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Bordeaux 2015: Gabriel Vialard, Haut-Bailly

Now returned from Bordeaux, over the course of the next week or two I will be going back to my visits, with reports from some of the top names in Bordeaux. I start here, down in Pessac-Léognan, and will progress up the Médoc in coming days, before hopping over to the right bank.

One of my first visits during the week was to Château Haut-Bailly. After tasting the grand vin and second wine in the 2013 vintage, both much better than you might imagine for such a difficult vintage, I headed to the cellars to find technical director Gabriel Vialard (pictured below) to find out what he thought of the 2015 vintage.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Gabriel: It has been a Zen vintage. The vines were easy to look after, and we picked at the right time. It is one of the benefits of having a very small but efficient team, and if we had 2015 over again, I would do it the same way. The quality is good. We started by picking the lower parcels, as well as those adjacent to the surrounding forests. These are parcels which give lesser quality, and might often go into the second wine. In 2015, however, the quality in these parcels is just as good as in the better, higher parcels.

Me: When did you start picking?

Gabriel: We started the harvest on September 15th. The timing of the picking was similar to that in 2005 or 2010. We finished with the Cabernets, a little over three weeks later, on October 9th.

Me: What are the yields and potentials like in 2015?

Gabriel: The potentials are good – we are looking at about 14º in the Merlots, and about 13º in the Cabernets. We also have some young Petit Verdot for the first time this year. We planted these vines three years ago, and so this is their first vintage bearing fruit. We wanted to take account of their youth, and so pruned these vines to just one bunch each. The potentials in the Petit Verdot were also about 14º.

As for yields, overall, these are about 42 to 43 hl/ha. We have 50 hl/ha on the Merlots, 35 hl/ha on the Cabernets, and 35 hl/ha on just the old vines. The yields are tiny on the Petit Verdot, obviously.

Me: What else is new at Haut-Bailly in 2015?

Gabriel: We are currently reappraising what direction we go in with our organic vines. We have 6 hectares of vines which, since 2008, have been managed in a purely organic fashion. In truth they are not that different to the rest of the Haut-Bailly vines, in that from the time of flowering to harvest we use only wettable sulphur and copper mixture on all the vines, both permissible within organics anyway. The only difference is between budburst and flowering, when we may use an Aluminium-based chemical if required. Despite this, on the organic vines our crop is half the normal yield – that’s alright if you have young vines producing 30 hl/ha instead of 60 hl/ha, but much of Haut-Bailly is old vines, and yields are already low. In addition, in 2013 the whole lot was declassified into the third wine and sold off. We need to have a think about whether we continue, or stop the organics on these vines.

Me: Thanks Gabriel.

For a report which includes a tasting of some just-fermented samples of the 2015 vintage direct from cuve at Château Haut-Bailly, see this earlier blog post.

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 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.

Montlouis and Bourgueil, New Maison des Vins

Fascinating news from Tours. The two biggest appellations to have left InterLoire, Montlouis and Bourgueil, have come together to take over the old Maison des Associations Culturelles on the Place Plumereau, in the old quarter of town (I have fond memories of the old quarter, having stayed there for a couple of nights on my first ever trip to the Loire Valley in the early 1990s).

There is a long history behind the story, but being brief both the Montlouis syndicat (led by François Chidaine, pictured below) and the Bourgueil syndicat (led by Guillaume Lapaque, no picture, my apologies to Guillaume, who I have met several times) left InterLoire, disillusioned with paying subscriptions and not seemingly getting value for money (as you might imagine, there is probably a lot of detail to be explored there, but that will have to do for the moment). This leaves them looking after their own publicity now, something Bourgueil (which left first) has done quite well with I think (with the annual Bourgeuillotherapie bash, for example) while Montlouis (which left much more recently) are playing catch up a little.

François Chidaine

The new accommodation in the centre of Tours will function as a window for their wines, hopefully drawing in Loire tourists (as I once was). It will act as a shop, cellar and bar, a complete Maison des Vins. And so visitors to Tours in future may well end up becoming better acquainted with the wines of Montlouis than of Vouvray, despite the latter being literally on their doorstep. Whether or not Françios Chidaine and Jacky Blot could pour their Vouvrays here for customers would be a moot point (it is funded by the Montlouis and Bourgueil syndicats, after all, so should be showcasing only these wines) …… except of course the recent Vouvraygate affair means they no longer have any Vouvray to pour anyway, only Montlouis and Vin de France.

The two appellations hope to open the new Maisons des Vins in spring 2016. I wish them the best of luck.

For more information (in French), see this report in La Nouvelle Republique.

Loire 2015 Harvest: Francois Lieubeau Reports

Another harvest report now, this time from François Lieubeau (pictured below), of Domaine de la Fruitière (and a handful of other domaines also). I have chosen to post it here because, as with others, there is some interesting background information in it, and no hyperbole (not that I would mind a little hyperbole coming out of Muscadet now ahd again). François starts with a few words on 2015, before talking about recent developments at the domaine.

“The vintage 2015 grapes have now all reached the Domaine de Fruitière and the wines are now fermenting.

After a relatively cool winter, no spring frost, and especially a perfect flowering, July and August have been warm and dry.

In early September the last maturity checks let us expect an extraordinary vintage, on the standards of 1990 or 2009, Pays Nantais’ anthologies.

But in the last summer days, a short period of rain came, refreshing the vineyard and delaying maturity. In the end of September, we concluded the last days’ harvest by hand, under a bright sun.

François Lieubeau

It is often said that these conditions reveal the good growers. The work throughout the year in the vineyard by Pierre, Vincent and the team had great results: short pruning, working the soil and / or natural grass cover, care of the vines. In particular, this year extension of “palissage” and deleafing played beautifully, allowing us to maintain a perfect sanitary state, stretch the dates, and therefore harvest at the best maturity. Our technical investments, combined with the organization of the team let us vinify the entire Fruitière vineyard with skin contact in order to further develop aromatics and fruit driven wines. Also, under Vincent’s leadership, we have imported a qualitative press process from Champagne, generalized juice fractioning (unique in the Muscadet region). Finally, all the “classics” (IGP white, rosé and classic Muscadet) have been made in a reductive process under full protection against oxygen in order to keep a maximum of aromatic freshness. Finally, the 2015 vintage offers a beautiful alcohol / acidity balance and great aromatic potential with yields still in the low average (due to wood diseases).

Even more meticulous care has been taken into the culture and harvest of our vineyards from Crus Château-Thébaud and Clisson, where we are in organic farming conversion. In the vineyard, systematized plowing and a green harvest allowed us to reach perfect maturity while preserving the ecological balance of our plots. At harvest, we have hired 30 pickers to hand harvest all of our plot, a revival of this process in the Famille Lieubeau history. At the winery, these wines are vinified without chaptalisation, and for the first time without sulfites before fermentation and with natural yeasts to keep the most natural expression of their terroir. Vincent and I, in accordance with our parents, have introduced these innovations within the Famille Lieubeau. They are also a revolution in the Pays Nantais.”

It is great to see that it is not just the ‘big names’ that have already gained some fame, such as Pierre Luneau-Papin or Marc Ollivier, who are pushing the quality envelope in Muscadet. Here we have minimal intervention winemaking of hand-harvested fruit using natural yeasts, just as we would expect to find at the region’s leading domaines. I look forward to tasting these 2015s, especially those crus communaux wines.