If we had a euro for every time we have been told that this year is a wine makers vintage and last year was a classical vintage we could probably buy a scarf from the Cos D’ Estournel gift shop or maybe even a polo shirt from Mouton.
But what exactly does that means? Wine maker’s vintage sounds like human intervention was necessary and success dictated by the dexterity of the wine making team. As opposed to classical, which insinuates that things went rather smoothly. In that case this year is arguably all about how much manipulation went on, and the quality of the grapes in the first place. But to what extent is grape quality quantifiable in this context from a scientific point of view? En primeur is all about making a stab at the potential evolutionary trajectory of the wine, and what this symbolises in terms of price. So what makes a wine age? One factor is the phenolic content, this includes the anthocyanins which are responsible for colour and the tannins and to some extent the mouth feel. They act as a sink for oxygen giving colours and aromas an extended lease of life. It is said that 2.5 g/l of phenolic content will render a wine as a potential ager. Unfortunately this isn’t the only pre-defining pre- requisite, pH for example is said to set the frame work for other reactions to unfold. Degree of Hydrolysis, the capacity of ethanol and acidity to break down and release volatiles making new compounds in the process is another fundamental reaction that will determine how age-able a wine will be. The catch 22 is that none of these chemical reactions can be accurately predicted, which is what makes wine so interesting …. Right?
This morning the team set off full of life on the way to Château Leoville Las Cases, not really, we all felt exhausted from the night before, which had involved more wine tasting in Bordeaux city center, where famed oenologist Michel Rolland was hosting a party to showcase his portfolio of wines. It was useful to taste some international wines and interesting to speak to Rolland who explained that he spends a lot of time in Argentina, and is very excited about the new estates that he has invested in, one of which is 3,000 feet above sea level. We tried some superb wines from Argentina, France and South Africa, all of which were modern, fruit driven and vibrant.
Le première degustation pour le jour was at Château Leoville Les Cases, when we actually managed to find it, we experienced some typical Saint Estephe wines, full of poise with clear evidence of longevity, firm tannins and lively acid.
Château Ducru Beaucaillou was a colourful and eccentric experience, just like its owner Bruno Borie. Another photo moment at the grape reception area that had been modified to resemble a film premiere red carpet scene, with a pop up studio to capture the team. Very original, except for the fact that Clinet clearly had the same brain wave! So after our photo shoot we hit the art embellished tasting room. The Grande Reserve Croix Beaucaillou really stood out for being extremely vibrant and forward. Jade Jagger designed the label in 2010, and even when with a wine like this, wine quality transcends the packaging, the gold embossed label looks pretty special, and adheres to the flamboyancy of the estate.
Next we headed to Château Saint Pierre in Saint Julien de Beychevelle, again not an easy place to locate, its lucky we speak such good French to ask for directions (yea right). We arrived at the office where we were greeted by the owner Jean Riaud, it felt just like another day for them, no photo shoots, strawberries or bottled mineral water, just a frank explanation from Riaud who explained that the vintage had been tough and despite the set-backs presented in the form of disease and climatic influence they remained positive about what they had achieved. This family run estate has only recently switched to temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, reinforcing the feeling that their philosophy is quite purist and back to basics. Riaud joked with us that he wouldn’t embrace a modern system which allowed him to control the temperate using his cell phone, just in case he was out on the town and made an inebriated adjustment!
Château Belgrave was our next visit for the Dourthe tasting where we managed to squeeze in a quick pre-lunch flight of wines delivered straight to our table. This format was a bit of luxury as it allows you to focus more more intensely on the wines. But the Smith Haut Lafite Blanc stole the show for having incredible intensity and elegance. The Clos Lunelles (dry white Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend) described as a new sauternes and produced by the Domaine de Chevalier estate was also impressive, a wine that we intend to obtain allocation of as at the price point of less than £20 per bottle retail is very impressive indeed.
Lunch was delicious, oysters, vegetable and fish terrine, creamy mushroom cray fish to start, followed by roast chicken and mash potatoes for main, accompanied by Chateau Yquem 1996.
After lunch we continued tasting at Belgrave, where we encountered some more absolute gems, again we feel that these wines deserve further coverage in the form of a dedicated blog post in the next few weeks. But Conseillante, Lascombes & Le Gay were three in particular that stood out with the former being a candidate for best wine of the week.
Feeling rejuvenated after lunch we headed for the illustrious Château Margaux. We all knew that we were in for a treat, and the twenty minute wait in reception actually felt sort of appropriate. We tasted the wines in amongst the tanks, despite this vintage being described as less than magnificent, it is still pretty amazing. The Pavillon rouge and the grand vin were already incredibly integrated and clearly capable of some serious aging. Perfumed and delicate, the 2012 wines will be ready for drinking in just a few years as the tannins are so soft. The only disappointment being Pavillon Blanc which despite 2012 producing some fine whites, was below par especially in comparison to their efforts in 2011 and 2010.
Our final destination was Château Palmer, an estate blighted by the weather in the last two vintages reducing crops but yet still maintaining fantastic consistency. The barrel room is transformed with spot light lit tables for each individual group. Our host, a member of the marketing team spoke frankly about the vintage, detailing the troubles they experienced with Coulure and shot berries, he also explained that this reduction in yield has resulted in more concentration. Despite our palates feeling slightly jaded, almost everyone felt that the Palmer wines were the stars of the day, superb finesse and complexity was found. Noting that Palmer is famed for their higher than usual Merlot compared to other left bank estates, its no surprise that 2012 has worked well for them.
Today has shown that whilst this year has been tough for the wine makers, it is a testament to the expertise found in Bordeaux. It has forced producers to be innovative and adapt their wine making practices, and will prove to expose the weak and highlight the strong.
Ce soir we are heading into town and tomorrow we finish with La Mission Haut Brion & Haut Brion as well as the other Clarence Dillon wines. In between we will get to enjoy a lunch with Jonathan Maltus at recently awarded 100 pt producer Le Dome in Saint Emilion and a visit to Pape Clement.