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Notes from a Wine Dinner

Some notes from a recent wine dinner, the bottles all pulled from my cellar.

Before dinner….

Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Brut 2011: I normally restrict myself to Philippe’s réserve cuvée, so it was fun to check in on this, his straight brut cuvée. It has a rich golden hue in the glass, looking ripe, with a delicate bead. The nose is all crushed apples, confit pears, tarte tatin, praline, toasted nuts and smoke. There follows a fresh and bright palate, but also a rich flavour profile, sweetly ripe confit fruits, candied apple and dried pear, showing a pithy depth, a very fine-boned mousse and correct acidity. It is a wine which seems to me to convey the very sweet and rich nature of the vintage, 2011 being the first year in which Philippe made a sweet Goutte d’Or cuvée since 1990. 92/100

With dinner, from the Loire Valley….

Régis Minet Pouilly-Fumé 2006: This is one of those bottles with the power to upset popular beliefs such as (a) Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t age well, or (b) if Sauvignon Blanc ages well, it is only the Dagueneau family who can achieve it. This has a polished, lemon-gold hue. The nose is beautifully poised, filled with the scents of dehydrated fruit, dried peaches, lemon zest and blanched almond. It has a fresh (yes, fresh) and textural character on the palate, carrying notes of peach stone, apricot and citrus fruits, all pithy and slightly bitter. A charming wine, a little pithy, showing some grip, with a lightly bitter length. I came back to the bottle the next day and it was even better. 94/100

Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004: At nearly fifteen years of age this has a surprisingly fresh hue, showing a dark core, with a tinge of oxblood to the rim. The nose is quite curious, starting off with the scents of desiccated coconut, although this yields to toasted cherry fruit with time. It presents a chalky, full and fresh palate, supple, but also grippy and tense, with a firm, chalky backbone and a peppery base. There are some classic notes of dried cherry stone and tobacco in what is a rather grippy finish. It is long and still substantial, with good potential here yet. 92/100

Philippe Alliet

An interloper….

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: Now thirty years old, this not-quite-final bottle from my cellar has a rather pallid appearance, and is clearly aged, with a dusty orange-red hue. There follows a classically evolved nose, showing leather, orange peel, rolled tobacco and cigar ash. The palate feels supple though, fresh and correct, showing the same tobacco and ash notes, along with a peppery spice, all wrapped up in a supple and taut frame, the finish spicy and acid driven. An intriguing wine, characterised by notes of orange peel and leather, with a faded but still present frame of chalky tannins. For its age, this is delightful, showing great structure, the wine having barely moved in style or evolution since its last outing from the depths of my cellar. Delightful. 94/100

With dinner, from Bordeaux….

Château Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) 1994: Now not-quite 25 years old, this wine is holding up well. I took one to a wine dinner with friends in London back in February, and it seemed to go down well, as did this bottle. It still has a very dark core, with just a thin mahogany rim. The aromatics are initially marred by a little warm and gamey note, but happily this seems to be just a little bottle stink, as it blows off with another half hour in the decanter. From then on it is all perfumed smoke, blackcurrants, green peppercorn and bay leaf, with a touch of currant. The palate is cool and energetic, with piles of dry and fading tannin and acidity, with a taut, acid-framed and gently succulent texture, laced with little veins of blackcurrant and black olive fruit. Fresh, sappy and long in the finish. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan) 1996: Great colour, dark, central black tulip core, with a thin raspberry and mahogany-tinged rim. The nose is one of classically evolved Graves, with none of the curious tomato leaf notes seen previously (admittedly, that was three bottle ago, so maybe I should just let go), just the very typical aromas of tobacco, gravel, rose petal, currant, dried blackcurrant and juniper berry, and a lightly meaty-peppery spice. It has a fabulously correct palate, cool and relaxed, elegant, very reserved and with a rather tense, vinous texture, not generous, more of a middleweight, but with a fine definition, bolstered by a backbone of dry and peppery tannin, fading very slowly over the years, but still undeniable. Beautiful typicity, and a long, dry, tense and rather serious length. 95/100

After dinner….

Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2001: From a half bottle, one of a dozen purchased after I tasted this wine in its youth, when I was taken by its sweet caramel tones. It has an appropriately rich burnished golden hue in the glass. Aromatically, this is a wine of caramel (it’s still got it), macaroon, vanilla, orange and peach cream, with toasted almond praline and macadamia nut. The palate feels beautifully fresh, pure, cool and sweet, a very complete picture, plush and yet harmonious. It as a fine and pithy substance, textural, with some nicely evolved botrytis character too, it should be said. Lovely balance, with undeniable energy, a great acid freshness, and a great long pithy finish. Well done. 95/100

Château Climens (Barsac) 2005: Expect to see more tasting notes for this vintage in future, as I seem to have ended up with a bin-full of half bottles. Happily, drinking Climens is no hardship. It has a golden-orange hue in the glass. The aromatic profile is tense but easy to get into, with marmalade, barley sugar, apricot and bitter orange notes, with a rich and somewhat lactic note to it. There is a beautifully creamed concentration on the palate, bitter and wonderfully sweet at the same time, precise, quite fresh with super botrytised character and fresh acidity. Fabulous. 96/100

Even later….

Warre’s Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003: A perennial over-achiever, this doesn’t disappoint. It has a dark and glossy hue. The nose is similarly dark, rich too, with dried fruits, figs and dates, a rather roasted character, veering a little into raisin, with a hint of toasted cashew nut too. The palate is rich and voluminous, with a baked blackcurrant and fig character, loaded with sweet and peppery tannin. It is bold, grippy, peppery, with plenty of sweetly rich energy, the only contrary note that holds it back a little being those slightly raisined, baked, figgy notes. Overall, rich, charming but a rather sweet, nutty and figgy style. 94/100

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1991: A maturing hue here, with a lightly caramelised touch to the pigment. The nose is full of roasted fig, toast and baked black cherry, with a little raisined note and dried black olive too, although it remains very fresh, a sensation previous helped by the notes of rosemary and peppery sandalwood spices. It has a solid, impressive, upright structure on the palate, with piles of peppery bite, a swirling core of tannins and rapacious acid energy. Overall a sumptuous, and yet fiery wine, with plenty of charming character, although again it has a little raisined edge which I have seen in other bottles. All the same, a very good wine. 94/100

Chateau Suduiraut Damaged in Fire

I was very sorry to learn today, via Sud Ouest, that Château Suduiraut (pictured below, back in 2011) was damaged in a fire last week.

The fire broke out at 8 am on Wednesday 20th June, the cause as yet undetermined. Up to 400 m2 of the château has been damaged.

Château Suduiraut

Fortunately, nobody was injured in the fire, and the vineyards and cellars were not affected. If they had been, Château Suduiraut would certainly not have been the first to lose their stock through fire. A large team of 80 firefighters were on the scene, tackling the blaze, so it was clearly a serious threat to the château.

I wish Christian Seely and his team all the best in the recovery from this dreadful event.

Read more – including images – here: Sud Ouest

Chaptalisation: Chateau Giscours to Appeal

Back in March 2018, news broke that Château Giscours stood accused of alleged illegal chaptalisation. Various outlets covered the story – here is the take on it from the Drinks Business.

Sadly, it seems as though human error was to blame, together with poor communication from local wine authorities, and the affected wine was excluded from the blend of Château Giscours. Nevertheless, the case went to court, and the court found against Château Giscours. Believing they have a good case, there is a plan to appeal the court’s decision.

Château Giscours

Below is a full account of the proceedings, from Alexander van Beek of Château Giscours.


SE Château Giscours has been reproached for irregular chaptalization operations on two vats.

These operations are accounted for, on the one hand, by an error committed by the Organisme de Défense et de Gestion de la profession (ODG), who acknowledged the fact that they had sent an erroneous e-mail; and on the other hand, by a misreading of a hand-chalked slate indicating the permitted quantity of sugar that can be added.

SE Château Giscours solemnly reaffirms that it was the result of human error, without any fraudulent intention –just an unfortunate chain of events brought about by cumbersome bureaucracy and faulty communication of information.

The chaptalized musts in question were put aside, separated from the final blend, and were not used at all for distribution to the market.

As a result, SE Château Giscours has naturally decided to appeal the court decision.


Appendix 1: Clarifications on the chaptalization of the Merlot musts in 2016

SE Château Giscours has been reproached for having intentionally chaptalized the wines produced from its Merlot grapes in contravention of the provisions of the prefectural decree issued on 11/10/2016.

SE Château Giscours formally contests the fraudulent intentions referred to by the administrative authorities.

This merits a number of clarifications.

As part of the mission entrusted to the Margaux ODG (the Syndicat de l’Appellation Margaux or appellation wine regulating body), the latter communicates every year to the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), and on behalf of the wine producers of the appellation that it represents, the requests for chaptalization for all the grape varieties. This sometimes necessary operation, practised according to the weather conditions of the year, was requested in 2016 by all the wine appellations of the Médoc.

These appellations received a positive response from the INAO.

The INAO centralises the requests and transmits them to the relevant administrative bodies (prefecture, ministry and so on). The prefecture, instructed by the different administrative bodies, makes its decision and signs a prefectural decree establishing the framework in which the chaptalization is authorised.  This bottom-up and top-down chain of consultations prior to the final decision is cumbersome and complex, while the window available to the producer for chaptalizing is narrow, since it must be performed at a specific moment during the vinification.

A request for authorisation to chaptalize was made by the Syndicat de Margaux.

Some wine estates, one of which was Château Giscours, had made a formal request for all of its grape varieties.

While waiting for the prefectural decree, and at the urgent request of a large number of the appellation’s producers who had already begun their vinifications, the ODG asked the INAO for a reply. The latter answered that they had received the confirmation that the authorisation for chaptalisation would be given.

The ODG confirmed to its members by e-mail on 10/10/2016, that “producers needing to chaptalize urgently could do so without risk” by up to 1°.

By mistake, this e-mail made no mention of distinction of grape variety. However, the correction of the mistake was later made by the ODG on the same day in the afternoon, confirming this time that the chaptalization was authorised with the exception of the Merlot grape variety. This second e-mail, sent to Giscour’s Technical Manager under the subject line “Enrichissement 2014 – suivi de la maturité” (“Must enrichment 2014 – monitoring of grape ripeness”), was evidently unrelated and not opened by the interested party, who was busy managing the harvesting.

SE Château Giscours was one of the producers for whom the urgency was real.

It therefore proceeded, on reception of the first e-mail, to chaptalize its musts, one vat of which contained 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.

The next day, on 11/10/2016, a decree was issued by the Préfecture.

This decree confirmed the authorisation of chaptalization by up to 1° but excluded the Merlot.

The decree was sent by the INAO on 12/10/2016 to the ODG which in turn sent it to the producers.

The chaptalized musts were kept in reserve, separated from the final blend, and were not bottled or released for distribution.

There was no fraudulent intention whatsoever in this unfortunate chain of events, which was the consequence of bureaucratic red tape and inadequate communication of information, as the Margaux ODG acknowledged in its letter of the 1st February 2018.

The slowness and the high degree of complexity in the administrative decision-making chain for chaptalization, which is always requested urgently, is the source of this malfunction.

SE Château Giscours was one of its victims, far removed from the fraudulent intentions with which it was reproached.

Appendix 2: The mistake on the slate

In October 2016, at the beginning of the vinification process, in compliance with the authorisations issued by prefectural decree on 11th October 2016, chaptalisation* was carried out on several vats of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Traditionally, in order to perform this operation, the cellarmaster chalks on a slate the amount of sugar to go into each vat.

At the end of the day’s work, remaining sugar stocks are checked by the cellarmaster, the results of which are entered into an official register called a chaptalization register (registre de chaptalisation).

During the internal control of 22/10/2016, this check showed a deficit of 50kg of sugar.

After an immediate search had been undertaken by the cellarmaster, it was concluded that a mistake had been made in the reading of the slate corresponding to vat number 7.

The person who had chaptalized it had read 75kg instead of the 25kg written on the slate by the cellarmaster, which is confirmed on consultation of the vinification register, an internal book which enables all the vinification operations to be monitored and guarantees the traceability of each vat.

This error led to the authorised chaptalization being exceeded by 0.3°, i.e. a total of 1.3° instead of the 1° permitted by prefectural decree.

During the inspections carried out by the Direccte on 14th October and 24th November 2016, the wine estate, in total transparency and in complete good faith, handed over the chaptalization register mentioning this mistake, together with the vinification register.

While the wine estate acknowledges that it made a mistake, albeit totally unintentional, and assumes this error as such, it does not understand how this mistake which was never dissimulated can lead to prosecution.

For the 2016 harvest, the wine estate was permitted to use a precise quantity of sugar for chaptalization. In the end, it used only half of that.

Thus, even if this vat hadn’t been set aside, for all the vats (chaptalized or not) destined to be blended together to create the final blend of the wine, a slight over-chaptalization of one single vat would have been very largely compensated by all the vats which hadn’t been chaptalized.

In any case, vat number 7 was set aside from the rest, and the final blend for the 2016 vintage was carried out in accordance with the standard procedures, and the wine in Château Giscours bottles is in total compliance with the regulations.

* Chaptalization is a legal technique for the enrichment of musts in order to slightly raise the natural alcoholic degree of the wine. This operation is subject every year to a request for prefectural authorisation.

From Bordeaux and the Loire

I’m at the very beginning of a combined Loire-Bordeaux trip. Well, when it is barely more than a three-hour drive from my house south of Chinon to the vineyards of Bordeaux, it would be silly not to visit both regions, wouldn’t it?

I drove down from Scotland on Saturday (this explains my web-silence for the day – although I expect most people just assumed I had been invited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding), and arrived to find the Loire Valley basking beneath a blue and cloudless sky. It was warm and bright, the temperature 24ºC, certainly very different to what I left behind in Scotland. My neighbour’s fields are planted with wheat, lush and green, but just starting to fade to a golden hue in parts, and the air above swarmed with little puffs of windborne seed. It was simply glorious.

I can’t comment on any vineyards as I spent Sunday carving out a new running route through the woods, undertaking an emergency fence repair (one which looks like it will last until the next vaguely energetic breeze arrives) and making some last-minute adjustments to my plans for the week ahead. Happily, however, with the region having escaped any significant frost this year (phew!) I would expect them to be in good shape.

Bordeaux Timetable

Today (Monday) I am off to Bordeaux, for five days of visits. It has all been a bit last-minute, as I couldn’t get my head around arranging visits until I had come back from my primeurs trip. Nevertheless, I think I have a pretty decent timetable ahead (as my snap above should suggest), one  which runs at a slightly more relaxed pace than the primeurs. The main aim is to taste some 2015s, as for various reasons I forewent my usual in-bottle tasting trip last year, so expect an in-bottle report on the 2015 vintage soon. Secondly, I have a handful of longer visits and more extensive tastings lined up, in Margaux and in Pomerol, Château Lafleur in the case of the latter, so expect some tasting reports and verticals before too long. And thirdly, I have some research for another project I am working on lined up; I’m keeping this one under my hat for the moment.

Then it is back to the Loire Valley, for some more visits in Chinon and nearby environs, and although I haven’t made any appointments yet I expect I will be calling in on Matthieu Baudry and Jérôme Billard, as well as a mix of other domaines, in Chinon, Bourgueil and maybe Savennières too. I also have a trip across to La Promenade, a well-known restaurant in Le Petit-Pressigny, lined up, so I am looking forward to that. And no doubt I will also find some (many?) more jobs to do around the house before this year’s rental season kicks off.

Well, time to go. My first appointment is at Château Haut-Brion. The next three hours in the car will pass quickly, I think. Because of my plans for the next three weeks I won’t be making any behind-paywall updates, but will post on social media and maybe this blog if time permits.

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 4

Here is the final instalment of my Primeur Picks report, brought out from behind the paywall. See part one, part two and part three if you have not already read them.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

OK, so if 2017 is not as good as 2016 and 2015, it must be a bit like 2014?

Another undeniable human characteristic is the fallibility of our memory. Even if we ignore the devastating frost, and focus solely on the quality and character of the best wines in 2017, there still isn’t a recent vintage that serves as an ideal comparison. The majority of people I spoke to in Bordeaux accept that 2017 isn’t as good as 2015 or 2016, so attention naturally turns to the next good-but-not-great vintage, which is 2014. The problem with 2014 is that it has in my opinion been generally over-rated, being a ‘saved’ vintage light on texture and strong on acidity (except in St Estèphe, where it was much stronger). It belongs with the ‘also ran’ vintages such as 2012, 2008, 2006 and 2004, years that gave us nice wines but which are nothing to write home about. The 2017 vintage is (in parts at least) better than that.

What we have in 2017, even in the best wines, are elegantly medium-bodied wines with ripe tannins and equally ripe flavours. They are not huge, rich or textural wines, which has led several in Bordeaux who could look back beyond 2014 to suggest 2001 as a match, and I can see why. The 2001s are polished wines, elegant but correct, and at release they were unfairly overshadowed by the preceding vintage just as 2017, with its ‘frosted’ reputation, is likely to fade in terms of repute compared to 2016 (this might help to moderate the pricing…..well, fingers crossed). Another vintage that comes to mind is 1985, always elegant, persistent on the palate but with a silky shimmer. I always enjoyed my encounters with wines from the 1985 vintage, so pure and finely drawn, and I could easily see the best wines of 2017 evolving in a similar style. If only they were priced like the 1985s. Speaking of which…..

Pomerol 2017

Buying En Primeur

It seems almost inevitable that, for the majority of wines, prices are going to come down for the 2017 vintage. I wish I could say I was clairvoyant, but at the time of writing a good number of châteaux have already released, in some cases with prices 20% lower than the corresponding release price for the 2016 vintage. So it is not as if I am sticking my neck out in making this statement. Of course, this still means that the wines may be more expensive than previous releases, as in many cases the releases in 2015 and 2016 were significantly more pricy than preceding years. Even with reductions between 10% and 20% in 2017, the release prices may not compare favourably with prices of other vintages on the market such as 2012, 2011 or 2008, all of which are physically available and which are well on their way to being ready for drinking.

While lower release prices are always welcome, the relatively modest reductions we have seen so far will be insufficient to create the necessary interest in the vintage, either from drinkers or investors. While the relative success seen in the 2016 and 2015 en primeur campaigns showed that the interest is still there when there are great wines up for sale (even if it falls far short of the fervour that surrounded 2009 and 2010), the reputation of the 2017 vintage is simply not at the same level. Having said that, there are clearly some very good wines in this vintage, and if some desirable wines were to be released at the ‘right’ price I would expect a flurry of interest from merchants and consumers alike. If we don’t see such a response then it tells us one thing; it is not that consumers are not interested, nor is it evidence that en primeur is dead and defunct. It is simply that the price was not right. In that case, the Bordelais will rely on the négociants and their expansive warehouses to soak up the stock.

Read my full vintage review, including 15 regional tasting note reports as well as a weather and harvest report, in my Bordeaux 2017 report.

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 3

Here comes the next part of my Primeur Picks report from behind the paywall. See part one and part two if you have not already read them.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

Alright, so is it a left-bank or right-bank vintage?

It is understandable to want to categorise the vintage in this manner, but the successes and indeed the failures on both side of the Gironde simply don’t permit it. While there is undoubtedly a quality hotspot in St Emilion and Pomerol, where the top wines from higher ground in both appellations (especially the latter) are simply excellent, there are also moments of brilliance in St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien. And while there are some lean and leafy wines from the western Médoc, there are also some equally disappointing wines from the St Emilion and Pomerol lowlands. There is no clear distinction between the two banks, not like there was in 1996 or 1998, left- and right-bank vintages respectively.

Bordeaux 2017

It is only natural for regular drinkers of Bordeaux to want to squeeze a new vintage into a pre-existing system such as the old left-bank-right-bank dichotomy. But if I throw confirmation bias out of the window, and take account of all the data points, the only way I can think of 2017 Bordeaux is as a topography-altitude vintage. What mattered in this vintage was the proximity of your vineyards to the Gironde, or their altitude, both factors that protected the vines from the frost. Some very successful wines without either of these protective factors do exist, for example Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac and Domaine de Chevalier, three examples of such wines that piqued my interest, but they are few in number, and they are the product of an extreme level of effort. So after local topography and altitude what mattered was how prepared you were for frost (many who weren’t learnt a lesson in 2017, and new anti-frost devices are appearing all over the region, such as at Château Le Gay, above), and how much effort (which means money) you were able to put into managing a mix of first- and second-generation crops during the growing season and harvest.

Concluded in part 4……

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown, Part 2

Continuning my summing up, here comes the next part of my Primeur Picks report from behind the paywall. See part one here if you have not already read it.

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

Even focusing on the most successful domaines and appellations, while the wines are very good, the quality in 2017 does not match that seen in 2016 and 2015. This much is reflected in my scores, which hit a peak with the 96-98 range for a small handful of top-flight wines from both the left and right banks, with one exceptional wine at 97-99 points, but with the majority of top-scoring wines coming in at 95-97 or less. This is not a vintage in which we are going to find spine-tingling 100-point wines (and I deliberated long and hard about that 97-99-pointer too, it has to be said). If we are to score wines at that level in this vintage, where on earth would we all go in truly excellent years such as 2016, 2010 or 2005?

Bordeaux 2017

On the other hand, I have also discovered many less convincing wines in this vintage. They come principally from the frost-affected regions, including the St Emilion and Pomerol lowlands, as well as those vineyards on the left bank which were too far from the protective influence of the Gironde. While the warm and dry weather ripened the first-generation fruit admirably, ridding the top wines of any hint of green pyrazine aromas, the same cannot be said of many of the wines which have been built – presumably with no alternative – around second-generation fruit. This fruit was usually picked at the very end of harvest, and it is clear that even picking at this late stage the fruit was still not phenolically ripe. I think if you were to visit Bordeaux on a luxury wine tour, calling in on only the top domaines, you could come away with the impression there is no ‘greenness’ in this vintage. But having spent eight days tasting in the region, looking at wines from all appellations and all levels, I have found any number of wines at the entry-level in St Emilion, as well as basic Pomerol and some well-known names in Graves and Margaux, not to mention in the Médoc and Haut-Médoc appellations, which are herbaceous, leafy and overtly green. Some wines tasted more like off-vintage efforts from an under-performing Loire Valley co-operative than from leading Bordeaux winemakers.

So while this is a very good vintage (in parts), it is not a great vintage, and it is not a ‘buy blind’ vintage. It is a vintage in which purchasing decisions must be fully informed.

Continued in part 3…….

Bordeaux 2017: The Final Lowdown

I finished publishing my Bordeaux 2017 report last week, ending up with my Primeur Picks, summing up some thoughts on the vintage, as well as picking out my top wines, those we like to dream about as well as more resonably priced ‘reality’ and ‘sense’ options.

I thought it would be interesting to bring some of this report out here, onto the free-to-read Winedr blog. So over the next four days I will publish my concluding thoughts about the vintage here, in four short, bite-sized pieces. Here goes…..

Bordeaux 2017: Primeur Picks

After fifteen regional reports on the 2017 Bordeaux vintage, featuring well over 300 tasting notes (the honest truth is I lost count somewhere between Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan) it is time to sum up the vintage.

While my regional reports provide detail, with notes and scores on every wine I tasted during my time in Bordeaux (without exception, whether the wine be great or grim), in this conclusion I aim to provide a more facilitative overview of the vintage, one which perhaps answers some of the more frequently asked questions about any new Bordeaux vintage.

So, is it a bad, good or great vintage?

There is perhaps an argument for saying it is all three rolled into one, but eager to simplify things I would say that 2017 is a very good vintage, at least it is for some parts of Bordeaux, for some domaines and for some appellations. But not for others. OK, maybe that doesn’t simplify it very much, but don’t blame me, blame Jack Frost. The result of the frost that struck in late April has been marked heterogeneity in quality, as it overlooked some domaines, leaving the vines with a healthy crop, the end result a potentially excellent wine, while on other domaines it wiped out any hopes for good quality in this vintage.

Bordeaux 2017

If you home in on those parts of Bordeaux that escaped the frost, or those domaines which were able to reject the fruit from frosted vines and instead produce a reduced volume of wine solely from non-frosted first-generation fruit (in some cases including tiny quantities of carefully selected second-generation fruit), then quality is excellent. The very successful appellations (or part-appellations) in this vintage are St Estèphe, Pauillac, much of St Julien, select parts of St Emilion and also select parts of Pomerol. That the vintage deserves high regard in the latter of these appellations is perhaps best illustrated by the words of Denis Durantou (pictured above), of Château L’Église-Clinet, who described 2017, along with the excellent 2015 and 2016 vintages, as one of “a rare triplet for Bordeaux”. That’s true for his domaine and his neighbours, but not for many others, sadly. Other appellations such as Margaux and Pessac-Léognan suffered more in the frost; this did not stop the preeminent domaines in these regions also producing excellent wine, but it often required an incredible amount of work in the vineyard, and a strict selection at harvest.

Continued in part 2…….

Bordeaux 2017: The Halfway Mark

It is Wednesday morning and I am pleased to say I am now past the halfway mark in my marathon of tasting the barrel samples of the 2017 Bordeaux vintage.

It has been a busy few days. I flew into Bordeaux last week, on Friday. The journey here was, as football pundits might say, “squeaky bum time”. I flew down from Edinburgh to Stansted on a 6:30am flight, followed by a 9:15am flight from Stansted out to Bordeaux. I take the 6:20/6:30am flights from Edinburgh to London airports quite frequently, and they are very rarely delayed. Of course, the one time it really mattered, an air traffic control restriction moved our departure time back by half an hour, wiping out a large chunk of what time I would have on the ground at Stansted.

When we landed I was off the plane like a rocket, leaving the other passengers far behind. This confused the airport’s security staff who saw a lone passenger exiting the gate area and they quickly assumed I was lost. Having reassured them I knew exactly where I was going, I made my way out of the front of the airport, back in through fast-track security, and I made it to the gate with about five minutes to spare. Phew!

Next year, I think I will have to come up with a different travel plan. Back in 2016 an air traffic control strike meant I ending up living in Gatwick airport for two days before being able to get a flight to Bordeaux. I have no desire to repeat the experience.

Bordeaux 2017

The rest of the day was uneventful. I picked up my hire car, drive over to St Emilion, found my accommodation, and so on. I spent the first few days tasting on the right bank, with a few visits to those willing to see me over the weekend, such as Jonathan Maltus, Château La Dominique and Château Pavie-Macquin, several large tastings and a Sauternes extravaganza. By the time Monday morning came I had already tasted hundreds of wines, and the weather had changed from sunny, to cool and cloudy, and it seems to have steadily worsened since then. I spent Monday in Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes, starting the day in a drizzly, foggy rush-hour gridlock (rail strikes in France have made the roads even busier than usual) en route to Château Haut-Brion, finishing the day at Château d’Yquem, when the sun came out momentarily, both above my head and, seemingly, in my glass. On Tuesday I made a marathon journey through the Médoc, with fifteen visits in one day, the most I have ever managed. But I started at 8am at Château Calon-Ségur, and I finished at about 7:30pm, having meandered south as far as Château La Lagune, and there were only a few minutes drive between most appointments, so I had plenty of time not only to taste the wines but to talk about the vintage. By Tuesday evening the weather had degenerated into heavy rain, with thunder and lightning.

The 2017 vintage is a fascinating one to taste, because quality is so variable this year. It isn’t an easy vintage that can be summed up in one word like we might try with a washout year like 2013, or with a great year such as 2005 or 2010. It is a complex vintage, one with highs and lows; there are wines that feel profound, composed, exciting and desirable, while others are simply everything that you don’t want in Bordeaux, with overtly green and vegetal fruit, light and loose textures, and bitter tannins. The vintage has been unkind to some in this region, frost and the response to it being a major driver (but it certainly does not act alone) of style and quality this year. And those that escaped the frost know this only too well. “We were very lucky, very lucky indeed” has been one of the most commonly heard refrains when visiting domaines where the frost did not bite.

During the week I won’t be making behind-paywall updates, but will be posting on Instagram and Twitter so it will be easy to keep track of my progress. My full reports, with weather report, harvest and tasting overview, soundbites and then my region-by-region tasting reports, will kick of on Tuesday 17th April.

Reprimandeur Week Approaches

I just wanted to give a quick head’s up to everybody in the wine trade that next week is the Bordeaux reprimandeur week. It’s that time of year (again!) when half the wine writing world disappears to Bordeaux to see what sort of wines the Bordelais have produced during the previous year’s growing season. The other half, meanwhile, stay at home and reprimand their colleagues for even daring to participate in such profane and immoral tasting activity.

I would like to thank all these reprimandeurs for participating in this year’s event – it just wouldn’t be the same without you! And in a spirit of collegiality I wanted to give you a few tips and hints on how you can stir things up this year. We’re counting on you…..

First, price. Remember to criticise anybody attending the primeurs because the wines are too expensive, because the hyperbole of early ‘scoop’ reporting drives up prices, and because Bordeaux no longer functions as wine and is perhaps better considered a luxury product or collector’s item. Don’t let anybody tell you that the alternative, a vacuum of independent opinion, would be worse than useless. Don’t pay any attention to the notion that sensible critics provide guidance to their readers on prices, value and the wisdom (or idiocy) of buying en primeur. And please overlook the hundreds of good-value wines that get reviewed. Just stick your reprimandeur oar in! And don’t let it put you off going to that DRC tasting you have been invited to (again). That’s obviously completely different.

Primeurs Sign

Second, remember to criticise primeur attendees for daring to taste barrel samples. It doesn’t matter that they are finished blends, and that decent critics provide an honest and clear indication that these wines provide a snapshot of what the future wine will be like. It is irrelevant that after attending years and years of primeur tastings, regular attendees worth their salt can see a clear correlation between their own opinions on barrel samples and the same wines when tasted from bottle for any given vintage. And don’t give any time to the thought that regular Bordeaux buyers and primeur-report readers are intelligent people who know about the fallibility of barrel samples. Stick to your reprimandeur guns! Every good reprimandeur knows barrel samples are the devil’s work, sometimes not even made from grapes. And they are largely undrinkable. Like a lot of natural wine, except there you can’t blame it on the barrels.

Finally, remember to criticise those attending the primeurs for using scores. Just because sensible critics use ranged scores to denote the uncertainty of a barrel sample, don’t let that dissuade you from letting people know how wrong this all is. And just because scores for wine weren’t exactly invented yesterday (have you noticed Robert Parker is now retired?) don’t let that kid you that a seasoned Bordeaux buyer might understand that scores are not an intrinsic element of the wine, swimming around among the tannins and acids. All good reprimandeurs know that scores are objective, exact and written in stone for all time, and are harmful to consumers, who must be protected from them at all costs.

Thanks for reading reprimandeurs, and keep up the good work. Bordeaux and all who sail in her ship, the primeur tasters, and the consumers who dare to buy and drink these wines are all counting on you to do your duty! If you are eager to get going, please start reprimanding now. While the official primeurs tastings begin next week, some immoral and frankly vulgar critics are already in the region, daring to taste the wines a week or two early. Your reprimandeur skills are needed!