Decanter's consultant editor Steven Spurrier brings you his personal view of the Bordeaux barrel tastings.
Watching the Grand National at home in Dorset barely 24 hours after having lunched with the great and the good of Bordeaux at Chateau Giscours, it occurred to me how many similarities exist between racing and wine-producing: the horses are the wines, their bloodlines the terroirs, the owners pay the bills and hope for rewards, the trainers are the vineyard and cellar technicians, the jockeys the winemakers, the bookies, whose odds generally keep them ahead, are the negotiants and the punters are the punters. £300,000,000 – less than the value of a Medoc First Growth
– was placed in bets yesterday and the second favourite came first. Plus ca change.
I arrived on Friday for a vertical tasting of 17 vintages from Chateau Le Crock, the Saint-Estephe estate bought in 1903 by the Cuvelier family, who purchased Leoville-Poyferre in 1920. The 2007 was declared un vin de charme and importers Roy Richards and Mark Walford, who had been there a week, agreed that 2007 produced “a very refreshing style of wine with fine tannins; if you tried to extract too much in this vintage, all you got was a tough, vegetal wine with a common finish”. This pretty much proved to be true.
The main reason for arriving early was a vertical of Leoville-Poyferre of every vintage back to 1979. While Le Crock showed how well it did in heatwave vintages like 2003 and 1989 due to its water-retaining clay soil, Poyferre scored in the classics, with 2005, 2000 and 1982 standing out, then 1989, then 1996, 1995 and 1983.
For lunch – Julia Harding was there representing Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin representing Robert Parker and Michael Schuster representing The World of Fine Wine – Didier Cuvelier served the 1964, still young and powerful, and the famous 1929, which still showed the terrific ripeness of that year, but actually the younger wines, certainly 1995, went down more easily.
Then down to Bordeaux to stay at the very central Hotel Normandie and walk across the Allees de Tourny to the reliable and always full brasserie Les Noailles for dinner and an early night before the marathon began on Sunday. (Actually, the Bordeaux Marathon did begin that morning, a nice coincidence).
Off after breakfast at the Normandie, where I bumped into Jasper Morris of Berry Brothers, who was off to play cricket for the UK wine trade team against the Bordelais at Giscours, to Bill Blatch’s wide-ranging tasting, where I stuck to the Medocs. Bill liked the vintage, but was in two minds about buying:
‘2006s went slowly and the emerging markets like China and Russia only buy once the wine is bottled, so if we have to finance 2007 as well as 2006, this could be a strain. However, there are so many new negotiants now who will do anything for an allocation, that if we don’t buy, the stock will be picked up and the loyalty of the Bordeaux chateaux often goes to the last purchaser.’
Then over to Pomerol for lunch at Le Gay, where owner Catherine Pere-Verge, Michel Rolland and I spent more time talking about their vineyards in Argentina than those outside the window. After an introductory tasting at La Dauphine of the splendid Cercle Rive Droite wines, it was over to taste with Jonathan Malthus at Chateau Teyssier, where I was told I had missed Robert Parker by 15 minutes. Malthus is on top of his game, expanding in Saint-Emilion, in the Barossa and on the point of buying an estate in Spring Mountain in Napa (‘at least it’s got some land, not just vines, so the children can run around’). After being most impressed by his wines – more fruit, less structure than in 2006 and 2005 – I sat down to connect with his Wi-Fi to send my first blog to Decanter. Jonathan’s password is ’95/100Parker’ which my laptop refused to accept.
First stop chez JP Moueix, where I was joined by the group I would stick with most of the time, except at the UGC tastings, where they taste blind and I do not. With Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Fiona Thienpont, Beverley Blanning and James Lawther, I was outnumbered 5-1 by MWs.
Christian Moueix had decided to start picking on September 15th, earlier than most, to preserve the fruit. I found the wines charming, but one of the MWs pronounced that ‘there was nothing behind the façade’.
Then off to Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan (‘a vintage saved by Cabernet Franc’), and the other top Pomerols before finishing up the Cercle Rive Droite tastings, concentrating on Saint-Emilions, where most chateaux had disagreed with Christian Moueix and picked late.
Then back into the car and over to Doisy-Vedrines in Barsac (who ever said the marathon was going to be easy?) to taste a lovely range of wines, recognised as the success of the vintage, with Rieussec being my favourite, but I didn’t taste at Climens.
Up early to get to La Mission Haut-Brion by 9am to find that Bahans Haut-Brion had been replaced by Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, named after the original American purchaser, Clarence Dillon. This will still be the “second wine” and Jean-Philippe Delmas remarked that they had decided not to change the translation for the Chinese so as not to confuse them.
Haut-Brion white, picked over 10 days with 100 pickers to produce just 500 cases, was magnificent; the purity and texture of Haut-Brion red also. Then the UGC tasting of the northern Graves at Malartic-Lagraviere (Bollinger was served as an aperitif) then back over to the Right Bank to taste a large range of non-Bordeaux biodynamic wines under the ‘Biodyvin’ label at Fonroque, then a small family dinner and a much-needed early night La Conseillante.
First stop was the blind tasting of the 1ers Grand Crus Classes of Saint-Emilion at Beausejour, the only place I taste blind, where I managed to put Angelus, Figeac and Pavie equal top, which proves that I share at least some of Robert Parker’s opinions.
Then the UGC tasting at Dassault, where it became plain that many of the wines were over-extracted, but of course these will impress more in the early tastings than the seductive, lifted fruit of the likes of Larcis Ducasse and La Tour Figeac.
Another delicious lunch, then back to the Medoc to taste at Dourthe, one of the biggest buyers En Primeur, where I was told that there had been ‘50% less cellar work than in 2006 and 30% less new oak, as we didn’t want to mess up the already delicate fruit, this is a vintage you can drink young, while waiting for the others’. If you can afford it, that is.
Then a pleasant trip north via Issan, Boyd-Cantenac and Saint-Pierre, all performing well, to stay at Cordeillan-Bages, where the Cazes family ambience got my laptop working again.
This was the big day, with all the big guns of the northern Medoc to visit with my MW-dominated group, to which a sixth, Bordeaux veteran John Salvi, had been added.
Comparisons were endless, the wines very different. Of the Pauillac First Growths, I placed Lafite, Mouton and Latour in that order. Wines apart, the high-spot of the day was lunch at Ducru-Beaucaillou with owner Bruno Borie behind the most impressive stoves. Even so, we had to leave on time to get to his elder brother’s Grand-Puy-Lacoste, ending up at Leoville-Las Cases, whose wine must be one of the best of the vintage – Jean-Hubert Delon comparing it to 1996, saying it was un vin de garde in a year which is the opposite.
The group had been rather surprised by the soft, fruitiness at Latour, which Frederic Engerer said was due to their wanting to preserve ‘the smiling side of the fruit that mother nature has given us, Latour is still just a baby’. Compared to Las Cases, he was correct.
Dinner with an old Medoc friend from my days in Paris at Jean-Michel Cazes’s Café Lavinal in the village of Bages wrapped up the day.
The last day began at Palmer, where Thomas Duroux said they had made every sacrifice to produce the best possible wine, admitting that they could afford it, as the coffers were full after the last few vintages. This was a key point, repeated by Paul Pontallier at Margaux, that their clients now expected the very best and they had to deliver it, adding that even 10 years ago they might not have made the same effort and that 20 years ago they would have lost half the crop and 50 years ago probably all of it.
Palmer showed great richness and Margaux great purity, two top wines of the vintage. At the UGC tastings I thought the Margaux appellation, often all over the place, was quite homogenuous, which an owner put down to ‘being further south than the others, we got better weather’, an argument they hadn’t used in the past.
Finally the lunch at Giscours, with the aperitif outside in one of the huge barns where Pierre Tari used to keep his polo ponies. Partially due to a cloudless blue sky, a very cheerful atmosphere prevailed. Not much talk about prices, but when I got onto the subject with Rausan-Segla owner John Kolasa at lunch, he replied firmly that ‘we have to come down 30% to respect our customers, if not the price will be too high; 2007, like 1997 and 1987 is a vintage for drinking, not investing in’. My thoughts entirely.