articles tagged: St-Emilion

Bordeaux 2012: The Wait for Red October

October 1st 2012, by

2012 has been an extraordinary year for sport but will it be a vintage to remember?

Here in Bordeaux, it’s too early to say, even at this late stage. It’s going to go right to the wire.

“Exceptionally late”

Cabernet Sauvignon at Château Pichon Longueville in Pauillac, 26 September 2012

“If 2011 was exceptionally early, 2012 is exceptionally late”, said Lilian Barton of Château Léoville Barton as they prepared to bring in the new vintage in St-Julien, 25 miles north of Bordeaux. The red-wine harvest, which has started quietly in the early ripening vineyards of Pomerol, begins this week in earnest and will last well into October.

As for quality, Gabriel Vialard, the technical director of Château Haut-Bailly – near Léognan, south of the city – was cautiously optimistic after two fine months.

“It could be like 2000 but not if it rains too much. We won’t know until it’s all in.” Thankfully the forecast is fine for the moment.

Summer sun until last week of September

The sunshine we’ve enjoyed in Bordeaux from mid-July onwards, through a warmer than average August, lasted right up until the penultimate weekend of September. We’d had just 30mm of rain here from mid-July until 23rd September, and half of that fell on the 5th August. It’s been extremely dry, with plenty of sunshine.

Then on Sunday, 23rd September, there came one evening and three days of rain, on and off: around 40-60mm in total on the Right Bank and 50-90mm on the Left. That’s fine – and it was much needed in some parcels – so long as it stops there. No more, thanks.

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Bordeaux 2011: A Year of Living Dangerously

September 30th 2011, by

After two great Bordeaux vintages, 2011 has been a year of living dangerously. “It’s complicated,” Christian Moueix explained when I asked what he thought of the millésime, as his team picked in St-Emilion. If one of the most respected winemakers thinks it’s hard to generalise, it might be foolish for the rest of us to rush into snap judgments.

Let me try and explain what’s been going on in the Bordeaux vineyard this year, and forgive me for the amount of detail. My fascinating weather charts will follow later (updated for 2011 here).

Here’s a summary:

1. Early start, warm spring, then drought.

2. An up-and-down summer.

3. Early harvest, September sunshine.

4. When to pick: balancing ripeness with the risk of rot.

5. These magnificent men (and women) and their sorting machines.

6. Volume 5% up overall but yields vary from one estate to another.

7. Finally, a Tweet showing how the growing season compares.

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Bordeaux 2010 Part Three: The Verdict

May 5th 2011, by

I wrote this piece for Livex, “the insiders’ guide to the global fine wine market”, and was published on 3rd May.

Having previously reported on the wines and weather of Bordeaux 2010, my latest contribution covers this year’s en primeur tastings.

There was something different in the air this year, and it wasn’t just the constant tweeting of what the stuff tasted like.

dsc_0058En primeur attendances were higher than ever at the top estates, according to Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux (right).  Much in evidence there, and at all the Firsts, were the Chinese translations of the brochures, to add to the long-standing piles of English and French versions. Based on visits to the leading properties the week after the UGCs, these were still being snapped up by Bordeaux’s new best friends.

dsc_0033_2Perhaps that’s what’s changed. Opinions about many of the great wines no longer matter. For the top Châteaux, even huge Parker points or double asterisks won’t be required to sell the iconic brands and for most of us, some of the tastings were academic.

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The Bordeaux 2008 Grands Crus Classés from bottle

May 2nd 2011, by

The top Chateaux in Bordeaux bottled their 2008 reds last summer, from May onwards. Since the autumn I’ve popped into all the Grands Crus Classés of the Left Bank (i.e. those in the 1855 classification) to taste them.

img_4608Given that you can only taste the First Growths and others in situ, it seems the fairest way to assess all the wines on a level playing field, even if it’s time consuming. It also gave me a chance to taste the increasingly relevant second wines, and a few other wines that are owned by the Crus Classés (such as Pibran being in the same ownership as Pichon Baron).

I also tasted the St-Emilion Premiers Grands Crus Classés  (excluding Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Belair Monange and Magdelaine) in a single sitting. Although I’ve tasted plenty of Pomerols, these tastings are incomplete so I’ve left them out (Le Pin and Clinet are very good, though…). Likewise Pessac-Léognan and other wines from St-Emilion.

Robert Parker is about to release his scores on 2008 from the bottle, in tandem with his initial 2010 scores from barrel. Here are my scores for the 2008 in bottle, alongside Parker’s original scores from barrel. Many of these wines are substantially less expensive than their 2009 and 2010 counterparts, so there are some deals to be had outside the First Growths. Further reports to follow.

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A First-Timer’s Guide to the En Primeur Week in Bordeaux

March 23rd 2011, by

I wrote this post for Livex – “The insiders’ guide to the Global Fine Wine Market.”

Robert Parker and other critics are in Bordeaux this week, getting to grips with the new vintage from barrel.

dsc_0676The rest of us – trade and press alike – will have to wait until the first week of April, traditionally the week hosted by the Union des Grands Crus or ‘UGCs’. Scores of other groups have sprung up over the years, while at least 30 of the most sought-after wines can only be sampled at the Chateaux themselves.

So here’s a list of the most popular tastings and those exclusive Chateaux, with the dates and the number of wines in brackets. At the end, I’ve jotted down my ten top tips.

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Bordeaux 2010, Part Two: The Wines

February 18th 2011, by

This post was written for Liv-ex, “the insiders’ guide to the global fine wine market,” and was published today. It follows on from “Bordeaux 2010, Part One: The Weather.”

dsc_0022_2There’s an embarrassment of riches in the best barrel cellars of Bordeaux right now. The relatively inexpensive 2008s are being shipped out (the first tranche offer of 100€ ex-cellars for First Growths in April 2009 seems a long time ago), leaving row upon row of French oak barriques bearing the precious, pre-paid 2009 vintage. And, currently being assembled in the ‘first year’ cellars, there’s another great vintage waiting in line.

Time will tell if Lilian Barton Sartorius was right when she said at the start of the harvest, “However well the 2010s turn out, they are going to be cheaper than the 2009s.” At the time I nodded sagely in agreement but now, following an outstanding harvest and with more names being touted as the next big thing in China, I’m not so sure. Meanwhile, a few wise old heads are keeping shtum about 2010 as they want their wines to do the talking in the spring. Nobody wants to hear about another vintage of the century. At least, not just yet.

dsc_0323_2Robert Parker, after concerns that he would be unable to travel following knee surgery, has indicated that he will be coming to taste the new vintage next month. Significantly, his friend Michel Rolland, the renowned consultant oenologist, believes that most estates that he works with have made, er, better wines in 2010 than in 2009, and for those who prefer wines at the other end of the structure spectrum, Denis Dubourdieu quietly agrees – at least, for reds and dry whites.

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Bordeaux 2010 Part One: The Weather

February 11th 2011, by

This article was written for Liv-ex – ‘the insider’s guide to the global fine wine market’ – and published today.

As wine merchants and critics make travel arrangements for the En Primeur barrel tastings in late March and early April, many wise old heads in Bordeaux are keeping shtum about the 2010 vintage. (After the massive prices achieved last summer for the top 2009s, owners and managers would prefer their wines to do the talking in the Spring, as buyers don’t want to hear that it’s another vintage of a lifetime. At least, not just yet.)

As a grower in Bordeaux and dedicated vine-spotter, and being British, the weather is something I like to keep an eye on. I also visited scores of leading Chateaux during the growing season and throughout the harvest. Here are some conclusions, with the help of a few charts, about 2010.

In summary

1. 2010 was a very dry year.

2. 2010 was sunny…

3. … but not too hot.

4. Uneven flowering, lower yields?

5. Top terroirs shine, again.

6. Rain in the nick of time.

7. A later harvest (than 2009 and 2005).

8. Harvest ‘à la carte’.

1. 2010 was a very dry year.

002271_rain_2010-01

I live 15 miles east of Bordeaux and 15 miles SW of St-Emilion between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Bordeaux is a vast wine region, and the weather can vary significantly from one end to the other. It’s fair to say though that 2010 was a dry year across all areas.

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Record Price for Rare Bordeaux… which I once put on expenses

November 25th 2010, by

No sooner had we gone to print with La Gazette, with news that the record auction price for a bottle of wine had been smashed, then another record comes along.

lafite_chevalblancThree bottles of Lafite 1869 went for £147,000 each to a buyer at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong last month, and now Christie’s have sold a six-litre bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947 for £192,000 in Geneva.

For me, there are four remarkable things about these new records:

1. Prior to last month, the record for the highest price paid at auction for a single bottle of wine hadn’t changed for 25 years. In 1985, a bottle of 1787 Lafite was sold at Christie’s in 1985. A jump now to nearly £150,000 each, for not just one but three bottles, is quite a leap.

2. The pre-sale estimate for the Lafite 1869 was just £3200 – £5200 per bottle. It seems that even the experts have as much of an insight into the Chinese market as the rest of us – not unlike the £1.2 million top estimate for the Qing dynasty vase that sold this month at an auctioneers in Ruislip, of all places, for £43 million (£53 million was the total bill).

3. Hong Kong has established itself as the Fine Wine capital of the world in under four years. Tax on wine was as high as 80% at the beginning of 2007, then slashed by half that year, and then abolished completely in February 2008. The number of wine merchants, I’m told, has increased from 400 to 4000, and the number of tourists – splashing out on fine wine and fine dining – has increased dramatically.

4. As for nearly £200,000 for an Imperial of Cheval Blanc 1947 – well, I once claimed for a bottle of this wine on expenses.

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How to Steal a Crop from a Vineyard

October 4th 2010, by

I wish I’d thought of that. I don’t mean stealing someone’s else crop for filling up our fermentation tanks (as regulars know, this would have come in handy last year, after we lost 80% of our crop to hail in May). But we certainly missed a trick as potential victims of such a crime. We could have had the children crying in front of the cameras.

dsc_0006Now I’m quite sure that there is nothing false about vigneron Roland Cavaille’s claim that his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were swiped at night last week, costing him some €15,000 in lost revenue and a year’s hard labour. The surprise is that the world’s media have got hold of the story with such fruity conspiracy theories. Google his name and you’ll find 50 news stories about the grape heist, including this film from the BBC.

Here’s a ‘Wine Mafia’ report from the London Evening Standard:

“Two harvesting machines were used to take about 35 tonnes of the ripened fruit from a field in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. “These are some of the best grapes in France, and we fear a wine mafia gang has stolen them,” said a detective. He believes the grapes were taken straight to a specialist to create a fine vintage.”

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Dry Whites All In, Reds Kick Off

September 28th 2010, by

The Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for the dry whites are mostly in – we finished our Sémillon yesterday – and some estates on the Right Bank, in Pomerol and St-Emilion, have picked Merlot from young vines in the last week (such as Château Canon in St-Emilion, below right). dsc_0807_21The Merlot harvest started in earnest this week in the Médoc. Hardly a grape had been picked there until now, and they’ll start attacking the Cabernet Sauvignon from next week onwards. If you have the chance to see the harvest in action, on both Banks, sometime over the next fortnight or so is the time to come, although there’s much less to see on the outside at weekends.

The weather leading up to the key picking dates could make the difference between, well, seriously good and great. In case you weren’t aware, we had half as much rain in Bordeaux in the six months to the end of August compared to 2009, which was, of course, a dry year.

dsc_06682The weather in September has been fine, with a dash of refreshing rain in the second week and last week on Friday, 24th. As luck would have it, a drying northwesterly breeze blew off any humidity in the vines on Saturday, averting the risk of rot. The forecast is fine, just for the moment. We don’t really want to pick for the reds until next week, although we have harvested some Merlot plots early to make some rosé. This year, just as last, it’s best to bring in Merlot earlier – more so with these chilly mornings – and press quickly to make rosé, as we need acidity and not fully or over-ripe grapes.

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