Friday 29 November 2019

What is Phenolic ripeness? And is climate change effecting grapes ripening?

There are certain words that pop up in my day to day work and I always assume that I know what they mean. Sometimes these words are rather specific to the wine world. One such expression is 'phenolic ripeness'.
A phenol is an aromatic organic compound with the molecular formula C6H5OH.
According to the Drugbank website:
 'Phenol is an antiseptic and disinfectant. It is active against a wide range of micro-organisms including some fungi and viruses, but is only slowly effective against spores. Phenol has been used to disinfect skin and to relieve itching. Phenol is also used as an oral analgesic or anesthetic in products such as Chloraseptic to treat pharyngitis. Additionally, phenol and its related compounds are used in surgical ingrown toenail treatment, a process termed phenolization. Research indicates that parental exposure to phenol and its related compounds are positively associated with spontaneous abortion. During the second world war, phenol injections were used as a means of execution by the Nazis. Phenol is a toxic compound whose vapours are corrosive to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.'

 Clearly the amount of phenol in grapes is quite small and not poisonous, but it is an important molecule that has to be assessed.

These look ripe, but are they????

Justin Howard-Sneyd MW explains phenolic ripeness in Decanter magazine:

 'As grapes ripen, sugar levels increase, and acidity levels decrease. Fruits in the wild spread their genes by persuading animals or birds to eat their fruit; they then excrete the seeds, hopefully in a favourable spot. The fruit must taste delicious, so flavour molecules build up as the grape approaches ripeness.
Winemakers often use potential alcohol as a guide to when the grapes should be picked. But the ideal level of potential alcohol for a particular wine, say 13%, does not always correspond to either the flavour ripeness (when the grapes taste great) or phenolic ripeness. Phenols are complex molecules, including tannins, in the skins of the grape that can contribute bitter flavours. As the grape approaches ripeness, they change from green and bitter to pleasantly astringent, to soft and ripe-tasting.
If noticeably bitter flavours dominate the palate, then the wine is not considered to have achieved phenolic ripeness. If, however, the tannins of a red wine are supple and rounded, then the grapes used were phenolically ripe when picked.'

 According to 'An analysis of seed colour during ripening of cabernet sauvignon grapes' in the South African Journal of Enology and Viticulture
' Achieving phenolic maturity is a strong reason to delay the harvest, even after technological maturity occurs; in addition, climate change accentuates the delay between technological maturity and phenolic maturity (Meléndez et al., 2013). Bindon et al. (2013) highlighted that consumers preferred Cabernet Sauvignon wines from grapes harvested later.' 

Another description of phenolic ripeness , which makes sense is 'physiological ripeness'.
My sons helping with the grape harvest a few years ago in the Languedoc. They were keen to taste and assess the ripeness.

For me phenolic ripeness is the precise moment when all the important elements of acidity, sweet ripeness and tannins are in perfect balance. Grapes can be tested in laboratories for sugar levels and potential alcohols, but often a human assessment is required to assess this phenolic ripeness. When I walk through the vineyards every year in Bordeaux and the Languedoc at the end of the Summer, the grapes are looking lush and full, but they are changing all the time. The energy of the vine is transmitted from the leaves and foliage onto the development and ripening of the bunches of grapes.
When I taste the grapes, I look for the colour of the pips and the intensity of the grape skins. The pips are a crucial element for determining the phenolic ripeness. I am looking for darker brown pips rather than green astringent pips.

The 2019 harvest that has just taken place in Bordeaux is looking very good quality. However it will be very interesting to analyse the picking dates when I taste the barrel samples in April 2020. Some vignerons (such as Chateau Canon in Saint Emilion) went early to pick the grapes, whilst others (Chateau Clinet) waited a little longer. Both Chateaux make exceptional quality wines, but they have different philosophies for production. Did they pick early to maintain a fresh acidity and keep the alcohols lower or did they pick later to gain maximium phenolic ripeness?

Friday 16 August 2019

Treasury Wine Estates buys Chateau Cambon la Pelouse in Bordeaux

Penfolds buys a Chateau!
Treasury Wine Estates(TWE) announced yesterday that they have just bought Chateau Cambon la Pelouse in the Medoc region of Bordeaux.This is the first acquisition in France for one of the largest premium wine producers in Australia, New Zealand and America.

Chateau Cambon la Pelouse

Jean-Pierre Marie who bought the Chateau in 1996 and sold it yesterday to Treasury Wine Estates.

The well stocked cellar at the Chateau in the Medoc.

TWE used to be the wine division of Foster's beer. Beringer Blass, Southcorp and Penfolds are all in the TWE stable.  TWE was spun off from Fosters in 2011 and has had a chequered financial rollercoater ever since. There has been significant write downs and class actions due to destroying cheap stock in the USA.
 TWE is an enormous business employing over 3400 people and has a turnover of over 2.5 billion AUD. However under CEO, Michael Clarke, TWE has had significant growth predominantly based on North East Asia. The share price has risen from A$4 when Clarke took on his role in 2014 to a current price of $A17.08 (16th August 2019)
TWE have some of the most iconic Australian brands within their portfolio.....Penfolds, Lindemans and Rosemount are the leaders, but Seppelt, Leo Buring, Wolf Blass and Wynn's are also strong quality brands with great reputations.
It is interesting to see that TWE have only now purchased a producer in France. They have previously had joint ventures in Champagne with Thienot. TWE have also invested extensively in the USA with barnds such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer, Stag's Leap and Sterling amongst others.

Chateau Cambon la Pelouse have 65 hectares (160 acres) in the Haut Medoc appellation, with a small vineyard of half a hectare in the prestigious Margaux appellation. The Chateau employs 13 full time staff and has a good reputation for good quality well priced wines. The Chateau is not classified in the 1855 classification, but it is a Cru Bourgeois.

So why does Treasury Wine Estates buy into one of the most classical wine regions of the world?
According to Derek Nichol, Supply Chain Director, Europe for TWE, 'France is an important sourcing region for TWE, so we are delighted to announce this agreement.' They might not own any producers in France up to now, but they have certainly been busy sourcing wines.
The expansion and profitability for TWE has come through promoting their branded wines(and other brands) via their own distribution outlets into the developing Chinese markets.
Chateau Cambon la Pelouse might be a slightly different marketing proposition than some of the other TWE brands, but the Chinese interest in Bordeaux wines is significant.

So, let's see how an established classic wine region such as Bordeaux performs with the know-how of new world marketeers and sales distribution. An exciting story to follow. Treasury Wine Estates has a vision to be the most celebrated wine company. After years of consolidation, takeovers and write downs, TWE seem to have a clear vertical integrated business and they seem to be operating with the right wines in the right markets.
The actual amount paid for Chateau Cambon la Pelouse was not divulged by Treasury Wine Estates.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

What does Grand Cru mean in Champagne?

We have already explored what the term 'Grand Cru' means in Bordeaux and Burgundy. But what does 'Grand Cru' mean in Champagne?

The term 'Grand Cru' is totally different in Champagne, as it refers to the village rather than the specific vineyard (like Burgundy) or the specific estate name (like Bordeaux).
There are currently 17 villages in Champagne that are authorised to use the term 'Grand Cru'.
These villages are:
Ambonnay, Avize, Ay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly Champagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-Sur-Marne, Verzenay, Verzy.

The reason that the villages were declared 'Grand Cru' status was linked to previous problems between the grape growers and the Champagne houses. In fact 100 years ago(in 1910 and 1911) there were riots and rampaging in Ay, Damery and Hautvillers in protest by the growers against the seemingly exploitative Champagne houses and also the use of cheaper grapes from outside the (yet to be) defined Champagne area, being used in the production of sparkling wines under the Champagne name.
The 'Echelle de Crus' system which developed after the riots gives each village a % possibility for setting their price. Every year the Champagne appellation sets the price for one kilogram of grapes. The Grand Cru vineyards would receive 100% of the price, whilst Premier Cru vineyards (one tier below) might only receive 95% of the price and Villages without Grand Cru or Premier Cru status would receive anything below 90%.
So the term 'Grand Cru' is used for recognising certain areas of land that produce better grapes, but it is not very precise.

Some of the millions of Champagne bottles nestling underground in the cellars. 

Some Champagne houses use the term 'Grand Cru' on their more prestigious blends, if the grapes have been sourced from within the above mentioned 17 villages. However the nature of Champagne is that the blends can come from many different areas, so being exclusively 'Grand Cru' is not always a guarantee of superior quality.

One of my favourites!

An important man in Champagne: Dom Perignon.
 Interestingly Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne, two of the most premium Champagnes produced, do not use the terms 'Grand Cru' on their front labels. However these ultra premium wines will undoubtedly have a high percentage of Grand Cru grapes within their blend.

Champagne prides itself on links to Royalty and being served at the most important occassions.
The branding of the Champagne houses and their prestige and associated links with high society, fashion and style are more important than the expression 'Grand Cru'.
There are only a few Champagnes that use specific vineyard sites on their labels, as most of the Champagnes are blends from different areas and different ages.
However Krug Clos du Mesnil refers to a specific vineyard in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

So the term 'Grand Cru' really does have three very different meanings in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Beware when asking for 'Grand Cru' when buying wine. It should mean the best, but be careful!

Tuesday 6 August 2019

What does Grand Cru mean in Burgundy?

The small vineyard of Romanée Conti behind the village of Vosne-Romanée.

The term ‘Grand Cru’ used in Burgundy refers to the top 33 recognised vineyards.
These 33 vineyards cover 550 hectares of vines, which is approximately 2% of the total Burgundy area.(29000 hectares). Grand Cru can refer to red wine (356 hectares) or white wine (194 hectares).
The original Grand Cru vineyards were mapped out by the Cistercian monks who enclosed many of the vineyards with walls to mark the limit and also to protect from wind. The word 'Clos' is often used in Burgundy to describe a vineyard. The etymology of this word links to the word 'enclosed', as a 'clos' vineyard has to have at least three walls around it and therefore be enclosed. Over time many of the Grand Cru vineyards have been divided and sub divided due to the Napoleonic laws of succession, which state that you can not give your whole estate to one child, you have to divide the estate equally between your children.
However there remains a few ‘monopole’ vineyards, which are owned by one person. These vineyards have a premium to the other Grand Crus. As an example the 7.3 hectares of Clos de Tart in Morey St Denis were sold recently for €200-250 million. Read about it here
The significant difference between the Bordeaux and Burgundy ‘Grand Cru’ usage is that Burgundy is very detailed and clear for the exact limit and position of the vineyard. Whereas in Bordeaux the term is used for a Chateau (estate), and over time that estate might plant more vines or buy neighbouring estates and incorporate them into their own. For example all the 1855 First Growths in Bordeaux (Grand Cru Classé 1855) have bought more land and changed their size since 1855.
The Grand Cru of Burgundy are mainly in the Cotes de Nuits north of Beaune and the Cote de Beaune mainly south of Beaune. But there are also some important Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis, which tend to be much more affordable.
The most famous Grand Cru is the monopole vineyard Romanée Conti, owned by Domaine de la Romanee Conti (DRC). This 1.76 hectare vineyard of Pinot Noir above the village of Vosne Romanee produces 5500 bottles per year. Compare this to Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux or Latour who are all producing at least 200,000 of their first wine as well as second and third wines.
DRC is highly sought after all around the world. The distribution is tightly managed and you normally have to buy some other top quality wines in order to get the specific Romanée Conti wine.
But the price is normally quite high! The current average price per bottle is over £15,000 on Wine Searcher.

Here is a list of all the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy:

                                              Region.            Village.                 White/Red.   Vineyard area
Chablis Grand Cru.               Chablis.            Chablis                  White.    104.08 hectares (257 acres)
Chambertin.                        Cote de Nuits     Gevrey-Chambertin. Red        13.57 hectares (33.5 acres)
Chambertin-Clos de Beze   Côte de Nuits    Gevrey-Chambertin  Red        15.78 hectares (39 acres)
Chapelle-Chambertin.         Côte de Nuits    Gevrey-Chambertin  Red.         5.48 hectares (13.5 acres)
Charmes-Chambertin.         Cote de Nuits    Gevrey-Chambertin. Red.        29.57 hectares (73.1 acres)
Griotte-Chambertin             Cote de Nuits     Gevrey-Chambertin  Red.        2.63 hectares (6.5 acres)
Latricières-Chambertin.      Cote de Nuits     Gevrey-Chambertin. Red.       7.31 hectares (18.1 acres)
Mazis-Chambertin              Cote de Nuits     Gevrey-Chambertin   Red        8.95 hectares (22.1 acres)
Mazoyères-Chambertin      Cote de Nuits      Gevrey-Chambertin   Red        1.82 hectares (4.5 acres)
Ruchottes-Chambertin        Cote de Nuits     Gevrey-Chambertin. Red         3.25 hectares (8.0 acres)
Bonnes-Mares.                    Cote de Nuits     Morey St Denis.        Red.       14.71 hectares (36.3 acres)
Clos de la Roche                 Cote de Nuits     Morey St Denis         Red.       16.52 hectares (40.8 acres)
Clos des Lambrays             Cote de Nuits     Morey St Denis         Red         8.52 hectares (21.1 acres)
Clos de Tart                        Cote de Nuits     Morey St Denis         Red         7.30 hectares (18.00 acres)
Clos Saint-Denis                Cote de Nuits     Morey St Denis         Red          6.24 hectares (15.4 acres)
Bonnes-Mares                   Cotes de Nuits     Chambolle-Musigny Red.       14.71 hectares (36.3 acres)
Musigny                            Cotes de Nuits     Chambolle-Musigny Red        10.67 hectares (26.4 acres)
Clos de Vougeot.               Cotes de Nuits     Vougeot                     Red      49.43 hectares (122.1 acres)
Echezeaux                         Cotes de Nuits     Flagey-Echezeaux    Red       35.77 hectares (88.4 acres)
Grands Echezeaux            Cotes de Nuits     Flagey-Echezeaux     Red         8.78 hectares (21.7 acres)
La Grande Rue                  Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         1.65 hectares (4.1 acres)
La Romanée                      Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         0.84 hectares (2.1 acres)
La Tâche                           Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         5.08 hectares (12.6 acres)
Richebourg                       Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         7.89 hectares (19.5 acres)
Romanée-Conti                Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         1.76 hectares (4.3 acres)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant     Cotes de Nuits    Vosne-Romanée         Red         8.45 hectares (20.9 acres)
Corton                             Cotes de Beaune Pernand-Vergelesses Red/White 97.53 hectares (241 acres)
Corton                             Cotes de Beaune Ladoix-Serrigny        Red/White 97.53 hectares (241 acres)
Corton Charlemagne      Cotes de Beaune  Ladoix-Serigny          White     52.08 hectares (128.7 acres)
Corton                             Cotes de Beaune Aloxe Corton             Red/White 97.53 hectares(241 acres)
Batard-Montrachet          Cotes de Beaune Puligny Montrachet   White       11.73 hectares (29 acres)
Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Cotes de Beaune Puligny Montrachet White 3.58 hectares (8.8 acres)
Chevalier-Montrachet.     Cotes de Beaune  Puligny-Montrachet   White       7.47 hectares (18.5 acres)
Montrachet                       Cotes de Beaune  Puligny-Montrachet   White      8.00 hectares (19.8 acres)
Criots-Batard-Montrachet Cotes de Beaune Chassagne Montrachet White    1.57 hectares (39 acres)

So the term 'Grand Cru' in Burgundy is simple to understand. It refers to the very best quality vineyards and it is very tightly defined.
The level below Grand Cru is Premier Cru and then below that it is the name of the village.
For example a good quality grower in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin might own some vineyards in the village as well as a few Premier Cru vineyards and if they are lucky they may own a few Grand Cru vines.
There are only a few monopole Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, so they are highly sought after. Many of the vineyards are fragmented such as Clos de Vougeot, which has over 80 different owners.
So the big question in Burgundy is: Do you follow the vineyard or the grower? Some top growers can make very good village wine, whilst some lesser quality Domaines might label their wine as 'Grand Cru', when it is inferior. Hopefully the terroir will prevent any disasters.
Having explored what 'Grand Cru' means in Bordeaux I will be explaining what 'Grand Cru' means in Champagne in a forthcoming post.

Friday 26 July 2019

What does Grand Cru mean in Bordeaux?

Some delicious wines, but are they all 'Grand Cru'?
The words 'Grand Cru' have various meanings in the Bordeaux area.
Essentially there are three different interpretaions:
1. Grand Cru Classe de Graves means that the Chateau was classified in 1953 and then revised in 1959. There are no changes to the classification since then.The Chateaux were classified for red and white wines. There were originally 16 Chateaux in this classification which was drawn up by the INAO.....Institut National d'Appelation d'Origine.
Now there are 14 Chateaux in this classification as Chateau Laville Haut Brion and Latour Haut Brion have been purchased and included in the Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion estates.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild was controversially upgraded from 2nd Growth to 1st Growth in 1973.

2. Grand Cru Classe de 1855 is probably the most widely recognised term for Grand Cru in Bordeaux. Napoleon 3rd asked for the 1855 classification to be prepared for the Universal Exhibition of Paris. The brokers and merchants of Bordeaux were instrumental in preparing the 1855 classification, and as these wine merchants were mainly trading on the Left bank of the river Gironde and Garonne, they only included wines on the Left Bank. So the red wines North of Bordeaux in the Medoc were mainly classified in 1855. There are 61 Chateaux in the Medoc that are Grand Cru Classe of 1855. In the Medoc there are currently 4 First Growth, 14 Second Growth, 14 Third Growth, 10 Fourth Growth and 18 Fifth Growth Chateaux. The only exception is Chateau Haut Brion (First Growth), which is in Pessac Leognan (a sub section of Graves). Interestingly Haut Brion is the only Chateau that is in the 1855 and Graves classification.
The 1855 classification is a guide and has been contentious over time. Not least due to the fact that there have been very few changes. Baron Philippe de Rothschild spent most of his life trying to up grade Mouton Rothschild from 2nd Growth to First Growth and he finally succeeded in 1973, when Jacques Chirac (then the Minister of Agriculture) signed the decree to upgrade the Chateau.

The majestic Chateau d'Yquem. Actually graded First Growth 'Superieur' in 1855.

The other interesting fact is that there are 26 Sauternes Chateaux that are in the 1855 classification, as the sweet white wines were more popular than the red wines at that time, and had more potential to age. There are 26 First and Second Growth Chateaux in Barsac and Sauternes, with Chateau d'Yquem being the most prominent. In fact Yquem was considered a 'Premier Cru Superieur'.

3. Grand Cru Classe of Saint Emilion
Whilst the 1855 classification is the oldest and most well known, it only covered the Chateaux on the Left Bank of the Garonne and Gironde. So all the top estates of Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac, Castillon, Bourg and Blaye were not included in 1855.
So in 1955 the INAO (the government organisation, who control the Appellations) set out the Saint Emilion classification. The Saint Emilion appellation covers 5,400 hectares of vines (6% of the total of Bordeaux).
In 1955 there were 12 Chateaux classed as 'Premier Grand Cru Classé', two of which were recognised as being slightly superior, therefore they were given Class 'A' status.
Below the top 12 Chateaux there were 63 Chateaux graded as 'Grand Cru Classe' and then below that there were over 200 Chateaux rated as 'Grand Cru'. If a Chateau was not ranked within the classification, then the simple appellation of 'Saint Emilion' would appear on the label.
These were the original top rated Chateaux of Saint Emilion in 1955:
Premier Grand Cru Classe Class A
Cheval Blanc
Premier Grand Cru Classe Class B
Beausejour (Duffau Lagarrosse)
Beausejour Becot
Belair Monange
Clos Fourtet
La Gaffeliere

But the major difference for the Saint Emilion classification set out in 1955 is that the INAO regularly review the status. In fact they reviewed the classification in 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006 and 2012. This seems much fairer than the set in stone 1855 classification. There is potential to invest in a Chateau and increase the quality and then to be fully recognised by an upgrade in the classification. However it has caused some major controversy, mostly when Chateaux are downgraded.
In 1986 Beausejour Becot was downgraded from Premier Grand Cru Classe to Grand Cru Classe. The reason given was that the owners (the Becot family) had increased the size of the vineyard and changed the character(and volume of production!) of the wine. This resulted in loss of reputation and loss of revenue, but the Becot family continued to make wine and established the fact that their wine was excellent quality and still achieved good scores and good prices in the market place. So, in 1996 Beausejour Becot was upgraded back to its original place as Premier Grand Cru Classe.
In 2006 the Bordeaux landscape was very different. Nowadays there is a significant amount of money invested in the top Chateaux. There are millionaires and billionaires investing in the top Chateaux of Bordeaux. The once humble farmers are now multi national businesses or luxury good firms such as Chanel, Prada, Gucci or Louis Vuitton. So there is a lot at stake!!
In the 2006 classification two Chateaux were very happy. Chateau Troplong Mondot and Chateau Pavie Macquin were promoted from Grand Cru Classe up to Premier Grand Cru Classe, whilst 11 Chateaux in the Grand Cru Classe section were demoted to Grand Cru status. Soon afterwards a group of 4 of these Chateaux went to court in order to overturn the ruling.
 The main criticism was that the deciding jury consisted of wine merchants and Chateau owners, who had a significant conflict of interest for judging their peers' wines.
So the tedious legal battle erupted over the next 5 years. One moment the classification was annulled, the next moment it was back on the table. The two losers during this time were the consumer and the reputation of Saint Emilion.
In 2012 the INAO felt it necessary to re do the Saint Emilion classification. The legal arguments had swung back and forth. The new tasting panel would be made up of knowledgable wine people, but not attached to the area. So Burgundy, Rhone, Loire and Champagne experts were judging the Saint Emilion wines. Also Chateau owners and negotiants were not judging their own wines and their neighbours!!
The criteria for grading was also clarified.
For Premier Grand Cru Classe wines the following elements were judged:
30% was based on a tasting of the last 15 years of the estate.(and 20 years for Class A)
35% was based on market reputation.
30% was based on the terroir.
5% was the estate and practices.

For Grand Cru Classe wines there was a slightly different criteria (I do not know why!!)
50% was based on a tasting of the last 10 years of the estate.
20% was based on market reputation.
20% was based on the terroir.
10% was the estate and practices.

Clearly this is quite confusing. Why not have the same criteria for all wines? Also the tasting element should be a far higher percentage of the overall decision.

So in 2012 the new Saint Emilion classification was announced.
Many Chateaux were upgraded and few were downgraded. Clearly the authorities did not want to be back in court.
The current Saint Emilion classification is:
Premier Grand Cru Classe Class A
Cheval Blanc
Angelus (NEW upgrade)
Pavie (NEW upgrade)

Premier Grand Cru Classe Class B

Beausejour (Duffau Lagarrosse)
Beausejour Becot
Belair Monange
Canon la Gaffeliere (NEW upgrade)
Clos Fourtet
La Gaffeliere
Larcis Ducasse (NEW upgrade)
La Mondotte (NEW upgrade)
Pavie Macquin
Troplong Mondot
Valandraud (NEW upgrade) 

And below this there are now 63 Grand Cu Classe Chateaux.

So, I hope this article has clarified the three main classifications of Bordeaux:
Grand Cru Classe de Graves
Grand Cru Classe de 1855
Grand Cru Classe de Saint Emilion.

It is not a perfect system as the three classifications only cover a part of the Bordeaux vineyards. There are many excellent Chateaux that have no classification. For example there are some great Cru Bourgeois Chateaux in the Medoc such as Sociando Mallet, Phelan Segur, Meyney and Chasse Spleen that are not included in the 1855 classification.
Also the great quality appelation of Pomerol has no Grand Cru system. So Petrus, Le Pin, L'Evangile, Gazin, Vieux Chateau Certan, Trotanoy and La Fleur do not have any classification. 

At least the Saint Emilion classification is reviewed and upgraded, which means that if you buy a Chateau in the area and invest in the vineyards, the winery and significantly increase the quality, you can be recognised. But with the legal issues and court problems in the last 13 years, there could be a few fireworks for the 2022 Saint Emilion classification. Will Canon and Figeac move from Premier Grand Cru Classe B to A??? Let's wait and see.

The other ridiculous thing is that we are still referring to the 1855 classification. How many businesses in 2019 refer to a grading system that was set out 164 years ago??
It is not perfect but is a historical reference point.
Who would feature in a new classification of the Medoc? Who would disapear?
In fact I will be writing my own classification shortly, based purely on tasting. 


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
Clos Fourtet
Ducru Beaucaillou
Haut Bailly
Haut Brion
Leoville Poyferre
La Mission Haut brion
La Mondotte
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?
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
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.

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.
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.
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

Haut Brion
Mouton Rothschild
Pichon Baron
Gruaud Larose

Recommended bargain buys:
Phelan Segur

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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:
Haut Brion
Lafite Rothschild
Brane Cantenac
Leoville Barton
La Mission Haut Brion
Pichon Baron
Pichon Comtesse
La Conseillante
Vieux Chateau Certan