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Seven Years On: Trouble in St Emilion

If you thought the next event in the saga of the St Emilion classification, most recently reworked in 2012, was the forthcoming revision due (presumably) in 2022 then I am afraid to say it look like you may be wrong. As it turns out, seven years after the current classification was published, seven years since Château Angélus and Château Pavie were promoted to the top tier of the ranking, seven years after innumerate other châteaux were shuffled about, and seven years since Château Corbin-Michotte and Château La Tour du Pin Figeac were demoted, it seems the dust has still not settled.

There was always going to be a court case with regard to any classification which demoted châteaux. The only way in which the failed 2006 classification could be temporarily shored up, pending the stricter 2012 classification, was by ‘un-demoting’ all those châteaux which were downgraded or ejected. The 2006 classification thus ended up a ranking of promotions only, with no demotions. As a short-term solution this can, I guess, be lived with. But for a definitive reclassification it would naturally have no credibility. Just like stocks and shares, the fortunes of some châteaux will go down as well as up. There were naturally complaints, accusations and some legal action.

Château Angélus

Not having followed the process intensely I had thought, however, that the dispute had fizzled out, and drawn to a close. Apparently not. Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (as published here, in La Presse) that Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (proprietor of Château Angélus along with other members of his family, but also a key figure in the reclassification process) and Philippe Castéja (head of the négociant Borie Manoux, and proprietor of Château Trottevieille, and not – to my knowledge involved in the classification process) have been requested to appear in a Bordeaux court to answer to accusations of “unlawful taking of interest”.

The key figures behind this move are the proprietors of the two aforementioned demoted châteaux, as well as Pierre Carle, proprietor of Château Croque-Michotte, a property which was demoted in 1996 and which has failed to regain promotion since. They are represented in the legal process by Éric Morain, a local lawyer. It is expected to be several months, though, before this new case comes to court.

That the three ‘wronged’ proprietors should be so determined is perhaps not a surprise. I often hear consumers tell me they pay no attention to the classification, preferring to seek out independent critical opinion instead (sometimes even mine). But that is to miss a hugely significant effect of the classification, which is the positive effect it has on your standing within the appellation and world of wine, the prices you can charge for your wine (the kick up in prices of Angélus and Pavie after 2012 was tangible) and the value of the land you own. Having said that, I can’t help wondered what the outcome might be in 2022 if the ‘wronged’ proprietors focused their efforts on their vineyards and wines rather than the legal process. It might be an easier and more credible route to promotion than that which might be won through the courts.

Some Detail on those New Bordeaux Varieties

This week saw a significant development in Bordeaux as the members of the Syndicat Viticole des AOC Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur voted in favour of seven new varieties being added to th elist of what they could plant in their vineyards. Choosing seven (mostly) warm-climate and (mostly) disease-resistant varieties shows the growers are clearly thinking ahead; climate change is making it increasingly difficult in Bordeaux to keep planting and replanting the same old varieties, especially Merlot which simply doesn’t cope well with warm vintages when the sugar levels (and thus the potential alcohol) can race ahead of the ripening of the phenolics in the skins and pips. Mildew has long been a problem in the region, but the 2018 vintage was greatly hampered by it. The growers are naturally looking for solutions.

I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at the seven varieties, four of which are red, and three white.

Touriga Nacional: Undoubtedly the best known of the four reds, this is one of the classic grapes of Portugal. I am sure many would consider it a ‘noble’ variety, alongside the Cabernets, Chardonnay and so on. It is a major component in Port, as well as some of the best table wines of the Douro, Dão and other Portuguese regions. It is clearly a good candidate for planting in an increasingly warm Bordeaux.

Marselan: A grape I have encountered occasionally, usually in Southern Rhône and Languedoc blends. It is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, developed by Paul Truel at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in 1961. Initially rejected because of small berry size and low yields (the 1960s was an era when high-yielding varieties were still prized) it was not until 1990 it was added to the list of official French varieties.

Castets: An obscure variety discovered growing wild in southwest France in the late-19th century. It was propagated in the Bordeaux region by a man named Castets, hence the name. It has since disappeared from the region again, but is poised to return thanks to its reputed resistance to downy mildew (but not oidium, sadly).

Château du Retout

Arinarnoa: Like Marselan, another cross, this time said to be Merlot x Petit Verdot, so it has an obvious Bordeaux connection. It was developed in 1956 by Pierre Marcel Durquéty in the region. However, later DNA analysis revealed the parents to be Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, so the scientists slipped up somewhere. Whatever its origins, it is late-ripening and disease-resistant, two strong features.

Alvarinho: Of the three whites, this is one of two well-known names. A Portuguese-Spanish cultivar, this is the variety of the Rías Baixas region in Spain. It is early-ripening, and not particularly disease-resistant, so I assume the syndicat has requested it be permitted for planting based purely on the high quality of its wines.

Petit Manseng: A high quality variety, and an obvious choice, being late-ripening and disease resistant. Widely planted in the Jurançon, alongside Gros Manseng (which is already planted on the Médoc at Château du Retout, vines pictured above) the wines can be excellent. Of note, it works in both dry and sweet styles.

Liliorila: An unusual variety, a cross again, this time between an obscure variety named Baroque and the better known Chardonnay. Developed by the INRA in Bordeaux in 1956, again by Pierre Marcel Durquéty, it has a reputation for flavoursome wines, albeit ones low in acidity.

To conclude, a couple of points. First, the vote still has to be approved by France’s Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (previously known as the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine and still often referred to by many, including me, as the INAO); this means, in reality, it is likely to be many years before these varieties are added to the list of those permissible in the cahier des charges, the rule book for these two appellations. Secondly, the syndicat only speaks for the Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur appellations, so don’t expect the owners of châteaux in more prestigious appellations to be rushing to plant these varieties. I don’t think Château Latour or Le Pin will be replacing Merlot with Marselan any time soon. Nevertheless, someone will plant these varieties (which will be limited to 5% of the vineyard but 10% of a blend), and it will be fascinating to see what effect it has on their wines.

Supraliminal Bordeaux

Have you ever been subliminally influenced?

If you happen to be a psychology graduate you will immediately see the problem in asking and answering that question (for the rest of us, I will explain what this problem is in a moment). Nevertheless, this is a question I asked myself after my recent return from Bordeaux, following this year’s primeurs tastings. Well, truth be told, I did not first ask the question myself. I was prompted to consider it by this post, in which Jamie Goode wrote of a sense of “privileged access” in Bordeaux, and stated that “it is very hard as a visiting journalist or trade buyer not to be at least subliminally influenced by the grandeur of the top properties”.

I will be the first to admit that many aspects of the primeurs are flawed, and the notion that the process of visiting a château can exert inappropriate influence on the taster is a frequently heard and valid criticism. It is easy to come up with a few examples that might support such an argument. A taste of the latest vintage of Château Latour, for instance, with a view from the tasting room over the Latour vineyards and to the Gironde beyond, is perhaps enough to make the heart of any fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pauillac, Bordeaux or just very good red wine take a momentary flutter.

Château Cheval Blanc

Similarly, just down the road at Château Pontet-Canet the signposted route out of the annual tastings changes every year, and as a regular visitor I know that I am about to be walked through whatever new barrel cellar, vat room or stone-built stable has just been completed in the ever-ongoing rebirth of the domaine. It is part of ‘selling’ the domaine, its story, and a message about the quality of its wine. On the other side of the Gironde, I recall my first visit to Château Cheval Blanc after the construction of its cathedral-like cellars and undulatory vats (pictured above) which have the potential, perhaps, to inspire a reverential state of worship. And it would be easy to sell the story of a visit to Petrus, with its printed invitations to a tasting in the domaine’s inner sanctum, as being one of exclusivity.

Is this not the Bordelais trying to subliminally influence the visitor? It has been suggested, erroneously, that it is the case.

The notion that humans can be subliminally influenced dates back to the experiments of James Vicary in 1956, in which he flashed messages on screen during a movie encouraging theatre-goers to “eat popcorn” and “drink coke”. The two phrases each spent only 0.3 microseconds on the screen, too brief to be registered by the conscious mind. And yet the messages seemed to have a result, as sales soared, although it is now widely believed these figures were simply invented, and Vicary later retracted his results. Nevertheless, the idea has taken hold, and the notion that we might be subject to subliminal influence when watching television, or visiting the cinema, or indeed visiting a Bordeaux château, persists.

The term ‘subliminal’ has certain connotations. Vicary’s experiment, if it had proved effective and if its results were reproducible (they aren’t), would have opened the door to a new world of marketing, giving unimaginable power to America’s Mad Men and marketers. The term conjures up notions of nefarious deeds, iniquitous politicians planting political messages in the subconscious minds of floating voters, and unscrupulous marketers using mind control, instructing us against our will (and better judgement) to buy and drink Coca Cola. Jamie’s use of the term subliminal paints not only Bordeaux but also its visitors in a similar light. It suggests that the châteaux might not be above using underhand methods to inflate the scores their barrel sample is awarded. It also suggests that the visiting tasters are helpless receivers of this transmitted message, and that we might walk away, swooning, as if the defining characteristic of a Bordeaux reviewer is that they can be trained just as easily as Pavlov trained his dogs.

I have bad news for any marketing agencies who wish to persuade their clients in Bordeaux that a little subliminal marketing might produce a slew of 100-point scores. A successful subliminal marketing strategy simply does not exist; as nobody has ever managed to reproduce the results ‘achieved’ (or should that be fabricated?) by Vicary we know it does not work. What the Bordeaux châteaux are very good at though is supraliminal messaging, and this is what Jamie experienced during his visit to the region, and indeed all of the examples I cited above are supraliminal, not subliminal. Subliminal messaging is, by definition, undetectable by the conscious mind (hence the problem with asking the question “have you ever been subliminally influenced?” – if you were aware of the influence, then it inherently wasn’t subliminal). External stimuli such as a view over a grand vineyard, having cellars to rival the nave of Notre Dame (before the fire, obviously), inducing a feeling of privileged access, whatever, are overtly supraliminal, in that the external influence is obvious, apparent and detectable by the conscious mind.

So what, you might say, the Bordelais are still up to their old tricks. But I would argue this is much more than a semantic difference. Whereas the human mind cannot resist subliminal messaging, because we are not conscious of its existence, supraliminal messaging works but it can easily be rejected, provided you are switched on to it. A classic example for you was the German-French wine-selling experiment conducted in the 1990s (The Influence of In-Store Music on Wine Selections, North AC et al, Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2):271-276) when a British supermarket found that playing French music increased sales of French wine, and playing German music resulted in German wine outselling French wine. None of the shoppers felt they had been influenced by the music, so you might think this was a subliminal message, but it was not, it was merely that they were not switched on to the supraliminal message they were receiving. The music was readily audible (so inherently supraliminal); anybody who went in with the knowledge the supermarket were trying to influence their decision-making process with music would not be affected by it (or if suitably contrary as I can be at times they might even be pushed in the opposite direction – “play French music at me, would ya”, I might say, as I swipe a bottle of Extra Special Piesporter from the shelves).

A seasoned visitor to Bordeaux knows what that view over the Latour vineyard can do for the soul, and the Cheval Blanc cellars, as wonderful as they are, do not instil a sense of awe when returning to them for the twentieth time. Even if they did, I am very aware of what the intent might be, and find it easy to resist. As a regular visitor to the region I therefore reject any suggestion that I might wander around, in a sense of awe, filled to the eyeballs with supraliminal messages. Yes, there are problems with the primeur system, everything from the veracity and validity of barrel samples to the timing of the releases and the pricing of the wines, but the region’s supraliminal messaging is easily identified, and the most readily rejected. Unless your favoured reviewer happens to be a cathedral-obsessed mutt trained by a Russian physiologist on his first ever visit to Bordeaux, that is. In which case, good luck to you with your 2018 buying decisions.

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.