BLOGGING BORDEAUX: Day Ten (April 7)

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.

BLOGGING BORDEAUX: Day Five (04/02/16)

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.

MAKING SAUSAGE
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.

TIME MANAGEMENT
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.

TASTING NOTES
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*:

MyHatAtGrandCorbinDespagne.jpg

My hat at Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne

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.

More soon.

AtWorkInBordeaux

Bear at work in the tasting room at Compagnie Medocaine