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One Last Look: Vouvray 2011

Having looked at 2013 Vouvray, and 2012 Vouvray, I want to finish off with a quick round-up of 2011 Vouvray. It is, of the three vintages, perhaps the most complex and the most difficult to understand. In order to explain why, I want first to look back to the vintage in general, followed by my initial tastings in February 2012, before then fast-forwarding to my recent trip to Vouvray.

I am always surprised when I review weather data for 2011, because this was the warmest year ever recorded in France. Yes, even warmer than 2003. The difference in 2011 was that there was no summer heatwave, instead temperatures were way above average in spring and autumn, and actually summer was really cool and damp. Nevertheless the spring and autumn temperatures were enough to push it into the number 1 spot. The warm weather during harvest, especially with warm nocturnal temperatures, brought a risk of rot (and not necessarily the good type). My first encounter with the vintage was with Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet – it often was – and this tasting would always be a significant one in beginning to understand the vintage. I remember my meeting with Noël in February 2012 with great clarity; he told me that the vintage had been difficult, with only a token amount of demi-sec and moelleux wine, all from Le Mont, less than 1000 bottles of both combined.

So regardless of the details of the growing season, in 2012 I began to form an opinion that 2011 was really a vintage for sec only in Vouvray. And so I was surprised when, during a recent visit to Vouvray, many vignerons spoke quite highly of the vintage. Some reminded me of how warm it had been, and is if to prove the point a number of them they pulled out bottles of 2011 moelleux, showing in fact that there had been success in this regard. And then, suddenly, I would encounter wines – especially drier wines – that felt green and under-ripe. It took a long time for me to figure out why this seeming paradox existed, helped by the ever-charming Vincent Carême with some information about harvest-time decisions, what was going on.

Vouvray 2011

I believe the reason for some dry wines seem to be a bit green and under-ripe, and yet some sweet wines have wonderful ripeness and sweetness, is as follows. As harvest approached, after a cool and damp summer the weather began to improve. In fact there was a long period of warm weather, and under these conditions the sugar levels really began to climb. And yet, perhaps reflecting the cool summer, the phenolic ripeness of the berries, including the skins and pips, lagged behind somewhat. This made picking decisions difficult, but the only way to make dry wines is to pick when the sugar concentration is manageable, and so fruit for these wines were duly picked at this moment; my belief is that some of the more raw, greener phenolic compnents have come through into the wine, influencing the flavour profiles. Those that wanted to make a sweet wine, however, left the fruit to continue developing on the vines, allowing not only for the sugars to rise as required, but also for the grape structures (and the stems) to ripen. This meant that when this fruit was picked, the sweetness was there, but the other flavour components had reached a point where they were much more appealing.

Two vignerons who surprised me by producing a very good sweet wine from 2011, prompting me to reappraise the vintage, included François Pinon, who made a very appealing 2011 Moelleux which, although not as exciting as the rather electric 2008 Moelleux, still held a lot of appeal for me, and Florent Cosme, a young vigneron based out in Noizay, who made a rather delightful 2011 Moelleux Audace in his very first vintage. There are good dry wines to be had in the vintage as well though, including 2011 Le Clos from Vincent Carême, and the 2011 Cuvée C from Domaine de la Fontainerie. By far the best dry cuvée in 2011 though comes from Peter Hahn, of Clos de la Meslerie; his 2011 has all the depth found in his 2010 or 2009, both years where the wine is firmly demi-sec, yet it remains dry and full of clean complexity. This is definitely one to look out for in the 2011 vintage.

That is it for my look back at Vouvray in the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages. I will leave you with my picture of the setting sun over the vineyards (above), looking up to the Vallée de la Cousse, where François Pinon resides.

Checking in on . . . . Clos du Papillon 2002

The 2002 vintage was a very interesting one in the Loire Valley, especially for white wines made from Chenin Blanc, both in Anjou and Vouvray. The wines continue to do very well; so much so that even in the past couple of weeks I have added more 2002s to my cellar, including wines from Domaine de Bellivière, Domaine des Aubuisières and Jo Pithon (in his first incarnation, before he set up Pithon-Paillé with step-son Jo Paillé).

I thought it might be useful to look back at one or two of these wines to see how they are doing, especially so if I have more than a few bottles. The 2002 Clos du Papillon from Domaine des Baumard is a case in point; I bought a case many years ago now, and this is (I think) bottle number three. One of the first few bottles were troublesome though; off the top of my head I seem to recall one had a very curious and not entirely pleasant ash-like quality to it.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002

Happily, on this recent assessment, things seem very different.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002: A pale golden hue in the glass, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a Savennières of this age. A great nose, fresh, expressive and clean; I recall a few years ago this had a curious ash-like note on the nose, but there is certainly nothing like that now. In truth, the nose is really delightful, bright, minerally although soft and charming – surprisingly so – rather than firm. There follows a supple palate, broad, quite polished and harmonious, with some great grip and fresh acidity. Very lovely, balanced and correct with lively substance rather than huge tension, but so much appeal here, all gathering together towards the finish in a long, tingling, confident and savoury grip. Very impressive. 18/20 (August 2014)

On a personal level, I’m happy to see that strange ashy note gone. Was it a phase the wine went through, or was there just something wrong with a previous bottle? On a broader level, it’s good to see this wine singing; I have heard some claims of ‘prem-ox’ in Baumard wines (this bottle comes from before his whole-scale switch to screw-cap, by the way, a shift he made in 2006 with the release of wines from the 2003 and 2004 vintages). I certainly don’t see any oxidation here. On the basis of this tasting I don’t feel there is any rush with the rest of the case.

Getting Back to Vouvray: The 2012 Vintage

After my look at 2013 Vouvray, written on the basis of some 2013s I have tasted, I want to also look back at 2012, and then 2011. I will start with the more recent of these two vintages here, again looking at it in the context of recently tasted wines, during my recent trip to Vouvray.

The 2013 vintage conjures up immediate thoughts of hail, right? So what image springs to mind when presented by a bottle of 2012 Vouvray? Probably none, but like 2013 this was also a vintage hit by one of the adverse weather events that can dog vineyards planted in cooler, northern climes. On April 17th 2012 a frost damaged a significant percentage of the vines in Vouvray (and Chinon too, as it happens). This frost didn’t bring the near-total devastation that some saw with the hail the following year, and there was plenty of time for the vines to recover, so perhaps this event hasn’t lodged in our minds (or my mind, anyway) as firmly as the hail of 2013. Regardless, 2012 got off to a difficult start.

Cool and damp weather in May, June and July didn’t help, retarding the development of the vines, impaired flowering; in conjunction with the frost, this meant 2012 would be a vintage of low yields. The damp weather also encouraged mildew, so the vignerons really had a battle on this year. Happily, warmer and drier weather in August and September helped, but then things turned wet again in October, and there were warm nights, encouraging rot (rather as in 2013). Some of the vineyards saw dramatic downpours – up to 110mm was recorded in one weekend as harvest approached – further holding back potential quality. Organic and biodynamic growers in particular saw miniscule yields, although nobody had it easy.

I first tasted some 2012s from Vouvray during the subsequent Salon des Vins de Loire in February 2013, and it was apparent early on that many had struggled with the conditions during 2012. Those who look to make demi-sec or moelleux wines found it was impossible, there just wasn’t the ripeness in the fruit (there are exceptions to this rule though – see below). Even when it came to the sec wines, they didn’t show the usual texture or level of quality, many wines felt a bit thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Tolkein might say. Some, however, are surprisingly attractive.

Champalou

It is difficult to know where to go first, so I will just run through the wines more or less in the order I made my recent visits. I kicked off with Bernard Fouquet, who did not pour the 2012 Cuvée de Silex, but did show his 2012 Le Marigny, which was very dry in keeping with the nature of the vintage, but with some appealing notes to the flavour profile. The Champalou family have done well, in fact their 2012 Sec was one of my favourite dry wines from this vintage, but the 2012 Les Fondraux was even better, and it carries a remarkable 22 g/l of residual sugar (surely a record for the vintage?). François Pinon poured a fresh, acid-bound 2012 Sec, and summed up the year in frank and pithy form – “it was an average summer, September wasn’t so hot, and it rained. There was a lot of bad rot in 2012 (I think François was talking generally of Vouvray, not just his own domaine) and sec was as ripe as you could get. I will make almost all sparkling in 2012″. Is there a stronger indicator of the vintage than one of the region’s leading vignerons, who I admire greatly, committing almost his entire harvest to sparkling? I don’t think so.

As for Philippe Foreau, his 2012 Sec was saline and lemony, lean and very dry, and was fairly typical of the vintage in this respect. He has it pegged as “a wine for seafood” which says something about its firm acidity and texture I think. I tasted with a number of growers new to me including Florent Cosme and Tanguy Perrault and the 2012s here tended towards the same style as Philippe’s, lean and defined by their acidity. I tasted Peter Hahn’s single cuvée from the 2012 vintage and it also showed the leaner, acid-defined character that typifies the vintage; he has yet to decide but he may not release the wine under the Clos de la Meslerie label as a consequence, an admirable commitment to quality if that is the route he decides to take. And, like the words of François Pinon, another strong indicator of the trials experienced in Vouvray in 2012.

Moving on, like François Pinon Vincent Carême also decided to channel a greater proportion of the harvest into sparkling wine as a response to the character of the vintage, even though yields were down from 40 to 25 hl/ha. I prefer the Brut to the Ancestrale, usually it is the other way round; perhaps the Brut’s liqueur de dégorgement helped, even though it is only 4 g/l as a result. Vincent has made smaller quantities of Le Clos and Le Peu Morier, both sec, and both are good within the leaner style of the vintage, sufficiently so for me to buy some of each to see how they develop with a little bottle age. Finally there is Domaine Huet; I was unable to retaste their 2012s having been barred from the domaine following my previous criticisms of these wines. Since my previously published report on the 2012 Huets in January 2014 I have revisited two of the sec cuvées, bought by a friend and tasted in April 2014 (notes not yet published – I will probably tag them onto my forthcoming tasting notes on the 2013s). My opinion on these wines remains unchanged.

Next time, 2011 Vouvray; no hail or frost, and yet a more complex story to the vintage.

Getting to Grips with Vouvray 2013

How long is “long enough” in Vouvray? Three weeks certainly wasn’t long enough for me, and as ever I left feeling I had only really scratched the surface of this very famous appellation, despite visiting many of the top domaines. Over the course of several days I called upon and tasted with Philippe Foreau, François Pinon, Bernard Fouquet, the Champalou family (Catherine, Didier and Céline), Vincent Carême and Peter Hahn (pictured below) of Le Clos de la Meslerie (who was essentially my neighbour for the three weeks, so I certainly visited his vineyards more than once), and I also ensured I visited some new names in the appellation, tasting for the first time with Florent Cosme (the younger brother of Mathieu Cosme), Catherine Dhoye-Deruet of Domaine de la Fontainerie and Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, and each one was a worthwhile visit. Of course I was unable to taste at Domaine Huet, having been banned from the estate for criticising the 2012s, but I did pick up some bottles of the 2013 vintage to taste at a future date.

Rather than write tasting reports on all these visits I will use them to update all my Vouvray profiles, many of which feel a little dated to me, and obviously there will be new profiles for those vignerons I visited for the first time. For the moment though, I thought I would sum up my feelings on the three vintages that I tasted most when in Vouvray, 2013, 2012 and 2011, starting with the most recent here. I will look at 2012 and 2011 on another day.

The first words on anyone’s lips when it comes to the 2013 vintage in Vouvray is bound to be “hail”. Certainly, as I wrote in my report on Le 2013 from François Pinon only yesterday, the hail that hit the appellation on June 17th shaped the vintage for many. It was a massive blow, and to be honest I do not think I can find the words to truly express how those worst-hit must have felt when seeing their vineyards completely defoliated by icy napalm. Now is the time, however, to look at the wines, and to remind ourselves that although hail is an economic disaster for some, writing off quantity, it does not necessarily write off quality. Some vineyards escaped the hail entirely. Some saw less damage than others. Careful and dedicated vignerons picked what they could from these partially-hit vineyards, bringing in mere handfuls of grapes in some cases. The quality of this fruit depends on factors other than hail, in particular how the weather held through the summer, and into September and October.

Peter Hahn, May 2012

Nice weather during July and August helped the vines to recover, and the dry conditions helped the injured vines to heal without succumbing to infection. There was even a little heat stress in August (this was at the same time the Bordelais enjoyed a warm and sunny spell, which is why 2013 Bordeaux, while very lean, is not a vintage marked by greenness). Unfortunately September saw a little more rain, nothing disastrous, but not very beneficial either, while conditions deteriorated in October, with cool days bringing little additional ripeness, while warm nights and wet weather brought the risk of rot. The pickers were sent out and everyone crossed their fingers.

Having now tasted a range of 2013s from across the domaines cited above I have to say I find more joy in this vintage than I do on the whole in 2012. I have twice tasted the wines of Bernard Fouquet already this year, in January and February, and thought them very good, and having retasted them with him at the domaine a couple of weeks ago I am glad I gave such handsome scores to the wines, because they continue to show very nicely from bottle. The Champalou wines are also attractive, slightly leaner and more minerally than Bernard’s, but very good. Philippe Foreau’s Sec 2013, bottled in April, showed a little more accessibility than his very saline 2012, although Philippe says the acidity reminded him very much of the 1983 vintage. A barrel tasting of the 2013 vintage with Vincent Carême revealed plenty of good material to work with, some barrels showing appealing fruit and others more minerality, while a similar barrel tasting with Peter Hahn was also very reassuring as well as being informative, the quality very good through the first and second tries, the third tri less appealing and so Peter intends to exclude this from the grand vin and make, for the first time, a sparkling wine (it tastes like perfect material for this, and after tasting it Philippe Foreau said the same thing). Peter’s grand vin will undoubtedly be dry in 2013. François Pinon’s wine is also good, as already written up. Perhaps the best wine, however, comes from the relatively-unknown Michel Autran; although not included in my list of visits above, I tasted with Michel in Philippe Foreau’s cellars, and as a result was able to taste his 2013 Les Enfers which he brought along. This was remarkably good, and could easily be the wine of the vintage. Of course, I have yet to see what Vincent’s and Peter’s wines taste like once assembled, and I have not yet tasted the wines I bought at Domaine Huet.

All in all, good news in 2013 despite the hail, with attractive sec, sec-tendre and occasionally demi-sec (and some fizz to come in future years too, evidently) in this vintage. They are not wines to blow your socks off, there is no denying it was not a perfect vintage, but there plenty of good dry and tender wines to buy and drink with pleasure.

As a last comment, on the 2014 vintage really, I’m happy to report that despite the hail damage the vines have all recovered beautifully, the flowering and fruit set was good, and the volumes in 2014 are destined to be good, including chez Pinon. Fingers crossed for all.

Next time, my renewed thoughts on Vouvray 2012.

Summer Break

This is just a quick post to point out that now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) I will be taking my break from Winedoctor updates. I’m off to Vouvray (where, so I’m told, they make wine) for a few weeks. I have a couple of visits lined up, and of course I will be making a few more appointments once I set my feet on the ground.

Although I won’t be making any formal Winedoctor updates over the next three weeks, I may make a blog post or two (maybe), or perhaps a few Twitter posts (more likely), but on the whole I will be focusing on visiting, tasting (reports on my return), imbibing and relaxing. With the latter in mind, I might take a boat down the Cher one day; here’s hoping for a sunset like the one below, taken one evening last October.

The Cher, at sunset, October 2013

When I come back it will be full steam ahead with my reports – there is plenty more to come on Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (new profiles on Château de Tracy, de Ladoucette, Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet and more), and a huge number of updates and new profiles in Nantais, Anjou and Saumur (Jérémie Mourat, Fosse Seche & Nicolas Reau, to name just three of many). And obviously, I might have a few new words on Vouvray to publish. As for Bordeaux, to follow my recent Bordeaux 2004 report I have new mini-reports on 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 coming up, as well as some château and visit reports to publish.

Thereafter, it won’t be long before I get on to the autumn Bordeaux tastings, on the 2010 and 2012 vintages. Of course I will visit Bordeaux to taste the 2010s in bottle, but I will also be there to lead an open trip to Yquem, Haut-Brion, Pichon-Baron, Troplong-Mondot and the like. There are just a couple of places left now, so if you’re interested in coming along, check out this blog post.

Happy drinking to all, thanks for reading, and huge thanks to all my subscribers – Chris.

Another from Minna Vineyard

After a recent look at the 2009 Minna Vineyard Red, this week I decided to check in on the Minna Vineyard White, in the 2010 vintage.

Whereas I have reasonably strong opinions on how the wines of the Loire should taste (at the same time remaining open-minded and enjoying a variety of styles), I don’t have such a strong feel for the France’s most southerly vineyards. So, to my mind, anything goes, especially when you look to unfamiliar regions such as the Bouches du Rhône where, in this case at least, the varieties used are Vermentino (which sounds Italian, but it is perhaps better known locally as Rolle, a grape long-established on Corsica and in the Var region of Provence), together with Roussanne and Marsanne (perhaps rather more familiar, especially to Rhône-o-philes).

Minna Vineyard White 2010

This particular wine is made from low yields, just 29 hl/ha, vinified in small 15-hectolitre stainless steel cuves, each variety fermented separately by indigenous yeasts. The malolactic fermentation is not inhibited, and the élevage is mostly in steel, with just 30% going into barriques, on the lees, for aging with bâtonnage. The wine was bottled in July 2012.

The 2010 Minna Vineyard White has a pale, lemon-straw hue in the glass, and an appealing and interesting nose, full of chalky minerals, lemon-sherbet tones, with little tinges of tropical fruit behind it, cut with a leafy, peach-skin bite. I think the Vermentino is showing through here quite strongly, and in terms of style and aroma I find it vaguely reminiscent of some of the high-quality Portuguese whites I have tasted over the last few years, with all their lemony fruit and perfumed, chalky minerality. The palate is cool and reserved, yet broad and fleshy, with plenty of tension and a cool, grippy fruit substance. A long pithy finish completes the picture. There is a nice minerally cut here. This has a really reserved, introverted, slightly leafy style, and provides some good drinking. 15/20 (July 2014)

Exploring Sherry #2: Leonor

Back to Sherry now, and the world of Palo Cortado. As proper Sherry buffs (i.e. not me) know, the palo cortado style traditionally originates with wayward behaviour in a fino solera. With fino, the wine in each barrel has a coating of flor, the layer of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation (and yet, confusing to my palate, laces it with acetaldehyde, adding an aroma that is otherwise a firm feature of oxidation, while the wine remains pale, pure and fresh).

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master (could you use the word almacenista here? …. probably) would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor

These days I suspect the production of palo cortado is left less to chance than the traditional description above. It is a very popular style (well, I adore it, anyway) and it seems fairly widely available, often at a good price. As with many sherries I drink, even fino, I find the wine is never at its best on the first day; a day or two open seems to bring it all together with a greater sense of harmony. This was certainly the case here.

The palo cortado style is rather vaguely described as half-amontillado (wines which age protected by flor, initially at least) and half-oloroso (wines which age without flor, i.e. oxidatively). I find it often has a very elegant, poised precision which can be missing from other styles, yet it has the same haunting scent complexity. This bottle, the latest in my Sherry adventures, is a fairly recently-introduced wine from Gonzalez Byass, a palo cortado aged (on average, it will be a blend of different wines) at least twelve years.

The wine, christened Leonor, has a very fine, convincing, toasty hue, with a golden rim. The aromatics seem fairly full on at first, as if they are all jostling for attention, but after some air – by which I really mean a few days of stoppered rest – this really comes together to show a much greater sense of harmony. The nose is one of baked earth, dried citrus zest, white raisins and pepper, with a fine, nutty seam underneath. The palate now feels polished, certainly harmonious, textured with a supple substance, and a dry and complex middle. Importantly, there is great energy to it, with evident zip on the finish. This is long and punchy, and just lovely to drink. 16.5/20 (July 2014)

Images from the Climens Tisanerie

I report today, on Winedoctor, on a visit I made earlier this year to Château Climens (subscribers only). As well as tasting a number of recent vintages, including Cyprès de Climens (the second label) back to 2010, and Château Climens itself back to 2005, I was also able to take an impromptu tour of the tisanerie. If you had asked me a year or two ago what a tisanerie might be I am sure I wouldn’t have had a clue; but now I could at least hazard a guess. If you have ever finished a dinner in France with a tisane, a tea or herbal infusion, rather than a coffee, then you will at least be familiar with the origin of the word tisanerie.

Indeed, the tisanerie is where proprietor Bérénice Lurton dries and stores the plant material she needs to make the herbal infusions so important to biodynamics. Here are a few more images, to complement those in my Climens report, of some of what Bérénice has stored.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is osier, which is willow (osier also translates as wicker, which can have many different plant origins, but in this case it is certainly willow). A tisane made from willow is one of several that is said to stimulate the vine’s natural defences, and thus it is useful against mildew and oidium.

The Climens Tisanerie

A sack of dried fenouil, or fennel. This is another commonly encountered tisane, used as far as I know in the same manner as willow.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is laurier, or bay leaf, which is also regularly used in the making of biodynamic tisanes at Château Climens.

The Climens Tisanerie

Here we have soucis, in other words dried marigolds, consoude, which is comfrey, a good base material for making a liquid fertiliser, as all gardeners worth their salt will know, and genièvre, which gin drinkers will know well, as this is juniper.

The Climens Tisanerie

Finally we have prêle, a staple in the production of biodynamic tisanes, as this is horsetail. It is used in much the same way as willow, as described above, being sprayed on the vines to ward off mildew and oidium. I have plenty of these in my garden, should any budding biodynamicists wish to come round and pull them up for me.

Read my full report on my visit to Château Climens here (subscribers only).

In Bordeaux: Day Two of Two

I continued making a nuisance of myself in Bordeaux on Wednesday with some more right bank visits. Kicking off at Château de la Gaffelière, I took a look at the very pretty chai before a walk around the vineyards with Alexandre Malet. Afterwards I retasted a barrel sample of the 2013, which was very typical for the vintage on the right bank, with freshness aplenty, ripe fruit character, but the generally rather fruit-led, supple texture with a light tannic structure. It was a great surprise to find in the tasting room a tesseri mosaic that was excavated nearby (detail from a small section below); I have long known of the existence of the Gallo-Roman villa near La Gaffelière, thought by some to have been the residence of Ausonius, but I had not realised the entire floor had been excavated and placed on display in this manner.

Tesseri at Château la Gaffelière

Next up I went out to Château Laroque, which is still on the limestone plateau but to the east of the town of St Emilion, on the way out to Castillon. There is no denying the ancient grandeur of this estate, and the wines are attractive, showing a very classic savoury and pencil-straight St Emilion character which is a world away from some of the rather sweet, concentrated and over-extracted wines made by some of the best known names in the appellation. This was a fairly detailed visit, looking first at the vineyards and then a vertical tasting back to 1998, as well as a very interesting tasting of five barrel samples of the 2013 vintage, each barrel from a different tonnelier. This was an interesting experience as in each case the fruit profile was the same (although the wood obviously impacts on the flavour as well), but each showed a subtly different tannin structure.

During the course of the afternoon I visited Château La Fleur de Boüard, run by the Boüard de Laforest family of course, and then Château La Patache, a Pomerol estate. La Patache can be found at the western end of the commune, on more sandy soils, but which also owns some vines up on the plateau, where there is more gravel, and also directly opposite Château Clinet, where there is more clay. Until recently the different plots have been blended, but since 2012 the plot opposite Clinet has been held separately and bottled as a special cuvée. The wines were good, and this is certainly an estate to watch in this appellation.

Roots at Château Les Grands Murailles

There then followed a whirlwind tour of several St Emilion estates in the ownership of Sophie Fourcade, including Château Côte de Baleau, Clos St Martin and Château Les Grands Murailles; this was a fascinating eye-opener to these estates, in the case of the latter two both tiny estates, each with a single parcel of vines, nestled close to famous names. Although I knew of all three domaines (especially as all three were elevated to grand cru classé status in the 2012 St Emilion classification), I haven’t visited any of them before. Château Côte de Baleau lies to the north-west of St Emilion, close to Château Fonroque, Clos St Martin lies in the shadow of L’Église St Martin, next to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, and the vines of Château Les Grandes Murailles are directly adjacent to the ruins of the cathedral at the top end of St Emilion, very close to Clos Fourtet. A descent into the cave of the latter, to see the vine roots (pictured above) penetrating the limestone roof (just 2.5 m of rock, and about 80 cm of soil above my head), is not an experience I will quickly forget.

Grapes at Château La Patache

The day finished with dinner at Château La Dominique, where the team behind La Brasserie Bordelaise – perhaps everybody’s favourite Bordeaux brasserie – have set up a very fine restaurant with an excellent view across the very western periphery of the St Emilion appellation and Pomerol, taking in the cellars of Château Cheval Blanc (or a little of them at least) as well as Château la Conseillante, Château L’Évangile and others. I rolled back to my hotel close to midnight, serum foie gras levels at a 2014 high.

Today (which I have finally decided must be Thursday) I fly back to the UK. Which is a shame, as the weather in Bordeaux is great, and the vines are certainly lapping it up, with plenty of tiny berries appearing already (as above, in Pomerol). I have a good feeling about the 2014 vintage.

In Bordeaux Again

I’m in Bordeaux again, outside of the hubbub of en primeurs. It’s important to visit when the focus isn’t just barrel samples followed by more barrel samples. Last year I also visited in October, to look at bottled wines too. This year, October is planned, but I am out here in June to visit some properties and taste wines old and young, as well as getting a deeper feel for the soils and the vineyards.

Château Hannetot

Landing in Bordeaux at about 10:45 yesterday I hot-footed it over to Château Hannetot, in the Pessac-Léognan appellation; a rather bijou operation (the rather pretty ‘château‘, above, is in fact a converted stable block). This is effectively a new start-up, the vines only planted seven years ago, the first vintage 2010, the quantities small (2010 was the first vintage). It was an interesting visit and it is an estate I will have to look out for in the future.

Olivier Bernard

Then it was on to Domaine de Chevalier to meet Olivier Bernard (pictured above). I tasted the 2013 vintage from Clos des Lunes, his new venture in Sauternes here, as well as updating my Chevalier tasting experience with a mini-vertical of five recent vintages. Olivier is a great guy, clearly an individual passionate about wine, who buys, cellars and drinks wine from across the world, which is not that common in Bordeaux. This includes the Loire, and I came to realise during the course of our conversation that he has tasted more old vintages of Vouvray than I probably have.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of several properties in St Emilion, looking at soils and vines, before a tasting at Château Cantin, a very pretty château clearly aiming, with the Michel Rolland team on board, for grand cru classé status. The day then finished with a visit to the space-age winery of Château Faugères (pictured below). It has been a long time since I paid this estate any attention, and it was good to get to grips with its effective dissolution into three estates, the two St Emilion properties Faugères and Peby-Faugères (once really a super-cuvée but now an estate in its own right) and the Castillon estate Cap de Faugères.

Château Faugères

Today (which is probably Wednesday, but I have lost track a little, so maybe it’s Tuesday – we have had the weekend, haven’t we?), I am off to Château La Gaffelière, Château Laroque, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Château La Patache, Clos Saint Martin and Château La Dominique. Each property has some story to tell, I think. It promises to be a busy but very informative day.