the 15th of August and many of them were already deeply-­colored.

Fortunately, the month of August was less hot and more wet, which gave a certain vigor to the vines.

Dry white wines

This month of August enabled the grapes, especially the white wine grapes, to “breathe” and retain their freshness. The first grapes were picked at the end of August. Their juices were superb and the weather forecast for the next two weeks is looking excellent… We are thus quite confident this will be a great year!!!

Red wines

The Merlot grapes will be harvested the last ten days of September and the Cabernets the first two weeks of October. These are showing magnificent potential, but we still need six weeks without a major disturbance.

Sweet white wines

The Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are slowly reaching perfect ripeness. As with every vintage, botrytis will call all the shots, but the conditions conducive to its development are all there.

It has been several years since Bordeaux has seen the dawn of such a beautiful vintage…

There are still a few weeks of suspense left before this promise is fulfilled.