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Bordeaux 2016 Redux

Having published the final instalment of my report on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage yesterday, I am already occupied with the arrangements for my trip back to the region in April to take a first look at the 2018 vintage. But before I really get down to that, I think I need to spend a few final minutes reflecting on the wines of this vintage.

It was pretty clear to anybody who tasted the wines at the primeurs back in April 2017 that the 2016 vintage was special. There were brilliant wines in St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien, and excellent wines in Margaux, albeit with a slightly broader spread of quality. On the right bank there were superb hotspots of quality in St Emilion and Pomerol, and there were great successes in Pessac-Léognan too. I think praise for the vintage was fairly uniform, and no one critic can claim to have ‘called it’ before any other. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet, for once.

Looking at the wines today, they have lived up to this early promise, in some cases more than lived up to it. On the left bank the wines are vigorous, fresh, energising and lively, from the top to the bottom of the Médoc. The first growths and super-seconds of the Médoc have all put in steller performances, and one wine ‘maxed out’ with a perfect score from me. I don’t dish out such scores easily, as I abhor the hyperbole that surrounds the marketing of wine, but in a vintage such as 2016, with many high-ranking châteaux having made their best wine for many years, and with all of these wines jostling for position at the head of the pack, it was perhaps almost inevitable that one of them stepped over the line. Compared to my original score ranges, most châteaux scored at the centre or top of their primeurs range, an indication that I liked the wines at least as much (and sometimes more) as I did at the primeurs. I wound back my score on just one wine which just didn’t seem to cut it. Aside perhaps from the appellation of Margaux, where 2015 was excellent, 2016 is clearly ahead on the left bank.

Bordeaux 2016

On the right bank (where, during my tasting trip in December 2018, I photographed this remarkable sunrise at Château Quintus), I have to say I was even more impressed than I was during the primeurs. At the time I felt that the left bank had the edge a little. That was not to say I thought it was a left-bank vintage, just that those wines were slightly more convincing. Now I would say there is no pulling apart right bank from left; I rated many right-bank wines in their primeurs range, but some of the very best wines show even better than they did during the primeurs, their palates brimming with savoury black fruits but also sinew and tension, and their scores have edged upwards accordingly. And two wines here were simply breathtaking, literally so in the case of one which I struggled to spit as I tried to absorb and comprehend the joy it radiated. I simply didn’t want to let go of it; it was one of those wines that left me shaking my head, dumbfounded at the quality within. That was my perfect score in St Emilion, and I also gave one such score in Pomerol, to a classically styled wine that seemed perfect from every viewpoint. The 2015 and 2016 vintages on the right bank will give great drinking for decades to come, but in strongly contrasting styles, 2015 rich and velvety, 2016 dense but sinewy and fresh. Unlike the left bank, we have here back-to-back great vintages.

There were also brilliant wines in Pessac-Leognan among the reds, stunning efforts with an increasing number of châteaux here haranguing the long-accepted appellation leaders with the sheer quality of their wines. Among the whites, the wines have delicious flavours, but not the acid cut or freshness of a truly great vintage. This is no re-run of 2003 though, so the wines are worthy of our interest, indeed if you prefer softer acidity they are delicious. But if you enjoyed the twang of acid we had in 2002, 2006 or 2013 (to name just three examples) then this is not a vintage for you.

In my reports (for subscribers), which start here with my introduction, I present ten regional views with 222 accompanying tasting notes. After my en primeur reports I usually publish some ‘favourite’ lists, my top wines, and top bargains, so today I thought I might publish my dozen most memorable bottles from my tastings in December 2018. These aren’t, obviously, simply the most high-scoring wines, but wines that nevertheless deserve a nod, for quality, or consistency, showing improvement, or simply because they offer great value for money.

Château Calon-Ségur: an estate on the up in new hands.

Château Pichon-Baron: an estate that combines stunning quality with great consistency now, over multiple vintages.

Château Beychevelle: the new cellars appear to be paying dividends already, although no doubt the vintage has helped.

Château Branaire-Ducru: just one of many over-performing châteaux in this commune which has clearly enjoyed a great vintage in 2016.

Château Saint-Pierre: see my comments on Château Branaire and Château Beychevelle, above.

Château Palmer: the haunting perfume which is the Palmer trademark in full flow here.

Grand Vin de Reignac: everybody loves a bargain.

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte: one of several châteaux punching in the same category as the first growths – well done.

Château Pavie-Macquin: it is hard to know were to start in St Emilion, but here is one savvy buyers should be checking out.

Château La Dominique: another estate on an upward trajectory at the moment.

Château La Conseillante: quite certainly the best La Conseillante I have tasted – better even than the 1945 (which I have tasted – so there!).

Château Montlandrie: see my comments re Reignac, above.

Right, while subscribers hopefully check out my reports, I am off to book my next flights to Bordeaux.

Winedoctor 2018 Disclosures

Well, a new year is upon us and it is time to look back upon the heaps of illicit benefits I have received as a result of completing yet another year as owner, author, editor, technical director, secretary, accounts manager and tea boy at Winedoctor Towers.

Before going any further, an important point I must first address. Those readers who were paying attention about twelve months ago will have noticed that I did not publish a disclosures statement for 2017. My excuse is that I was extraordinarily busy, my year having been complicated by the purchase of a house (completion date, December 31st 2016) just to the south of Chinon. Twelve months later I think I was still in a state of shock, and it was only midway through 2018 that I realised I had made this grave omission. Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Any rumours you might have heard suggesting I could not bring myself to write about all the bungs I received during 2017, including pay-offs from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, InterLoire, the Saudi government and Alice Feiring are categorically untrue.

Moulin Touchais, tasted at Vinovision, February 2018

At this point I don’t think it would be useful to revisit 2017, so I will focus on 2018. I will of course respond to any questions regarding 2017 you send my way, provided I am permitted time to check my responses with Prince Mohammed and Alice first.

So here goes then with my support report (I can’t believe I haven’t paired those two words together in a sentence before) for 2018:

Salon des Vins de Loire: As in previous years, no formal funding was offered or accepted, InterLoire having decided long ago that as the wines of Savennières and Chinon are now more popular and selling for higher prices than Burgundy and Bordeaux, and with this annual salon regularly swamped with visiting wine hacks, they no longer need to offer any support. <wakes up from dream> I do recall accepting a dinner invitation from Latitude Loire though, this being a collaborative group including Luneau-Papin, Clos des Quarterons, Nicolas Grosbois, Domaine Pellé and Le Rocher des Violettes. The group get together and hold a competition to see who can open the greatest number of magnums, and obviously I go purely for journalistic reasons. All other expenses on this trip I met myself (see below).

Vinovision: I headed to Paris for Vinovision (where I tasted the Moulin Touchais pictured above), accepting no financial support. Putting my trust in Chris Hardy, Loire courtier extraordinaire, to locate a bar for some evening R&R, I found myself buying beer at €20 per pint. I soon regretted not being able to submit an expenses invoice to Antonio Galloni or Jancis Robinson.

Bordeaux primeurs: I headed out to Bordeaux for eight days, or nearly three weeks if adhering to the definition of the ‘working week’ used by most Bordeaux journalists. My trip started with a hectic run through Stansted airport as I left myself 75 minutes to make a connection, only for my first flight to be delayed by 45 minutes. In the half hour remaining I needed to exit the airport, and go through security clearance once again. Wisely I bought a pass for the express lane, but the queue there was longer than in standard security, somewhat defeating the aim. Thankfully my second flight was with Ryanair, so naturally it was delayed, so I made it on time. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful (which makes a change). I accepted accomodation with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (three nights, including one dinner with disclosure statement), Château La Lagune (two nights, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (three nights, uncatered). The last of these tested my fitness as on the final night I was locked out and had to clamber over a wall to gain entry. Other expenses I met myself (see below).

Loire Valley & Bordeaux, May: Keen to catch up on my Bordeaux vintage reports I headed back to Bordeaux in May to retaste the 2015 vintage (some of the wines which came under my gaze are pictured below). I accepted accommodation in Château La Dauphine (two nights, self-catered) mainly to see if they would lock me out again. They didn’t. I was almost disappointed. At the end of an afternoon at Château Lafleur to learn about their approach to Cabernet Franc I acccepted an invitation to have a tasting and dinner with the Guinaudeau family (disclosure statement included) at Château Grand Village. Other expenses, including all those relating to the two following weeks which I spent in the Loire Valley, I covered myself (see below).

Loire Valley, October: A rather gentle harvest trip with just a handful of visits. I accepted no support (although to be frank nobody was offering any, and I do have a house there). I thus covered all expenses myself (see below).

Loire Valley and Bordeaux, December: I arranged a complicated trip starting in Vouvray and Chinon, with four days in Bordeaux retasting the 2016 vintage the meat in the sandwich, finishing up with a day in Muscadet. Frankly I am still amazed that it all went to plan, and not even the gilets jaunes and their blockade of petrol stations could sway me from my schedule; it’s great to know that when the tank is nearly empty, you can always top up with Sauvignon Blanc. I accepted accommodation in Château Clément-Pichon, (one night, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (one night, uncatered). I also had lunch with Vincent and Tania Carême. All other expenses I met myself (see below).

Gifts received: I received a magnum of a recent vintage from Château Montrose. I don’t believe I am alone in receiving such a fine gift, the difference is that I have actually told you I received it. In addition, Tania Carême gave me a bottling of 2015 Ancestrale at the end of the Salon des Vins de Loire, which turned out to be a lifesaver (see below). I don’t recall receiving any other gifts.

Samples received: A small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

This concludes the ‘support received’ section of my 2018 disclosures report. I try to keep support received to a minimum, but more important is to be transparent about exactly what support has been received, and the details presented above meet that requirement. In addition, where new articles have been published after support was received, this has been disclosed.

Bordeaux 2015, revisited May 2018

If you are still reading, while it is possible you have merely run out of more interesting free content to browse, perhaps you are also interested in the second part of my disclosures statement, looking at the Winedoctor expenses which were footed, through their monthly/annual payments, by Winedoctor subscribers.

Salon des Vins de Loire: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included travel in the UK, flights, return rail fare in France, a hotel room for four nights in Angers, one night in Paris CDG airport, and all subsistence save for dinner with Latitude Loire. Of note, France ground to a halt under snow in February 2018, so I was glad I had booked a hotel room at the airport, and that I had a bottle of Vouvray from Tania Carême, both of which made my overnight stay there more bearable. I did consider subletting my room to some of the stranded passengers sleeping on the floor in the terminal, but was fearful they would also want a share of the Vouvray. No way, Jose.

Vinovision: I met all my own costs, including flights to Paris, local connections, hotel accommodation and subsistence. Through the purchase of beer I subsidised two years of private school fees for the children of one Parisian bar owner.

Bordeaux primeurs: I met my travel costs myself; this includes travel in the UK, flights to Bordeaux via Stansted, and a hire car for eight days. While I accepted accommodation, I covered all my own subsistence expenses except for the one dinner described above. I must also make clear that any rips in my trousers suffered when clambering over walls I have repaired myself.

Loire Valley & Bordeaux, May: I spent a week in Bordeaux, followed by two weeks in the Loire. Feeling masochistic I drove from Scotland, which gave me an excuse to borrow my wife’s brand new car for three weeks, rather than take my 18-year-old banger. Aside from the two nights accommodation and one dinner described above I covered all costs, including driving to the Loire Valley via Hull, ferry tickets, driving from Chinon to Bordeaux, three nights in a Bordeaux hotel, the drive back to Chinon, and all subsequent expenses in the Loire Valley. This was a really tough trip, tasting wine with Bernard Baudry, Jérôme Billard and the like by day, relaxing in the jacuzzi by night. Nose to the grindstone stuff.

Loire Valley, October: After a summer break it was back to Chinon for a harvest visit. I flew there via Nantes. As suggested above, I met all my own costs, including travel in the UK, flights, hire car and subsistence.

Loire Valley and Bordeaux, December: For this trip I flew via Nantes again, meeting all costs associated with my Loire Valley visits myself, save for lunch at the Carême’s kitchen table. In Bordeaux I paid for four nights in four different hotels (I like to move around a bit). Other costs, including flights, car hire for a week, and subsistence aside from that mentioned above I paid for myself.

London tastings: These were fewer than in some previous years, but included a Clos L’Église vertical tasting at 69 Pall Mall, the Bordeaux Index 2008 tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting, the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the 2016 vintage, the annual Cru Bourgeois tasting and the IMW Bordeaux tasting of the 2014 vintage. I paid for my entry fee where applicable (this only applies to the IMW tasting), and for all tastings I covered my own costs, including flights, airport transfers and subsistence.

This concludes my disclosures statement for 2018. The year ahead will be a fascinating one, with excellent murmuings on 2018 from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley suggesting there are going to be some amazing wines coming our way. I just hope that neither region suffers the kind of frost in 2019 that we saw in 2016 (in the Loire) and 2017 (in both regions). Fingers crossed everybody.