Bordeaux Blanc at Glengarry Victoria Park review by Regan.
I recently hosted a tasting of the recently landed 2014 vintage from Bordeaux. The unusual aspect to this event, was that they were all white wines. Bordeaux is one of the finest red wine regions in the world, but it is often overlooked for the quality of its superb dry whites, which easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest white wines of the world. Around 10% of the total production in Bordeaux is white wine, including the great sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes.
Until the mid 20th century though, most people would be surprised to learn that around 50% of all wine produced in Bordeaux was white. Most of the vineyards were replanted with red varieties that were better suited to the terroir, after the great frost of 1956 that devastated the region. At this tasting we were just looking at the upper echelon of the region, primarily from the clay limestone soils of Pessac-Leognan, an appellation in the northern part of Graves.
The 2014 vintage had an Indian summer of record highs and sunshine in September/October, producing dry whites with generous fruit like the exotically tropical Château Carbonnieux Blanc. The top estates harvested late, and managed to keep their precise acidity, with beautiful crisp freshness and minerality we found in Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc. This was a really outstanding flight of wines, right from the piercing Château Oliver Blanc ($50), through to the extremely rare Vin Blanc de Palmer ($400). I’ve already grabbed a number for my own cellar as these are wines with a very long life ahead. You can drink them now if you wish but they’ll continue to improve over the next two decades. We coincidentally drank the 1983 R de Rieussec at the Old Bottle Dinner the week earlier, and it was fantastic at 34 years of age.
Despite the presence of two dry whites from outstanding Sauternes estates Suduiraut and d’Yquem, the Palmer was a real showstopper. A miniscule 1200 bottles were made of this special wine, the first vintage it’s been available to anyone but the owners or guests of the Château. It’s produced from the same varieties that were found in two bottles of 1925 Blanc presented to Château Palmer by a French collector in the late 1990s. After analysis, they replanted and the wine is now made from approximately 50% Muscadelle, 35% Loset, and 15% Sauvignon Gris. With 17 months on lees in 20% new oak, this is a most unusual wine that would be extremely difficult to identify the region from. This is an outstanding and unique white, that only qualifies as Vin de France ( the absolute lowest level of French wine classification). This is due to the Loset being outside the appellation rules. A special wine to hunt out.
The Bordeaux 2014 vintage is the latest to arrive on the world market. Each vintage in Bordeaux is picked over with a fine-tooth comb and seems to garner more attention than any other wine region. It is, after all, very large, with a history and reputation to match. While the rest of the world are certainly no slouches in the winemaking department, Bordeaux continues to occupy an almost unassailable position of grand mystique and self-perpetuating prestige, thanks in no small part to the locals’ own canny ability to promote themselves via their natural Gallic confidence in their product.
So what was the 2014 vintage like? After the dynamic duo of 2009 and 2010, widely acclaimed as the greatest pair of vintages ever in Bordeaux (a position possibly initially instigated by the locals themselves), every vintage since would have had to climb something the size of Everest just to be noticed. The elegant 2011 was always doomed, then, as that level of hype just wasn’t sustainable. The following 2012 was a very solid vintage, one for early enjoyment, while 2013 was the kind of vintage that no one wants to talk about. Particularly the locals. So what, then, of the 2014?
Early weather conditions in Bordeaux were not great, flowering was inconsistent and the resulting volumes down. Fortunately, a long, hot September and October provided just what was required and the vintage was rescued. This lengthy warm spell was particularly good for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with Cabernet a variety that needs a decent amount of time on the vine to ensure ripeness. Merlot did not fare quite as well, its predominantly clay-heavy soils retaining much of the moisture bestowed earlier in the vintage. The moisture did provide ideal conditions for botrytis, thus 2014 is an excellent vintage for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Acidity and freshness are key characteristics of the 2014 vintage. The red wines have good balance, tension and character. Tasting through a range of the 2014s, the various characters of the differing appellations voice their presence with confidence and strength. The Bordeaux white wines benefit from the fresh acidity and have a wonderful vibrancy.
Is there a comparable reference point for the 2014 vintage? Not as great as the 2009 or 2010, of course, but neither are the wines as expensive as those vintages. The 2014s are most definitely better than the 2011, 2012 or 2013 vintages. Stylistically, there are comparisons that can be drawn with the 2004 and 2008 vintages. They represent great value, given their relatively high quality is unaccompanied by Everest pricing.
A week into the campaign I am delighted to confirm that the 2014 vintage represents great buying opportunities for Bordeaux enthusiasts.
It has been a big week of releases with many offers each day. We now take a small break with just one offer today and a public holiday (one of many in May) in France tomorrow. With a small intermission it does give time to reflect upon the events of the first week.
I finished tasting the wines early in April in Bordeaux confident of the quality of the 2014 vintage. While these wines are not the ‘eternal’ cellaring propositions of the 2009 and 2010 vintages the quality is extremely good, pretty even across the board and will be exceptional short to medium cellaring propositions.
What remained to be seen was their value for money. With a good range of wines released right across the spectrum it is now possible to review pricing and it is now clear producers have been very restrained in their pricing to the point that this vintage will now be regarded as both very good and particularly affordable. Genuine bargains abound! Appropriately, given the state of the world economy and the fact 2014 is not a blockbuster vintage, right up to the First Growth level the wines are significantly lower in price than their counterparts from the 2009 and 2010 vintages.
Admittedly some Châteaux owners have put their prices up from the 2013 vintage, but it pays to review the offering back a little further than just comparing to last year. Remember, 2013 was one of the most challenging vintages in a long time in Bordeaux. That’s not to say there were not good wines last year, there were, but only from those who selected severely and dramatically culled the on the picking table. We did offer 2013 En Primeur, I tasted this vintage En Primeur as well. Our 2013 offer was the smallest in breadth ever with only those good wines offered.
To summarise, the 2014 wines are very good, offering claret lovers some great bargains and it is not a vintage where either bank shines dramatically over the other, although the left was a little stronger. They will have high quality short to medium term cellaring potential offering great enjoyment at very very reasonable prices. Worldwide, after only a few weeks into the campaign, the market has recognised this so don’t put off your decision making. And brace yourselves, next week will see a flurry of releases!
After two excellent days on the left bank, day three saw me head to the right bank. My first stop Château Pétrus, always a pleasure; the team there are so delighted we come all that distance to taste. Pétrus is 100% Merlot and has been since 2010 when they pulled out the Cabernet vines. The Cabernet were planted in clay, proving too cool to ripen Cabernet – also in the way of the construction at the winery. Flowering was difficult at Pétrus, with 20% loss in yield – though more than in 2013 when they lost 50% due to flowering. Pétrus 2014 is all about generosity, charm and persistence, a great wine.
After Pétrus I caught up with Javier from Aalto (yes, Spanish) in St Émilion, more on that later, back to the Bordeaux for the moment. The UGC tasting of St Émilion was an excellent overview of the area and showed the consistency of the left bank in 2014 did not apply to the right bank. There were some excellent wines, including Château La Dominique, Château Clos Fourtet and Château Pavie Macquin. Next stop the offices of JP Moueix, where I tasted a large range of their owned properties and those they follow. As is the case with the Moueix properties, there were many great wines here: Château Certan de May is brilliant, amazing length and concentration; Château Trotanoy is, as you would expect, very smart, firm, structured with incredible power on the finish; Château Lafleur is Cabernet Franc dominant and simply stunning, slightly restrained on the nose, the acidity and precision with the firm bold structure is perfectly in balance. The visit at JP Moueix concluded with a very encouraging discussion re price – more on that later. One more visit for the day, Château Clinet; 2014 Clinet is 90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, a gorgeous wine, perfumed, fragrant with excellent concentration, energy and freshness.
Next up on the day’s schedule was the Union des Grands Crus tasting for Margaux. Having loved the Palmer and Château Margaux, I was really looking forward to seeing a broad range from the area. Overall some very fine wines and strong performances from the well priced set. Château Prieuré Lichine stood out; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot; a gorgeous fragrant wine with an excellent, generous finish. Château Giscours also made its presence known in the crowd, a powerful structured wine, brooding and very smart. Château Ferriére has produced a lovely 2014 wine; 61% Cabernet, with 24 days on skins and 40% new oak; whilst not a blockbuster, this is a classic wine with strength of character, one to go back and look at when prices are released.
From there I headed down the Medoc to Château La Lagune where the Sauternes and Barsac UGC. 2014 is definitely a vintage for sweet wines, the best are concentrated and with a bright acidity. After a cool, long growing season in 2014, the heat came quickly at the end and following some rain. This proved excellent conditions for botrytis. The challenge was to have the right number of staff to pick before the imminent rain appeared again. I really enjoyed tasting through this many sweet wines, so many are excellent, the standouts include: Château de Malle – 65% Semillon, the vines are an average age of 40 years and there were 2 picks. Château Doisy Vedrines was vibrant and fresh, Château de Myrat was lively with a light enjoyable finish, Château Sigalas Rabaud has an incredible length and Lafaurie Peyraguey was all about finesse. Three standouts, Suduiraut, Rieussec and Coutet – all incredible. Château Coutet is 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon and 2% Muscadelle; 7 picks were required in total with many half days. 80% of the team that pick at Coutet are the same each year, easing the logistical challenge.
At this point the day was almost over, the last visit – Château Gruaud Larose and its new tower. The new addition is metal and stands above a new guest area. The climb to the top was bone chilling, the evening temperature a little cool – the view, well worth the cold. Sarget 2014 is 61% Cabernet, 7% Cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot; I tasted the 2014 at the end of a 10 year vertical of Sarget, the standout vintages the 2010 for its youth, the 2004 and 2008 for their maturity, both lovely right now. Sarget has always punched above its weight and it was great to compare the years. Château Gruaud Larose is Cabernet dominant, as with many of the 2014, the classic nature of the vintage lets the terroir shine through, this is classic St Julien. Our tasting was followed by some generous Gruaud hospitality, a glass of Philipponnat Vintage 2004 to start, then onto older Gruaud Larose en magnum. The food was classic French, served in canapé sized portions.
After lunch at Château Pontet Canet, whilst an afternoon nap would have been nice, there was plenty more wine to try and it was on to Margaux. Our first stop was Château Margaux; Pavilion Rouge is 77% Cabernet, making up a tiny 24% of the total production at Margaux, selection for this wine is tighter than ever. Château Margaux itself is 90% Cabernet this year; there is 2% of Petit Verdot in the blend, the 2014 vintage excellent for Petit Verdot. Margaux Blanc is always a treat to taste; an incredible opulent rich white Bordeaux, the 2014 with excellent acidity.
Our next stop was Château Palmer, their 2014 is the first vintage where the property is totally bio dynamic. The conversion started in 2008; for the 2014 part of the vineyard is certified, all vineyards will be certified by 2017. Alter Ego is 52% Merlot, a very plush wine with firm, well formed tannins. Palmer 2014 is excellent, very perfumed and fragrant; Palmer has a distinctive signature in years where the weather is not too hot and it can show its terroir, 2014 is just that.
After our Latour visit, we had a very short trip to Latour’s neighbour Château Pichon Lalande. Two wines here and both excellent: Réserve de la Comtesse was very floral and forward, Pichon Lalande another candidate for a top wine of the vintage. Before lunch I headed to the Union des Grands Crus tasting for St-Estèphe and Pauillac at Château Lynch-Moussas. Some lovely wines at this tasting, one that stood out was Château Ormes de Pez, always a favourite at Glengarry. This year it’s 47% Cabernet, 44% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot; very classic in style, this should represent excellent value.
Next up was Château Pontet-Canet and lunch generously provided by Alfred Tesseron. It was of course lovely to catch up with Alfred again and his 2014 wine was excellent, very Pontet in style. Black fruits, taut in structure, mineral, elegant with fine tannin, a wonderful balanced wine. Lunch at Pontet is the best place in the Medoc during primeur week to eat – oh and the cheese. Affiner Betty’s from Toulouse make the journey to Bordeaux, with only a small selection of their cheeses. They have 6 caves of cheese stored and ageing, with hundreds of different types of cheese. After lunch, whilst an afternoon nap would have been nice, there was plenty more wine to try and it was onto Margaux…
A hectic day full of highlights, so here goes part 1. The day was always going to start well with our first visit scheduled at Mouton Rothschild. It was lovely to catch up with Erwan again and delightful to have a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the winery and the art collection. They now have the originals of all of the labels there, including the Picasso that appeared on the ‘73 label when Mouton was elevated from second to first growth. One of only three changes to the 1855 classification ever made. The Rothschild stable of wines were superb; Clerc Milon was a highlight, it is so voluptuous and simply gorgeous, for such a young wine, super impressive. Mouton itself is very concentrated; as it usually does, it is very showy young, a very fine Mouton.
Our next stop was at Montrose, definitely a high point of the day and of the vintage. Château Montrose is an excellent wine, aromatically dense with black fruits and an intense nose, it is so specific and grabs your attention in full. Next up was Château Latour; whilst Latour don’t release their wines for En Primeur sale, they do show their wines as primeurs. It does strike me as a little odd, in the way they make the most of all the visitors and the En Primeur season, then don’t release. What was interesting is that they showed Pauillac 2011, Les Forts de Latour 2008 and Latour 2003, all the current release from Latour. These were presented alongside the 2014 En Primeur wines. The Pauillac 2011 showed just how delightful and approachable that vintage is from a top producer. Three visits down and what a way to start the day – superb.