Tuesday, 19 February 2019

2009 Bordeaux, 10 years On....Was Robert Parker right to give 19 Chateaux 100 points?

Last week I spent two fascinating days in London tasting and reviewing the top Bordeaux wines from the 2009 vintage. This was the '10 years on' tasting at Farr Vintners in their excellent tasting room in Battersea.
With a similar format to the 2015 Bordeaux tastings we tasted the wines in flights of 11 or 12, without knowing what was in the bottle.....a blind tasting. We spent about 30 minutes assessing each flight of wines and then collated the scores. My fellow tasters included a plethora of MWs, the buyers for some of the top UK wine merchants, Justerini & Brooks, Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis, Berkmann, the Wine Society and DBM as well as Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier.
There was palpable expectation and excitement before this tasting. We had all reviewed these wines in barrel in April 2010 and then some of the group had subsequently reviewed the wines in bottle in 2013 (the Southwold tasting).

Petrus is currently selling for £3000 per bottle whilst Le Pin is £3500.



Excellent tasting room at Farr Vintners.


Recollections of 2009
I vividly remember the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux. Working with a negociant at the time, there was an amazing jump in pricing from the 2008 vintage. The red obssession was firmly under way from China and the prices were moving further and further skyward. Chateau Lafite Rothschild had been released ex Chateau at +-€130 for the 2008 vintage, whilst the 2009 was priced at €660 ex negociant. A fivefold increase in price for a First Growth wine estate that produces +-200,000 bottles per year is good business(for the Chateau), especially as the demand for the wines was insane in 2010 when we first started trading the wines. There were deals on the market to buy 6 cases of Chateau Rieussec (a very good but un fashionable Sauternes wine)  for every one case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This created a strange situation where merchants took the 6 cases of Rieussec in order to get their allocation of Lafite, then the Rieussec was 'dumped' onto the secondary market. The impact was that Rieussec's reputation was destroyed rapidly. From a release price of €48 per bottle the wine could be bought a week later at €20 per bottle. How to destroy a brand? This kind of tactic might work for producers who have an iconic wine as well as an everyday drinker, such as Guigal pairing their single vineyard Cote Rotie wines with their good value and easy drinking Cotes du Rhone. But Guigal's Cote du Rhone will always be a steady easy drinking style. The mistake that I believe the Rothschilds made for 2009 was that by pairing Chateau Rieussec they degraded a very good quality wine that needs support and help selling rather than lowering its reputation. But for the consumer, this was a sensational bargain. Buying Chateau Rieussec 2009 a first growth Sauternes at €20 or £20 was fantastic.

But Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2009 strode imperiously forward. The demand exceded the supply. With the ten fold jump in price for the 2008 Lafite, the 2009 was a sure thing.........if China kept on buying aspirational prized red wines. Then we had the 2010 Lafite which was sold with altitude tablets to counter the nose bleeds. Then.........2011,2012,2013 descent.

So where are we now? Undoubtedly 2009 and 2010 were the peaks of the old market, based on Chinese demand and excellent quality vintages. The 'OK' 2011 and 2012 were followed by the disastrous 2013 and the promising, classic 2014. The 2015 and 2016 are excellent and whilst the 2017 is small production for some Chateaux there are definitely some top quality 2017 Bordeaux wines to be found. We are on the cusp of tasting the 2018 barrel samples at the beginning of April. The 2018 is looking like a truly sensational vintage. Maybe something to rival the 2016, 2010, 2009 and 2005?

Here is a reminder of the wines that Robert Parker gave 100 points in the 2009 vintage:
Beausejour Duffau-Lagerosse
Bellevue Mondotte
Clinet
Clos Fourtet
Ducru Beaucaillou
L'Evangile
Haut Bailly
Haut Brion
Latour
Leoville Poyferre
La Mission Haut brion
La Mondotte
Montrose
Pavie
Petrus
Le Pin
Pontet Canet
Smith Haut Lafitte (Red)

First growths and top wines from 2009 vintage.
This is what we thought when tasted last week:

A few gems from Saint Emilion.
Saint Emilion
Ausone,Canon, Cheval Blanc and Clos Fourtet were my highlights from this broad appellation. Canon 2009 is elegant and classy, Ausone is dark and spicey and very smooth, Cheval Blanc has a delicate approach, but touches of herbaceous Cab Franc class and great finesse. Clos Fourtet has fresh violets and charm. I was encoraged that these wines had great balance and depth without having too much alcohol evident.
Petrus 2009 is sublime. (But it should be at £3000 per bottle!)

Pomerol wines were highly rated. Is Clinet a 100 point wine?
Pomerol
Clinet, La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Le Gay, Gazin, Le Pin and Petrus were the stand out wines in this area. In the context of the wines, I really enjoyed Le Gay for its iron rich concentration. Fine tannins and great balance.
Le Pin has wonderful finesse. Again it is not overblown with alcohol. A wine that builds gradually on the palate. Elegant with delicate violet tones.
Petrus 2009 has perfectly ripe brooding fruit. A concentrated silky elegant style. This wine stood out in the tasting (I thought it was Lafleur!).
Le Pin 2009 is awesome, but at £3500 per bottle there is a limited market.
Pessac Leognan
Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Pape Clement and Branon seemed to be ahead of the pack in this group of wines. Branon 2009 has creamy oak textures, but beautiful clean plush fruit.
Haut Brion 2009 was near perfect. Violets and dark spices define this Cabernet Merlot blend. Remarkably after 10 years, it is very youthful. Power and potential, fresh with sensual ripe tannins.
La Mission Haut Brion 2009 actually seems more like old school claret. Slightly dry on the fruit, but voluminous on the palate.
Pape Clement 2009 is an incredibly intense almost iodine, bloody core. But there is also a lift from the freshness too. Very classy.
A star Margaux and great (comparative) value Chateau d'Issan 2009

Chateau d'Issan 2009 is a truly sensational wine
Margaux
Kirwan, Issan and Margaux were my top wines.
Issan and Margaux are very classy wines, with intense core of fruit, but with a delicate lift from the acidity.
Kirwan is a multi layered complex wine (I thought it was Palmer!). Great balance and creamy oak textures.

A fantastic 2009 Chateau Margaux.

Great to try 2009 Segla in screwcap versus 2009 Segla in cork.

We also included two identical wines called Segla (the second wine of Chateau Rauzan Segla). One of the Seglas was bottled with a cork closure, whilst the other Segla was bottled under screwcap closure. Farr Vintners had spoken with the previous Direstor of the Chateau, John Kolassa, and asked for 500 cases to be bottled under screwcaps. They were very successful selling this wine and they made it very clear to their customers that this was a 'one off' from the Chateau. Fortunately they held back one case of Segla in screwcaps, so that we could make a blind tasting comparison. This was a fascinating experiment. For me the Segla with the cork closure had more flair and style. The wine had a dark core and freshness. The Segla under screwcap was very clean, but slightly simple and one dimensional. Very fresh and clean and perhaps even easy.
I rated the cork closure two points higher than the screwcap.


St.Julien
We were looking forward to this most consistent appellation and we were not disapointed.
Leoville Poyferre is an outstanding wine. Maybe Robert Parker was right with 100 points!!
But there were a few surprises too. I adored Gloria and Saint Pierre and Gruaud Larose.
Gloria must be one of the best bargains. The wine is available at £440 per case (12) at the moment, whilst Ducru Beaucaillou (which I rated slightly inferior) is being banged out at £2000 plus per case.
But to be honest there were no duffers in the St Julien range of wines. Leoville Barton, Leoville Lascases, Lagrange and Beychevelle will offer enormous amounts of pleasure over the coming years.
My maximum score for a wine Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2009 20/20.
Pauillac
Again we were anticipating some fireworks from this appellation. With a fully ripe vintage like 2009, those great Cabernet terroirs of Pauillac might be ideally suited.
Pichon Baron, Grand Puy Lacoste and Lynch Bages were all excellent wines. I was impressed by Grand Puy Lacoste, which can sometimes be overshadowed by the Pichon estates in these blind tastings. GPL 2009 is a very pure direct style of Cabernet with spice and class. A very smooth wine.
Pichon Baron must be one of the most consistent top ranked estates in our tastings. A magnificent 2009 from Pichon Baron.
BUT the First growths of Mouton, Latour and Lafite were a step above the other wines in Pauillac. The group of tasters felt that Latour was the top wine of the day, however I adored Lafite Rothschild 2009. An astonishing wine packed with cassis and blackberries. Still quite youthful, but a wine that is coming to terms with itself. Velvet smooth and very classy oak balance. This was 20/20 for me.
Chateau Latour 2009 is almost a complete wine with the trademark dark spicey core. 19.5/20
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2009 has excellent mouthfeel and freshness balanced with the intense cassis core.
For many of our group Chateau Latour 2009 was the top wine.
St.Estephe
Again the deep gravel soils of St.Estephe should have been perfectly suited to a fully ripe growing season such as 2009 and we were very happy to taste these gems.
Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Pagodes de Cos (which I actually rated higher than Cos!!!) and Phelan Segur were pitch perfect.
Montrose 2009 is the densest darkest beast of a wine. Very broad and deep with cabernet class.
But Phelan Segur must be another absolute bargain from the 2009 vintage. This Phelan is excellent. Very ripe tannins and blanaced intense cassis fruit, but a wine with intense charisma and amazing charm.

Conclusions for the reds.......
Undoubtedly there re some sensational wines from 2009 Bordeaux. I have never been very keen on giving a wine 100/100 or 20/20. What is perfect for one person is imperfect for someone else. So I set out writing this post thinking I could pick apart Robert Parker's reviews. But I genuinely found some near perfect wines in this tasting. The difference between Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut Brion were very small, but for me Lafite Rothschild had something extra and something very special. Robert Parker gave his controversial views on the 2009 vintahe and he was perfectly entitled to his decision. Perhaps it was his swansong, as he sold his Wine Advocate publication soon afterwards to a group of investors from Singapore. I have the utmost respect for what Robert Parker has done for the wines of Bordeaux and elevating them to a wider audience mainly in the US market. What a way to bow out from the wine critic scene!

My top wines:
Lafite Rothschild

Latour
Margaux
Haut Brion
Mouton Rothschild
Petrus
Pichon Baron
Montrose
Gruaud Larose
Kirwan
Issan

Recommended bargain buys:
Gloria
St.Pierre
Phelan Segur
Kirwan



The special Karl Lagerfeld label for 2009 Chateau Rauzan Segla. Who chose that label?

Sauternes
The top end of Sauternes was also very encouraging for the 2009 vintage.
My picks of the wines were Rayne Vigneau, Fargues, Rieussec and Guiraud. But Guiraud was a little ahead of the rest of the wines. Pure zesty style. A wine with true purpose.


The Sauternes were very good too.












Friday, 1 February 2019

2015 Bordeaux.....The 'Southwold' Tasting

Last week I had the pleasure of tasting over 260 Bordeaux wines from the 2015 vintage. The 'Southwold' tasting was hosted at Farr Vintners at their excellent, bright, naturally lit, spacious tasting room in Battersea, London. The cold and brown hued River Thames ebbed and flowed outside the windows, whilst we kept warm and concentrated on the task in hand. Two and a half days of serious tasting and evaluation.

I have been involved in this tasting group for the last few years, although the group has been running for 30 years. My main role, along with my colleague Bill Blatch, is to visit all the top Chateaux in Bordeaux and request samples. This takes a couple of weeks of logistics and planning as well as, once all the wines have been accounted for,  taking the wines in good condition from Bordeaux to London. There is also an element of diplomacy with some of the Chateau owners, as we are totally honest with our scores and opinions. ALL WINES ARE TASTED BLIND.
  Fortunately I have been offered a seat at this tasting and I write my notes and contribute my scores. It is always slightly nerve racking to give opinions and thoughts about wines within this group as we have some of the most respected palates in the UK wine trade in attendance. Jancis Robinson MW, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier are the big journalistic presence. But there are at least a handful of MWs and the top buyers for Farr Vintners, Berry Bros & Rudd, Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis & Co, The Wine Society, Vinum, DBM Wines, Berkmann Wines and more.  The idea has always been to assess the Bordeaux vintage in bottle and on the market. Yes, the 2016 Bordeaux vintage was bottled in May and June last year and some critics have reviewed and re assessed the 2016s. But it is very difficult to assess a wine immediately after bottling. Some wines recoil into a bottle shock. But this debate is endless, as the 'Primeur' wines are tasted and assessed only a few months after alcoholic and malo lactic fermentation. Is that the perfect time?

Anyway back to the wines. We tasted over 260 wines in flights of 12. Over the last few years we have constantly improved the speed and efficiency of pouring, note taking and assessing. So everyone mucks in, but the team at Farr Vintners are second to none for keeping the momentum flowing. Stephen Browett, Tom Parker MW and Ben Browett are all totally dedicated to the smooth running of the tasting. Thank you.

Here are my general observations:

The Dry Whites
Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion and Smith Haut Lafitte seemed to be a step above the rest in this league. My personal top score was for Chateau La Mission Haut Brion Blanc. A delicate and elegant style with very fine balance between semillon and sauvignon blanc. Whilst Haut Brion blanc was the top score for the group; I found the Haut Brion beguiling as it gradually developed and broadens on the palate. Again beautiful delicate balance, but slightly more evolved than La Mission Haut Brion. Smith Haut Lafitte 2015 had that classic purity and beauty. I found a youthful, fresh element with spring flowers and energy. The oak was evident, but perfectly balanced with the delightful fruit.
Malarctic Lagraviere and Bouscaut were also clean fresh styles with green capsicum (Malarctic) and green leaf tea (Bouscaut). Domaine de Chevalier is always a tricky wine to assess at this time of its evolution. I enjoyed the bold style with concentrated slightly green apple fruit character, however the oak is slightly masking the fruit at the moment. Pape Clemnt blanc 2015 was also a striking wine. It has a ripe lemon freshness with good balanced slight toasty oak.
Gazin Roquencourt and Larrivet Haut Brion also showed well. GR has zesty lemon freshness, whilst LHB has a hint of smokey gunflint. Carbonnieux has a saline element which will calm down, whilst La Louviere is delicate with an exuberant potential.

Generally the 2015 dry whites were very enjoyable with good acidity and balance. No crazy use of oak and some delicate pleasant flavours. The irony that our top two dry whites are by far the most expensive wines that we tasted, shows that we might know what we are doing, as all the wines are tasted blind.


The Sauternes
Within the 27 wines that we tasted there were some absolutely sensational quality wines on show.
My joint highest scores were for Climens, Doisy Daene, Rieussec and Yquem. But I felt that La Tour Blanche, Coutet, Fargues and Doisy Vedrine were only a shade behind.
It was great that we all felt that Yquem was the stand out wine (that does not always happen!!), Yquem is quite a lot more expensive than all the others.
For me the Yquem is a beautiful multi layered wine, with a pure citrus, fresh approach, excellent balance with a dusting of sherbert and a grand style that evolves in the palate. The tropical elements will evolve gradually but at the moment the wine expresses balance with pitch perfect acidity.
Climens 2015 was also a stand out wine for me (but not my fellow tasters). I adored the honey roast element and extra spice component, Great finesse too.
Doisy Daene was a smooth honeyed style, whilst being very clean without any quirks.
Rieussec 2015 is a little more evolved but the orange pith and zest added freshness.
Guiraud 2015 has a lovely apple and cinnamon spice character and freshness.
Coutet 2015 is a bold style of Coutet. I had to concentrate for the nose, as I initially found it synthetic and ugly. However I liked the lime zest and tension running through the wine....and great finish.
Fargues 2015 was also on the richer full style. there seemed to be a molasses and honey element which detracted from the definition.

2015 is an excellent and consistent year for Sauternes.

Saint Emilion 
We tasted 55 Saint Emilion wines (out of a total of 264 wines).
Perhaps the issue for Saint Emilion is that it is difficult to draw the line for who to accept and who to reject for when we gather the samples. It is important to taste the Premier Grand Cru Classe wines(18) and perhaps all the Grand Cru Classe(64) wines but that is immediately 82 wines.
The Saint Emilion appellation has so many variations in terroir and winemaking, so sometimes it is difficult to generalise about the quality. Saint Emilion is undoubtedly a beautiful village with sensational rolling countryside but it is also one of the most dynamic and transitional areas of Bordeaux. 25% of the 82 Grand Cru Classe Chateaux have changed ownership within the last 5 years. So new investment, new ideas and new styles are being produced.
The absolute peaks for the Saint Emilions were Chateau Ausone and Chateau Angelus.
Ausone 2015 is a very classy wine. It has a dark intense velvet core, great lift and elegance.
Angelus 2015 is slightly more intense with a touch of spice and herbaceousness. A silky smooth expression of quality fruit and winemaking.
But I also enjoyed Pavie 2015 very much. It was near opaque in the glass with evident viscosity and thickness on the glass. But the wine had some class as well as depth. The acidity and oak were in perfect harmony.
Valandraud, Canon and Figeac also exude class and style. The Canon 2015 in particular had a wonderful clean red fruit element and tension throughout.

We tasted a lot of good Saint Emilions from 2015. The class from the Premier Grand Cru Classe wines really shone through. Ausone was the top selection for many for the whole tasting.

Pomerol
Often Pomerol spars with Saint Julien for the most consistent appellation for quality in Bordeaux, so hopes were high for this selection of 26 Pomerol 2015 wines.
My top picks for the Pomerols were consistent with everyone else in the group, Chateau Lafleur and Petrus
Lafleur 2015 is deep, spicey and elegant. The tannins are firm and reassuringly assertive. This wine has excellent ageing potential.
Petrus 2015 has a delicate violet nose leading to dark plums and the wine evolves and builds significantly on the palate. Delicate use of oak balanced with perfect ripe fruit. Acidity offers freshness, but again in balance. A truly delicious wine.
Very close behind Lafleur and Petrus I rated La Conseillante, Vieux Chateau Certan, L'Eglise Clinet, Gazin and Trotanoy all at the same score.
La Conseillante 2015 has a very clean element of sweet ripe fruit initially. The ripeness has a beguiling allure. The palate has great freshness and balance. Tannins are youthful but balanced, as they should be. A perfumed elegant style of La Conseillante.
Vieux Chateau Certan 2015 is a more plummy rounded style than previous with excellent freshness.
L'Eglise Clinet 2015 has excellent ripeness and a touch of cassis concentration. The wine has intense berry fruit and firmness.
Gazin 2015 is a velvet smooth expression of Pomerol. A hint of ferruginous iron rich earthy character. A wine of great balance and polish.
Trotanoy 2015 has an intense iodine concentration with floral violets, damsons and veneer.

Graves 
Chateau Haut Brion 2015 was my top selection for the Graves and Pessac Leognan wines. The Haut Brion has a great concentration of dark fruit, whilst also having an etheral earthy charm. I found a mineral generosity with good layers of soft, delicate silky fruit. The wine has extraordinary length.
My tasting colleagues slightly prefered the La Mission Haut Brion which has a slightly tighter dark spice concentration and more evident fresh acidity. LMHB has very fine oak and will last a long time.
I rated Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clement and interestingly Larrivet Haut Brion just below the top two wines, with Haut Bailly and Les Carmes Haut Brion very close behind.
Domaine de Chevalier 2015 is so elegenat and precise. It is not 'over the top' with structure. A great potential.
Pape Clement 2015 has an elegant attack and stylish feminine elegance. The wine is multi layered and the new oak is evident without being over powering. A showy wine. (I thought this was Smith Haut Lafitte!).
Larrivet Haut Brion 2015 has an excellent delicate freshness. The wine has an intense savoury character and clean, elegant finish. (I thought this was Haut Bailly....the next door neighbour)
Les Carmes Haut Brion is slightly more muscular in style with good deep spicey cabernet franc core. A really smooth wine.
Haut Bailly 2015 has a plummy soft intense attack. It is a wonderfully elegant wine without being opulent. It has class, grace and elegance, but is a subtle expression at the moment.
Interestingly the group rated Smith Haut Lafitte slightly higher than my score as I found the SHL a little bit tarry with heavy oak style. Although I liked the dark spice very ripe cabernet character I felt it was too dry afterwards and lacked freshness.
But the difference between the top Graves 2015 red wines was very small.

Saint Estephe
Generally I scored these wines a fraction below the top Graves wines.
However the top terroir and winemakers were evident with the result for these wines.
My top rated wine was Chateau Calon Segur. I found this to have a dark intense core of autumnal fruit. There was a crunchy classy intensity to the fruit on the palate. Freshness afterwards exuding class.
But the fractions between the top wines were very small. Montrose, Meyney, Calon Segur, Cos d'Estournel and Lafon Rochet were all excellent.
Chateau Meyney always astounds our tasting group. Although only being a humble 'Cru Bourgois' it consistently outperforms wines with much higher reputations. This must be one of the best bargains in Bordeaux. Meyney 2015 has a deep cassis character with a touch of salinity. There is an intense weight of fruit that builds and fills out the palate. The oak is a litklle youthful and dry at the moment, but the fruit is well balanced.
I was intrigued to taste the Chateau Lafon Rochet 2015. This was the first wine made in the amazing new cellars at the Chateau. The old stainless steel cellars had been ripped out and new double lined stainless steel and cement tanks had been installed. Would this change the character of the wine? Or would the wine stay in a simnilar vein?
The 2015 Lafon Rochet is an excellent wine. In my view it has an excellent classic cedar spice cabernet style and a broad mid palate. The wine has a richness which balances well with the oak. It will age very well.
The group consistently felt that Montrose 2015 was the top wine. This is a stunning wine with deep spice and a hard core of ripe cabernet fruit. The wine has lurking power and elegance.

Pauillac 
This appellation can be an iron fist in a velvet glove. Often the most power packed styles of cabernet sauvignons with the best ageing potential.
The twin peaks were the Pichons in this area. However I rated Lafite Rothschild a fraction higher.
My rankings were:
Lafite Rothschild

Latour
Pichon Baron
Pichon Comtesse

Mouton Rothschild
Pontet Canet

Lynch Bages
Grand Puy Lacoste


This is almost identical to the (original) 1855 classification!!!
The 2015 Pauillacs are very good at the top end, but slightly more patchy at the lower end.
Lafite Rothschild 2015 has a graphite dark spicey fruit element, whilst not being overpowering. I liked the elegance and finish.
Latour 2015 has an elegant attack, but quite a heavy rich pruney mouthfeel with dark spice and ripeness. Latour is a rich style of wine and defeinitely a wine for the long haul.
Pichon Baron 2015 is near opaque in colour. The wine has a creamy smooth texture with a boldness of beefy structures. Great classy potential. A wine to follow.
Pichon Comtesse 2015 has a wonderful vibrancy. The cedar spicey cabernet notes are classic Pauillac. A wine with a solid backbone.
Mouton Rothschild 2015 has a delicate attack (sometimes Mouton can be very obvious on the nose). There is some classy integrated oak lurking behind the fruit and a youthful vibrancy. But the Mouton is a little closed at the moment.
It was great to taste Pontet Canet 2015 and realise that this wine has a very perfumed floral elegance. It was a very classy elegant style (that I thought was Grand Puy Lacoste). The ripe tannins were in balance and will age well. Pontet Canet is back on track.
Lynch Bages 2015 is all seductive, intense fruit.
Grand Puy Lacoste 2015 is very elegant with a ferrous core of intense fruit. A charming wine with great heart and potential.

Saint Julien 
The three Leoville Chateaux were closely joined by Ducru Beaucaillou for this most consistent quality appellation.
Beychevelle seems to be on a continuous upgrade in quality too.
But Langoa Barton, Branaire Ducru, Gloria and Gruaud Larose are not far behind.
Leoville Barton 2015 is a very pure style of wine with deep spice. It is a powerful wine with sweet ripe cassis and a great finesse whilst still being very elegant.
Leoville Poyferre 2015 has its distinct classic dark mocca intensity and a very rich broad mouthfeel. A bold polished style.
Leoville Lascases 2015 has more delicacy and elegance than normal. The oak is evident at the moment, but this will age well.
Ducru Beaucaillou 2015 has a bright fresh youthful charm. There is an intense mouthfilling dark spicey character with subtle brambles. A very fine style. (I thought this was Leoville Barton!)
Beychevelle 2015 has a deep, dark cassis core with multi layered intensity. Red and autumn fruits in harmony.

Generally the Saint Julien wines were exceptional in 2015. Consistent across the board.

Margaux
By the time we came around to tasting the wines from the Margaux appellation our expectations were very high. Chateau Margaux created a special black label, only for the 2015 vintage, to pay hommage to Paul Pontallier,(managing director) who passed away in March 2016. Subsequently Chateau Margaux was rated 100 points by a few wine critics and the price has leapt up to £12000 per case (12).
However the expected peaks were not achieved.
Chateau Margaux 2015 has a warm, rich style with fresh acidity. The wine has a medium weight of fruit rather than being a blockbuster. there is a hint of green youthfulness. My score was the same as Pichon Baron, Pichon Comtesse and Leoville Barton.

However I adored Pavillon Rouge, Palmer, Rauzan Segla and Brane Cantenac.
In fact Brane Cantenac shone for most people in the group.
I found the Rauzan Segla 2015 to be incredibly elegant, with ripe sweet fruit and perfect balance.
Palmer 2015 has a darker plummy intensity and is very ripe. There is a good fleshy balance afterwards.
Brane Cantenac 2015 is pure class. Cedar spice, classic cabernet with a good dry mid palate and a core of dark cherry and spice. A wine with a refreshing lift after. A true classic.

So, the Margaux fared OK. Similar to the variations of Saint Emilion the Margaux appellation has the good, the bad and the ugly. There are certainly excellent wines in Margaux in 2015, but I do not think it is the best appellation.  For me, the Saint Julien appellation just surpasses Margaux.








Overall thoughts on Bordeaux 2015

Chateau Ausone 2015 is sensational
Saint Julien is a fantastically consistent quality appelation.
Although the talk has been for a Margaux and Left bank style, the top rated wines were from the Right bank.
The 2015 is a fantastic good quality vintage. It is certainly better than 2011, 2012 and 2013 and slightly better than 2014. It probably sits just below 2010 and 2009 in quality.
If I could compare the vintage to prvious years it would probably be 1985. This vintage was consistent across Left and Right bank and had some outstanding wines.

Wine to buy:
Ausone
Haut Brion
Lafite Rothschild
Brane Cantenac
Leoville Barton
La Mission Haut Brion
Petrus
Pichon Baron
Pichon Comtesse
Montrose
Meyney
Canon
La Conseillante
Vieux Chateau Certan

Thursday, 3 January 2019

20 things that I learned in 2018.........

1. I respect politicians even less.

2. Petrus is worth over €1 billion (for 11 hectares/ 28.2acres).

3. The 2016 vintage from Bordeaux,which has just been bottled will be sensational.

4. The 2018 vintage from Bordeaux, which has just been harvested will be even more sensational.

5. The growers in Burgundy are (finally) happy with quantity as well as quality for the 2018 harvest.

6. Champagne is a beautiful countryside area and the small villages are charming.

7. Reims Cathedral is still my favourite architechtural building in the World.

8. Gevrey Chambertin is vying with Volnay for my favourite Burgundy village for red wine.

9. Mexican, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Brazilian clients are great fun.

10. Bordeaux 2013(for reds is a dead dog), whilst 2013 Sauternes is sensational.
Daniel Cathiard's dog at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte.
11. Scottish people may have short arms and deep pockets, but they have a great sense of humour.

12. Everything in Texas is big.

13. Girls from Cardiff on a hen weekend in Bordeaux can be very entertaining, although I learned some new language and .......positions.

14. Having over 1000 genuine Instagram followers @bellawinetours has created more business opportunities.

15. Having over 4000 Facebook friends @ Hamish Wakes-Miller has not developed as many business opportunities as Instagram.

16. Having over 2000 followers on Twitter @hamishwm has maximum effect when you tweet @realdonaldtrump about wine taxation.....over 18000 impressions.

17. I worked 11% more for 6% less in 2018.

18. English footballers win recognition and praise for coming 4th in a World Cup, whilst a most honourable, talented and skilled ex England cricket captain receives a totally justifiable knighthood. Well done Sir Alastair Cook.

19. Even after 31 years working in the wine trade there is plenty more to learn, explore and taste. Burgundy and Champagne have been exhilarating to visit in 2018.

20. The wine world has some truly fabulous, interesting, charming and fantastic people.


Visit Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne in 2019


We regularly visit and taste at the beautiful Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac. Great people and delicious wines.
Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes produces sensational sweet wines as well as a beautiful dry white. The gardens are beautiful too.
Chateau Latour has a tower!! Even in winter the vineyards have character.
We normally taste Chateau Lafite Rothschild in the cellars uner candlelight. A wonderful experience.
We also can organise accomodation at sensational Chateaux such as this one above.

We are planning many more wine tours in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne at the moment. Some of the tours for 2019 will be group tours, so if you have a small group of friends and colleagues who want to come and taste some lovely wines and taste amazing food and have a wonderful experience, then email hamish@bellawines.co.uk
Many other tours are bespoke guided, private tours............

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Visiting Burgundy

The famous vineyard of Romanee Conti covers 1.63 hectares (4 acres). Production is +-3500 bottles per year. The wine sells for +- €20,000 per bottle. A monopole vineyard (ie one owner)
The Grand Cru vineyard of Chevalier Montrachet covers 7.47 hectares (18.5 acres) and produces approximately 40,000 bottles. Just above the village of Puligny Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune.
One of my favourite areas of Burgundy is the area around Gevrey Chambertin in the Cote de Nuits.
Fascinating map of the very precise vineyards of Gevrey Chambertin. Village, Premier and Grand Cru sites.

Domaine Jacques Prieur has some of the finest Grand Cru vineyards.
New investment from the American Evenstadt family of Oregon has energised this beautiful Domaine in Santenay, Chateau de la Cree.



Domaine Jacques Prieur cellars.
Hanging out with Alicia at Romanee Conti.
Another new investor in the area is Michael Baum who bought Chateau de Pommard in 2014. Michael was succesful in Big Data in San Francisco. He is already bringing analysis and technology to the estate, whilst respecting the fantastic potential in the terroir. An interesting long term investment to follow.

The famous Hotel Dieu in Beaune also known as the Hospices de Beaune, built in 1443 by the generous Nicolas Rolin. A hospital for the poor and the sick.
Not all estates are available to visit in Burgundy. But we have some great access to some beautiful places.
Montrachet is an iconic Grand Cru vineyard in the Cote de Beaune. 7.99 hectares (19.7 hectares) with 18 owners and 26 producers making +- 45,000 bottles per year.

We are running tours throughout the year in Burgundy, so please contact us for more details: hamish@bellawines.co.uk

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Bordeaux 2014: 'The Southwold on Thames tasting'

Last week I had the pleasure to taste 250 wines with some charming colleagues in the wine trade. We assembled at Farr Vintners modern offices on the banks of the River Thames in London. The tasting room has magnificent natural light and is extremely well equipped for all requirements. Supremely comfortable chairs and plenty of space are appreciated when you have to concentrate seriously over two days. So a big thank you to all the Farr Vintners team, who all mucked in at some stage.
Yes, the work and detailed analysis is precise, but also this is great fun.....especially if the wines are good quality. Last year was a bit of an endurance task when we were tasting the 2013 Bordeaux wines in bottle.
But this year we were tasting the 2014 Bordeaux wines blind, appellation by appellation across the top tier of wines.
I have written about the original Primeur tastings for the 2014 vintage here and here and here and here and here.
But initial thoughts, tastes and ideas can change significantly after the ageing process and once the wines are in bottle.
So I was really looking forward to this tasting.
For me the 2014 was thoroughly enjoyable back in April 2015 and is quite a classic Bordeaux vintage. After the extreme peaks of full on ripeness of 2009 and 2010 and the patchy 2011 and 2012 harvests then the dip of soft light 2013 vintage, it was time to get back on track with the 2014.
Weather
Plenty of rain in late 2013 and early 2014 over the winter. An early budbust in late March (about 10 days earlier than normal). Quite a wet April and May, but good weather for flowering in early June lead to optimism for good volumes.
Above average rainfall in June and July helped the growth of the vine, but was not ideal for the development and ripening of the fruit. Then we hit a really cool weather period in August, well below average. I remember speaking with Paul Pontallier (MD of Chateau Margaux) in early September and we were bemoaning the awful cold weather conditions when we were on holiday in August.
BUT then the weather changed. Just as the children went back to school in early September we had glorious sunshine. Apart from a splash of rain in September we had virtually two months of un interrupted beautiful weather. There was none of the anxiety of imminent bad weather (2013). The forecast was set fair and the cabernet sauvignons in the Medoc were thriving with an exteded hang time.
The fruit that came into the wineries seemed healthy and ripe. But what effect had the 'missing month' of August had on the wines. A good summer should build up the ripeness of the grapes and transfer this to sugars and result in a fuller richer rounder mouthfeel like 2009 and 2010. What would 2014 be like?
These are my general views on what the wines are like now and how long they will last.......


Saint Emilion
So many different terroirs within one appellation as well as some over extracted wines in the past. But there were some exceptional wines in 2014 with class and pedigree:
Canon was my top wine for its pure elegance and class. A concentration of strawberry and cherry fruits with a very smooth ripe texture. A very well made wine.
Ausone has a very fine oak structure with excellent cedary notes and dark rich plummy fruit ripeness. There was a touch of truffles, which made me think more of Petrus. But a wine with significant style.
Cheval Blanc is a supremely elegant wine with very fine oak integrated with dark ripe fruit. Cassis and mild herbaceous cab franc notes but a linear precision and tension running through the wine. Long term pleasure.
Angelus also has a precise linear element. The fruit style is sweet ripe damsons, but there is a persistence and wonderful balance and cleanliness of purity afterwards.
Pavie is always a slightly controversial wine (especially as I was sitting opposite Jancis Robinson MW). You will have to read Jancis Robinson's report on her website to get her personal views on Pavie 2014. But I liked the intense, opaque style of this wine. It has a deep viscosity and lasts for a long time on the palate.
Tertre Roteboeuf always seems to be the crowd favourite and was certainly on form for the 2014. The hallmark smokey oak and fruit integration (evident on other Mitjaville wines) was blanced with a medium intensity of fruit.
Quintus is probably the best wine produced since the change of ownership back in 2011 (Domaine Clarence Dillon (Haut Brion) bought the old Tertre Daugay estate from the Malet Roquefort family (la Gaffeliere) and also added the L'Arrossee later in 2013). Ripe, sweet allure but classy (Canon style) and a lifted freshness followed by a creamy texture from good oak ageing.
Figeac was well placed to benefit from the 2014 growing conditions, with its higher percentage of Cabernets planted in the vineyard. Although the 2014 is a little discreet on the nose at the moment, it develops magically in the glass. A wonderful intense core of dark cherries is balanced with exceptional freshness and acidity afterwards. A wine for the long haul.
Other wines that stood out:
Valandraud....ripe with an excellent heart and core.
Troplong Mondot....very intense style (similar to Pavie) and very youthful.
La Mondotte....intense dark core, stylish firm tannins, but excellent balance.
Alverne (a new wine for me to taste....apparently it is a Mitjaville estate)....ripe juicy fruit with great vitality and freshness.
Quinault L'Enclos....a very polished multi layered wine with sweet charm. Quality oak.
Magrez Fombrauge.....very dark spice and intense, good vitality.
Canon la Gaffeliere....dark cherry core and good ageing potential.

Pomerol 
An appellation that has been very consistent and expressed supreme quality in 2012, 2010 and 2009. Normally very homogeneous. But 2014  was very different.
 Le Pin is a beguiling wine in 2014. It has a slight youthful green herbaceous element but also a very deep rich ripe damson core. Excellent textured mouthfeel and extreme finesse.
Petrus has a polished saline element and clean bold fruit. A strong style of Petrus.
Gazin has a broader structure and rich dark fruit. A classy wine.
Lafleur has an appealing sweet allure and layered fruit. Tight firm acidity extends the balanced finish. An elegant wine.
La Fleur Petrus has excellent dark autumn hedgerow elements. A ripe good depth and style.
Vieux Chateau Certan has a fleshy ripe cherry fruit appeal. I detected a grip of cabernet in this stylish wine. Real elegance and purity are the hallmarks of this Chateau. 
Eglise Clinet has a characteristic rounded smoothness with firm tannins. This appealed immensely to my fellow tasters. 

Overall the Pomerols did not have the stellar peaks that they had showed previously. The Chateau Clinet samples (we opened two bottles) were slightly disappointing as this is an estate that I follow closely. I had in fact tasted an excellent 2014 Chateau Clinet at the Chateau earlier last week and was really looking forward to tasting the wine blind amongst other top Chateaux of the appellation. It shows that some bottles are great.  For me L'Evangile and La Conseillante were also not quite at the heights that they have been in previous years.

Pessac Leognan 
A sometimes overlooked appellation with some great Chateaux. How did the 2014s show.
Smith Haut Lafitte  initially has a deep spicey blackcurrant concentration. The wine has great balance of acidity and tannins and great length. Pure clean classy fruit. For me it was just ahead of the pack in Pessac Leognan.
Haut Brion is a delicate style with a refined elegant character. a charming sweet mid palate without being mindblowing.
La Mission Haut Brion has an elegant cassis character. A powerful richness and tight acidity. Certainly a wine for the long haul.
Domaine de Chevalier has a deep viscosity in the glass. A concentrated wine hiding power and potential. Long tannic finish, but balanced.
Haut Bailly is a medium dark cherry style with its hallmark elegance and slight lift. This wine has true verve and tension. Not as power packed as others in the appellation, but classy.
Pape Clement was quite obvious for me. It has a deep spicey core. Almost leathery intense style. A very rich wine.

Margaux
Unfortunately the sample of Chateau Margaux was faulty...and we only had one bottle!
Pavillon Rouge however is a very stylish wine with great potential.
Alter Ego has a deep plummy/blackcurrant character. Once again I rated it higher than Palmer!
Malescot St.Exupery is a very classy wine and often under rated. This wine has a deep blackcurrant fruit character balanced with good cedary oak style. Very clean after.
Issan once again showed very well in the appellation. The 2014 has a dark spicey aroma leading to very intense darkfruit on the palate. Layers of autumnal dark fruits are balanced with age worthy acidity and fine tannins.
Rauzan Segla is very elegant and sophisticated. Multi layered clean cassis fruit, but also a touch funky. One for the cellar.
Palmer has a very deep concentrated core with a lift from the acidity and freshness. A well balanced deep style.

Saint Estephe
Lets see if the finished wines in bottle live up to the hype back in 2015 at the time of Primeur tastings. This appellation was singled out as high performing.
Calon Segur was my equal top wine in the appellation (alongside Cos). The 2014 Calon is an opaque intense wine with different spices and cedar. Lovely deep roipe blackcurrant core and great potential. (I thought it was Montrose in the blind tasting!)
Cos d'Estournel also has an amazing opaque intensity. Viscous and thick in the glass showing full on ripeness. Concentrated blackcurrants and new oak are evident. But this wine retains some elegance and delicacy. Very pure and long finish.
Meyney always astonishes in blind tastings, and once again it stood up well to wines four or five times the price. This was a fraction below Calon and Cos in intensity, but still a classic dry red for long term cellaring. Very intense wine.
Lafon Rochet has a bright fresh clean approach in 2014. I liked the damson fruit concentration and the multi layered development on the palate finishing with a creamy soft oak texture. A classy wine.
Montrose also has a bright cherry soft fruit approach and great concentration. Very good balance between the fine oak and quality fruit.
Phelan Segur has a beautiful dark cedar spicey approach. There is a hard stone fruit core, which is very classic St Estephe. The wine has wonderful multi layered fruit and great potential.


Yes, the 2014 St Estephes certainly stood up to scrutiny. These were some of my highest rated wines of the tasting. 

Pauillac
Power and finesse and long term potential should be the attributes for this appellation. How did the wines perform? 
Mouton Rothschild 2014 was my top performing wine over the two days. This wine had a veneer smoothness and truly classy character. The trademark smokey quality oak was evidently Mouton. But the sweet ripe concentrated blackcurrant spice balanced superbly. A very fine wine with excellent potential to age.
Latour I mentioned Latour back in my Primeur notes, as similar to Tantalus' fruit. We can appreciate the wine, but we can not touch! Due to the policy from the Chateau not to sell the wine as Primeurs, this wine will be aged at the Chateau and released when they see fit.
However Latour have made a sensational 2014, which they might have to hold onto for quite a few years. This wine has beautiful clean pure fruit. There is a touch of Autumn darker fruits and spice. Great wine.
Lafite has consistently been difficult to taste at this kind of tasting. The wine undoubtedly has a lot of class, but it just needs a lot of time to knit together.
Lynch Bages was outstanding in 2014 and showing well above its 5th Growth status. This is an opaque intense wine, with an inky iodine tight cassis concentration. Multi layered blackcurrants and cream. Very fine. I thought this was Pichon Baron!
Pichon Baron  has a deep spicey core. The multi layered fruit charcater comes through again. A wine with tension and definition. This will age perfectly.
Pichon Comtesse has a bright freshness initially. An earthy intense dark spice character on the palate balanced with intense ripe blackcurrant fruit style, leads to a sublime mouthfeel and enjoyment. A really stylish wine.
Grand Puy Lacoste has a delicious ripe almost jammy approach presuming that the wine might be simple. However the mid palate is multi layered with excellent balance of acidity and ripe tannins. Freshness and classy finish.
Fort de Latour has a dark autumnal fruit character. Rich mid palate and powerful wine.
Haut Batailley is more on its fruit than oak at the moment. A clean polished style.
Pontet Canet is much more back on track for the style of the appellation in 2014, having changed their oak ageing regime back in 2012. This wine has a good intensity and an earthy character. A wine for long cellaring. The group did not rate this wine as highly as the Pichons or Lynch Bages.

Saint Julien
This small appellation can often be consistent (similar to Pomerol). With the cabernet conditions being perfect in 2014, how did they show?
Leoville Barton was my equal top rated wine in the appellation (alongside Leoville Poyferre). This wine has near perfect balance. Plush ripe fruit and smoothness. The acidity has a lift and freshness and the oak is very fine. Classic, classy great wine.
Leoville Poyferre is totally different to L Barton. Poyferre has dark brooding fruit. It is a full on viscous, intense wine with good structures. There is a hard dark fruit core. A wine for long term cellaring.
Saint Pierre always flies slightly under the radar. This wine showed very well in the appellation. Dark spice and intensity with a smokey oak character. A complex wine for long term ageing.
Langoa Barton also showed very well. It was a wine that built character throughout the tasting time. Initially awkward the multi layered blackcurrants and damson fruit style developed. Ripe, juicy and classy.
Leoville Lascases was at an awkward stage. I firmly put a qustion mark next to my score. There was good red berry fruit, but a softness and peculiar richness. The oak was very dry. 
Lagrange is also somehwat overlooked, but it showed very well in 2014. This wine had bundles of finesse and charm
Beychevelle had a similar clean classy style.

All in all Saint Julien was a very classy consistent appellation. I found Ducru beaucaillou to be slightly disjointed and downgraded it. Gruaud Larose seemed more evolved than normal, but the Leoville wines were all on fine form.


Dry Whites and Sauternes 
Dry whites and Sauternes are now less than 10 per cent of total Bordeaux production, so how did they perform in 2014?

Dry Whites
I liked La Mission Haut Brion Blanc for its zesty style with hints of almonds, closely followed by Malarctic Lagraviere and Pape Clement. An unusual wine in the line up is Champs Libres Blanc. This is the dry white made by the Guinadeau family (Lafleur). The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc from clones more used to growing in Sancerre. I found the wine to be concealed with sulphury tones, but good lemon fresh acidity and class.

Sauternes
A good year for Sauternes rather than exceptional.
For me the best wines were Climens, Coutet, Doisy Daene and Doisy Vedrine. It is always interesting to try and find Chateau d'Yquem in a blind tasting of Sauternes wines, as Yquem is normally three to four times the price of the others!! .......and no I did not find Yquem. In fact I ranked it 10th out of the 11 wines tasted.

Overview of 2014
2014 is undoubtedly a very good vintage for Bordeaux. It is not as good as 2009, 2010, 2015 or 2016, but probably better than most other vintages in the last 15 years.
The wines were quite sensibly priced at Primeur pricing and they have not dramatically advanced so far. But there will be plenty of enjoyment from these wines over the next 10-15 years and for the top wines even further.
If I had unlimited budget I would buy Mouton Rothschild, Cheval Blanc, Pichon Baron, Pichon Comtesse and Cos d'Estournel.
If I was sensible I would buy: Leoville Barton, Calon Segur, GPL, Figeac, VCC, Canon, Lynch Bages, Smith Haut Lafitte and Haut Bailly.
If I had a tight budget I would buy: Meyney, Meyney and more Meyney.