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??