Home > Winedr Blog

Chateau Preuillac: 80% Hail Damage

I was saddened to learn today that, yet again, Bordeaux has been hit by hail in the past 24 hours. This time the affected area was in the northern Médoc, affecting a relatively concentrated zone just to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, well into the Médoc appellation. Some vignerons are reported to have lost everything, the vines shredded by the hail.

Château Preuillac

Several notable properties have vines here, including Château Preuillac (pictured above) and just across the road are vineyards belonging to Château Potensac. I spoke to Jean-Christophe Mau, proprietor of Château Preuillac, who told me “I have lost more than 80% of the harvest at Preuillac“. Clearly dejected, he concluded “it is very sad, but that’s life“.

I am deeply upset that once again Bordeaux has been hit by hail. Once again it has wiped out entire vineyards, and once again it has hit little, less well-known domaines hardest. All we can hope is that we don’t have a repeat of 2013, when the first storm was only an opening act.

Exploring Sherry #1: Lustau Papirusa

I have dabbled with Sherry for a long time now, but for many years never really ‘getting’ it, if you see what I mean. But over the last couple of years I have really fallen in love with these wines, with their sometimes haunting aromas and their fantastically complex characters.

Sherry remains undervalued, and is therefore underpriced on the shelves. This brings many benefits for consumers, one of which is that here, in the UK, the big supermarkets can source their wines from some of the very best names in the region. Many own-label supermarket wines are made by Lustau, which is a little like having you own-label claret made by Denis Durantou, or your own-label Sancerre made by François Cotat.

I have been drinking some of these own-label wines, and will continue to do so, but I thought I should also branch out and try some other names, and other styles. First up, Manzanilla.

Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies a short distance along the coast from Jerez, the beating heart of the Sherry landscape. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, as I discussed in this write up of a Lebrija, from González Palacios. The style is traditionally bright and breezy, and that certainly comes across in this wine.

The Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa is aged 4-5 years in an American oak solera before bottling, and it seems like a very good example of the style. This appears to be, according to the back label, Lot 3333. A pale and bright hue here. The nose is very appealing, showing a salty sea breeze intertwined with the pungency of flor. It has a very dry palate, nevertheless it also has a full and substantial presence, with crisp, defining acidity. It shows breadth and yet remains light footed, a sensation reinforced by a dry, tingling energy on the finish. There are touches of citrus leaf and blanched almond to complete the picture. A good start to this Sherry exploration. 15.5/20

A footnote: I couldn’t help wondering where the term papirusa came from. It seems to be a Spanish word meaning “beautiful woman”; it is derived from papiros, the word for cigarette, but it took on a new meaning when many beautiful, chain-smoking Polish immigrants arrived in Spain. They became known by the papiros they smoked, and eventually this evolved into papirusa. So this wine is a “beautiful lady”. Of course, this could all be apocryphal, so any Spanish speakers who want to put me straight, feel free to get in touch.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

Checking in on a maturing Vouvray

We all know Vouvray is immortal. Well, at least I hope we do. I was certainly reminded of this indisputable fact when checking in on the 1996 Cuvée Moelleuse from Domaine Champalou recently. This has always been a very elegant style of moelleux Vouvray, pure and floral, very much in the Champalou style. I recall about a decade ago opening a bottle with a sweet-salty stilton from the Cropwell Bishop creamery; it was one of the most heavenly food and wine matches I have ever encountered. It wasn’t long before the cheese wrapper was empty and the bottle was dry. More than ten years on, I can recall the sensation of the combination with absolute clarity, it was so striking.

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée Moelleuse 1996

Right now the Domaine Champalou Cuvée Moelleuse 1996 shows a polished straw-gold hue in the glass, quite a rich colour for this cuvée, which tends to have a somewhat paler hue than other sweet Vouvrays, which to my mind reflects the more delicate, floral nature of the wine (and the Champalou style). The nose here, however, is not floral but is rich in honeyed quince, sweet yellow plum too, but this is presented in a taut rather than fat or exuberant fashion, and it is nicely balanced by contrasting notes of smoke and mineral on one side, but hints of even richer praline on the other. The palate is beautifully defined, cool and bright, taut and with plenty of crisp, lively fruit behind the grip, acid freshness and richer nuances. There is perhaps a touch of sorbet-like purity and intensity here which really appeals, especially when mixed with the more smoky nuances. It is fabulously long, and yet always taut and precise. Divine to drink now (with or without stilton) but this has decades ahead of it. 18.5/20

Underground at Champany Inn

Last week I took a trip up to Champany Inn, near Linlithgow, a restaurant renowned for its steak above all else. It’s quite a few years since I last visited; in fact, looking back I see it was in 2006, a far-too-long eight years. Well I’m glad I put that right.

The reason for my visit was to attend a dinner showcasing the wines of Henri Bourgeois, the leading Loire Valley domaine and négociant based in Chavignol, not far from Sancerre (although I would imagine the locals would probably rather say “Sancerre, not far from Chavignol”). This was an interesting dinner as, although the numbers of wines poured was not huge, it was (if I recall correctly) the first time I have tasted the Henri Bourgeois wines next to the Clos Henri wines, which originate from the Bourgeois vineyards in New Zealand.

Champany Inn

Before the dinner I was treated to a quick tour of all things Champany. Since my last visit a very impressive shop has sprung up (a lot can happen in eight years!), selling wines off the list, strong on South Africa (as is the wine list) but featuring many other regions too. I even spotted a bottle of Louis Métaireau Muscadet. I made a mental note to return when I have more time, for a longer and more leisurely nose around.

It was the cellars that impressed most though. As cellars go this one (a little of which is pictured above) is deceptive. It goes on for much longer than you think (what I thought was a mirror in the distance was only a glass panel, and there were more bins beyond), and the total capacity is an impressive 36,000 bottles. Just inside the door some recent arrivals were ready to be stacked away; Mike, the sommelier, has very wisely been stocking up with 2004 Bordeaux, a vintage which offers good value, as well as a little from the 2000 vintage, provided the price was right, of course.

Champany Inn

There were plenty of interesting bottles to see. Old Italians, South Africans, plenty of Burgundy and more than a bottle or two from Bordeaux, unsurprisingly. The 1998 Yquem, above, is just one of many such bottles, and hints at the quality of the wines on the Champany Inn list.

I will write up the dinner and wines in the next few weeks, after I have overhauled my Henri Bourgeois profile after my visit there late least year.

Disclosure: I joined the Henri Bourgeois dinner, and stayed overnight in one of their rooms, as a guest of Champany Inn.

A nice Southern Red: Minna Vineyard

It’s always fun to look at what’s going on in other regions beyond Bordeaux and the Loire, the two areas I focus on most within Winedoctor, whether it be through wines pulled from the cellar, or received samples such as this one.

The Villa Minna Vineyard has been family owned for eight decades. Abandoned after the death of the proprietor in 1979, his grandson breathed new life into it in the 1990s. The usual Southern French varieties including Syrah and Mourvèdre were planted, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Marselan (a Cabernet-Grencahe cross) and Caladoc (a Grenache-Malbec cross), and some whites. All five red varieties are blended in the Villa Minna range of wines, but just the three more noble varieties in the Minna Vineyard wines.

Minna Vineyard Red 2009

The 2009 Minna Vineyard Red (pictured above) comes from organically managed vineyards, picked by hand, with a yield in this vintage of just 12.3 hl/ha. The fermentation is in steel after a few days cold maceration. The wine then goes into barrels, with bâtonnage, for 24 months prior to bottling after a light filtration, but no fining. On the nose it has a wealth of sweet, dark, spiced fruits, the scents reminiscent of macerated berries, plum skins and pepper, laced with nuances of coffee and juniper berries too. As expected it has a very seductive texture in the mouth, full and concentrated, and sweet berry fruit, feeling substantial and macerated, and yet it doesn’t feel overdone. It is quite softly defined though, with rather low-key acidity, and some ripe tannins for backbone, which are plush, velvety, and only really show through in the finish. A warmer vintage, I suspect. Long and grippy, there is certainly some potential for the cellar here. 15.5/20 (May 2014)

The Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience

In October this year I’m looking forward to leading a trip to some of Bordeaux’s most remarkable wine estates with Adam Stebbing of SmoothRed, a long-established company offering tailor-made wine tours, holidays, events and experiences. The Bordeaux Grand Cru Experience promises great wine, superb château visits and fine dining.

The tour is now mostly booked up but there are still some places left. It would be great to fill those last few places with a couple of long-term Winedoctor readers!

Here’s a taster of what the trip will involve:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux, private chauffeur-driven coach to St Emilion, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (for lunch) and then Château Angélus. Dinner and hotel in Bordeaux City.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion first, and as if one first growth weren’t enough, after a tasting and lunch it’s onto Château d’Yquem.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Tour up the famous ‘Route des Châteaux’. Visit Château Pontet-Canet, now turning out wines to challenge the very best in the commune. Then it will be lunch at Château Pichon-Baron (pictured above) – where lunch, I have recently learnt from first-hand experience, is not to be missed! In the afternoon, we head south to Margaux and Château Rauzan-Segla.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: There is no let up in terms of quality on the final day. The morning allows us all time to take in Bordeaux city, followed by lunch and tasting at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above), the origin of one of the very best wines of the entire appellation. Fly back to London early evening.

Prices: £1679.00 per person for 3 star hotel option (based on double room occupancy), £1994.00 per person for 5 star upgrade option (also based on double room occupancy). For four days with all those visits (including Yquem and Haut-Brion!) that seems like money well spent.

There are (or were – more than half have sold) fourteen places, so this will be a very intimate tour. If you would like to come along check out the SmoothRed itinerary here: Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience or phone Adam on +44 (0) 207 1988 369, or email him on sales@smoothred.co.uk.

Bordeaux 2013: Final Day

My final day in St Emilion (and Pomerol) was a little more relaxed than some others, with long appointments, each one lasting at least an hour. That’s quite appropriate though, as many estates here produce a broad range of wines. You think you’re turning up to taste a premier grand cru classé, then you remember that the wines offered also include a second wine, one from Castillon, a couple of other cuvées from less classified St Emilion vineyards, a wine or two from the satellite appellations, and maybe a white wine. Sometimes the winemaker at a grand estate also owns his own plot of vines somewhere, and it can of course be advantageous for him to have his wines served alongside those of the classified estate where he works. I remember once turning up to a top St Emilion estate to find this was the case, as a result the number of wines being poured had increased from five to about a dozen

I kicked off at Château Pavie, where I was greeted by Gérard Perse, although he soon left me in the hands of his staff, who were pouring the Perse range in one of the new tasting rooms. The entire château has been razed to the ground and rebuilt in recent years, and I now struggle to remember what it looked like before the work began. Now, though, the completed rebuild is remarkably palatial, with glistening stone, gleaming marble and walls of glass and gilt. It all feels very appropriate, and it is difficult not to be impressed by the work now it has been completed. After tasting here, I then made the short trip up the steep hill to Château Ausone, to taste the wines, and also to get some chat from Alain Vauthier, who reaffirmed what many have already told me this year, in particular the difficulties with Merlot, and the appeal of the Cabernet Franc. This a strong year for this variety, and I find that blends with even a relatively low percentage of Cabernet Franc – say between 15% and 20% – are often aromatically dominated by its perfumed scents. So you can imagine what a wine such as Lafleur, Ausone, or Le Dôme, all of which major on this variety, are like.

Château Pavie

After Ausone it was over to Château Angélus, another recently refurbished château. The new château and cellars were inaugurated during the primeurs, an event which I did not attend, as I am uncomfortable with the glitz of such events, bearing in mind I am here to review their wines. Here I tasted not only Angélus and Bellevue, but also a host of other wines from across Bordeaux where Hubert de Boüard de Laforest consults. Anyone who doubts that a consultant has an impact on the style of wine should come to a tasting such as this; many of the wines had the same deep plummy fruit, the same broad but ripe tannic structure. They were largely successes, and they showed what could be done with the vintage, but after a while the wines began to taste the same so I left to take a break. I stopped off for lunch, and took a few photographs in the region, before moving to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière to taste the wines of Stefan von Neipperg. The vintage was just as difficult here as elsewhere, and the yields told the story; 10 hl/ha for Canon-la-Gaffelière itself, just 8 hl/ha at La Mondotte. Before leaving I also took some time to take a look at their wines in the 2004 vintage; I often try and squeeze in a few non-primeur tastings, especially on my last day, and this was the first of several. The wines, at ten years of age, were largely very firm and structured, and are clearly still on the way up.

The it was over to Château Tertre Roteboeuf to taste with François Mitjavile; this was a fascinating visit (isn’t it always?) and I have to admit I learnt a lot more about Tertre Roteboeuf, as well as the 2013 vintage. I tasted all three of his wines, Domaine de Cambes, Roc de Cambes and Château Tertre Roteboeuf. I also then moved on to look at a 2012, and then all the wines from 2011, the most recently bottled vintage, including Les Aurages, the Castillon made by his son Louis. I finished up with the 2004 vintage again here. Some of these wines were just wonderful, and as with the Neipperg wines I will be writing these up as soon as possible. This appointment did over-run somewhat (note to self; more time for François next year) and so I was twenty minutes late for my final appointment at Château Bonalgue in Pomerol. Here Jean-Baptiste Bourotte and his technical director Cécile Dupuis make a very good example of off-plateau Pomerol, a real stylistic contrast to the wines from the estate that they have up on the gravel plateau, Clos du Clocher. I tasted all four of Jean-Baptiste’s wines in 2013, three Pomerols and a Lalande-de-Pomerol, none of which I would turn my nose up at. Finally, I finished off with a vertical tasting of the wines of Bonalgue, starting at 2011, now in bottle, and working my way back to 1988. Some of these wines were really good; not at the level of a plateau Pomerol, maybe, but in some viintages they showed delightful pencil-straight structure, polished textures and a lovely tobacco, cigar, truffle and autumn-leaf complexity as they mature. From the gravel and sand terroirs on the edge of Libourne, these are good wines indeed. Sometime over the next few months I will these up in a Château Bonalgue profile.
 
That is it for my Bordeaux primeurs diary; as I type these final words I am sitting in an airport lounge, on my way home. Updating the Winedr blog has been a more interesting experience than in previous years; I update the blog with these informal posts during the primeurs week simply because I don’t have time to write detailed articles for behind the paywall, so hectic is the week’s schedule. They are meant to be diary-like comments, light reading, broad impressions, nothing more; despite that, I have had emails from both château-proprietors and wine merchants regarding my comments, usually disagreeing with what I have written. This is a vintage where the two, producers and merchants, seem set to pull apart even harder than usual, and both are looking to the critics for support in where they stand. That’s something I have had cause to reflect on during this journey home, and I will write more about in coming weeks.

Also coming next week: first, my 2013 vintage report, kicking off with a vintage summary on Tuesday, and St Estèphe the day after. If this campaign is really quick wines may well come out before I have published relevant notes or scores; that shouldn’t be a worry, as the wines aren’t going to sell out in this vintage. Gradual publication is a consequence of all the detailed background I give, and I would rather stick with that than simply rush to publish long lists of notes, to be released into an information vacuum. Does anybody find notes like that of any use? And second, I will be announcing the winners of my new Winedoctor primeurs award, which is Bud of the Week. Totally serious of course. Any notion that I just thought it up as I sit with a pint of airport beer in my hand would be well wide of the mark, obviously.

Bordeaux 2013: On the Right Bank

My primeurs week continues, and I’m now on the right bank. Thursday was a day of Pomerol in the morning, and a mix of Pomerol and St Emilion in the afternoon. The weather was absolutely miserable, with grey skies and rain all day, sometimes light but sometimes very heavy. Dashing from car to tasting room in order not to get soaked to the skin was the order of the day.

The morning was fascinating, as I toured sme of the top names of the Pomerol appellation, starting at the Moueix offices on the Libourne quayside. This tasting usually includes a full line-up of their Pomerols, plus a handful of St Emilions, but there were a few wines missing this year, and these absentees served as an indicator of the difficulty of the vintage. First, in St Emilion, no Château Puy-Blanquet this year, as the vineyard was hit by hail and they took the decision to sell off the enture crop in bulk. Secondly, coming back to Pomerol, due to millerandage there is no wine from Château Hosanna nor from Providence. So it was a somewhat contracted line-up here.

Thereafter it was on to Vieux Château Certan where Guillaume Thienpont (pictured below) was pouring the 2013. The story told here was in contrast to that I heard elsewhere, in that most reported problems with Merlot more than any other variety. Here Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont found the Merlot to be of good quality, and were less convinced by the Cabernets this year. As a consequence, the wine here has more Merlot and less Cabernet than it has had for many decades. After that, it was a dash to Château Église-Clinet, to taste with Denis Durantou, Château Lafleur to taste with Baptiste Guinaudeau, Petrus and then Château Le Gay. To say there were some good wines in amongst this little lot would be an understatement. This really has been a primeurs worth coming for – it is a vintage where you can sift through all that is on offer and find some real successes. And isn’t that what wine critics are for – to guide willing drinkers towards wines worth buying? I’m in danger of repeating myself here though, of getting back on the you-can’t-judge-without-tasting track, and so I’ll move on now.

Guillaume Thienpont

The afternoon kicked off with the UGC Pomerol tasting, and then a quick stop at Château L’Évangile before heading next-door to Château Cheval Blanc to taste with the very knowledgable technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet. Here I also picked up a taste of Château d’Yquem, before heading next-door again (you see, there is some planning in my timetable!) to Château La Dominique for the UGC St Emilion tasting. I have never been to this château before, but sadly as it was still bucketing down I wasn’t going to hang around to take any photographs, although I would have very much liked to have done so.

There were some surprisingly convincing wines at this tasting; you might think with the tendency at some estates in St Emilion to over-extract that the wines would end up terribly over-worked. But there are in fact some really notable successes here, wines brimming with fruit, as there are in Pomerol. They are wines of genuine structure, and the fruit is really fresh yet ripe and dark; some are very convincing wines, remarkable efforts when you time the time to consider once again the trials of the growing season.

Although it was now late afternoon I had two more tastings to go. First I headed into St Emilion, parking up at the top of town and then braving the rain (the evening before I flew out last weekend I had been hunting for an umbrella but couldn’t find one – just my luck) to walk through the cobbled streets to Jean-Luc Thunevin’s tasting. As usual (as there were in 2012), there were some pretty smart wines here. And then for a final hurrah, I headed out to the wilds of Vignonet, on the plain below St Emilion, for a tasting of the wines of Jonathan Maltus. That was a pretty good way to round up a long day of tasting. It was, to say the least, a late finish.

Friday is my final day of primeur tasting. Some more big-name St Emilions today, including Château Pavie, Château Angélus, the Neipperg wines, Château Tertre-Roteboeuf and then back into Pomerol to mop up there. My timetable is a little lighter – I have even allowed myself a lunch break today. Perhaps I will be able to use it to catch up on some sleep!

Bordeaux 2013: More Medoc

Yesterday I wrote mainly about Alfred Tesseron, in particular the early release of his wine, his reasoning and how the négociants responded. As a consequence I glossed over to a large extent the hectic activity of the day as I flew up and down the D2. The morning – all Pauillac – went very smoothly. It was in the afternoon that things started to fall apart. First, I hadn’t realised that the UGC tasting of St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe was split into two tastings this year, St Julien now going it alone (there is a story behind this – isn’t there always?). And thus, having finished the Pauillac-St Estèphe tasting, at Château Lafon-Rochet, I needed to find time to go to the St Julien tasting. This meant driving back down to Château Lagrange, which was hosting it. I had two choices; go for it, and risk turning up late at my next appointment, at Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, or turn up early at Grand-Puy-Lacoste and then see if I can free up time afterwards. I opted for the former.

Happily this worked out alright, and when I turned up only two minutes late at Grand-Puy-Lacoste I was feeling pretty pleased with myself; you know what they say about pride and falls though. Then it was off to Château Calon-Ségur and Château Cos d’Estournel, followed by Château Montrose. It was at this point that my timings started to go awry, and by the time I arrived at my final appointment at Château Montrose the place was entirely deserted. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement; I had been hearing good things about Château Montrose on the rumour mill, and I wanted to see for myself what it was like. And there was no guarantee I would be able to return the next day. Naturally I fired off an email of apology for missing the appointment, not something I have had to do before, and just crossed my fingers that I would be able to get in on Wednesday.
 
Le Retout Blanc

Wednesday morning started with Château Margaux, followed by a blast northwards through Margaux and St Julien, with Château Palmer, Château d’Issan, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and Château Léoville-Las-Cases. With each appointment I shaved a few minutes off my schedule, freeing up time for a dash northwards to St Estèphe. A quick phone call at midday to Montrose confirmed that I could visit again (thanks Marianne), any time after 4pm. That gave me time to head over to Château Clarke for the UGC Médoc, Moulis/Listrac and Haut-Médoc tasting, followed by Château Marquis de Terme for the UGC Margaux tasting. By this time I had so much time on my hands I headed north to Château Sociando-Mallet, on the last hurrah of the Médoc’s great gravel beds, before than coming back to Château Montrose. Was it worth the dashing about? Absolutely. Not only is the new cellar, upon which I cast my eyes for the first time, cathedral-like in its proportions, the wine is just as good as the rumour mill suggested. And it is not alone in this, there are some good wines in 2013. Of these, many are good but still for relatively early drinking, but quite a few are good, full stop, and that means capable of seeing out some time in the cellar. And with the acidity these wines have, Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer believes they may age better than people expect. With respect to a small subset of wines only – the likes of Palmer, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Pichon-Baron – I am inclined to agree with him. For all the other wines, buyer beware. You can find leanness and greenness in this vintage. And I encountered the unmistakeable scent of grey rot today, not only in a cru classé Sauternes but in a red wine too. These are rare wines though. Most wines are clean, with ripe but very fresh fruit, are acid-rich, but just a little too lean.

After Montrose, it was back through the Médoc, stopping off at Château du Retout to taste three vintages of their white wine, the best Bordeaux white you never heard of. The blend is illustrated above (it is Vin de France), and it would wipe the floor with most white Bordeaux. Looking at the back label reminds me of another interesting conversation I had with a gérant yesterday about appellation, white wines, and his interest in planting Chardonnay in Bordeaux, but perhaps that’s a story for another time. After Retout it was on to Château La Lagune, in order to taste the wine, which this year is not being presented at the UGC tastings as they have not blended. Instead, they are presenting four major components of the blend, à la the barrel tasting at Château Climens. This was fascinating, and as you might imagine there was a huge variation acrosst the four samples, with the old-vines Cabernet Sauvignon being my favourite by a country mile. Incidentally, I tasted with Maylis de Laborderie, the new maitre de chai, a dynamic youg woman who came to work at Château La Lagune in September 2013. Having graduated from Bordeaux University in 2011, she has since worked in Oregon, New Zealand, Chile’s Maipo Valley and Côte-Rôtie, which seems like an impressive curriculum vitae by any standards. I finished the day by mopping up in Sauternes, making sure I had tasted everything and retasting a handful.

That done, I headed over to the right bank, where I will put down roots for two days. Thursday morning I kick off at the Moueix offices to taste their wines. Then it’s Vieux Château Certan, Château Église-Clinet, Château Lafleur, Petrus and Château Le Gay – and that’s all before lunch. More Pomerol and some St Emilion in the afternoon. It’s going to be a long day.