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Liv-ex: Bordeaux 2009 Play or Pass?

Date: Tue, Dec 8, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Liv-ex monthly report came out this week, and included an interesting final passage on the 2009 en primeurs that I hope they don't mind my repeating here:

The major event of 2010 is sure to be the 2009 Bordeaux en primeur campaign. If early reports are to be believed, quality is on a par with some of the region’s finest vintages ever. With the last three campaigns having been mediocre at best, there will surely be an attempt to increase prices to maximise revenue. This is particularly true of the First Growths, who released the 2008s at prices
significantly lower than both 2007 and 2006. Is the 2005 release price a likely target? Since the summer of 2006, currency movements have been far from kind to UK and US consumers. A return to the price of the 2005 vintage in euro terms would make it the most expensive vintage on record, by 30% for UK buyers and 26% for those in the US. This would also make the vintage a pricey option when compared to other currently available years. Looking at current exchange rates and wines available on the market, only the 1982, 2000 and 2005 vintages would fetch a higher price.

With this in mind, what is the best buying strategy in 2009? The answer may be somewhat surprising. The last vintage released at a big premium to the general market was the 2005 – which was priced higher at release than all other generally available years, bar 1982. (Liv-ex compiled an interesting chart which showed the percentage price increase of 33 leading chateaux from July 2006 to November 2009 in selected vintages, and showed that the 2005 vintage has actually been the worst performer since its release).

It is the comparatively lesser years of 2001 and 2002 that have shown the greatest returns, with both showing a price rise of 89% over the period. Indeed, the average price increase of all other vintages in the chart equals 63%; 18% higher than that shown by 2005. In essence, the high price of the 2005 vintage sparked price rises among its lower priced peers. If the trend of four years ago is repeated, then 2006 and 2008 are likely to represent the best opportunities for investment. Key to this, however, will be the scores update for the 2008 vintage – will Parker reconsider his lofty
scores with a potentially legendary vintage now in barrel? The 2004 vintage and those of the mid 90s also look extremely cheap.

So just how successful will the campaign be? In general the outlook is positive. The buzz surrounding the vintage is enormous and collectors and merchants who have largely sat out recent campaigns may well return. There are, however, a number of caveats to consider. With exchange rates against them and the recovery still fragile, collectors in the US and UK may tread carefully, particularly at the very top end. The US is also suffering from the withdrawal of Diageo from the market, formerly the largest US buyer of en primeur.

Asian demand for a big en primeur campaign is also uncertain. Traditionally Asian collectors have chased brand and value, looking for the cheapest examples of the wines they favour. They also prefer to buy wine when it is physical. Will buying expensive wine on a futures basis appeal? It seems unlikely that Asia will replace the demand lost in the UK/US completely. There are certainly no guarantees that general demand will return to the levels seen for the 2005 vintage and the chateaux will need to price the wines carefully to support the still fragile market recovery of the past 12 months. Nevertheless, a blockbuster vintage will attract both publicity and new money and this can only be positive for the market in 2010.


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Jean Michel Cazes in 'Drops of the Gods' manga

Date: Sun, Dec 6, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I wrote a story for Decanter this week on Jean Michel Cazes taking a starring role in the cult Japanese manga 'Drops of the Gods', and particularly the 2003 vintage of his Chateau Ormes de Pez.


I thought I would add here the response from Marina Cazes, his daughter, with some interesting background on how it happened:

'We had absolutely no idea that my father was going to be pictured as a manga character and that such focus would be given on Ormes de Pez and our other activities.

Indeed, Shin and Yuko Kibayashi recently came to Pauillac where they were intronised by the Commanderie and, on that occasion, Shin Kibayashi ran the Marathon!

We only had a subtle feeling at that time that both of them had enjoyed pretty much Ormes de Pez 2003 during a dinner at Cordeillan-Bages. I think my father was not expecting at all to be featured as part of the story… but in my opinon, the cartoonist has managed to capture some of his expressions.

For me what was most touching was the allusion to my grand-father André Cazes: that is another detail where fiction meets reality as my father actually gave one of my grand-father’s hat to Shin Kibayashi...

We first heard about “Les Gouttes de Dieu” thanks to an article published in the New York Times last October 2008. And about the same time, my father ran into the cartoonist Shu Okimoto at Café Lavinal in Bages. She was visiting Lynch-Bages with a Japanese friend from Bordeaux. They had a good contact. Shu Okimoto told my father that the authors had been invited by the CIVB for the Medoc Marathon. He offerred to help them organize their visit in Bordeaux and invited them to stay at Cordeillan. The induction in the Commanderie was a "must". Then contact was established with both the publisher in Japan, Kodansha Company, and the French publisher Jacques Glénat who was also very helpful.

The authors are truly great French wines ambassadors. They do have a unique talent to describe wines; just think about the comparison between Château Mont Pérat and the band Queen for instance!
Also the series is very educational in a positive way: it creates a new connexion between manga readers (a traditionally young audience) and the world of wines as it turns it more accessible through emotions and images.

Of course we are aware of the impact of that series on French wines sales in Japan but our crystal ball is quite hazy to predict the effect on the sales of Ormes de Pez… I think it is too soon to come up with a forecast, however, our distribution partners have already given us a very positive feedback as they will undeniably use it as a promotion tool.

And last, but not least, we are very happy with the way Ormes de Pez is showcased in that episode: the fascinating dance of the flames in the fireplace, the crackling logs and family get-together… what a hearty and evocative description…'

Link to a reproduction of the manga here:


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New Pomerol Estate

Date: Fri, Nov 27, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Creating a new estate in this tiny appellation is extremely rare, as the 780 hectares of land are already divided up into a patchwork of tiny estates, and any plots that come on the market tend to be snapped up by existing owners (you may remember me mentioning the racetrack that is due to add an extra 13 hectares http://www.decanter.com/news/289932.html )

So it was very exciting to taste Chateau La Connivence on Friday (and to be the first English-speaking journalist to do so!). This 1.45ha plot (going up to 1.55 in a few years as some new vines are being planted in 2010) has been newly established from vines that previously belonged to Chateau les Templiers, which was broken up for succession reasons. It's currently building a winery on site, and the 2008 vintage will be released in May of next year, with just 2,000 bottles and around 500 bottles of a second wine La Belle Connivence.

Four friends are behind the idea; Alexandre de Malet Roquefort (of La Gaffelière), engineer and businessman Jean-Luc Deloche,and two Bordeaux and French national team footballers Matthieu Chalmé and Johan Micoud (in France, second only in fame to Zidane; both pictured below). Stéphane Dérénoncourt in on board as consultant.


The vines are located on a little gravel croup near to the main Libourne road, which is always a few degrees warmer than the rest of the appellation because closer to the city of Libourne (the same principle applies to the Pessac Leognan appellation and the city of Bordeaux).

The intention is to create something very high-end and customers will only be able to buy a maximum of a dozen bottles of each year (they never intend production to go above 3,000 bottles, and even professionals will be limited to 270 bottles, with exclusivities in various countries). And at around 155 euros, it is definitely going to attempt to position itself in the top league of the appellation.

I was genuinely surprised by this wine. The idea of basically a garage wine, micro-production, with celebrities on board (not only the footballers, but the wine will have a 'godfather' each year as an ambassador, as Bernard Magrez does with Pape Clement. The first of these will be actor François Berléand) meant I was expecting a blockbuster, dripping with alcohol, liquorice and chocolate.


Instead, I got a wine that has a very fine structure, that doesn't immediately jump out at you but builds in power on the palate. They talk about it being a 'terroir wine', and I can see why. It's almost entirely farmed organically, although not certified, and its 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon berries go whole into 400 litre Burgundy barrels for integral vinification (that never goes above 28 degrees). No bleeding of the wine, and only a tiny amount of press will be used (none was in 2008 but the quality in 2009 is so good that around 5% press will go into the wine). It will stay in barrel for around 18 to 20 months (they are not quite sure yet, as this is the first vintage). Malo starts naturally (as in Ch Rouget in Pomerol, and apparently also Ducru Beaucaillou in St Julien). Currently they are renting space in a neighbouring cellar, but construction of a winery should be compete in the next two years.

There are four types of soil across the 1.5ha - large gravel with good drainage, fine gravel, then sandy-clay and sand-crasse de fer. Alexandre told me yesterday that they were offered more of the 6 hectares of Les Templiers, but they only took the very best parts.

This is a wonderful wine, with loganberry and blackberry flavours that sit for a while in the mouth, then gather steam. There is a real power beneath, and a serious tannic structure, but elegance and soft plummy fruits is the impression that stays with you. I tasted a number of wonderful wines yesterday during a day in Pomerol researching for Opus Vino, but this was the one that I was still thinking about last night.



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How does Bordeaux fit into the Future of Wine?

Date: Thu, Nov 19, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

In the interest of doing what I say on the tin, I thought it would be useful to highlight how Bordeaux fared during the Wine Future conference in Rioja.

For a start, there were very few Bordelais winemakers there. Among the non-speakers, I saw Jean Charles Cazes, and reportedly Bernard Magrez was there, although I didn’t see him personally (would love to hear what he took away from the two days though; if anyone can squeeze something useful out of this, it has to be Magrez; definitely one Twitter feed I would like to subscribe to). There was also a Pessac Leognan chateau (can’t remember which one – money well spent there, sorry about that guys) in the lunchtime tasting. I asked one of the delegates why there were so few people from Bordeaux, and they replied, ‘Perhaps they are jealous of Rioja having had the idea to hold the conference?’.

On the stage, there was one main Bordeaux speaker; Mathieu Chardronnier from CVBG Dourthe, who represented the new generation of Bordeaux (he is in his early 30s) and was speaking about the crisis. Then Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux spoke on the second day, but just in the round table at the closing ceremony. This seemed entirely fair – no one country was represented more than that (okay, perhaps the US got the most, with Bob Parker, Ryan Opaz, Gary Vayn-er-chuck (thanks Gavin at Bauduc for the spelling, very helpful!), Kevin Zraly and Mel Dick, and I’m probably forgetting others) and it was clever to have one person from the old guard and one from the new.

What did Mathieu have to say? His speech was generally well received (although he felt it was mis-represented in some media outlets afterwards – nicely illustrating Gary’s point about telling our own stories).

A few highlights: ‘Bordeaux classified wines are the Champs Elysee of Bordeaux, but also the Silicon Valley – the Hermes, but also the Google.’ He very much drew a line between the grand crus and the rest of Bordeaux in terms of the crisis – although didn’t pretend that things are rosy for anyone, talking about the exchange rate leading many sellers around the world to liquidate their stocks, and how ‘many in Bordeaux are literally fighting for their survival because were already in a crisis before the global financial issues’, and that excessive regulations have long made France uncompetitive.

But the interesting part was how he saw the future – far more ‘vertical integration’ in terms of negociants becoming producers, and producers becoming negociants (or at the very least becoming their own sales team). Dourthe are a good example of this – they are a major, Top 10 negociant house, but have an increasingly big portfolio of their own estates, and with 500 hectares are now one of the most significant vineyard owners in the region.

He talked about other good quality, emerging producers such as the Despagne Family ( blog.despagne.fr ) and Michel Lynch (cheating a little, as this is the branded wine end of JM Cazes and Lynch Bages www.michellynch.com ), and saw the way out of the crisis as vineyard-driven through quality - seeing the future of Bordeaux as belonging to premium and super premium wines. This might be tough to take for many of the small producers in little-known appellations, but it’s very likely to be true – he rightly said it is very tough for Bordeaux to be competitive at $5 because climate and cost structure don’t allow it, but it is easy for them to be competitive at $20, when buyers are looking for quality wines of character. He also pointed out that Bordeaux was badly in need of undisputed leaders in this category.

Jean Charles Cazes confirmed many of these thoughts for me afterwards, and suggested that, particularly with the withdrawal of Southern Wine & Spirits and Diageo from the en primeur market, sensible Bordeaux chateaux, even classified growths, were having to relook at the way they work with negociants and merchants in the US, and take more of a direct role themselves.

Then there was the round-table at the end of the whole thing, and Bordeaux inevitably came into play again, in answer to the question can the best of Spain compete with Bordeaux in terms of prestige and demand? The answer (from Jorge Ordoñez, an influential importer of Spanish wines in the US) talked about the Vega Sicilia auction in Hong Kong last week http://finewine.finewinepress.com/journal/?p=2243 , as proof that yes they can compete, and brought up a lively exchange that I will recreate here (as best as my notes can allow):

BOB PARKER: I am against all forms of government intervention, but I do wish that the word speculation would be banned from use in association with the word wine. To believe that you are producing a wine for speculators, or that is going to increase in value, is wrong. You should be thinking of producing a wine that people will drink, not speculate upon, and the whole idea of speculation is relevant for less than 1% of wine lovers. Even though my scores are used for the worst possible scenarios, speculation for me is a dirty word.

JORGE ORDONEZ I agree, and I also know the reason behind Vega Sicilia’s auction at Christies was for prestige and awareness of the product, not speculation as such. More and more consumers in Asia buy these wines at auction, and then drink them immediately. So Hong Kong is becoming a major centre of auctions, and the wines are being consumed, not traded. But I agree with Bob that it is not a good thing for the wine trade.

JANCIS ROBINSON, turning to PAUL PONTALLIER – isn’t it sad sometimes, as someone making one of the great Bordeaux, isn’t it sad that some of this wine will be traded rather than drunk?

PONTALLIER Certainly we don’t feel very happy about it. The bad news is that there is nothing you can do against it. The good news is that when we make it, we don’t pay attention to that. We still make wine for people that enjoy them – now, in 20, 30 and 40 years time. Speculation has affected the market in terms of price, but not affected the quality, and perhaps even pushed up the quality. But honestly don’t think that anyone in Bordeaux makes wine for the speculators. We make it for the wine lovers who will open the bottle and enjoy it’ (!!exclamation marks entirely my own).

Another part of the ‘round-table’ can be seen here (answers to the question about the leading challenges facing the panellists at the moment)

I don't think they have yet decided where Wine Future 2010 is going to be held... can Bordeaux step up and meet the challenge??


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Wine Future: what will it look like?

Date: Wed, Nov 18, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I've been back from the Wine Future conference in Rioja for a few days now, and have been hearing from a number of other attendees who agree that it was fascinating in parts, but patchy, with speakers dividing into those who stayed on point and talked about the future (the clue was in the title guys), and those who just talked about themselves, and their own organisations.

One of the most interesting things for me was how fun and useful it was to use Twitter during the two days - to comment on talks, to locate people, and to track the general mood of the conference. 'If this is the future of wine, I'm changing industries...'. said Decanter correspondent and MW student Rebecca Gibb on her twitter feed (@rebeccagibb) on the first day.

She definitely had a point that things got off to a shaky start - we were treated on the first day to Spain's leading wine writer telling us he was going to make his writing more succint in the most rambling speech of the day, and Mel Dick of Southern Wine & Spirits telling us that a Florida wine festival had benefited from sunshine and blue seas.

Thank god for Gary Vaynerchuck of WineTV tv.winelibrary.com, who livened things up by assuring the assembled wine producers that they had been shamefully negligent for ignoring their consumers and allowing third parties (stand up wine writers) to tell their stories for them. He was a showman, and enormously entertaining to watch (Robert Parker said on his forum afterwards that Vaynerchuck has a career in motivational speaking ahead of him that is going to net him millions).

The highlight on the first day was - inevitably - the Robert Parker tasting, attended by 530 people, the biggest wine tasting to date in Europe apparently. I'm afraid I wasn't one of these 530, so can only give feedback that I have heard from others - one Bordeaux producer who said, 'it confirmed that Bob has a very different palate from me', and one journalist who was asked not to write about the event. That needed a moment to process - what do you mean don't write about the event? Apart from the fact that there were (apparently) five Flip cameras in the room, and numerous tweets going out throughout... what exactly would Parker have to be afraid of about someone writing about the tasting? And although I missed it, I was lucky enough to try the 1945 Marques de Riscal a few days later - the wine that finished the Parker tasting, and was still amazingly vibrant and youthful.

So, highlights of the conference?
Robert Joseph's excellent talk on the future of branding. He expects there to be:
- fewer and fewer wineries because of lack of routes to market, and few appellations because there will be no reason for them to exist.
- clearer distinctions between beverage wines and fine wines
- Wine will no longer automatically come in bottles with corks - or even screwcaps. 'Wine is everything from Blossom Hill to Vega Sicilia. Why do they all need corkscrews, glasses, corks... and please tell me why anyone needs to drink rose with a cork?'
- Education will have its place, but rather than focus so much on that, why not make wine easier to understand??

And from various speakers, but most eloquently Ryan Opaz of the brilliant http://catavino.net/ and Gary Vaynerchuck, the rise of social media as a game-changing way of doing business. And how lazy and dangerous it is for brand owners and wineries to leave their story in the hands of others, instead of telling their own stories though facebook, twitter and their own websites.

Ryan again emphasised how education might not always be as clear-cut as it can seem to the wine industry: 'The problem is retailers, importers, and the press were all trying to sell the same package of BS that you need to “know wine” to love wine. It’s the teach first drink later model, which I believe leads too often to consumers afraid that they might do something wrong, and as a result they end up simply buying based on price and what the label looks like. Why, because they are the only things not trying to tell them that they aren’t smart enough to enjoy wine'

(this point, by the way, was emphasised so clearly by the wine educators who disappointingly gave the worst 'block' of talks of the whole two days).

Read the whole of his excellent speech here:


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Tasting the First Growths

Date: Fri, Nov 13, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Halfway through the tasting, it suddenly sunk in just how great this was. It’s not every day that you have all five first growths – Margaux, Haut Brion, Mouton, Lafite then Latour – lined up in five glasses in front of you, and with two further glasses to the right, one with Cheval Blanc and one with Ausone. All 2006s, all ready to be tasted in one flight.

During en primeur every year, the first growths do everything they can to avoid you ever getting them lined up against one another like this, insisting you visit each chateau in person, and for the rest of the year, it is only professionals and seriously-well heeled wine lovers who get the chance to taste them together. If we were recreating this tasting at home, and buying all seven of these bottles, it would cost around 4,500 euros...

This wasn’t just a frivolous exercise by the way (god no!), but was a test, nearly three weeks after Max Bordeaux/Wine Gallery (they really should choose one name) opened to see how the wines were holding up in the Enomatic machines. The tasting was with owner Stanislas and PR director Lorraine Carrigan, and we were trying 2.5cl samples of every wine they have in the machines – nearly 40 in total, all in the 2004 and 2006 vintages. The storage Stanislas uses keeps the wines at 16 degrees, and the humidity at 60%. The machines also have the reds at 16 degrees, and the whites at 9 degrees. In theory, the Enomatic technique should keep the wine fresh for three weeks... so did it work?

We started up in Saint Estephe, and worked our way down geographically... and along the way, became more and more aware that this was not just a useful test of the machines, but a wonderful way to make the individual personalities of these wines really become clear. Again thinking about the primeurs, we are used to trying appellations all at one time, but less used to having Leoville next to Angelus, or Cos next to La Conseillante.

1) Cos d’Estournel 2004 – Not a bad place to start. I think it tasted more evolved than a comparable 2004 not out of the machine would taste (this bottle was unchanged since opening), with ever so slight oxidation, and ageing characteristics, but that worked to its favour, as it is open, silky and enormously seductive.
2) Montrose 2006 – Not changed for the three weeks again, but this was ‘at the limit’, gets promptly changed to a new bottle (which we mean to taste again at the end, but somehow it gets lost in the profusion of exciting samples...)
3) Pontet Canet 2006 – Third bottle that they have got through in three weeks, as it’s been a popular choice (I tried it also on the first night. This together with Smith Haut Lafitte and Lynch Bages have been most sampled). It stands up enormously well, wonderfully weighty mouth-feel, with purity of fruit.
4) Lynch Bages 2006 – Still very good condition, the tannins are tighter than Pontet Canet, this feels more of a classic Pauillac, masculine, confident, with weight and power.
5) Pichon Comtesse 2004 – There is a smokier edge to this wine than the other Pauillacs here, it’s also more subtle than the other two, silky and gorgeous ripe damson fruits. This has been changed twice, so the bottle is still very fresh – definitely something you would want to be drinking today over a good lunch.
6) Pichon Comtesse 2006 – Tighter tannins, stylistically feels more ‘Pauillac’, still that lovely sweet smoky edge, and some animal notes. Needs time.
7) Pichon Baron 2006 – Has been in the machine for three weeks, and another one, as with Montrose, that is ‘on the limit’. Doesn’t feel fair to judge, although we all notice that the core of the wine is still good, the machine seems to have affected the nose, and the finish.
8) Pichon Baron 2004 – Much more successful, the Cabernet has opened up, evolved nicely, still powerful but with a soft edge, delicious.
9) Lynch Bages 2004 – Again the evolution is very successful, giving a soft edge to the powerful tannins, and just gently opening up the hard knit black fruits.
10) Pontet Canet 2004 – This feels far younger than the other two 2004s just tasted, still real power and density, and rich liquorice seams in the wine. All three have the original bottles.
11) Ch d’Armailhac 2006 – the first of the trio of ‘other wines’ of Mouton and Lafite. Found the same thing as the Pichon – strange on the nose, and the finish a bit difficult, but the main core of the wine is still delicious. This bottle was immediately changed.
12) Clerc Milon 2006 – Tight tannins, plenty of liquorice and cabernet. The ‘Enomatic’ nose cleared within a few seconds, and the wine tasted great.
13) Duhart Milon 2006 – Again, this tasted great, very smooth tannins, plenty of coffee and chocolate, with very elegant expression of Cabernet.
14) Margaux 2006 – When we decided to do this tasting geographically, it was inevitable that we would have the first growths in the middle. But it worked, as we’d had some wines to open up our palates, but were still fresh. Sadly, this was the last measure in the bottle, and did seem to have been affected by the Enomatic machine. It has a wonderful rich fruit core, but didn’t have the usual length of a Margaux.
15) Haut Brion 2006 – Absolutely gorgeous. Rich, textured, beautiful wine. Everyone started smiling at about this point, wetting their lips in anticipation of the rest of this particular flight...
16) Mouton 20006 – this got one of the highest Parker scores of the year, and based on this tasting, it is easy to see why. Just bursting with personality, swaggeringly confident but very refined, with pure expression of ripe Cabernet.
17) Lafite 2006 – Nose is more closed, this is more masculine, just as you would imagine. Think this almost benefits from the gentle oxidation of the machine... it is rich, but open on the palate, and gives a hint of what it will become.
18) Latour 2006 – this is so elegant, the Cabernet Sauvignon is restrained and the tannins are unmistakably there, but their expression is almost delicate, not at all intrusive.
19) Haut Brion 2004 – Rich, textured, really a beautiful wine.
20) Cheval Blanc 2006 – Okay, over to the Right Bank, and a wonderful richness that comes in from the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A collective ‘wow’ around the table.
21) Ausone 2006 – My favourite of the Magnificent Seven... such incredible freshness at the end of the palate, it’s all so precise and perfectly aligned – you get the richness of the fruit at first, and then it picks you up gently right at the end with an almost minty caress.
22) Angelus 2006 – Must toastier than the ‘first growths’, more modern in style, but delicious, and does certainly hold its own.
23) Figeac 2006 – Nicely opening, very flattering wine, rich red fruits and a good tannic structure. There is the slight reduction at first, we are starting to think this is an effect of the machine – but it passes very quickly.
24) Vieux Chateau Certan 2004 – Has the slightly strange machine taste at first, with some reduction evident, but almost immediately disappears, and left with the lovely refined and satisfying taste of this wine.
25) L’Evangile 2006 – Bottle issues with this one.
26) La Lagune 2006 – No problem with the storage, a good wine. (sorry, but you try following the last ten wines...)
27) Ch Smith Haut Lafitte 2006 (2 euros) – One of the most popular since the opening three weeks ago, modern in style, good smoky taste, a very accomplished Pessac.
28) Ch Haut Bailly 2006 (3 euros) – Tight fruit, still very young, but very accomplished.
29) Haut Bailly 2004 - – a favourite, silky, soft, does take a moment for the ‘machine’ taste to disappear completely (this one has not been changed since opening) but it doesn’t take nlong.
30) Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 2006 – Another wine to elicit a sigh of appreciation from all three tasters. Amazing depth of flavour, rich black fruits, great concentration
31) Ducru Beaucaillou 20006. (5 euros) Tight tannins, good black fruits
32) La Conseillante 2006 – Lovely fruit, fresh and vibrant, very good. I tasted this on the opening night also, the bottle has been changed one since, and the taste is very consistent – the machine clearly has done a good job here.
33) Ch Palmer 2006 – Not a bad one to end on... 8 euros for the 2.5cl sample, superlative wine, sikly tannins, rich deep fruits.

We then switched to two white wines; Chateau Carbonnieux 2006 and Domaine de Chevalier 2006. The first was all cut grass and classic sauvignon flavours, fruity, crisp and light. The second had more obvious ageing potential, with rich Semillon and a floral nose.

And finally, two little known Sauternes, Ch Riessec 2004 and Chateau Yquem 2004. The Rieussec was full of marmalade, rich and luxurious. It is again one of the most popular bottles in the shop (and the Yquem not far behind, not surprisingly as it is only 10 euros for the 2.5cl glass). The Yquem had more of a floral nose, and more obvious seam of freshness running through it, unbelievable balance between sweet and sour, just a gorgeous wine.

What did we learn about the machines? That three weeks is maybe a bit optimistic, but there seems to be no degradation after two. And that as the level of wine goes down in the bottle, so the evolution speeds up. We questioned whether alcohol levels, or even grape variety, would make a difference to how long the wines last. This surely comes into play, as the sweet wines were still bursting with flavour after the three weeks, and Stanislas seemed pretty confident that they would easily outlast all others (just as they do in our fridges at home)


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Cook your way through the 1855 wines

Date: Tue, Nov 3, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

As Christmas book season starts to gear up, I thought I'd share a beautiful book that was launched at the CIVB last week. Called 'Grand Cru Classes, Top Chefs of the World', it matches menus created by chefs such as Eric Briffard of Le Cinq in Paris, Joel Robuchon (of Joel Robuchon) and Andre Chiang of Jaan Par Andre in Singapore, with all 87 classified chateaux in the Medoc (plus Haut Brion) and Sauternes. The 'Meilleur Sommeliers du Monde' such as Olivier Poussier and Andreas Larsson then comment on the matches.


This is not a book to pop in the post as a stocking filler - it costs 65 euros, and is 372 pages, hard-backed and 24 x 31cm - but it's well put together, with a full page of good information of each chateau, followed by a full page of recipe and comments from the chefs and sommeliers on the wines.

Some of my favourites include:
Wok-fried Wagyu Beef Cubes with Morel Mushrooms, from Chan Yan Tak lf Lung King Heen in Hong Kong. This is matched with a Gruaud Larose (they don't give the exact vintage, I guess to make it easier for readers to have a hope of recreating the effect).

A deceptively simple Pears, Beans and Bacon from Nils Kendel of Dieter Muller in Germany, with Brane Cantenac. This seems to rest of making an intricate stock using cumin, caraway seeds, veal stock and coriander seeds, and a savoury mousse with a few tablesspoons of Riesling, and serving with fresh green and white beans, and a crispy bacon cube. Sounds gorgeous.

Pichon Longueville, gets a roast Bresse pigeon from Michel Roux, Chateau Kirwan an English saddle of Lamb from Neil Perry of Rockpool in Sydney. Yquem has an unbelievably tasty looking passionfruit and Tahitian Vanilla souffle from Dominique Ansel and Daniel Boulud of Daniel in New York, and the picture below is a crispy seared foie gras and star fruit, in a sweet and sour broth, ffrom Chris Salands of Mozaic in Bali, to accompany Chateau Lamothe Guignard.


The chefs who get the first growths are Yannic Alleno of Le Meurice (Lafite, squab breast), Eric Briffard of Le Cinq (Latour, shoulder of lamb), Pierre Carrier & Pierre Maillet of Hameau Albert 1er (Margaux, Lamb Saddle), Joel Robuchon (Mouton, caremlised quail) and Alain Passard of L'Arpege (Haut Brion, Challans Duck).

Impossible to read this book without getting hungry. Now I just need to set aside a few thousand pounds, and start working my way through it...


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Chateau Palmer, Limited Edition Wines

Date: Fri, Oct 30, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Yesterday, I went to a preview lunch of a new series of Wine Dinners organised by the Regent Hotel. These will be held once a month starting on Thursday November 12th, and will be hosted by different chateaux around the region.

Happily for me, the first one is going to be a 'Diner d'Exception avec Chateau Palmer', and Thomas Duroux (director of the chateau) was there to talk us through the fascinating collection of wines he had chosen.


The lunch was held in the Pressoir d'Argent ( www.pressoir-argent.com ), the hotel's gastronomic restaurant, which seems to be woefully under-utilised by the Bordelais. I was told a few times before going there that the lunches were too expensive to consider, but they actually start at 33 euros - a little less than the lunch offer at another top Bordeaux restaurant, the Chapon Fin ( www.chapon-fin.com ).

This dinner will be 150 euros, but that's including everything - a champagne and canape starter, then five courses and coffees. Oh, and these amazing wines.

We started with a wine that I had never tried before, and didn't even know existed until very recently. A Chateau Palmer Blanc 2007. This was the first vintage of this wine, made in tiny quantities and not for sale. Three barrels are produced, and they go only to shareholders in the company. This is nothing like other 'icon whites' from major Bordeaux chateaux, because it is bottled at a Vin de Table, and uses a distinctly unusual blend of grapes. The majority, 65% is Muscadelle, from a masal selection from Robert Plageoles in Gaillac, then 25% Sauvignon Gris. The rest is equally divided between Merlot Blanc and a little known grape variety called Lauzet, which grows mainly in Jurancon.

Duroux said he, 'wanted to do something different from all the other Medoc white wines,' and 'may commercialise it one day, as soon as I am happy the blend deserves the name Chateau Palmer on the label.'

We had this yesterday with the amuse-bouche, a tiny and delicious blend of potatoe, fish soup and rolled monk fish. The wine itself had a sweet almond flavour, layered with apricots, but with a good freshness and length - very interesting.

This was followed by another wine that you are unlikely to experience very often - an Historical 19th Century Wine. Apparently Duroux got the idea for this wine when he was in the US, talking to a wine collector, and saw a 19th century bottle labeled 'Lafite Hermitage'. This was a widely-used practise at the time, to boost Bordeaux wines with the stronger Rhone wines (although, as Thomas rightly pointed out, these wines also have a great balance and elegant, smooth tannins). We had this wine with Smoked eel and foie gras, a cremed of chestnuts, truffles, poached in milk. I loved this wine - a 2006, blended with 15% Syrah from the northern Rhone.

He didn't tell us which producer, but said he has lots of friends there, and goes to taste each year, selecting just a few key barrels. In totaal, 200 cases of this are made and sold each year. We tried to 2006, but it's not made every year, as 2005 was powerful enough in Bordeaux alone, and adding Hermitage would throw it out of balanc, and he's sure 2009 will be the same. I am looking forward to trying the 2007 one day! In terms of taste, it was wonderfully rich and smooth, very similar to Palmer in any good year, but with some added spice, and sweet, smoky sandalwood.

Plat 3

After this, we went on to Chateau Palmer as we know and love her! Firstly a 1999 Palmer with a red snapper (Rouget), with an Iberico chirizo, and a tartare of langoustines. Then an amazing combination of Chatuea Palmer 1995 and 1989, both of which were amazing, with roast Pauillac lamb and wood mushrooms, in this unbelievable caramelised spice sauce (that tasted of christmas, as my neighbour rightly pointed out). This complemented perfectly the gentle spices of the older vintages.

Finally, a Gouda Old Dutch Master accompanied an Alter Ego 2005. Thomas suggested young Alter Ego as a good mix with cheese - or the white wine, but unfortunately that's a little harder to get hold of...


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First growths on tap in Bordeaux

Date: Sat, Oct 24, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

A new 'interactive tasting bar' opened in the centre of town on Thursday night, very close to the Grand Theatre, that I think is going to fast become an essential destination in Bordeaux.

Called the Wine Gallery, it offers visitors the chance to sample many of the region's most famous wines, that would normally cost hundreds of pounds a bottle - so Margaux, Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, Mouton, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Leoville Les Cas... pretty much everything except Petrus and Le Pin (they assure me at least Petrus is on the way!).


They are kept fresh through six Enomatic tasting machines, using nitrogen gas to preserve against oxidation. I wrote about it for Decanter here:

Thirty to forty bottles will be available at any time for tasting in either 2.5cl, 5cl or 7.5cl with prices starting at €2 for a small sample of chateaux such as Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2006, €5 for Chateau La Conseillante 2004, and going up to €38 for Chateau Ausone 2006.

All the first growths are available at under €30.

There will also be an interactive element - the now standard-issue blog http://maxbordeaux.blogspot.com/, twitter (@MaxBordeaux) and facebook acccounts to keep track of Max, a young Bordelais negociant/wine lover who is part of the team behind the venture.

Plus there is an music menu that accompanies the wine - you can let the dj (fred beneix of http://www.myspace.com/wine4melomanes ) know what wine you are drinking, and there will be music to accompany. On Thursday, these were:
1-Tow The Line by Nick Drake (2004) with Château Leoville Barton 2004
2-Kind Of Sunshine by Nicola Conte (2004) with Château Pontet Canet 2004
3-Beautiful Babies by Plantlife with Château Palmer 2004
4-Golden by Jill Scott (2004) with Château La Lagune 2004
5-La Ritournelle by Sebastien Tellier (2004) with Château Cos d'Estournel 2004
6-Shallows (A Shade Of Jade) by Laïka (2004) with Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse 2004
7-Warm sound by Zero 7 (2004) with Château Leoville Las Cases 2004
8-Silver & fire by M. Craft (2006) with Château Cheval Blanc 2006
9-The Dreamer by Jose James (2006) with Château Mission Ht Brion 2006
10-Forefathers by Marcina Arnold (2006) with Château La Lagune 2006

My pre-paid card on Thursday had 25 euros credit (you can get them in 25, 50 or 75 euros) so I had a Conseillante 2004 (5 euros) and a Pontet Canet 2006 (3 euros) - both in the smallest 2.5cl sample size. I have saved the rest of the credits for the next time, when I plan to top up and go for Ausone!!


It's open 7 days a week and is open to everyone. The pay-as-you-go card method also means that it can be adapted - there are wines that start from 2 euros.

Max Bordeaux/The Wine Gallery, 14 cours de l'Intendance, 33000 Bordeaux. http://maxbordeaux.com/


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Europe's best wine research centre rewarded

Date: Sun, Oct 11, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

Last week saw the second edition of the Prix Traditia du Patrimoine, a prize ceremony that rewards Bordeaux and Aquitaine figures who have contributed in key ways to the restoration, creation or promotion of the cultural life of the region. A kind-of Pride of Bordeaux awards, founded by Philippe de Saint Seine.

The ceremony was held at Domaine du Chevalier (where Olivier Bernard greeted us with, 'I am so happy to welcome you all here tonight, especially as for once it isn't me who's paying...!!'), and was very well attended. Among the winners was Denis Dubourdieu, who was accepting a Trophy of Honour along with Alain Rousset, president of the Conseil Regional d'Aquitaine, for the creation of the new Scientific Institute of Vines and Wine (ISVV) that opened last year in Villenave d'Ornon; Europe's biggest wine research centre. It covers over 10,000m2 and was designed by local architect Philippe Mazières, with a gorgeous glass wall by artist Pascal Convert and one of the biggest tasting rooms in the world. It took ten years to design, and cost 25 million euros.

Michel and Christine Guérard were also recipients of an award, 'Personalites du Patrimoine d'Aquitaine' for their creation of the renowned gastronomic hotel-restaurant Les Prés d'Eugénie, in Eugenie les Bains (I have longingly read about it several times, but never actually been personally).

Local architects firm, Agence de l'Arsenal, were fitting recipients of the third award of the evening. Owners and directors Christophe Massie and Pierre Lapallus specialise in restoring 18th and 19th century buildings, and have worked across a number of chateaux of the region including Château Kirwan, Château Siran, Château d’Issan, Château du Tertre, Château Haut-Bailly, Château Giscours, Château Smith Haut Laffite and Château Palmer. They are currently working on Château de la Brède in Pessac Leognan.

www. traditia.com


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The Harvest Lunch

Date: Wed, Oct 7, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

One of the best traditions at this time of year is the harvest lunch, held at every chateau in Bordeaux throughout the harvest period.

The lunch is of course a necessity to fuel the harvesters who have usually been up since early in the morning picking this year's all important crop, but they are also a great way of mixing every level of workers together, from the chateau director to the part-time harvesters, and of just enjoying a social break in what is the busiest time of the year.

This year I have been to two harvest lunches, one at Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac, and the other at Chateau La Gatte in AOC Bordeaux Superieur (in St Andre de Cubzac, so just a few metres shy of the Cotes de Bourg/Blaye borders).


The first one of these is one of the most prestigious properties in Bordeaux, with 73 hectares in the Pauillac appellation, and owned by a large insurance company with a string of chateaux across the region and further afield in the Duoro and Tokaj. The second is a small estate owned by a French woman and her American husband, Hélène and Michael Affatato. Hélène has worked previously for Latour, and Michael for Chapoutier, so they know a lot about winemaking, but their current estate is just 13 hectares, and makes red, white and rosé wine.

The harvest lunches at both estates, however, weren't so different from each other (although I have to admit the 2001 Pichon was really a big plus point at one of them!!). The lunches are always very relaxed, with pickers and other staff all seated together around long tables, and the food is always very simple, and hearty (I had picked a few grapes at La Gatte, so could pretend I had earned it, but at Pichon I'd just had a very taxing walk around their beautiful new cellars and climbed up the tower in the vineyard). At Pichon we were served a rough country-style pate, hams and other cold meats, roast pork and potatoes, and followed by chocolate eclairs. These were all cooked, as they are every year, by one of the cellar workers who just happens to also be a very talented cook. 'Once a year, he escapes into the kitchen', as they said, and cooks for two shifts of around 40 people a time, for a month. All workers also get a harvest picnic to take home with them, as they may be too late, or tired, to cook for the family at night time.

At La Gatte we also got an excellent array of cold meats, followed by veal and potatoes, and finished off with two gorgeous tarts, one chocolate and one fruit, made by Michael's mother in law, and a very talented nine year old boy (wasn't sure of his relation!).


Everyone at both places were also in very good spirits because of the weather and expected quality of the vintage - just a great way to spend a few hours.


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Bordeaux 2009 Vintage: Update

Date: Fri, Oct 2, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

This is the official press release from the CIVB on this year's vintage. Of course they are always going to put the best light on things, but speaking as someone who lives here and has been out into the vineyards a lot, things really are looking pretty good.

'Weather conditions this year have been particularly favourable for the vine’s growth cycle and the
grapes’ ripening process.

The months of July and August saw high temperatures and a generous amount of sunshine. This fine weather continued into September, with an alternation between cool nights and warm daytime
temperatures, which encouraged a concentration of aromas and an increase in anthocyanins
The grapes ripened ideally and harvests dates are now being staggered. Crops being gathered are perfectly healthy. It is too early to make an estimate about harvest.

We should keep in mind that hailstorms during the month of March caused significant damage to 19,000 hectares of vines (15% of the total Bordeaux winegrowing region). The extent of this damage varied considerably from one plot to another in vineyards, but the result is a decrease in production.

Dry white wines
Harvests of white Sauvignon grapes began on 27th August in the earliest-ripening areas. In September harvesting of this variety became widespread and continued afterwards with the Sémillon variety. Harvests for dry whites are now finished.

Red wines
Merlot grapes are currently being picked. Harvests of this variety began in mid-September for the earliest- ripening areas. The berries are intensely aromatic, full of flavour, showing excellent concentration in sugar; the pips are crunchy and the skins appear
to have marvellous colour potential (anthocyanan levels are high). Acidity levels are low; this is an indication of excellent ripeness.
Harvests will continue with Cabernet Franc in the first days of October, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the earliness of certain terroirs and how ripeness has developed.

Sweet white wines
Gathered by successive stages of manual sorting on the vine, harvests of grapes for sweet white wines have barely begun. Weather conditions at present are ideal for these grapes that undergo the influence of an extremely specific micro-climate. Humidity, in the form of early-morning
mists, encourages the work of the botrytis cinerea fungus (noble rot), a vital factor for producing these wines. Very warm daytime temperatures dry out the grapes and concentrate all their flavours. The grapes express remarkable aromatic potential.

Weather Conditions (source Meteo France)
March : a generous amount of sunshine, temperatures slightly above average and rainfall levels less than half the average of the past 30 years. In the vineyards: budburst (when the buds open and small leaves appear) began at the end of the month. Sunshine 220.35 hours, rainfall 31mm, temperature 12.4C.

April: a mild month, particularly rainy, with a lack of sunshine. Sunshine 235 hours, rainfall 78.4mm, temperature 10.1C.

May: fine weather, with summery temperatures and an excellent amount of sunshine; there was, however, a slight lack of rainfall. Violent hailstorms occurred on 11th, 13th and 25th May. No winegrowing
area of the Bordeaux region was spared (Médoc, Graves, Entre-deux-Mers,Saint-Emilion, Blaye, Bourg, Premières Côtes). In the vineyards: at the end of May, flowering begins. Early and swift, it
becomes widespread at the beginning of the month of June. Sunshine 159.35 hours, rainfall 115.8mm, temperature 17.3C.

June: a dry, warm month, with a remarkable amount of sunshine and temperatures 2 degrees higher than the average of the past 30 years. In the vineyards: on 15th June flowering had finished in the earliest areas. This is the period of berry setting (fertilised flowers turn into tiny grape berries). Sunshine 293 hours, rainfall 75mm, temperature 20.3C.

July: a warm month (temperatures slightly above average) and a generous amount of sunshine.In the vineyards: beginning of the véraison period. The berries swell and grape skins begin to change
colour. Sunshine 262.31 hours, rainfall 46.6mm, temperature 21.5C.

August: extremely good weather, warm and sunny (+ 27 hours of sunshine). There was a slight lack of
rainfall compared with the average of the past 30 years. In the vineyards: ripening is encouraged by excellent weather conditions. Sunshine 270.34 hours (30 year average 242.55 hours). Rainfall 23mm (30 year average 59.5mm). Temperature 22.3 degrees C (30 year average 20.9)

September: a second month of August! Temperatures are slightly above the average of the past 30 years. There is a lack of rainfall, but an extraordinary amount of sunshine (+ 50 hours). In the vineyards: it’s time for the first harvests to begin. Sunshine 233.49 hours (30 year average 182.49 hours). rainfall 48.6mm (30 year average 90.3mm). temp average 19.2 degrees C (30 year average 18.1).


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Great potential investment in Pomerol

Date: Wed, Sep 30, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

I wrote a story for Decanter this week that I loved writing, about an old racecourse that is up for sale in Pomerol, potentially offering 13 hectares of land for planting vines. This would increase the appellation size to 793 hectares. There have got to be vineyard owners all over Pomerol lining up to speak to their banks right now...


The Hippodrome de Canterou, officially in the town of Libourne but located in AOC Pomerol very close to Chateau Bonalgue and Chateau La Pointe, is due to close at the end of the year due to financial difficulties, and is being put up for sale. It had previously held just four races per year, and has been running since 1908.

There are as yet no official plans for the land. There are currently no rights for construction on the site, or planting rights for vines, but any eventual buyer will be able to apply for either one.

‘This is an exceptional challenge,’ Jean Marie Garde, president of the Syndicate Viticole of Pomerol, said, ‘We believe that there were vines on at least part of this plot in the 19th century, before construction began on the race course, and we will work with any purchasers to apply to the INAO for rights to plant. But for the Syndicate this is not about individual rights, but a desire to protect this appellation from developers.’

There are suggestions that a group of local winemakers may try together to purchase the land, and then split it between them. The best vineyard land in the area reaches up to EUR3 million per hectare, but as this is currently agricultural with no planting rights, it is likely to go for around EUR1 million per hectare.

‘This is right in the heart of a tiny appellation that is currently 780 hectares of vines, and to be able to increase that would be extraordinary,’ said Garde.

This is definitely a story to watch!


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0800 Wine: Crisis Call Centre

Date: Mon, Sep 28, 2009 Wine Tasting Wine Business

The Bordeaux Wine Bureau is opening a 'wine hotline' for winemakers and negociants to call for advice, particularly those in economic difficulty.

This will go live at some point during October, and is a free number to call for them to get information of who to contact etc - an advisory service that will then pass them over to existing organisations who will be able to help (eg banks, vineyard sales firms, chamber of commerce, debt mediators etc). They will answer a checklist - like the swine flu hotline! - to decide the right place to send them, as quickly as possible.

The aim is to speed up process of finding info and getting help, and will apparently remain in existence for 'as long as it is needed' (according to a spokesperson).

The partners are:
All the people housed within the CIVB (Chambre Fédérations des Grands Vins ; Fédération d’Agriculture de la Gironde ; la Chambre de négoce, Syndicat des Courtiers)
Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Bordeaux
La FDSEA ; les Jeunes agriculteurs
Les Collectivités : Conseil régional et général
La Fédération des Caves Coopératives,
Les administrations : DDA, Douanes, Fraudes, France/Agrimer, INAO
La Mutuelle Sociale Agricole (MSA)
Le Secteur bancaire avec le Crédit agricole
La SAFER (the land registry)

An interesting solution to the crisis, I will keep an eye on this to see if it actually does any good!


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