Following the last couple of En primeur weeks in Bordeaux I have done a picture blog – 2014s & 2015s – but this year (April 2017 tasting the 2016s) I am choosing to repeat the posts I wrote on the C&B Blog. Those posts were daily reports but below they are “as one”.
DAY 1 – Early starts and first impressions
So the assessment of 2016 Bordeaux started yesterday morning. I had overnighted in St.Emilion (see HERE for write-up) but the core of the team – those that would do all 7 days – met at Bordeaux airport at 10am…a few having had 3am alarm calls.
The Bordeaux weather was bi-polar, hot sun one minute and grey showers the next…the Atlantic having its influence for sure. From the airport we headed north to a negociant tasting in Margaux. It is a great first chance to assess the vintage as a whole; wines from many communes and all in once place. Guy and myself “plonked” our laptops down and got typing, trying desperately not to forget (easier than you’d think) which wine we were tasting as we walked to the bottles and back to basecamp for the note making.
There can be a “first day of school” feeling about these tastings, same people, same place, same time of year. Same conversations too – are the wines good? Who will buy? What will the prices be? The thing you don’t want is to taste 20+ wines and be thinking “oh no this is going to be a long hard week’ with the 2016s this will not be the case. Why? Well primarily because the wines appear to be easy to taste. The alcohols are not crazy at all, the acidity good and the tannin is there but not aggressive. I was encouraged. You are almost not allowed to use the “damned with feint praise” phrase and say “classical” but it might be a good moniker.
One thing that has changed a lot these last few years is how people take notes – at all tastings but especially here – it was always a tasting book and pen, there are now: Dictaphones, Ipads, phones, cameras and laptops all being used. Is it progress? I guess it is just a different thing. From my standpoint at least typing means I don’t have to try and understand my own handwriting later!
After a good buffet lunch (must bring my own larger plate next year) we headed off in our chariot, Lucille at the helm, back to Bordeaux. Mr Marus was desperate to get his ironing done much to everyone’s bemusement. Marco had arrived from HK via Paris and would be ready for dinner later, we all needed a snooze. Dinner was Italian with Provence rose and two Italian reds…
A long week lies ahead but from these first tastings it shouldn’t be a hardship…many, many Chateaux to visit, wines to assess, miles to cover and interviews to do (and a bit of food to eat along the way)…bring it on
Wines tasted: 55
Wines drunk: 6
Wine of the day? A close run thing but probably Calon Segur just ahead of Montrose
Topics of discussion at dinner: Tattoos, piercings, watches, films, techonolgy.
DAY 2 – Foggy Monday morning
So day two dawned with a very foggy start. Not what we had expected having looked forward to a picturesque breakfast on the 7th floor. Whilst on the topic of breakfast it is comfortably the most important meal of any wine tasting day…skimp on breakfast and you’ll make bad choices later…It may also be that it’s the last time you see fruit.
Our day then started on the right bank at Angelus, we tried to be early but were politely asked to wait, it was worth it, two good good wines, then to Figeac which always has a lovely feel about it, a bit more “trad”, a bit old school. The wine may well need time, as ever, but is very impressive and “not” comparable to any other vintage. Then leaving St.Emilion we dashed across to Conseillante and their “family day” offered up a chance to not only taste 2016 (delicate and good) but also 2009, 2006 and 1996 from an array of formats. All were tasting (drinking) well, the 1996 was mature and lovely, the 2006 a real over performer, quite decadent, and the 2009 just about to show its hedonistic best. The lunch that followed was a competitive affair but once we befriended “Gary the Goujon” who was proffering Gambas we were all sorted.
Parcels was the next theme and that only means one estate – Chateau Rouget – and our great friend Edouard Labruyere. Now Edouard wears a few hats – from Moulin-a-Vent to Burgundy to Champagne and in this case Pomerol. But whatever hat he wears the key thing is terroir and so he has been experimenting with different parcels from his holdings for some time. The results are as interesting as they are impressive. The main Chateau Rouget is yet again a star in the making!
Next destination was back to Bordeaux for a big UGC tasting at Hangar 14 on the Quai (the home of Bordeaux negociants). This is a scenario that shows a lot of wines and therefore offers a chance to try many wine alongside each other…a real feel for this tender, quality, mellow and fresh vintage was appearing. We were finally turfed out at 5.30pm and from there there was one thing to do…a beer! When you are tasting through the days one tries to put off thoughts of the first beer, once the idea really sows a seed it is hard to think of much else, this is the most hard earned of all beers (well it feels this way).
One more tasting loomed before dinner and it was a quick one, a “small estates of the Graves” tasting…interesting wines and it was here that we saw our friends from Chateau L’Avocat, Sean later joined us for dinner which was a fun affair, never lacking in opinion. After dinner drinks were somewhat cast aside by the first tastings of tomorrow, for which we would “divide and conquer” being 8am (Les Carmes Haut Brion) and 8.30am (Palmer)…
Onwards as they say!
Wines tasted so far: 99
Wines drunk: 12
Wine of the day? A close run thing but for me: Grand Puy Lacoste and Figeac
Topics of discussion at dinner: ZZTop, blue food (the lack thereof), the 1980s.
DAY 3 blog – Divide and conquer
With day three dawning we split the resources, a car heading up to taste at Palmer – typically good wines though small production – and the main “wagon” heading to the ever fascinating – see pictures – Les Carmes Haut-Brion. “Les Carmes” is an estate pushing the boundaries “big-time” and the wine is excellent…watch this space.
Both parties then met at the Union des Grands Cru (UGC) tasting of Pessac and Graves wines held, this year, at Chateau Carbonnieux (not Cabbanieux Mr Muller!). These tastings are a great chance to look at most – not every Chateau “plays well with others” – of the producers of note in a particular commune. There were many noteworthy reds, not only from the bigger names, but the tasting stood out more t me for the lack of promise from the dry white wines. The extreme heat of the summer seemly rendered them a little lacking in “zip” and “energy” which they need. Some were ok but all will need early drinking.
It was then first growth time as we tasted the Clarence Dillon wines from the estates of Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion and Quintus. Always a studious tasting this one. Which will the team prefer out of the two big names? – Haut Brion this year – and how will the wines taste (very good being the answer). The whites here showed some promise, as ever quantities are miniscule.
“Baguettes on the run” was the order of the day as we now had to get from Pessac up to the very northern end of things for a tasting at Lafon-Rochet with Basile Tesseron. A good friend of the team Basile appeared genuinely delighted with his wine in 2016.
From there we stayed in St.Estephe and visited Phelan Segur, a real favourite of mine and the team. Despite visiting every year we made a bit of a dog’s dinner of finding Phelan! Follow your nose not the SatNav being the lesson we should learn! Veronique, as charming as ever, and the team Phelan has made a special wine in 2016. It was here that a theme appeared, we (me usually) asked the age old (i.e. predictable) question of what vintage do you compare it to? And winemakers and owners at almost all estates have no clear answer – the growing season was so wonderfully weird that this is a properly unique vintage.
A quick dash back down the road afforded us the quickest of looks at the UGC tasting of Pauillac and St.Estephe wines at Chateau Batailley. The long walk from the carpark over the road meaning that we almost left before we arrived.
Now just two visits to go – Lucille at the helm of the big wagon and Joe in charge of the car, both doing sterling work of the driving – we felt like we were on the home run – Cos d’Estournel was up next and once Mr Marus had managed not to get run over entering the gates we tasted the wines… Cos fans won’t be disappointed – a member of the press we bumped into absolutely loved the wines.
We were now at least pointing in the correct direction, that of Bordeaux, as we headed to Pichon Baron. This was a great example of how a good team can enhance an, already good, experience. From the moment we arrived there was genuine enthusiasm (despite how many people they must have seen) and a great tasting. Pichon Baron is on fine form this year but so were all the other wines (and there were quite a few, every time we thought we were finished there was one more wine). Suduiraut was a cleansing and lifting end to the day…time for some snoring on the return to Bordeaux!
One thing can’t escape a mention on the blog and that was Mr Muller’s trousers – he looked like he had been “snowed on” from the waste down, tweed apparently, but carried it off with his usual (slight?) over confidence. The one other note of sartorial significance seems to be that whilst some merchants sport red trousers at every opportunity the “must have” have item Chez Corney & Barrow is blue suede boots!
Dinner at a new, to us, restaurant called Chez Dupont was good, hearty, just what the doctor ordered and all aided by good service and some Cantemerle 2008!
Getting to sleep was not a problem!
Wines tasted so far: 162
Wines drunk so far: 15
Wines of the day? Haut-Brion, Palmer, Pichon Baron
Value picks? Phelan-Segur, Cantemerle, Angludet, Lafon-Rochet
Topics of discussion at dinner: Food, food, trousers and wine.
After dinner drinks round: 4 x Guiness and 3x Cognac
DAY 4 blog – A lot of tasting, opinions getting formed…
6.30am breakfast and the “wheels roll” at 7am! However many times you do it there is just something odd (wrong?) about leaving for a wine tasting in the dark!
To lighten the spirits DJ Seddon put Bob Marley on the playlist and away we went, heading north to Branaire-Ducru and then Leoville Barton both of which were on form. St.Julien is probably the most consistent left bank commune at En Primeur time, to my palate at least. We then stayed in this commune and went to the UGC at Chateau Talbot. Getting to a big tasting early is always a good thing, the wines are cool and the room – and it is quite a room at Talbot – is pretty quiet.
The welcome was very warm and as we posed for a team picture by a lovely old car we were told how the owners wife had recently taken his first daughter to the church for her marriage in the very same way that his wife had arrived! Wine is always better when there is a story.
Chateau Kirwan was next on the list and this was for the Margaux (commune) UGC, Kirwan clearly took this seriously as there was almost a parking attendant for each vehicle! It was good to get the whole commune tasted as there had been some names we had not managed until then. We bumped into Neal Martin who was on his last day of tasting after two and a half weeks, he was looking forward to “beans on toast”…
We then headed back to more central Bordeaux, en route to the afternoons tasting, for a stop at a restaurant we always visit. Café de L’Esperance has become synonymous with the veal chop and chips that we love, it didn’t disappoint. Mr Muller showed of his horticultural prowess by naming all the flowers between the car park and the restaurant…who knew?
The afternoon tasting, referred to above, was at one of the big negociants. A great opportunity to fill gaps, to re-taste, and to compare certain wines. It is rare that a wine doesn’t show best at the Chateau but unless you spent the whole spring in the region you can’t visit everyone. This company prepare good samples and run a great session. One new phrase was born, a wine was described as “polished” by one of the team and Mr Muller said “yes it has certainly has a visit from Mr Sheen”…these things tend to stick.
One last tasting, but an important one, we headed up the medoc again to the ever impeccable Chateau Margaux. They are fast becoming the kings of the “selection” process, only 26% of the production going into the first wine itself.
A swift “demi” was then consumed as we wished Sara and Joe safe travels home. Back at the hotel an early night was the universal choice…unsurprisingly the following morning was to be another early one…
Wines tasted so far: 210
Wines drunk: 18
Topics of discussion at dinner: Travel and a little politics.
After dinner round: Rum for Mr Marus (he was out!)
DAY 5 – “Second Growths first and First Growths second”
It was a very early start made slightly more difficult by the fact that we couldn’t access the 7th floor, where our hotel serves breakfast, until 6.30 as they don’t allow the lift to go there despite Marus and I trying endlessly. Heading out or Bordeaux the traffic was pretty rubbish again but the sun was coming up nicely.
Speaking of sun-related matters Marco notice a rather mammoth Solar farm on our left as we headed up the Medoc that seemed to go on forever. A quick visit to Monsieur Google revels that this is Europe’s biggest Solar farm, covering 293 hectares (La Tache is about 6ha for scale) with 1,000,000 solar cells and it supplies all the electricity for Bordeaux…you learn something every day…
We were headed to pretty much the northern tip of serious Bordeaux wines and that meant St.Estephe, Calon-Segur being the exactly starting point – The quality here has always been good but these last few years it is stellar and Calon itself is one of the very first names that rolls off the tongue when I get asked for highlights in this vintage.
We then dipped down into Pauillac for Leoville Poyferre & Grand-Puy-Lacoste, I love Poyferre but was a tiny bit underwhelmed here, other members of the team weren’t so I put that down to “driver” error. GPL, it’s street name, was yet again a tremendous, tender but proper wine, another good estate arguably punching above its weight these last few years.
Back up the coast road, with a “romantic” view to the right over the Gironde to the Nuclear power plant (different energy!) and to the tropical palm trees of Montrose with the tricolor proudly taking pride of place. The chai, and general facilities here, is/are quite something.
Pauillac again for Pontet Canet. The wine is very good again, rich and full, no second wine was made so it is 100% Grand Vin, this being the reward for the Biodynamics that started 10 years ago. One of the very few places where decanters are used. As you walk through the old vat room (no longer used) anyone who has played cricket is immediately brought to attention by the pungent linseed oil aromas.
Ducru-Beaucaillou was the final stop before Luncheon…a little but like the 2015 this just feels like the home of a “Cabernet Sauvignon Master class”…
It was at this point in the trip where we started to discuss how the producers dress for En prim week. This is a complex game with a few suits in operation, most notably at Latour and Mouton, but in general there are three key things:
- A light but styish, almost always unbranded, down-filled gilet worn under a more formal jacket.
- Scarves, colour and pattern being mood dependent but always using the slip knot technique (number 3 on here )
- Glasses (specs) – these are obviously not for everyone but are a great, firm but gentle, arm waving and emphasizing tool, used to great effect by many.
It was now time for a very brief lunch, we all went for fish – Café Lavinal in the Bages village is a good spot – give it a go. Lunch had to be quick as we had a round of golf booked! Well hardly, but those who have been to Mouton-Rothschild will know what I mean. You are taken to the tasting room, at the back of the chai, by golf cart. The wines though were splendid and the tasting room very busy.
The first growth afternoon carried on with a trip up to Lafite, we took the back road which emphasises that whilst the left bank it largely flat that is not always the case. Continuing the golf theme if you were to use the left bank to create (a ludicrously expensive) golf course then the Pauillac/St.Estephe border would be a good undulating spot. I can’t quite see Lafite and Cos d’Estournel selling up for this purpose though. The tasting room at Lafite has introduced an interesting aid for those, like me and Mr Seddon, who use laptops for our notes, they give you a small lectern – very helpful for avoiding back issues! The wines at Lafite were serious, as they should be, with wonderful potential – very proper.
We then managed to be almost an hour early for Latour but this gave us a great opportunity to watch the horses in action and for me to interview Guy about the tastings so far. The tasting itself was everything you would want from Latour. Despite their decision to release their wines when they start to drink the team at Latour do still show the new vintage, we will have to wait for the release of 2016 but it will be worth the wait! We also got to taste the latest release; Pauillac de Latour 2012, Forts 2011 and Latour 2005 which was very welcome, the Latour 2005 in particular is stunning, just starting to show “it’s stuff”.
Or last appointment of the day was with the charming Anne-Francoise Quié at Rauzan Gassies where we tasted the 2016 from the property and their other estate, Croizet-Bages in Pauillac. Both estates have done a good job. The chai at Rauzan is undergoing major renovation as this sometimes forgotten estate continues it resurgence.
From Margaux it was time to head back to Bordeaux. Marco from HK was now heading off and the Scottish office – Bryce and Chris – were arriving. Dinner at an, undeservedly, empty Le M de Monbadon was a lot of fun with good food and was followed by a (just one!) Calvados.
Friday (Day 6) promised much so it would have been a real shame to start with anything but a clear head!
Wines tasted so far: 246
Wines drunk: 22
Topics of discussion at dinner: Rorke’s drift, Golf and food.
After dinner round: 3 x Calvados, 1 x Armagnac
DAY 6 – One of those special days….
We are lucky in the wine trade to have quite a few days of “work” which our friends and customers would view as anything but. This was just that sort of day. Fitting therefore that we had been joined overnight by Percy and Adam, the team was now at full strength, and at maximum height too!
Unsurprisingly it started with a very early departure from Bordeaux town center, we headed to the right bank. First stop was Clos Saint Martin a tiny exclusivity of ours in St.Emilion. This estate, run and owned by Sophie Fourcade, is an absolute gem. Almost uniquely 15% of the wine is aged in amphora and then the other 16 barrels they make (yes only 16) is aged in barriques from 5 different coopers…this is micro-Bordeaux if ever there was. The 2016 easily rivals the stellar 2015 which is not something I though I’d say this time last year – so impressed was I with the 2015.
From here we dashed to the other side of St.Emilion, on the Pomerol border in fact, to taste at Cheval Blanc. As an aside I have always loved the fact that in Neal Martins book “Pomerol” he included one “outsider”, this was Cheval Blanc. I am not quite sure why but Mr Hodgson was so excited he head butted the tasting room cabinet…The explanation of the wines was very interesting here, 100% new wood is apparently used but I couldn’t find even a trace of that character in the wine. One also gets to taste Yquem, LVMH link you see, and the 2016 is promising indeed!
The crisscrossing continued as we headed back to St.Emilion town and to Ausone. Very few of the team, and certainly not me, had been before to this traditional icon of the commune. Situated as it is right next to Belair-Monange (same owner if you go back far enough). The wines, and there are a few, showed well.
Then a rapid drive back, past the perfect gravel of Cheval Blanc to taste, and interview Olivier Berrouet, at Petrus. The wine is, as one would expect, superb in 2016, all the positive aspects of the vintage – freshness, balance, poise, persistence – shining through in spades but with that extrovert Petrus edge on top. The 2015/2016 pairing here rivaling 1989/1990 for sure. Adam asked Jean-Claude Berrouet – winemaker from 1964-2008 and father of Olivier – which vintage might have parallels to the 2016 the answers were: 1971, 1975, 1998. Now that is a line-up or stellar proportions.
Lunch was taken early at Le Tertre in St.Emilion town. Rather hideous sound track aside they looked after us well. The temperature was now above the mid 20s and feeling more like June than April.
The Mitjavile family were to dominate the early afternoon, never a problem! L’Aurage first and Louis (Lou-Lou). We tasted down in the new cellars, Guy doing an interview that you’ll be able to see soon. The 2016 here is the 10th vintage and continues the upward curve. Lou-Lou joked that he’d make us late for his father to return the “favour” of some other visitors.
To say that Francois was rather swamped at Tertre Roteboeuf wouldn’t be far from the truth, so popular are these wines and is this man! He revels in it though. People often comment that this estate is Burgundian in many ways, I get this but disagree…this is what more Bordeaux should be like! You taste from barrel and re-taste other wines, it is impossible to leave (which we eventually did after an interview) without a smile on your face!
And so to the last visit of the day. To a Dane known for making Spanish wine but now in St.Emilion. Peter Sisseck has taken a circuitous (see Marus I told you I’d get this into the report) route back to Bordeaux where he trained. Rocheyron’s first vintage was 2010 and the 2016 sees further improvements and a stunning end product. Something of tradition is building here as well – that of tasting the soon to be released vintage, 2016 in this case, of Pingus, Flor de Pingus and Psi. What a way to end a day!
The trek back to Bordeaux on a Friday evening was a frustrating one BUT we were going back to Chez Dupont for a second time and good food and chat awaited us…
I started this days post by saying how this was a special day, this is why:
Clos St Martin
Roc de Cambes
Flor de Pingus
Wines tasted so far: 278
Wines drunk: 26
Topics of discussion at lunch: Vinyl vs CDs vs digital, films, a little politics.
Topics of discussion at dinner: Dogs on long journeys.
After dinner round: 4 x Calvados, 1 x Cognac (8x coffee)
Day 7 – Moueix
I said at the end of the Day 6 post that there was a new tradition of tasting Pingus in Bordeaux, well one much older tradition for the C&B team is to spend a Saturday with the Moueix family. Almost always this starts with a tasting in their offices (but not just any office) in Libourne and then we go back to have a relaxed lunch. The format this year followed this pattern. The tasting is a line up of 2016s from the estates they either own or manage or in some cases distribute. This year it was the below. My comments are just that ,“jottings” rather than notes.
Barrail du Blanc – Known in house as “Barry White” this is an absolute star in 2016.
Pindefleurs – Well situated, arguably under appreciated, exciting.
La Serre – Often a little more modern in style but less so in 2016.
De Bel-Air, Lalande-de-Pomerol – Traditional but red fruited.
De Sales – More earthy but good.
Lagrange – If you want a proper Pomerol with great ageing potential and heritage at a good price this will be IT.
Plince – The label is so old school, the wine more full, a Pomerol equivalent of La Serre.
L’Hospitalet de Gazin – Traditional Pomerol, good depth, quite serious.
La Grave a Pomerol – Simply beautiful, red fruited, elegant, more approachable.
Bourgneuf – Slightly higher-octane, a little more forced.
Latour a Pomerol – A real favourite of mine and again in this line up, serious, savoury but with precise fruit, impressive.
Certan de May – Quite bold, tannins maybe need a little time, potential.
Gazin – Classy and bang on form here.
Hosanna – The finest Hosanna I can remember, precise and a little less extrovert than sometimes! Proper!
La Fleur-Petrus – Tasted twice, the first time I found it a little brooding, then 20 minutes later it was far more expressive and driven, excellent.
Trotanoy – Superb, brooding but showing fruit, red and then darker character. Promising a savoury edge, just what it should be.
Belair-Monange – More red and cranberry in fruit character, lifted and poised, good structure under it.
It was a hell of a line-up, encapsulating the character of the vintage, drive, freshness, energy and poise but with guts underneath.
With a more “everyday” hat on we then tasted a few older vintages of wines for the main C&B list, we came to something approaching consensus, more on those another time.
It was now time to head to lunch. We followed Edouard back to Chateau Belair-Monange in St.Emilion and had a lovely magnum of Bollinger NV in the sun. Over a relaxed lunch we had two wines, both from magnum – Belair 2005 (from before the Moueix family had the property) and Trotanoy 1998. The Belair was bright and vibrant with a medium weight, just drinking well now. The “Trot” is a more serious wine. The 1998 vintage is a fabled one the right-bank, the Merlot getting harvested nicely before the rains came. Trotanoy 1998 is a wine I have always loved.
Adam did an interview with Edouard which you will be able to see soon. Before we knew it thoughts turned to the airport which we got to in a rather convoluted fashion by going to Blaye first and then across on the ferry to Lamarque and down the airport to Merignac and home…what a week!
The final stats!
Wines tasted on the trip: 303
Wines drunk: 30