Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.
He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.
The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.
It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.
I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!
So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…
I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.
With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!
Fine Wine Manager
Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:
1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.
2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.
3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.
4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!
I had to pinch myself a few times throughout 2016. Since landing my dream job as trainee buyer (and subsequently taking on buying duties for England, beers and accessories), I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, visit some beautiful places and experience some remarkable things.
One thing that will stick with me though is some of the fantastic people that I have been lucky enough to meet who, whilst all have stories of their own, always share one thing in common with me: a love of wine.
Putting together a list of just three bottles that really meant something to me from 2016 was not easy, as there were so many more that I wanted to select. However, I settled on three very special wines from three very special producers, in three completely different wine-producing regions of the world.
You can buy a convenient three-bottle mixed case of these reds for £38 – with UK delivery included – via thewinesociety.com.
1. Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2013 (£9.50 per bottle)
My very first trip accompanying one of the buyers was in January 2016 when I went to Bordeaux with Head of Buying Tim Sykes. The main goal of the trip was to blend the new vintage of The Society’s Claret but while there we managed to fit in visits with a few other producers. Our last visit of the trip was to a small, humble producer in Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde.
After a few days of suits and ties and smart sales folk, it was lovely to meet a proper winemaking family. We weren’t talking to a sales representative or a marketing person but the owner and winemaker of a small and excellent-quality winery. Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet are the couple in charge here, at one of the oldest wineries in Blaye. They love nothing more than driving visitors around their vineyards and talking them through the subtle nuances that each vineyard has on their wines. After the tour it was time for a bit of cake before going to the airport.
This was the first time that I felt like I got to the heart of Bordeaux; despite all the money in the region and all the marketing, it is people like these who live for the wine and who make good wines at very affordable prices.
This 2013 vintage of Chateau Monconseil Gazin was one which I remember for its soft tannins, fresh acidity and feeling of being complete, by which I mean everything was in harmony and as it should be. Fresh fruit is there, but it is soft and relatively gentle, with an appealing, simple charm. For me, this wine spoke of its place very well, from the freshness in the fruit on the highest vineyards, kept cool in the wind, to the ripeness of the fruit that bit closer to the river, where the temperature is moderated thanks to the influence of the Gironde.
2. Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice 2011 (£10.95 per bottle)
When I joined The Wine Society’s Buying Team, I was lacking in the foreign language department, other than a miniscule amount of Italian. In order to fit in to such a linguistically talented team of buyers, I had to brush up on it! After a number of Italian lessons, Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer for Italy, said: ‘If you really want to learn the language, you need to get out there!’ So I did.
I spent a couple of weeks working at wineries in Italy; firstly with the lovely folks at Vallone in Puglia but I spent the second week with the truly lovely, and truly Italian, Grati family in the Rufina Valley of Chianti.
I’ve never had a week where I felt so looked after and learned so much. The warm and incredibly intelligent Gualberto Grati and his sister Christi are now at the helm of their family winery, having taken over from their parents who live at Villa di Vetrice itself. I managed to experience all sorts of jobs which surround the harvest on my visit, from the picking of the grapes, to hanging up bunches in the vinsantaia (see above), to carrying out a whole experimental micro-vinification of the very rare grape variety sanforte.
Sitting around the family table for dinner at Vetrice on the first night of my visit, not being even nearly competent with my Italian, was a strange mixture of lovely and terrifying. However when, on the last night of my trip, Gualberto and I were invited for dinner with Christi, her husband Luca and their two daughters, I found I was able to have a conversation in Italian, the feeling of pride was really quite memorable. It was all thanks to the kindness and patience of this Tuscan winemaking family.
Their wine is really rather delicious too! This one combines the rusticity and ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking found in the most authentic of Tuscan wines with such obviously excellent fruit, from a region that really seems born to produce wines. Silky smooth yet still fresh, thanks to the signature acidity of the Rufina valley. A charming, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable wine, whilst still smart and proper, much like the family who make it!
3. Hedges CMS Washington State 2015 (£13.50 per bottle)
I’d never been to the USA before being lucky enough to get a place on a trip arranged by the Washington State Wine Commission. The bulk of the trip involved a small group of us visiting a number of wineries spread over five days. I wasn’t able to fly out to Seattle until the day after the rest of the group, which meant that I would be there a couple of days after they had all gone home again at the end of the trip. With that in mind, I had made plans to go and visit a couple of producers who we already worked with at The Wine Society, one of which was Hedges Estate.
I’d heard that Christophe Hedges was a pretty cool guy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He lives with his wife Maggie and their two young sons, in a beautiful white-stone house which is down the end of a dirt track, in the middle of the vineyards of Red Mountain. I drove down the track and pulled up outside the house, which was clearly still undergoing some construction work. I walked around the side and knocked on the door but there was no answer.
Eventually, this tall, muscular wine god of a man came around the corner. This was Christophe, who it turns out is not only a great winemaker but also a seriously good stonemason. So good in fact, that he built the house himself!
The Hedges family were like something out of a film – painfully good looking with perfect smiles and a sense of coolness and calm about them which makes you feel like they just love living life. When I went to visit them, I had just left the rest of the group who had flown home and as I got into my hire-car I distinctly remember a sudden sense of real loneliness, now finding myself in a small town in a country I had never been to before, almost 5,000 miles away from home. When I got to the Hedges’ home, it was like seeing old friends.
I tasted a lot of good wines with Christophe, many of which could have been featured here; but for me, this was perhaps the most approachable now. It encapsulates the terroir of Red Mountain, with a hint of earthiness and bright, fresh acidity. The complexity of fruit here is impressive, thanks to the clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, making a wine which is juicy and bright, while maintaining a peppery touch and a firm backbone.
Buy the three-bottle mixed case for £38 – with UK delivery included.
Raise a glass to the memory of Denis Dubourdieu, who died on 26th July.
Many members of The Wine Society will know him as the owner of Château Reynon in Premières Côtes, Clos Floridene in Graves, Château Cantegril (the excellent source over several vintages of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes), and, with his father, of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac.
The Society has been regularly following his wines for over 30 years, because they have been consistently excellent examples of red, dry and sweet white Bordeaux at prices most can afford.
He first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, but a tasting we organised in London recently of ten vintages of Château Reynon Rouge for Jancis Robinson showed the keeping quality and class of his red wines too, with his 2005 and 2010 more delicious than many classed growths.
Not so many may have known of Denis’ immense importance in raising the standards of Bordeaux wines in general and that his influence extended far beyond his home patch. He was a highly valued consultant at châteaux as varied as Haut-Bailly, Batailley, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Giscours, Cheval Blanc and Yquem, and many others in Bordeaux.
He consulted also in Burgundy, the Rhône, the Loire, Languedoc, Italy, Spain, Greece and in Asia.
He believed passionately that a wine should express the terroir it came from, quoting Émile Peynaud: ‘A cru wine is a taste one can recognise.’ He said that a terroir is not only the soil, climate and grape varieties of a place, but the capacity of all these to give a wine a delectable and specific taste recognisable by the customer who cannot find the exact equivalent elsewhere.
Denis, the son of Jean-Pierre Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, was born into wine and married Florence, the daughter of a vigneron owner of Reynon, which they made their home. Together they created, almost from scratch, Clos Floridene, a property whose vines planted on limestone have produced wines that often outperform and outlive many Pessac-Léognan crus classés.
As Professor, since 1988, at the Oenology faculty of Bordeaux University and, since 2009, director general of the Science of Vines and Wine at the university, he gave countless young vignerons and winemakers the benefits of his scientific knowledge and practical experience.
For me, as wine buyer, visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure, because I could not only assess his own wines, but learn from his honest, informed view of the recent vintage all over Bordeaux; both its strengths and its weaknesses.
Denis proved that, if you worked hard in the vineyard, it was always possible to make good wine. He brought an extraordinary attention to detail, needed to make good Sauternes, to the making of red and dry white too, often making several consecutive pickings to catch grapes at their optimum.
Florence, his wife, and his trained oenologist sons Fabrice and Jean-Jacques will continue, I am sure, to make excellent wine at the properties they own, but this remarkable, modest man will be very much missed, while his legacy lives on.
Sebastian Payne MW
I am just back from a six-day visit to Bordeaux tasting the 2015 vintage.
Traditionally the Bordeaux châteaux and merchants open their doors to the wine trade in early April to show off the fruits of the latest vintage, and this year there was a particularly strong attendance from wine merchants around the globe, no doubt attracted by talk of the best vintage for a number of years.I tasted several hundred wines from across the communes and appellations of Bordeaux, from Pauillac to Pomerol, Sauternes to Saint-Emilion, and from Bourg to Barsac. Many wines were tasted at the châteaux, but also at an excellent tasting organised by the Union de Grands Crus at the new stadium just outside Bordeaux, and at tastings put on by various négociants (merchants). This gave me the opportunity to taste many wines several times, a necessity when the wines are so young and can vary considerably depending on the freshness of barrel samples presented. As a result of these tastings I now feel I have a good ‘handle’ on the 2015 vintage.
What is clear is that 2015 is a very good vintage, unquestionably the best for claret since 2010. The wines have attractive balance, with perfumed bouquet, fresh, fleshy fruit and silky tannins. Whilst the wines do not have the weight of the 2009s and 2010s, they have real charm and vibrancy of fruit. French winemakers sometimes use the term ‘peps’ for wines that display freshness and vitality, and I think that the word neatly sums up the 2015 vintage.
Quality can be found at all levels in 2015, from first growths down to petits châteaux, and the wines will provide a great deal of drinking pleasure for members in the years to come.
The most consistent left bank wines are those of the southern Médoc, with Margaux and Saint-Julien performing particularly well. Pauillac produced some outstanding wines, but there is less consistency here (and in Saint-Estèphe) and we will be particularly selective in our purchases from the northern Médoc this year. Pessac-Léognan and Graves made some lovely wines, and our forthcoming en primeur offers will provide members with plenty of choice, both of reds and dry whites.
On the right bank, the wines of Saint-Emilion are excellent, displaying ripe merlot character, and fine tannin texture. Pomerol is slightly less consistent, but nevertheless produced some delicious wines with good ageing potential.
Finally, Sauternes and Barsac have enjoyed a very fine vintage, with plenty of noble rot, backed up with balancing freshness.
We will be offering an en primeur selection from top châteaux towards the end of the month, and this will be followed up with our main offer in June.
Head of Buying
Head of Buying Tim Sykes has recently taken on the buying of Bordeaux wines for The Society. I caught up with him recently to ask him about how it has been going so far, and about his love of this great region’s wines.Why Bordeaux?
Because I love the wines! It’s a vast area with real diversity of styles, and is less straightforward to buy from than you might think. It regularly throws up some really, really interesting wines.
Bordeaux’s reputation was forged by a small number of the top châteaux and as a consequence, much gets overlooked. If you get under the skin there are some terrific wines lower down the price ladder. In terms of value for money Bordeaux holds its own against any other region. In the sub-£10 category, I struggle to think of many places outside of Bordeaux that offer the same consistency of quality and value for money year in year out.
Is Bordeaux a region you buy from for your own personal enjoyment?
Since coming to work at The Wine Society [in 2012] I have been drinking a lot more Bordeaux than I had done previously. Bordeaux wasn’t such an important region in my previous job because the restaurant trade sadly doesn’t have such a demand these days
Why do you think Bordeaux offers such value and variety?
There are thousands of châteaux and people making different styles of wine. This is not news to Wine Society members: we have been following many of the leading lights – people like the Dubourdieus and Despagnes – whose wines have stood the test of time. We have been working with them for a long time now. There’s a lot of history there: Jo Locke MW and Sebastian Payne MW did a fantastic job building up relationships with the people that matter.
Will you want to put your own stamp on the region?
Yes, of course, that is my job, and it’s also the challenge and what makes it enjoyable. It will involve lots of prospecting to find the new exciting producers.
What interests me most is the smaller family-owned properties – many of whom actually struggle to make a go of it – contrary to the image most people have of Bordeaux. Growers in some of the ‘satellite’ appellations, and those producing generic claret have often struggled in recent years – prices haven’t changed much for these wines in the last 10 years! Take The Society’s Claret – we buy at pretty much the same cost price as 10 years ago and the wine is getting better and better in quality terms.
Château Canada is an example of a good petit château that we buy from in most years. Good properties like this, the ones we deal with, are generally doing ok, but those that rely on selling in bulk struggle to make ends meet.You have been involved in sourcing wines for our en primeur offer since you started at The Society; do you cellar Bordeaux for your own enjoyment?
Yes, I like to cellar and drink the grander names too, of course. But in some ways the well-known names are less satisfying to buy as a professional buyer – they’re widely available on the ‘Bordeaux Place’ through local merchants – it’s not like buying from individual properties and finding things for yourself.
Where is the excitement then?
It’s the ‘truffle-snuffling’ element that gets us going as buyers. That’s the exciting thing. We read up on properties and regions… talk to people… prospect.
What have been your impressions as you take over responsibility for Bordeaux?
Of all the regions that I have visited since joining the Society, and in Bordeaux especially, there is enormous respect for The Wine Society. It’s a question of trust, something that has been built up over many, many years. Château owners often comment on how delighted they are to work with us and how much they enjoy meeting our members when they attend tastings.
Why do you think this is?
I think it has to do with loyalty and integrity. The Wine Society is a reliable organisation with a rich tradition. They respect the fact that there are no sharp practices when it comes to dealing with us. We make a point of showing our faces and visit a lot more than most merchants.
Are you getting the impression that there’s a new generation coming to the fore now in Bordeaux?
Yes, to a certain extent…we are seeing the likes of Fabrice and Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu stepping up to take more of a leading role within their family estates, then there’s Edouard Moueix whose father Christian is taking more of a back-seat role, for example.
Are families important in Bordeaux?
When it’s a family concern it is usually a lot more interesting. When you visit the big châteaux for example, you’re rarely shown around by the owner, even if it is family-owned property. It’s usually the director or manager – not the people who make the wine. That’s what’s so nice about the satellite appellations of Bordeaux – Bourg, Blaye, Fronsac – it’s generally more about family properties, much more like the rest of France in that respect.
There are exceptions, of course, people like the Bartons of Châteaux Léoville and Langoa Barton and the Borie family who own Ducru-Beaucaillou and Grand-Puy-Lacoste who are always charming and still retain the family feel.
What are your favourite clarets?
Impossible question to answer! Like many of our members, if I’m looking for everyday drinking wines in the sub-£10 bracket, I would head to somewhere like the Côtes de Bordeaux. Right bank wines based on the merlot grape are more supple and easier to drink younger.
At the more senior level I’d tend to towards the left bank more I love Château Batailley and Grand-Puy-Lacoste – both Pauillacs – on the left bank for example, as well as Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan.
A few weeks ago, I took part in what must be the world’s most unusual marathon, also known as Le Marathon du Médoc.
The famous 26.2 mile/42km route through the scenic vineyards of Saint-Estèphe, Pauillac and Saint-Julien encompasses 20 wine-tasting stops along with 22 refreshment stations, and various food points serving croissants, oysters, steak, cheese and ice cream. Yum! What a great way to tick off ‘marathon’ (sitting patiently at the top of my bucket list), I rather misguidedly thought back in April.
My running partner/boyfriend did not need much persuading to do this with me – this was his kind of marathon. So after a short discussion and 5 months of not quite enough training, we were at the quayside in Pauillac with a large crowd of fellow crazy runners from all over the world.
This year’s fancy dress theme was ‘dressed up to the nines’ and we were surrounded by a sea of tuxedos, top hats, suits, bow ties, ball gowns and tiaras. We went for the comfortable option and picked up some novelty shirts during a last-minute shopping trip at Camden Market.
The race started off quite slowly as anticipated, and our initial strategy to get to the halfway point before eating or drinking didn’t quite go to plan – the breakfast station at 1km being our first stop. Everyone crowded round for fresh croissants.
The trouble with running and eating at the same time came to light rather quickly with a minor choking incident taking place, and I was wondering how I was going to explain to everyone that we didn’t manage to make it past the first stop. Fortunately, after a short rest, we were able to continue with no further mishaps. We were merrily greeted with food, wine, music, bands, and people dancing at every stop thereafter.
The weather was warm and dry most of the day although there was a period of heavy downpour in the afternoon. This was, at first a welcome break from the heat. However, when it continued coming down thick and fast 45 minutes later, the hard work truly set in.
We were over half way by this time and watching everyone struggle in their now drenched ball gowns and suits, I was glad we had not decided on wearing more elaborate costumes. The course consisted of some mud and gravel tracks and the puddles made this difficult. My lack of training didn’t help the cause and I found myself having to stop at every stop point and in between. I was in good company though as there were a lot of walkers by this stage and being towards the back also meant that there were no longer any queues at the wine stops.
The successful completion of the race is restricted to a 6 hour and 30 minute time limit. Not knowing how strict they were going to be with this, we had agreed just after 15 miles that Dave would run ahead so at least one of us would definitely make it to the finish within the specified time. I was really paranoid during the last few miles that the sweep cart marking the 6 and a half hour pace (driven by a bunch of scary clowns apparently) would turn up behind me at any second. Thankfully, I made it to the end without having to see this.
I was hugely relieved to reach the finish. Dave was already there, and I was allowed through the barrier to collect my medal and wine. This meant I had finished within the time which I later found out to be 6 hours and 28 minutes. All part of my master plan to get my money’s worth and maximise wine-tasting opportunities (of course).
Whilst I’m in no rush to take part in another marathon any time soon, this is a unique experience with a fantastic party and carnival atmosphere. A brilliant bucket-list event for all wine lovers who enjoy running… and even those who don’t!
A quick update from my recent trip to Bordeaux:
Right bank merlot
At Château Pey La Tour in the Entre-deux-Mers the Dourthe team headed by Frédéric Bonaffous was busy with everything but picking! Some of the merlot grapes are in but the cooler (thus higher-trained) vineyards here are still a healthy verdant green and the grapes still maturing happily on the vine.
A pause at Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux
All was quiet on our visit to Durfort-Vivens. With the merlot safely in and the weather set fine, there was ample time to prepare harvest and grape reception equipment for the first of the cabernets. A shower or two was forecast for the weekend but with a healthy crop on the vines, bright warm sunny days, cool dry breezes and markedly cool nights there seemed to be no reason for concern.
Indeed there were smiles all round. Owner Gonzague Lurton, just back from harvest at his property in Sonoma (small in quantity, but good quality), was happy and relaxed. Growers can afford to wait, especially those with the best terroirs, and even if the pressure to pick does come, the grapes are looking good enough to produce a very good harvest at least.
Harvest action at Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien
Sorting tables were busy when we dropped in to see Jean-Dominique Videau at Branaire-Ducru.
Even with the remarkably healthy-looking grapes coming in, after destemming there are still a few leaves and small stalks to be picked out, all of which is done by hand here. The grapes were small and sweetly flavoured (they don’t always taste so good at this stage!) and the majority of the cabernets yet to be picked are in great condition.
We finished our visit with a tasting of second wine Duluc and several vintages of the grand vin which only served to underline the consistent high quality being produced here, from great (2005) to more modest (2007 & 2004) vintages. Less well known than many crus classés, Branaire tends to be very fairly priced and deserves a greater following in our view.
Joanna Locke MW
Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, continues his whistle-stop tour of Bordeaux to assess the 2015 vintage. After the Médoc yesterday, he heads for the right bank.
A damp start to Thursday in central Bordeaux, and noticeably cooler than yesterday.
First stop is Château de Pitray in the Côtes de Castillon (an hour’s drive east of Bordeaux, beyond Saint-Emilion), which is owned and run by the very able Jean de Boigne. Pulling up in front of the imposing château I notice that the temperature gauge on the car reads just 13?C. Such low temperatures would be worrying if the grapes were a long way from reaching full ripeness. However, Pitray’s grapes are almost ready to pick, and the cool weather wards off the possible onset of rot which can attack the grapes in damp conditions.
On the dining room table Jean has lined up three plates, each bearing a bunch of healthy looking grapes. He invites me to guess which variety is lying on each plate.
I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory, managing to identify the cabernet franc (the right-hand bunch), but getting the merlot (middle) and malbec (left) the wrong way round.
All three bunches were picked first thing this morning by Jean, and they all tasted delicious.
Next stop Pomerol, and a first tasting from the 2015 harvest with Edouard Moueix at Château La Fleur Pétrus. The wine (or more accurately young-vine merlot grape juice) had deep colour and tasted lush and vibrant.
As we sat down to the traditional Moueix pickers’ lunch (thankfully indoors) the heavens opened and an unscheduled 15-minute deluge ensued. Christian Moueix, attending his 45th consecutive harvest lunch, immediately got up and announced to a euphoric group of 75 pickers not only that there would be no harvesting this afternoon, but also that the entire team was invited to attend today’s matinée performance of Marguerite at the local cinema.
I made my excuses and then headed off to Saint-Emilion to drop in on François Despagne at Château Grand Corbin Despagne. François, much like his neighbours in Pomerol, could barely contain his excitement at the quality of merlot grapes arriving in his cellar. The grape sorters (human not mechanical) were having to discard just a tiny fraction of the grapes, so healthy were the berries, picked just a few minutes earlier.
Having never had an opportunity to look around the cellars at Grand Corbin Despagne, François gave me a quick guided tour, including a peek inside the ‘Réserve de la famille’ – dusty bottles of vintages such as 1929, 1949 and 1961 lay enticingly in the wine bins.
My last visit of the trip before heading back to the UK was to Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan, where ever-lively winemaker Rémi Edange updated me on the latest news from the Château. ‘Le potentiel est incroyable’ were his exact words – I don’t believe that I need to include a translation!
Every year The Society’s Bordeaux buyers make one or two whistle-stop visits to the region during harvest time to gain a first impression of the nascent vintage. Bordeaux is notorious for putting out (at best) confusing or (at worst) misleading messages about the vintage, and so there is no substitute for actually witnessing what’s going on with one’s own eyes, and talking to château owners and winemakers that you know will give you an honest assessment of the state of the harvest.
Having made it to Bordeaux on Tuesday night, somewhat later than anticipated, I headed out to the Médoc first thing Wednesday. The drive to Pauillac, where I had my first appointment, was slow (the traffic in Bordeaux is worse than London), but I made it to Château Batailley by 9 o’clock. Owner Frédéric Castéja and winemaker Arnaud Durand were there to meet me, and were happy to update me on the state of the vineyards and the anticipated harvest. Their vineyards are in good shape, with the vines in excellent health. Flowering in spring was good and there has been no disease, hail, rot or other nefarious interruptions in the vines’ vegetative cycle. Early summer was very dry, and there were fears that the vines would shut down due to lack of moisture, but some well-timed light showers in early August alleviated the situation.
The weather today was warm (26C) and humid but despite some distant rumbles of thunder, very little of the forecast rain actually fell on the Médoc. Batailley will start picking their merlot vines on Thursday and, if the decent weather holds, they expect to have harvested all their merlot by the middle of next week. The cabernets (sauvignon and franc) are likely to be ready to pick towards the end of September.
Next visit was to Château Beaumont, a member favourite for many years. Head Winemaker Etienne Priou had a smile on his face, always a good sign at this crucial time of the year. His relaxed demeanour was in part due to the fact that Beaumont’s grapes look to be in good shape, but also because there was a gleaming new optical grape sorter sitting in his winery for the first time. Optical sorters are a recent, but welcome, innovation that discards sub-standard grapes before they find their way into the fermenting tanks. The entire production from Beaumont’s 98 hectares of vines will pass through Etienne’s new toy, ensuring that only perfect berries are processed in 2015.
South to Margaux and Château Angludet
Picking of the early ripening merlots started on Monday this week and so approximately half of Angludet’s merlot crop was safely in the winery by the time I visited. I tasted some merlot berries coming off the vibrating table de trie (sorting table) and was impressed by the sweetness of the fruit.
Ben Sichel, winemaker at Angludet, seemed quietly confident about the 2015 vintage, whilst rightly pointing out that until the cabernets, which are due to be picked in around a fortnight, are safely harvested, the vintage still lies in the balance.
I was lucky enough to join the Angludet team for their daily ‘harvest lunch’, a convivial affair on a long trestle table by the sorting table in the winery. Hearty food washed down with a bottle each of 1986 and 1988 Angludet (both fully mature but delicious) made the lunch a particularly memorable occasion.
My last visit in the Médoc was to Château Rauzan Ségla, a second growth Margaux property that we have been buying consistently for many years. John Kolasa, chief winemaker and manager of Rauzan Ségla and sister Saint-Emilion property Château Canon, retired at the end of July and his successor Nicolas Audebert was on hand to update me on the state of the harvest. The remarkably youthful Audebert was at one time chief winemaker at Krug in Champagne, and more recently the winemaker for Cheval des Andes in Argentina. He seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of a good harvest, taking me into the vineyard in front of Rauzan Ségla and showing me row after row of perfectly ripe and healthy merlot grapes.
The weather forecast for the region for the coming week looks decent, if somewhat changeable, so whilst a fine vintage is by no means a fait accompli, with fingers and toes crossed we can all hope that the Mother Nature will deliver something wine lovers can get excited about.
Next stop the Right Bank….
Well, it’s started. This provocative (at least in wine trade circles) headline appeared in The Telegraph last week extolling the virtues of a vintage not even harvested let alone safely in the cellar.
Bordeaux has seen some freak conditions so far this summer and now needs some rain if even a good vintage is to be delivered. For ‘near perfect’ we’ll wait until we have visited, tasted and talked to producers the length and breadth of Bordeaux (and not just the salesmen!).
Yields may well be low in many regions of France; there seems plenty of evidence for that so far but not enough to start talking up prices at this early stage.
Thank goodness for the common sense closing remarks in The Telegraph’s article from Bordeaux producer and blogger Gavin Quinney who commented that, given that harvest for reds is in late September, ‘most of us sit there with our fingers crossed and won’t say anything until the fat lady sings.’
We’re with the fat lady, if admittedly hoping we might all have another 2005 to look forward to.
Jo Locke MW