As the en primeur campaign gets fully underway, there has been one particular phenomenon that has so far been under-reported, but it highly significant.
All the headlines, and the huge number of complaints on Twitter and elsewhere, are aimed at the price rises that we are yet again seeing after the record prices set in 2009 (also, of course, declared a vintage of the century). Among the biggest culprits so far are Chateau Pontet Canet (up nearly 40% to €100; maybe the only estate that can get away with it) and Chateau Boyd Cantenac up nearly 30% to €44.80 (I could go on, see: http://newbordeaux.com/documents/release_prices.html )
But there is an emerging trend of certain chateaux being far more reasonable, and keeping their prices the same as 2009. Even more surprising, these are classified chateaux – not from the Medoc, but over on the other side of the river, in Saint Emilion.
Among the classified St Emilions that have kept their prices the same as 2009 are:
Ch La Clotte
Clos St Martin
Ch Grand Corbin
Ch Grand Pontet
Ch Grand Murailles
There are still some crazy price hikes over in St Emilion (Faugeres and Peby Faugeres anyone?), and of course Angelus/Cheval Blanc/Ausone are not out yet, but it is notable that the classified wines between the two banks have wildly diverged this year. No more ‘keeping up with the Jones’ on the Right Bank, where they have suffered from the Chinese obsession with 1855 estates (for other issues arising from this, see http://newbordeaux.com/documents/bordeaux_and_china.html ). Bordeaux is often decried for caring more about ‘face’ in front of the neighbours than market reality, but clearly there has been a dose of market reality in recent years over on the Right Bank, and most are responding. I hope they get rewarded for it.
Something else interesting is happening over in Saint Emilion, and I am sure that the two things are linked. There is a growing clamour from the top estates that the rules of the classification be relaxed to allow expansion of Classified estates. This is because they see one of the reasons for the Left Bank’s rapid price rises is due to their ability to buy more land, bottle more wine, and therefore put more marketing muscle and distribution behind their brands.
There are all kinds of signs that producers are gearing up for this to happen. The new chai at Cheval Blanc, for example, will have capacity for more wine than they currently produce, and the same is true of all recent building projects. And it was announced in the last few days that the Wertheimer family, owners of luxury goods house Chanel, and Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux, have bought the neighbouring estate of their classified Saint Emilion property Château Canon. The 12-hectare Château Matras, also a classified growth, was purchased for €8 million, in a deal that valued the land at €600,000 per hectare (far less than recent classifed Saint Emilion purchases, that have reached up to €1 million per hectare). They have said they want to use all their 22 hectare Canon for the first wine, and use Matras for the second wine, Clos Canon. This is a great strategy for boosting production and therefore brand value of Canon within the existing rules, but also allows, once again, for easy adjustment if the rules do relax.
It's a brave person who places a bet on Saint Emilion sorting out their political differences over this one, but there are some big names behind the change. And this campaign yet again is proving how the 1855 Medoc wines are fully in the driving seat right now. Their prices rises will just be making the big named Saint Emilions ever more resolute to level the playing field.
The building that hopes to be Bordeaux’s Guggenheim was revealed this week, drawing comparisons from various observers to ‘a decanter’, ‘wine swirling round in a glass’ and a ‘giant thumb’.
The Wine Centre will be designed by Parisian architects, X-Tu, with London scenography company Casson Mann working on the interior. The two companies were selected among 113 candidates, and will now prepare for a build starting in early 2013, with a completion date expected for 2014.
Philippe Massol, director of the project, explained, ‘We selected the most spectacular building, that for us reflects the sensual side of wine, and is in harmony with the river which it will be built alongside. It is also the most environmentally sound, built out of wood and glass, which themselves are materials used in wine. We also felt that this offered the best link between design and function, to have a fully immersive experience between scenography and architecture.’
The 10,000m2 building will have a three-tiered main section and a tower topped by a panoramic viewing platform. The building’s skeleton will be made of wood, covered by two layers of glass, and the upper level covered with photovoltaic panels.
The project now passes for final approval on May 30, where it will get official sign off from the mayor of Bordeaux, and things will move to the technical design phase, with the drawing up of technical plans. Costs are still estimated at €55 million, with 400,000-600,000 paying visitors expected each year.
More photos of the final project:
This is the second article from the South China Morning Post that I wrote following the 2010 en primeurs, published on April 28 (and before you ask, the edit turned the Saint Emilion wines into Grand Cru, I am sure just to keep things simple).
Best cellars - a look at Bordeaux's most promising en primeur investments
In the second of a two-part series on Bordeaux futures, Jane Anson takes a look at the best potential investments
Coming so soon after the investment-heavy 2009s, it seems a tough task to expect the 2010 Bordeaux wines to attract equal numbers of buyers looking for long-term growth in their wine values.
The vintage, which wine buyers and journalists tasted en primeur (before being bottled) earlier this month, does have a few tricks up its sleeve, however, not least the history of great Bordeaux years coming in pairs.
There has been plenty of talk of this being the equivalent of 1928 and 1929 (although the styles were reversed there, with 1928 being more classically structured and 1929 more voluptuous). For those with shorter memories, 1989 and 1990 offered this similar mix of long-living and concentration against richness and harmony.
The dry, extended growing season of 2010 has produced wines of enormous concentration that are likely to need time to develop in bottle, with huge potential for ageing - in short, the exact thing that most Bordeaux collectors search for.
These are physical wines, three-dimensional in the best examples, rich in texture, depth and length. On the whole, cabernet sauvignon on the Left Bank made some truly fantastic wines. Its success was clear in the sheer percentages put in (90 per cent at Chateau Margaux, equalled only in 2006, 94 per cent at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, the highest ever).
Over on the Right Bank, cabernet franc was the star, and again many estates have used their highest ever levels of the grape (55 per cent at Chateau Angelus, 80 per cent at Le Dome).
Prices, due to be released over the next few months, are likely to be high, with most chateaux skirting around the record prices set in 2009, and some climbing even higher. The wines that follow are not easy to get hold of, but Hong Kong residents are lucky in that a vast majority of them are likely to head east.
If you pay opening prices, you should see a rise in value; but for this piece, I have not mentioned the first wines of the First Growths, as they are a clear investment opportunity if bought at opening price. I am looking instead at the next wave of investment wines.
There are a few voices of caution, however. Sebastian Woolf, portfolio manager at European Fine Wines, says: "I still believe the 2008 vintage is the wine to buy for clients at the moment. For individual estates, Lynch Bages is one to watch, and back-vintage Haut-Brion."
Chateau Ausone 2010, Saint Emilion grand cru
Plummy, rich red, some violet, cassis and fig hints on the nose. Every year this is a lesson in how to keep things in check, in balance, under control. The blend is the same as last year at 55 per cent cabernet franc, 45 per cent merlot. On paper, this sounds like a big wine: entirely new oak for ageing, low yields, 14.5 per cent alcohol, Michel Rolland as consultant. Yet they manage to keep things utterly fresh and restrained.
98-99/100. Drink 2021-2045.
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2010, Saint Emilion grand cru
The grape varieties this year were a reversal of 2009 - 56 per cent cabernet franc, 44 per cent merlot, showing how well cabernet did in 2010. The tannins manage to be both big and ripe, and the cool nights have given the whole experience a fresh elegance and wonderful length.
96-97/100. Drink 2021-2045.
Chateau la Conseillante 2010, Pomerol
Of all the Right Bank appellations, Pomerol produced some stunning wines this year, and many offer excellent investment potential, as they should be long lasting. This wine offers violet edges with an open, spicy and exotic nose. Gorgeous, mouthwatering fruit, a rush of uplifting freshness on the finish, juicy redcurrant, violet and elderberry fruits in the mid-palate, cradled by the acidity.
96/100. Drink 2020-2045.
Chateau Haut Bailly 2010, Pessac Leognan
Warm vanilla pods and cedar on the nose. On the palate, the elegance comes in, with a freshness that matches pace for pace the tannins and deep black fruits. This continues a run of increasingly successful vintages for this chateau, and even with the price rise introduced in 2009, there still seems some way to go in terms of investment. But don't be too concerned about that - this is one to keep and drink.
95+/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2010, Pessac Leognan
Undervalued compared to the other second wines of the First Growths, this is really worth seeking out. The wine offers an instant hit of finely textured autumnal fruits, so clean and precise that it closes with a whisper on the finish - highly accomplished, with a rich vibrant core. A mix of 52 per cent merlot, 36 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 10 per cent cabernet franc and 2 per cent petit verdot.
94/100. Drink 2018-2035.
Chateau Palmer 2010, Margaux
A successful combination of tension and power. The acidity is giving an incredibly balanced feel to what is clearly a huge wine. This has long been the only real contender from an investment point of view to Chateau Margaux in this appellation, and here again proves what a thrilling wine it is. A ratio of 54 per cent merlot, 6 per cent petit verdot and 40 per cent cabernet sauvignon.
97/100. Drink 2022-2042.
Chateau Duhart Milon 2010, Pauillac
It goes without saying that if you secure Chateau Lafite Rothschild at the opening price, you should snap it up - but expect prices to begin their ascent quickly and steeply, taking the shine off any returns if you don't get in immediately. This wine, also from the Lafite stable, should offer a slower rise but still enormous pleasure and potential. It gives an immediate hit of plum and intense damson, and is rich in structure and power, with concentrated liquorice and savoury herbs.
95/100. Drink 2022-2042.
Chateau Pontet-Canet 2010, Pauillac
This estate was certified both organic and biodynamic in 2010, and once again proves why it has leapt up in terms of reputation over the past decade. Such a vibrant colour, it just jumps out of the glass. Incredibly aromatic. This is violet, plum, rosemary, black cherries and pure cassis, all clearly defined.
96/100. Drink 2020-2045.
Les Forts de Latour 2010, Pauillac
The second wine of Chateau Latour has been going from strength to strength in quality over recent years, and displays the same precision engineering you see in Latour itself. Grape selection has been tightened in 2010, and there is a clear density and definition to the rich black fruits.
94-95/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Clerc Milon 2010, Pauillac
Again, if you can get hold of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at the opening price, don't hold back. If not, look to the other wines within their stable, and for my money, Clerc Milon is looking wonderful this year. Full of power, this has the minty edge, the tannins and the freshness to really lift you up and carry you through.
94-95+/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Leoville Las Cases 2010, Saint-Julien
Stunning, utterly gorgeous, a classic wine from my favourite appellation of 2010. There is quite high acidity underpinning the tannins, translating into fresh fruit flavours, wrapped in a powerful structure and incredibly suave texture. One of the wines of the vintage for me.
99+/100. Drink 2022-2045.
Chateau Beychevelle 2010, Saint-Julien
A wine that is creating increasing interest in auction houses, this has a powerful punch of tannins, again saved by a juicy acidity scooping them up in the mid-palate. Great finish, seriously persistent, with mouthwatering touches and tannins that inch along, revealing themselves tantalisingly slowly.
94+/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Gruaud Larose 2010, Saint-Julien
Silky, viscous in texture, deep rich velvet tones, sweet charred oak on the nose. This has power but no harshness, intense fruit flavours, well-knitted together tannins, silky texture, excellent quality wine.
94+/100. Drink 2020-2040.
La Croix de Beaucaillou 2010, Saint-Julien
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou itself is utterly stand-out this year, but 2010 is a good year for smart buying of the second wines, and this is one of the best - and offers earlier drinking than many Left Banks this vintage. Made from its own separate plots of vines, it is due to sport a new label for this vintage, signalling the investment that has been put into upping the quality. And something is clearly working - 85 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 15 per cent merlot, pure violet in colour, rich and sweet on the palate, joyful.
94+/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Lynch Bages 2010, Pauillac
Again, the massive tannins that are a signature of the vintage, with every element pumped up to full volume. Wet-stone minerality, smothered in blackcurrant, clearly built to last. Lay this down and forget about it for a while, then sit back and enjoy.
94-95/100. Drink 2021-2045.
Chateau Pichon Comtesse 2010, Pauillac
Some subtle floral notes on the nose, this has rich damson fruits, good structure, with liquorice and sweet spices coming in the mid-palate. Yet again a wine where you greet the fresh acidity like a long-lost friend - expect this wine to last upwards of 40 years.
94-95/100. Drink 2025-2040.
Chateau Calon Segur 2010, Saint Estephe
Full of St Estephe character, with wonderful freshness, 86 per cent cabernet sauvignon, two per cent petit verdot, 12 per cent merlot. Half the usual production this year, 80,000 bottles, instead of 160,000 bottles last year, so the price will inevitably rise, but small quantities will also make it sought after in years to come. 13.8 per cent alcohol, but kept in check. 95-96/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Back from a week in Chicago with Speechmark Bordeaux, a wine education and language school based in Bordeaux. I have accompanied them on week-long ‘market immersions’ for the past few years, for winemakers to get to understand Anglophone markets, and meet up with journalists, buyers, sommeliers and other key players. We were in New York last year, and this year headed to Illinois for five days in Chicago.
Apart from the fact that it rained pretty much all week, we had a fantastic time. There were five winemakers with us, all from small properties who do not sell en primeur, and who have limited or no distribution within the States. These were:
Chateau Rivalerie (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Brethous (Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau de l’Esperance (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Cantinot (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Beau Rivage (Bordeaux Superieur) and Clos La Boheme (Haut-Medoc), both owned by the Nadalie family, fifth generation barrel makers.
The aim of the week is not sales (they may go on to pursue that of course, but we have nothing to do with it) but to understand the opportunities and the barriers to entry of the market. It gives them really useful information (for me too, just a brilliant way to keep up to date) that comes straight from the guys who are shaping and commenting on the market.
First up, from Marc Witham, a wine educator in Chicago whose mother is French, and who used to work at Sam’s Wines (bought out by Binny’s in 2009). He started off the week by giving an overview of the US market as it stands today:
US largest wine market in the world, drank the most wine ever in 2010, the 17th year of growth, spending $40 billion. 300 million consumers
Added 71 million cases over the last decade in sales. Higher per consumption drinkers, regular once a week drinkers are now responsible for 91% of the consumption
72% domestic wine, 28% imported wine
After decades of more white than red, since 2005 it is the other way. 14% rose, 44% red, 42% white.
Costco sold 1.1 billion in wines, 75 billion bottles worldwide in 2010
There are 233 million adults in America, of which 80 million drink wine on a weekly basis
Even during this recession, wine drinking has increased.
In 1988, 94.2% of imports were Old World wines, today its 67.3%
In 1997, France represented 30% of imports, in 2009 it was down to 9.3% (and Australia at 30%)
3.3 million purchasers of luxury wine, classed as bottles over $25
52% of spend overall is at under $10
Cabernet Sauvignon prices across the US (survey from 2009) saw prices of Bordeaux cabernet at an average $26.6, Australia $12.9, California $23, and the cheapest from Chile at $12.9€
There are 6000 restaurants in downtown Chicago, for a population of 9 million. Concentration of chains such as Wine Styles and Binny’s, plus boutique shops like Lush, Galleria, Just Grapes and gourmet food stores can sell wine such as Jewel or Dominicks
Consumers in Chicago buy almost entirely by grape variety
Southern Wine and Spirits the biggest Chicago distributor
Wine Styles biggest retailer
Mark also did some great online research using tools from Nielsen:
66% of core US wine drinkers look for info online
41% of core US wine drinkers use a smart phone
More than 50% of core US wine drinkers are on Facebook
He found that there are 45,000 comments on Bordeaux wine across one year (the query term was to include the last 620 days) across all social networks (so Twiter, Facebook, blogs etc), using words such as ‘red wine good great, positive, sauvignon, merlot’
When the comments were divided by demographics, he found ‘Bordeaux’ was much more likely to be discussed by men (although not Latino men, apparently, who had almost no chat about Bordeaux).
Worth putting this alongside the fact that women drink more wine than men in the US, but not more Bordeaux, so an opportunity exists. And of course there is the opportunity with the younger Generation Y drinkers (aged 25 to 35 approx). This demographic are more open to imported wines (68% drink them regularly, compared to 30% of Baby Boomers), and spend more per bottle – and of course will be around for a while to keep on buying the wines…
My 'value' (okay, in the context of the Hong Kong market) article for the South China Morning Post was published today. You need to be logged in to see it on the site, so I will reproduce it here (although I recommend subscribing if you are interested in the Asia market - it's an excellent way to stay tuned in to what is going on in a very fast-moving marketplace).
Next week in the SCMP I have chosen my best investment wines - and a more complete range is slowly making its way to my website www.newbordeaux.com (about 30% are up now!).
Now for the good crus
The 2010 Bordeaux wine futures week revealed some exceptional bargains
Apr 21, 2011
Get serious about Bordeaux wine and at some point you will consider engaging in the annual "en primeur" market. This method of advance purchasing the most sought after chateaux has ruled the business of selling Bordeaux wines for decades. It was formalised in 1974 when the Union des Grands Cru began organising its yearly wine futures week.
This is when wine buyers and journalists are invited to taste and assess the most recent vintage, and this year was held in the first week of April. About 6,000 visitors were in Bordeaux to assess the produce from the September crush that has spent the past six months being turned into wine. It will spend another year or more in barrels before being bottled and put on the market.
About 25,000 tasting samples were poured in 30 tasting stations across Bordeaux. The Union des Grand Crus organised tastings for its own 132 members (the classified growths of the Medoc, Saint Emilion and Pessac Leognan), but there were also many off-circuit events, from private tastings at the first growths to group tastings by high-profile wine consultants.
There were 68 nationalities attending the tastings, among them record numbers of Hong Kong and mainland buyers, indicating how the market has moved over the past few years. At many chateaux, vintage notes were offered in English and French, as usual, but also in Chinese. Maggy Chan, from Maxford Wines in Hong Kong, says: "Last year the prices already scared some traditional Hong Kong customers, but Hong Kong is a very dynamic market, and there are new customers becoming interested all the time. Overall, I found the wines more discreet this year than in 2009, and cabernet sauvignon lovers will have a lot to be happy about."
For the most part, quality of the 2010 vintage lived up to expectations, and it matches the brilliant 2009, although the characteristics of the two vintages are quite different. Where 2009 was all about generous fruit and seductive impact, 2010 is more of an intellectual vintage, with high concentration of tannins, fruit and alcohol, and a wonderful level of freshness that makes the wines likely to age extremely well.
In this week's feature, I pick my (likely) "best value" wines of the vintage, which will be followed next week by the "best investment" wines. For most wines here, the prices are not yet set, and will be released between this month and June. And when looking for value, don't overlook the "second wines" (made from grapes not perfect enough for the grand vin) of the best estates - in a great vintage like 2010, there are plenty to choose from. Once purchased en primeur, the 2010 vintage wines will be delivered in June 2012, with slight variations depending on the chateau.
Chateau Moulin St Georges, Saint Emilion grand cru 2010
A plum red blend of 80/20 merlot/cabernet franc. Love the gooseberry, redcurrant freshness that you get here, explosive on the first attack, truly juicy acidity, and a lovely fresh finish. This uses 100 per cent new oak barrels, but you can't tell, even at this early stage. Only seven hectares, so not a lot of this wine is available, which makes it worthwhile to reserve at this stage. 93+/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Carillon d'Angelus, Saint Emilion grand cru 2010
The second wines are coming into their own right now in Bordeaux, and this one, from Chateau d'Angelus, is among the best. Beautiful redcurrant and violet nose - gorgeous. The year 2010 is an excellent one for cabernet franc, and here levels rise to 50 per cent, blended with 50 per cent merlot. Stunning length, tongue-tingling freshness, for me the best example of Carillon produced at the estate. 94/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Beauregard, Pomerol 2010
Reserved on the nose, but comes in rich and powerful on the attack, with black fruits and sense of purpose. An intellectual wine that asks you to take your time. Seventy per cent merlot, 30 per cent cabernet franc. 92+/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Siaurac, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
Rich, vanilla-pod scented nose with dark cherries, a Mauritius sunset. This follows through on the palate, it is rich with pure fruit flavours and good freshness on the finish. Excellent quality for what is likely to be a reasonably priced wine. Eighty per cent merlot, 20 per cent cabernet franc. 91-92/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Clos Puy Arnaud, Cotes de Bordeaux (Castillon) 2010
Mouth-watering freshness of fruit, good persistency, and a crisp finish. Lovely, confident wine-making. Sixty-five per cent merlot, 30 per cent cabernet franc, 5 per cent cabernet sauvignon. 94+/100. Drink 2015-2035.
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac Leognan 2010
Rich purple with a sliver of vibrancy at the rim. Wonderful texture visually, and a highly promising nose. Charcoal flavours, some smoky plum, a touch of cassis, heavy tannic structure and a full mid-palate, but all very quiet, breathing slowly, clearly built for a long life. One of the best ever from this estate, also known for its white wines. 94/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Olivier, Pessac Leognan 2010
Another lesser-known estate that has produced high quality this year. A vibrant, reflective purple, with big but well-controlled fruit extraction. Big gooseberry and redcurrant fruits and a tunnel of freshness in the mid-palate that pulls you through to the finish. Excellent. 93/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Pavillon Blanc, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
No-one could accuse Pavillon Blanc of being a value pick on price alone (last year it came out at about €100, or HK$110, per bottle), but among first growths, I would argue that it is. This is the third year of their pure, more pared-back style, where they discard all but the first crush of juice, ensuring lower alcohol (13.5 per cent) and well-defined fruit. Made entirely from sauvignon blanc, it tastes of elderflower and lychee with some crab apple freshness. 94+/100. Drink 2012-2030.
Chateau Giscours, Margaux 2010
A brooding nose, and a fruit-filled attack. This is a big wine, making full use of the 2010 vintage. There is a veiled threat here and, as is so often the case in this vintage, you need to sit with it and give it time to allow the abundant cassis and blueberry flavours to reveal themselves. 93-94/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Rauzan Gassies, Margaux 2010
Inky dark purple, spiced nose of vanilla pods and black coffee. Silky in texture, and I like the restraint on the attack. Alcohol comes in mid-palate, but paired with coffee beans and some bitter chocolate and damson. Real density of fruit and tannins, with an elegant edge. A classified 1855 growth that offers such excellent value is rare. 94/100. Drink 2018-2035.
Chateau Lascombes, Margaux 2010
Dark, silky, damson and cassis nose, again the texture is very silky, with some sweet new oak coming in to the mid-palate, ever so slightly drying, but forgivable. Gourmet in style, more like a 2009 voluptuous wine than the cerebral 2010s. 93+/100. Drink 2018-2035.
Chateau Leoville Barton, Pauillac 2010
This offers wonderful pleasure at a reasonable price compared to some of its neighbours. Rich, pure, vibrant colour. Great whoosh of acidity-tannin-fruit, very polished. 94-95/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Gloria, Saint Julien 2010
Beautiful violet rim, spicy and inviting nose. A hit of sweet fruit on the attack, leading to a tunnel of tannin and freshness in the mid-palate. Clearly there is alcohol, and clearly built to last, but with grace. 94+/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Chateau Capbern-Gasqueton, Saint Estephe 2010
As of this year, the wine is being made in a new winery with 37 vats relating to the 37 plots of vines. More approachable, 27 per cent merlot, 73 per cent cabernet sauvignon, including 10 per cent press wine for backbone. It's very fresh, very focused. 93+/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau le Boscq, Saint Estephe 2010
This has promise, with carefully-worked black fruits, that are intense but not pinched, and a good freshness on the finish. Enjoyable, and a relatively good-value wine. 93+/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Jane Anson is Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter magazine, and author of the Bordeaux chapters of The Wine Opus (Dorling Kindersley, October 2010). She is currently writing a book on the 1855 First Growths.
I have yet to move my website over from PC to Mac, so please bear with me while I get that up and running. For now, will post the notes on to my blog. The first wave below Cercle de Rive Droite and the Perse wines, all tasted on the Sunday before the en primer week got officially underway.
Cercle de Rive Droite
Tasted in the new cellars of Chateau Barde Haut.
The majority of these wines suggest (as I have said in a previous post) that this is a boys vintage, one for comparing muscles. In fact, I felt this far more clearly in both this tasting and the one for Cru Bourgeois than in those of the UGC, suggesting that terroir counted for an awful lot in 2010. I can’t in all conscience give these OTT wines massive scores, and continue to complain about high alcohol, so be aware that unless wines are very well balanced, I will take a few points off for heat. My palate wants more restraint, and my scoring has to follow that.
Two estates really stood out for me in terms of how to deal with this issue. Firstly, Pontet Canet, who practised no leaf thinning and no green harvesting, to ensure the bunches were protected and to try to keep natural sugar levels reasonable. Secondly Pavillon Blanc from Chateau Margaux, where they used just 40% of the available grape must, because they used only the very first pressing and discarded the rest. This ensured the higher alcohol must that comes during the later stages of pressing was not used (they did declassify it and sell it on for generic AOC use). Of course they can afford to lose some of their production, but it does show that there are choices available.
For this Cercle de Rive Droite tasting, there were some excellent wines that really stood out, but a number that seemed to have picked to control sugars before phenolic ripeness had been reached, or others that over-extracted in what is a big, big vintage.
Chateau Siaurac, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
Rich, vanilla-pod scented nose, with dark cherries, a Mauritius sunset. This follows through on the palate, it is rich with pure fruit flavours, good freshness on the finish, excellent quality for what is likely to be a reasonably priced wine. 80% merlot, 20% cab franc. 91-92/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau de Viaud, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
This chateau has made the news recently as it was sold by Philippe Raoux to COFCO, a Chinese conglomerate. From this sample, they have bought a good quality chateau with room for improvement. A beautifully powerful nose, really deeply fruited, some gentle spice, but on the palate I get ever so slightly burnt taste with too much heat, even though it is well masked by powerful cassis. 67% merlot, 27% cabernet franc, 6% cabernet sauvignon. 87/100. Drink 2015-2030
La Fleur de Bouard, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
85% merlot, 10% cab franc, 5% cab sauvignon. Get some alcohol on the nose here, and it is a touch hot on the finish also, but in between there are some wonderfully textured cherry and blackberry fruits, and a sense of freshness to balance it all out, real blackberry crumble going on here with the toasted oak. 91/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau La Sergue, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
Deep, intense colour, inky purple, clearly coming from the 3% malbec, here blended with 85% merlot, and 12% cabernet franc. Grown from 5 hectares of vines on mainly gravel-clay soils, this is a good effort from winemaker Pascal Chattonet. Wonderfully tight, well-drawn tannins, I am seriously enjoying this. It gives the impression of alcohol that is girding at the bit, but under control. 91/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Jean de Gué, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
Enjoyable wine from Vignobles Aubert (owners of La Couspaude in Saint Emilion). Rich and textured, with well-balanced acidity and plenty of sweet truffly black fruits. 75% merlot, 20% cabernet franc 5% cabernet sauvignon. Small estate, at 10 hectares, but one that should offer good value for money. 90-91/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau de Chambrun, Lalande-de-Pomerol 2010
Owned by Swiss entepreneur Silvio Denz (bought from the very talented Jean-Philippe Janoueix, who had already done a lot to improve the vines). Mocha and bitter toasted beans, this has a lot going on, but here I worry that the alcohol will dry it out slightly. Still, my final impression on the mouth is puckering tannins, suggesting there is enough acidity at work to make it viable. A big effort. 94% merlot, 6% cabernet franc. 90/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Vray Croix de Gay, Pomerol 2010
Wondered if we had a touch of brett on the nose here, but if so it clears quickly. In fact, this has a very attractive core of fruit, there really is a good push forward in the mouth of blackberries and damsons, and some excellent minerality. 92-93/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Vieux Maillet, Pomerol 2010
90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, owned by the Laviale's of Chateau Franc Mayne. As ever with this family, we are high on the sweet oak taste, and I again worry about the alcohol levels. There are plenty of redeeming features here, not least the silky texture of the tannins, but overall, the alcohol is spoiling the finish for me. 88/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Taillefer, Pomerol 2010
Very closed on the nose, more than the others I have tasted so far today. Very slick though. We are again in eye-watering alcohol, which sours the finish, but there are some truly juicy redcurrant and gooseberry tastes along the way, that make it an enjoyable ride. Good elements, unfriendly final farewell. 75% merlot, 25% cabernet franc. 90/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Rouget, Pomerol 2010
Some interesting toasted black fruits, slightly overdone, disappointed as I loved this wine last year. 88/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau la Fleur de Gay, Pomerol 2010
One of the richest, slickest wines in this Pomerol line-up. This just has Chantal Lebreton on the title, no mention of her brother Alain Raynaud (who has moved on to his many consultancies, and purchased a small estate in Saint Emilion, called Chateau du Parc). 100% merlot. Some heat that threatens the overall structure. Disappointing again, because the attack is fresh and full of black cherries, but it gets lost. 88/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Feytit Clinet, Pomerol 2010
In theory, Pomerol knows what to do with merlot, and it shows here. This has a slightly scorched finish, but overall there are rich silky cassis flavours, and good acidity. Just 6.3 hectares at this estate, planted to 90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. 89/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Fayat, Pomerol 2010
The new estate created in 2009 out of the fusion of Châteaux Vieux Bourgneuf and La Commanderie de Mazeyres, both owned by billionaire industrialist Clement Fayat. 80% merlot, 20% cab franc. Tasted this at Clement Pichon a few weeks ago also, and it has further grown into itself. Very enjoyable, this has deep fruit flavours, intense but with restraint shown also, good acidity and generally all in balance. I am very impressed with this. 93-94/100. Drink 2020-2040.
Domaine de l'Eglise, Pomerol 2010
Some pleasantly sweet fruit here and a soft finish, the alcohol is present but tamed. Coffee beans threaten to turn bitter, but stop before they do so. This is a Philippe Castéja wine. 91/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Clos de l'Eglise, Pomerol 2010
Smooth and sweet black fruits on the nose, it wafts of international playboy. This is owned by Sylviane Garcin Cathiard and Helene Garcin Leveque. Unfortunately not smiling so much on the palate. There is power and intensity here, but it needed to be tamed a little more for my tastes. Get through this mid-palate wobble however, and the finish pulls back from overly high alcohol, returning the black cherry fruits. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet franc. A good example of how reliant these wines are on the right levels of acidity and pH – here they have just about resolved it. 91+/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Clos du Clocher, Pomerol 2010
A more classic Pomerol to me, lovely silky texture, some really well worked fruits, there is heat, but it is neutralised on the finsih by some good acidity. Careful winemaking I would say, erring on the side of caution, which for me the 2010 clearly needed. 70% merlot, 30% cab franc. 93/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Clemence, Pomerol 2010
Chocolate and burnt coffee beans, here is another that promises the world, but gets seduced by the easy thrills of alcohol. 85% merlot, 15% cabernet franc. What this and many of these are making me feel is how wonderful the 2005s were, because it seems that five years on, all anyone wants is a cheap date. 87/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Bourgneuf, Pomerol 2010
The Vayron family have certainly managed to flesh out the fruit here, you can feel it parting as you sip through the wine. But it's a tongue hurter, with a fair whack of alcohol. Still, there is hedonistic pleasure here. 90%/10% merlot, cabernet franc. 88/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau le Bon Pasteur, Pomerol 2010
Big fruit, big alcohol, although an improvement on the 2009 for me. Rolland should know how to handle alcohol, he has been dealing with very ripe grapes for long enough… 90+/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Bonalgue, Pomerol 2010
Here the fleshy exuberance of last year seems to be a little less carefree, a little more encumbered. There is no bitterness on the finish, and plenty of good rich fruits, but things are not quite cohesive at this stage. 95%/5% merlot/cabernet franc 90/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Bellegrave, Pomerol 2010
75%/25% merlot/cabernet franc. Wonderful perky aromas on the nose, followed by rich, slighty minty black fruits on the mid-palate... And then wham, alcohol dries out the finish! What is going on during the blending sessions at these chateaux? 89/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Gaby, Fronsac 2010
This is a very pleasant nose, not too try hard, not too much alcohol, brambly fruits and rich flesh. But again a little disjointed – is 2010 the poster child for moving en primeur tastings back a few months? 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc. 88/100. Drink 2015-2030.
Chateau de la Riviere, Fronsac 2010
This one I like, plenty of punch for your dollar, a good value pick. I am a little annoyed by the alcohol, as ever, but I think they are striving for a balance of enjoyment, quality and accessibility here. 75% merlot, 13% cabernet franc, 12% cabernet sauvignon. 91/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Haut Carles, Fronsac 2010
Wow, this has a big big nose, whacks you over the head before you have even begun, 90% merlot, 5%/5% cabernet franc and malbec. This deep, rich colour from the malbec, and real black spices, malbec clearly made a big impression this year. I liked this wine a lot in 2009, for me it has been turbo-charged this year, with a sour alcohol finish. 86/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Fontenil, Fronsac 2010
Dany and Michel Rolland, again Rolland seems to have pulled off one of the more enjoyable ‘smaller’ wines this year. I don’t mean to sound surprised, but he has got tons of extraction, but without being too heavy-handed. Good rich black fruit. Yes it's nakedly alcoholic, but it has the decency to try to cover itself up. 90/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau de la Dauphine, Fronsac 2010
Again, a good balance of power, rich ripe black fruits, and an attempt to keep things in check. I am enjoying this one more than many. Denis Duboudieu is consultant at this estate, and I think it shows. 80%/20% merlot, cabernet franc. 91+/100. Drink 2015-2030.
Chateau Dalem, Fronsac 2010
90%/10% merlot/cabernet franc. Enjoyable smoky quality, but heading towards burnt. Just about saves itself, but ‘limite’ as the French say. 87/100. Drink 2015-2015.
Chateau de francs, Cotes de Bordeaux (Francs)
Ok, here there is a sense of freshness that really works. I still believe they would have kept more fruit without the overriding alcohol, but it’s good. 89/100. Drink 2015-2030.
Clos Puy Arnaud, Cotes de Bordeaux (Castillon) 2010
Biodynamic winemaking practices deliver mouth-watering freshness of fruit, good persistency, and a crisp finish. Lovely, confident wine making that clearly doesn’t feel the need to bow to the cult of alcohol. 65% merlot, 30% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon. 94+/100. Drink 2015-2035.
Chateau Joanin Becot, Cotes de Bordeaux (Castillon) 2010
Like the nose very much, there are vibrant, swirling fruits, and I am enjoying how deep the fruit goes, travelling right through the wine to the floor. Heat on the finish takes away from the overall pleasure, but potential for things to settle down. 91/100. Drink 2015-2035.
Chateau de Pressac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Restrained, good firm fruit but still flirtatious and fun to taste, not trying too hard, touch of modernity from the vanilla oak. A reliable estate over the past few years, and a tip from me to get the nod during the next Saint Emilion classification. 92-93+/100. Drink 2018-2035
Chateau Cap de Faugeres, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Enjoyable, well textured and well handled fruit, with a sense of extraction of tannins and alcohol, but with balance. Not coming together on the finish yet, but I like the potential here. 91/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Haut Bertinerie, Cotes de Bordeaux (Blaye) 2010
Slight brett on this sample, and unfortunately not as cohesive for me as the 2009. This is an estate which I enjoy, and usually very reliable, but this is not yet a cohesive wine. 60/40 merlot, cabernet sauvignon. 86/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Reynon, Bordeaux 2010
Less soaring than so many Denis Dubourdieu has consulted for this year, inevitably of course given its appellation and price point. But this is still a perfectly drinkable in a year where many of the ‘smaller wines’ are trying way too hard. Here the fruit stays firm and fresh. 87/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Mont Perat, Bordeaux 2010
Lovely fresh attack, heavy hot finish. Again I am questioning the choices made during the blending sessions. Maybe the merlot gave them nowhere to go. 85/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Clos Chaumont, Bordeaux 2010
53% merlot, 25% cab sauvignon, 22% cabernet franc. This has restraint and a very enjoyable, fresh finish. You can feel the ripe fruit, but it doesn’t clobber you over the head. Good balance 90+/100. Drink 2015-2030.
Girolate, Bordeaux 2010
So smoky you could be trapped inside a wood-fired pizza oven. Overly concentrated, this vintage did not need low yields. It is still rich and velvety, and I know how well this wine can age (over the 10 year period), but needs to be retasted. 89/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Penin, Bordeaux 2010
A highly reliable estate that is not letting me down once again this year, although slight reduction on this sample. They are not trying too hard to be a muscle bound Schwanenneger, although I still preferred their 2009. 88/100. Drink 2015-2025.
Chateau Thieuley, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Graasy sauvignon on the nose, and fairly gentle on the palate, surprising after so many aggressive reds. This is good, but unexciting. 87-88/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Chateau Raynon, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Reduction on the nose, often to be expected at this stage. I like the subtly of this, there really is a pleasant, lilting fruitiness, and a real purity of expression. Like it. 91+/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Chateau Fombrauge, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Defined citrus aromas, and a fresh, frank minerality. I like this, good purity of fruit again, and not overpowered by the oak. 92/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Chateau Sainte Marie vielle vignes, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Delicate and succulent on the attack, although here things are slightly blown off course by the alcohol. Pleasant sherbert finish. 90/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Girolate blanc, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Biodynamic, what is that dandelion nose? Sorry, but this just does not work for me. Could be the sample. 84/100.
Chateau Hostens Picant, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Slightly too pinched, the fruit is clearly defined, but things are a touch imbalanced, and the mid-palate is hollow. I again like the fresh, floral attack, but it misses somewhere, competent but not great. 87/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Chateau Penin, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
Definitely fresh and juicy, tastes a little too pinched on the finish, but there is some prettiness here. 87/100. Drink 2012-2020.
Gerard Perse wines, tasted at Chateau Pavie
Chateau Lusseau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Estate owned by Gerard Perse’s estate manager. I'm not sure that this is working. I am truly getting an alcohol rush on the tongue. A good attack, lovely fruit and freshness, then another big, OTT finish. Not as good as last year for me. 75%/25% merlot cabernet franc. 86/100. Drink 2018-2025.
Clos des Lunelles, Cotes de Bordeaux (Castillon) 2010
There are a lot of interesting slightly earthy tannins here, and unbelievable concentration of spicy dark fruit. 28 hl/h, not at all unpleasant on the finish, the alcohol doesn’t burn, but it’s a hold on tight whoosh as you are tasting, and very little in the way of elegance. 88/100. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Monbusquet, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2010
I always find this wine tough to taste, and no different this year. You need to literally pull in your cheeks and breathe hard. Yield this year was 28 hectolitres per hectare, pretty low but Perse always strives to keep things down to increase concentration. I love the nose, love the potential, but the alcohol takes all the fruit in your mouth and dumps it out. Clearly needs a huge amount of time before approaching. 88-89/100. Drink 2020-2030.
Chateau Pavie Decesse, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2010
This has a far better chance of taming the vintage, with its location on the limestone plateau, and it does so. Certainly there is silky texture here, and the purity of the fruit comes through, although you can run but you can’t hide from the alcohol. In 2009, this was the star Perse wine for me, but not as successful this year. 90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. 92/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Bellevue Mondotte, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Just 2.5 hectares, again up on the limestone plateau. There are clear successive waves to this wine, it attacks well, it has balance, then the alcohol and tannins come in. You are temporarily blindsided, but the juiciness comes back, and the overall feeling is freshness. Very good. 94/100. Drink 2020-2035.
Chateau Pavie, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2010
As ever, a divisive wine that has divided critics. This has a rich, ripe nose. Ok, it hits you directly in the face, a clean, sharp punch, but then seems to clear away, there is a definite menthol hit that manages to wipe clean the palate on the finish. This is a wine that has learnt to deal with power. I often think of Pavie as menacing when young, and this is no different. But it has balance, and for the style of wine that they are trying to achieve, it works. 96/100 (the highest score that I have given Pavie at this stage). Drink 2020-2045.
Monbusquet Blanc, Bordeaux Blanc 2010
A wonderful floral nose, but crazy 15% alcohol that cuts the flavours and the fruit right down. Not balanced enough for my palate. 88/100
The week of en primeur tastings finished up today with UGC Pauillac, St Julien and St Estephe, then a wonderfully sunny lunch at Chateau Haut Bages Liberal.
The Bordelais must be feeling pretty happy tonight, having coincided the primeurs with easily the warmest and sunniest week of the year so far, giving it even more of a school field-trip feel than usual. Not only were there golf buggies at Mouton, but deck chairs at Branaire Ducru!
A lot has already been said about the quality of the wines (just how much is a story in itself, with Suckling and Bettane slugging it out over early publishing of scores http://www.decanter.com/bordeaux-2010/en-primeur-coverage/520777/michel-bettane-threatens-to-boycott-en-primeur-over-early-tasting), but I will just add in a few of my own personal impressions. I will be publishing notes in the South China Morning Post over the next few weeks, and also on my website www.newbordeaux.com
For now, I would say this has been an interesting, intellectually challenging year to taste. These are very physical wines, three dimensional in the best examples, and time and again I found myself writing about texture, angles, depth, length, width. It's an architect's vintage, where the winners managed to slowly construct their wines, letting the tannins come into play consistently from the first attack and through the mid palate, not in one instant hit. The star has been the acidity, which has saved many wines that would otherwise have been too tannic, and certainly too alcoholic in many cases.
On the whole, I have preferred the Left Bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon has made some truly fantastic wines. Its success is clear in the sheer percentages put in (90% at Margaux, equalled only in 2006, 94% at Mouton, the highest ever, 90% at the brilliant Ducru). Merlot has clearly had a tough time with the water stress, and the heat, and alcohol levels were dangerous, particularly in Saint Emilion. On the whole Pomerol seemed to cope better, probably because the clay soils regulated the rainfall when it arrived, and for many Vieux Chateau Certan seems to have made the wine of the vintage. Many young vines suffered so much (on both banks) that the best estates simply declassified them - one of the other reasons, besides coulure during flowering, and small berries because of water stress, that the quantities are between 10 and 30% down from last year. The most severe loss I heard of was at Calon Segur, which made 50% of last year's crop, so 80,000 bottles instead 160,000, a fact that is made even sadder because the wine was just gorgeous; very classic for the appellation, but full of vigour and rich fruits.
Almost all of the tastings have required time and thought to work through; this is definitely not a vintage for snap decisions, and last year's en primeurs seem easy in comparison (this feeling was underlined today by a tasting of Pichon Baron 2009 - full of generous fruit, utterly gorgeous even now. just before bottling). But the best ones have been hugely rewarding, and there is no doubt that 2010 is another excellent year for Bordeaux.
The hallmark for me has been the length of the wines. In many cases, this is a vintage for the boys; big tannins, big alcohol, big acidity, plus plenty of wines that are dividing opinion (always a mark of an interesting year). That can feel like a negative for me, and I certainly started off thinking that Bordeaux would lose typicity if all wines were going to push themselves to the limit. But I've been pleasantly surprised. Not all, but a lot of those wines have been rescued (for my palate) by acidity. Both Pape Clement and Pavie, two wines that I often wrestle with, showed their terroir this year, because the fresh finish gave them room to breathe, with a menthol send-off (most evident in the Medoc) that was enormously welcome. I have had the experience on numerous occasions where the wine has hit me on the attack, and I have been ready to dismiss it, but sitting back has revealed interest, elegance and real potential (again, this is why it has been such a physical year, you have to travel with the wines).
I haven't talked about the fruit - which is definitely there, although in the most disappointing wines it is hidden by the other elements, and those wines I feel sure will dry out before they ever reach their drinking window. The best wines deliver a rich palate of fruits, and there are some 'smaller' wines, who don't try too hard, that have enormous charm. The Cercle de Rive Droite tasting had a number of those, including Chateau Siaurac in Lalande de Pomerol and Clos Puy Arnaud from Cotes de Bordeaux Castillon.
Overall, this has been an excellent and instructive week. No wine tonight though; a barbeque, a glass of champagne and some beer!
This was published on decanter.com this morning, in a shorter version.
Chateau Guiraud, the 1855 classified Sauternes estate, is to open two storage cellars for its wines in Asia, one in Hong Kong and one in Shenzen, China.
The first, in the industrial city of Shenzen just over the mainland Chinese border from Hong Kong, is due to open in mid-April 2011, with the second one to follow a few months later in June. The intention is to give Chinese wine merchants and distributors access to authenticated, landed stock that can be delivered quickly.
Augustine Lacaille, brand ambassador for Chateau Guiraud, told decanter.com, ‘We realised that as more Chinese consumers become interested in Sauternes, our partners need to have access to stocks of wine for tastings and education. This is key for Sauternes wines, as we need to show how flexible they are, particularly with Chinese cuisine. The two cellars are close together physically, but because of the different tax laws in Hong Kong and China, we needed to have separate stocks in each area.’
Guiraud will not have a full-time representative in China, but will continue to work as usual with Bordeaux négociants and their local Chinese distributors. ‘This is a professional cellar, not in any way an attempt to sell direct.’
Marc Brugalière, a Hong Kong-based representative for Bordeaux negociant The Wine Merchant, said, ‘It seems a positive development, and certainly logistically makes it easier for us to arrange tastings on the ground. If every chateau started doing this, it might get complicated, but overall it should be positive for Sauternes to have someone proactively promoting the region.’
To date, one container of half bottles (in 12 packs) and full bottles (in six packs) has gone to Shenzen, and the same again to Hong Kong.
Latest figures from the Bordeaux Wine Bureau (CIV recorded that sales of Sauternes wines to Hong Kong and China rose by 50% over 2010. In 2009 sweet wines accounted for 0.2% of all Bordeaux wines imported into Hong Kong, and for 0.3% of all Bordeaux wines imported into China.
I can clearly remember being in Hong Kong last May, at the official VinExpo dinner at the Grand Hyatt, and hearing the news that the talented and dynamic Vincent Mulliez had died at age 44. There was general disbelief in the room, as he was not only young, but an absolute force to be reckoned with, and widely respected for the work that he was doing with his estates.
Owner of Chateau Belle-Vue in the Medoc, aswell as Chateau Bolaire and Chateau de Gironville, he had worked successfully as a banker in London before coming back to Bordeaux to invest in vineyards. Here is a link to the news story that I wrote at the time:
All of this meant I was very happy to receive a press release today from his wife, Isabelle Mulliez, and five sons, giving an update on where they are one year later, as the next en primeurs approach. The press release was in French, but I will translate it here (I'm sure not exactly, but I hope close enough).
'Since the brutal and terrible loss of Vincent on May 22, 2010, our five sons and I have gradually got to grips with the legacy that he left us.
We are continuing to promote his three estates (Belle-Vue, Gironville and Bolaire) that he bought in 2004, and that ever since we returned to Bordeaux from London, have been a source of great joy.
As director of the SC de Gironville, I have met numerous partners that Vincent worked with, and who were moved by his entepreneurial spirit, and by his ceaseless serarch for quality in his wines, as well as his low-key, unaffected demeanour.
I regularly visit Belle-Vue to reaffirm my absolute confidence in the excellent technical team, and the wonderful technical director that we have there.
Frédéric Boisseau regjoined the team after Vincent's death and he assures, with the help of Isabelle Pascual, the administrative and financial continuity of the estates. He also upholds the relationships that Vincent had established with negociants, courtiers, banks and clients who were already loyal thanks to the recognised quality of the wines, and who have remained so.
From Paris, I have a financial and legal consultant who help me to get up to speed with my new responsibilities, which my previous medical and clinical psychology training had not equipped me for.
Of our five children, only Baptiste and Marin are over 18. Baptiste has already demonstrated his immense skills during the Grand Tasting de Paris last December, and will also be present at the Salon de la Revue des Vins de France in Spring. Marin also intends to join his brother as soon as he can
Motivated by our desire to continue to live as Vincent would have wished, we have together decided to go forward confidently along the road laid out for us by our beloved husband and father.'
The wines are being tasted at the Biturica tasting during the en primeurs
My article on private dining in Bordeaux chateaux was published in the South China Morning Post last week (link below, but you have to register to read it online). I was in Hong Kong while it was published, and know that it is part of a wider change in relationships between the leading chateaux in the region and their clients (that would have once meant merchants, but more and more means final consumers); chateaux are doing much more to reach out directly, travelling more abroad and in turn offering a more intimate visit back in Bordeaux. Wilson Kwok, the Hong Kong tour leader mentioned below, says he can hardly keep up with the demand from Hong Kong, and chateaux in Bordeaux are realising the benefits of allowing VIP-style visits. The article is reproduced here.
Vine Dining Bordeaux Style
There's an intimacy to any dinner party where people are invited into somebody's home to sit around the table together. The effect is hardly different when that home happens to be a Bordeaux chateau set amid manicured gardens.
"Bordeaux can seem intimidating to visitors, particularly the more illustrious chateaux," says Caroline Matthews, who runs Bordeaux Uncorked, a travel service that offers access to Bordeaux's most exclusive properties. "But staying a little longer, relaxing with either a property's owner or winemaker over lunch or dinner, and understanding their wines in the context of food, deepens the whole experience. And it gets you behind the scenes of estates that you normally only see as part of a large tour group, filing past wine vats and bottling lines."
It's hard to overstate just how wine soaks into every part of life in Bordeaux. There are more than 8,000 wine properties, fanning out along the curves of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers from the city centre of Bordeaux itself. More than 30,000 people work directly in the wine industry - one in every five adults - so pretty much every conversation will turn at some point to wine.
Until a few years ago, getting into the properties was slightly more difficult. Many Bordeaux chateaux were open on weekdays, only by appointments planned long in advance, and often restricted to professional visitors.
But there has been a quiet revolution over the past few years - not only in vineyards and tasting rooms, but also in kitchens. Private chefs, intimate dining rooms, picnics among the vines, cookery courses and food-and-wine matching banquets now offer a new way of experiencing Bordeaux.
Aline Baly convinces you of this in just five minutes. The young French-American owner of Chateau Coutet, a classified vineyard in the sweet-wine area of Sauternes, has been helping to redefine the private dining experience since she arrived in the region two years ago. By thinking outside the box about the type of dishes Sauternes can accompany, she is expanding the sweet wine's role in cuisine.
"Sauternes is a wine that is too often brought out for duck and foie gras, or at a push, blue cheese," she says. "I just wanted to show that there's a lot more to it than that. We use a local chef with tonnes of experience in pairing Coutet with savoury courses, shellfish, poultry and dishes with an international twist. Our philosophy is simple: complement, contrast, and texture."
And her reasoning for opening her dining room to guests is equally simple: "We love to host and wouldn't do this if we didn't love having a full house - but it also provides us the perfect opportunity to showcase our wine. Bordeaux sweet wines are super flexible. They are just begging for enthusiasts to break boundaries and try with all different sorts of dishes."
Restaurateur Wilson Kwok of W's Entrecote in Causeway Bay has been leading tours to the region from Hong Kong for the past six years.
"Bordeaux is so mature when it comes to wine tourism," he says.
"It is flexible, and most of the chateaux available for dining are experienced and serious. But the really memorable thing for visitors once they get around a table is that this is not just a tasting experience, but a way to actually drink the wines with the appropriate food in the place where they were created. The experience is far removed from learning something out of a book."
"Private dining at our estate is a natural extension of our winemaking," says Veronique Sanders, director of Chateau Haut-Bailly in Pessac Leognan. "We want to be able to welcome our clients and friends in a personal way - many of whom we have met while travelling abroad - and want them to understand our wines more fully."
With this in mind, Haut-Bailly is renovating the kitchen area within the chateau itself, and has installed a professional chef. Personal touches abound - the entire place is given over to the guests, and you can take drinks on the terrace, watch as the chef prepares dinner, or attend cookery lessons. All guests are given specially created Haut-Bailly chocolates, with delicate flavours of caramel, toasted pine nuts and fleur de sel ("to reflect the subtly toasted barrels, and the minerality that you find in Haut Bailly," says chef Tanguy Laviale).
Laviale is representative of the new type of chef you can expect to meet in Bordeaux estate kitchens these days. Having previously worked at the Michelin-starred Lasserre in Paris, he was tempted away from the French capital with the possibility of experimenting with his own style and developing the concept of food-and-wine matching with some of the world's best wines.
"We never offer a menu in advance," he says. "When you go to a friend's for dinner, you're not told in advance what you will eat, and we hope to create that sense of intimacy and magic when you dine at Haut-Bailly. Instead, I choose the food according to what is available in the market that morning, or according to the vintages of wine that are going to be served."
Expect the food to be equally exciting at Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe, as owner Thierry Gardinier is also proprietor of luxury hotel Domaine les Crayeres in Champagne, and of L'Angle du Faubourg restaurant in Paris. Again, the feeling is one of taking over your own Bordeaux hideaway - the entire chateau is at your disposal, and you are served champagne in a walled garden on summer evenings, dinner in the private dining room, then coffee in the salon.
"You really do feel like welcome guests, not paying clients," says Alexander Hall of Bespoke Bordeaux travel service. "The last time I ate there, we were served roasted seabass in a red wine sauce, wood pigeon stuffed with chestnuts and girolle mushrooms, and a warm chocolate moelleux. All with vintage champagne, followed by Chateau Phelan Segur 1996 and Chateau Phelan Segur 1993."
There are also plenty of chances to downscale in Bordeaux, even with some of the biggest names. Outside eating is increasingly an option: Chateau Lynch-Bages in Pauillac organised a buffet lunch among the vines for a group of Dutch wine lovers last summer, and Chateau Kirwan in Margaux regularly offers picnic experiences, with a wicker basket, a selection of cheeses and pates, a soft wool rug to sit on, and a few bottles of its rose and red wines.
For rainy days, Kirwan has the newly constructed L'Orangerie, a beautiful glass-walled space overlooking the vineyard.
Another less formal option is offered at Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, a neighbouring classified growth in Margaux, where food-and-wine matching is offered in a beautiful upstairs room with large glass windows that afford view of endless neat rows of vines and the river Garonne in the distance.
As Asian visitors have increased, there are more chateaux offering food-and-wine matching specifically aimed at Chinese cuisines, and most properties will be happy to put together tailored menus. Kwok, however, is a firm believer in staying local.
"There are many food-and-wine pairings that work in all sorts of cuisine and I'm sure everyone will find the right solution according to personal taste and preference. In that respect, I am totally Cantonese on one side and French on the other because of my upbringing as Hong Kong Chinese, and training in French cooking and oenology. But I prefer my clients to try everything `local' and experience the matching of local food with local wine. So, when they know this combination, they'll be able to find their own favourite combinations anywhere."
Experiencing local foods - which include cepe mushrooms, entrecote of beef, oysters from the nearby Arcachon Bay, milk-reared lamb or Gironde caviar - not only deepens enjoyment, but also opens the door to wider cultural experiences.
"I believe that wine drinking is a cultural subject and if time allows, I like the group to visit the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in downtown Bordeaux where dining tables of typical 19th century bourgeois families are displayed," Kwok says.
"That really demonstrates how civilised people were at that time and how sophisticated we are 100 years on. Wine appreciation does not only apply to the taste - it is part of a wider cultural experience, and food is integral to that."
Munch with the bunch
Prices according to requirements and budget, but expect to start from approximately €30 (HK$320) per person, depending on wines.
Chateau Haut-Bailly, Pessac-Leognan
Between eight and 15 people, cocktails then seasonal menu, one vintage of La Parde de Haut-Bailly (the chateau's second wine), and two of Haut-Bailly. www.chateau-haut-bailly.com
Chateau La Lagune, Haut Medoc
Private butler service, eating in formal dining room, or the chateau's kitchen with vaulted ceilings, copper pots and Lacanche range. Minimum two people. www.chateau-lalagune.com
Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
Buffet-style food and wine matching, with sweet and savoury dishes and range of vintages. From two people upwards. www.domaines-quie.com
Chateau Phelan Segur, Saint Estephe
From two to 20 guests, private dining room and chateau available for hire. www.phelansegur.com
Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot, Saint Emilion
Lovely dining room overlooking the vines. Guests greeted by a family member. www.beausejour-becot.com
Chateau Pichon Longueville, Pauillac
Small groups possible, from six guests. One of the most architecturally stunning properties in the Medoc. www.pichonlongueville.com
Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Saint Julien
Groups of 15 or less, although each request is considered individually. www.branaire.com
Chateau Bonalgue, Pomerol
Maximum 30 guests, currently refurbishing the kitchen and creating new reception rooms. www.jbaudy.fr
Chateau Coutet, Sauternes
Lunch/dinner with three to five courses with wines. www.chateaucoutet.com
The last three days have been spent filming the build-up to the 2010 en primeurs season for www.decanter.com, visiting three chateaux on the Right Bank and three on the Left with a videographer (it's still 'cameraman' in french) who had flown out from London. The intention was to capture the traditional March preparations in Bordeaux, when life is all about surface calm and behind-the-scenes frantic preparations, made slightly more stressful this year by a protracted vinification process due to a combination of high alcohol/low malic acid and low pH. This has meant that many estates only finished their malolactic fermentation a few weeks ago and the final blends for the 2010 vintage are just making their way into barrel, just four weeks before thousands of buyers and journalists descend to form their opinion of the new wine.
Filming started on Monday morning with Charles Chevallier, standing outside Chateau Lafite in bright Spring sunshine. We were taken on a tour of the new cellar extension, which will be finished in a few weeks, meaning that this April tasters will be received at Lafite, unlike Duhart-Milon last year. As of the 2011 vintage, Lafite will be vinifying in a mix of stainless steel, traditional wood and new cement vats, and there has been a sharp increase in small-sized vats to allow for greater micro-vinifications.
From there it was over to Hubert de Boüard in Saint Emilion, where we followed him on his wine consultancy duties, first to Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol, and then to Chateau Laroze in Saint Emilion, before heading back to Angélus. At all three of these estates, the focus was on the intricacies of tasting the different vat samples and grape varieties to decide the final blend for the 2010 vintage. Cue lots of pencils, equations, measuring jugs and purple-stained fingers and teeth.
This year, it’s fair to say that everyone seems pretty confident about the state of their wines, with a feeling on the Right Bank that Cabernet Franc has done particularly well (de Boüard expects to have his highest level of Cabernet Franc ever in Angélus, perhaps even up to 50%), and that the acidity that came from cool nights over the dry summer months will have saved the high alcohol worries.
At Chateau Margaux on Tuesday, the blend for the first wine had been finalised and put into barrels a few weeks ago, with the blend of Pavillon Rouge just finishing up. This meant we were able to film the next stage of the process – the mechanics of getting the right proportions of the selected plots and varieties for Pavillon Rouge into the blending vats (using low-impact peristaltic pumps), and then back into the barrels to start the ageing process. Director Paul Pontallier was equally positive about the success of the vintage, and this year’s Chateau Margaux will contain its highest ever levels of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Then yesterday it was back up to the top of the Medoc again, with Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe. An interesting time to visit this estate, which has recently left the Cru Bourgeois system to go it alone (it is still in the more prestigious Union des Grand Crus), and has seen its owners the Gardiniers purchase the Taillevent properties in Paris, adding another Michelin-starred restaurant to the Hotel des Crayeres in Champagne that they have owned for almost 10 years.
We tasted the 2010 Phelan Segur (the first journalists to do so), and again the signs for the quality of the vintage are exceptionally promising – this had depth of fruit, plenty of well integrated tannins, and a strong seam of acidity that promised long life.
Along the way we asked, of course, whether there will there be a market for the wines, following on the heels of the excellent but highly-priced 2009s. Pontallier seemed to speak for all of them when he said, without missing a beat, ‘It is always easier to sell high quality wine that mediocre.’
I had a wonderful meeting on Friday with Daniel Lawton, of courtier company Tastet-Lawton. Now in his 80s, he is the seventh generation of his family to run a company that was founded in 1739, and is part of the discreet but highly powerful world of Bordeaux courtiers; the tiny group of men who form the link between the chateaux and the negociants. He was helping me with research for a book, and looking through his company diaries, letters and ledgers from the past three centuries was a privilege, and truly eye-opening.
Among the many subjects we covered was the idea of mise-en-bouteille au chateau, when properties took the responsibility for bottling their wines entirely onto their own shoulders. This is officially dated to 1924, when Baron Philippe de Rothschild made it compulsory for all his wines at Ch Mouton Rothschild, but in fact there was already a long history of putting wine in bottle that dates right back to the 1720s.
The first place in Bordeaux to produce glass bottles was located on Place Mitchell (a very pretty circular Place behind rue d’Aviau, near to the Jardin Public), where there was a glass blowers. The road behind it still called rue de la Verrerie. At the time, all wine merchants were located in the nearby Chartrons, so it made sense to have a glass workshop close by. Although of course the vast majority of wines were still shipped in barrel, this was where the first experiments with mise-en-bouteille were taking place.
The Place is named after Pierre Mitchell, who was born in Dublin in 1687. He founded the glass blowers in 1723, and received letters of patent from the French monarchy in 1738 (his father had fought for the Stuart monarchy during the English Civil War, and was a Jacobite refugee at the French court in Paris). Pierre Mitchell became a negociant and ship owner in Bordeaux, and was also the founder of Chateau du Tetre in Margaux. His first job in Bordeaux commerce was in the production of wine barrels, and then founded the first glass blowers, initially in Eysines and then, from 1723, on Place Mitchell. His letters of patent (still available in the Bordeaux municipal archives) date from October and November 1723, and grant him exclusivity of production (although the chamber of commerce failed to uphold his demand that a competitor based in Bourg close down his business a few years later).
Although his method of production were similar to those already in use in England and Ireland, he did created the Jeroboam and the traditional Bordeaux bottle shape (similar to that used by Chateau Haut Brion today), but there was probably very little standardisation between the different bottles at the time. After receiving the royal patent in 1738, his workshop became known as the « Verrerie royale de Bordeaux ».
As Mitchell became more successful, he expanded his businesses, and in 1724 bought a part of the Seignerie d’Arsac, then bought up more vines in the Margaux region, and built Chateau du Tetre around 1736. Named a 5th growth in the 1855 classification, it is likely that Mitchell tried bottling some of his wine in the 1730s, making this estate one of the pioneers in Bordeaux.
Following Mitchell's death in 1740, the glass workshop passed on to his son Francois-Patrice. In 1819 the site was moved in turn by his sons to the quays in Bacalan, just a little further out from Chartrons, and a second glass workshop was opened in 1855.
There is an interesting PDF (in french) about this history of the Bordeaux bottle here:
Getting some training in for the primeurs, which begin in around 8 weeks, I had a great day yesterday up in the Medoc, tasting first the Domaines Delon wines at Leoville Las Cases, then down to Lascombes, and finally at Margaux.
Leoville first stop. All 09 vintage, last tasted in exactly this line up during the primeurs one year ago.
Fugue de Nenin
The alcohol seems a lot more present than it did during the primeurs. Tons of matiere but overall a little hot. Firm cherry flesh, and very smooth tannic structure, but a touch disappointing. 81% merlot, 19% cabernet franc, says 13.9% alcohol but I feel it is higher. 87-88
Much much better balanced, this has the redcurrants and gooseberry edge coming through, the structure holds it all together better and the alcohol, although definitely present, is far more in check. Very good, 80% merlot, 20% cab franc, 30% new oak, again 13.9%abv. 93-94
Chapelle de Potensac
Less fleshy than the Pomerol by quite some way, w good acidity. Seems to be in a slighty tough patch, this does have some very good components but clearly needs to be given a breather. 65% merlot, cab sauv 19%, 15% cab franc, 1% petit verdot. It is interesting, and quite a classic claret, but not immediately striking. 13.7% abv. 90
I am surprised by the difference again bw first and second wines, as 09 such a good vintage, but again this is smoother, silkier, with crisper and better defined fruit. This is a really enjoyable, perky wine, w good tannic structure, present enough to be confidence-inducing in terms of ageing. None of these samples are filtered or fined yet. 48% merlot, 38% cab sauv, 14% cab franc. 93
Le Petit Lion (complete with a baby lion on the label... who said Bordeaux can't do kitsch??!)
This is lovely, gentle coffee beans, percolating away under ripe black fruits. This is a great second wine. Full of vigour and smooth, supple fruits, but also restrained and elegant. Love it. 93+
Clos de Marquis
More matiere here, slightly chewier tannins than the Petit Lion. Good grip, fresh acidity, this is a little more intellectual, it's actually very good qualtiy, although for pleasure i would go with Petit Lion. 70% cab sauv, 20% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 25% new oak 94
Leoville Las Cases
Wonderful rich brambly nose, and what a lot is going on on the palate here. So much swirling fruit, amazing blackberries, blackcurrants, loganberries, truly get a taste of all of them, this was absolutely one of my favourites during the primeurs and has more than lived up to it today. Just an awesome, awesome wine. So much power, grip, acidity, tannins, but all wrapped up in this smooth silky mouthfeel, with all the elegance you want from a St Julien. 76% cab sauv, 15% merlot, 9% cab franc. 98+
2010 tasting of individual grapes varieties, brilliant opportunity to do this just a few months before the primeurs. All over Bordeaux right now chateaux are doing this kind of tasting, to get together their final blend before the serious ageing gets underway for the 2010 vintage. Interesting, Delphine (the winemaker) told us that they don't taste every day at lascomes, believe that you can lose objectivity if you taste every day, can become distracted by tiny daily changes... every chateau will have a different opinion on this.
At Lascombes they do malolactic fermentation in barrel so these wines have been in oak for approx two or three months
The three samples were:
Merlot on clay limestone - wow, this is bright, crisp and very powerful merlot. Fills your mouth withh rich sweet fruit, clear oak influence of course at this stage, vanilla sweet edge.
Cabernet Sauvignon on gravel - subdued nose on the cabernet, slightly sour and herbal in a very attractive way, clearly will add elegance and finesse to the merlot. Good length and again big but smooth tannins, good acidity, real backbone to this sample, touch of reduction.
Petit Verdot on gravel - very very deep colour, bright rich purple, very concentrated. Love this, again that sour bittenrmess that comes from the concentration of tannins and polyphenols etc etc. Subdued nose again, very tight, clearly powerful.
There will be another racking before the primeurs to loosen things up a litttle. Likely final blend approx 48% each of merlot and cabernet, and around 5% Petit Verdot.
We then did the same tasting with the 2009 grapes
Merlot - with an extra year, this has more menthol evident, it is fairly hot evident in alcohol compared to the 2010 merlot for me, which for me is slightly more impressive
Cabernet - that is gorgeous, more fleshed out than the fledging 10, again slightly less dense but certainly a more fully ready grape, still tons of matiere, tannins etc
Petit verdot - a powerhouse, lovely rich spice, very full and frank, never goes above 5% in the blend, and only in the grand vin, because only have 2.5 hectares (over approx 120 hectares in total)
The 2009 Lascombes final wine
This is fascinating after the three grapes. Rich, well balanced, full of fresh ripe fruits, and clearly the excesses of the merlot have been perfectly held in check by the cabernet and pv, but still giving a sexy edge. This is lovely. Also the oak is more subtle than in the individual grape varieties (Delphine suggests this is because the final blend comes from wine aged with a mix of barrels, which evens out the different toastings etc of the separate barrels). 48% each merlot and cab, 4% pv.
At Ch Margaux, we tasting the 07 Pavillon Rouge (very fresh and soft, highly enjoyable), then I had to go back to Bordeaux for school pick-up while the rest of the group tasted the 07 Margaux and the 09 Pavillon Blanc. I am still trying to recover from the loss!!
Following up on the news that Ch Carmes Haut-Brion has been sold, I thought it was very interesting to hear Alex Hall (at Vineyard Intelligence, a new company specialising in giving advice and support to those looking to purchase vineyard property in Bordeaux, www.vineyardintelligence.com) that it might have been bought for its real estate value rather than its vines.
It is certainly true that Pichet is a huge property group . The part that bought Carmes Haut Brion is calle PFP (Patrimoniale Foncière Pichet), and they have over 20,000m2 of offices, various hotels and luxury short-term rental apartments and one large commercial centre. That is without the €400 million estate agency business that Groupe Pichet runs. Rumour has it that they already owned a large plot of land just next to Carmes Haut Brion prior to the purchase.
They seem fairly clear, however, that they want to keep Carmes Haut-Brion as a wine estate, and it is certainly possible that the allure of a Bordeaux estate (particularly one that shares a name with Haut Brion) is worth the outlay of capital. Their intentions, according to the press release sent yesterday, is to restore the 19th century chateau, build a new winery, and to turn the 3-hectare park (designed originally by landscape architect Fischer) into a haven for wildlife, putting in ponds or a lake (to offer a haven for wild ducks), and encouraging biodiversity that they will extend into their treatment of the vines. The company as a whole has a recent history of green projects with their real estate business, so again this could be seen a showcase for their 'green values'.
The purchase has taken more than a year to complete (not at all unusual), and finally sold for a hefty €18 million. If they are seeing it as a flagship for their values as a company, perhaps the price tag is worth it (and there can be no doubt at all that other players would have been interested in getting hold of this estate). They say that it will be used for receptions, company meetings and other business related things - no mention of M. Pichet moving in!