articles tagged: St-Emilion

Bordeaux 2012 – vintage summary & my top 40

April 26th 2013, by

This article was posted today on Livex, the fine wine exchange.

I’ve tasted over 500 Bordeaux wines from the 2012 vintage in April.

Key points about Bordeaux 2012

1. 2012 is a good to very good vintage, but not a great one.

2. It’s certainly a vintage for drinking, not investment. Many wines will be good to drink in the short to medium term.

3. 2012 was a late harvest which tended to favour the earlier ripening Merlot over the Cabernets, partly because drizzle, humidity and finally heavy rain set in from the second week of October onwards.

4. It’s an uneven vintage but hundreds of reds have lovely colour, supple fruit, crowd-pleasing texture and no hard edges.

5. Happily, very few wines show any green, unripe character. The fruit is ripe (thanks to ten weeks of sunshine from mid-July onwards) even if many wines lack real depth, complexity and length.

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Chris Evans in Bordeaux, Part One

March 19th 2013, by

DSC_0741 - Version 2

‘Ah, my favourite Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc.’
At La Tupina in Bordeaux

Chris Evans, host of BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show, came to Bordeaux earlier this month with his lovely wife Natasha for an extensive wine tour. We were honoured to be asked to show them around, via a friend of a friend, and here’s what we got up to, along with some holiday snaps. (To enlarge any picture, click on it.)

“I beg you, if you like wine, take a plane, hire a car and go to Bordeaux,” Chris wrote in his weekly column for The Mail on Sunday, tapped into his Blackberry at his hotel in St-Emilion after just a couple of days here. “It’s a dream trip.”

On their ’kids-free wine tour’, we visited Chateau Clinet and Le Pin in Pomerol, Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac, Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron in Pauillac and Cos d’Estournel in St-Estephe. We also tried a few wines from around the region over dinner here at Chateau Bauduc, at restaurant La Tupina in Bordeaux and in the two restaurants at Les Sources de Caudalie, the hotel set amongst vines to the south of the city.

“Twas fanbloodytastic” he texted when he got home, before appearing on Friday evening’s The One Show on the beeb. He looked fine. I was bloody exhausted.

Then, on Monday, the reality check. “Just been to gym. Nearly died. Holidays not worth the relapse,” he announced on Twitter. (Apparently, he’d put on half a stone.) The trouble with an excursion to this corner of France is that the wine and food can be a little too tempting.

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Bordeaux 2012: The End of the Harvest

October 19th 2012, by

This is another post I wrote for Liv-ex, the fine wine market blog. I’ve backdated it to the date of publication on the Liv-ex site.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon harvest at Chateau Lafite

The red-wine harvest is coming to an end in Bordeaux as the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon is being picked by the top estates of the Left Bank this week. On the Right Bank, what’s left of the Merlot will be brought in shortly and then, lastly, the remaining Cabernet Franc.

2012 came close to being a terrific vintage. As it is, it’s a promising vintage at the top level, thanks mainly to a fine August and most of September, although yields are fairly low. “What we have is good but there’s just not much of it”, remarked Christian Seely, MD of Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron. (I did warn him that this might raise an eyebrow.)

“It’s a very good vintage, if not a great one”, claimed Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux on Monday, as the final cagettes of Cabernet Sauvignon were ferried into the huge reception area. “A lovely summer and September with rain just before harvest, which is completely normal.”

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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.


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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