Grapevine Archive for Opening Offer

Thu 22 Jan 2015

Postcards from the Rhône

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Whilst I am the kind of person for whom viewing another’s holiday snaps is a punishment both cruel and unusual, I hope that members will forgive my sharing a few photographs of a recent buying trip to the Rhône.

I explain my hypocrisy thus: firstly, a buying trip is, as I am discovering, about as far removed from a relaxing holiday as one can imagine. Secondly, the region is a stunning one, and I hope my amateur photography can in some way communicate its stark beauty. Finally, I managed to snap a photograph of Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams handling a vintage rifle, which does not happen every day. At least not as far as I am aware.

Some of the fruits of this recent buying trip can be explored in The Society’s opening offer of Rhône and Languedoc 2013, which is available now.

Joe Mandrell
Society Buyer

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Tue 16 Apr 2013

2012 Bordeaux – What to Expect

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Against expectations, Society buyers Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes find themselves genuinely excited and impressed by 2012 clarets.

The cellars at Ausone
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!

The vineyards at de Fonbel in full bloom
Thu 11 Apr 2013

Bordeaux 2012

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Society buyers Tim Sykes and Joanna Locke’s first impressions on a far from black-and-white vintage

Tasting at the UGC
Until now there has been little comment from trade or press about the 2012 vintage in Bordeaux. The debate that did start early was around whether prices would be appropriate to ignite significant interest. The jury is still out on that one (though there seems to be a general consensus that prices will – or at least should – be out earlier this year) but we will know soon enough, and there is plenty of lobbying going on here in Bordeaux for sensible pricing this year.

We’ve been told it’s a merlot year, and Sauternes has been in the limelight more for news of notable omissions from any 2012 campaign (Yquem, Suduiraut, Rieussec) than for the few good news stories.

Into our fourth (mostly wet!) day of Bordeaux’s UGC (Union des Grands Crus) week we are better placed to comment ourselves. The consistent message for us, irrespective of some statements to the contrary (for example that merlot was the success of the vintage, that cabernet(s) didn’t ripen, and that Sauternes was a write-off) is that this is not a consistent vintage. The dry whites may be the honorable exception, and today’s Graves/Pessac tasting was impressive, reds as well as whites.

The chai at Mouton-Rothschild
Overall for Bordeaux 2012 the picture is not black and white. Indeed it is not even safe just to go for the ‘best’ producers. One producer commented to us that it’s a buyer’s vintage, meaning not that we are spoilt for choice but that we have to work hard to sort the good from the ordinary, in stark contrast to 2010, for example, where we just had to hope we had enough money to buy everything we wanted!

We have tasted good and great wines already this week. Our first selection of pre-order wines will be available on the website in the next few weeks. Our second, wider, offer will be available in print and online in June.

Contrary to earlier speculation, 2012 Bordeaux is well worth a look.

Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes
Society Buyers

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Tue 10 Apr 2012

The Week The World Came To Bordeaux

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Primeurs week in Bordeaux is a marathon of tastings of inky young red (and a few dry and sweet white) wines, a whirlwind of meeting and greeting, top and tailed by fine food and wines. You may be thinking that we wine buyers are spoiled – and you’d be right (we’ll spare you the detail, but these experiences re-affirm why Bordeaux remains unrivaled in the world for its potential finesse and keeping potential) but the pleasure is greater, and the debate all the more stimulating in the good company of buyers and sellers from all over the world.

At Château Haut-Bailly this year our tasting group included contingents from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Chicago, and Texas (featured). The debate was open, friendly, and lively thanks to General Manager Véronique Sanders’ invitation to all of us to give her our views on the prospects for the Bordeaux Primeurs campaign this year. Irrespective of national and personal preferences, all nationalities were of one voice in asking for Bordeaux to reduce its prices significantly this year.

Generous hospitality is not unusual in Bordeaux, but this relaxed and open discussion was as refreshing as the very fine range of wines we enjoyed. Wines that could not come from anywhere else.

Please remember that we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from the vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order them. For more information, please refer to our website.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

Wed 04 Apr 2012

A Few Words From Bordeaux

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Shiny new (and rather Dalek-like) tanks, waiting to go into their new home at Château Palmer?s cellar.
Two and a half days into this year’s Primeurs tastings and over 250 wines sampled (mostly left bank) so far. The best have bright fruit and freshness, and some show real charm.

It’s the producer – more precisely the vigneron – that counts this year; far more than location, appellation, or classification. It is no surprise that those who walked their vineyards and acted early on the vagaries of the growing season, and who could then afford to wait for ripeness, have made the best wines.

It looks unlikely to be much of an investors? vintage; it could be a good ‘drinkers’ vintage, if – and it remains a big if – prices are correct. Our purchases will be a tight selection this year, and we’ll taste a lot more wines, including several numerous times, in order to finalise our Opening Offer which is due to be published in June.

As mentioned, we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from this vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order the wines. For more information, please refer to our website.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

Thu 29 Mar 2012

Bordeaux 2011: An Update

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There has been little written so far on the quality and style of the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux. However good some of the wines turn out to be, its almost inevitable fate is that it will be overshadowed by the much lauded 2010 and 2009 which preceded it. We prefer to keep our counsel until we have tasted the wines, which are currently being prepared for a week of trade and journalist tastings just before Easter.

The Wine Society Bordeaux team will be three this year – Sebastian and myself as usual, plus our new Head of Buying, Tim Sykes (in what will be only his third week with us; there’s dedication for you – I’m not sure he realises what he is letting himself in for!).

This first week will include visits to all the first growths, and tastings of many of the other, often most sought-after wines, all potential candidates for our first Opening Offer this year (see our website for details on changes to our Bordeaux Opening offer process for 2012).

We go back for more on 16th April, to ensure that we have tasted, at least once, as usual, any wine which we later decide to offer en primeur. I am just finalising our two visit programmes and starting to look forward to this year’s marathon, despite the prospect of taster’s teeth for the Easter weekend! We will keep you posted on the campaign from our perspective, and on our Opening Offers as they take shape.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

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Wed 18 Jan 2012

The Ventoux

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The Mont Ventoux, known locally as the ‘geant de Provence’, dominates the landscape for miles around like a Mount Fuji, and it comes with a white summit that sparkles in the sun. The summit is white all year round but rarely thanks to snow: the Ventoux is a huge pile of limestone and at the summit it is quite bare.

The mountain features much in folklore and there are doubtless plenty of poems by Mistral. There are various stories about the name but one thing is certain and that is that it is seriously windy at the top. It stands at 1912m, making it the highest peak for miles around. An observatory was built on the summit and at the same time a road was built over the top. It’s a fun drive and only a wee bit scary near the summit, above the tree line where the rock is bare and white and when the gradient suddenly becomes interesting. The view from the top is fabulous, except on the day I chose to drive up, when low cloud reduced visibility to a few yards. It is of course one of the great cycling challenges and regularly features on the Tour de France.

Vines at Château de Valcombe

The lower slopes are a sea of lavender and where there is shelter from the Mistral other crops are grown. There are fruit orchards and olives, and of course vineyards. The wines used to be called Côtes du Ventoux. Today the name has changed to Ventoux and it is very much a part of Rhône.

The Romans were possibly the first to grow grapes here; they saw the benefit of planting at slightly higher altitude amidst the ever-present cool Alpine breezes. There was a time when co-ops controlled all the production and then quality was not always good and prices always below that of simple Côtes du Rhône.

Things have changed. The climate is warmer and vintages here are more consistent. And the level of winemaking shows more skill and greater confidence.

Suddenly, too, there are a whole load of growers. The Ventoux has become smart. The fashion has brought higher prices (but not for all). A lot of Ventoux is sold to the Negoce – including Jaboulet, who make a very good wine at a very reasonable price. We are now buying from Château de Valcombe, which is excellent and which will feature in the 2010 Rhône opening offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Buyer, Rhône

The Society’s 2010 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon opening offer will be published next week.

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Burgundy CellarOne of the most challenging and interesting privileges of the buying job is to go out to Burgundy and taste a vintage from barrel in October, buy the wines and make an assessment of the vintage. October to December is the time when most buyers go to Burgundy to taste from barrel the wines of the main domaines and négociants of the Côte D’Or.

Last October I was tasting the superb 2010 vintage after a year in cask. A few wines are already bottled, mainly whites, but most are still in barrel or tank awaiting bottling usually January to March 2012. However, it is not without its pitfalls.

In theory, October is generally a good time to taste. Ideally the crucial secondary fermentation, the malolactic (hereafter malo) fermentation, will have taken place in spring.
Before the malo, wines are very difficult to judge, especially red wines, although the worst time is during the process itself where the reds can taste metallic and all sorts of buttery and cheesy aromas can occur in the whites as the malic (the sharper appley acidity) is transformed to the lactic acidity (the milder milk acidity). Then frequently for a couple of months after the malo the wine will not taste well. The aromas and the flesh of the wine seem to disappear leaving a hollow shell.

Temperature is one of the crucial factors required for the malo to take place. The process normally takes place as the temperature reaches 16-19ºC. Given Burgundy’s more continental climate, it is quite cool at vintage time (when the harvest is mid-September and global warming doesn’t mess it all up) and after the wines have finished their alcoholic fermentation they are sent to barrel to rest in the autumnal cool of the cellar and it is not until spring arrives that the temperature rises to the necessary level.

It has now been discovered that the traditional empirical Burgundy view that a six month delay between the two fermentations is beneficial for red wine, helping to soften the astringent nature of the tannins. It had long been held as controversial by the Bordelais. As sulphur blocks the fermentation none is added, and the men in white coats, the oenologues, considered that the wine is potentially at risk from spoilage yeasts and bacteria during this time. In Bordeaux’s warmer Atlantic climate, and because wines are stored above cellars in chais in the Médoc (because the water table is too high to dig cellars) the malo traditionally takes place in tank immediately after the alcoholic fermentation in October. It can be artificially inoculated to speed the process up. The wine is then sulphured and sent to barrel.

However, in the absence of sulphur, alcohol oxidises to acetaldehyde and this is a catalyst in red wines to encourage colour (anthocyanins) and tannins to form complexes that provide a round and velvety mouthfeel. Tannins not bound to colour are hard and spiky. For a number of years it has been the height of fashion in Bordeaux to delay the onset of the malolactic fermentation and for it to happen in barrel.

In very hot years like 2009 there is little malic acid in the grapes, whereas a cooler year like 2010 will have much more. In the cooler years the wine is transformed by this process and many ugly ducklings have become elegant swans. However, there is a Catch Twenty Two here. The higher acid the vintage, and thus the more beneficial to the wine for the malo to occur, the more difficult it is to start the process.

So that seems clear and fine then! The buyer must arrive in October when the wines will be tasting beautifully after a spring malo. If only it were that simple!

In practice the malo takes place when it wants to. Even in the same cellar in October there can be some wines that went through it early, some late, and some have yet to do it. The process is still only partially understood. Some say a new barrel which has less sulphur residue and allows more oxygen ingress helps the process, others say old barrels carry the malolactic bacteria, and help inoculate the process. Once the malo has finished, the maturation process begins and the wine starts to change. One should really consider a wine’s age and maturity not from the date of the harvest but from the date of the malo.

After the malo each cellar may then proceed quite differently. Some cellars rack from barrel to barrel. In this case the individual character of the barrel is preserved. Some cellars rack all the wine into tank and then back into barrel. In this case the barrels have been assembled and should taste similar. Some, like Jean-Marie Fourrier do not rack at all, which means his wines have more carbon dioxide in the wine, which can cut the richness of the wine, but against that the wine has been left to enrich itself on its lees without disturbance. Some add more or less sulphur at this time which can ‘bleach’ the flavours from the wine, which may require 6-8 weeks to recover.

Principally for this reason, I do not pay too much attention to assessments of Burgundy between one and six months after the vintage. In this media age we are all being pestered to give instant opinions but, in my view, it is very dangerous to assess a wine before malo as they can totally change character. A famous agent Russell Hone describes the 1993 red Burgundies as ‘performing a backflip’ after malo. It was very harsh and metallic before malo, softened appreciably after it and is now considered a great vintage.

Thus when one arrives in a cellar and before tasting one of the first questions to ask is when the malo, or malos took place, and were the wines racked afterwards, and in which case were they assembled in tank or racked from barrel to barrel. Now one can begin to assess the wines before you and make allowances if necessary for the blessed malo!

Toby Morrhall
Buyer, Burgundy

The Society’s opening offer of 2010 Burgundy will be available in late February.

Wed 15 Jun 2011

2010 Bordeaux: To buy or not to buy?

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The first of The Society’s two Bordeaux 2010 opening offers is now live on the website, and will be mailed shortly.

BarriquesWe, along with record numbers of the world’s Bordeaux buyers, embarked on this year’s primeur tastings with some trepidation. A second good, potentially great, vintage in a row, with the crop down by as much as 50% in some cases, meant prices might be high again. That has since proved to be the case, with many significantly higher than the earlier fêted 2009.

We were also led to believe that the tastings themselves would be more challenging than usual given reports of record tannin levels. Would the wines have the balance and appeal after such a successful 2009 campaign?

In the event, the best wines have it all. They are ripe and balanced, solidly structured and with all the elements for a long and rewarding future; and they are different in style from 2009. More importantly for us, there are delicious and exciting wines at all price levels.

So, yes, for the Bordeaux drinker, enthusiast, collector, this is a vintage to buy. The Society has, and negotiations have now started at home!

Joanna Locke MW
Bordeaux buyer