Two Chateaux that have produced stunning wines over the last few years have been the 5th Growth properties Chateau Pontet Canet and Chateau Lynch Bages in the Pauillac appelation.
Both properties regularly perform above their official 5th Growth classification from 1855.
Chateau Lynch Bages is affectionately known as 'Lunch Bags' in the UK trade. It has links from the Irishman Thomas Lynch who settled in the Bordeaux region in the 18th century. The property is now owned by the Cazes family, who have maintained and developed the vineyards and the winery. Jean Charles Cazes is the young man now at the helm of this 115 hectare estate.
The main wine produced at the Chateau is red Chateau Lynch Bages, whilst the second label is Echo de Lynch Bages and there is a small amount of white produced.
My top red wines from tasting the 2011 barrel samples:
1. Chateau Palmer
2. Chateau Pontet Canet
3. Chateau Pichon Baron
4. Chateau Haut Brion
5. Vieux Chateau Certan
6. Chateau Lafite Rothschild
7. Chateau Haut Bailly
8. Domaine de Chevalier
9. Clos du Clocher
10. Chateau Figeac
My top sweet white wines from 2011 samples:
1. Chateau de Fargues
2. Chateau d'Yquem
3. Chateau Coutet
4. Chateau Climens
5. Chateau Guiraud
My top dry whites from 2011 samples:
1. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
2. Domaine de Chevalier
3. Chateau Malarctic Lagraviere
4. Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
5. Chateau Marjosse.
NB I am yet to taste at Chateau Latour and Ausone....I will taste in May. I will re taste at Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Lafite, Haut Brion and Cheval Blanc over the next few weeks.
The 'Primeur' campaign has certainly come to life this year. With the news that Chateau Latour will not be offering their wines via the traditional negociant distribution at the end of last week, today we had the release of the first tranche for Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Premier Grand Cru Classe, Pauillac.
This is a bold and ballsy move from the Chateau. There were strong rumours from Monsieur Christophe Salin, the managing director of Domaine Baron de Rothschild's estates during the Primeur tastings two weeks ago that they would release low and early. I am pleased that they have had the courage of their convictions.
The price released ex Chateau is €350 per bottle and this will be sold ex negociant at €450 to the international wine buyers. Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2011 is now being traded at £5500 per case in London.
This price is in fact a reduction of 25% from the 2010 price (€600), but it is a 246% increase from the 2008 release price (€130). Many people tasted the Chateau Lafite at the Chateau and comparisons were made to the 2008, 2004 and 2001 vintage.
It is interesting to see how these vintages are currently being traded on the market:
2011= £5500 per 12 bottles
So the release of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2011 is in fact a true reflection of where the current fine wine market is trading for other comparable vintages. The Chateau have gained significantly by increasing the price to a new level (from the 2008 price), for what is perceived as a similar quality. Rather than let middle men, investors, speculators cream off the 200% price difference the Chateau have closed the gap. It will be very interesting to see where the 2011 is trading in comparison to 2008, 2004 and 2001 in 6 months time. On the basis that 2011 is a good vintage this is definitely a BUY in comparison to wines on the market.
I personally thought that Chateau Lafite Rothschild produced a magnificent wine in 2011. I know they had issues with the growing season and they suffered partial hailstorms in the vineyards just before picking on September 1st. But the wine has a great deep spicy bramble core. It is real cassis classy Cabernet Sauvignon, with an elegant polished layer of complexity.
I applaud Chateau Lafite Rothschild for getting their price out early and in many ways setting the tone for others to follow. We do not know how much stock was allocated in this first tranche release. They might have been simply testing the water. Let's see who follows later this week.
On a personal note I really did like the 2011 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, but I felt Chateau Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages and Pichon Baron as equal wines......and let's hope at a fraction of the price.
The other key factor that may influence prices are the notes from Robert Parker, which will be released in a few weeks. Sometimes Chateaux prefer to wait for Parker's pronouncement and then set their price. This might positively or negatively effect the pricing and positioning of traded wines.
The twittersphere was buzzing yesterday as a result of quite a dramatic decision by Chateau Latour, the First growth wine estate in Pauillac, Bordeaux. The Chateau has decided not to release allocations of the 2011 wine via the negociants and will instead sell the wine at a later date. In effect the Chateau are taking away the opportunity for people to buy at the Primeur/Futures price and then secure stock at the time of bottling. The Chateau will hold on to all of the wine and then release certain quantities in to the market at a later date.
This means a significant investment from the owners of Chateau latour and is contrary to what most chateaux use the Primeur system for.....which is a big contribution to positive cashflow.
The news was announced via letter to the 12 or 13 negociants who had remained to receive allocations. This is not unexpected as Chateau Latour had changed their philosophy over the years.
They had severely cut the amount of negociants with whom they dealt. They had savagely cut people who had loyally bought and promoted their wines. Unfortunately the negociant with whom I work in Bordeaux was one of the victims.....despite Bill Blatch having previously worked for Harveys (who owned Chateau Latour back in the 1970s) and having a very good relationship with the personnel at the Chateau.
Chateau Latour released their 2009 and 2010 wines via their tight distribution network at high prices and with very small quantities. This obviously raised the price and investor/collector desire for this wine within their portfolio.
It is an interesting strategy to try and control the price of your wine in the market. But there is so much money involved in the First Growth wines of Bordeaux nowadays, that they probably feel that they don't need other people to distribute their wines. They want to control the price, control the destiny and control the margin.
I am not sure whether other First Growths will follow suit and I am very sure that many other Chateaux will definitely NOT follow suit, as Primeur sales are contribute to a very positive cashflow.
The Bordeaux system of trade between the Chateaux, the courtiers and the negociants has its critics, but it is a system that seems to function very well to sell and distribute a large amount of wine to all corners of the globe.
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??
As always during the Primeur tastings in Bordeaux there is rumour and speculation about which wines are 'the best'. With the advancement of instantaneous social media there are immediate opinions.....'Loved Chateau XX....surely the finest of the vintage?' or similar hyperbole.
Considering I have tasted for the last two days....and I still have 6 more tasting days ahead, I can not give a definitive opinion. HOWEVER the rumours about the Pomerol appellation being consistent and one of the better performing areas are certainly unfolding.
I tasted a full range of Pomerol wines in the miniscule village of Pomerol today. There was an intensity and balance of fruit/tannin/acidity that seems lacking in other areas. Certainly not all the wines were perfect, but Chateau Le Bon Pasteur (owned by Dany and Michel Rolland) , Clos du Clocher, Petit Village(owned by Axa), Croix du Gay, Le Moulin and Le Gay 2011s were all tip top wines today.
I am looking forward to exploring more wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol tomorrow, when I will taste at Chateau Pavie, Cheval Blanc, L'Evangile and Vieux Chateau Certan. The latter Chateau known as VCC has been incredible in 2009 and 2010 for the purity and linear excellence of the fruit and the harmonious balance. I am already hearing good thinngs about VCC 2011 so I am eager to get tasting.
I enjoyed an excellent lunch today as a guest of the charismatic and hard working Bernard Magrez (the chap who owns Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan, as well as a host of other wineries around the world) at his beautiful Chateau Fombrauge in Saint Emilion.
I sat with an English journalist, an Australian wine buyer and a Belgian retired wine investor! It was an entertaining lunch prepared by the team of Joel Robuchon (one of the best chefs in the world who currently has 26 michelin stars across his 17 restaurants around the world). The saddle of lamb as the main couse was perfect with the Chateau Fombrauge 2006 and the Chateau Pape Clement 2008. A very pleasant interlude to tasting young tannic, tough barrel samples from the 2011 vintage.
Bernard Magrez gave a speech where he apologised that Joel Robuchon could not be there in person, due to a French air traffic control strike his private jet had been grounded.
However the food and wine were excellent even if Joel was stuck on the tarmac somewhere else.
I am back in Bordeaux to taste the barrel samples of the 2011 vintage.
I have already written about the vintage here and this is the first opportunity to really immerse myself in the wines and draw my personal conclusions.
I tasted at the Vintex negociant tasting today a wide selection of dry whites, reds and sweet whites.
This year is slightly different. I am expanding my role with the negociant Vintex, in order to work closer with their UK customers, so it was important to be on the ball. We have an exciting range of wines(at all prices) and a healthy allocation of the top wines to offer. However the market will only buy if the quality and price is correct. Having just had two of the most extraordinary(and exceptional quality) vintages of 2009 and 2010, it will be very interesting to see whether the 2011s will be up to scratch.
I tasted over 100 wines today and my initial thoughts are that the smaller Chateau wines, ie the Entre Deux Mers and the Bordeaux/Bordeaux Superieur and Cote de Bordeaux appellations are producing lovely fruity styles that will sell as regular easy drinking wines under £15. The Barsac and Sauternes wines are tasting extremely well in 2011...I tasted Chateau Coutet, Guiraud, Bastor Lamontagne, Nairac, Doisy Daene, Doisy Vedrine, Suduiraut, Rayne Vigneau, Raymond Lafon and Partarrieu today as well as a few others.
I also tasted a range of Saint Emilions, Pomerols and Medoc wines. The Pomerols (Chateau Beauregard in particular) and Saint Emilion (Chateau Beausejour Becot) were good, however I came unstuck in the Medoc. A few wines shone, such as Chateau Senejac and Lascombes but there was a green character and pronounced acidity that was not appealing. The balance of fruit seemed to be awkward and the dark, rich deep spice that characterised the 2010 was not present nor the voluptuous smooth rich style of 2009.
I am tasting in Saint Emilion and Pomerol tomorrow at six different tastings, so it will be interesting to assess and work out the intrinsic styles oof this vintage.
My early opinions are that whatever the quality of this vintage, the pricing will be crucial. The top Chateaux have raised the prices three fold and more in the last two years. The global wine market can only take so much! We might need to have a re assessment of the pricing and reductions of 40-50% for the top wines in order to move the stock.
I will be tasting at Chateau Cheval Blanc, Pavie, L'Evangile, Vieux Chateau Certan, Calon segur, Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Grand Puy Lacoste, Pontet Canet, Leoville LasCases, Ducru Beaucaillou, Margaux, Haut Brion, Climens and Yquem over the next few days as well as all of the other wines produced in Bordeaux. Lets see how my opinions change over the next few days....
- 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
’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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposed dates and how many people in your group.
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 page is also available in mobile phone version.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I am very pleased to welcome Simon Woods as our next Guest on this blog. Simon is a charming award winning wine journalist, whose excellent humour and bright demeanour always enliven wine tasting events. His knowledge and diverse communication skills bring the often complicated and confusing subject of wine to a wider receptive audience. Simon makes wine fun! He is certainly worth following on twitter @woodswine and looking at his excellent and funny video blogs on his website: www.simonwoods.com
1. You have been writing about wine for some time Simon. What drew you to this subject and why?
Flavour – even though we didn’t have an especially exotic diet at home, I noticed at a reasonably early age that there was a difference between the bad, the OK and the best. Couldn’t work out in my teens how my friends could drink vast quantities of grotty beer when there was better stuff on offer for just a few pence more a pint. After a brief dalliance with the electronics industry, I spent a year in Australia during which time I picked grapes, worked in a bottle shop and visited several vineyards on a bike. Since then, I’ve managed to carve out a job that let me share my opinions with others.
2. Have you ever wanted to make wine and develop your own label? And if so, which area would you choose?
With so much interesting wine around, it would be hard to settle on a particular region. Also, running and promoting your own estate seems to be extremely hard work. But it would be great to develop a brand that covers many regions, something that is consistently good but which encourages normal people to spend just that little bit more to explore the world of wine.
3. You write mainly for the UK market which is facing some challenging times at the moment. You taste extensively all around the World. When you are polishing your crystal ball in the evening what do you think are the most exciting wines (area, region or country) that we are about to discover on the UK merchant shelves?
The traditional wine producing countries of Europe offer so much in terms of the spectrum of flavours, but most of the time, their promotion is very poor, and often forgets that the target audience is normal people rather than the wine trade. At the same time, countries outside Europe are often seen in the UK as simply sources of easy-going varietal wine, meaning that the more ambitious offerings are seen as overpriced. My concern is that our obsession with ‘getting a good deal’ will cause many wine producers to bypass the UK and seek out more appreciative audiences in other countries. So while there’s lots in both the Old and the New World that excites me, I’m not holding out much hope of our shelves being overwhelmed with whites and reds from Galicia, Austria, southern France, Swartland and Beiras, new wave Australian Chardonnay, Greek whites, post modern Bordeaux reds etc
4. What do you think of organic and biodynamic wines? Do you think the customer cares?
Love the idea of wines being made that are sympathetic to the environment, but for most customers the organic/bio status is a bonus rather than a reason for buying in the first place.
5. You live in the North of England. Are there enough tastings and activities for northern based journalists, consumers? Or do you feel that the wine trade is Londoncentric? What percentage of your time is spent travelling??
The wine trade IS very London centric: with regard to trade tastings, there are events in the north, but they often coincide with more interesting ones darn sarf. But there are several enterprising northern retailers who make sure their customers get plenty of chances to try wines. As for me travelling, family demands mean I do quite a lot less than in the past, but I’m still away from home – both in London and on trips to other countries – for maybe 80 nights a year.
6. Which journalist has the best reach to the audience? Which journalist do you read and appreciate the most?
They write for different audiences, but I’ve heard that reccos from Jancis Robinson, Jane McQuitty and Matthew Jukes translate into sales. I love reading Andrew Jefford, and just wish he had a decent outlet for his impassioned purple prose, but he’s never going to be mainstream.
7. If you had the choice of any other career.....what would you want to be?
Am too old now to be a footballer, but there may still be time to play lead guitar in a kick-ass band…
8. You do most of your reviews now on video – why?
There’s been a huge move to consuming information online rather than in print, with video leading a lot of the charge. Hopefully my enthusiasm for wine comes through in my videos, and not only exposes me to a wider audience, but lets people discover wine in a way that is more relevant to them
Simon is worth following for his humorous video blogs and his fun twitter activity.
www.simonwoods.com, twitter @woodswine