UGC Sauternes Tasting at Ch. Desmirail

The UGC Sauternes and Barsac tasting was held at Ch. Desmirail this year.  The Chateaux is located right on the D-2 in the village of Margaux making it convenient for anyone driving around the Medoc because you almost always have to drive by it.   I dropped by the tasting on my last day on the way to the airport to go to Italy.

Before I attended this tasting, I had heard rumblings that these wines resembled the fabled 2007 wines and were better than the Sauternes wines from last year in 2009.  I don’t agree with those assessments.  In 2007 everyone made good wines.  In 2009, there was a lot of variability but some chateau made stellar wines.  This year there were a couple of excellent wines and then the rest were surprisingly homogeneous in the “just ok” range. I felt as a whole that they were either lacking acidity or the acidity was awkward or out of balance.  I also felt that the Botrytis level on these wines was low or if it was prominent it was prominent in a bad way – resembling the odd chemical or ammonia aromas that some Sauternes have developed over the last 10 years.    I would rank these wines behind 2007 and 2009 and I would be very careful when purchasing Sauternes in this vintage and purchase only the best.

Wine of the Tasting:   Ch. de Fargues was excellent again this year. It had an intense nose of beautiful aromatic botrytis with tropical fruit and vanilla.  On the palette it had refreshing acidity with with sweet fruit that was in almost perfect balance.  I love this wine.  I tasted it twice.

Very Good Wines (in order of preference):  Ch. Suduiraut was just a notch below de Fargues with intense tropical fruit and the longest finish of the wines, Ch. Rieussec had a little less concentration and a more elegant style with a long coconut finish, Ch. Guiraud was like luscious buttery pineapple coating your moth – classic Guiraud, Ch. Nairac was a deeper and more concentrated colour than the other wines and had a mix of white fruit and tropical fruit on the palette, Ch. Myrat was a concentrated and balanced wine of pineapples and honey,

Bulk Group (in order of preference):  Ch. La Tour Blanche was very good but was a touch too syrupy, Ch. Rabaud-Promis was super-concentrated and over the top – but it had the acidity to balance it and was very enjoyable – I worry about its capacity to age though with the odd balance, Ch. Rayne Vigenau, Ch.Lamothe, Ch. de Malle, Ch. Doisy-Daene, Ch. Coutet, and Ch. Sigilas-Rabaud.

Disappointing: The most disappointing wine was the Ch. Lafaurie Peyraguey which had a very odd aggressive acidity that ruined the wine. The rest of the wines all had a significant drawback to them: Ch. Bastor-Lamontagne,  Ch. Calliou, and Ch. Broustet did not have enough acidity and were cloying and sweet,  Ch. Romer is a simple wine for drinking now,  Ch. Lamothe Guignard, Ch. Doisy-Vedrines and Ch. Filhot were dominated by odd chemical or animal aromas that were unpleasant.

Balanced Right Bank WInes

Finally some well balanced and luscious Right Bank wines!  While tasting some back vintage wines at a negociant house – I had the opportunity to taste some of the upper echelon St. Emilion wines and I was surprised. These wines were very well balanced.  While they still had the concentration, alcohol levels, and tannin characteristic of the vintage – the wines showed surprising finesse.    Ch. Troplong Mondot had an intense and beautiful nose of soft and seductive fruit with a luscious mouth fell and a long, long finish.  In good years I always find this wine to be very sensual.  Ch. Pavie was also very good but in a big and burly style.  It had overripe candied fruit, huge tannins, and massive acidity – but I liked it – and I am sure it will age well.  Ch. Canon was more restrained and elegant and was simply delicious. Ch. Figeac was also very good – with a much lighter body than the other wines – it seems to have been made in a more classic style.  I felt that Ch. Monbousquet was overripe and had a shorter finish than I expected.

The star of the tasting was a bottle of 1973 Ch. de la Dauphine.  This wine is not a blockbuster or a superstar.  It is simply a very mature wine that is holding up surprisingly well. The 1973 vintage was not a particularly strong vintage and so the condition of this wine was astonishing.   It was definitely showing signs of its age. It was very dark brown – almost caramel in colour and almost completely transparent.  The nose was intense with classic old Bordeaux aromas of earth, mushrooms, and a hint of fruit and vanilla.  On the palette, it had a medium body with refreshing acidity and a surprising amount of fruit and sweetness left.  The acidity kept it refreshing.  The best part about this wine is that it is not expensive.  It will retail in BC at a very reasonably price.  I will be making an offer of very old vintages of Ch. de la Dauphine when I return to BC.

Left Bank Tasting at Chateau Belgrave

Chateau Belgrave is owned by one of the large negociant company’s in Bordeaux.  They organized a private tasting this year where the wines could be tasted while seated at a table and without the press of the UGC tastings.  It was quite a nice way to taste the wines.  I was able to taste my way through quite a few of the wines while at Chateau Belgrave.  The tasting notes are below.

Bordeaux Sup. and the Cotes: Again, some of these wines were surprisingly good.  Ch. Thieuley – Cuvee Francis Courselle was stunning.  This is a special cuvee made from the best grapes that sees more oak than the basic Thieuley.  This  year is is dark and opaque with delicious fruit, a soft and elegant structure in the mouth, and a medium to long finish.

Haut-Medoc:  Most of these wines were from the Cru Bourgeois level and they often offer real value in good vintages like this one.  They did not disappoint.   They were far more concentrated than normal and had a lot more structure.  Some of the best wines in this category will age well for 10 or more years.  The wines that I really liked were Ch. Lanessan (which is made in the classic Bordeaux style) which was a little lighter and had more structure than the other wines; Ch. Senejac which was a dark, concentrated and big wine; Ch. Malescasse which was characterized by ripe fruit; Ch. Bellevue which was showing nice secondary aromas; and Ch. Cambon La Pelouse which was quite full in the mouth and more in the red fruit spectrum both due to its high percentage of Merlot.   Unfortunately, one of my perennial favorites – Ch. Beaumont – was too acidic and the tannins were far too soft – leaving it out of balance.   The Grand Cru Classes from the Haut-Medoc were not significantly better than the Cru Bourgeois wines and each of them had at least one characteristic that was holding them back: Ch. Sociando Mallet was the best of the bunch but was dominated by overripe fruit and the finish was a bit short; Ch. Cantermerle while very soft and elegant was lacking a bit of tannin to keep it in balance;  and Ch. Belgrave was the opposite with overbearing tannin.

Margaux:  In contrast to last year, these wines were very homogeneous and there was not much separating them.  All of these wines had very ripe fruit combined with sexy elegant mouth feel.  Most of them were a touch closed. The wine of the tasting was again Ch. Rauzan Segla. This year the wine was made in a softer style – if it is possible to say that about Rauzan-Segla.  Rauzan-Segla is a very tannic wine that is built for long aging.  The wine-making team’s toughest task each year is to tame the tannins and keep them soft and silky.  In this vintage, with the huge natural tannic structure of the grapes – it is stunning how soft and elegant this wine is.  Hats off to the wine making team.   Ch. Malescot St. Exupery was just as good as Rauzan-Segla, but in a different style.  It had ripe luscious fruit combined with amazing balance and a long sweet finish.   I feel that this chateau recovered from a below par showing last year. The next group of wines included Ch. Ferriere which always has nice ripe fruit; Ch. Cantenac-Brown and Ch. Lascombes both of which were surprisingly excellent this year; and Ch. Giscours which was a great wine if a tad overripe.  The next group of wines were a step below but still very good (in order of preference): Ch. Rauzan-Gassies, Ch. Durfort-Vivens, Ch. Du Tertre, Ch. d’Issan, Ch. Marquis D’Anselme, and Ch. Prieure-Lichine.  The only wines that I felt did not live up to their status or expectations in this vintage were: Ch. La Gurgue which for me was much thinner and more acidic than the other wines and out of balance;  Ch. Desmirail which I find always has odd secondary aromas on it that detract from the fruit; and Ch. Brane-Cantenac which was not even close to being in the same class as the other wines.

St. Julien:  These wines were much more aromatic than the Margaux wines and had a touch more elegance.  Especially the Ch. Leoville Barton.  This is a stunning wine.  The aromas were just exploding from the glass.  In the mouth the ripe fruit was combined with a perfect balance of acid and tannin and the finish was extremely long.  This was the best wine I had tasted up until this point. Ch. Lagrange and Ch, Beychevelle are also very good this year.  Both had aromatic noses.  The Lagrange was a touch candied in the fruit but still very pleasant and the Beychevelle had a surprisingly long finish.  Ch. Gloria also showed surprisingly well.  I felt that the Ch. Saint-Pierre and the Ch. Talbot were a touch disappointing.

St. Estephe: As usual, these wines had much darker fruit and more secondary aromas on them than the Margaux wines.  Ch. Meyney and Ch. Phelan Segur were very good.  This felt, however, that this was a disappointing year for Ch. Lafon-Rochet. On the nose it had a classic Lafon-Rochet combination of dark fruit combined with savory animal aromas – but on the palette the wine had very soft tannins and a short finish. It is a shame because this is usually one of my favorite wines.

Pessac-Leognan and the Graves:  Wow.  Ch. Haut-Bailly is incredible again this year.  This is a super concentrated wine with luscious fruit that explodes out of the glass with a silky mouth feel and a finish that last 20-30 seconds or more.  This is incredible.  The two heavily oaked wines from Pessac also showed very well this year: Ch. Smith-Haut Lafite and Domaine de Chevalier.  I preferred the Domaine de Chevalier because I felt the acidic structure was more in balance. Ch. Malarctic Lagraviere was also very good again this year.  I felt it was was more balanced and well made than the other more prestigious wines of the appellation. For the price it should be a good value.

Overall these wines were of excellent quality and far more in balance and elegant than the right  bank wines.  The Cabernet Sauvignon of the Left Bank clearly outperformed the Merlot of the Right Bank in this hot vintage.

Planete Bordeaux Tasting at Millesima

Planete Bordeaux is the consortium of Bordeaux Superieur producers.  This tasting is held at the Millesima warehouse in the southern part of Bordeaux.   It is a perfect picture of the dichotomy that exists in Bordeaux between the Grand Cru Classe wines and everyone else.  To come from the UGC tastings and attend this tasting is like going through culture shock.   The UGC tastings are held in idyllic settings in beautiful chateaux in the Medoc with unlimited food and wine.  This tasting is held in a warehouse on the Quay de Paludate – and while the warehouse is beautiful inside- this is NOT an area of town you want to walk around in on your own (day or night).  It is industrial.  It is a club district that acts as a partial red-light district during the day.  The sidewalks and roads are in poor repair and it looks the part of the quintessential underprivileged urban area.

For Bordeaux Superieur producers there could not be a more fitting setting for their tasting.  These wines  come from the less desirable areas of Bordeaux and they do not have any classifications to rely on for sales.  They retail for between 1.90 euros and 5 euros a bottle. Some lucky owners can get 7-10 euros a bottle for their special cuvees.  In the current market system, these wines are very hard to sell.

Once, inside the warehouse, however, things are very different.  The tasting resembles the GCC tasting in almost every respect.  I decided to spend a lot more time than normal here this year – because of my belief that given the conditions of the vintage that the real bargains would be found at this level.  I was not disappointed. There were a number of excellent wines – many of which my customers will be familiar with.

Wine of the Tasting:  Ch. Tayet – Cuvee Prestige was deep and dark with a nose of luscious fruit that was exploding out of the glass.There was a surprising amount of acidity given the concentration and a good amount of tannin.  This will be another Ch. Tayet that will be able to age for 10 years or more.

Showed well:  Ch. de Parenchere was excellent.  This wine is not oaked and is made to preserve the fruit flavours and aromas.  This was an excellent strategy this year with the high tannin levels naturally in the fruit.  This wine was deep blood red with yummy fruit.  It is not for ageing like Tayet but will be delicious drinking for 5 years or more. Ch. Beau Rivage was also surprisingly good – this is a real value wine and so if you see some of this from the 2010 vintage pick it up.  Ch. Lestrille-Cap Martin was also very good.

Overall, these wines had far more concentration and structure than they normally do. Some of them were actually approaching Cru Bourgeois quality levels.  Given that they cost 1/3 to 1/2 of a Cru Bourgeois price – these are real bargains.   Combined with the Bordeaux Sups from the Rive Droite tasting, I think there are at least a dozen excellent wines at this level that will offer real value in this vintage.

Ch. Angelus Tasting

This was an odd tasting.  It was held at Ch. Angelus in St. Emilion and it included all of the wines from around the world that are associated with the owners of Chateau Angelus including Anwilka (South Africa), Bodega Ostatu (Spain) and Gran Monte (Thailand).  I focused on the Bordeaux wines – but I can’t help but comment that the similarities among all of these wines was stunning – it would be hard to leave this tasting and refute that fact that there is definitely an international style developing as a result of international wine consultants  – many of whom originate form Bordeaux.

There were a few wines at this tasting that really stood out.  In particular the two wines from the Graves:  Ch. Chategrive and Ch. de FieuzalChategrive is often a great value wine in good vintages and this year is no exception.  It was quite dense with an aromatic nose and ripe fruit – but it had surprising structure for Chantegrive that will allow it to age like a Grand Cru Clasee.  Ch. de Fieuzal was excellent as well – but is probably not going to be worth the extra price paid because of its Grand Cru Classe status.  I would rank it in the same quality level as the Ch. Chantegrive.

The two St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe’s were excellent as well.  Ch. Bellevue was surprisingly good with lots and lots of structure for a Merlot based wine but with great balance.  The Ch. Angelus while not as good in previous vintages (where it may have been one of the best wines) was stunningly well balanced with huge tannins.  Although, the finish was a touch shorter than would be expected.  These two wines were much more restrained and balanced than the Grand Cru Classe that I tasted at Le Cercle Rive Droite tasting.

Le Cercle Rive Droite Tasting

This tasting was held at the Hotel Grand Barrail in St. Emilion.  It was just a beautiful gorgeous day with hot and sunny weather – which is really rare during en primeur week.

This was also the toughest tasting I have ever been too. These wines were huge and not in a good way.  Many of them were too alcoholic, with too much acidity and too much tannin.  After tasting 10-12 wines, I found it hard to continue and I was, quite possibly, a little tipsy from the alcohol – even though I was spitting.  The general conclusion from this tasting is that this was not a good year for the Merlot based wines.  With the hot and sunny weather the grapes matured to levels that made making an elegant wine very difficult.  The wines that are normally very concentrated were over the top.  The wines that are normally very elegant and lithe – were extremely concentrated.   The surprise of the tasting was that many of the lower quality wines that are often thin with astringent tannins – made wines that are plush and sweet with mature tannin.  Here are some notes on the highlights of the tasting:

Wine of the tasting:  It was not the best quality wine of the tasting but I really liked the Clos des Jacobins– it was just dripping ripe fruit with a beautiful balance and amazing structure.  Depending on the release price it could be a real value this year.

Showed Well:  The most surprising wines of the tasting were some of the Bordeaux Superieur wines and wines from the Cotes.  In particular, Chateau Thieuley had surprising concentration and structure and Ch.  La Tour Mirambeau and Ch. Reynon were just a notch below.  Of the more recognized names the two that I really liked were: Ch. Rol Valentin was distinct and had a wonderful aromatic structure; Ch. Quinault L’Enclos was beautiful and concentrated – but this is not the typical elegant Quinault L’Enclos (you have been warned!).  Other wines that showed well included: Ch. Fleur Cardinale,Ch. Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac,  Ch. La Fleur de GayCh. Le Bon Pasteur, and Ch. La Clemence.

 Disappointments:  I felt like the Ch. Faugeres and Peby-Faugeres were a little over the top this year.  Their super-concentrated modern style was just not well suited to the vintage.

2007 Wines:  The lunch at the Rive Droite tasting is always wonderful – if a bit chaotic.  This year there was a nice selection of back vintage wines to choose from during lunch.  I got there a bit late and so most of what was left was Right Bank wines from the much maligned 2007 vintage.  And, I am surprised to say, I was pleasantly surprised by these wines.  The 2007s have matured extremely fast and are already showing some wonderful tertiary aromas and flavours to go with fruit that is still fresh.  I particularly liked the 2007 Clos des Jacobins which had beautiful fruit combined with soft tannins and a wonderful maturing nose of Bordeaux funk.  If you are looking for wines to drink now 2007s are something to consider.

Note:  I was not able to taste as many wines at this tasting as I usually do – so there were probably a lot of gems at this tasting that I was not able to identify.

2010 Vineyard Report

The 2010 vintage is, not surprisingly, being hailed by some, as one of the great vintages of the century.  And yes, if it seems to you like every vintage in Bordeaux is hailed as the vintage of the century just before en primeur week, you would be correct .  It is part of the marketing machine that that drives the sales of en primeur wines in Bordeaux.  As I mentioned last year, we won’t know whether this is the vintage of the century until at least 10 years have passed and the wines are in bottle and mature enough to be reaching their peak for drinking.   But, we can make an early assessment of the vintage based on the vineyard report and the en primeur tastings.

This was potentially a very good year in the vineyards.  It was a year with a lot of sunshine, little rain, moderate temperatures during the day, and cool nights.  Almost the perfect formula for great wines.

In fact, this was one of the sunniest, hottest, and driest vintages of the decade.   There was more total sunshine than in 2003 and 2005 – which were very sunny vintages. The average temperature from June to September was 25.7 with a range between 25 and 28 degrees.  At the same time, the nights were cool with morning temperatures rarely getting over 10 degrees and the temperature never rose above 33 degrees. The total rainfall in Bordeaux this year during the growing season was a paltry 43mm – compared to 120mm in 2009, 90mm in 2005 and 121.5mm in 2000.   All of these components allowed for a slow natural ripening of the grapes in a fashion that would preserve their fruit, aromatics, and acidity.  Normally the growing season in Bordeaux takes 100-115 days.  This year because of the slow ripening conditions  145 days were required. This was followed by a dry fall where harvest could happen when most appropriate with no interruptions from rain or showers.

Early Assessment of the Vintage

These wines should be very different than the 2009 wines.  They will have less opulent fruit and more structure – both in the acid and the tannin.  There is a risk that many of these wines will lose their elegance due to high alcohol levels.  The top wines will have to try and restrain the alcohol and the lower levels wines may gain tremendously from the growing season.   This is a year where the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes should shine.  It will be a difficult year for the Merlot based wines who will be struggling to keep the alcohol and concentration levels down.

Bordeaux Vins select made this early assessment of the vintage in their December Vineyard report: “To conclude, having tasted the first juice, we can say that 2010 is a very deeply coloured vintage with a level of total polyphenols (anthocyanins and tannins) never seen before in Bordeaux.  It is an incredibly aromatic vintage thanks to the cool nights.  The tannins are very elegant, fine and perfectly integrated. Whilst rich in alcohol, the vintage promises to be very well balanced with wonderful acidity permitting an incredible freshness to be maintained in the wines.  All the components are there for an excellent vintage.”

Personally, I am really concerned about this vintage.  It has the hallmarks of a critics favorite because it will produce big and deeply coloured wines for en primeur with tannin and acid.  However, the similarities to 2000, 2003 and 2005 cannot be overlooked.  This was a sunny, hot, and dry year.  While those vintages are always hyped as being great, I know, from tasting a lot of mature Bordeaux – that wines from those vintages sometimes do not age as well as the wines from the cooler and more moderate vintages in Bordeaux. This is because as the wines from the hot vintages age the fruit fades much faster than wines from the cool vintages and the fruit can often become cooked in character.  For example, many of the 2000s are taking on this character while wines from the cooler 2001 vintage have far more fruit, acid and structure left  Similarly, the highly touted 2003 vintage has created many wines that are not ageing well at all and, if you have some, I suggest tasting a few this year to make a decision about whether to drink them or let them sit longer.

It will be deemed blasphemous for me to say this – but I think the best vintages of the decade in Bordeaux for ageing are 2001, 2004, and 2006.  The good news is that they are cheaper than the more highly touted 2000, 2003, and 2005 vintages.   If you are interested in wines from these vintages let me know and we can put together an offer for you.

The information in this report was taken from the Bordeaux Vin Select 2010 Vineyards Reports and Updates.