Interview: David Launay of Chateau Gruaud Larose

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  • Tuesday 12 June 2012

With the Great Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter fast-approaching, Decanter speaks to David Launay, General Manager of Chateau Gruaud Larose, who will be presenting one of this year's masterclasses to talk about which wines he will be showcasing, his thoughts on the 2011 vintage and recommendations for good-value wines.

David Launey

Have you been to a Decanter Encounter before?

I have attended two events in the past – one of them was Decanter's Great Fine Wine Encounter in November and at the other I represented the St Julian appellation, showcasing three vintages as part of a bigger Bordeaux masterclass.

So this will be my second masterclass, but my first presenting on my own, and presenting only Gruaud Larose. It’s an honour to be asked and I’m really looking forward to it.

Which wines will you be presenting?

It will be a vertical tasting, showing 10 vintages. They will range from 1989 up to 2010, so it’s going to be nice to experience three generations worth of wine.

What do you hope wine enthusiasts will learn from your masterclass?

For some of them I hope it will be a brand new discovery - it’s a great opportunity for people to taste wines through different ages, and to see the evolution over the years.

With three decades at the tasting you have three evolutions of wine - from the very young wines with more fruitiness and power from the tannins to the older ones where you can really taste the terroir of Gruaud. You’ll also be able to see a real consistency to the quality of wines from lots of different vintages. There really is no gap in quality. I also want consumers to see that Gruaud Larose is a wine that can age very well and can provide great complexities every year.

What makes Gruaud Larose and Saint-Julien so special?

Gruaud Larose is very special because it’s a large estate but it’s also a single vineyard. It’s part of the the 1855 Classification and we’ve never expanded since then. The unique soil makes wines with a combination of power, which is the taken from Gruaud side and elegance and finesse you get from the Larose side.

Moving on to your most recent wines, how would you sum up the 2011 vintage?

For us it was a great performing vintage, very successful. The vintage conditions were tough and we only produced a small crop but every year we are improving our techniques and adapting ourselves to the weather conditions.

To compare with other vintages, the 2011s are probably better than the 2007s and 2008s which are quite similar classic vintages. With such a small production we made sure we carefully selected the best grapes - we wanted of course to provide the best to our customers. But it was a tough vintage on the production side and also on the selling side.

The 2011 en primeur campaign has had some negative press, particularly regarding chateau prices, do you think consumers have lost faith in the system…

It’s a system which has been working for 300 years and I think the background of the system proves by itself that it works. It’s a global business but today the world economy is not good at all - people are very pessimistic about the future. The market is difficult, and not only for wine, it’s very complicated right now.

Aside from that, it could be more of a problem if prices remain too high, especially when you are getting back to these kind of vintages. Where there is an exceptional year like 2009 or 2010 you have seen that we can reach some crazy pricing levels – that’s because the world knows when Bordeaux produces an exceptional year it’s probably one of the greatest wines in the world but when the wines are getting back to something more classic and more normal people are expecting to pay a price which is equal to what you can get for top Burgundy or top Rhone Valley and that’s maybe the problem for Bordeaux today.

Gruaud doesn’t really have this problem as we try to be very stable with our prices year after year. If we increase we try not to increase too high so if we have to drop the prices the difference is not so important. For us it’s more about maintaining the stability of prices and also to believe that what the consumer is paying is worth it for the right quality we are producing.

But it’s true that for some chateaux the prices probably went too high this year and that’s why the market isn’t very positive, this combined with insecurities on the Euro currency mean distributors and consumers are quite scared to invest.

So if wine drinkers don't want to invest and are looking for good value wines, what would you recommend for everyday drinking?

I wish they could drink Gruaud Larose every day…but a second wine would be good! The core market for a bottle of Bordeaux for instance is between €15-20 so a second wine could fit in that category. People nowadays aren’t drinking everyday, they prefer to pay for a good bottle and drink it at the weekend. Gruaud Larose would be for a special occasion, but Sarget (Gruaud Larose’s second wine) would a good wine for a Friday or Saturday night to have with friends during a meal.

I’m pretty open minded on other wines, at the moment I’m very interested in Spanish wine and the Rhone Valley wines, and that’s where you can get some very good value for money.

What wines would you choose to drink if you were celebrating?

For a special occasion I would definitely open a nice bottle of Champagne as a starter and then I would probably go for a white Chardonnay either Chablis Premier or Grand Cru, or Puligny-Montrachet – that’s my favourite wine. Then red is more difficult – I’m a big fan of Californian wines, Ridge Montebelo 1996 or 1981 are amazing wines to drink now, I’d also have a bottle of Vega Sicilia.

Are there any wines you’ve never tasted that you really want to?

That’s a good question – it would have to be something very special, probably Sassicaia 1997.

For wine enthusiasts visiting London for the Encounter, where would your top restaurant recommendations be?

For me it has to be La Gavroche - I think it’s the best value for money meal you can get in West London. It’s very traditional but the service is fantastic, the food is amazing and the price is really fair. And it has a large, well-chosen wine list.

And if we find ourselves in Bordeaux?

One of my favourites is La Brasserie Bordelaise - it’s a combination of a restaurant and brasserie. Their bistro-style food is amazing and it has a fantastic wine selection.

A wine bar called Wine and Soul is also good – their focus is Bordeaux wines with really good prices on their top styles. They also play jazz and blues music which I like.

Lastly I would recommend Le Carre, - it’s right in the middle of the Chatrons area, the old part of Bordeaux, which is also the negociants area. It’s a very trendy place to go with a great wine list, good food and a friendly service. It’s casual yet classy.

David is presenting a Gruaud Larose masterclass at Decanter's Great Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter, this Saturday 16th June, at The Landmark Hotel in London. For more information and to book tickets click here.

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