The Cult Wines team from left to right: Aarash Ghatineh (Sales Manager), Tom Gearing (Director) Philip Gearing (Director) Tom Turner (Head Buyer) Jonathan Stevenson (Senior Portfolio Manager) Helen Tate (Sales and Marketing Manager).
The first day of en primeur tasting has been a really long and arduous day (but someone’s got to do it!). We arrived in Bordeaux last night just in time for aperitifs on the terrace in our très belle, centre of town maison. We wisely turned in at a conservative hour in order to wake up fresh for the first day of tasting on the right bank.
Our first destination was Château Cheval Blanc, we arrived full of excitement- naturally, as we were about to taste one of the right banks most revered wines.
En primeur tends to be a rather one in one out kind of affair, as schedules are packed, so the pressure is on for the wines to make a significant enough impression during those vital minutes, so that merchants and critics leave feeling inspired and delighted by the wines – and our first appointment didn’t disappoint. Château Cheval Blanc’s grand vin was fresh, vibrant, structured and elegant, displaying a delicate floral bouquet with profound violets and rose aromas and flavours.
Cheval Blanc introduced new tanks two years ago, of which they own the patent to the design, the genius thing about their tanks is that the conical shape allows for less ‘remontage’ to be carried out. The carbon dioxide generated through fermentation forces the grapes upwards and naturally funnels them into the tighter area at the top of the tank, thus achieving a natural maceration via the grapes being squashed together.
The team concurred that the grand vin, which is a blend of 54% Merlot and 46% Cabernet Franc is a powerful wine of exceptional length and precision, and will therefore be eager to taste this wine again in 2014.
Next stop was Château Ausone, a humble operation by Bordeaux standards, but producers of phenomenal wines and one of the most picturesque settings in all of Bordeaux. We were suitably impressed by Ausone and its second wine Chapelle D’Ausone, which exhibited astonishing concentration, and we feel that this wine offers excellent value for money. Having said that the Fonbel also really shone, clearly the Vauthier family along with Michel Rolland have worked hard to achieve such excellence during a tough vintage.
Following this we visited Château Pavie which having been upgraded in the September Saint Emilion re-classification and a few weeks away from the completion of their new cellars are having a particularly good year. Tasting the range of Gerard Perse wines the team very much enjoyed the Clos Lunelles and the Bordeaux Blanc, Chateau Monbousquet, both were expressive and refreshing. Pavie itself was a slightly different in character to previous years when it has been criticised by some from being over-extracted and not representative of the terroir – but in our opinion the team here can be very proud of producing a very good wine once again.
After a tough morning and with the storm clouds gathering overhead, we headed off for Lunch which turned out to be quite a decadent affair, at Château Fombrauge hosted by Bernard Magrez and the multi-michelin starred Joël Robuchon . We sat with some good suppliers of ours from Bordeaux, and enjoyed a fantastic meal. The menu was the perfect mid tasting revitaliser, a starter of Chou farci du homard with a beurre rouge (yes…we were as confused as you – it turned out to be an exquisite lobster and cabbage dish), a main of chicken with foie gras stuffed ravioli, accompanied by two vintages of fombrauge blanc and rouge.
The afternoon highlights were abundant.
Château L’Eglise Clinet was a refreshingly un ostentatious experience, the tasting room is a very plain room adorned with some slightly dubious artwork. Sadly, Dennis Durantou wasn’t there to host to the tasting, but the wines spoke for themselves. Again, intensity, freshness and balance was found.
Château Le Pin was an almost surreal experience, a first time for everyone in the team. We were all struck by the absolute minuteness of the property; the tanks, vineyards and cellar are all a reminder of how tiny this property of 2.7 ha is. Jacques Thienpont greeted us, along with his two young sons, we all felt extremely privileged to taste the wine in his company. We were surprised by his excellent sense of humour, not that Belgians have a reputation for having a dodgy sense of humour or anything… But he really proved that there is no need for taking things too seriously when you know you’re at the top. Unsurprisingly the Merlot dominated wine topped most of our team’s list at the end of the day.
Château Vieux Chateaux Certan was next on our itinerary and also the other Thienpont family run vineyard just a short drive away from the tiny Le Pin vineyard. Alexandre Thienpont hovered unassumingly throughout our tasting hosted by his son in their cellar surrounded by picturesque buildings and vineyards. Thienpont quotes on the homepage of their website that his job is ‘to know how to stay in the background and let the wine express its true personality’. This couldn’t be more accurate, their minimal intervention approach results in a massively complex and elegant wine that probably exhibited the most individuality of the whole day.
Last stop, Château Clinet, for perhaps the most fun winery experience one can have. Monique Montepini, head of marketing, explained that Ronan Laborde, the owner of the Château wakes up each morning with a new, eccentric idea for his estate. His vision for the en primeur tasting week experience was to transform his winery with coloured lights and a huge, highly detailed cinema screen backdrop with incredible images of the estates projected on a slide show behind the tanks and press. There was also a film premiere style pop-up photo studio erected for visitors to have their photo taken in front of= FUN! (especially for those of the team that like to have their photo taken) The wines were striking, the Ronan-Clinet was fruit driven with excellent structure and length, whilst being a total steal at less than 10 Euros a bottle. The Fleur de Clinet was equal to this and their top wine outstanding too. We got to re-taste the 2010 Clinet as well which really showed what a fantastic wine it is.
The sun made a sneaky, brief appearance for the last few hours of day light, so we headed for St Emillion for a beer to round the day off with. But not without a lot of walking up and down cobbled streets, which proved difficult for our newest member of the team in her high heels.
Our overall conclusion for the day was that the wines were genuinely impressive and expressive, our Château visits couldn’t have been more varied in terms of how the wines were presented. However, this just proves that with the average size of vineyards in St Emillion, being around 7 ha, the region provides a joyous tapestry of diversity and personality, and whilst it may sound like a bit of a cliché, the characters we encountered were also evident in their wines.
it was also clear at the end of our first day that 2012 is a vintage that suited the Merlot grape and with many of the properties we saw today using record levels of Merlot in their final blend, it will be interesting to see how the left bank wines compare.
Tonight we are relaxing at the house, where PG is cooking dinner ………check back tomorrow for more on Bordeaux 2012. You can also keep unto date with us via twitter @cultwinesuk and by using the #bdx12 hashtag.