2011 Prices: Other Chateaux Fall in Line

Cos D'Estournel April 2012. Notice the crane: Construction funded by 2009 and 2010 prices? 🙂

A few weeks ago, I passed along the report that Ch. Lafite had dropped the price for its 2011 by 40% for the 2011 vintage.  It was a bold move and a move that was required for the Bordeaux marketplace.  The remaining questions was:  would the other Chateau follow suit?  They did.

Since then a number of important Chateaux have released and the prices are significantly lower than last year:

Latour – down 40%
Margaux – down 40%
Haut Brion – down 45%
Cheval Blanc – down 48%
La Mission Haut Brion – down 68%
Figeac – down 57%
Cos D’Estournel – down 50%

This is welcome news for a Bordeaux market beleagured by high prices. Even though it is not a top vintage – the best wines are very good and these are the best prices we have seen on these wines for quite a while. It is even possible this year to get the highly sought after first tranche allocations of the top wines. Once you have these allocations you are normally offered them every year in the future – so it is a good year to start investing.

The campaign is also proceeding faster than normal and most, if not all, of the prices should be out by the end of this month.  In fact, the speed of the releases in this campaign has been ridiculous – with 80 Chateaux releasing wines last week and 40 Chateaux released the Tuesday before. It has made things next to impossible for merchants (and customers) to keep on top of – let alone present each wine in the way that it should be presented in a less than stellar year.

Disclosure:  Rooftop Cellars is running a futures business this year – including first tranche allocations of Lafite, Latour, Cheval Blanc, and other First Growths.  If you are interested please contact me cody@rooftopcellars.com – allocations are selling out quickly.

A Quick Note on Bordeaux Classifications

Aron in the Medoc with Pichon in the Background

It is often said that French wine law is confusing and potentially archaic. While there may be some validity to this accusation, that same wine law is extremely useful for wine collectors. Much of the confusion comes from the use of terminology which, to be honest, appears to be deliberately confusing.

Bordeaux is easily as big an offender as any other wine regions in France. Certainly Burgundy is often accused of cryptic elitist terminology, but in truth Bordeaux is probably more confusing, and appears to be intentionally so.

Most people are familiar with the classification of 1855. This classification tiered the red wines of the Médoc (as well, strangely as Chateau Haut Brion, which is NOT from the Médoc ) and the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. The classification categorized the top wines into five tiers (again confusingly named “growths” though they have nothing directly to do with grape vines). To make matters worse, all the wines were given the title “Grand Cru Classé”. Several other regions in France use the term “Grand Cru” notably Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne. In Burgundy the term is reserved only for specific, usually very small, vineyard sites. Similarly in Alsace the term refers to specific vineyard plots (although few would directly compare a grand cru in Alsace to one in Burgundy). In Champagne the term Grand Cru refers to all the vineyard sites in selected Grand Cru villages. Clearly the meaning of the term is not equally applied across the great wine regions of France.

So, fair enough, use of the term “Grand Cru” is admittedly confusing. However in the Médoc we have a clear echelon of quality levels: Grand Cru Classé – First Growth through to Grand Cru Classé – Fifth Growth. Below that are the well-known Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux Supérieur and AOC Bordeaux.

Aron in St. Emilion

Seems simple enough, right? Well, in the mid-20th century the châteaux of St. Emilion were classified. Naturally the first step was to grant ALL AOC St. Emilion a certain designation. Yes, you guessed it; all AOC St. Emilion is entitled to the term “Grand Cru”. The better wines are in fact given the title Grand Cru Classé which is very nicely congruous to the designations in the Médoc. The top two tiers (equivalent to First and Second growth wines in the Médoc) are Premiers Grand Cru Classé “A” and Premier Grand Cru Classé “B”. Only two wines earned the top category and 12 the second tier.

In order to be more progressive, the classification of St. Emilion is reviewed every 10 years (the Médoc classification has only had two minor changes in the last century and a half). However the re-classification of 2006 was challenged legally by four châteaux who were demoted in the classification. This legal battle continued for several years and the end result was that the four demoted chateaux were not demoted, and six of the eight promoted châteaux were granted their promotions.

Hopefully that provides some clarification to the terminology in these two famous parts of Bordeaux.

Aron Louis is a Vancouver wine consultant who assists with marketing and sales at Rooftop.

2012 Ch. Belgrave Tasting

This is the most civilized tasting in Bordeaux and really an example of what the tastings should be like.  It is run by a negociant company and they seat you in a large room and then bring you the wines 8-10 at a time and allow you to taste through them slowly by appellation.  There is room for your notes, your computer, and anything else you might want to do.  To make the tasting even better – they serve you lunch in between.

Here are my notes on the wines we tasted:

St. Julien:  The St. Julien’s were very consistent across the board.  None were spectacular and none were awful.  The Ch. Leoville Barton was the class of the wines – it had sweet red cassis fruit and was soft and elegant with a long finish.  The Ch. Beychevelle also showed well with lifted aromatics. The Ch. Lagrange, Ch. Talbot, and Ch. St. Pierre were quality wines but with tannins that were a little too dry.  In contrast, Ch. Gloria was more along the Leoville Barton style with soft and silky tannins with fresh fruit. The Ch. du Glana seemed a touch over-oaked.

Haut-Medoc: The Ch. Belgrave was the best wine of the flight.  The estate sits right on the border with St. Julien and the wine had more in common with the St. Julien wines than the Haut-Medoc wines. It was a little darker in colour than the St. Julien’s, well balanced, with strong aromatics and a long finish.  The rest of the wines disappointed a little bit. The Ch. Senejac was good, but is a soft wine that will be for early drinking. Ch. Sociando Mallet, Ch. Camensac were a little too tannic. Ch. La Tour Carnet was again made in its modern over-extracted style – which was well done for the vintage – if you like that type of wine. Similarly, Ch. Cantemerle is now being made in a more modern style and resembled the La Tour Carnet with is candied fruit.

Pessac-Leognan: As in previous years, the Ch. Haut-Bailly stood out again to me.  It was done in a soft and silky style this year – which really matched what the vintage had to offer. Ch. de Fieuzal also showed well and may be a value in this difficult vintage.  Ch. Malarctic-Lagraviere, Ch. Olivier, Ch. Carbonnieux, and Ch. Le Carmes Haut-Brion all made good wines that were a touch over-ripe and a touch too tannic – but good nonetheless. Ch. Pape Clement was not up to its normal standards as it was closed and extremely tannic. Ch. Domaine de Chevalier showed a more restrained use of oak than in previous vintages while Ch. Latour-Martillac  used a bit too much oak this year.

Dry White Wines:  I found that the 2011 whites were not as good as advertised. These were good wines but not exceptional.  They seemed to be a touch more oaked than normal. The Ch. Malartic-Lagraviere was my preferred wine.  It was dry, with tons of citrus flavours and a long, long finish. The Ch. de Fieuzal  showed well with nice sweet fruit – with a touch of citrus and anise. Ch. Rahoul and Ch. La Garde both had sweet fruit with nice acidity. The Ch. Latour-Martillac was very dry and a touch grassy – a very different style but very nice. The two oaked wines Ch. Smith-Haut Lafite and Ch. Domaine de Chevalier were good but the big oaked style seemed ill-suited to the vintage. The Ch. Pape Clement did not show well given how expensive it will be.

To see my notes from the Ch. Belgrave tasting last year go here.

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Lunch at Ch. Destieux

lunch-at-destieux

On my trip to Bordeaux, I was lucky enough to be invited for lunch at Ch. Destieux by Mr. Dauriac. My negociant and our courtier joined us as well.  At lunch we talked about the wine business, the medical laboratory testing business (which we both have experience in), and life learnings in general. It was a wonderfully enjoyable lunch and I wish more of business and life in general was like this – having real conversations and dialogue with the people you are working with – without time constraints, agendas, and deliverables.

Mr Dauriac owns a number of estates including Ch. Destieux in St. Emilion and Ch. La Clemence in Pomerol and he treated us to a vertical from each estate during lunch.  We had Ch. Destieux 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999 and Ch. La Clemence 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999.

Ch. Destieux is an underappreciated wine from St. Emilion that ages well and offers a great value to price ratio.  Ch. La Clemence is a very (I mean very) small Pomerol estate that makes great wine.You have probably never heard of it but you should try these wines – if you can find some bottles – because of the small production they are rare.

I have included below my notes on all the wines and Rooftop will be offering these wines in the next couple of weeks – on offers presented to us by Mr. Dauriac.

I can’t thank him enough for his generosity and I hope that you will be able to enjoy these wines sometime in the near future.

1994 Ch. Destieux: Ruby red.  Deep, dark and still youthful looking. Intense mature nose of earth, mushrooms and plum with hints of licorice and anise.  Soft on the palate with mature fruit and soft tannins. Pleasant and nice.  For drinking now.

1995 Ch. Destieux: Lighter in density than the 1994.  Brighter red but with more bricking on the edge. More closed on the nose but much more youthful and primary with driven red plum aromas.  Beautifully acidic on the palate with good structure, medium tannins, nice balance, and a medium to long finish. This is a wonderful wine. Very refreshing.  Elegant and for near term drinking.

1996 Ch. Destieux: Deep dark ruby red.  Quite dark and opaque. Dense out to the edge with no bricking. Very primary fruit with a touch of vanilla.  This wine is just beginning to mature.  Medium plus body with much more acidity and structure than the 1995 and much more concentrated.  Good wine that is built to last. This will last for a long time. Buy as much as you can get. This was my favorite wine of the tasting.

1999 Ch. Destieux: Darkest of the Destieux wines.  Concentrated.  Nose of sweet red fruit and caramel.  A very primary wine at this stage in its life.  Good balance with medium body and nice acididty.  A good choice for you – if you like a fruitier profile on your Bordeaux.

1996 Ch. La Clemence: Ruby red.  A touch of transparency on the edge.  Bright and youthful. Far more subtle and complex than the Ch. Destieux wines with aromas of plum, earth, tobacco, tar, and anise. But still concentrated and powerful. Balanced with a long finish.  Classic wine.

1997 Ch. La Clemence: Still very bright and youthful.  Opaque. Classic 1997 wine with dark fruit, strong acidity, light body and extracted tannins.  Aging well and quite pleasant and elegant.  Good wine.  For drinking in the near term.

1998 Ch. La Clemence:  Very deep and dark colour.  Opaque.  Huge.  This is a big wine.  Intense mature and developed nose of complex aromas that include plum, earth, and leather.  A medium bodied wine with fresh fruit and good acidity and a touch of herbaceousness.  A great wine – but, personally, I feel it is a touch below the 1996.  Recommend not decanting this wine – open and drink.

1999 Ch. La Clemence: Even deeper and darker in colour than the 1998.  Blood red. Bright and Youhtful. Wow. More primary with a soft and sweet nose of fruit and caramel mixed with medicinal herbs.  This wine is floral on the palate with strong acidity and a finish that is a touch too short.  Good wine. That is elegant and drinkable right now.

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