Why you should buy so-called lesser vintages.

We are so well conditioned to seek out the best vintages, the super stars, those that the media rave about and generally that’s not a bad thing. When it comes to buying Bordeaux though, the ‘rule’ book needs rewriting as buying only the best vintages may just leave you dry between great bottles.
There’s much to consider. Firstly, wines from the great vintages of Bordeaux are meant to be aged, this is a region that can (and does) produce some of the most long lived fine wines in the world. Wines that have an abundance of tannins, brilliant bright acidity and a superb concentration of fruit. All things that are essential for long term ageing. When we talk long term ageing for Bordeaux, think 40 – 50 years or so. Now, depending on your current age (no disrespect meant), this may prove a challenge, unless of course you are purchasing to build a cellar to hand down the generations. Wines from lesser vintages do mature earlier, though keeping in the context of Bordeaux require 10 – 15 years to develop gorgeous aged characters.

The next relevant point to note is the expertise of this region and the selection that goes into the Grand Vins. The quantity made of these top wines is not what it used to be, there’s significantly less, all with the aim of ensuring that the top wines are of the very best quality. So, in years where the media does not go mad about the vintage and write such bold statements as ‘the greatest ever’, ‘the best in the decade’, the top châteaux are still going to produce excellent wines, there’s just likely to be less of them.
Last week, we hosted a tasting of First Growths from the 2014 vintage, tasting four of the classified first growths from the left bank: Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut-Brion, together with the right bank pair, Pétrus and Lafleur. A very well attended tasting that we were very much looking forward to hosting. At the beginning of the night there was much discussion around the room about the 2014 vintage, many comments that it would be interesting, though not as great as 2009 or 2010. This is of course true, the 2014 vintage is not as good as either of these and, in fact, I’d rate it slightly behind the 2016 vintage that we’ve recently been selling En Primeur.

2014 was a relatively small vintage with inconsistent flowering. It was then extremely wet through July and August. Heading off on holiday at the end of August, many châteaux were nervous. September and October were then warm and dry. This provided a long ripening period which Cabernet loves. 2014 is a year best summed up as classic; generally, the wines are lower in alcohol, most around 12.5% and they are balanced, with beautiful freshness.
The wines looked brilliant and showed very distinctive appellation and châteaux personalities. It’s one of the things I really like about the 2014 vintage (2015 has it too), you can taste the character of the area and châteaux, more than the vintage.
The wines were in fact so good that by the next morning we had sold out of every last bottle of Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Pétrus and Lafleur we had from the 2014 vintage. The stock we had should have easily seen us through to next year.

Bordeaux Blanc tasting review

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.

Bordeaux 2014 – now in bottle and in NZ

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.

The History of En Primeur

The process of selling En Primeur is not as long-established as you might think. A little history: The role of the négociant in Bordeaux is intertwined with the region in many ways; initially establishing themselves in the region, they were first and foremost businessmen, though not from Bordeaux itself. The early négociants were of German, English and Dutch origin. Regarded by the châteaux as outsiders, it became necessary to employ a middle-man, giving rise to
the role of the courtier, i.e. one who acted as intermediary between the buyer and the seller. At this time négociants bought wine in cask, immediately after the grapes had been vinified; the négociant would then blend and bottle the wine. It was not until the 1920s that Philippe de Rothschild led the charge to change this system, with his the first château to bottle the wine within the estate. He quickly convinced all the first growths to follow suit. The négociants continued to purchase the wine immediately upon vinification, but instead left it with the château to look after and bottle. Initially only involving the five first growths, in 1967 all of the classified growths were required to estate bottle, with all French wines following shortly after. The négociants carried all the costs of these stocks and aged them until they were ready for sale. It was not until the financially hard times of 1974 that, to relieve some financial pressure, they began to sell the wines to retailers globally while still in barrel at the châteaux, marking the birth of the En Primeur system we know today.

We have recently published our complete guide to En Primeur 2016, you can download a copy here

A surprise in Listrac

Chateau Fourcas Hosten has certainly gone through a fair amount of change over the last 11 years. Located in the centre of Listrac, its history dates to 1810 when Mr Hosten inherited the vineyards and created Chateau Fourcas Hosten.

 

Ownership changed in 2006 when Renaud and Laurent Mommeja purchased the estate. Their background with Hermes, brings not only experience, the financial means but a huge amount of passion for excellence, which they have instilled in Fourcas Hosten.

Three major projects were undertaken since 2008, old plots in the vineyard have been restored; the winery, barrel cellar and storage facilities have all been full renovated; the House has been renovated and is spectacular. So, what’s the wine like?

Fourcas Hosten is something that we used to import and that I’d not tasted for years, it always represented great value. With the technology and expertise this Chateau now have and the already renowned terroir in the Listrac area, the wines have stepped up to new levels and impressed me a lot. This is not a Chateau in the super star appellations of the Medoc, it is through a winery that punches well above its weight and over delivers.

The 2016 is as you’d expect for the vintage superb. We also tasted back to the 2011. What impressed me with the tasting put on for us, was that we were not greeted with 2009 and 2010 wines, rather with 11 and 13 – the later a particularly challenging vintage. This chateau should be applauded for the confidence in showing these lesser vintages and for the wines they produced. Sure, the 2011 and 2013 were not as good as the 14 or 16 that we tasted, but they were very well made.

The 2012 showed how good this vintage is for early drinking. These are Merlot dominant wines, around 55%, the balance Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There’s also a very smart white, 75% Sauvignon Blanc, with Sauvignon Gris and Semillon. The Blanc is made in tiny quantities, 4,000 bottles of the 2016 was produced, battonage and time in old oak give this impressive complexity.

 

A super enjoyable visit to FourcasHosten, the wines brilliant and lunch in the restored Chateau a treat.

 

Bordeaux En Primeur 2016

This year’s En Primeur campaign is just around the corner, Vintage 2016. This year fortunately looks to be following in the path of the 2015 vintage; whilst it is still early days, indications are that sensibility may just prevail. Now, if you’ve been an En Primeur customer for a while, you might be reading this and thinking ‘Yeah, right, we’ve heard that before.’ What is apparent and being confirmed day by day as the International media and trade taste in Bordeaux, the vintage is very good indeed. In fact, it appears that this vintage is one to make a song and dance about and to ensure you have in your cellar.

So what’s the talk of sensibility and comparison to the 2015 vintage? Similar to last year, whilst the vintage is looking to be exceptional, we are not seeing these statements in lights with grand claims that this is a vintage of a lifetime or such things. There is far more sensibility around how the vintage is being presented, as the reality is that the market is just not the same as when the 2009 and 2010 vintages were sold in vast quantities globally. The rise of the new markets and interest in Bordeaux through this period drove prices to new levels. Since then it has been a case of the market finding its balance once again.

Which of course leads to the next fascinating piece in this puzzle and where we need to see further sensible approaches. The prices for these wines are yet to be determined and time will tell as the Chateaux owners release their wines on the market. What we do know now is that these will need to be realistic and in line with the current market. Early conversation indicates this is where the vintage is heading.

 Putting all that aside, the 2016 by all reports is looking excellent. Of course, we are not going to take the reports for granted and will be presenting to you our views from tasting the wines. This year I will be tasting a little later in Bordeaux, tasting the week after Easter. I’m heading to Bordeaux with a full schedule of tastings over the week. I’ll be keeping you up to date with how the wines look on Twitter (#lizziewine). You’ll also be able to follow things via the Glengarry Facebook page and on our blog site – www.aboutwine.co.nz

 Our 2016 Vintage Report and recommendations will be online post my tastings and we’ll be back in touch as the wines start to be released.

If this is all new to you, do check out our En Primeur FAQ page or feel free to contact the team, who are all very happy to assist you with general En Primeur enquiries, preparing your wish list or anything else fine wine-related.

Bordeaux Grand Vin and their little brothers

Bordeaux is the epicentre of fine wine in the world. Located in France’s southwest, just north of the border with Spain and home to the greatest Cabernet and Merlot blends. Divided neatly into two parts by the Garonne River, the left side of the river, the Medoc, is Cabernet central. The Medoc wines from Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe are usually Cabernet dominant and blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. On the right side of the river, the vineyards on the clay plateau of Pomerol and St Émilion are located around the town of Libourne. On the right side, soils are more suited to Merlot, which dominates the wines often blended with Cabernet Franc.

Blessed with a number of excellent vintages in the last 10 years, two that stand out are the 2009 and 2010 vintages. Together they are without doubt the greatest pair of vintages in Bordeaux ever. Both exceptional, they have different characters: the 2009 opulent and quite voluptuous; the 2010 vintage is brighter, lively and with a classic note. For two reasons, there’s a lot of merit in looking at the second wines of the great Châteaux and the Petit Châteaux . The investments and innovation in the production of Bordeaux are downright extensive; think glass lifts for the gentle wine movement, amphorae made from clay from the vineyard, optical grape sorters and the list does not stop there.  So with all these tools and an extensive historic knowledge, what happens in great vintages like 2009 and 2010? Simple really, Bordeaux at all levels of the market is quite exquisite. So it’s with that in mind that, when in Bordeaux recently, I tasted my way through a bucket load of wine to select for Glengarry an excellent range of second wines and Petit Châteaux  – hard work I know. We’ve then popped them together in a temperature controlled container and carefully shipped them all the way to NZ. So yes, you care buying directly from the importer, there’s no secret or additional margins here, just pure gold quality classic wines at exceptional prices.

Once you’ve tasted a few of these great wines, you’ll concur that referring to these as second wines seems somewhat unjust. Second inferring that they are not first, which reminds me of the Baron Philippe de Rothschild classic quote  – “Second I was, first I am, Mouton does not change”. Now he said that in 1973 in reference to being elevated from a second classified growth to a first growth. This change, one of only three ever done to the 1855 classification of the left bank of Bordeaux.  It is wines from this classification that are the big brothers, the greatest estates in the world. The little brothers, the second wines of these exquisite properties. The concept of second wines was initially created to improve the quality of the top wines, made usually with younger vines from the estate. Nowadays, these second wines are more an early drinking expression of the top wine than a second wine of the Château. All the second wines we have just landed in store are from the exceptional 2009 and 2010 vintages. Many of these are exceptional drinking right now and will also benefit from short to medium term cellaring – certainly less cellaring than the Grand Cru Classé from this vintage will require.

Dining out in Bordeaux

Dinners in Bordeaux have always been something of a two sided match for me; on one side, the wonderful trade dinners at the glorious Chateaux, then there’s the meals in the city itself, which until recently have been somewhat lacking. Maybe it’s just that I was looking in all the wrong places? That is until recently. We’ve now got a small repertoire of lovely places in Bordeaux and as it’s something I’m often asked for recommendations on – a blog post it’s become.

Top of the list would have to be L’univerre the wine list here is reason enough to visit. Quite superb.

Miles follows closely behind in the centre of Bordeaux; from the outside you will wonder if you’ve arrived at the right place. Inside, there’s an open kitchen and a minimalist yet appropriate setting. There’s usually two settings per evening, booking is essential. The menu is the Chef’s creation; fresh, seasonal and experimental. We’ve now had two meals here and can’t wait to go back. As for the wine list, it’s not that extensive, but is well chosen. There’s something to be said for quality over quantity.

These would be my two picks in the centre of Bordeaux.

In the Medoc, there’s a little gem at Labarde called La Gare Gourmande. A small restaurant, it’s also wise to book here. It’s a regular spot for those in the wine trade driving up and down from Bordeaux to the Chateaux and is stunning. A seasonal menu that changes daily, with an excellent selection of Bordeaux.

If heading to Sauternes, the best place to stop is Auberge Les Vignes the menu is classic with a few twists and there’s plenty of White Bordeaux and it’d be rude not to start with a youthful glass of chilled Sauternes.

Enjoy this list and if you’ve got some great places you’ve found, do share, we’ll add them to the list.

 

Big week of Bordeaux releases

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!

 

En Primeur Bordeaux 2014 – Day 3

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.