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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.

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.

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…….