by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-24
Sotheby’s had announced it would auction 75 limited edition Versailles Celebration Cases which house 5 vintages of Chateau Mouton Rothschild to be given towards the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. Each beautifully crafted case honours the rich cultural history of the domain and the Palace of Versailles.
However, as a result of the terrible fire at Notre Dame on 15 April, 2019, yesterday Château Mouton Rothschild and the Palace of Versailles jointly announced that the sale proceeds of the 25 cases sold in London for in excess of £750,000 would be donated to efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral.
The cases offered in London realised £752,620 / US$983,148 / HK$7.7 million, bringing the combined total for the 50 cases sold in London and Hong Kong to £1.4 million / US$1.9 million / HK$14.8 million.
Proceeds from the final tranche of 25 cases to be offered by Sotheby’s in New York on 4 May will still go towards funding restoration projects at Versailles, as will funds raised from the first tranche of 25 cases sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on 1 April.
Each case presents five Château Mouton Rothschild vintages with labels by outstanding contemporary artists who have also exhibited at the Palace of Versailles:
Château Mouton Rothschild 2005 - Giuseppe Penone: Palace of Versailles, 2013
Château Mouton Rothschild 2007 - Bernar Venet: Palace of Versailles, 2011
Château Mouton Rothschild 2009 - Anish Kapoor : Palace of Versailles, 2015
Château Mouton Rothschild 2010 - Jeff Koons: Palace of Versailles, 2008-9
Château Mouton Rothschild 2013 - Lee Ufan: Palace of Versailles, 2014
The cases offered across a trio of international auctions at Sotheby’s throughout the Spring 2019, begun in Hong Kong on 1 April, followed by London on 17 April and concluding in New York on 4 May. Successful bidders will also receive an invitation for them and a guest to attend a private visit and tasting at Château Mouton Rothschild and an exclusive event, the Versailles Celebration Gala Dinner, at the Palace of Versailles on 21 September 2019, during which historic ex-cellar vintages will be served including Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 - one of the great vintages of the last century.
For a full list of the artists and labels visit: https://www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art/discover- the-artwork
www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com | Instagram: @moutonnechange
www.chateauversailles.fr | Instagram: @chateauversailles
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-17
A secret of the greatest wines of the world is their balance of glucose and juicy fruit, offset with a certain amount of balancing natural acidity. Perception of sweetness is affected by additional factors beyond fruit acidity, such as oak barrels and amino acids.
The French have a word for a sweet-fruited, succulent mid-palate – sucrosité.
Even the most classic palates enjoy wines that show a crunchy sucrosité. Cross the line in a hot vintage though, and that perfect pitch sweetness turns sugary.
So what are the challenges behind trying to preserve the all-important mid palate character and aromatic profile in a vintage that’s the hottest in more than 50 years?
Feel vs numbers
Extreme climatic conditions challenged the current winemaking playbook by numbers. We suspect looking at the numbers alone to decide perfect phenolic maturity this year will not have worked as well as trusting in human judgement based on daily tasting of berries from across the myriad plots that make up a typical Château’s vineyard holdings.
In 2016 Figeac’s stunning success was in part down to an ultra-gentle infusion to minimise extraction. It was a year, like 2018, where polyphenals (tannins and colorants referred to as 'IPT' for short) were huge and needed gentle handling. Combine high IPT numbers with high alcohols and the potential to create an out-of-balance wine increases.
High sugar levels in super-ripe fruit can be a worry in a vintage like 2018. Fermentations are prone to stall where high sugar levels feed rapidly rising alcohol levels. In many instances stuck fermentations can be kick-started by tipping in musts from other vats where the fermentation has already successfully completed. But there’s no getting away from the atypical character of the resulting wine. Of course extra sweetness can be offset with acidification in the cellar - permitted in Bordeaux as elsewhere.
To the manor born
It’s a year where terroir appears to have played a significant part in cutting the grade. However unfair this may seem, the best soils and expositions tended to deliver the best wines. A bit like a heat sink regulates and dissipates excessive temperatures, somehow so do the greatest vineyards.
As reported by Jane Anson in Decanter, Eric Kohler put it like this: 'even after 25 years of working at Lafite I continue to be full of admiration for this terroir. Other plots that we own reacted to the heat at times, but Lafite just kept sailing on as usual'.
One lump please
Away from top terroir, there were a lot of sugary mid-palates in 2018. You either enjoy the extra sweetness or you don’t. We’ll be avoiding the wines with more than one lump.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
Much has been said of the hot, drought conditions of 2018 from July onwards and the consequent high alcohols, higher than normal pHs and high polyphenols (colorants and tannins) that resulted in dense, rich, darkly coloured wines.
A warming planet we are told is likely to get warmer and wetter – in which case the sort of challenges posed by the weather in 2018 are likely to become a more common occurrence. Might whole bunch fermentation be a rational response to these increasingly extreme conditions?
Whole bunch fermentation is a bit of a nouveauté in Bordeaux, practised by producers with a leaning towards Burgundy style and weight.
There are a number of arguments in favour of whole bunch:
Stems act as a sponge in fermentation and leach colour out of the wine by absorbing some of the colorants. In a really hot Bordeaux vintage such as 2018 this helps make the wine’s robe less black and more attractive.
Stems in a very hot vintage are more likely to be fully lignified and a higher percentage can be used without imparting unripe flavours into the wine.
Stems give a perception of greater freshness, apparently because of additional molecules that have ‘attractively astringent properties’. In reality they don’t actually lower the pH; they tend to do the opposite since the pH of stems is higher than in grapes.
Stems marginally lower alcohol levels in the finished wine.
Two estates in Bordeaux stand out for their practise of vendanges entières:
Chateau Rouget in Pomerol is owned by Domaines Labruyère who famously own Jacques Prieur in Burgundy. The wine was exceptional, very rich yet beautifully balanced, a gorgeously controlled mid-palate and with alcohols of 14 degrees (low for 2018 given a 85% merlot dominant blend) and with a pH score of 3.62. That’s low for the vintage, where other Chateaux were boasting about how low their pHs were at 3.65-3.69. Small differences in pH can make a very significant perceived difference.
Chateau Carmes Haut Brion appears to also be a fan of Burgundian weight and style, and have used whole bunch for the last few vintages very successfully, having produced a shockingly good 2017. In a much hotter year than any of the preceding 4 vintages how would it fare? Very well, with a perfumed nose, croquant fruit, stacked for sure, yet with real presence and poise fin de bouche.
In our view both these Chateaux produced wonderful wines in 2018, and insomuch make an argument for how whole bunch can work well in a hot vintage where balance and constraint are the watchwords, and where finesse and focus are much harder to achieve than in a more normal, temperate year.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
Given the climatic conditions of the Bordeaux 2018 vintage described in an earlier post here – what impact did this have on the wines produced?
The new chai in Beychevelle which was used for the first time in 2016 and which helped to manage the 2018 vintage.
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
The generic statistics fail to reveal the arduous nature of the vintage for the vine growers and whilst the widespread difficulties left their imprint on the wines the essentially dry and hot summer which lasted through to the autumn brought a phenolic ripeness to the fruit and permitted the chateaux to harvest in conditions almost unseen for decades.
The three main issues in the Bordeaux 2018 vintage:
Devastating phenomena such as hail which continued late into the year
Mildew – a threat which persisted until early summer
Drought-like conditions in the summer and autumn
Hail, as large as tennis balls, arrived in Bordeaux in May. The devastation it wrought on some vineyards was total and some estates will produce no wine from this vintage. Others were luckier although it reduced their crop. Some vines, incredibly, although struck by hail, managed to repair themselves. For one estate this was only the third time in 30 years hail had struck First floors – not an easy phenomenon to manage.
Given the persistent rain the mildew was extensive in Bordeaux in 2018. The warm almost tropical weather in June followed by further outbreaks in July brought huge casualties across Bordeaux. This was a year of firsts. Managers had rarely if ever seen such extensive ground rot and one estate in Margaux lost two-thirds of their crop overnight. This reduced the remaining crop to one bunch per vine. A common way for estates to deal with the threat of mildew is to de-leaf the vine permitting air to circulate and dry out the plant. However, the canopy might be needed later (as it turned out) and if this effeuillage was too drastic the consequences would be felt later on. Maintaining a canopy might also help to maintain the freshness and fruit. As it turned out, the second half of the year needed to use the resources (water) of the first part. Without this water it would have been a very different vintage.
Once the anti-cyclone established itself over the region the grapes matured with a richness unseen before. This in itself meant additional care at harvest time. One estate manager commented that the change in conditions from the end of July to when people returned from their holidays in August was ‘spectacular’. Something he ‘had never witnessed in the 25 years or working on the estate’. Not only that but the meteorological forecast was ‘extraordinary’ – and was fulfilled.
Given the replenishment of the water table the remaining harvestable crop was of outstanding quality. Merlot berries were normal size because their growth cycle coincided more with the presence of water in the soil but the Cabernet Sauvignon were small and concentrated – but not ‘cooked’ nor ‘confit’.
Some estates might produce normal or near-normal yields but 20-30% less was common, 50% not uncommon, with some reduced to 10hl/ha - a volume not seen since the 60s.
Judging maturity is probably the most important factor to produce a good wine. Undoubtedly, given the richness of the grapes this was going to be another area of distinction for the various estates – when to harvest? Ironically, some estates decided to harvest early to preserve acidity (one source of freshness). But it’s not clear this was a functional objective. As one technical manager told us, ‘some estates near them were harvesting 10 days earlier than them, when normally they would be harvesting a week later. Clearly, a disparity in vision. When the harvest did come in, there were still summer conditions and, if they could, estates cooled the fruit down before it was processed. Realising the grapes were rich, extraction would need to be managed ‘almost by itself’. Reducing the temperature of fermentation was a more common technique along with less pigeage or remontage, for example, and other techniques often employed to extract more. This helped to preserve the fruit and freshness. Tannins dissolve more in higher alcohol solutions - extracting the polyphenols wasn’t going to be a problem in 2018. Some estates had the highest IPT (Indice de Polyphénols Totaux) of any year on record.
The successful red wines from the Bordeaux 2018 vintage (and there are a lot less of those than expected) are dense, deep coloured almost opaque in cases. The benchmark 2018 nose is red fruit driven with some chocolate and coffee aromas. The pallet is full and round, and the tannins have the potential to be silky. Surprisingly, the wines have maintained a degree of freshness. The wines are structured with unusual body. It is a good year for the dry whites which have preserved good acidity and are perfectly ripe. The sweet whites are concentrated and rich but lack the complexity of really good years due to the late arrival of botrytis – it was simply too dry.
A model of the new chais currently underway at Chateau Figeac
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
To compare with the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux visit our post 2016 vintage conditions
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron – 2eme cru classe ©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
Looking over the weather stats for the Bordeaux 2018 vintage one is struck by several positive features and, unfortunately, a couple which are likely to cause some difficulties for winemakers. There are certain key weather conditions which the vine needs to perform well. Bearing in mind, always, that generic weather data does not focus on an individual terroir and the way it might cope with the weather nor does it reveal winemakers’ attitudes and decisions.
Bearing in mind the chart above, there are 5 essential conditions for a good vintage:
A calm, warm and relatively dry period in the Spring to permit healthy flowering and
similar conditions for fruit set a little later;
Gradual introduction of dry summer conditions to induce hydric stress no later than veraison (when the grapes change colour)
Warm weather for even maturation with adequately dry (but not too dry) conditions in August and September, and
Optimum harvest conditions in September and October without rain.
Looking at the chart above one can see that many of these conditions appear to have been met except that although cumulative precipitation was beneficial in the first few months, the wet conditions in June and July plus the warm weather encouraged the onset of aggressive mildiou which provided very difficult conditions for many and particularly estates managed on biodynamic principles. It was an unusually sunny and dry summer fulfilling the criteria for a good vintage although a hail storm in late May affected a few properties in the Medoc. The resulting long period of hot and dry conditions might be referred to as a ‘drought’ – it hardly rained at all for 4 months. The year which had started late for vine development reversed itself and it became an ‘early’ vintage – a rare enough occurrence in Bordeaux.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-02-18
On 16th February we learned that the magician of Montalcino had died in First floors aged 82.
His style was inimitable, and like all great wines, was capable of achieving an airborne character of great finesse, marrying profound intensity with the utmost delicacy. Many of his greatest wines are marriages of opposites – sweetness and powder-dryness; purity and gaminess; dark aromatics illuminated with the brilliance of crystalline fruit. I’m left wondering at these juxtapositions that make the wines of Soldera so extraordinary.
According to Antonio Galloni in his introduction to an epic Soldera dinner in 2016 held in London at Maze, it was the great Piedmont wines of the 1940s and 1950s that were Gianfranco’s early inspirations.
Soldera bought Case Basse in the early 1970s, where he planted a self sustaining eco-system encompassing vines at the heart of the property surrounded by exotic plants and flowerbeds, of which First floor comprises 2 hectares.
There seems to have been a slightly chaotic labelling regime during the 1990s, with Case Basse labels used interchangeably with Intistieti, a vineyard based on poorer soils resulting in wines with greater structure. From 2000 onwards Soldera released his Brunello as only Riserva. In 2006 Gianfranco left the Brunello di Montalcino appellation and moved to labelling Case Basse as Toscana IGT.
Latterly Soldera became associated with a terrible act perpetrated upon Case Basse.
“During the night between 2nd and 3rd December 2012, unknown people broke into Soldera’s cellar at Case Basse; they did not steal a single bottle, but with an extremely serious act of deliberate criminal vandalism for the whole area, they opened the valves of 10 barrels of 6 vintages of future Brunello di Montalcino: 2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012. The loss amounted to 62,600 litres of Brunello resulting in considerable economic damage.”
This led him to auction off the remnants of the extraordinary 2010 vintage for children’s charities around the world. In an open letter from the family, he wrote:
“I and my family would like the vintage 2010 to be associated with a very strong and important message that also makes an impact: we would like words and gestures of hope plus, most importantly, tangible help for those less fortunate than us to stem from such a sad and painful episode for my family.
For this reason, we have bottled these remaining 450 litres of the 2010 vintage only in large bottle formats of 3, 5, 6, 9, 12 and 15 litres in size. All these large bottles also have a special and unique hand-drawn label.
We have a certain number of 3 and 5 litre bottles but have also put together (with the very much smaller number of even larger size bottles as detailed above) four super-exclusive complete sets which add up to 50 litres in each set and these will be auctioned/offered as four complete sets in different parts of the world.”
What turned out to be his final act - a defiant demonstration of selflessness in the creation of a charitable legacy – leaves a striking remembrance: a great man as well as a great wine maker.
Looking back to that wonderful dinner held by Vinous Media in London, April 2016, and in homage to one of the greatest ever wine producers, here are the notes from the wines tasted that evening.
The early years
Case Basse 1981
Heady perfumed nose with sweet peppers, then on the palate the freshness of Seville orange with dusted cocoa powder giving the wine a dry, firm edge. Long and insistent.
Case Basse 1982
A nicely developed nose, warm, then sweet lemon peel on the palate with spiced undertones heading into a vibrant, warm finish.
Case Basse 1987
A sensational nose, cloves, oranges and aromatic sandalwood, with a liquor-infused character that in combination with the spiced orange brought to mind crepes suzettes! Very pure with some residual grip.
Case Basse 1988
Very developed nose , with a strong aromatic character (think Myrrh), macerated oranges, a liqueur like texture, and a great breadth of flavours combining fruit and savouriness.
Case Basse 2000 Riserva
A young wine with a soaring complex nose of herb and fruit liqueur, peony and mushroom. Firm palate, structured and focused.
Case Basse 2003 Riserva
Expressive nose, floral, savoury with herbal notes. On the palate the attack is full of black cherries, with hints of cream, and a firm finish with lots of energy and freshness.
Case Basse 2005
Gamey, wild character on the nose with a striking saltiness. The wine is texturally satisfying, with a tight palate of bitter dark fruit and a draft of refreshing redcurrants. Very long.
The mid 1990s
Case Basse 1993 Riserva
Fresh nose with sweet peppers. A huge zingy attack, which is almost too intense. That intensity of cool fruit leads to a dry finish.
Case Basse 1994 Riserva
A pretty aromatic nose is allied to a sense of roundness of the palate. Great intensity, lemony drive, mouth watering and long; so much energy.
Intistieti 1995 Riserva
Huge perfumed nose, peppered and intense. This is a vertical wine of monumental proportions and with an incredibly long finish. A future great.
Case Basse 1995
Darker fruited nose compared with the Intistieti. Fresher too, in a lighter, crystalline style. It’s mouth watering with an insistent finish.
Case Basse 1996 Riserva
Creamy fruit, somewhat muted, palate is fresh and the fruit is once again crystalline, before savoury notes appear on the mouth watering finish.
Case Basse 1997 Riserva
A warm inviting nose sign posts a hot year followed by a palate overwhelmingly of black cherry. It’s a direct wine that shows you what it’s got, whilst for now missing out on the complexity of the greatest years, unless of course it's simply masked by youth.
Case Basse 1999 Riserva
A developed, creamy nose serves as a curtain call on a wine that’s structured, powerful, stacked with confit fruit, and an expansive mid palate, ending satisfyingly sweetly.
Case Basse 2001 Riserva
Saline pepper nose, red cherry dominated palate and takes one’s breath away with its energy and verve. WOW!
Case Basse 2004 Riserva
A sweet entry, and gamey resolved attack leads into an intoxicating, heady wine with huge resonance.
Case Basse 1983 (en Magnum)
Fresh mature nose followed on the palate by intense, bitter-edged, gorgeous fruit. A wine of intriguing contrasts.
Case Basse 1983 Riserva (en Magnum)
Reserved cool nose. This is very young, structured and elemental. It’s so unevolved and in this regard similar to the Intistieti 2005 Riserva. It makes me wonder if this was in fact Intistieti in disguise.
Case Basse 1990 Riserva
Peppery nose, an energetic attack, deep, with bright fruit and a warm finish. The remarkable complexity of this wine is in its combination of opposites evoking warmth and cold, sweetness and spice.
Case Basse 2006 Riserva
Savoury, slightly meaty nose, a gamey palate, sweet mid palate and a finish that builds in intensity and shows its youthful edge.
Antonio Galloni described Soldera’s wines as having a remarkable ability to age with grace, “a testament to Soldera’s vision, will and obsessive pursuit of quality”. The perfect parting words.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-02-07
On the gastronomy front an incredible meal was enjoyed at Le Cinq in Paris, bearing absolutely no resemblance to Jay Rayner’s very amusing description from a couple of years ago, to be found here.
Visually, texturely and tasting-wise it was amazing, even if not everything agreed with everyone. Turbot, venison and onions remain firmly in the memory. Jay needs to revisit!
Chateau Grillet’s second wine, (rather understatedly) labelled as Cotes du Rhone was discovered here and what a beauty it was, although seemingly impossible to find in the U.K.
Another first time experience enjoyed was L’Assiette in the Montparnasse part of town, a neighbourhood restaurant sending out glorious French classics with a modern twist, but not in the case of the cassoulet – that was just classic! There a new discovery on the wine front was made, Romain Pertuzot, whose Chorey Les Beaune 2015 was bright, tense and juicy.
Sadly, the legendary Tan Dinh, the Vietnamese restaurant in St. Germain, whose regular customers once included the likes of Steven Spurrier and Paul Bowker back in the day seems a little tired. Under seasoned and under spiced food, the list is not what it once was but still heralded some beauties none the less. There is an impressive list of Barthod, Coche, Mortet and Niellon, amongst others, although the latter will not be served, whatever the vintage, due to premox issues - very worrying indeed! A Clos l’Eglise ’78 was full of old world charm.
There was a superbly curated Ledbury lunch will other top drawer collectors with Haut Brion ’96 leading the way, pursued by Palmer ’89 and admirable examples of ’02 white Burgundies, Le Clos from Raveneau and Henri Boillot’s Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles, all preceded by a gorgeous 2010 Keller Abts E Spätlese.
Dry January will have to wait yet another year!