My BORDEAUX 2015 VINTAGE REPORT is newly updated.
2015 is a great vintage for Bordeaux and you can read all about it.
Or click below to directly open the newly revised and compressed 32 page .pdf Bordeaux 2015 report.
The Home Stretch
Friday Morning, 8am. Everyone seems to be on their game today and that’s good thing because we are heading out to the offices of Bordeaux negoçiant Joanne for a warehouse tasting today where we will pick up some wines we missed.
The idea of UGC week is that the trade comes to Bordeaux and cycles through a number of large tastings organized at designated chateau where trade members can taste the wines of 20 or more chateaux from a given area (say Margaux for instance) in one location. It started off as a good idea but there were problems. A lot of the people pouring the wines either had no technical information on the wines or were indifferent to the people they were pouring for. Sometimes the samples were off and often they were off temperature but again, the pourers were generally indifferent. And, as often happens at big, annual events, the social aspect began to get in the way of efficiently tasting and recording tasting notes. In ordered to taste better samples and gather more information, I began to schedule more and more tastings at chateaux but we still had to attend the big cattle call tastings to taste everything we needed to evaluate. Then came an invitation from Joanne to visit their warehouse and have the opportunity to taste ALL the UGC wines in one location while seated at a table with the option to plug in the computer for note taking and with someone there to provide technical information (such as the blend) on all the wines. Doing this would free up more time for more appointments at chateaux so we scheduled to visit Joanne on Friday morning of UGC week. That was five years ago and I have never looked back.
When we walk into Joanne, we’re escorted to a private tasting area for just our group (and maybe a couple of others – this year it was two friends from the Liquor Control Board in Ontario). We are handed a catalogue of all the wines available to taste and check off the ones we want to taste. Then the fun begins. University interns pour the wines and we can rock through a lot of wine in a fairly short period of time. This year, we tasted through over forty wines in under three hours. A few were re-tastes but most were wines we had missed either knowing we would taste them at Joanne or because of the stomach bug – the “Grand Mal (big bad) de Bordeaux” – that had been going around all week.
Here are the highlights of the Joanne tasting:
Ch. CANTEMERLE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (92)
Ch. La LAGUNE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (91+)
Ch. du TERTRE, Margaux, 2015 (91+)
Ch. CANTENAC BROWN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. GISCOURS, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. d’ISSAN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. BRANE CANTENAC, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. RAUZAN SEGLA, Margaux, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. LASCOMBES, Margaux, 2015 (93)
As these and our other scores for Margaux wines show, this was fine year for that appellation.
Ch. LALANDE BORIE, St. Julien, 2015 (91+)
A re-taste from the day before with much better results due to a better sample.
Ch. BEYCHEVELLE, St. Julien, 2015 (94+)
Ch. MEYNEY, St. Estephe, 2015 (93+)
Ch. LAFON ROCHET, St. Estephe, 2015 (93++)
A wine to reckon with this year due to improved facilities and a new consultant in the person of former Petrus winemaker Jean Claude Berrouet.
Ch. PAPE CLEMENT, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94+)
Tasted at the recommendation of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Quite enjoyable 2015 after some years of way too much extraction.
Ch. CARBONNIEUX, Pessac Leognan Rouge Rouge, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. CARBONNIEUX BLANC, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (94-95)
Best young Carbonnieux wines of my career.
DOMAINE de CHEVALIER, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94++)
Much better here than at the chateau on Monday.
Ch. CANON, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
The guys tasted this on Wednesday but I was by that time a casualty.
Ch. CLOS FOURTET, St. Emilion, 2015 (95
Ch. la DOMINIQUE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95)
Tasted at the recommendation of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Improved facilities and new team have made abig difference.
Ch. TROPLONG MONDOT, St. Emilion, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. NENIN, Pomerol, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY VEDRINES, Barsac, 2015 (93-95)
Ch. COUTET, Barsac, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY DAENE, Barsac, 2015 (94+)
Clearly a fine vintage for Sauternes.
After Joanne, we had two more appointments: 3:30pm back at Ch. Haut Brion so James – who had missed Haut Brion on Monday due to the big bad – could experience bliss and 5:15pm at Borie Manoux as we had all missed getting good notes on those wines for the same reason.
At Ch. Haut Brion, the wines were consistent with Monday with the reds as a group showing a bit better on Monday (at La Mission) and the whites as a group showing a bit better on this second visit.
Finally, we went to Borie Manoux to taste through the range of chateaux owned by the Casteja family (who were our hosts for that fabulous dinner on the Sunday prior). Owner philippe Casteja actually poured and provided the technical details for our tasting
Here are the highlights of the Borie Manoux tasting:
Ch. BEAU-SITE, St. Estephe, 2015 (91+)
Brilliant white gravel and sand terroir overlooking Calon Segur.
Les HAUTS de LYNCH, Haut Medoc, 2015 (90+)
2nd wine of Lynch Moussas with some of the grapes coming from outside the Pauillac appellation.
Ch. LYNCH MOUSSAS, Pauillac, 2015 (92)
LIONS de BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (91)
New 2nd wine of Ch. Batailley.
Ch. BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (94+)
My “reference standard” in Pauillac.
Ch. la CROIX du CASSE, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
DOMAINE de l’EGLISE, Pomerol, 2015 (93+)
La DAME de TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (91+)
Ch. TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
Premiere Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion at a very high level with a small part of pre-phylloxera vines.
Whew! What a day. What a trip.
With that, the tasting is done but the fun is just beginning.
Lots of evaluation to be done, commentary (as opposed to travel log) to be written, and the pricing dance is about to start.
Gentlemen, start your Livers …
Thursday Morning, 8am. On the road to Pauillac. Which is a full hour north of where we’re staying at Bordeaux Lac on the north side of Bordeaux (not far from the old German U-Boat pens).
First stop, Ch. Pichon Baron to taste AXA-owned properties, arriving in the rain. Much to my surprise, AXA managing director Christian Seely (who does office at Ch. Pichon Baron) is standing behind the tasting bar to pour the wines. This is new. First comes Ch. PIBRAN (90+) and then the two 2nd wines of Pichon: the merlot dominant Les TOURELLES de LONGUEVILLE (92) and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Les GRIFFONS de LONGUEVILLE (92+) followed by Ch. PICHON BARON (94+) and Ch. PETITE VILLAGE (91) and finally Ch. SUDUIRAUT (93). Are these scores too low? Maybe. Quite possibly. It could be that I was still a bit out of sorts that morning. Or it could be that that is just how they showed. I did not have a second chance to taste these wines – and we did not have time to linger – so I’m stuck with what I’ve got.
From Ch. Pichon Baron to Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste is maybe five minutes and in that time the sun came out and the skies cleared. Warmly greeted by the ebullient and professional François Xavier Borie (yet another of Bordeaux’s great gentlemen) and his daughter Amelie, we tasted 2nd vin Ch. LACOSTE BORIE (92+), Ch. HAUT BATAILLEY (93+), and Ch. GRAND PUY LACOSTE (96-98+ and wow, wow, wow!).
On to Ch. Lynch Bages where we were greeted by the limping (scooter accident) but ever genial and entertaining Jean Charles Cazes who has several years back taken over the properties from his father – University of Texas alumnus (petroleum engineering) and former Pauillac mayor – Jean Michel Cazes. We tasted St. Estephe Ch. Les ORMES de PEZ (92+), Pauillacs ECHO de LYNCH BAGES (92+) and Ch. LYNCH BAGES (95), and Bordeaux Blanc BLANC de LYNCH BAGES (94).
Next came Ch. Mouton Rothschild were we’d taste Ch. d’ARMAILHAC (93), Ch. CLERC MILON (93+), PETIT MOUTON (94), and Ch. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD (97-99) and then across the road to Ch. PONTET CANET (96-98) before we stopped (in the rain) for a lovely lunch with the delightful Veronique Dausse of Ch. PHELAN SEGUR (94+).
There is a lot of talk, especially from producers in Pessac-Leognan and Margaux (that didn’t get the late season rains) that “poor St. Estephe and Pauillac and St. Julien” got too much rain too late and so are less good. It appears that, at least at those chateaux with well-draining deep gravel-sand terroirs, that late rain wasn’t much of an issue. This 2015 is the best Phelan I have ever tasted.
Leaving lunch (and still raining), we head for Ch. COS d’ESTOURNEL (94-96), then Ch. Montrose to taste Ch. TRONQUOY LALANDE (91+), La DAME de MONTROSE (92), and Ch. MONTROSE (94-96) before a sprint over to Ch. Calon Segur. At Calon, we tasted Ch. CAPBERN (92+, from a separate terroir close to Tronquoy Lalande), 2nd vin MARQUIS de CALON (93+, another of those 2nd wines that can be mistaken for a grand vin), and Ch. CALON SEGUR (95-97+). I’d say St. Estephe made a more than respectable showing.
Now on to one more Pauillac, Ch. Pichon Lalande before we finish the tasting day in St. Julien. With estate manager Nicolas Glumineau, we tasted RESERVE de la COMTESSE (93) and Ch. PICHON LALANDE (96-98).
After Pichon comes Ducru Beaucaillou where we tasted Bruno Borie’s two Listrac wines – Ch. DUCLUZEAU (90+) and Ch. FOURCAS BORIE (91) – which may be the cleanest, least funky wines of Listrac, followed by the his St. Julien wines Ch. LALANDE BORIE (90 here but a better sample the next day at Joanne got 91+), La CROIX DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (93 and now a separate property, no longer a 2nd vin), and Ch. DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (97-99 and the best young Ducru I have ever tasted. Ethereal).
We end the tasting day at Ch. Leoville las Cases running only 25 minutes behind (which unfortunately is about normal). Normally this is not one of my favorite tastings as 1) it always seems to come at the end of a long day and 2) I have sometimes (often) struggled to understand these wines. Not this year. The two Medoc-appellated wines from just north of the Haut Medoc appellation of St. Seurin de Cadourne CHAPELLE de POTENSAC (91+) and Ch. POTENSAC (92+) were fresh and lively. The St. Julien former 2nd vin, now separate property CLOS du MARQUIS (94+) now has its own second wine called La PETITE MARQUISE du CLOS du MARQUIS (92). Which brings us to the main event: 2nd vin Le PETIT LION (94) and Ch. LEOVILLE Las CASES (96-98, most enjoyable young Leoville las Cases of my career).
At this point we were all feeling heathy enough to go to the river front in Pauillac and sit outside for a sip of Champagne and nibble of jambon before the drive back to Bordeaux. Nothing cleans your mouth up – and gets the purple off your teeth – after a long day of tasting young red Bordeaux like Champagne.
A great day, despite the rain but it’s not over. We have an hour plus drive ahead of us to get to a great party at negoçiant Archie Johnston’s house where the Champagne and oysters are flowing freely, the conversation about the new vintage and Bordeaux in general is intelligent and lively and, later in the evening, some jewels like 1982 Ch. Haut Brion and 1955 Ch. Lafite get drunk.
But wait, there’s more. We still have Friday to go. Stay tuned.
Back in the saddle again?
Wednesday Morning, 8am. All present and accounted for. None of us ate much for breakfast but we started the day sipping Cokes and headed for Libourne to taste at the offices of JP Mouiex with Christian Mouiex and his son Eduoard. In years past this has been a difficult start to the day as it is a lot of wines in a first (9am) stop and the samples tend to be not cool but cold. Also, these are big wines that take some thought. Well, this year was easier. Were well greeted and welcomed and ushered into a private room where we (along with François Thienpont who we spend Wednesday with) tasted through fifteen 2015 St. Emilion and Pomerol wines to start the day. Highlights included
Ch. PUY BLANQUET, St. Emilion, 2015 (91+)
Ch. PLINCE, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
Ch. La GRAVE, Pomerol, 2015 (92)
Ch. BOURGNEUF, Pomerol, 2015 (93)
Ch. LATOUR a POMEROL, Pomerol, 2015 (93)
Ch. CERTAN de MAY, Pomerol, 2015 (93+)
Ch. La FLEUR PETRUS, Pomerol, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. TROTANOY, Pomerol, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. BELAIR MONANGE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
And some of these scores may have suffered for all the competition present in the room. Before we left, I spoke to Eduoard Mouiex about maybe scheduling a-whole-morning-plus next year and actually visiting all these properties to get a better feel for each of their specificities. He’s onboard. Isn’t that why I go to Bordeaux?
After the Mouiex tasting, it is straight on to Cheval Blanc to taste Ch. QUINAULT l’ENCLOS (94 and the only St. Emilion in the city limits of Libourne), Ch. CHEVAL BLANC (98-100, no 2nd wine was made), and Ch. d’YQUEM (98-100). More on d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc later.
Next stop: Ch. Figeac – which is just across the street from Cheval Blanc on the graveliest terroir in St. Emilion. The PETIT FIGEAC (94, 2nd wine) was so good I almost forgot I wasn’t yet tasting the grand vin. And the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Ch. FIGEAC (97-99) is clearly one of the great wines of the vintage.
Next stop: Ch. Pavie MacQuin to taste the Thienpont wines with François, his older brother Nicolas who manages the family estates – Ch. PUYGUERAUD (91) and Ch. La PRADE (91) as well as Ch. BERLIQUET (93), Ch. LARCIS DUCASSE (94+), Ch. PAVIE MACQUIN (95-96), and Ch. BEAUSEJOUR DUFFAU (95-96), and his nephew Cyrille (son of Nicolas). There were two whites shown here that may be offered as futures: Ch. PUYGUERAUD Blanc (90+, 40% Sauvignon Gris, no oak) and Ch. CHARMES GODARD Blanc (91+, 25% Sauvignon Gris, all in barrels). After Pavie Macquin we stayed in the “Mondot” area of St. Emilion and stopped in at l’IF (not Ch. l’If, just l’If pronounced “leaf”) to taste Jacques Thienpont’s (owner of Ch. Le Pin which is not being shown yet due to a late malo-lactic fermentation) 2015 l’IF (96-97+).
Are we having fun yet? We think so. Next stop: Lunch at Ch. Grand Barrail which is a fabulous restaurant and hotel in St. Emilion. Great food but I am the ugly American drinking coke with my lunch (trying to settle my stomach) and I get up from the table feeling both rocky and wobbly. And our next stop is Ch. PETRUS (97-99) but I had a tough time with it (my problem, not theirs).
After Petrus, we went to VIEUX Ch. CERTAN (97-100, also known as “VCC”) and tasted with estate manager/winemaker Alexander Thienpont (another of the great gentlemen of Bordeaux). I think I remember walking out of VCC and driving back to the hotel to be alone in my misery. The guys continued on tasting with François and went on to the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner that night (Where Richard won a bottle of 1999 Ch. Haut Brion). I went back to I-want-my-mommy.
Great wines. Rough day.
And then it all went south …
Monday Morning, 8am. One of my guys is down with a stomach bug and can’t go that day. We figure he can sleep it off and this too shall pass and the rest of us head out to Pessac Leognan (which actually is south of Bordeaux) for the day starting at Ch. Carmes Haut Brion. After a great visit (super Cabernet Franc-dominated wine from a clos inside the city of Bordeaux – 95-96) and being asked not to publish or post any pictures of the visually-arresting-but-site-appropriate-ultra-modern new winery designed by Phillip Stark, we headed to La Mission Haut Brion where we tasted through Domaines Clarence Dillon’s three red second wines: Dragon (92), La Chapelle (93), and Clarence (95-97), three red grand vins – Ch. Quintus (95-96), Ch. La Mission Haut Brion (96-98), and Ch. Haut Brion (98-100), and three white wines – Clarté (92), Ch. La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (97-99), and Ch. Haut Brion Blanc (98-100).
As we were leaving La Mission, another of my guys started down the stomach bug path. Instead of going on to our next appointment at Ch. Carbonnieux – which we tasted later in the week and found both the red (94-95 and maybe the best Carbonnieux red ever) and the white (also 94-95) to be excellent, we took him first to the coolest McDonald’s ever (big golden arches, ‘50s diner decor and a pink Cadillac in the outdoor seating area) for a Coke in a futile attempt to settle his stomach and then back to the hotel. We then went to the store for some stomach-settling food and drink (for when they were ready) and to the pharmacy for anti-stomach-problems drugs. Once they were somewhat settled, my last guy and I headed back out to Ch. Haut Bailly (95-96 with the most Cabernet Sauvignon they have ever put in the blend), Domaine de Chevalier red (94+) and white (94), and Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte red (95-96) and white (95-96).
All-in-all, the wines of Pessac-Leognan rocked but as we were leaving Smith, my stomach was beginning to rock, too. Back to the hotel, call and cancel on a dinner at Ch. Haut Brion with Prince Robert of Luxembourg (I don’t even want to know what wines I missed) and by 7pm, I went from feeling rocky to I-want-my-mommy. Being alone and sick in a hotel room sucks. Of our group, Richard was the last man standing.
So now you know why the blog posts are so late in coming.
Tuesday Morning, 8am. Still too sick to go. Cancel morning appointments and reschedule Ch. Margaux from 11am to 2pm. Back to bed.
Tuesday, 1:10pm. We suck it up and get back on the road. First stop: Ch. Margaux for a tasting in their blending room on the second floor of the new Norman Foster-designed winery building (stunning). Really excellent Pavillon Rouge (95-96+), Outstanding Margaux (97-100), and stunning Pavillon Blanc (96-99). So-far-so-good. Thank you Ivanhoe Johnston and Aurelien Valance for working out that rescheduling.
On to Ch. Ferriere where we were greeted by owner/winemaker Claire Villars Lurton and treated to a tour of an absolute jewel box of a Margaux chateau and a fine tasting of the wines she and husband Gonzague Lurton make at their properties: Ch. La Gurgue (91+), Ch. Ferriere (93), Ch. Durfort Vivens (93), and Ch. Haut Bages Liberal (Pauillac, 93+).
On to St. Julien and Ch. Branaire Ducru (30 minutes late) where we are greeted by and taste with owner Patrick Mar0teaux (one of the true gentlemen of Bordeaux). His 2012 Duluc (the 2nd vin) is showing very well (91+), as are the 2011 (92+) and 2012 (93+) Branaires but the 2015 Ch. Branaire Ducru (95-96+) was the star of the show.
Then a quick stop to taste Chx. Gloria (93+ and as good a Gloria as I can remember) and Saint Pierre (94+).
And so on to Ch. Leoville Poyferre to taste with Anne Cuvelier and Thierry Gramon. Here we got Ch. Le Crock (St. Estephe, 92), Ch. Moulin Riche (93), and Ch. Leoville Poyferre (96-98) along with a warm welcome and an American flag flying at the chateau.
After stops to taste Ch. Senejac (Haut Medoc, 92+), Ch. Talbot (St. Julien, 94+), Ch. Camensac (Haut Medoc, 92), and Ch. Chasse Spleen (Moulis, 91+), we headed back to Margaux (now 45 minutes behind schedule) to taste at Ch. Pontac Lynch.
At 6:45pm, we pulled into Ch. Pontac Lynch in a cloud-of-dust to meet owner Marie-Christine Bondon and her team including my favorite dog in Bordeaux, Bijoux (who is beginning to show his 10 years but is still up for greeting visitors). Here we tasted her located-on-sandier-terroir, just-east-of-the-Margaux-appellation, behind-Ch. d’Issan-Haut-Medoc Ch. Pontac Phenix 2012 (91) and 2014 (91+) first. Then we tasted the touching-Ch. Margaux-on-the-north-and-Ch. d’Issan-on-the-south-east-and-Ch. Palmer-on-the-south-west-and-Ch. Rauzan-Segla-on-the-west (How’s that for a good address?) Ch. Pontac Lynch 2014 (93) and 2015 (94++). While this 2015 was far from the highest score of the day, it was my favorite wine of the day and this was my favorite stop of the day. Why? Because Pontac Lynch is a throwback. The winery is old school (compact, concrete tanks, basket press, non-fancy barrel room) and the wines (both the Pontac Phenix and the Pontac Lynch) are that very pure, very elegant, fruit-and-terroir, non-extracted, lighter-colored style that you don’t see much at all anymore. They are a pure pleasure and are frankly delicious.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, we were still feeling a bit rocky but we had persevered to taste 25 wines between 2pm and 7:30pm.
BEST. WINE. DINNER. EVER.
So. Me and the boys (that would be Richard Malphrus, James Barlow, and Robert Boyd, all of Spec’s) were invited to a dinner at Ch. Batailley celebrating the launch of the new 2nd wine of Ch. Batailley – Lions de Batailley. Ok. These folks – the Castejas and their manager Noel Richard – have been friends for a long time and I love the wines of Ch. Batailley (a fifth classified growth Pauillac) so saying yes was a no-brainer. Also, I have been in the cellar at Batailley so I know that there is a wealth of older vintages available to serve at a special dinner. I envisioned 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000, 1995, 1990, and maybe 1982 with traditional Bordelaise food. That would have been a great line up with fine food. But no. Try Ch. Batailley 1881, 1900, 1904, 1929, 1949, 1945, 1961, 1982, 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2010 plus Ch. D’Yquem 2007 plus Michelin-three-star food (and that doesn’t even include the 2002 Pol Roger from Magnum as the aperitif wine). Philippe Casteja raided his cellar for these stunning vintages and hired Chef Michel Gerard of Michelen thee star restaurant Les Pres de Eugenie (in Eugenie les Bains) to come to Bordeaux to cook a five course meal including an obscene amount of truffles incorporated into the first four courses. I have never had better food and I have never had a better, more consistently excellent selection of wines. in addition, the pairing of the wines in multi vintage flights with the food was brilliant. I am stingy with 100 point scores but I will allow that at least 8 and maybe 9 of these wines warranted 100 point scores. And the other 3 0r 4 deserved scores of 95 or more. ALL of the wines improved in the glass. The first bottle of 1900 was corked. Too bad, so sad? No. They opened another bottle which turned out to be brilliant. All in all, a legendary evening.
Below is a photo of my comments. Below that is a photo of the menu. And below that is a photo of the tech sheet on the wines (none of which had ever left the cellars of Ch. Batailley).
My comments on the wines:
Le Menu (Hope you can read French)
Just the Facts M’am.
Proof of Concept:
Utterly Stunning. Great Wines with Great Food. I have never eaten better. I may be ruined. The food and wine bar is now impossibly high.
Oh. And the Lions de Batailley turned out pretty good, too.
Merci Noel. Merci Philippe.
SEEING IT FRESH
It’s nice to have company when I travel. When I visit a place – such as Bordeaux – that I visit often, it’s particularly nice to have someone with me who’s never been there before. On this trip, I’m traveling with three Spec’s wine guys – Richard Malphrus, Robert Boyd, and James Barlow – who are all well-traveled and experienced and have good-book-and-tasting-knowledge of Bordeaux but have never been here before. Why is that good? Other than the fact that they are good company and are getting invaluable boots-on-the-ground experience, having them along helps me see it fresh through their eyes. And that keeps me from taking what I am seeing-doing-and-tasting for granted. I pay attention not just to the places and people and wines but to how these three accomplished wine professionals react and respond to those same things.
Much of this trip is about evaluating the 2015s and some is about finding fine mature wines to sell. Both of those parts are what everyone imagines and wishes they could be part of. And trust me, in that regard, the guys I’m traveling with are living the dream. But some of it is about basic Bordeaux business and some of that is about as glamorous as watching sausage making. It has to be done and the results are worth the effort but much of the time the people engaged would rather be doing something else. While there’s probably not a lot of wine geek consumer interest in reading about a good (but not great) sub-$10 Bordeaux rouge (such as Ch. La Maroutine) or Entre Deux Mers (such as Ch. Nicot Blanc), those wines still have to be tasted and evaluated and prices have to be negotiated. It helps to have a lot of experience but it also helps to have those fresh eyes mentioned above.
I’d like to be posting every day while I am here in Bordeaux but the fact is we leave the hotel early and get back late. For the last two nights, getting some sleep was more important than a blog post. Nevertheless, Thursday, Friday and today (Saturday) saw us tasting some fabulous wines at price points ranging from $12 to potentially over $500. Still this not a sprint so much as an ironman; there’s another week to go and sleep is essential. So I’ll post when I can and sleep when I have to.
I take notes on almost all the wines we taste on a trip like this. An acquaintance in Bordeaux (who is a bit of a dirty old man) once told me that “Tasting wine is like kissing girls. You remember the best and you remember the worst and for the rest you need a diary.” He went on to allow that most girls kiss differently each time you kiss ‘em.
He had two points and both, however expressed, are valid. 1) Without detailed tasting notes, even great wines can begin to run together … but there are wines that – for reasons both good and bad – transcend the need for a note. On the plus side, first sips of both 1996 Ch. Margaux and 1999 Ch. Latour come readily to mind. And 2) Tasting notes are only an instantaneous snap shot of a wine right in the moment when you’re tasting it. You freezing that moment in a note – like shooting a photograph – does not lock the living, evolving wine into that moment. The wine will change so some of the sensory perception information in a tasting note is going out of date the moment the note is completed.
Whenever possible, I taste wines multiple times to get a more complete impression. But even on wines that I only taste once on a given trip, I have – over an-almost-forty-year-career tasting Bordeaux and twenty years of coming to Bordeaux to taste – a frame of reference of tasting wines from the same property(s) in other vintages or at the least tasting lots of similar wines.
For me, tasting notes are most valuable when there is some technical data included and are best used as an indicator of overall quality (that’s where the score comes in) rather than as a passport photo for strict identification purposes (Is that really you?).
2015: A VERY INTITIAL GENERAL IMPRESSION
Out of over the 300 wines I have tasted so far on this trip, the seventy-seven 2015s have given me enough of a sample size to begin to form some impressions.
Which is a bold statement because there are over 8,000 chateaux producing wine in Bordeaux. These wines range from the cheapest (say 4 euros-a-bottle in a French super-market) to the most expensive (including some that may sell for thousands of dollars per bottle). Of those 8,000 chateaux, fewer than 1,000 have much chance of doing any meaningful business in the US. If you gave me enough time (and an incentive to do it), I might could name as many as 700 chateaux and a good number of those would be properties I regularly drive past but gave up on tasting years ago. At this point when I taste a new vintage, I’m actually looking at a selection of no more than 400 wines (some tasted two or three times) out of the 8,000 or so possibles – and some of that is for informational purposes only. Ultimately, Spec’s will likely buy somewhere around 200 different Bordeaux wines from the 2015 vintage with maybe 100 to 125 wines being glamorous names and the others being fine serviceable value wines that actually make up most of the unit sales volume of the Bordeaux category. But I digress. Actually, I digress rather a lot but … there I go again.
So my so-far-so-good impression of the 2015 Bordeaux vintage (based on a sample size of 77 wines out of a likely to be tasted 400 or so wines) is this:
2015 as a vintage offers charming, easy-to-like wines of balance and some elegance with forward fruit and plenty of freshness. The fruit character (on both sides of the river) tends to red and dark red and darker red fruit with – at least so far – almost no black fruit. Place (terroir) seems to be part of the equation here maybe more than it has been in some recent great vintages (such as 2009 and 2010). So is 2015 a great vintage? My trusted friends in Bordeaux say so and my still limited sample has shown me nothing as yet to make me think otherwise. Some are saying the vintage is a bit better on the right bank than the left but, at least in the wines I’ve tasted so far, I haven’t seen that. For me, the quality is pretty even across both the Merlot-dominant and Cabernet-dominant wines. I have heard Bordeaux professionals describe the vintage as a cross of 2009 and 2010 with the charm of the former and some of the structure of the latter – but I am not yet ready to argue for or against that assessment. Of course, it can be argued that, at whatever price point, the wines I’m tasting are the best of the best – and I would have a hard time arguing otherwise.
SO WHAT’S THE BEST 2015 I’VE TASTED SO FAR?
That’s easy. The 2015 Ch. Lafite Rothschild is not only the best 2015 I’ve tasted so far, it is also the best young Ch. Lafite I have ever tasted.
Ch. LAFITE ROTHSCHILD, Pauillac, 2015
A blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot fermented using pumpovers and aged in 100% new French oak barrels. Red-purple colored with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics. The tobacco leaf is there and so is the beginnings of the pencil shavings along with a note of black tea leaf. Dark and darker red fruit with spice and some black pepper. Dusty gravel. Elegance personified and quite ethereal. Has the expected Lafite weightlessness. BearScore: 98-100.
Other 2015s That Have Made Big Impressions*:
Ch. Latour, Pauillac
Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac
Ch. Rieussec, Sauternes
Ch. Canon La Gaffeliere, St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé
Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne, St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé
Ch. la Croix St. Georges, Pomerol
Ch. La Pointe, Pomerol
Ch. Gruaud Larose, St. Julien
Ch. Beychevelle, St. Julien
Ch. Leoville Barton, St. Julien
Ch. d’Issan, Margaux
Ch. d’Aiguilhe, Castillon – Cotes de Bordeaux
Ch. Clos Marsalette, Pessac Leognan Blanc
*These are not necessarily the highest scores but they did make the biggest impressions.
Best 2015 Values Tasted So Far
Ch. Laplagnotte Bellevue, St. Emilion Grand Cru
Ch. Vieux Clos St. Emilion, St. Emilion
Vieux Ch. Saint Andre, Montagne St. Emilion
Les Brullieres de Beychevelle, Haut Medoc
Ch. Tour Salvet, Haut Medoc
Ch. Truquet, St. Emilion
BIGGEST 2015 SURPRISE
I wasn’t expecting to taste any Rosé on this trip (drink maybe but not taste) so that was surprise number one. Surprise number two is that, while I liked the 2014 iteration of this wine, I didn’t love it. I do love this 2015 Bordeaux Rosé.
PINS de DUNES, Bordeaux Rosé, 2015
Formerly called “Pins de Pyla,” this is a blend of 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3 Merlot, and 1/3 Cabernet Franc made using direct pressing (no saignee) and aged only in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Pale-pink-rose in color with good legs; dry, light-bodied with fresh, refreshing acidity and scant phenolics. Bubble-gum-dust and Jolly Rancher melon, strawberry, and citrus. Although all that fruit leaves a sweet impression, the vivid acidity and beam of mineral keep it dry, clean, and super refreshing. Delicious. BearScore: 92+.
So, just out of curiosity: when was the last time you read a blog post that mentioned both Ch. Lafite Rothschild and a simple Bordeaux Rosé? Maybe not in the same breath but at least in the same post.