Grapevine Archive for Claret
Against expectations, Society buyers Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes find themselves genuinely excited and impressed by 2012 clarets.2012 has produced a Bordeaux vintage full of surprises. From properties that did, genuinely, make better wine this year than last, to wonderful cabernet-dominated wines in a generally more merlot-oriented vintage, our first week of tasting the grands crus and much else besides was a fascinating one.
We began with a ‘ok, impress me’ attitude, and found ourselves, well, impressed! As already noted on Grapevine, thus far the vintage has not received a great deal of comment, let alone hype, which is not only refreshing but all to the good for we buyers. Top-end Bordeaux has honestly risen to the 2012 challenge and cleverly kept its counsel on this one, allowing trade and press to make up their own minds. The general mood during UGC week, amongst a turnout of visitors not quite up to the numbers for the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages but pretty much in line with last year, seemed to be one of positive surprise sprinkled with genuine enthusiasm. A US buyer whose palate and opinion we respect used the analogy of childbirth to describe the long labour required for success in 2012 but (mostly) joyful end result that is parenthood!
Last night’s tasting with Alexandre Thienpont featured 10 vintages of Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol, where Alexandre has been making the wine since 1985, following on from his father and grandfather. Alexandre is softly spoken and a man of few words, but his passion shines out in what he does say, and his wines certainly speak for themselves.
The property is planted with 65% merlot, 30% cabernet franc and 5% cabernet sauvignon (which compares to the plantings in 1985 of 50% merlot, 25% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 5% malbec). The merlot provides the broad base, the cabernet franc the structure and the cabernet sauvignon adds ageability. Would that it were that simple – Alexandre has 23 distinct parcels of vines on the property, and it is the way in which these parcels are blended each year according to their character that gives the château its unique identity. While many châteaux have their own hallmark vintage after vintage, Vieux Certan’s hallmark is it’s variety – each year it can be very different, and that’s what gives it its charm, its intrigue and, ultimately, its collectability.
All wines were double decanted 2 hours before tasting. These wines are not available from The Society, having been sold en primeur. Approximate current UK market prices (per bottle) are, however, included at the bottom of each tasting note, purely for information.
Tasting notes belong to me and my palate – others will, I am sure, have different notes, but this is what I made of these splendid wines.
2007 – An early-drinking wine from a merlot year. Alexandre reckons it should be drunk now to 2016. Chewy ripe tannins, a good level of acidity supporting a loosely packed bundle of warm cherry and plum flavours. A finish of wood and spice and good length. (£60)
2006 – A big hit of fragrant red fruit on the nose, and a palate of concentrated plum enveloped by a very well defined structure. Alexandre says this is quintessential Vieux Château Certan. The same assemblage as the 2007, i.e. 80% merlot and 20% cabernet franc, but the franc is more dominant than the proportions suggest. NB – 2006 was a year when the rains came mid-harvest. Many picked during the rain to get it all in before it rotted; they therefore picked unripe fruit. Alexandre waited until the rain stopped and the sun came out once more. When he picked, he lost 20% (equivalent to 1,000 cases) of his crop to rot, but the ripe healthy grapes came through the sorting table and gave this wonderful wine that won’t be properly ready to drink until 2015, but will last for years beyond that. (£110)
2004 – in the ludicrously hot 2003 they only made 20% of their normal output, and so were raring to go with 2004. The nose is very fresh, and on the palate the dusty tannins and cassis fruit of the franc creates a beautiful structure from where we can just spot the warming dark merlot fruits peering out coyly. Chewy and earthy, yet refreshing, finish overlaid with red fruit make it very appealing. This was a dry year where the cabernet franc ripened to perfection, and the resulting wine will keep even longer than the 2006. (£80)
2002 – Another merlot year, and has far less complexity than the ’04 and ’06 – ‘mono-dimensional like the 2007′, as Alexandre puts it, but nonetheless round, attractive, charming, delicious and ready to drink right now. (£75)
2001 – Cabernet sauvignon found its way into this blend to lend some more structure to this merlot-favouring vintage. A beautiful broad red fruit palate, wonderfully open and expansive, pleads: “Drink me now!” (£100)
2000 – Transport me to my desert island this very minute!! All three varieties hit the spot, making a wonderfully complete and balanced wine. A savoury edge to a rich red fruit nose gives way to a rich, red fruit palate, concentrated to the full with a thick layer of silky smooth ripe tannin all dancing on a swirling sea of acidity – sorry to wax so lyrical, but this is a great wine that will be in its prime in a decade or so, and hang around for a good deal of time after. (£150)
1999 – A cool year with a mild summer. Merlot to the fore, with 85%, then 5% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. A chewy little number with rounded, sweet plums and raspberries. Ready to drink today, but with the support of tannin and acidity to carry it along very nicely for another 6 to 8 years. (£85)
1998 – Same blend as the ’99, but a warmer, drier year. Lovely all round structure with liquorice and darker fruits to the fore. It was really interesting to taste the ’99 and ’98 side by side – identical blend and yet the nature of the vintage is what makes them so different. (£120)
1996 – Lovely date, fig and plum on the nose lead into an abundance of richness and ripeness of the same fruits on the palate – truly, truly delicious. (£75)
1993 – very different to any of the preceding wines. The cabernet franc comes through really strongly – that dusty cassis reminded me of very good Loire reds, but then the ripe yet delicate Victoria plum comes sailing through on a lightning streak of acidity. A really refreshing drink. (£65)
We look forward to the wines of 2009 and 2010 – both are 85% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. For those who have long memories, Alexandre says that the 2009 will be like the 1948 which, until now is the best wine they believe they have ever made), while the 2010 will be more akin to 1945 or 1950. Looking at the longevity of the wines that we tasted with him, it will be quite a while before we can put those wines to that test.
After the tasting members’ positive and excited comments came thick and fast. In a world where so many competition-winning wines seem to be big in terms of texture, flavour and alcohol, these wines truly found favour with Society members. Esteemed wine writer Margaret Rand attended the tasting, and commented: “… the wines were so restrained and so complex. They ought to be force-fed to Napa growers, really!”
Alexandre himself was delighted with the way the wines showed themselves. A compliment to the team at Merchant Taylors’ Hall who looked after the wines, but actually without realising it he was complimenting himself. A wonderful estate with a wonderful winemaker at the helm. Of that we can be Certan.
Head of Tastings & Events
I returned yesterday from a visit to Bordeaux with Jo Locke MW. While all the hype about 2010 continues, and prices continue to drip, drip, drip slowly out of Bordeaux (click here for details of timings of our 2010 en primeur offers), in Blaye, Bourg, Castillon and Entre-Deux-Mers, concern is for the current happenings in the vineyards rather than the markets.
It has not rained in these parts since February, and growers’ attitudes range from fretting over the lack of water right through to ‘que sera sera’. Those who have older vines with deeper root systems are less worried, as they will likely be reaching right down to the nappe phréatique (water table) but for those who have more recent plantings, these drought conditions are causing some frowns. Driving past the vines bore this out – the older the vines, the healthier looking the leaves. Some of the younger vines’ leaves were visibly wilting. There was one man in particular, however – Thierry Lurton of Château de Camarsac – who was particularly pleased with the wall-to-wall sunshine because of the way he powers his chai (see right)!
Flowering, which last year happened at the end of the first week in June, happened before mid-May! It hasn’t been that early since 1976. Pictured left is a young bunch of cabernet sauvignon at Château de la Dauphine. Hard to believe that we’re not even at the end of May. If things continue at the same pace, harvest is anticipated for 3rd September. It is early days yet, though – watch this space for further news as and when we get it.
Head of Tastings & Events
We are currently putting together a tasty selection of 2010 Clarets at affordable prices that will provide drinkers with plenty to enjoy over the next 20 years. This, our first Bordeaux 2010 Opening Offer, will be mailed and available online in early June.
Our selection of classed–growths will take longer to finalise. We had the first sign of silliness today when Château Beychevelle announced a 22% increase in its price, even though the wine is no better than last year. This is largely because the Chinese market knows the brand and likes the dragon and boat label.
But for drinkers this is a bad buy and we have refused it.
Prices of the more famous, highly priced Clarets are slowly being released. We will judge each wine on its merit and finalise a second offer as soon as we can.
Spring sunshine and temperatures of nearly 30*C brightened the mood during the annual circus when all Bordeaux châteaux display the new vintage for the first time. We have found some outstanding wines and many good wines in 2010. The best wines are intensely flavoured with great keeping potential.
The bad news is that the top names have mostly made as much as 20% less wine than in 2009 and international interest in buying them is as strong as ever, so prices are unlikely to come down. Some will increase from the all-time high levels of last year.
The good news is that, if you look hard enough as we do, there is absolutely no need to pay top prices. We found excellent Claret to drink over the next 5 to 15 years among the properties with less fancy names.
We will return to Bordeaux later in May, when the world has gone away, to double-check the quality of our favourites and give you the lowdown in more detail.
This first week in April, every year, is the time when the great and the good of the wine trade head out to Bordeaux to taste the latest vintage before heading back home to prepare the famous en primeur offer. The Society’s Sebastian Payne MW & Joanna Locke MW are out there as I type, tasting their way around the Right & Left Banks.
Members will recall that October saw the first ever UK consumer tasting for the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) in partnership with The Wine Society. It was a very successful event showing the 2008 vintage from over 100 Bordeaux properties.
In May the event is being repeated on an even grander scale in Bordeaux. Hangar 14 on the Quai des Chartrons overlooking the river is the venue for a tasting of the 2008s together with another vintage from the past decade from each of the member châteaux of the UGCB. Le Week-end des Grands Crus takes place on 7th & 8th May, offering the chance to have a foretaste of what you might have ordered from the 2008 en primeur campaign, as well as to get closer to the wines of Bordeaux by tasting them in the city and talking in detail with the people that grow the grapes and make the wine.
Following the tasting there are a number of Wine Passion dinners taking place in the properties, the perfect occasions to discover, or rediscover, French cuisine and the excellent food & wine matching opportunities that lie there.
Click here for all required information about le Week-end des Grands Crus.
What is being tasted at Le Week-end des Grands Crus in May 2011?
A. Solely wines from 2008.
B. Wines from 2008 and another vintage from this decade.
C. Solely wines from another vintage from this decade.
Answers should be received via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org before 5pm on Tuesday12th April 2011. Bonne chance!
Great fun was had at Freemasons’ Hall in Manchester last night when 130 members and guests had the chance to taste ten classic Clarets and compare them with New World versions of Bordeaux blends (select any from cabernets sauvignon & franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot for reds, sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle for whites) as well as single varietal wines.
At the end of the evening a quick vote was held and the favourite white of the evening turned out to be Quoin Rock Oculus 2007 while the red was a close battle between Catena Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection for The Wine Society 2008 and Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Merlot 2007
Which wines will win tonight in Shrewsbury? Watch this space!
This year, for the first time, I’m seeing The Society’s en primeur – or opening offer – process from start to finish from the inside. After several years travelling to Bordeaux with Sebastian Payne MW to taste the wines, this time I’m learning the ropes back home too, party to all the relevant correspondence, and experiencing the highs and lows of this anticipated long campaign (likely to run well into July). Reactions run from the frustration induced by a few exceptionally high prices (some so greedy that we are not buying) to the satisfaction of the many more sensible prices available, usually for the more modest wines that offer such great value for money even in a vintage as talked about as this one.
Our system is a bit more complicated than some, not least because we choose to gather as many prices as we can before releasing any ourselves, so that we can offer our members as wide a choice as possible. It’s complicated too because if demand is high and we are unable to secure further stock (we’re buying big this year, believe me, but in some cases there just isn’t enough wine to go round) we ration and allocate what wine we do have amongst members rather than offering them on a first-come, first-served basis. Where it’s simple is that we only offer wines we’ve tasted (often several times) and wines we are happy to recommend. So some big names will not feature, either on pricing or quality grounds, and you’ll find numerous lesser-known wines which many of us can afford to buy and will find great pleasure in. As I am regularly reminded, The Wine Society is for wine drinkers not wine investors, hence we offer wines in half and mixed cases as well as full dozens.
So much for the process. What if you are new to buying from opening offers, or have not yet taken the plunge? I am happy to admit that I only started buying en primeur when I became a member of The Wine Society, and I wish I’d started sooner. The earliest barriers were cost, and feeling rather intimidated by the process – as well as the small matter of not having my own cellar! Narrowing down the choice of wines on offer to the little I could afford to buy has been another, but it would be a crime for such indecision to make you miss out on a Bordeaux vintage like 2009. So, set your own parameters – price will be the most important, but quantity and variety are important considerations too: one case of something more expensive or two half cases of something a bit lower down the scale? One wine, or one of our mixed cases? Think about sharing your purchase with a like-minded friend or family member if funds are limited, but if they are not, don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it.
“2009 is an exciting vintage with some wonderful wines at all price levels. It is much more variable than the initial publicity has indicated with some really great successes at all levels but several well-known names which have missed the mark. Jo Locke MW and I have been spending extra time visiting many of the châteaux we regularly buy from ensuring that we only choose those wines which we know represent the best value for drinkers.”
Sebastian Payne MW
Prices are being released, so far, to the timetable we expected. This means that none of the first-growth châteaux have released any details, but we are receiving information on some lovely red wines from petits châteaux and crus bourgeois, where the best value for money can be found. We will be buying the best of these in large quantities. Details of these wines will be mailed, or e-mailed, to members in early to mid-June. As usual, any oversubscribed wines will be allocated by ballot.
The second offer, including the more famous, higher-priced Clarets, will be released later once prices are available; we anticipate late June or early July. We expect prices to be high and supply to be limited but, thanks to The Society’s long relationship with the region’s suppliers, we are in a strong position to source as many of these exciting wines as we can. Further updates will follow.
Scotland on Sunday
Brian Elliott says:
Well-made Bordeaux offers a velvet texture and an extended range of flavours that include cinnamon, mint, cigars, brambles, cherry, chocolate and blackcurrant – often in combination. Its complexity and intensity has few rivals. But experiencing this need not cost a king’s ransom (ironically, a term believed to originate from the time France’s King John was held prisoner in Bordeaux).
All those thoughts came to mind at last month’s Wine Society Bordeaux event. The event was attended by a host of A-list Bordeaux producers who are defying a lack of confidence among growers in some parts of the world. Beneath the Gallic charm, there was a strong sense that here were leaders, not followers, and the bottles ranged from the superb – but eye-wateringly expensive – Château Palmer to the wine from Château Beaumont. The perfume, balance and ripeness of the prestigious CM11461 Château Beychevelle 2006 illustrate how good claret can taste. But reflecting this château’s worldwide popularity (and confirming concerns about cost), it does carry a £33 price tag.
CM12891 The Society’s Exhibition Haut-Medoc 2006, Château Beaumont, Haut Medoc. Very approachable claret with supple and well-balanced fruity finesse. £11.95, at The Wine Society.