Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Chateau de la Riviere Harvest Report 2011

Harvest 2011

- 30th August : Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignons Gris

- From 7th till 9th September : Merlots for Rosé de pressée (direct crushing)

- From 14th till 21st September : Merlots for our 2nd label

- 22nd and 30th September : Merlots for Chateau de La Riviere and ARIA

- 9th September and 4th October : Cabernet Francs

- 4th and 5th October : Cabernet Sauvignons

We picked the grapes over the 3 months of August, September and October!!!! Never seen before at Chateau de La Riviere.
The overall yield reflects the difference between each plot depending on the wine we want to produce :

- Chateau de La Riviere : 42 hl/ha

- Chateau de La Riviere ARIA : 28 hl/ha

- Second label : 53 hl/ha

- Rose and CLAIRET wines : 55 hl/ha

- White wine : 65 hl/ha

Vintage 2011
’11 vintage is atypical by its climate but much more classic when you taste the wines. They are very dark coloured and intense. Red and black fruits are dominant. The presence of licorice, spice, violet, is the signature of our terroir. The first impression in the mouth is the smoothness and the freshness. Then the perfectly ripe and round tannins bring a dense and fleshy structure without aggression. Very long finish on the fruit.

Château de La Rivière
Vintage 2011
Technical sheet

Winter : Quite dry and cold.
March : Bud-burst at the end of the month.
April : Summer weather. Average temperatures are +4°C over the average. The vine grows very quickly reaching A 2-3 weeks advance at the end of the month.
May : Mild weather and high temperature.
The first flowers are observed on 5th May and full flowering between 15th and 20th May. The vine was then 4 weeks in advance. Never before seen !
Dry and warm conditions during flowering are favorable to fertilization inducing a good fruit set, ensuring a favorable yield potential.
June : Seasonal temperatures. However on 26th and 27th June, the vine suffered a scorching episode with a peak of maximum temperatures at 40°C. Depending on the hygrometry of the vines and the orientation of the rows, some damage (grapes burned by heat) has been observed.
July : The vine begins to show signs of water stress. It only rained 50 mm during the previous 3 months. The beginning of ripening begins early in the month. The vine still has 3-4 weeks advance. The second half of July was like autumn, slightly slowing the advance of the vine.
August : Beginning of the ripening process, with seasonal temperatures. Some storms stop the hydric stress of the vine, allowing the grapes to ripen perfectly.
The vine experiences a second peak of heat (37-38°C) between 20th and 22nd August, causing very little direct damage but blocking some grapes, thus inducing variation.
September : A beautiful month of September... The harvest of red grapes starts mid-September with 15 days advance.
Indian summer sets in from 25th September during the second part of harvest.
October : Indian summer continues and allows the grapes to refine their ripening, including that of the Cabernet Sauvignons.
Report of the climatic ’11 year
From a climate point of view, ‘11 vintage is atypical. It is marked by high heat and drought in the spring, then coolness and humidity in July and August.
The climate ‘10-‘11 year is characterized by:

- Accumulation of annual precipitation (495 mm) 52% below the thirty year average (944 mm)

- Rainfall recorded over the period of the vine’s growth (March to September) well below normal (243 mm against 476 mm), especially from April to June.

- Very cold winter season (October to January) : 1 to 3°C under normal.

- April and May very hot, and a cool month of July.

The hydric constraints of the beginning of season were very strong. However the clay-limestone soils of Chateau de La Riviere allowed for maintaining humidity within a moderate range very favorable to the metabolism of polyphenols.
The early deficit was, in our case, favourable to the thickening of the skin and their phenolic richness as well as the good ripening of the pips.
When the grape harvest begins, on 14th September for our second wines, potential degrees are quite low (12 to 13% Vol), total acidities are also low and the pH remains stable.
The concentration in the anthocyanes are among the highest of the last ten vintages, with good extractibility. The concentration in the tannins is also high.
On the clay-limestone soils, the pulp IS fleshy and quite flavourful.
The concentration of anthocyanes is amongst the highest of the last ten vintage years, with good extractibility. The concentration in the tannins is also high.
On the clay-limestone soils, the pulp is fleshy and quite flavourful.
Pulp on clay-limestone soils are fleshy and quite tasty.
From 25th September, this already good weather becomes also very dry, with in particular the arrival of a Northeast wind. These conditions enhance the final ripening of the grapes.
The sugars concentrate a little more to reach in some plots potential degrees of 15 % Vol., but especially anthocyanes and tannins concentrate very strongly.
Finally, the scorched grapes and those blocked by the 2 peaks of heat have been removed during the harvest thanks to an extremely severe sorting.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

UK Wine Duty 2012...up by 10p per bottle.

The chancellor of the exchequer is currently standing at the dispatch box in the Houses of Parliament trying to balance the books of the UK economy. Often there are announcements that are concealed or wrapped up in political speech, which ultimately confuse us.
I am trying to get some clarity:

The announcement of no increase in duty on wine is very misleading. The previously announced increase was 2% above the current inflation rate (which is 3.4% at end of February 2012). This announcement was made by the Labour government back in the budget of June 2010.
Duty for still wine(less than 15% alcohol) until today was £21.71 per case of 12, or £1.81 per bottle.
If this goes up by 5.4% then the new rates will be £22.88 per case of 12, or £1.91 per bottle.

In effect this means that a bottle of wine that retails at £5.99 in the UK with a standard margin for the retailer (of 25%) and transport costs (from vineyard to UK warehouse taken as £5 per case) will have to cost €1.70 per bottle from the producer (in Europe).
The tax element of a £5.99 bottle in the UK is £3.11 (£1.91 duty, £1.20 vat (on the selling price))

I might have totally cocked up my maths! But hopefully this is more detailed and useful than the political mumbo jumbo.

Bella Wine Tours

One of the best aspects of Bella Wine Tours is that we get behind the scenes at the famous Chateaux in Bordeaux.

Here are a selection of photos from recent tours.
Explaining the vineyards at Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Standing in the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande vineyards next to Chateau Latour.

Meeting charismatic Chateau owners such as Xavier Planty at Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes.

Taking in the fantastic views of Saint Emilion.

Or just chilling out at Chateau Margaux.

All of our tours are tailor made for your requirements. We can add specific Chateaux to visit if you have favorites. We can often accommodate extra activities such as visiting a chocolate maker, eating in restaurants in Bordeaux or even going horse racing.
We are quoting for wine tours throughout 2012 and in to 2013. Drop us an email at hamish@bellawines.co.uk with your proposed dates and how many people in your group.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Chateau Lafite Rothschild adds Prooftag

With the higher prices for the top wines from Bordeaux and also the emerging culture of counterfeiting and fraud, it is excellent to see that the top Chateaux are doing something positive. Chateau Lafite Rothschild have added the prooftag system to their labels/capsules.

Here is an excerpt from their press release:

Château Lafite Rothschild adopts the Prooftag system

In order to ensure high quality support for consumers and to strengthen the authentication system for its wines, Château Lafite Rothschild introduced Prooftag’s «Bubble Seal» security system in February 2012.

The objective of this seal is to guarantee traceability right through the distribution chain to the final consumer. The seal has been affixed directly at the Château on all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite labelled since February 2012.

It will be present on all bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild from the 2009 vintage, and all bottles of Carruades de Lafite from the 2010 vintage. This initiative will also apply to bottles of earlier vintages released from the Château after February 2012.

The seal is applied to the bottle neck (at the back), partly on the capsule and

partly on the glass.

It provides two levels of protection:

1 / a unique «bubble code» that cannot be reproduced.

2/ a 13 character alphanumeric code that is associated with the bubble code

The combination of the bubble code and the alphanumeric code enables you to authenticate your bottle and access information about the bottle, previously registered by the Château and stored in a database.

The authentication procedure is carried out directly on line, on the Domaines Barons of Rothschild (Lafite) website: www.lafite.com

The authentication page is also available in mobile phone version.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

2011 Bordeaux Vintage

In a couple of weeks time the majority of the serious global wine buyers, traders, brokers and journalists will descend upon Bordeaux to taste the barrel samples of the 2011 vintage. The grapes were picked last September/October and they have finished their first (alcoholic) fermentation and also their second (malo lactic) fermentation. The grapes have now become wine and they are ready to be assessed. The wines will not be released for physical sale for another 15-18 months, as they will need to be matured in oak barrels before bottling. But this is the crucial time when judgements are made on the quality of the wines. The prices will then be released from the Chateaux from the end of April through until June. These prices are 'Primeur' or 'Future' prices and will determine the success or failure of the vintage. Many of the top Chateaux have allocations to their negociants (Bordeaux merchants) and then the negociants distribute throughout the World to importers. These allocations can be crucial when there is high demand for a sought after vintage such as the 2009 or 2010 Bordeaux vintage, but the allocations can also be a financial burden if there is an obligation/commitment to buy wine that is more difficult to sell.

The 2011 Bordeaux Growing season
Another very dry and unseasonably warm winter in 2010/2011 preceded an exceptional warm Spring. The vines shut down in winter during their dormant (pruning) period, but they burst in to life much earlier than normal. Many viticulturists were talking about the growth on the vines being 3 weeks in advance of normal during May 2011. The prediction would be for a very early harvest if the Summer was true.
After the advanced growth and early budding the vines continued to thrive. There was no late Spring frost, which is always the fear for viticulturists when the vines are so advanced. The warm weather continued to a mighty crescendo at the end of June, when it turned in to a heatwave. The vines suffered and some bunches were heat effected.
After the precocious start to the growing season July and August turned rather flat. There was no heatwave like 2003, there was no gradual and consistent warmth like 2009 and 2010. there were patchy days of heat and dullness. There was even rain in August after the 15th. This rain and the dull Summer set the vines back a few weeks.
Having originally thought that harvest would be taking place 3 weeks early (possibly in August), the harvest dates were not as advanced.....1 week earlier in most places.
In fact Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes were suggesting that this could be the most advanced harvest since 1893, but this opinion soon changed after the mediocre Summer.
The Harvest
If vines are not effected by frost (in the Spring time), then one of the other major concerns for Chateau owners are hail storms. These hail storms can strike at the end of Summer, especially when the weather is changing after a warm period. Hail can be localised and very destructive. In 2009 a swathe of hail hit the Entre Deux Mer and Saint Emilion (Troplong Mondot and Trottevieille were badly effected) as well as the southern Medoc area near Margaux.
In 2011 the hail dumped on Friday 2nd September in northen Pauillac and Sainte Estephe. Early indications were that Cos d'Estournel, Cos Labory and Lafite Rothschild were effected. The decision for the vineyard manager is whether to treat the vines (a bit too late if they are already 90% ripe) or whether to pick all the hail effected (tatty bunches) grapes. Whatever the situation it is a dilemma!
Many of the top Chateaux have invested in advanced technology recently for selecting and sorting the grapes. One of the 'must have' toys is an Optical Grape Sorting machine, which has been adapted from pea sorting machines. The irony is that this technology has hardly been used in the great vintages of 2009 and 2010. But in 2011 these investments were certainly going to pay off. Chateaux such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Pichon Longueville and Brane Cantenac (as well as many more) would benefit from this severe selection and sorting.
The comments from the Chateaux at harvest time were very positive. Generally there seemed to be surprise at the health and quality of the fruit after such a topsy turvy growing season.
The Wines
I have yet to taste a wide range of 2011 Bordeaux, as I will immerse myself in to over a thousand samples in the next few weeks. But the initial reality is that 2011 is not a Top vintage. The uneasy and uneven growing season did not help. The malo lactic fermentations were very early for this vintage. Sometimes when we taste in early April the wines are not knitted together and cumbersome and awkward. This year the wines should be more stable, so we can assess the quality. Early comments are that the vintage resembles 2008 or possibly 2001.
This overview has mainly been based around the red grapes, however I am hearing extremely positive and encouraging reports from Barsac and Sauternes for another unprecedented excellent vintage for the sweet wines. Sauternes was hit by an early hail storm on Easter Monday, when large parts of Chateau Guiraud(up to 60%) were effected. But this early hail storm is less lethal than an August/September hail storm. Maybe the gap between the top reds and the top whites will narrow for the 2011 wines?
The Market
As always the prices are crucial for Bordeaux. Many Chateau owners have trebled or quadrupled their prices in the last two vintages. They have taken an enormous amount of money out. The prices for the exceptional 2009 and 2010 wines have remained high, but over the course of time will go higher. The quandary for the Chateau owners is how low to go. If the top Chateaux halve their prices they will still be higher than the 2008s (which might be a better vintage). If the Chateaux reduce their prices by more than 50% they will feel that they are destroying their own brand rather than developing/establishing it. Many people feel that with the new wave of Chinese buyers and general World interest in Fine Wine the prices of 2009 and 2010 are a new platform. It will be an interesting 'Primeur' campaign. I am not sure that there will be a high global demand for the wines........but I am looking forward to tasting them and assessing for myself.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


I adore cheese.

This is the magnificent 'chariot de fromage' at the excellent L'Ambassade restaurant in Beziers.(picture taken on 23rd Feb 2012)

Cheese has so many different textures and nuances. It has the delicate soft yoghurts and soft cheeses, the mild cheeses, the mature cheeses and then the incredible blues and the stinky mature gooey cheeses. I am certainly no expert on cheese, but I adore a few good ones such as Saint Agur, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, English Cheddar, Stilton, Parmesan and the delicious Burgundian smelly and gooey Epoisses.
I have no set 'education' with what is right or wrong with cheese. I just taste and enjoy what I like. And so often cheese can be a fantastic accompaniment to wine. The salty blue cheeses often need a bit of sweetness such as a good Sauternes or Barsac or a Saint Jean de Minervois, whilst the harder cheeses such as Comte, Cheddar or Parmesan can be great with dry reds. Otherwise I just enjoy!
The link between pure natural artisanal cheese and pure natural beautiful wine is an elixir of harmony.
There is a wonderful American lady called Jennifer who writes about cheese and she has set out to taste and write about all the cheeses of France. Her blog about life and cheese is here. She has tasted most of the cheese in France and has a good perspective.

Recently I spent a few days in the UK with Eric Mari, the owner of Domaine La Prade Mari wine estate in the Minervois. We were visiting wine shops and wine wholesalers who stock Eric's excellent wines and generally introducing the new wines and new vintages that are available. This was only Eric's second ever trip to England, which is slightly bizarre for a 35 year old French man. The first trip was two years ago when he kept commenting that the 'bricks in England are much smaller than the stones in Minervois'....yes, a bit odd I know.
So, on this trip I thought we would immerse ourselves in England. I picked him up from Stansted airport and we immediately went out to lunch at a lovely local restaurant in Sawbridgeworth called The Goose Fat and Garlic. My treat for Eric was some rare Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding accompanied by a bottle of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Chile(a nice wine but very oaky). The cliche of the English being called 'Les Rosbifs' had to be encountered.
We started our work with a trip to Norfolk to visit a very professional and slick wine merchant who might stock the wines, then we went to Newmarket to visit Waitrose and Majestic to give an overview of 'high street and supermarket' wine retail. Some very well priced wines and an incredibly competitive international market place.
We visited customers in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire over two days. I zoomed through central London one evening to show Eric Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and the City of London. We tasted and presented the fantastic organic wines that Eric is currently producing and we ended up in a characterful and quality wine shop, wine bar, restaurant called No 2 Pound Street in the small town of Wendover.
The final evening was my turn to really turn the screw.

Here you will find a picture of Eric Mari tasting a fine slection of English (Yorkshire and Gloucestershire) and Welsh cheeses.
Yes we should be very proud in the Uk of excellent and interesting cheeses and even more proud of companies such as No 2 Pound Street for educating and offering such delicious platters of cheese. Even French people like them.

It was a hectic and busy couple of days, but great fun. I think Eric is certainly more impressed(and understanding) of English cuisine and the attitude towards quality food and wine that so many independent shops, bars and restaurants purvey.