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Salon des Vins de Loire, Day 1

Don’t get me wrong; I think the ‘off’ events that circle around the Salon des Vins de Loire, such as the Renaissance tasting, are great tastings, well worth going to. There are some really excellent wines there, as well as lots of interested, enthusiastic, dedicated growers, and it is fascinating to hear their stories and find out a little about their wines. But for me there is no match for the Salon-proper. This where I get to taste with, for example, Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pépière, Claude Papin of Château Pierre-Bise, François Chidaine (actually François was at Renaissance as well, but there are more wines here at the Salon), and the Vacheron family of Domaine Vacheron, with their striking single-vineyard wines. And so it was all go on the tasting front on Monday.

Although I flitted about during the course of the day, everywhere from Muscadet, up through Vouvray and to the Central Vineyards, it was in the latter that I spent most time. And there are plenty of good wines to taste. At some domaines the 2012s are now coming online, with the range of white single-vineyard cuvées from Domaine Vacheron showing particularly well. But the 2013s, where I was able to taste them, are also surprisingly good. The vintage was a difficult one, with rot in the vineyard, although most growers report clean-tasting musts despite this, thanks no doubt to fairly strict selection. Some growers I spoke to jettisoned as much as 50% with rot on certain parcels, although 25-30% was a much more commonly heard figure. In the entire day I picked up overt rot in just one 2013 cuvée, out of dozens tasted; even in this case, all the other wines in the range were as clean as a whistle. But then with rot different parcels are affected in different ways, usually depending on the soil type and whether the rows are enherbé.

Paul-Henry Pellé

I made sure to taste outside the famous appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé though, with one obvious port of call being Domaine Henry Pellé, where I tasted with Anne Pellé and her son Paul-Henry Pellé, (pictured above). The wines here have long been good, but there is a really comprehensively successful range of wines here now, and again here they have been able to take advantage of the very favourable 2012 vintage.

Further downriver, there was a very strong range of wines from Marc Olliver and Rémi Branger at Domaine de la Pépière, and that fits in with my other experiences tasting Muscadet before I came out to the Salon. In Touraine, I tasted at several domaines in Vouvray, although the wines on show ranged from 2009 upwards, with few pouring tastes of 2013. One that did was Bernard Fouquet, and these wines showed well; nevertheless the vintage for Vouvray was a disaster for many, in that some growers lost a large chunk of the harvest due to the June hailstorm. François Pinon, for example, who I mentioned in yesterday’s post, turned in just 95 hectolitres – for the entire domaine. To help you visualise that, that is one large stainless steel vat from all his vineyards. But where the fruit escaped the hail, the quality can be good it seems, but the harvests were difficult, late, and carried out under rain-filled skies. Only the most dedicated will make very good wines, and there will be a lot of pétillant wines made in 2013.

To finish off, before I head off for a day of tasting with a focus on Anjou, a quick note on one domaine that I did try to taste at today, Domaine Huet. In fact, as this is perhaps one of the most signficant domaines in the entire Loire Valley, I made a beeline for the Huet stand early on the first day (this has long been my routine when attending the Salon). I was not able to taste the wines, however, and I will describe why and how this situation came about in more detail in another post.

Summer Wind-Down

This is just a quick post to point out that now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway – if there’s one thing I have realised from converting Winedoctor to a subscription service is that I have quite a few readers in Australia and New Zealand – hello to you all!) I will be taking my break from Winedoctor updates. I’m off to Madeira for a few weeks. I have a couple of visits lined up, and will try to make a few more once out there – life has been just too hectic to get everything sorted before I leave.

I may make a blog post or two when there, but internet access is going to be patchy. I will be hooking up via 3G by the look of it. Oh well……I’ll see what I can manage.

When I come back it will be full steam ahead with my reports – there’s plenty coming on Sancerre (Mellot, Vacheron, Pierre Martin), a few last comments on Muscadet after my recent visit, and a huge number of updates and new profiles in Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. As for Bordeaux, with my recent Bordeaux 2003 report I have all the big tasting reports online, although I still have notes from visits to Raymond-Lafon and Climens (pictured above) to publish. I promise I will get underway with these as soon as possible. Thereafter, it won’t be long before I get on to the autumn Bordeaux tastings, which will feature the 2009 (hurrah!) and 2011 (boo!*) vintages.

Speaking of Bordeaux, if you fancy coming to Bordeaux for a 4-day tour with me and super-professional wine tour company SmoothRed, visiting Yquem, Haut-Brion, Troplong-Mondot, Pontet-Canet and more, then see the news published on my blog yesterday.

Happy summer (or winter) holidays, whatever you have planned, and thanks for supporting Winedoctor. I have been blown away by the number of subscribers!

Best wishes – Chris

* This comment does not apply to dry or sweet whites, obviously.

2011 Winedoctor Label Quiz

Here’s my 2011 Label Quiz answers pages – please feel free to post you answers (and guesses!) below.

If you haven’t seen the quiz yet, then no cheating by looking at everybody else’s answers! Take a look at the labels first, here.

I’ll respond to comments here as often as possible.

As promised in the introduction to my quiz, I will post the answers here on December 17th.

Critics must be allowed to be critical

Pavie 2010 isn’t a wine I had time to taste during the 2010 primeurs campaign, so I can’t offer my own opinion of it, but plenty of other critics have done so. And it is a wine that, once again (a reference to the spat over the 2003, when Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson developed diametrically opposite opinions of the wine, a good few years ago now) is at the core of a Bordeaux controversy. Again we have critics with differing opinions of the wine. Although it is the reaction from Parker ‘followers’ that, in my mind, is the real issue this time.

For the 2010 fight we have in the blue corner Parker (Wine Advocate), with “Since Perse acquired this estate in 1998, most Pavies have possessed off the charts richness and the 2010 is no different” and dishing out a score of 96-98+. Whereas, in the red corner there is John Gilman (View from the Cellar), who described ths wine as “absurdly overripe, unpleasant to taste, and patently out of balance” (he has a lot more along the same lines to say about this “high-octane cocktail”), and he settles on a score of 47-52+.

In all honesty this should be no big deal. John doesn’t like the wine and I think we would all agree that he expresses this in an unmistakeable manner. Concentrating on the tasting note, the critic is critical; this hardly seems inappropriate for someone whose CV surely has “wine critic” written at the very top. OK, the score is certainly open to question; what exactly does 47-52+ mean? (Aside – surely it means he really thinks the wine is 50/100, i.e. zero, nil, zilch, nul points? – in other words it has no resemblance to wine whatsoever?) Some have questioned whether this score could be replicated tasting blind. Why can’t he say it’s a good wine but “not his style” and give a score of 82-ish, others have asked (with a question about whether critics should be objective or subjective – there are good arguments for both). All these questions are valid, but ultimately it all comes down to the right of the critic to be critical. John has an opinion of the wine, and he has expressed it through words, and through numbers. I will concede that some aspects of his review don’t sit well with me, but John certainly has a right (a duty, perhaps?) to say them. If you don’t like it, leave it. If you adore Pavie, then take note that Gilman clearly isn’t the critic for you. Move on.

Some don’t see it that way though. On the Berserkers board, there is a post about the issue entitled “John Gilman eviscerates 2010 Pavie”, but on the Parker board, hidden behind the paywall introduced in April 2010, closing the forum off to subscribers only, there is an evisceration of Gilman from Pavie and Parker fans.

The most remarkable comments come from the keyboard of Jeffrey Davies, an American-born merchant based in Bordeaux with not unknown to Parker – according to William Echikson in Noble Rot (W.W.Norton, 2004, p.57) “Every winter, on one of his two annual visits to Bordeaux, Parker spends four or five hours tasting in Davies’s office in the city”. Davies wades into Gilman; his comments are “off-the-wall” and “vitriolic” and he accuses Gilman (referencing his obviously negative review of Cos d’Estournel 2009 which I haven’t read) of now focusing his “jaded tastebuds” on Pavie. And he concludes that Gilman “seeks to exist by espousing a diametrically opposite view to that expressed by Robert Parker” with his “calamitous diatribe”.

I doubt very much that’s true. Gilman is being critical of a wine, he isn’t starting an anti-Parker movement. Why do some feel that anyone who dislikes a wine loved by Parker is having a go at Parker? The world, believe it or not, doesn’t revolve around RP. Gilman loves acidic and challenging wines such as aged López de Heredia, and doesn’t like modern, alcoholic Bordeaux. Should he not express that? And is it really so shocking that wines like Pavie and Cos d’Estournel (and Troplong-Mondot, Pavie-Macquin and others) should prompt such a negative review from some quarters? After all, these are all extreme, high-alcohol versions of Bordeaux.

Davies goes on, now turning to Gilman’s other more negative reviews. Commenting on Troplong-Mondot, the evisceration continues. Gilman rates Troplong 68, drawing attention to its “absurd alcohol level”, while Davies disagrees concluding that Gilman’s goal is to “draw attention to himself”. Personally, having tasted Troplong, I can see where Gilman is coming from on this one. The sample of 2010 Troplong I tasted had a hot midpalate, and although my score out of 20 would probably never convert into 68 on the 100-point scale my opinion was certainly less effusive than Parker’s note and high-90s score. Meanwhile, Davies goes on to deliver the coup de grâce, concluding Gilman is a “non-entity in the field of wine criticism”. Ouch! Obviously Davies is unaware that Gilman’s 2010 reviews are set to appear in the next edition of the World of Fine Wine, the world’s most cerebral wine journal (where, as the journal operates on a 20-point system, Gilman’s score for Pavie has been converted to 0-3 out of 20 – although I think -2 to +1 would have fit better).

Personally, with my tastes perhaps somewhat broader than Gilman’s, I doubt I would rate Pavie as low as he has done. I only say this by looking at our reviews of Troplong-Mondot, by ‘extrapolating’ my tasting note for that wine; note that despite my concern over the alcohol, I still saw many positives in the wine. And I also think critics should have a modicum of reservation about sticking the knife into barrel samples, which although representative of the final wine are certainly not exactly the same as it. Gilman’s ranged score around 50 gives a nod to this uncertainty, but his opinion is so scathing this range takes on an almost comical quality. Nevertheless, despite my reservations about the review and despite thinking I might have something different to say, I still strongly support Gilman’s freedom to express his personal opinion of the wine, and he should not be subjected to the ‘evisceration’ he has been the subject of for doing so. Critics must be allowed to be critical, even if their writing comes across as occasionally ascerbic and not to the liking of some individuals.

Speaking of which I also think that Parker’s pal Jeffrey Davies, the man behind wine importer Signature Selections, should declare – before he gets into any flogging of critics dishing out a negative review of Pavie – that for many years his company has been responsible for the import of Pavie into the USA. His friends at the Wine Advocate should be able to give him some tips on transparency and ethics; they have given it a lot of thought in the past year or so I think.

2010: the two-asterisk vintage?

So, the flights have been booked, the hotel reservations made; in the first week of April I will be in Bordeaux to taste the 2010 primeurs. How will this vintage stack up against 2009, I wonder?

2009 was a hyped vintage, but to some extent the wines deserved some puffery. Texturally more than anything else they were impressive, rich and dark wines which will be fascinating to revisit over coming years/decades. Some – on the right bank in particular – had perceptible alcohol that gave me cause for concern, but I don’t really think this message from this particular small-time palate has gotten through amongst all the praise from other big-name tasters. These were barrel samples of course – I need to look at the finished wines to see how they finally pan out; this I plan to do at the UGC tasting later this year, and that won’t be the last time. But if some of those right-bankers end up a little big and hot, just remember – you read it here first! Think that’s impossible? I don’t. I remember how hyped 1998 Chateauneuf was; in my tasting of a dozen wines, nearly three years ago now, I called time on the vintage. Too many of the wines turned out to be soupy, raisiny, pruney and hot. I note, looking at internet forum chatter, that many others are now coming round to the same opinion of this once supposedly ‘great’ vintage (and OK, I acknowledge that some are still head-over-heels in love with it too).

Nevertheless 2009 was a well-received vintage. For example, Parker wrote “I do not think I have ever tasted such extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons”, and dished out a record-breaking 21 (if I remember correctly) score ranges that touched 100. And he adorned a multitude of scores with an asterisk, denoting that the wines in question “had the finest potential of all the offerings I had ever tasted from that estate in nearly 32 years of barrel tasting samples in Bordeaux”. Parker loved 2009. Many chateaux had, to his palate, produced their greatest wines ever.

But what of 2010? Have you heard the same rumours that I have, that this is an even greater vintage? Now, don’t roll your eyes in disbelief; some of these reports are independent and trustworthy. Read, for instance the words of Neal Martin, who (thanks principally to the need to research his Pomerol book I think) seems to have spent more time in Bordeaux during 2010 than ever:

“With the incipient 2010s lurking over the horizon, primeur neophytes will naturally be totting up their hypothetical profits on their gestating 2009s before shelling out for the “best vintage of the century ever (and I really, really mean it this time.”) The galling thing is: I believe them. I don’t want it to be true. In fact, the Bordelais could do with a catastrophic vintage to bring them down to earth, a ’56 or a ’91 to prick its inflated ego. I guess for now, Mother Nature is inclined to gift them the winning lottery ticket and they are making hay.” (the bolding has been added by me, by the way – Chris)

Not everyone is so positive; more circumspect is Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc, who wrote of 2010 vs. 2009 in this blog post which is worth a read. Nevertheless, whether you focus on those who say 2010 is potentially great, or those who are trying to persuade us that it isn’t, 2010 must surely have something. If we were to plot the range of possibilities for the vintage quality, it does at present still include “could be greater than 2009″.

Which makes me wonder, if 2010 really does turn out to possess that sort of quality, where does the hype machine go from here? How do you rate a vintage higher than 2009, if you have already dished out 21 100-point-inclusive ranges and used asterisks to denote the “best potential” ever? Two asterisks? I will be watching this one with interest. But not before I have tasted the wines for myself of course – and published my own opinions and notes online. Perhaps they won’t be that impressive after all. It may, looking at Gavin’s report, be a rather more mixed and inconsistent vintage than we are currently being led to believe.

Bollinger Harvest

Just arrived back this morning from two days in Champagne, with Bollinger. It was hectic trip; although the travel there was fairly leisurely, once we arrived we were dashing from one place to the next taking in as much as we could. We saw the pickers at work, the fruit being pressed (using both old and new technologies), the fermentation facilities (steel and oak) and the delivery of pressed juice which went into barrel for fermentation, as well as the storage facilities. Although I understood the principles of making Champagne before this visit, I have certainly developed a much deeper understanding of the process now. For any wine region, visiting the vineyards is a rich experience, but in the company of senior members of the Bollinger team I was able to quiz them not only on the peculiarities of Bollinger’s processes (such as the storage of reserve wines in magnum, under cork) but also get their opinion on the current Champagne controversies, such as the planned vineyard expansion and this year’s yield restriction. On this latter point Jérôme Philipon, Bollinger MD and clearly a supporter of the process, explained it as more of a ‘volume of production’ restriction than a yield restriction; what is harvested beyond the ‘production limit’ must go into reserve wine stocks rather than being bottled and sold as 2009 Champagne or a major component of a non-vintage blend, so there won’t be unused grapes strewn all over the vineyard as some may have imagined.

I also had a chance to pick a few grapes myself (which means when Bollinger 2009 hits the shelves it will be hard to resist making a purchase – even if I did only pick 0.0000001% of the harvest) as well as taste some examples from the portfolio, not just the very consistent Special Cuvée which the Bollinger team drink for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and why not? – it is very good after all), but also several vintages of La Grande Année (rosé as well), RD and Vieilles Vignes Françaises.

I will be updating my rather outdated Bollinger profile as soon as possible, as well as bringing my Champagne guide into the 21st century.

Three from Sociando-Mallet

Sociando-MalletI have visited Sociando-Mallet a number of times now, the first time being in December 2006 when I took this slightly blurry photograph of the 2006 vintage being transferred into barrel, shortly after tasting a tank sample (which, prior to malolactic, seemed almost to taste of the very steel itself). As each barrel is filled, a rag soaked in the wine is rubbed around its waist to indicate this. In the background there is another barrel, freshly filled, the wine trickling down its waist, ready for the same treatment. The combined aromas of freshly fermented Cabernet and Merlot, mixed with the sweet smell of new oak, was a heady combination.

Return visits to Sociando have largely been during the primeur tastings. Being neither a cru classé nor a cru bourgeois estate, proprietor Jean Gautreau does not have an obvious arena in which to show his wines. He isn’t a member of the UGC, and he has shunned the cru bourgeois lot (not a bad decision considering the classification debacle), and so he can’t exactly turn up at their organised tastings with the intention of pouring his wine for the eager critics and buyers. The solution? Simple – organise lunch; every day during the primeurs, hungry tasters descend on Sociando-Mallet to take advantage of cold meats followed by a delicious daube of beef with peas. It is a win-win situation – the tasters get fed, and move onto their next appointment. Gautreau gets an unparalleled exposure for his latest vintage. I was there in 2008, again in 2009, and who knows about 2010? I hope I will be there, eating his daube of beef once again. We shall see….

Incidentally, bearing in mind the recent issues Parker and his associates have had with disclosure and inappropriate socialising, I should point out that there are dozens of individuals at this particular trough every day. I doubt Gautreau would even recognise me, never mind suggest I should be giving his wine a favourable review. Lunch at Sociando-Mallet is self-service and very functional, for putting bums on seats (or more specifically wine into the mouths of tasters who otherwise might not visit), not a cosy tête-à-tête designed to produce warm and glowing reviews.

The following notes are for three wines tasted at Sociando-Mallet when I visited there earlier this year. After tasting the 2008, the note for which I have already published in my Bordeaux 2008 review, we went on to taste the 2007, the second wine from 2006, and over lunch the 2004. I have also added these new notes to my Sociando profile.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc) 2007: A nice aroma, with gentle perfumed fruit. A moderate texture, still with a firm tannic structure which makes it a little austere. Quite a bit of substance here to match though. There is some appealing, violet-tinged fruit peeking through as well. 15-15.5+/20 (April 2009)

Chateau Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc) 2004: Tasted over lunch, this already shows a delightfully maturing fruit character on the nose, with fresh red fruits intermingling with notes of tea leaves. Fresh, gentle, stylish, but with quite a lot of structure, this is showing fine composition and substance today. Very good indeed. 17/20 (April 2009)

La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc) 2006: Not very expressive on the nose today, with just some perfumed and chalky red fruit. Nice acidity, slightly grippy. Textured, bright, showing a lot of structure and mineral notes on this tasting. Rather stony in the middle, but with a nice, lifted freshness. Good. 14.5+/20 (April 2009)

Keen to get more interaction and feedback from Winedoctor visitors I am replacing my wine thoughts update on Winedoctor with this blog; do let me know what you think.