2011 Vineyard Report

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2011 was a difficult roller-coaster ride for Bordeaux winemakers with unpredictable fluctuations between hot and cold temperatures.  A cold and dry winter was followed by a hot spring, a cool and cloudy summer, and a dry and hot fall – except for the massive storm that hit mid September.  In all – it was a really tough year to make great wine.

Spring

Spring was hot and dry. Bud break happened really early (at the end of March). It was one  of the hottest April’s on record and May was similarly hot. Flowering occurred very early.  There was no rain throughout the spring and conditions were bordering on drought.

Summer

Summer started hot and dry. Grapes were hit hard as the hot weather continued into June.  Cabernet Sauvignon on dry soils was hit the hardest. Then in July everything changed and it got very, very cold.

Fall

Rain arrived in the fall but brought with it concerns about rot. A huge storm hit mid-September forcing some chateau to harvest early which reduced a small crop even more.  2011 was one of the earliest harvests on record with whites harvested starting mid-August and reds harvested starting late August.  In order to make good wines – brutal selection was required and the result was that overall yields are very low for 2011.

Summary

This was a difficult year – but it was still possible to make good wines provided that the style of wine making matched the natural conditions.  Those that try to make deep, extracted, and concentrated wines of structure from a vintage like this are playing with fire.  The early harvest could mean green tannins and when those are extracted and concentrated it could spell problems for the wines (both in the short term and the long term). Acidity and freshness should not be a problem for this vintage.

Thanks to all our negoce who provided insights on the vintage.

To see our vineyard reports from previous years go here: 2009 and 2010

For the best 2011 vintage report I have come across – visit The Wine Cellar Insider.

2012 UGCB Sauternes Tasting at Ch. Kirwan

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The UGCB Sauternes tasting was held this year at Ch. Kirwan.

This was a really disappointing tasting for me for two reasons. First, my expectations had been built too high during the tastings earlier in the week.  After each tasting – when I provided my honest opinion that the 2011 vintage was not a good vintage for red wines – I was constantly told not to fear because the Chateau owners were very happy with the Sauternes wines. So, I had been expecting a lot.

Second, this is a very unusual year for Sauternes.  Given the hot temperatures the grapes had to be picked early to avoid high alcohol levels. This had the effect of giving many of the wines a ‘green’ flavour profile of green apple as opposed to the traditional pineapple profile.  It was also a tough year for acidity – many of the wines lacked the acidity to balance them out and they felt syrupy in the mouth.  There were a couple of good wines – but this is a vintage that I would buy with caution.

Wine of the tasting: Ch. La Tour Blanche which had the most traditional pineapple nose with just a hint of coconut.  It was light and refreshing in the mouth with more balance than the d’Yquem or the de Fargues.  A surprising vintage for La Tour Blanche.

Other wines that showed well: Ch. Rayne Vigneau which was a touch green apply but should work out well, and Ch. Doisy Daene which had the most refreshing profile and was bursting with coconut.

All the other wines were not as good as in previous vintages.

To see my tasting notes of the 2010 Sauternes go here.

To see my tasting notes of the 2009 Sauternes go here.

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Chateau Latour to Leave En Primeur System

Sitting on the Border of St. Julien and Pauillac with Ch. Latour in the Background

On April 16, Decanter reported that Ch. Latour would leave the en primeur system starting with the 2012 vintage. In a letter to Bordeaux negociants on Monday, Latour stated that it would instead sell its wines only after they are bottled and ready to drink.   This is great news for consumers and something that I have been talking about for years. In fact, Rooftop Cellars is based on the concept that Bordeaux wines should only be purchased when they are ready to drink.

However, to think that this is a move to support consumers would be a mistake.  Hidden underneath this move is a bold statement about removing some of the middle men from the Bordeaux distribution chain. The Bordeaux marketplace has followed the traditional en primeur rules for a long time (for my post on how the en primeur system works go here). In short, wine is sold from the Chateau to courtiers (who make 2%), who sell the wine to negociants (who make 12%-15%), who sell the wine to importers and agents, who then sell the wine to retail stores, monopolies (in the case of Canada), etc., who then sell the wine to consumers.  This move would eliminate the first two steps in the distribution chain: courtiers and negociants. In an article by Suzanne Mustacich she notes that one Bordeaux negociant calculated that a loss of about 2 million euros in profit on sales of Ch. Latour alone. Whether these savings make their way through to the pockets of consumers or stay in the pockets of the chateau remains to be seen.

Up until now it has always been smaller Chateau from less famous areas that have tried to leave the “Place” and sell wine directly.  In some cases it worked, in other cases it was difficult and the Chateau returned to the “Place” a few years later with a lot of unsold stock.  I know this because Rooftop specializes in finding those parcels of unsold old stock and I can think of at least two significant Chateau that this happened to over the last 3-4 years.

I always thought a classified growth would make the move to leave the en primeur system – but I never thought it would be Latour (or any of the other first growths!).  I doubt that Latour will have to come back to the marketplace – so this may be the beginning of a paradigm shifting change in the way Bordeaux wines are distributed.

2012 Commanderie du Bontemps – “Ban du Millésime” Dinner

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

And, every year I try to go because this is the one event in Bordeaux where you get to taste the most back vintage Bordeaux.

The event is held in downtown Bordeaux in the hall of the CAPC Centre of Contemporary Visual Art. It is a beautiful, majestic, and magical space with a high arched stone ceiling. Tables of 8-10 settings are spread throughout the hall in a stylized patchwork pattern. It is really – the perfect setting for the event.

Photo Credit: Commanderie de Bontemps

Once you enter the hall – the appetizers and apertifs – are located in the smaller arched walkway around the central room that supports the balcony above.  In this more intimate space, you get to mingle, taste some wines, and have a bite to eat while you locate your table and your dining partners.  Waiters in tuxedos present appetizers to you off of silver trays.  The wines offered before dinner as an apertif were: 2008 Chateau Chantegrive (Blanc), 2007 Chateau Piada (Barsac), 2005 Chateau Coufran (Rouge).

The tradition of the dinner is trade bottles of wine from table to table.  This is facilitated by each place setting begin provided with 3-6 empty glasses at it.  Once you are seated the Commanderie presents 4-8 back vintage wines per table.  This year the wines were: 2000 Chateau Fieuzal, 2005 Chateau Haut Marbuzet, 2002 Chateau Giscours, 2003 Chateau Doisy Vedrines.

Beyond that, each table is sponsored by a negociant or a Chateau and they bring a selection of wines as well that are placed on the table. This year we sat at the Mouton Rothschild table. So, needless to say, we were presented with a stunning and abundant selection of additional wines, including: 2001 Ch. Mouton Rothschild, 2007 Le Petit Mouton, 2003 Clerc Milon, and 1989 Coutet (Barsac).

Dinner was a buffet that required at least three visits: Appetizers, Main Course, and Dessert.  I have included a picture of the menu below:

As I mentioned, tradition would normally dictate that we trade our wines for other wines – once we had a chance to taste some. Luckily, there was a general consensus around our table that, in life, sometimes it is better to quit when you are ahead. So, for the most part, we sat back and enjoyed the wines that we had brought. No trading. With one exception, at one point during the dinner I was presented with a glass that contained 1947 (1949?) Ch. Calon Segur from a 6-litre bottle. It was divine.

I have included tasting notes on a few of the wines from the dinner below.  If you are interested in knowing how any of the others tasted – please let me know – I will be happy to share the tasting notes.

2007 Le Petit Mouton: This was an excellent wine.  It was starting to develop on the nose with strong aromas of cassis, earth, and a touch of leather. Light and refreshing on the palate but with good tannic structure. An example of the fact that 2007 produced some really good wines.  I could drink a lot of this – too bad it is so expensive . . .

 

2001 Mouton Rothschild: This wine is really unbelievable.  It looks so young.  Dark and opaque in colour.  Showing almost no signs of aging.  Closed when first opened (we did not decant). Opened nicely as dinner progressed.  In perfect balance. This will easily last another 20 years.

 

2003 Clerc Milon:  It is easy to see the similarities between the Mouton and the Clerc Milon when they are tasted side by side.  I think this wine was not showing its best. It was a touch closed and primary right now. Needs more time. Seems to be one of the 2003s that survived the aging process and will get better. Dark and opaque. Nice balance and length.

2000 de Fieuzal: This was surprisingly good. Very mature profile but enjoyable. Intense nose of cassis, earth, barnyard, with a hint of licorice.  Just beautiful.  An example of a lesser known Bordeaux wine aging with grace. Lighter on the palate than the other wines at our table but silky and smooth with a pleasant finish.  My note says “Buy some.” – which I tried to do after the dinner – to find out that it is sold out across Bordeaux.  Oh well.

1989 Coutet: For me this was the wine of the night.  I have tasted quite a few 1989 Sauternes and Barsac wines but this has to be the best one yet.  1989 Sauternes have a tendency to be a bit hot.  This was was in perfect balance.  Quite dark in colour – amber gold.  Exploding nose of tropical fruit and creme brulee. Just perfectly balanced in the mouth with refreshing acidity.  I felt bad – because I went back for three glasses . . .

For my blog post on the Ban de Millésime dinner from 2010 go here.

Lunch at Domaine de Chevalier

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One of our negoce treated us to a tasting and lunch at Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan.  As we approached Domaine de Chevalier for lunch we were presented with a vineyard worker and a horse working the vineyards.

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It conjured romantic visions in my mind of what I want Bordeaux to be.  If I did not know that this is a practice that is regularly carried on at this estate then I would have chalked it up to a marketing stunt – but this is real and it may be the beginning of a larger movement in Bordeaux (see my post on organic and biodynamic tastings here).

Upon arriving we were greeting by the owners in a room with a blazing fire that smelled of days and times long past.

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We proceeded to a tasting of 2011 vintage of the Domaine and its related wines and then sat to a buffet lunch where we were treated to a number of back vintages of Domaine de Chevalier and other wines.  The 2011s we were presented with were some of the best samples we had – they were uncharacteristically soft and balanced.  The back vintages of Domaine de Chevalier were also very, very good even though they hailed from unheralded vintages like: 1981, 1991, and 2001. The other wines we were treated to included: 2001 Olivier Leflaive Corton-Charlemagne and the 2001 Zind-Humbrecht Brand.

Here are the notes on the wines we tasted at the tasting:

2011 Ch. Peyrabon: Soft with a good dense mouth feel and soft tannins.  All in balance nice wine.

2011 Ch. Domaine de la Solitude: Surprisingly good.    Concentrated ripe fruit with hints of vanilla. Refreshing acidity combined with a soft and round structure. One of the best wines we had had up till that point.

2011 Ch. Lespault-Martillac: Similar in style to the first two wines but with a touch more tannin and a little bit more of a bitter fruit profile. Excellent wine but a touch below the first two.

2011 L’Espirit de Chevalier: Second wine of Domaine de Chevalier. Dark opaque blood red. More closed on the nose than the other wines. Primary. Evident oak. Good second wine but nothing remarkable.

2011 Domaine de Chevalier: Fresh ripe fruit with a hint of oak. Medium bodied with ample acidity. Strong evident tannins that were well managed but still mouth drying.  Hge wine that will need a lot of time to develop.  Excellent.

Here are notes on the wines that we had with lunch:

2001 Domaine de Chevalier (Blanc): Clearly the best of the white wines that we were presented with. Darker colour than expected – deep golden colour. Medium intensity nose of sweet pineapple fruit with a touch of grapefruit pith. On the palate, medium plus acidity with a beautiful fresh fruit profile. Long finish.  This was just beautiful. Rooftop will consider finding some of this to import – although importing Bordeaux Blanc into British Columbia is a recipe for going bankrupt.

1981 Domaine de Chevalier (Rouge): Ruby red.  Surprinsingly youthful – looks only 5-6 years old. Explosive nose of classic Bordeaux cassis combined with herbaciousness.  Super fresh and delicious on the palate.  The taste profile is mature with faded fruit – but this is an example that top Bordeaux can age well even in weaker vintages. Surprising wine.

1991 Domaine de Chevalier: From a 12L Balthazar. A little lighter in colour than the 1981 and showing a touch more age. Similar explosive nose of cassis and capsicum. Pleasant in that aged Bordeaux way. Still a touch of vanilla lingering from the oak – even after 20 years. Surprising amount of fruit left – cassis and raspberry. Good acidity and balance but the tannins are starting to fade.  Drink now!

2001 Domaine de Chevalier: Very dense ruby red with a strong nose of sweet ripe cassis.  No herbaciousness here although maybe a lingering touch of jagermeister? Good acidity, tannic structure and balance.  Can last longer – but it is so good right now I would drink up.

 

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Finally! Some Price Relief From an Unexpected Source: Lafite

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Decanter has reported today that Chateau Lafite uncharacteristically released its first tranche in the opening days of the 2011 En Primeur campaign. But the better news is that the release price was more than 40% lower than last year. Cudos to Lafite for dropping there price in a market that desperately needs it – it remains to be seen if the other first growths will also drop their prices. . .

In talking with my negociant contacts in Bordeaux today -the news has created some optimism for the campaign and most of the people I talked to are primed for a quick and clean campaign hopefully with sizeable price reductions.  While the campaign normally runs until late summer – there was talk today of a campaign lasting more in the realm of a month or so.

I will keep you updated on this interesting news.

Disclosure: Rooftop will be running a futures business this year – if you would like to receive our futures offers please e-mail me at cody@rooftopcellars.com.

2008, 2009, and 2010 Vertical Tasting

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We got a rare opportunity on this trip to do a vertical tasting of three vintages (2008, 2009, and 2010) of the same Chateau.  The opportunity was generously presented by one of our negociant’s and it was held in their warehouse.  It was a beautiful setting –  we were surrounded by millions of dollars Grand Cru inventory stacked around us.

We took advantage of the opportunity and tasted through the wines methodically.  The results were surprising.  Both of us (Aron and I) preferred the 2008s to the 2009s and 2010s – even though the 2009s were clearly best wines of the three vintages.  The 2008s, at this point in their lives, were just more balanced and had a better acid profile that made them more refreshing.  The 2009s, while incredibly concentrated and built for long lives – seem to be lacking the requisite acid (which in my mind brings warning bells of 2003 where the wines did not age and are already considered ‘flabby’ in some cases).  The 2010s are similar to the 2009s but not as well balanced and a touch more astringent with harsh tannins.

In all fairness, the 2008s have been in the bottle for about a year now and have had the time to settle and integrate.  The 2009s were either just bottled or have only been in the bottle for a month or so – so it is possible that they are going through bottle shock.  The 2010s (if you can believe it) are still barrel samples – even though that campaign has now officially ended and Bordeaux has moved on to sell the 2011 vintage.

This tasting exposed the nonsensical nature of the en primeur tastings where people are expected to commit millions of dollars to wines that are tasted in an unfinished state.  As a buyer – based on this tasting – I would want to be tasting the 2008 wines this year in Bordeaux – the other two vintages 2009 and 2010 are too young to make a truly informed opinion about. But, alas, now that the en primeur system has been fully entrenched and the Chateau can get paid for wines long before they are bottled – there is little chance that anything will ever change . . . except that Chateau Latour announced today that as of the 2012 vintage they will no longer sell wine in the en primeur system and will only sell wine when they believe it is ready to drink (see the decanter coverage here).

Wine of the tasting: Ch. Branaire Ducru  – all three vintages were excellent and the consistency was astounding.  Buy any or all of these three wines. We highly recommend them.

Wines where the 2008 was preferred: Ch. Pape Clement, Ch. Pedesclaux, Ch. Kirwan,  Ch. Talbot, Ch. Les Ormes de Pez, Ch. Lynch Bages, Ch. d’Armailhac, and Ch. Clerc Milon.

Wines where the 2009 was preferred: Ch Beaumont, Ch. Cantemerle, Ch. Lanessan, Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Ch. Brane Cantenac, Ch. Les Ormes de Pez,

Wines where the 2010 was preferred: Ch. Giscours.

BTW – I took over 70 detailed tasting notes at this tasting of Left Bank Grand Cru Classe wines.  If you want to know how your favorite wines fared in this tasting – just send me an e-mail and I will provide you with the detailed tasting notes: cody@rooftopcellars.com

Organic and BioDynamic Tastings in Bordeaux?

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It’s true – for the last couple of years there has been a small group of organic and biodynamic wine makers in Bordeaux who offer tastings at the same time as the En Primeur tastings.

The words “organic” and “biodynamic” just don’t seem to fit with “Bordeaux”.  In fact, the fit is so odd – that you would expect that Bordeaux would be the last place to find these movements flourishing.  There are a few good reasons why: First, Bordeaux is marginal wine climate that is very wet – and so it is difficult to make wine in a more natural way without losing large portions of the crop.  Second, the average size of the Chateau are very large by organic standards and the cost in labour to adopt more sustainable approaches would be very large; Third, Bordeaux is the big corporate part of the wine world and it is dominated by large organizations from Chateau ownership groups to negociant houses. Organic and biodynamic are challenging movements for these types of organizations.

That being said – there is a movement underway and it is making some headway. Of the two tastings I was able to find out that one has about 60 people scheduled to show up this year – that is a good start – but compare it to the 6,400 that registered for the UGCB en primeur tastings and you will see how much farther they need to go. Nonetheless, Rooftop believes in sustainable wines and we will be supporting these groups and offering organic Bordeaux wines in BC.

And if nothing else, at we got to taste the full lineup of Domaine Leflaive Burgundies. . .

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2012 La Fleur de Bouard Tasting

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I have been to this tasting the last two years and it has been difficult for me both times.  Not because of the quality of the wines but for what the tasting represents.

I go mainly to taste Ch. Angelus.  But this tasting also has wines from properties around the world that are either owned by or in consulting relationships with Hubert de Boüard de Laforest the owner of Ch. Angelus.

As per usual, the Ch. Angelus was excellent and one of the top wines of the vintage. It had an explosive nose of super concentrated black fruit and was almost black in the glass.  Even with that concentration the tannins were silky and well managed.  It was a touch more astringent than the Cheval Blanc tasted earlier in the day and maybe a touch hot – but it was still an excellent wine.  Although, I would not rate it as highly as any of the previous three vintages.

The disturbing thing for me about this tasting is how all the other wines taste: which is surprisingly similar to Ch. Angelus.  It is especially disturbing when you can taste the similarities when jumping from a Tempranillo from Rioja (Ostatu) to a South African Bordeaux Blend (Anwilka).  There is no denying the fact that, at least in this case, a Bordeaux wine consultant is making an “international” style of wine at many international properties.  I question though whether these properties have lost a sense of their terroir?

That being said, the strategy is obviously working, if we gauge success by the wealth on display at La Fleur de Bouard, where the fermentation tanks are hanging from the ceilings and they have one of the new wooden “egg fermenters”. I guess as long as there is money to be made in it – then consultants will continue to make these types of wines. My advice – after tasting the rest of the stable – is that if you like Ch. Angelus (as I do) then buy the real thing – it is clearly the best.

To see my post on this tasting from last year go here.

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A Visit to Cheval Blanc

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After lunch on Day Two of the en primeur tastings – we went for a quick visit to Cheval Blanc to check out the newly completed cellar and to taste the wines.

I wanted to not be impressed by this place.  But I was.  This is an impressive place.

The chai has been completely rebuilt in a modern fashion that is both beautiful and impeccably clean.  It looked more like a Ferrari showroom than a winery. The space is also so well designed that it has an emotional effect on you – it calms you down and makes you feel at ease.

Beyond the physical surroundings – we also tasted some wines on the visit and these were the best wines we tasted on the Right Bank – especially the Cheval Blanc 2011.  Here are some notes on the wines we tasted:

Ch. Quinault L’Enclos 2011: This wine had very soft and silky tannins for the vintage but the fruit was too ripe and candied for a Quinault L’Enclos.  Good but not my style or the traditional Quinault L’Enclos style.

Ch. La Tour de Pin:  80% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc.  Very sweet cherry fruit.  Too sweet and overripe but remarkably well balanced for the vintage with soft tannins.

Le Petit Cheval 2011: The second wine of Cheval Blanc. Again lots of candied fruit – very similar in profile to a top Pomerol wine.  Really well done.

Ch. Cheval Blanc: Best wine of the day and one of the best of the vintage.  This wine was deep, dark and concentrated.  It was bursting with ripe fruit and backed by racy acidity. Tannins were present but silky and managed.  This is a top wine.

Ch. d’Yquem 2011: Medium gold in colour and exploding with sweet pineapple, apricot and vanilla scents. Big bodied but a touch syrupy – lacking the traditional acidity of great d’Yquem vintages.  This is a disappointing d’Yquem vintage – but still a great wine. Long, long pineapple finish with a touch of lemon.

Overall, these were the most balanced red wines we tasted on the Right Bank – characterized by the soft management of the strong tannic structure of the vintage.

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