Saturday, 23 April 2011

Fun times in Bordeaux during Primeurs 2010

Pictures and memories of a busy week of tasting in Bordeaux in early April. I was tasting with a team of buyers, journalists and enthusiasts from all around the World. We were studying and assessing the barrel samples of the much lauded 2010 Bordeaux vintage.

Action shots in the tasting room at Chateau Pavie in Saint Emilion. A suspicious Steve(right), a talkative Chip and Bill(at the back) and poor Ken looks like he has just gobbed in his eye.
These are serious wine pros. The chap called Chris(far left) from the Caribbean is the only one who seems to be tasting!......(later in the week Chris thanked me for tooting at him at the traffic lights. He was unused to traffic lights as most Islands did not have them.)

The magnificent inner courtyard at Chateau Canon, Premier Grand Cru Classe Saint Emilion. The glorious flowering Wisteria seemed to be evident everywhere we went. The growing season was roughly 10 days advanced with warm temperatures. However there is a risk of frost right through until early May. We were lucky with the beautiful sunshine and warm evenings.

The cool and relaxed Alexandre Thienpoint(right) at Vieux Chateau Certan explains his mighty fine merlot that he produced in 2010, whilst the hazy Bill Blatch (in perpetual motion) writes notes, tastes wine and also organizes us lesser mortals.

Although we did not taste at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte (this time) it is always fun to pop in to the magnificent 5 star Les Sources de Caudalie. Especially on a sunny day with flowers blooming. The 2010 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte was tasted at another Chateau....the white was absolutely delicious. The red was great too.

Elegant lady at Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe. We were treated to a mini vertical of this excellent Chateau. We tasted in the galleried ballroom. Yes the 2010 was hearty and rich and dark as a dark thing. But the 2009 was delicious, the 2008 approachable, the 2007 savoury and the 2006 tight.

The solitary tower marking one of the most famous landmarks of the Bordeaux area(picture taken from teh terrace of Chateau Pichon Lalande)....Chateau Latour. We did not taste Chateau Latour during the first week of Primeur tastings, but I managed to make a seperate appointment the following week. The 2010 Chateau Latour was a monster of a wine. This will probably be one of the most long lived wines of the vintage. Immense fruit, incredible dark cassis and blackcurrants and thick, rich tannins. A joyous wine if you are going to be around in 30 years.

This is probably the other iconic view of Bordeaux....the avenue leading up to the magnificent Chateau Margaux. They even opened the gates for me this time!!
It was great to see Paul Pontallier again...he was almost lost for words describing the 2010 after using up all the superlatives for the 2009.
There is always an air of slick professionalism at Chateau Margaux. It is good to see young Aurélien Valance coming through the ranks. The new story at Margaux is that there will be a third wine released from the 2009 vintage. This will be below the current second wine (Pavillon Rouge). The third wine will only be available in the UK, USA and Japan. An interesting initiative. I was amazed when I heard last year that 26% of the crop had been declassified.....but now it all makes sense. It will be very interesting to taste this wine and als0 hear what the new name is.

Dave, Dan, Dean, Chris, Rob and Christina deep in thoughts and concentration in the magnificent tasting room at Chateau Pape Clement.

Another treat was a mini vertical offered by the delightful Berenice Lurton at Chateau Climens.
The 2009 and 2007 are hefty botrytis styles. I adored the 2005 for its weight and balance. The 2006 and 2008 are not far behind either.
A truly amazing place to taste wines from the barrels.

We can all talk about how great Climens, Guiraud, Suduiraut, Coutet or Rayne Vigneau are showing in the 2010 vintage. But for many people Sauternes IS Chateau d'Yquem. I was fortunate enough to taste it twice in a week. Once at Chateau Cheval Blanc (a nice way to frehen up!) and once at Yquem. This wine is very different to the exceptional 2009. It will be interesting to see whether it lasts longer. I would be happy with both in my cellar.

Bruno Borie is a slightly alternative character in the rather classic and staid Bordeaux. He owns the stunningly beautiful Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou in Saint Julien (the Chateau with masses of flags out the front). He has transformed the tasting room in to a graffiti lined tube train.......but my oh my he produced a stunning 2010 wine. I thought his 2009 slightly optimistic on the hefty price, but if the 2010 is priced the same it will be clearly one of the best wines produced in Bordeaux in the vintage.
Bruno also always fronts up and explains the vintage and is a great communicator. Top man.

Its tough work all this wine tasting!!!

Thank goodness you can not see my teeth. The tannins were very full and strong (as they should be for young Bordeaux).

The hectic week of tasting and travelling ended with a magnificent tasting at Chateau Lafite Rothschild. This Chateau has hit stratospheric price levels in the last 5 years. Even the second wine Carruades is pushing upwards at a staggering rate.

I love tasting wine and I have worked in wine all my life, but I could not feel that I was side tracked and distracted by the money element to the Lafite situation. Undoubtedly the Carruades 2010 and the Lafite 2010 are stunning wines. The Carruades had a soft sheen and plushness, whilst the 'Grand Vin' was the complete wine. Not clumsy, not too tannic. A perfect poise and balance. True defined linear tannins with fantastic deep purple colours rolling with dark blackcurrants and cassis. An incredible experience, but blighted by the darker market forces. Whatever I think about this wine, it will be traded at £1000 per bottle in 6 months time....and probably £1500 in 3 years time. The wine is good.....but it is a wine.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

UGC Primeurs week 2011

Today I set off bright and early for one of the most interesting week's work of the year. It is the week of tasting in Bordeaux organized by the Union des Grands Crus as well as various Chateaux and other syndicats and negociants.
The week is an opportunity to taste and evaluate the 2010 harvest in Bordeaux, which was picked 6 months ago. The wines have finished their alcoholic and malo lactic fermentations and will now be aged for another 12-14 months in barrels before bottling. Therefore this week is a good time to get a snapshot of the quality and style of the 2010 vintage. However the wines are mere babies and far from the finished product. So it can be quite difficult (and not always pleasant) trying wines that have high tannins, alcohols and searing acidity.
It is a fun time to be in Bordeaux, as there are many international buyers and journalists. It is a great time to meet new and old friends. Every year there seems to be more interest in these tastings (which are for members of the wine trade). A few years ago there seemed to be hundreds of Russian buyers and more recently there seems to be many Chinese and Far Eastern attendees. It just adds to the wonderful diversity and reach of the Bordeaux wine market.
Many of the Chateaux will receive between 1-2000 people in the next week....mainly with pre planned appointments. So it is a big logistical exercise to accommodate everyone. Certainly the top Chateaux (First Growths) need major planning and appointments from many months ago.
A few years ago I started working alongside Bill Blatch of the negociant Vintex. They have an association with Chateau de la Riviere (with whom I have worked for many years as an agent). Bill is a delightful English man who has lived in Bordeaux for many years. He started his own negociant business in 1982 and he is a great authority on the wines of Sauternes and Barsac as well as most other areas. Bill is a charming chap and widely respected throughout Bordeaux.
Here is my working schedule for the next week:

Sunday: Big Tasting at Vintex...over 200 wines on show from dry whites, reds and sweet whites. A great entry point for immersing oneself in to the style of the vintage. This tasting always shows the good, the bad and the ugly.

Monday: Several Tastings to attend in Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The fantastic Salle des Dominicians in Saint Emilion is a great bright airy venue to taste virtually all the top Saint Emilions. Top wine consultants/oeneologists Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt also host different tastings, as well as an interesting event in Pomerol.

Tuesday: Chateau 'hopping'...tastings at specific Chateaux..Pavie, L'Arrosee, Larcis Ducasse, Canon, Cheval Blanc, Vieux Chateau Certan, L'Evangile and La Conseillante as well as the large (usually 30-40 wines on show) UGC tastings at Ch. La Couspaude (Saint Emilion), Ch. La Pointe (Pomerol) and then a zoom over to Ch. Malartic Lagraviere to taste a selection of Graves.

Wednesday: early start at 8am tasting Ch. Calon Segur followed by Phelan Segur, Montrose, Cos Labory, Cos d'Estournel, Mouton Rothschild, Grand Puy Lacoste, lunch at Pontet Canet, then afternoon at Pichon Lalande, Leoville Lascases, Ducru Beaucaillou followed by large tastings at Branaire Ducru (Saint Juliens) and then a monster tasting of Cru Bourgeois at Ch. d'Agassac....with finally a tasting at Ch. Citran

Thursday: another early start at 8.30am tasting La Lagune, then Giscours/du Tertre, d'Issan, Brane Cantenac, Margaux and Lascombes followed by more Margaux wines at the UGC tasting and a quick visit to Lafite in the afternoon.

Friday: tasting Haut Brion at 8am! then Pape Clement, Domaine de Chevalier, Climens, Yquem and Suduiraut...then home to a cup of tea and a lie down.
An interesting, fun and challenging week ahead.