May 5th 2011, by Gavin
I wrote this piece for Livex, “the insiders’ guide to the global fine wine market”, and was published on 3rd May.
There was something different in the air this year, and it wasn’t just the constant tweeting of what the stuff tasted like.
En 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.
Perhaps 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.
May 2nd 2011, by Gavin
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.
Given 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.
March 23rd 2011, by Gavin
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.
The 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.
February 18th 2011, by Gavin
There’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.
Robert 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.
February 11th 2011, by Gavin
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.
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.
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.
November 25th 2010, by Gavin
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.
Three 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.
October 4th 2010, by Gavin
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.
Now 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.”
September 28th 2010, by Gavin
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). The 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.
The 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.
August 27th 2010, by Gavin
The weather’s been warm, sunny and very dry, giving rise to reports – there’s a summary of them here – of another magnificent vintage on the cards (don’t yawn). Anything can happen before the Merlot harvest begins towards the end of September, and in October for the Cabernets, but let me explain why 2010 is not like 2009.
It is, of course, too early to say how 2010 is going to turn out as September is such a critical month, but some things are so evident – and significant – in the vineyard, I thought I should point them out.
10 key points so far
August 25th 2010, by Gavin
Here are the six red grape varieties which we are allowed to grow in Bordeaux under Appellation Contrôlée laws. The photos were taken at Château Bauduc at the very start of August and again three weeks later, before and after they changed colour – a stage called véraison. A rule of thumb is that the grapes will be ready to pick some 45 days after mid-véraison. The third shot in each series shows the leaves of each variety, which for me is the easiest way to tell them apart (remembering what you’ve planted and where also helps).
Most of the 117,500 hectares of Bordeaux vineyards are red – 89% in fact. Merlot is the most widely grown variety, with 64% of red, and is the dominant grape on the Right Bank – St.Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac and the Côtes – where it is often blended with Cabernet Franc (11%). Merlot is also responsible for the tanker loads of straight Bordeaux AC and less prestigious Appellations across the whole of Bordeaux. In other words, there’s Merlot… and then there’s Merlot.