Home > Winedr Blog

Bordeaux 2018: Reports Schedule

I am currently beavering away typing up all my Bordeaux 2018 tasting notes, and synthesising my thoughts on the vintage in order to create my region-by-region tasting reports. For those who have missed it, I already started with my introduction to the 2018 Bordeaux vintage, featuring a report on the growing season (tropical humidity and mildew, and then a glorious three-month-long summer lasting right through to the harvest…..that covers it, although I do use a few thousand more words in my full summary), on the harvest, the vinifications, and some broad impressions on the style of the vintage and the wines. Most importantly (I am told), my 2018 report sees the return of Monsieur Propriétaire and his new sidekick, his biodynamic consultant, Vaquero Méjor Hobomüncher.

I also published my St Estèphe 2018 report today. It has been a fascinating and quite unique vintage in this appellation (and in others too, I have to say).

Here then are my plans for the remainder of my Bordeaux 2018 updates. These may be subject to change, but at the moment I don’t expect to deviate from this schedule (although in terms of sheer number of tasting notes week two looks pretty full on):

● Tuesday, April 9th – Bordeaux 2018 Vintage Summary (posted)
● Wednesday, April 10th – St Estèphe (posted)
● Thursday, April 11th – Pauillac
● Friday, April 12th – St Julien
● Sunday, April 14th – Margaux

● Tuesday, April 16th – St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé
● Wednesday, April 17th – St Emilion Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru
● Thursday, April 18th – Pomerol
● Friday, April 19th – The Rest of the Right Bank (Castillon, Fronsac, satellites, etc)
● Sunday, April 21st – The Rest of the Left Bank (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Moulis, etc)

● Tuesday, April 23rd – Pessac-Léognan Red Wines
● Wednesday, April 24th – Pessac-Léognan White Wines
● Thursday, April 25th – Sauternes, Barsac and other sweet wines
● Friday, April 26th – Primeur Picks, my choices, and summing up

To the City of Wine

April looms large, and so too do the primeurs. I’m here in Bordeaux for two weeks of tasting the 2018 barrel samples.

It is already looking like this is going to be an interesting two weeks of tasting, scribbling and scoring. It is a vintage which, after a very difficult start, still promises much, although I think anyone who imagines the wines will be like the deliciously fresh, fragrant and frankly very ‘digestible’ 2016s all over again is going to be diappointed.

The City of Wine

Although most of my days this week and next are taken up with château visits, today (Thursday 28th) and tomorrow (Friday 29th) I will be tasting with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux. This is the third new venue for this tasting in four years; initially it was at the Bordeaux football stadium (close to the Rocade and easy to get to), while for the last two years (or maybe three, my memory fails me) it has been in Hangar 14, a convention centre on the banks of the Garonne (less easy to get to for someone like me who tends to avoid driving into the centre of the city – there are no vineyards there). La Cité du Vin is very close to Hangar 14, so I am prepared for some jostling in the rush-hour traffic this morning. In the afternoon I am off to Margaux, to visit Château Margaux, Château Palmer, Château d’Issan and the like.

It is traditional at this early stage to include a snap of my timetable (pictured above). This usually invokes one of two responses, either (a) “oooh, nice line up of visits”, or (b) “oooh, pencil on paper, very old school”. Which one are you?

Primeurs Visits: The Double-Edged Sword

Next week I leave for two weeks of tasting in Bordeaux, looking exclusively at the 2018 vintage. My primeurs tasting trip seems to get longer with every passing year, necessary for two reasons. First, if I am going to succeed in getting to grips with the vintage, this means talking to proprietors and technical directors, quizzing them on the growing season, harvest and vinifications. Tasting at the primeurs, indeed any tasting trip, should be more than a race where victory falls to the critic who has tasted the largest number of samples. And so I always factor time for ‘chewing the cud’ into my visits. Secondly, as in previous years, the number of visits and tastings that I have to squeeze into my trip has expanded a little more. There’s always another château that wants to join the exclusive club of non-participation.

Visits in Bordeaux are a double-edged sword. It is fashionable for critics visiting the region to complain about them, and I have certainly been a dedicated follower of that fashion in years gone by. This is because the more visits I need to cram into a week or two of tastings, the longer the trip must be. The alternative is just to make shorter and shorter visits, which begins to encroach upon that ‘chat time’. One day last year, on the northern Médoc, starting at 8am, and finishing in the early evening, and skipping lunch (save for a quick sandwich between visits) I crammed sixteen visits into one day. It worked well, but it was hardly conducive to ‘relaxed’ tasting, and it’s not something I will be repeating during this year’s primeurs trip. Driving from one château to another (especially sixteen times) is also tiring, and all that stop-start driving (and remember, there are many hundreds of visitors to the region doing this) is hardly environmentally friendly.

Bordeaux 2017

On the other hand, the benefit of visiting a château is that you know the sample is gong to be in tip-top condition. While the cynic in me accepts there are many reasons why a château proprietor would prefer a critic to visit (to influence critics with their surroundings, or to influence through non-blind tasting, for example) one of the principal and very valid arguments is that it ensures sample quality. This is really important. If a château sends multiple samples, to a UGC tasting, to a négociant tasting, to a consultant’s tasting, to a tasting hosted by a PR body such as Cercle Rive Droite, they lose control over its quality. These aren’t finished wines, they are often drawn from the barrel one or two (or more) days prior to the tasting, and this combined with frequent small pours, sloshing the wine back and forth, contributes to earlier oxidation than you might expect. The serving temperature often isn’t optimal, and this also has a major impact on how the wine feels. There is at least one négociant tasting in Bordeaux I stopped attending because the samples often felt too loose, too warm, too grainy and too tired, sometimes with oxidation on top. Others, to be fair, such as the Dourthe tasting, always produce samples in perfect condition. As a regular visitor to the primeurs, I soon learnt which tastings to go to, and which to avoid.

To be fair, sample quality isn’t a problem unique to Bordeaux. I discovered a lot of wine that matched this description when tasting at the Salon des Vins de Loire earlier this year, including some brut de cuve samples from 2018 (so a little like unfinished primeur samples in Bordeaux) but also some finished wines. It suggests to me that making multiple repeated pours from a bottle using pour restrictors such as the Slo-Flo® pourer, in warm exhibition centres, lit with glaring fluorescent lights, might not be the best conditions in which to get acquainted with the newest wines. But, as I have hinted above, even bottles left unattended in the relatively cool and calmly lit cellars of a Bordeaux château that has agreed to host a generic tasting can succumb to this degradation. Maybe having two weeks stuffed full of ‘enforced’ château visits isn’t such a bad thing after all. Roll on the good quality samples!

The Latest Latour Releases

This week saw the latest round of releases from Château Latour, an annual event which has preceded the primeur tastings ever since Latour announced its withdrawal from primeur sales back in 2012.

The 2019 releases are restricted to just two wines, with none of the third wine selected for release at this time. The two wines are the 2008 Château Latour (£5,100 per 12) and the 2013 Les Forts de Latour (£1,650 per 12). The release price of the grand vin is at an 11% premium to that already on the market, continuing a practice established in prior releases. This premium reflects provenance, and the wine is still priced well below other currently available and more successful vintages such as 2005, 2003, 2009 and 2010. I retasted the 2008 Château Latour just last year, giving it a score of 96/100; while the vintage overall does not have a great reputation, the 2008 from Château Latour is a superb effort. I suspect, with the well-judged 11% premium, this will sell quite well. Not like hot cakes, admittedly, but it should certainly do better than last year’s release, the 2006 grand vin, which came with a much higher percentage premium.

Château Latour

As for the 2013 Les Forts de Latour, nobody needs reminding what a washout vintage this was. When I tasted the 2013 second wine back in April 2014 it was a decent effort for the vintage, although I could not stretch beyond a provisional barrel-sample score of 14-15/20 (it was back when I was still scoring out of 20). I haven’t tasted it since, but will hopefully do so when I visit Château Latour this April. Regardless of how it shows, however, it is difficult to imagine anything from the 2013 vintage flying out the door at the price asked here.

In the meantime, while I head out to taste the 2018 barrel samples from Château Latour next week, it will be years before any of these newest wines makes it to market based on the property’s late-release system. With some releases over the year’s having been met with a rather luke-warm response, I have often wondered for how long Château Latour would remain outside the primeur system. It must be a challenge to watch successful primeur sales pass you by and to rely solely on later, much more expensive sales of mature wines. I suspect the well-judged and hopefully successful release of the 2008 vintage will strengthen the team’s fortitude.

Say Hello to Haut-Bailly II

Véronique Sanders and the team at Château Haut-Bailly have announced a rebranding of their wines.

The most notable feature of this rebranding is a new name for the second wine La Parde de Haut-Bailly, which after 50 years under that label has been rechristened Haut-Bailly II.

The little-known third wine, previously labelled simply as a Pessac-Léognan, has been rebranded as HB.

The label of the grand vin, of course, remains unchanged. The new names come into effect with the 2018 vintage.

The next few years will see a lot of changes at this estate, which began an impressive programme of construction during 2018.

I look forward to seeing how that is progressing, and a first taste of the 2018 vintage, including Haut-Bailly II, at the primeurs in a few weeks time.

Ronan Laborde, UGCB President

Ronan Laborde, the proprietor of Château Clinet in Pomerol, and of course the creator of Ronan by Clinet, has been elected to the office of president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB). He replaces the outgoing Olivier Bernard, of Domaine de Chevalier, who has been in post for six years. Ronan takes the office for three years.

Just 39 years old, Ronan has youth and energy on his side, but he also has experience. Aside from his work described above, the Laborde family also have interests in vineyards in Hungary. And he has already served his time in the UGCB, not just as a member. For several years he has sat on the union’s board, and acted as its administrator.

Ronan Laborde

It will be interesting to see what Ronan Laborde does in his new role, which he will officially step into during the week of the primeurs. The primeurs are already changing; this year the tastings for selected journalists are taking place during the week prior to the general primeurs, which allows more time for tastings the following week, which is good. I would, however, like to see fewer UGCB members demanding visits for tasting, as this is hugely onerous and time consuming. Instead, the trend on required visits seems to be upwards, although I accept many châteaux that demand this simply aren’t UGCB members.

As for the trade, the UGCB already hold extremely popular tastings in Paris, in London and in various cities across the USA. But prices for Bordeaux seem ever higher, and consumers simply don’t engage with primeur sales (and perhaps later too?) in the way they once did. The aim, for Bordeaux going forward, is surely to attract new customers; that means the younger generation in established markets, and opening new markets in countries where Bordeaux hasn’t traditionally had a strong presence. Neither is going to be easy.

I wish Ronan the best of luck for his term as president.

On Being Excluded

Being excluded can be difficult to process. Maybe it recalls feelings of being left out during our formative school years. Not being invited to a party. Being left in the dark about some whispered secret. Being the last person picked, and reluctantly so, for a sports team; a case of reluctant inclusion rather than exclusion, I suppose.

It is a feeling that we perhaps associate with a less emotionally mature and worldly version of ourselves. When these feelings return in adulthood, they can be unfamiliar. Embarrassing even. Because while we recognise these feelings, we are now also aware that we should probably be able to rise above them.

This year I was excluded from a tasting for the first time. In truth there are several large Bordeaux tastings in the UK that are open to only a select few journalists, and to which I have never been invited, and indeed I realised a long time ago that I never would be invited. I just don’t think I move in the right circles. And that’s not a problem for me. These are private tastings, and attendance is a privilege, not a right.

But this was different. While also a private Bordeaux tasting, this was one at which I have been a regular (and well-behaved, I might add) attendee in previous years. But I wasn’t welcome any more. The explanation was simple; a new venue, and financial restraints, meant the number of invitations had been slashed.

Fair enough.

And we’re only inviting writers with newspaper columns, positions with mainstream print publications, or from the leading websites.

Ouch.

My first response was to feel excluded (and insulted). The potential invitees had been ranked, and my being disinvited reflected my position ‘below the fold’. I found myself looking back to my previous attendences. Had I not written an appropriately detailed report on the wines? Had I not given them enough space or time? Are my thousands of subscriptions not enough? And I found myself wondering who had been invited instead of me. Would they write up the wines for their readers? Can you squeeze eighty tasting notes into a newspaper column? Or would the wines be treated to little more than a few photos on social media and a half-hearted blog post? What could I have done differently to rank above the fold? Anything? I was frustrated.

The experience did indeed recall feelings of being excluded. And, as noted above, you do simply have to rise above such feelings. After all, the hosts of a private tasting have just as much right to withdraw a previously extended invitation as they do to not invite you in the first place. It was a privilege to walk through that door. But now that door had been closed to me, and it can’t be opened from my side. With a good glass of Muscadet in hand, I sent a polite reply, thanking them for having invited me in previous years.

So long.

Experiences such as this can be character-building (at least that’s what you’re supposed to say in interviews). I have always run Winedoctor in a quite individual, self-reliant kind of way. This is one reason I am still here, still writing it, just shy of nineteen years after making my first post. It is a sense of independence and resilience that can indeed perhaps be traced back to my school days, when I really was the last to be picked for five-a-side. Although I was at least invited to parties. Well, some of them.

And, as always, as one door closes, another one opens. I have just finished (more or less) drawing up the schedule for my visit to Bordeaux in April (I am nothing if not organised), for the primeurs. This year I shall spend two weeks in the region, tasting the 2018 barrel samples, hopefully to produce one of the most comprehensive reports on the vintage. And I have received a couple of invitations (not disinvitations!) to what promise to be fascinating tastings of older vintages when there. Sure, being excluded is character-building. But being included is better.

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.

Vouvray / Chinon / Bordeaux / Muscadet

I’m living the high life this week; I’m posting this little update from a seedy hotel just metres from the Rocade, the ring road around Bordeaux. I’m here for four days of tasting, an opportunity to revisit the 2016 vintage.

This is an unusual trip, because I have also shoehorned some Loire Valley tastings around my time in Bordeaux. I flew out to Nantes on Friday afternoon, and then dashed up to my house south of Chinon. The heating isn’t really up to the wintry weather (note to self; must get log burner installed next year) so I spent Friday night shivering beneath the covers. It was worth it though, as on Saturday I sped up to Vouvray to visit Vincent Carême. As I headed along the top of the première côte and then through the vines heading down to Vernou-sur-Brenne I was treated to the sight of a wild boar trotting across the road a hundred metres in front of me. This was 10:30 am, in broad daylight, so it was a real surprise; I once saw a family of boar in Tuscany, but I’ve never seen one in the Loire Valley before (whereas I have seen hundreds of chevreuil and other fauna when out on my morning runs). As I drew level with the creature I was treated to the sight of a dwindling boar bottom, spotted between two distant rows of vines. As it disappeared deep into the vineyard I regretted having left my camera in the boot of my hire car, although who wants to look at a boar bottom anyway?

Chez Carême I tasted the current releases, from the excellent 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages, before I got stuck into a multi-vintage vertical of Vincent’s work. We started back in 1999 (not a great vintage to start in Vouvray – in fact it was a shocker) with a blended Vouvray Sec, and then we had one wine from every vintage that followed. The lieux-dits of Le Peu Morier and Le Clos appeared in later vintages, and of course some years were represented by demi-sec or moelleux cuvées. I will publish a full report soon, maybe January. Then after lunch I headed down to Domaine de la Noblaie, where Jérôme Billard was also pouring his recent releases, as well as a horizontal of the 2008 vintage.

After another night listening to the wind and rain battering against the windows, on Sunday I drove down to Bordeaux. What a miserable drive – over three hours behind the wheel in wet weather, the rain varying from moderately heavy to very heavy, and nothing else, for 275 kilometres.

Over the next four days I will be tasting the 2016s at almost all the top names of the region, and as I know it gets some readers salivating (partly at the names listed, but I think some just enjoy my use of pencil and paper) I have included a snapshot (above) of my tastings for the end of the week. Some of my timings are a bit tight, especially on Monday and Thursday, so I am hoping things go smoothly. My apologies in advance to anyone who I keep waiting this week. Again, I hope to have this report out very soon, maybe January.

Then on Friday, as I am flying back from Nantes in the afternoon, I thought I would visit a couple of domaines in Muscadet. The first on my list is Fred Lailler, of Domaine André-Michel Brégeon. I fell in love with André-Michel’s wines, especially his long-lees-aged Gorges cuvée, years ago, especially the 2004 Gorges (a cuvée which had spent 81 months on the lees). It was simply stunning. This is my first opportunity to visit, and the domaine has since changed hands, so it will be interesting to see if the wines of today live up to my memories of older vintages. After that I am off to see Manuel Landron at Complemen’Terre. Manuel, who has a famous father, seems to make his wines with minimal intervention (I confess I have limited experience of them though) and they might be a touch atypical as a result, but I am looking forward to seeing if my singular encounter with his wines can be extrapolated correctly to the entire portfolio. We shall see.

Normal updates shall resume next week.