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Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Part 1

Last Monday I hosted an Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting, along with Richard Bampfield and Jean-Christophe Mau of Château Brown. It was great fun. Jean-Christophe and Richard put forward a selection of white Bordeaux (so Sauvignon-Semillon blends on their side really) with vintages ranging from 1999 (although most wines were no older than 2006) through to 2012. My role was to sort out the Loire side of things.

I wanted to focus on the crème de la crème of the Loire Valley when it comes to oak and Sauvignon Blanc, so I chose domaines where the wine was fermented in oak with subsequent élevage in oak (not wines fermented in steel and then thrown into wood, or treated with chips or staves) and I also wanted domaines using a good proportion of new oak (not just a few old barrels they have had lying around for 20 years). Secondly, I wanted to ensure those domaines historically associated with the style, and who pioneered it (i.e. Henri Bourgeois especially) were involved. And thirdly, because oaked Sauvignon Blanc isn’t about drinking it young (this is where most people go wrong I think – oaked Sauvignon needs time in the cellar to show its best, just as we would expect with wines from Pessac-Léognan, or Burgundy, or anywhere else where white varieties and oak come together) I also wanted to ensure that for every young wine included we had a matching older vintage.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Perhaps most importantly, I just used my knowledge of who is just doing it, and who is doing it well. I therefore came up with a shortlist of eight domaines and wines, as follows (including the vintages I managed to procure):

La Tour Saint-Martin, Menetou-Salon Cuvée Honorine, 2012 & 2002
Alain Cailbourdin, Pouilly-Fumé Triptyque, 2012 & 2008
Masson-Blondelet, Pouilly-Fumé Cullus, 2012 & 2002
Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé Silex, 2012 & 2002
Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Cul de Beaujeu, 2012 & 2010
Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre Satellite, 2012 & 2008
Vincent Pinard, Sancerre Petit Chemarin, 2012 & 2008
Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre Cuvée Etienne Henri, 2012 & 2002

I will be writing up the tasting, including my notes on these wines as well as those from Bordeaux (which included Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, ‘Y’ d’Yquem, Domaine de Chevalier, Château Brown & others), for subscribers, in the very near future. First I just wanted to quickly reflect on the tasting, but also to give out some thanks to those who helped, especially Bertrand Minchin, Alain Cailbourdin, Pierre-François & Mélanie Masson and Arnaud Bourgeois, who all sent me bottles straight from their cellars. I would also like to thank Charlotte Dagueneau, Alphonse & Emmanuelle Mellot and Clémence Pinard, who all sent their bottles via Charles Sydney. And I would like to thank Charles himself for his help, as well as Jules Campbell of Justerini & Brooks, who brought Lucien Crochet on board. Thanks also to Richard and Jean-Christophe for inviting me to show the Loire off in this manner.

Thanks too also to all those who came to taste the wines, of course.

I think I learnt three things at this tasting, but reflecting on it here, following all these thanks, seems like an afterthought. I will save these reflections for a subsequent post, tomorrow.

Bordeaux 2015: Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton-Rothschild

After visiting Jean-Michel Comme at Château Pontet-Canet, it was just a two-minute drive (provided I drive slowly, that is) next-door to meet Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton-Rothschild. It is always a pleasure to meet up with Philippe; while the premier grand cru classé châteaux can naturally seem a little distant and aloof, Philippe is always warm and welcoming. Last time I visited (not including the primeurs) I enjoyed a tour of the new winemaking facilities with him. This year, however, we got straight down to tasting the 2013s.

With the 2013s still opening up in the glass, it was time to hear what Philippe had to say on the 2015 vintage.

Bordeaux 2015

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

Philippe: I think it could be a great vintage. There is good quality even in the little wines such as those for Mouton Cadet – that’s the mark of a really good vintage. At the moment though, we have only just finished the écoulage*, and the wines haven’t even undergone malolactic fermentation yet. So it is still early days.

Me: How was the growing season in 2015?

Philippe: It was very dry for a long time after the flowering, so overall it has been a warm and dry year. It was very dry in May, June and July, with very little rain indeed. There was some rain in August – it was important for the garden – but not much. The effect was to give us lots of little berries. They had lots of substance, but not so much juice. This helped the fruit’s resistance to the September rains – the berries seemed indestructible. We remained very calm.

Me: So how was the harvest? When did you start?

Philippe: We began at Mouton-Rothschild on September 14th, which is very early, with the Merlots which seemed to ripen very quickly. At Château d’Armailhac we began on the 16th, at Château Clerc-Milon we did so on the 17th. The Cabernet Sauvignons we began on the 28th – the Cabernet Sauvignons were really magnificent!

We finished picking on October 2nd at Mouton-Rothschild, on the 5th at Château d’Armailhac, on the 6th at Château Clerc-Milon. There was good maturity in the grapes, and a good volume from the harvest. The colours are fabulous, and the tannins feel compact, a bit like they did in 1995. Overall the quality is high, like 1982, 2005 or 2010.

Me: And what about yields in 2015?

Philippe: It will be only slightly higher than in 2014, perhaps just a few percent more.

Me: Thanks Philippe.

*écoulage – the running off, separating the wine from the solids (before the solids are then pressed).

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: Jean-Michel Comme, Pontet-Canet

The day after meeting Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan I just happened to find myself in Pauillac (what luck!). My first port of call was to see Jean-Michel Comme, biodynamic guru at Château Pontet-Canet. After tasting the 2013 together talk naturally moved onto the 2015 vintage. Jean-Michel always gives a fascinating and very detailed account of the vintage as it applies to Pontet-Canet, which of course is biodynamic. And there is, I find, always something new to discover during my visit.

Bordeaux 2015

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

J-M: Well, we are pressing the Merlot now. With everything harvested we can start to be confident in the quality. I do not want to say it is the vintage of the century as people don’t believe that anymore. But it will be a very good wine. An absolute statement of quality is difficult as some vats of Cabernet are still fermenting. But certainly this is the best since 2010. I don’t know if it is above the quality of 2010, I don’t want to say.

Me: What was the growing season like?

J-M: There was wet weather up to the flowering, May was wetter than average. The flowering was slow, as it was not sunny. In one week we had one flower here, then one flower there, but no quantity. Then the weather changed, in just a few days, and it was warmer and drier. Within just hours to days the flowering started and was completed.

Then the nice weather stayed for two months. We had some rain on June 11th, then it was dry until mid-August. There were a few millimetres of rain as the véraison kicked off, two spots if rain each just 5 millimetres, but overall there was not much rain. The drought was showing in the yellow grass, and so this little bit of rain was good as it helped the véraison, the vines were happy to have the rain, and they took advantage of it.

In later August we had a 100-millimetre downpour, that’s a lot of rain, but there was no damage to crop, no rot, quality remained high, because the soils soaked it up and the skins were very thick. Then in September we had sun again. There was some more rain when the moon changed in September, but skins remained strong and it all worked.

Me: How does 2015 compare to other recent vintages?

J-M: What is interesting about the weather conditions is that they were those of a great vintage. It was a bit like 2010. Now 2010 is the best wine in modern times for Pontet-Canet. In the vintages that followed 2010 we have more subtle, more complex wines, with higher quality tannins. The quality was not as good as it was in 2010 in 2011, 2012 or 2013 though. We made a good wine in 2014 but it was not a ‘great’ vintage. Maybe 2015 will be a great one. The combination of the work we do, plus the gift from nature, perhaps it will be great. The tasters will see in spring next year, in the primeurs, of course we will see it before.

Me: What was the harvest like at Pontet-Canet?

J-M: We started with the Merlots on September 18th, then after one week of picking we stopped and started again with the Cabernets on September 28th. We ended on October 3rd. With more than ten years of biodynamics now behind us, we find the fruit ripens earlier, especially the Cabernets. Usually we have no gap in picking between the Merlot and Cabernets, although this year we had to wait, but only two or three days.

The fruit was very healthy. There was no damage, no rot on the sorting tables, we harvested early simply because the fruit was ripe and there was nothing more to wait for. After we finished in early October then was another 50 millimetres of rain but it doesn’t seem as though those other estates still picking were affected. It seems things worked well until the end.

Me: What sort of yields do you have in 2015?

J-M: The yields are as yet uncertain, maybe a bit more than 2014 which was 30 hl/ha, maybe 10% more.

Me: What else is new at Pontet-Canet?

J-M: We have a three-year programme of construction ongoing, with several new buildings. A key part of the project is new stables – we could only house five horses until now. We have waited and the time was right to expand now, so soon we will be able to lodge up to 20 horses, although we will only have 15 or 16.

Out of respect for the original 18th century buildings, all the outside walls of the new buildings are made in true stone like 18th century, they are not built using modern materials and simply faced off to match. Nowhere is there a project this big in France. We have the same respect for the buildings that we have for the vineyard. The walls are 60 centimetres thick, and we have used only stone, sand, lime and water. Any sand or gravel used is taken from the grounds of the building. The walls will have the soil – and the soul – of the place.

Also, being the only cru classé estate that is both organic and biodynamic, we did not want to increase our electricity need. We decided to establish geothermy. We now have hoses that go 100 metres deep, bringing water out of the soil at a temperature of 15ºC. We will dig 60 or 70 wells to achieve this, simply because of the size of the estate.

Me: You mentioned horses – how much of the vineyard is worked using horses now?

J-M: We work 50% of the vineyard using eight horses. We are different to others who use the occasional horse for selected jobs – we do everything by horse, it is a global approach, we use them even for the difficult jobs such as spraying. We use all the old tools to achieve it.

Me: Thanks Jean-Michel.

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: Paz Espejo, Lanessan

In Bordeaux last week I made sure to visit some less frequently trumpeted domaines, and here is a quick Bordeaux 2015 report from one of them.

Château Lanessan is an Haut-Médoc estate worth knowing; there is some good gravelly terroir, and a vineyard rich in Cabernet Sauvignon. For the past few years the domaine has been run by Paz Espejo (pictured below). We took a walk around the estate together, and Paz kindly laid on a fairly broad vertical of wines for me to taste. More on that on another day. For the moment, this is what Paz had to say on the 2015 vintage.

Bordeaux 2015

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

Paz: It has been an amazing vintage. We are going to be surprised during the primeurs, because it is going to be better than we originally thought.

Me: When did you start picking?

Paz: We started on September 21st, and finshed on October 9th. The weather during the picking was nice. There had been some fairly intense rain on the 12th and 13th of September, which was worse, and before that there had been some on August 22nd. But really, this first bit of rain was much needed. In August it was good for the ripening of the tannins and the skins.

Me: And in September?

Paz: The rain in September was more annoying, but it didn’t matter in the end, because the ripeness was already there, and the rain didn’t damage the fruit at all.

Me: How are the vinifications going?

Paz: Things are going well. Everything tastes very neat, with good aromas, good intensity, and the structures are quite strong, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignons and Petit Verdots. The Merlots are perhaps less structured, but not much, and they are expressive. We have pushed the extraction a bit more in 2015 because the ripeness is so good.

We will leave the wines for now but will take a look at the blending in December; we do it every year at this time, between the 15th and the 20th. We may add the press wine after blending. It is going to be very exciting.

Me: Thanks Paz.

For a report which includes a tasting of some just-fermented samples of the 2015 vintage direct from cuve at Château Lanessan, 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: 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.