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.
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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Visiting Chateau d'Yquem

Excited to be visiting Chateau d'Yquem again this year with Bella Wine Tours.

Probably one of the most interesting visits in Bordeaux. History, quality, detail, precision, finesse, elegance and exuberance!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Burgundy explained from the sky

This is the coolest, easiest and most informative visual explanation of the Burgundy vineyards. From Chablis in the north, all through the Cote d'Or Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune and Maconnais regions.
I strongly recommend a few minutes looking at this beautiful YouTube video presentation from the Vins de Bourgogne office.
Click on this link for a view.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Burgundy versus Bordeaux....Appellations, terroir, grapes, prices

Bordeaux                                                                       Burgundy

Hectares under vine:                                                              Hectares under vine:
120,000 hectares                                                                    28,500 hectares

Estates:                                                                                   Estates:
7300 Chateaux                                                                        3200 Domaines
(average estate size is 16 hectares)                                        (average estate size is 8 hectares)   

Negociants (Merchants)                                                         Negociants (Merchants)
380                                                                                         110

Appellations:                                                                         Appellations:
54                                                                                           150 +

Grape Varieties:                                                                      Grape Varieties:
Red: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc               Red: Pinot Noir  (+Gamay in Beaujolais)
Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere

White: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle                    White: Chardonnay (+ Aligote, Pinot         Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Mauzac, Colombard                Blanc and Pinot Gris)
Merlot Blanc                                                                                               

Chateau Lafite Rothschild                                          Domaine de la Romanee Conti,                                                                                                Romanee Conti
average price £650 per bottle                                   average price £12500 per bottle 


Decision time in Burgundy.
The stairway to heaven at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Francois Pinault of Chateau Latour buys Clos de Tart for €40 million per hectare?

Francois Pinault, the 81 year old French billionaire businessman, who owns Chateau Latour, has just confirmed the purchase of Clos de Tart in the Burgundy village of Morey St Denis. This beautiful 7.53 hectare of Grand Cru vines is a Monopole, which means it is under sole ownership, rather than classically being split into multiple ownership.
There was a strong rumour that the Rouzaud family (owners of Champagne Louis Roederer and Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande) were going to buy Clos de Tart.
But Francois Pinault has a history of buying ultimate quality prizes. He bought Chateau Latour in 1993 under the nose of the Wertheimer family, who were under bidders, and took consolation by buying Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Chateau Canon in Saint Emilion.
Clos de Tart joins Francois Pinault's other burgundy estate Domaine Eugenie (formerly Rene Engel) in Vosne Romanee.
Clos de Tart has some significant neighbours in the village of Morey St Denis in Clos des Lambrays owned by Bernard Arnault's LVMH as well as the excellent Domaine Dujac owned by the Seysses family.
The cost of Clos de Tart has not been released, however the rumour is that the price was between €200-€250 million, valuing the estate at c€40 million per hectare.
Decanter magazine and The Drinks Business have written about the purchase.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Bordeaux 2017: The rich and the poor.

How much does it cost to produce a bottle of Bordeaux wine?
To oak or not to oak? The decision could double the production costs.
Alex Hall at Vineyard Intelligence wrote this interesting article, explaining that the costs for producing a Bordeaux AOC wine is approximately €2.88. It is important to remember that over 55% of the 700 million bottles produced per year in Bordeaux are Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superieur. (figures from 2010).
However for the top Cru Classe estates in the Medoc, Pomerol, Graves and Saint Emilion the production costs will be slightly more than €2.88. If new oak barrels are used for ageing the wine there is an immediate extra €3 per bottle. There may be additional capital expenditure such as an optical sorting machine. These amazing innovative machines can cost approximately €150,000 for a Bucher Vaslin or X-Tri machine. But these machines reduce the labour costs of sorting grapes, as 6 or 8 people were previously employed over two or three weeks. The current minimum agricultural wage in France is €9.76 per hour. So the cost for employing 8 people over three weeks would be approximately €10,000. The optical sorting machines also process the grapes extremely quickly and precisely.
Of course there is capital expenditure required in any winery, such as replacing fermentation tanks and up grading pumps and cooling equipment. But these costs can be off set over a large wine estate that might be producing over 500,000 bottles per year.
And finally the cost of the bottle (most top Chateaux use a heavier or engraved bottle) as well as the cork (a longer cork is best), and the label.
Some Chateaux are now investing in ambassadors and marketing people in order to support their brand, but the main sales are still controlled by the wine merchants (negociants) in Bordeaux. So there are minimal costs for sales and distribution.
So the approximate cost for producing a bottle of top quality wine in Bordeaux:
€2.88 basic cost (based on volumes above)
€3.00 if using new oak barrels
€2.00 for extra winery costs
€1.00 for extra marketing
Total= €8.88

Of course these figures can vary tremendously depending on the scale of the estate. As an example Chateau Clinet in Pomerol produces +-48,000 bottles per year, whilst Chateau Lascombes in Margaux produces well over 500,000 bottles per year. So the relative costs may be much lower for a larger estate. But if these wines are sold over €50 per bottle (the wholesale/trade price), then there is a decent margin involved, and sufficient financial cover to see the estate through some difficult years.

How much did it cost to produce each bottle of these exquisite wines?
In Bordeaux we now have Chateaux owned by Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci. Some of the humble farmers have produced wines that have become luxury goods and marketed accordingly as re reassuringly expensive ultimate symbols of excellence. But for the majority of Bordeaux who are fighting for survival at the lower end, it is becoming quite tight. Especially with a difficult climatic year such as 2017, when the spring frosts have devastated many vineyards. We are looking at volumes 30-40% lower than average for the current harvest. If we have two or three bad or difficult years, there will be plenty more 'A Vendre' signs outside Chateaux. But most people seem to buy wine estates with their hearts and dreams rather than their heads.
If you are producing Bordeaux AOC wine at €2.88 and you are struggling to survive with minimal margins and slow sales, then you are hit by a drop in production, it will hurt. This is 55% of Bordeaux production.
The irony of 2017 is that most of the top estates on better terroir have not been effected by the frosts, whilst the majority of other estates on the lower vineyard area in Saint Emilion, parts of the Entre Deux Mer in Moulis and Listrac and in the wider Graves area have been hit hardest. This is the volume of Bordeaux production.

It is cheaper to produce dry white wine or rose wine in Bordeaux and the ROI is quicker.

It is more expensive and more risky to produce sweet wines in Bordeaux.
Sauternes sweet wines should be more expensive than the red wines.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Best value wines from Bordeaux

During the course of the year I taste many many wines. The most intense tasting time is at the beginning of April when I taste the barrel samples in Bordeaux. over the course of two weeks I might taste +- 1000 wines. Of course it is a great pleasure, but it can also be quite tough. Young Bordeaux wines, in particular, are packed with tannins and acidity, which does wonders for your teeth! Also barrel samples are in finished wines, or as Remi Edange (of Domaine de Chevalier) recently described them: 'When you taste barrel samples, it is like buying a part built house. You can see the potential. But the roof and windows have not been finished and the garden is a mess. But maybe in a couple of years it will all come together!'

But I also taste many mature wines during my work. On average at Bella Wine Tours I will taste 10-12 wines per day. Most of these are top Chateaux such as Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion, Clinet, Figeac and Yquem. Although it is an extremely pleasant way to spend your day, it is not actually what I drink on a regular basis. Here below are some of my recent value wines from Bordeaux.

In the tasting room at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
One of the most beautiful Chateaux in Bordeaux.

I have had a link and loyalty to Chateau de la Riviere in Fronsac for over 25 years. The soils are similar to Saint Emilion, the grapes are similar, but the prices are far less. For under €20 you can buy a mature vintage of Chateau de la Riviere. Also they have some large bottles available, which are fantastic for special anniverasies and parties. I bought my son a 15 litre (Nabuchodonosor) bottle from his birth year a couple of years ago.

A standard wine tasting in Bordeaux.
Barton family wines are always consistent
Chateau Leoville Barton was always considered one of the best value Cru Classe wines in the Medoc. Perhaps since 2005 it has become more in line with the other top Saint Julien estates, However it is worth looking out for Langoa Barton (I tasted their 2005 earlier this year in a blind tasting at Farr Vintners and it was exceptional). Also the Barton family have bought a Chateau in Moulis (further south in the Medoc and further inland). Chateau Mauvesin Barton is worth looking out for. The 2014, 2015 and 2016 will be excellent wines for mid term enjoyment. Unfortunately they have been hit heavily by the frost in 2017, so their production will be miniscule, if any.

Sometimes overlooked Chateau Brane Cantenac

It is quite easy to think of the Margaux appellation as Chateau Margaux, Palmer, Rauzan Segla, Giscours and Lascombes. However I adore Chateau d'Issan and Chateau Brane Cantenac as slightly old school quality wines. Both Chateaux have been in family ownership, by prominent Bordeaux families, for many years.....Brane Cantenac is owned by Lucien Lurton and d'Issan is part owned by Emmanuel Cruse.
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2005 and 2010 are exceptional wines.

Not classified, but great quality and value.

There were strong rumours throughout this Summer that Chateau Phelan Segur was up for sale.
I have always rated these wines. Especially the 2009 and 2010. Virtually next door to Chateau Montrose, but a fraction of the price.

A Sunday lunch value selection.

When a good friend, such as Chris Jones, comes for a proper Sunday lunch in Bordeaux, it is always worth trying out different wines. Having purchased our joint of beef (Rosbifs!!!), we browsed the wine selection in Carrefour Cauderan, Bordeaux.
These three wines above were all under €25.
Chateau Meyney has always been a favourite. Next door to Phelan Segur and Montrose. Outstanding value for a quality wine.
Chateau Clarke is the lesser known Rothschild estate in the Medoc. The high percentage of merlot is evident, and this wine is sublime.
Chateau Lespault-Martillac comes from the Bernard stable.....Domaine de Chevalier, Clos des Lunes, Domaine de la Solitude, Guiraud.
This wine from 2012 Pessac Leognan was an exceptional tight concentration of dark cassis and spice. A perfect value and quality wine.