Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bordeaux 2011: Robert Parker's scores

Robert Parker is probably the most influential wine journalist in the World. He writes an excellent magazine called the Wine Advocate, where he reviews wines from all the top wine areas. Parker has a team of tasters and he will eventually retire at some stage. But this one man has probably done more for the global reach of fine Bordeaux wines than any other journalist.
Therefore his scores are eagerly anticipated by the Chateaux in Bordeaux. A good score from Mr Parker can add significant financial security, whilst a low score can knock a reputation.
Here are a few scores from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, that were released on Friday for the 2011 Bordeaux vintage:
Alter Ego 88-90
Angelus 92-95
Ausone 96-100
Batailley 89-91
Beauregard 84-87
Beausejour (Duffau-Lagarrosse) 92-94
Beausejour Becot 90-92
Bellevue Mondotte 92-94+
Berliquet 90-93
Beychevelle 87-89
Bon Pasteur 91-93
Boyd Cantenac 89-91
Branaire Ducru 91-93
Brane Cantenac 90-93
Calon Segur 92-94
Canon 87-89
Canon La Gaffeliere 90-92
Cantemerle 88-90
Cantenac Brown 86-88+
Capbern Gasqueton 85-87
Chapelle d'Ausone 92-94
Chasse Spleen 85-87
Aiguilhe 87-88
Margaux 94-96+
Cheval Blanc 94-96
Cos d'Estournel 90-92
Angludet 88-90
Domaine de Chevalier 87-89
Ducru Beaucaillou 93-95
Faugeres 91-93
Fombrauge 87-89
Fonplegade 92-94
Gazin 88-91+
Giscours 88-90
Gloria 89-91
Grand Puy Ducasse 84-87
Grand Puy Lacoste 89-91
Gruaud Larose 89-91
Haut Bailly 91-93
Haut Batailley 87-90
Haut Brion 92-95
Joanin Becot 89-91
Kirwan 86-88+
La Conseillante 88-91
La Gaffeliere 90-93
La Lagune 90-93
La Mission Haut Brion 93-95
La Riviere 86-88
La Riviere Aria 89-91
La Tour Carnet 89-92
Lafite Rothschild 90-93
Lafleur 92-94
Lafon Rochet 85-87
Lagrange 85-87
Langoa Barton 86-88+
Larcis Ducasse 89-93
Larmande 83-85
Lascombes 91-93
Latour 93-95
Le Pin 94-96
L'Eglise Clinet 92-95
Leoville Barton 90-92+
Leoville Lascases 93-95+
Leoville Poyferre 91-94
L'Evangile 88-90
Lynch Bages 90-93
Magrez Fombrauge 92-95
Malescot St Exupery 91-93
Montrose 91-93
Mouton Rothschild 93-96
Palmer 92-94+
Pape Clement 92-94
Pavie 93-95
Pavie Decesse 92-94
Pavie Macquin 92-94
Pedesclaux 86-88
Petit Village 87-89
Petrus 90-93
Phelan Segur 89-91
Pichon Longueville Baron 90-92+
Pichon Longueville Comtesse 92-94
Pontet Canet 93-95
Potensac 87-89
Poujeaux 87-89
Rauzan Segla 91-94
Smith Haut Lafitte 91-93
Sociando Mallet 90-93
Talbot 87-89
Tronquoy Lalande 88-90
Troplong Mondot 91-93
Trotanoy 91-93
Vieux Chateau Certan 94-96

It is very interesting to see Robert Parkers notes. As with everything in life this is only one man's views and not neccessarily the right or wrong view.(I disagree with a few of his views, but that might make the wines better value!!!) But Parker's likes and or dislikes carry a lot of weight. It will be very interesting to see which Chateau release their wines later this week.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chateaux Pontet Canet and Lynch Bages 2011

Two Chateaux that have produced stunning wines over the last few years have been the 5th Growth properties Chateau Pontet Canet and Chateau Lynch Bages in the Pauillac appelation.
Both properties regularly perform above their official 5th Growth classification from 1855.
Chateau Lynch Bages is affectionately known as 'Lunch Bags' in the UK trade. It has links from the Irishman Thomas Lynch who settled in the Bordeaux region in the 18th century. The property is now owned by the Cazes family, who have maintained and developed the vineyards and the winery. Jean Charles Cazes is the young man now at the helm of this 115 hectare estate.
The main wine produced at the Chateau is red Chateau Lynch Bages, whilst the second label is Echo de Lynch Bages and there is a small amount of white produced.

Chateau Pontet Canet is one of the stars of the Bordeaux region. It has only been owned by three families in the last 300 years....originally Jean Francois de Pontet in the 18th Century, then the Cruse family for 110 years during the 19th and 20th centuries and now (since 1975) by the Tesseron family.
This estate of 81 hectares (under vine) is situated next door to Chateau Mouton Rothschild. The estate has spent the best part of the last 10 years converting to organic and biodynamic viticultural practices. The recent wines 2008, 2009 and 2010 have been quite exceptional. There is always a purity of sweet ripe fruit at the core balanced with dense dark Autumn fruits.

I adore both Chateaux and they consistently make great wines. However this year maybe difficult.
Since 2008 the price for the wines has doubled. Interestingly the Chateaux have copied each others pricing over the last few years:

Prices ex negociant:     Approx. Current UK retail price per bottle:
  • 2008    €48      Pontet Canet £75              Lynch Bages £80
  • 2009    €72      Pontet Canet £160            Lynch Bages £120
  • 2010    €100    Pontet Canet £120            Lynch Bages £115

Both Chateaux have produced excellent wines in 2011, however the global market has become more and more tricky. The investors, collectors and wine enthusiasts throughout the world got very excited by the 2009 and 2010 vintages. Is there any money left to buy the 2011s?
What price will these two wine estates release their wines?
My estimate is that they will be €60-€70 per bottle................

Bordeaux 2011: Top wines

My top red wines from tasting the 2011 barrel samples:

1. Chateau Palmer
2. Chateau Pontet Canet
3. Chateau Pichon Baron
4. Chateau Haut Brion
5. Vieux Chateau Certan
6. Chateau Lafite Rothschild
7. Chateau Haut Bailly
8. Domaine de Chevalier
9. Clos du Clocher
10. Chateau Figeac

My top sweet white wines from 2011 samples:

1. Chateau de Fargues
2. Chateau d'Yquem
3. Chateau Coutet
4. Chateau Climens
5. Chateau Guiraud

My top dry whites from 2011 samples:

1. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
2. Domaine de Chevalier
3. Chateau Malarctic Lagraviere
4. Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
5. Chateau Marjosse.

NB I am yet to taste at Chateau Latour and Ausone....I will taste in May. I will re taste at Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Lafite, Haut Brion and Cheval Blanc over the next few weeks.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2011, early price release

The 'Primeur' campaign has certainly come to life this year. With the news that Chateau Latour will not be offering their wines via the traditional negociant distribution at the end of last week, today we had the release of the first tranche for Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Premier Grand Cru Classe, Pauillac.
This is a bold and ballsy move from the Chateau. There were strong rumours from Monsieur Christophe Salin, the managing director of Domaine Baron de Rothschild's estates during the Primeur tastings two weeks ago that they would release low and early. I am pleased that they have had the courage of their convictions.

The price released ex Chateau is €350 per bottle and this will be sold ex negociant at €450 to the international wine buyers. Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2011 is now being traded at £5500 per case in London.

This price is in fact a reduction of 25% from the 2010 price (€600), but it is a 246% increase from the 2008 release price (€130). Many people tasted the Chateau Lafite at the Chateau and comparisons were made to the 2008, 2004 and 2001 vintage.
It is interesting to see how these vintages are currently being traded on the market:

2011= £5500 per 12 bottles
2008= £7200
2004= £6000
2001= £6000

So the release of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2011 is in fact a true reflection of where the current fine wine market is trading for other comparable vintages. The Chateau have gained significantly by increasing the price to a new level (from the 2008 price), for what is perceived as a similar quality. Rather than let middle men, investors, speculators cream off the 200% price difference the Chateau have closed the gap. It will be very interesting to see where the 2011 is trading in comparison to 2008, 2004 and 2001 in 6 months time. On the basis that 2011 is a good vintage this is definitely a BUY in comparison to wines on the market.
I personally thought that Chateau Lafite Rothschild produced a magnificent wine in 2011. I know they had issues with the growing season and they suffered partial hailstorms in the vineyards just before picking on September 1st. But the wine has a great deep spicy bramble core. It is real cassis classy Cabernet Sauvignon, with an elegant polished layer of complexity.

I applaud Chateau Lafite Rothschild for getting their price out early and in many ways setting the tone for others to follow. We do not know how much stock was allocated in this first tranche release. They might have been simply testing the water. Let's see who follows later this week.
On a personal note I really did like the 2011 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, but I felt Chateau Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages and Pichon Baron as equal wines......and let's hope at a fraction of the price.

The other key factor that may influence prices are the notes from Robert Parker, which will be released in a few weeks. Sometimes Chateaux prefer to wait for Parker's pronouncement and then set their price. This might positively or negatively effect the pricing and positioning of traded wines.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Chateau Latour 2011 : Change of Strategy

The twittersphere was buzzing yesterday as a result of quite a dramatic decision by Chateau Latour, the First growth wine estate in Pauillac, Bordeaux. The Chateau has decided not to release allocations of the 2011 wine via the negociants and will instead sell the wine at a later date. In effect the Chateau are taking away the opportunity for people to buy at the Primeur/Futures price and then secure stock at the time of bottling. The Chateau will hold on to all of the wine and then release certain quantities in to the market at a later date.
This means a significant investment from the owners of Chateau latour and is contrary to what most chateaux use the Primeur system for.....which is a big contribution to positive cashflow.

The news was announced via letter to the 12 or 13 negociants who had remained to receive allocations. This is not unexpected as Chateau Latour had changed their philosophy over the years.
They had severely cut the amount of negociants with whom they dealt. They had savagely cut people who had loyally bought and promoted their wines. Unfortunately the negociant with whom I work in Bordeaux was one of the victims.....despite Bill Blatch having previously worked for Harveys (who owned Chateau Latour back in the 1970s) and having a very good relationship with the personnel at the Chateau.

Chateau Latour released their 2009 and 2010 wines via their tight distribution network at high prices and with very small quantities. This obviously raised the price and investor/collector desire for this wine within their portfolio.
It is an interesting strategy to try and control the price of your wine in the market. But there is so much money involved in the First Growth wines of Bordeaux nowadays, that they probably feel that they don't need other people to distribute their wines. They want to control the price, control the destiny and control the margin.
I am not sure whether other First Growths will follow suit and I am very sure that many other Chateaux will definitely NOT follow suit, as Primeur sales are contribute to a very positive cashflow.
The Bordeaux system of trade between the Chateaux, the courtiers and the negociants has its critics, but it is a system that seems to function very well to sell and distribute a large amount of wine to all corners of the globe.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bordeaux 2011. En Primeur tastings

I have just finished a very long week tasting some interesting wines in Bordeaux.
I have written about the vintage previously and the unusual and awkward growing season.
I can now say that 2011 is quite a good vintage in Bordeaux. The problem with 2011 is that it has appeared on the scene after two incredible high quality vintages of 2009 and 2010. These two vintages set a new precedent for high pricing in Bordeaux, so we now need some realistic adjustments (significant reductions).
For the lower tier Chateaux and up to Cru Bourgeois standard there will be very little change. Perhaps a 5 or 10% reduction in cost. But these Chateaux did not double, treble or quadruple their price in the last two years.
The issues are going to really come in the top echelon of the Cru Classe wines. We should see a reduction of at least 50% in order to get some interest back in the market.

I spent this year tasting with Bill Blatch and our usual tasting team of international buyers, friends and journalists from Holland, England, China, Hong Kong and America. This year is Bill Blatch's last proper Primeur tasting as a full part of the Vintex team. Bill founded the negociant business Vintex 30 years ago and he has been tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux for the last 42 years. He is a fantastic person to taste with and a font of knowledge, as well as a very decent person.
The Saturday evening before the main Primeur week was spent clebrating 30 years of Vintex at the Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux as well as a send off for Bill Blatch. The party was very well attended by the great and the good of Bordeaux. It was a real tribute to how many people feel towards Bill and what he has done over the years. Fortunately James Gregoire who owns Chateau de la Riviere (where I was staying) and his wife Monique gave me a lift to the party. I spoke to Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, and congratulated them on their recent 100 points from Robert Parker for their 2009 red. I saw Aline Bayly(Chateau Coutet) the great ambassador for Barsac and Sauternes. I bumped in to Dominique Febve (Lascombes), Berenice Lurton (Climens), Xavier Planty (Guiraud) as well as the delightful Jean Marie and Claudette Constans (Chateau du Pin). I chatted horses, horse racing and three day eventing with the lovely Beatrice and Benjamin Mazeau of Chateau Roustaing in the Entre deux Mers. It was a jolly evening and a perfect start to a busy week. I left as the Jazz band was in full voice.
The next day I had a magnificent breakfast at Chateau de la Riviere in my special tower overlooking the vineyards. Then it was off to Bordeaux to taste a wide selection of 2011 wines. This was the Vintex tasting, so we were offering our exclusive wines, our partner wines and a selction of wines that we have great relationships with. Many of the guests who attended the Saturday evening party were represented by their wines!!
We had a very good turn out of top quality journalists and buyers, but certainly less volume of people than the previous two years.
It is a lovely tasting to really get immersed in the wines.

On Monday I was all around St Emilion at the many tastings. The magnificent Salle de Dominiciens is a fantastic venue as well as Chateau Villemaurine for the Grand Cru Classe wines and the Biodyvin tasting out at Chateau Fonroque. I also popped in to the Pomerol tasting in the Town Hall. The Pomerols were very good.
I had an excellent lunch as a guest of Bernard Magrez at Chateau Fombrauge as I have written previously here. A delicious lunch.

On Tuesday it was time to visit specific Chateaux and taste. We started at 8.30am at Chateau Pavie, which is probably one of the biggest and most extracted styles of Saint Emilion. The perfect breakfast = chunks of tannins. I thought the Pavie Decesse 2011 particularly good. Then it was on to Chateau Soutard to taste a wide range of Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe and Premier Grand Cru Classe. Chateau Figeac and Beausejour Becot really stood out here.
Then we had an appointment at Chateau Cheval Blanc. This was interesting as it was the first time that I had the opportunity to see the incredible new cellar. From the outside it looks like a space ship has landed next to the old Chateau. It is like an elongated twisted wave. Most odd. But on the inside it is a lovely spacious light area for winemaking, wine storage and tasting. The different tanks are all cement and they are specifically linked to the parcels of vines that are planted in the vineyard. A fascinating place and somewhere I look forward to going back with Bella Wine Tours. We tasted the Cheval Blanc and Petit Cheval as well as their other St Emilions, then we sneeked through to a back room where the delightful Sandrine Garbay (the winemaker at Chateau d'Yquem) was waiting for us with a chilled bottle of Chateau d'Yquem 2011. This was delicious after so many rich tannic reds. The Yquem seemed to have perfect balance, fruit and acidity. It was a wine that lingered on the palate until we arrived at our next appointment at the nearby Chateau L'Evangile in Pomerol.
Chateau L'Evangile is owned and run by the Rothschild family (who own Lafite). It was my first time to taste at the Chateau. The chai is black, it is sombre and dark. A weird place. The 2011 L'Evangile was an excellent wine, but the tasting experience was cold, unwelcomimng and odd.
Next stop one of my favourite visits....Vieux Chateau Certan. Alexandre Thienpoint was presenting his wine in the cellars alongside his son Guillaume. The VCC 2011 has a high percentage of Cabernet Franc. It is a delicious multi layered smooth style, which Alexandre compared to the magnificent 1983. No holding back here for shouting about the quality of the 2011 vintage.
Wednesday was an early start at 8.30am in the northern Medoc village of St Estephe at Chateau Calon Segur, followed by tastings at Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Grand Puy Lacoste and lunch at Chateau Pontet Canet. This was a truly magnificent morning. the highlights were Ch. Tronquoy Lalande (made by the Montrose team), Lafite was exceptional, Mouton was awkward....but I often find it is a tricky wine to taste en primeur. Haut Batailley (owned by Xavier Borie of GPL) was fantastic and Pontet Canet was pure, linear and exceptional.
An interesting comment from Xavier Borie at Grand Puy Lacoste that he thought the 2011 vintage was similar to the 2001 and had characteristics of 2008 (but bigger tannins).
The lunch at Pontet Canet was relaxed and calm with an enjoyable 2003 Chateau Pontet Canet.
The afternoon started at Leoville Lascases, which I found slightly disappointing, then I dipped in to several tastings where I covered some great wines such as Pichon Longueville, Pichon Comtesse, Lynch Bages, Talbot, Leoville Barton and a few others. The Pichon Longueville Baron was an incredible wine and I look forward to retasting it next month at the Chateau.

On Thursday I was racing about in the morning to make sure that I had tasted the key wines and also to schedule a tasting at Chateau Palmer for after my visit to Chateau Margaux. These are always interesting to try next to each other as they have very similar soils within the Margaux appellation, but their grape mix is very different. Margaux normally has a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, while Palmer has more than 50% Merlot. I have a strong affinity for Chateau Margaux and their very professional and welcoming team. They have produced incredible wines in 2009 and 2010, but this year (2011) I strongly believe that Chateau Palmer is a better wine. The problem at Chateau Palmer is that the yields are much smaller than normal (25hl/ha). They can produce up to 45 hl/ha, but due to the uneven growing season and the ongoing drought the fruit was smaller and less plentiful. But the quality is awesome.

Friday morning was an early start at 8am tasting Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion. A great set of wines. This year I prefered Haut Brion red to La Mission red. The dry whites were very good....especially La Mission.
10am was an eagerly awaited appointment at Chateau Climens with the elegant Berenice Lurton and the cellar master Frederic Nivelle. We always taste the different 'lots' from the barrels and get a feeling of the vintage rather than a final blend.

Then Berenice treated us to a vertical of Chateau Climens 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2005 was very apricot and tropical. The 2006 had a distinct fig and spice edge. The 2007 has precise spice and great balance. The 2008 was tropical again and the 2009 was pure class. A fantastic selection.
Then on to a small Chateau dating from the 14th century on the top of a hill ........Chateau d'Yquem.
This was the third time that I had tried Chateau d'Yquem 2011 during the week. But it was good to taste again....would anyone say no to Yquem? This was a complete acknowledgement that 2011 is a good year for reds, but it is an exceptional year for Sauternes wines. The Yquem was very good, whilst other Sauternes that I enjoyed at tastings were Coutet (very stylish), Guiraud, Doisy Daene, Suduiraut and the absolutely outstanding Chateau de Fargues. In fact I think Chateau de Fargues was my very favourite Sauternes wine tasted.
After a delicious lunch at the Auberge Des Vignes in Sauternes I had to go to a meeting in Bordeaux and then on to more tasting in Saint Emilion. That was the end of the tasting week, however I was busy over the easter weekend running two wine tours for Bella Wine Tours.

We now await the prices for the 2011 wines. We also will evaluate the demand from all international markets. An exciting time to sell a good Bordeaux vintage. Let's see if anyone has got any money left in this World??

Monday, 2 April 2012

Bordeaux 2011. What is the best area?

As always during the Primeur tastings in Bordeaux there is rumour and speculation about which wines are 'the best'. With the advancement of instantaneous social media there are immediate opinions.....'Loved Chateau XX....surely the finest of the vintage?' or similar hyperbole.
Considering I have tasted for the last two days....and I still have 6 more tasting days ahead, I can not give a definitive opinion. HOWEVER the rumours about the Pomerol appellation being consistent and one of the better performing areas are certainly unfolding.
I tasted a full range of Pomerol wines in the miniscule village of Pomerol today. There was an intensity and balance of fruit/tannin/acidity that seems lacking in other areas. Certainly not all the wines were perfect, but Chateau Le Bon Pasteur (owned by Dany and Michel Rolland) , Clos du Clocher, Petit Village(owned by Axa), Croix du Gay, Le Moulin and Le Gay 2011s were all tip top wines today.

I am looking forward to exploring more wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol tomorrow, when I will taste at Chateau Pavie, Cheval Blanc, L'Evangile and Vieux Chateau Certan. The latter Chateau known as VCC has been incredible in 2009 and 2010 for the purity and linear excellence of the fruit and the harmonious balance. I am already hearing good thinngs about VCC 2011 so I am eager to get tasting.

I enjoyed an excellent lunch today as a guest of the charismatic and hard working Bernard Magrez (the chap who owns Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan, as well as a host of other wineries around the world) at his beautiful Chateau Fombrauge in Saint Emilion.

I sat with an English journalist, an Australian wine buyer and a Belgian retired wine investor! It was an entertaining lunch prepared by the team of Joel Robuchon (one of the best chefs in the world who currently has 26 michelin stars across his 17 restaurants around the world). The saddle of lamb as the main couse was perfect with the Chateau Fombrauge 2006 and the Chateau Pape Clement 2008. A very pleasant interlude to tasting young tannic, tough barrel samples from the 2011 vintage.

Bernard Magrez gave a speech where he apologised that Joel Robuchon could not be there in person, due to a French air traffic control strike his private jet had been grounded.
However the food and wine were excellent even if Joel was stuck on the tarmac somewhere else.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Bordeaux 2011 Initial Tasting thoughts

I am back in Bordeaux to taste the barrel samples of the 2011 vintage.
I have already written about the vintage here and this is the first opportunity to really immerse myself in the wines and draw my personal conclusions.
I tasted at the Vintex negociant tasting today a wide selection of dry whites, reds and sweet whites.
This year is slightly different. I am expanding my role with the negociant Vintex, in order to work closer with their UK customers, so it was important to be on the ball. We have an exciting range of wines(at all prices) and a healthy allocation of the top wines to offer. However the market will only buy if the quality and price is correct. Having just had two of the most extraordinary(and exceptional quality) vintages of 2009 and 2010, it will be very interesting to see whether the 2011s will be up to scratch.
I tasted over 100 wines today and my initial thoughts are that the smaller Chateau wines, ie the Entre Deux Mers and the Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur and Cote de Bordeaux appellations are producing lovely fruity styles that will sell as regular easy drinking wines under £15. The Barsac and Sauternes wines are tasting extremely well in 2011...I tasted Chateau Coutet, Guiraud, Bastor Lamontagne, Nairac, Doisy Daene, Doisy Vedrine, Suduiraut, Rayne Vigneau, Raymond Lafon and Partarrieu today as well as a few others.

I also tasted a range of Saint Emilions, Pomerols and Medoc wines. The Pomerols (Chateau Beauregard in particular) and Saint Emilion (Chateau Beausejour Becot) were good, however I came unstuck in the Medoc. A few wines shone, such as Chateau Senejac and Lascombes but there was a green character and pronounced acidity that was not appealing. The balance of fruit seemed to be awkward and the dark, rich deep spice that characterised the 2010 was not present nor the voluptuous smooth rich style of 2009.

I am tasting in Saint Emilion and Pomerol tomorrow at six different tastings, so it will be interesting to assess and work out the intrinsic styles oof this vintage.
My early opinions are that whatever the quality of this vintage, the pricing will be crucial. The top Chateaux have raised the prices three fold and more in the last two years. The global wine market can only take so much! We might need to have a re assessment of the pricing and reductions of 40-50% for the top wines in order to move the stock.

I will be tasting at Chateau Cheval Blanc, Pavie, L'Evangile, Vieux Chateau Certan, Calon segur, Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Grand Puy Lacoste, Pontet Canet, Leoville LasCases, Ducru Beaucaillou, Margaux, Haut Brion, Climens and Yquem over the next few days as well as all of the other wines produced in Bordeaux. Lets see how my opinions change over the next few days....