UGC – Sauternes Tasting

This tasting took place in the vat room at Ch. Dauzac.

The Sauternes this year are very good.  They have great body and concentration and the best ones also have great acidity and structure.  Again, as with the other tastings, there was significant variation in the wines – some of the wines were great and some of the wines were not.  It is becoming obvious that this is a vintage where wines should be purchased only after tasting.  Overall, it is a good vintage for Sauternes, but I feel that it is a significant step below the 2007 vintage when almost every wine was great.

Wine of the tasting:  Ch. Suduiraut had it all.  Great concentration, beautiful flavours and aromas, elegance and a finish that lasted forever.

Other great wines: The Ch. de  Fargues was just a touch below the Suduiraut.  The only detractor on this wine was a touch of the odd vasoline aroma that botrytis can give off in a Sauternes. But, I am only splitting hairs, this is still a classic wine. The other wines that I liked (in roughly this order): Ch. Nairac was super concentrated, Ch. Rieussec was more elegant, Ch. La Tour Blanche was very consistent,  Ch. de Rayne Vigneau was an explosion of sweet fruit on the palate, Ch. Rabaud Promis, Ch. Broustet and Ch. Lamothe-Guignard.

There were a few wines that I felt did not measure  up to their traditional levels of quality and I would be cautious buying them in this vintage based on the en primeur tasting: Ch. Guiraud, Ch. D’Arche, and Ch. Doisy Daene.  I am hoping that there was something wrong with the sample of Ch. Guiraud that I tried because this is one of of my favorite Sauternes.  It had its traditional big full bodied mouth feel but the nose was very closed and the wine lacked fruit concentration.

Commanderie de Bontemps Dinner

April 1, 2010

Every year the Commanderie de Bontemps hosts a dinner to celebrate the official release of the new vintage – the “Ban de Millesime”. 

The Commanderie is an organization that has its roots in medieval church institutions and it assists in the marketing of Bordeaux wines around the world. In conjunction with the Grand Conseil de Bordeaux they help support the Commanderies de Bordeaux around the world.

This is a great dinner to attend if you like to drink mature wine – because there is a lot of it at this dinner.  Each place setting comes complete with 6 or 7 empty wine glasses and three is ample opportunity to fill them.  To start, the Commanderie usually provides 5 or 6 wines for every table.   This year they were: Ch. Vieux Chateau Gaubert 2005 (Blanc), Ch. La Tour Martillac 2006 (Blanc), Ch. Belgrave 2000, Ch. Lynch Bages 1998, Ch. Ducru Beaucalliou 1995, and Ch. de Myrat 2003 (Sauternes).  Beyond that, most of the negoce or Chateau owners who come to the dinner also bring a number of other wines to taste with their guests. Once the dinner starts (and sometimes before) the bartering and trading of the wines between tables also starts.  For example, at our table we had some Ch. Malescot St. Exupery 1998, and Ch. Prieure Lichine, and some other bottles that I did not see.  We tried to trade those bottles for a 1989 Ch. Mouton Rothschild – and were not successful – at first.  We finally got it when the bottle was almost empty.  It was worth it though – the wine was excellent.  The trading goes on all night – because once everyone at the table has tasted the new wine (and sometimes before) – it is traded again for another bottle.  The other wines that came through our table included: Ch. Cos D’Estournel 1995, Ch, Pichon Baron 1999, Ch. Loudenne 2005, and Ch. Carobnnieux 2007 (Blanc).

Here are some quick notes on the wines: The 1989 Ch. Mouton Rothschild was excellent – still with lots of fruit and good body -a touch above the 1989 Ch. Gruaud Larose that I had the night before – but still a wine that should not be left to cellar too much longer.  Of the whites, the 2007 Ch. Carobnnieux was the best – although it was not as refreshingly acidic as I remembered it from the 2007 en primeur campaign.  It is much creamier in style now.  The 1999 Ch. Pichon Baron had an intense barnyard nose that one party guest rejected outright as a fault – but it was still a pleasant wine.  Both of the 1995s (Ch. Ducru Beaucalliou and Ch. Cos D’Estournel) were closed and not offering as much as epxected.  I have noticed this with my own 1995s.  Maybe best to let them sit for a few years before trying them again.  The 2000 Ch. Belgrave had seen better days. Unfortunately, the 2003 Ch. de Myrat lacked acidity which made it syrupy and cloying and I don’t think any of the tables finished their bottle.

UGC- Margaux Tasting

April 1st, 2010

This tasting was held at Ch. Desmirail. 

I arrived at lunch time and was surprised to discover that they were offering Ch. Desmirail 1999 and 2000 with lunch.   The 2000 was dark ruby red and had a beautiful medium intensity nose of ripe cassis.  On the palate, it was a little closed and I felt that it lacked complexity. There was a lot of structure left on this wine but I felt that the acidity was tart and  I am not sure that there is enough fruit to balance that acidity. The 1999 was a touch lighter in colour and starting to brick on the edges. It had a pleasant mature nose of cassis, wood and Bordeaux funk.  On the palette, it was medium bodied with seemingly good balance.  However, that tart acidic attack was present again on the finish and it  left your mouth puckered in an unpleasant way.  This was much softer and smoother than the 2000 and is drinking much better right now. Overall, a nice wine – if you can get over the odd acidity on the finish.   Overall, it was a generous opportunity to taste these wines and another example of the fact that the 1999 vintage wines are drinking well right now.

I then moved on to the tasting and was a little disappointed.  This was the group of wines that I felt had the most variation in quality.  It surprised me because I had heard from other tasters that the wines of Margaux all showed well at a tasting earlier in the week.  On the whole, these wines had really ripe fruit, great concentration and an almost velvet like quality to them that made them silky in your mouth.  The best wines combined these qualities with structure that was well balanced.  However, the structure of the wines was all over the map.  Some were too acidic, some were too tannic, and a little less than half of the wines were not well balanced.

The star of the tasting was Ch. Rauzan Segla. I actually tasted this three times – the second time to be sure – the third time for pure enjoyment.  It is a classic wine for serious aging.  It has tons of concentrated black fruit, lots and lots of structure, and a remarkably long and pleasant finish.  I will be buying some of this for my cellar so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.

Other favorites:  Ch. Ferriere had extraordinary ripe fruit aromas exploding out of the glass combined with more structure than most of the other wines.  It finished all in balance.  It is a special wine.  Ch. Cantenac-Brown was extremely velvety in the mouth with sweet fruit and a touch of smoke.  Ch. Du Tertre was excellent with ripe fruit, smoke, caramel, and a soft balanced finish.  It could be a great value depending on the price. Ch. Lascombes also had good concentration combined with structure.

The most curious sample at the tasting was the Ch. Malescot St. Exupery.  This is usually one of my favorite wines and there was quite a buzz about this wine among the tasters this year – I believe the buzz was created by James Suckling’s (Wine Spectator) score of 97-100 that was released earlier in the week. In my opinion, this is not a 97-100 point wine.  In fact, I would not rank it in the top half-dozen wines of the tasting.  The wine had great concetration, maybe a touch too much oak, and too much acidity that may never integrate. I would be careful buying on that score. . .

UGC – Medoc, Haut Medoc, Moulis & Listrac Tasting


April 1, 2010

Haut Medoc
An example of the vineyards in the Haut Medoc

This tasting was held at Chateau Cantemerle.  It is always an interesting tasting because most of the wines are from Cru Bourgeois properties and can offer real value – especially in good vintages. 

The quality of the wines was very consistent, the fruit of these wines was darker than the wines from the Graves that I had tasted the day before, but on the whole the concentration and body of the wines was a little less. 

There were only two wines that stood out: Ch. Chasse-Spleen was quite special with ripe fruit and good structure.  Ch. La Tour Carnet was also very good but in a more fruit forward easily accessible way.

Most of the other wines fell into a category just below the top two wines.  They were good but there was nothing special about them.  Depending on the prices they could be interesting.  The softer wines that showed well included: Ch. Beaumont, Ch. Clarke, and Ch. Lamarque.  The wines with a little more structure included: Ch. PoujeauxCh. CantemerleCh. Fourcas Dupre, Ch. Belgrave, and Ch. Coufran.

There will clearly be some great values to be had from this group of wines in this vintage.  I will post full tasting notes on all of them on my return to Vancouver.


Gruaud Larose
Managing Director David Launay in the Cellar at Gruaud in August 2009

March 30, 2010

On Tuesday night I attended at reception at Ch. Gruaud Larose. 

As some of you know, older vintages of Gruaud Larose are my favourite Bordeaux wines.  As it ages, Ch. Gruaud Larose develops a very distinct and intense barnyard aroma.  You either love it or you hate it. I love it – so take this into account when you read my reflections on the wines provided below.

The reception started with a vertical tasting of the estates 2nd wine: Sarget de Gruaud.  The vintages offered were 1999 to 2007 (except for 2003) and 2009 (primeur).  The wines were actually quite good for a 2nd wine.  The younger wines were fresh and concentrated but not worth drinking yet because they lacked that distinct Gruaud character which only began to show itself in the 2004 vintage.  It was really apparent in the 2002.  It is interesting to note that it seems to take about 8 years for Sarget to develop its characteristic aromas – this is something I will consider every time I open a good Bordeaux before it has reached ten years of age. 

The best wines of the tasting were the three that followed:  2001, 2000 and 1999.  Each was characteristic of the Chateau’s style. The 2001 had the most structure and offered the most on the palate in terms of concentration, acidity and tannin.  The 2000 was supple and soft and well balanced with a touch more body.  The 1999 was probably drinking the best of them all.  The nose was very fragrant and very Gruaud Larose and it was really enjoyable on the palate. One final observation:  the 2005 was very closed – David Launay, the managing director of Gruaud later told us that the same is true of the Le Grand Vin.  They both closed down late last year and they are not showing well right now.

The cellar tasting finished with the 2009 (primeur) Ch. Gruaud Larose.  It is a big, dense and powerful wine.  I wonder, though, if it is not a departure from past vintages.

At the reception, the estate generously offered four older vintages out of magnums:  1999, 1997, 1989 and 1983.  The 1999 is just starting to develop and offered the most on the palate.  The 1997 is primarily fruit driven and lighter in body. The 1989 is a beautiful glowing orange-red colour with good body.  It is drinking well still but it was not spectacular.  The 1983 was the most enjoyable wine.  It had a super intense nose of cassis and barnyard.  It had a touch of greenness that only seemed to add to its charm. I may try to find some to import.

UGC – St.-Emilion Tasting

March 30, 2010

Ch Beasejour Becot
Ch. Beausejour Becot

This tasting was held at Ch. Beausejour-Becot in St-Emilion.  It was pouring rain.

The wines here were far more consistent (and homogenous) than at the Pessac-Leognan tasting.  There was not as much variation in quality. 

These wines are huge, dense, voluptuous, and rich wines.  Again, the best wines balanced all of that with good acidity and structure.  There were not as many superstar wines as the Pessac-Leognan tasting, but good wines were more prevalent here.

The star of the tasting:  Ch. Troplong Mondot. This is simply a sexy wine.

Other Favorites (in rough order of preference): Ch. Beausejour-Becot, Ch. Cannon La Gaffeliere, Ch. Larcis Ducasse, Ch. Cannon,  Ch. La Couspade, Ch. La Gaffeliere, Ch. Franc Mayne, and Ch. Pavie Macquin.

Potential value wine: Ch. La Tour Figeac.

UGC – Pessac-Leognan and Graves Tasting

March 30, 2010

Ch. Smith Haut Lafite on a Rainy Windy Tasting Day

This tasting was held at Ch. Smith-Haut-Lafite in Pessac.  It was an awful rainy and windy morning.

It was also the first tasting that I attended with good representation of the Grand Cru Classé wines and, so for me, it was the real first test of the vintage.  I tasted only the reds on this day.

As a result of the tasting, I am going to go on record with an unpopular opinion: This is not a mythical vintage or the vintage of the century. 

The wines are very good.  But, there is a lot of variation in the quality of the wines. Even among the Grand Cru Classé – “the rising tide did not lift all ships.”  The best wines are extremely good – maybe even shockingly good.  But, the rest of the wines are a touch below where they should be in terms of quality.

The hallmark of this vintage is high alcohol. Some of the wines are exceeding 14.5%.  It is not surprising then, that some of the North American wine critics and press are extremely high on this vintage – it has a kind of New World flair to it.  For traditional Bordeaux drinkers, however, it is a bit of a disappointment.  The best wines have high fruit concentration and alcohol, but, they have sufficient acidity and tannin to keep them in balance and are still “refreshing”.  This feat must have been very difficult and this is a vintage that was probably decided in the cellars with a lot of hard work.  Among the other wines, at least 1 in 4, have some significant balance issues holding them back.

Wine of the tasting:  Ch. Haut Bailly.  This is one my favourite wines and it did not disappoint. It was able to maintain its elegance even in this big vintage.

Other wines of note:  The two heavily oaked Pessac wines – Ch. Smith Haut Lafite and Domaine de Chevalier were both excellent.  The fruit this year had the stuffing to accept all that oak with style.  In fact, the Ch. Smith Haut Lafite, which I usually find to be too heavily oaked, seems to be better than the Domaine de Chevalier this year.  The Ch. Pape Clement is also very good this year. Although, it is not significantly better than the others and will likely not be worth the premium it will cost.

Surprise wines:  There were two wines at this tasting that provided quality that far surpassed their expectations.  Ch. De Fieuzal and Ch. Carbonnieux.  Depending on the prices they get released as these might be the value wines of the vintage.

Graves Soil
A great example of the gravelly soil of Pessac Leognan

Tasting En Primeur Wines

In my post yesterday, I stated that one of the most challenging parts of the En Primeur system is the difficulty of tasting wines out of the barrel.  This is really important to understand because a lot of consumers base their purchase of thousands of dollars worth of wine on the tasting notes offered by professionals from Primeurs..

So, today I am going to explain some of the difficulties of tasting barrel samples, and offer some tips on how to barrel taste – should you ever get the chance.

The Difficulties of Tasting En Primeur Wines

Tasting en primeur wines is not enjoyable.   These wines assault your palate.  They are dark purple, incredibly acidic and usually have strong tannins that dry your mouth out.  They stain your teeth purple. They stain your clothes and anything else they come into contact with.  They tire you out fast.  Tasting them is hard work.

The wines are very primary. By that I mean, it is extremely difficult to taste the nuances in flavour that the wine will begin to show as it matures.  Wine, in general, has three sets of flavours and aromas: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  Primary flavours come from the fruit and in Bordeaux the basic primary flavours are cassis (blackcurrant) for the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines and cherry or plum for the Merlot based wines. Secondary aromas come from the vinification process (including barrel aging) and in Bordeaux the primary secondary flavours come from French oak which often add vanilla or caramel. Tertiary flavours come from the aging of wine in the bottle and these are the Bordeaux flavours that many wine drinkers (including myself) covet the most: earth, wood, cedar, barnyard, Asian spice, leather, floral, etc.

En Primeur wines are not even finished the vinification process – they have only been in barrel for 6 months – so it is unlikely (not impossible) for them to have any tertiary flavours.  It will also be difficult to assess the effects of the secondary flavours because they may remain in barrels for up to another 18 months.

On my first visit to Bordeaux, I commented on my difficulties tasting the wines to Christophe Reboul-Salze of the Wine Merchant and the owner of Chateau Gigault and Chateau Les Grandes Marechaux.  He told me that you can only gauge a few simple facts about a wine during an en primeur tasting: the quality of the fruit (is it ripe or unripe and how concentrated is it), the structure of the wine (the acid and tannin, and the quality of the tannins), the balance between the fruit and the structure (is there enough fruit to last until the tannins have precipitated out of the wine as it ages), and the finish of the wine (how long is it and is it pleasant and in balance?).  I have found it to be great advice. Trying to discern more in young wines will lead only to frustration.

This means that you should be really skeptical of any tasting of a barrel sample that reads like this:  “Stunning complex aromas of anise, flowers, and cedar with touch of Asian spice and liquorice.”

Another big difficulty with tasting barrel samples is that there are no standards on how the samples are assembled.  Is the sample pulled only from the best barrels or parcels?  Is the blend the same as the final wine?  You would like to think that the samples that are provided are representative of the final wine – but sometimes they are not.  One Chateaux owner this year (who will remain unnamed because of their honesty) admitted that the blend they were showing did not contain as much Cabernet Franc as the final blend because the Cabernet Franc was not showing well right now.  The final blend may contain 10%-20% more Cabernet Franc.  Obviously, that would significantly change the taste of the wine.

So, in short, when barrel tasting, you are never sure whether you are tasting the final wine and you have to guess what the wine will eventually be like in 10-15 years – when it is only half way through its vinification cycle.  That is not to say that people cannot develop this skill – there are many people who do it well.  It’s just that you should be cautious purchasing wines based on barrel tasting notes: For example, that Margaux Cru Bourgeois I bought in 2005 may never actually end up smelling like violets. . .

That being said – the 2009s are tasting extremely well this year and it is not as difficult as in past years.  In hot years, like 2009, the wines tend to have less acidity and more fruit concentration and generally show well en primeur.  For example, these wines are much more enjoyable to taste than the 2007s which were thin, green, acidic and had mostly bitter over-extracted tannins.  But wines that taste good en primeur should raise a caution flag because you wonder if they will have enough structure to age.

Some Tips of Barrel Tasting

If you ever do get to taste barrel samples here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Dress formal – this is Bordeaux.
  • As always – never wear perfume or other similar scents to any wine tasting
  • Don’t wear a white shirt or light coloured clothing.  It is not unusual to get wine splashed on you during the spitting process – either from your own spit or from someone else in our vicinity who doesn’t know how to spit correctly.
  • Practice spitting before you go.  This is actually quite important.  In the wine world you will be judged on the quality of your stream.  Myself, I am not very good at it – but I am getting better.  At the Primeurs the tasting buckets are very large and communal and often there is a crowd around them – so you want to be sure that you get the wine into the bucket without spraying anyone – including yourself.   Here are the keys: Keep your head mostly upright. Don’t take too much wine into your mouth.  Pucker your lips like you are going to kiss someone. Push your tongue up and seal it against your molars.  When ready – force the wine out of your mouth by bringing your tongue up to the ceiling of your mouth to shoot it out with a little bit of force. Don’t use too much force or you will get splash-back. Practice in your shower before you go.  If you want more info on it – Lyle Fass from the Organic Wine Journal has done a great instructional video on how to spit wine:
  • Carry a napkin with you at all times to wipe the side of your glass and your chin!
  • Learn the art of balancing a tasting book and a wine glass while you write a tasting note. There is often very little horizontal space to put your wine glass down.
  • Keep a toothbrush in your car (you will have purple teeth).

Happy tasting!