Thursday, 27 November 2014

Wine Book for Christmas: Pontet Canet

There are many books on wine and quite a few dull books that are out of date as soon as they get in to print.
However I have come across a fascinating photographic book that has wonderful pictures and images. The book concentrates on a specific Chateau during two years. And with enormous good fortune that Chateau was (and is) one of the most talked about Chateaux in the whole of Bordeaux. The Chateau is Pontet Canet a 5th Growth Chateau (1855 classification) in the Pauillac appellation.
Chateau Pontet Canet has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last twenty years. The Chateau has been owned by three families over the last three hundred years. The current guardians are the charming, innovative, pioneering and hard working Tesseron family. The Tesserons also own an excellent Cognac house and they are always searching for the best quality, whilst also respecting nature and the environment.
With fastidious guidance and an incredible philosophical approach to organic and biodynamic practises in the vineyard the Tesseron family are helped by Jean Michel Comme. Jean Michel lives and breathes the vineyard. A passionate man.
People may agree or disagree with the almost evangelical passion for biodynamics, but for me the most important aspect is whether the wine tastes different or better. I can truly say that Chateau Pontet Canet has dramatically improved the quality of their wines since the early 2000s. The 2005, 2009 and 2010 are outstanding wines.
I regularly visit Chateau Pontet Canet with Bella Wine Tours, as they have a genuinely different approach to viticulture and winemaking. The team at the Chateau are also extremely warm and kind, whilst also being very professional and knowledgeable. It is always great to see Alfred, Melanie, Jean Michel, Daniel, Marie, Alice or Nathalie and I am really looking forward to visiting and tasting the 2014 wine as a barrel sample soon.
Therefore the book 'Millesimes book' by Johan Berglund is a fascinating behind the scenes photographic insight in to the Chateau during the time when Chateau Pontet Canet were blessed with almost perfect weather conditions to make the great 2009 and 2010 wines. In fact the influential American wine journalist Robert Parker gave both these wines 100 points, which is the ultimate accolade for a Bordeaux chateau.
Johan Berglund is a charming young Swedish chap who has a great eye for approaching the subject matter in a different way, whilst conveying the scene and atmosphere. His work has a moody, real vibrancy mixed with profondity especially when he photographs people.
Previously Johan worked with Neal Martin on the photography for the excellent, award winning Pomerol Book.

Johan has very kindly offered small memento picture of Chateau Pontet Canet with the book if you use the code or reference 'BWT' when you order. You can order the book via this link:  or email Johan directly:
This is the perfect gift this Christmas for a wine enthusiast.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Maison Bouey negociant

Interesting family wine merchant family based in Bordeaux. Innovative, dynamic and hard working.

Maison Bouey


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Buying a vineyard?

This beautiful vineyard is valued at €10,000 per hectare.

Over the last few weeks I have been contemplating the question whether to buy a vineyard estate. I have been working in the wine trade/business for over 25 years in all aspects from restaurants, wine bars, retail, fine wine mail order, distribution, production and wine tourism. I have supplied wine to Buckingham Palace on numerous occasions as well as supplying wine to some of the wealthiest families in the World.
I have also sold large volumes of wine to UK supermarkets at remarkably value prices.
 Over the years I have lectured at the Royal Agricultural College in England (to MBA students) as well as serving as a Judge at the International Wine Challenge and being quoted in various wine publications such as Decanter, Wine Magazine, The Drinks Business and Harpers. I can not remember the amount of times I have explained fermentation, oak barrels, grape varieties, soils, climates, terroir, malo lactic fermentation, as well as botrytis, ice wine and secondary fermentation. I actually really love my job.
BUT it is one thing to talk about it, and it is another to actually do it!
So as I am now in my 44th year, when by all accounts I should be having a mid life crisis, I am now pondering the decision to invest in vineyards to create my own wines and establish a long term quality reputation. Something that my children (aged 10 and 12) will be proud of. Something that will last longer than a piece of paper, a quote or a tweet.
Last week I was offered 18 hectares of very good (ie well tended and well trained) vines in the south of France. The vines are planted at c 6-7000 vines per hectare. The average age of the vines is 25 years old. The grape varieties are Carignan (50%), Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre. The potential is to make various styles of wine:
1. A light Rose, that will sell quickly (and generate quick cashflow).
2. A spicy fruity red wine that has hints of wild thyme, wild rosemary and the garrigue.
3. A small batch of highly selected dark (mainly Syrah) oak aged wine that will age for 20-30 years.

The vineyards would be sold without any winemaking equipment (as the grapes have previously been sold to a Cave CoOperative). So there would need to be some serious investment in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. But at least that is a clean sheet.

This could all be a complete dream, but it will be fun to see it all through. I will make clearer financial plans over the next few weeks to see whether this can be reality. Everyone should have dreams.
I will also try and grab hold of people who have done this in the last ten years(and who's wine I genuinely like!!)....people like Catherine Wallace at Domaine Combebelle, Katie Jones at Domaine Jones, John Bojanowski at Clos du Gravillas and James Kinglake at Domaine Begude.

This prime land in Saint Emilion is valued at €2 million per hectare.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Are the 2013 Bordeaux Primeurs worth buying?

Alexandre Thienpoint, the philosophical quiet, owner of Vieux Chateau Certan in Pomerol told me last year that the key decisions for a Chateau owner are:
1. The date of harvest.
2. The precise date and conditions for bottling
3. Setting the correct release price for the wine.

Many chateaux owners are twisted with angst as they are busily working on the third point above. How do you sell the 2013 vintage....and at what price?
When Bordeaux vintages are great ....such as 2005, 2009 and 2010.....the decision(for the chateau owner) might much can I really achieve in this bright new world of incredibly expensive wines?
In 2011,2012 and particularly 2013 when the wines are clearly not as good, the decision can be tricky. However the Bear market financial strategists can still make money, if they are clever.
Lets consider some basic costs:
A new oak barrel costs between 6-800 euros per barrel. A barrel holds 300 bottles. Therefore the ageing cost is 2-3€ per bottle.
Agricultural workers are paid the minimum wage of €9.53 per hour in France.
At each chateau there will also be higher salaries for the technical team, the marketing and administration staff.
New fermentation tanks, new cellars, new bottling lines, new tractors are all major capital costs that have to be considered.
BUT even with variable costs and long term finance considerations the average production costs for a bottle of top quality Bordeaux wine will not exceed 15€ per bottle. And in many cases the cost of production will be between 5 and 10 euros.

So why do First Growth chateaux sell their wine for €600 plus ex negociants in a good year such as 2009 or 2010 and then €200 in a lesser year such as 2011 or 2012?
The First growths are still the most sought after wines in the entire world. The words Latour, Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild are revered and respected in every country. If you want the best of the best you pay the price.
I recently had some Russian clients in Bordeaux. They exclaimed that if something is great quality you MUST expect to pay far more for that product. That sounds like a simple comment. But it is at odds with much of the bargain hunting mentality or discount culture that pervades UK consumerism at the moment. Wine and various products sell better in the UK if the price is slashed/reduced/butchered. This also confuses the consumer as a previously lauded and respected wine is savaged in price. Therefore at the same time the esteem for the wine is reduced. If you spend 20,30, 50 or 100 years establishing your wine (or brand) and invest in education, marketing, distribution and engendering brand loyalty why on earth would you then slash the price and, by so doing, send out a message to the consumer that there is a fault. Serious long term Bordeaux buyers will look back at the 2009s and 2010s and buy as much as possible. The wines are actually cheaper now than at the Primeur sale.
But this is the rollercoaster of making quality wine in Bordeaux. The climate is such an important factor for dictating the rise and fall of the prices.
BUT nowadays with instantaneous tweets, messages and information the consumer can not be fooled. 2013 is not a great vintage in Bordeaux. There are certainly some good wines. There are some fruity light clean styles of wine. But there are very few wines which can be recommended for long term maturing and investing.
The prices have to be in line. Ie at least 20% less than 2012 in most cases.
I will buy certain wines such as Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste, Domaine de Chevalier, Haut Bailly and Smith Haut Lafitte in order to continue my cellar. But I am aware that these wines will be popped and poured within the next 10 years just as the 2009s and 2010s might be starting to come around  to the start of their drinking window.
One awkward aspect for the chateaux and quite positive aspect for the negociants is that due to the severe selection and weather conditions during 2013 the volume of production is very low. So we will move on quickly.......

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bordeaux 2013 Primeur tastings

The impressive new barrel cellars at Chateau Montrose

It has been an exceptionally busy week tasting the 2013 Primeur barrel samples. This is always a highlight of my year as we assess the quality or style of the previous vintage. This year it was particularly interesting as the growing season had been very difficult during 2013, as detailed here.
My week was basically:
Monday: Tasting at many small tasting on the Right Bank near Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Tasting the wines made by Stephan Derenoncourt and Michel Rolland as well as many others.
Tuesday: Individual Chateau visits at Pavie, Canon, Cheval Blanc, Vieux Chateau Certan, L'Evangile as well as many group tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus (UGC)
Wednesday: Individual Chateau visits at Calon Segur, Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Grand Puy Lacoste, Pontet Canet, Leoville Las Cases, Ducru Beaucaillou as well as covering all the main St.Estephe, Pauillac and St.Julien wines at the UGC tastings.
Thursday: Individual Chateau visits at Palmer, Rauzan Segla and Margaux as well as tasting all the Grand Cru Classe Margaux and Pessac Leognan and Sauternes wines.
Friday: Visit and tasting to Haut Brion, Climens and Pape Clement.

Tasting at Chateau Mouton Rothschild.....always a pleasure.

My overall impression is that there have been some pretty, fruity wines produced. There are some strong styles and definite distinctive 'terroir' characters that come through. However there are also some real disappointments. There are some incredibly soft and very light wines that resemble the deep rose called 'clairet' rather than the dark crimson deep ruby wines that are age worthy. And that is the crux of the question: Will these wines age at all?
There are also some wines that are hollow and are awkward to taste. When we taste barrel samples we are looking for a balance of acidity, fruit and tannins. We are tasting for potential rather than immediate enjoyment. I will be intrigued to taste these wines after the 12-18 months barrel age, when the wines are in bottle. I think some of these wines will need to be delicately handled if they are to survive.
The best wines produced in 2013 were the sweet wines from Barsac and Sauternes as well as the dry whites. Unfortunately these are a small percentage of the total production of Bordeaux. However they are terrific. Chateau d'Yquem is sublime and will last 50 years. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2013 has all the minerality , flinty fresh character and pure class that you expect from this estate. Clos Haut Peyraguey is a beautiful balanced sweet wine and Guiraud and Coutet are delicious.
The new cellars at Chateau Angelus in Saint Emilion.

A white horse ploughing some vines in front of the cellars at Cheval Blanc!

The tasting at Chateau Haut Brion in the Orangerie.

Some old bottles at Chateau Gruaud Larose. Not sure that the 2013 wines will last 200 years let alone 20.

My selection for favourite wines from the 2013 barrel samples tasted last week:

Grand Puy Lacoste
Domaine de Chevalier
Calon Segur
Haut Bailly
Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
Cos d'Estournel
Clos Haut Peyraguey
Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
Chantegrive Blanc

We are now starting to trade these wines. It might not take that long as there will not be high demand and the prices will not be very high and there is not much quantity.
Lets look onward and upward for a better quality 2014. The sun is shining today on 8th April 2014 and the buds have burst on the vines and if we do not have any frost, hail, rain, disease, rot, rain, snow, hail or problems everything will be fine for 2014!! Fingers crossed........