by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-06-28
Whilst expensive Burgundies make the headlines, there's another revolution taking place that is transforming the qualitative level of winemaking more generally in Burgundy.
It's a revolution that's very different to the one caused by an influx of corporate cash snapping up top domaines that produce some of the region’s most sought-after wines.
Daughters and sons who are graduating from l’école viticole, and who spend their stages at new world wineries or with progressive in-region vignerons, are taking best practises in the vines and chais back to familial domaines and transforming quality of those wines. Other offspring are going it alone, relying on their social network to buy grapes from friends and friends of family. And still others are coming back to their roots, turning their back on a career in Paris for the siren call of the Côte d’Or.
In a way there’s a relationship between the two; the big money coming in is offering the promise of a wealthier future to the next generation.
Within this dynamic atmosphere there are lots of value buying opportunities. One doesn’t have to be a millionaire to own and to drink Burgundy. But you need to be quicker to claim an early allocation than previously. Prices of new discoveries rise fast. Whereas in the past it would have taken many vintages of successes before a domaine became established enough to justify rapid price hikes, these days positive press and ensuing price escalation can happen quickly.
How do I discover new producers?
Follow your favourite merchants – they’ll organise events or dinners at which the wines they represent can be tasted, allowing you to figure out which of the wines they are offering you think are the real deal.
Follow the critics – Neal Martin is now at Vinous, William Kelley has assumed the mantle at robertparker.com and Steen Öhman is busy discovering new talent at Winehog.
The blog format of Winehog is well suited to reading about new discoveries, where he’s picked up on Thibaud (Y) Clerget, Nicolas Faure, his fiancée Amelie Berthaut at Berthaut-Gerbet, Maxime Cheurlin at Georges Nöellat, Duroché, Jean-Marc Bouley, Arnaud Tessier, and Jean-Marc Vincent to highlight a range of notable domaines.
Charmes Dessus 2012, Domaine Tessier © Nick Martin
His latest discovery is Marthe Henri Boillot in Mersault, a true ‘start up’ having returned to pick up the remnants of her grandfather’s estate and has cut sourcing deals with friends.
It’s a familiar story. Down the road in Santenay Jean-Marc and Anne-Marie Vincent picked up the reins of his grandfather’s lapsed estate back in the late 1990s, and have transformed it into by far the best domaine of Santenay, making wines of great succulence, nerve and aromatic complexity. In fact, his reputation as one of the best true vignerons on the whole Côte is widely recognised by many other top producers all the way up into the Côte de Nuits.
They say birds of a feather flock together. Just look at Jean-Marc’s vigneron network, and you discover producers who share the same qualitative ethic and who are in search of constant improvements; producers such as Olivier Lamy, Jean-Marc Bouley and the passionately intense, super-fit Bruno Lorenzon in Mercurey.
Jean-Marc Vincent © Nick Martin
High density planting, low plant yields, vine training to minimise stress on the vine’s foot, braiding à la Leroy, soil microbial activity/ fertility, low sulphur addition late on in the winemaking process, rigorous triages of natural corks - are typical leitmotifs of these, and a growing number of young, ambitious producers.
In Vosne-Romanée, the brilliant and young family winemaker at Arnoux-Lachaux, Charles, has employed the braided training technique of his heroine Lalou-Bize Leroy to magical effect in his Aux Reignot vineyard, adding definition, an extraordinary energy and drive to this profound wine that is Grand Cru in everything but name. Arnoux Lachaux’s prices have skyrocketed so in that sense that particular ship has sailed; plenty are yet to leave port.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-06-06
Hosted by Flint, tutored by Alec Seysses, this was an unforgettable dinner. The wines are hedonistic, show great intensity of flavour and grand dimension. But they are not heavy or dense. They are wines of intensity and breadth rather than weight.
2011 Bonnes Mares
Alec said that they extracted a little more than they might normally have done. The colour is a darker shade of purple, whilst at first the nose is dense and rather closed. There is a boatload of liquorice evident at entry and on the mid palate, with iodine, orange and thyme.
With air the nose opens up to reveal lavender and plum skins, a sweetly perfumed mid palate and a velvety texture. Great length. Complete.
1998 Clos de la Roche
At first a tight nose, with a sweet undercurrent. With time in the glass, classic tertiary pinot aromas mingle with lemon verbena. A fresh attack is followed by citrus fruit, and a sappy, mouth-watering mid palate. There’s great persistence to the finish with a classic pinot character. Showing plenty of life and suggesting a great mid term future over the next 5 years.
Expansive nose of angelica, sandalwood and iodine. Quite broad, very tertiary, leafy and resolved with a medium-long finish.
2007 Clos St. Denis
Sherbetty nose, broad pinot nose, herbal and saline. Delightful fruity mid palate, redcurrent and cream, a touch of liquorice, sweet fruit but lifted by a gently freshness. Hedonistic.
2002 Clos St. Denis
Perfumed, deep nose, a hint of game with a consommé-like infusion, saline. That gamey complexity shows up again on the front palate before broad orange-infused flavours channel the wine into the mid palate. Terrific focus. Moderate weight but great intensity, very complex with an unami and saline character building out into the long finish. Very 2002 in its precision and energy.
1999 Clos St. Denis
Oranges and other citrus fruit on the nose, with lemon verbena adding a herbal character. Gorgeous velvety texture, a really visceral wine. Liquorice, orange pith, great intensity and a really solid core. Compact and immensely deep. Orange rind on the finish. Very young and tight as yet.
A pinot ‘qui pinotte’ – that classic nose exhibiting tertiary pinot character of strawberries ‘on the turn’ mixed with damp undergrowth. Just classic. Gentle resolved wine. Some resonance on the finish. Deceptively mid-weight with alluring intensity.
1999 Clos de la Roche
Great complexity and depth. Orange infused nose, saline with perfume of wild broom. Cloved, liquorice attack, and a hedonistic and visceral mid palate. Great resonance. Orange peel, sherbettty sweet fruit. Amazing freshness and length. Goes on and on. A legend.
1999 Bonnes Mares
Expressive aromatic nose, really quite open and sweet. Ready to go, right in the middle of the red to black fruit spectrum. Fruity jujubes and as you might expect a sweet mid palate. Calmed down with 30 minutes of aeration in the glass to reveal a fresh finish that lengthens correspondingly.
Caroline Brangé ©Nick Martin
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-05-30
[Last week, the Wine Owners team tripped along to Lords, to taste a range of top 2017 Bordeaux wines en primeur. Below is a contribution from Artemis, the newest member of the team...]
What could be been better for a mid-May Thursday than a large tasting of Bordeaux Grand Crus at Lords Cricket Ground?!
The tasting included wines from over fifty chateaux, each bringing two vintages: 2017 and one other back vintage. Determined buyers and tasters were able to get around the whole room, while others focused on either the left bank or right bank, or maybe their favourite producers. Here are some great value attention-catchers.
Some wines with very good fruit expression, and also notable for their value, were La Tour de Mons and Meyney. The tasting duos were 2014 & 2017 for La Tour de Mons and for 2015 & 2017 Meyney. These are an absolute recommendation especially if you have now started working on your cellar.
- La Tour de Mons 2017: £164
- Meyney 2017: £228
- La Tour de Mons 2014: £190
- Meyney 2015: £295
On the same spectrum at a nearby stand were Lafon Rochet and Cos Labory with their tasting pairs. Both of these wines offer very good fruit and ageing potential, Lafon with a rounder mouthfeel and Labory with a spicier finish.
- Lafon Rochet 2017: tbc
- Cos Labory 2017: tbc
- Lafon Rochet 2014: £285
- Cos Labory 2011: £240
In the photo here are Chateau Pibran on the tasting table, next to d’Aiguilhe. Both of these will please those who enjoy fresher Bordeaux expressions with texture and minerality. Pibran is handled in the same facilities as Pichon Baron, and can be a nice addition for a diverse wine portfolio.
- Pibran 2017: £280
- d’Aiguilhe 2017: £180
- Pibran 2014: £225
- d’Aiguilhe 2014: £150
Similarly, d’Aiguilhe was tasted next to its big brother, Canon La Gaffeliere (Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe B). This Cotes de Bordeaux wine retains freshness and is a very good introduction to the wines of the Von Neipperg vineyards.
White & Sweet Surprises
En Primeur tasting means racing tannins, so a break was required from the full-bodied reds, to explore sweet and dry whites. Dry, old-vine Semillon-dominated, 'S de Suduiraut' from the eponymous chateau offers concentrated flavours, along with substantial freshness and minerality. Luscious Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2014 & 2017 from Bernard Magrez was the perfect way to close the tasting, after a mouth watering duo of Pape Clement Blanc (2006 & 2017).
- S de Suduiraut 2006: £230
- Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2017: £290
- Clos Haut-Peyraguey 2014: £350
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-05-09
'Passion Asset' is a phrase of two halves. Alongside all the asset-focused work we do here at Wine Owners, we try to indulge the passion-focused bit too. Jonathan Reeve returned today from five busy days touring and tasting around eastern Sicily. Below is a summary of the trip, and five suggestions for Sicilian wines worth adding to your cellar (with a 5 – 10 year drinking window).
Erupting with Pride
Sicily has confidently reinvented itself in the past fifteen years, and is clearly proud of its achievements. Bulk blending wines have now been moved firmly to the background, and the island’s wineries are focusing their attention (and ours) firmly on quality wines and regional styles. Nowhere is the pride more obvious than around Etna. It seems so overt there that it borders on a sense of superiority, forgivable only because of the wines’ clear quality and the vineyards’ lofty perspective over the rest of the island. Etna remains the island's flagbearer, its wines a clear step or two ahead of the other regions in the charge towards quality and international recognition. Etna wines are blessed with pure fruit flavours, stunning ruby-like colouring, and the excellent acidity which is a signature of volcanic soils.
Wild and high atop Etna, Cornelissen’s volcanic ‘Magma’ Vineyard (900m)
There is a sense of competition on Etna, with a handful of the top wineries quietly jockeying for the very top spot. Happily, their stylistic differences mean there is room at the top for them all; elegant Benanti, classic Graci, pure Torre Mora, bold Terre Nere, natural Cornelissen. We spent three days around Etna, mostly around the northern side where the best (blackest) terroir is to be found. One sunny afternoon we sampled the various and varied crus of Frank Cornellissen (whose ‘Munjebel CS’ shows just how Burgundy-like Etna wines can be, but whose wines have not yet proved themselves cellar-worthy), and those of the Tenuta delle Terre Nere (whose sexy Santo Spirito features among my suggested purchases below).
Among our gracious hosts during the visit was Antonio Benanti, who spent four full hours guiding us around his vineyards and wines. The quality and ageing potential of Benanti's Etna wines was abundantly clear, as was his focused, classic winemaking style.
A classic Rovittello label; Benanti before it was ‘Benanti’
The stand-out wine from Benanti's range was the Etna Rosso from his vineyard in Rovittello. Rovittello is clearly a village to watch; Torre Mora's vineyard and winery is also there, and the high quality of their Etna Rosso from 2015 and 2016 was undeniable. The little-known Torre Mora estate was acquired in 2016 by Tenute Piccini of Tuscany, and given a very classy upgrade. Viticulture and winemaking have both been overhauled, with clear results, and the wine style brought up-to-date to a fresher, vibrant, more-classic wine style. Complimenti Piccini.
Rejuvenated: Tenuta Torre Mora, Rovittello
No Wine Is an Island
Sicily has a broad range of wine styles – and more importantly clear distinctions between those styles. Also vital is that these styles work together; they complement one another, rather than competing. Fresh, crisp, elegant Etna Bianco is clearly distinct from broader-styled Inzolia-Chardonnay IGT blends and citrus-tropical Cattarratto varietals. Taut, bright, ruby-like Etna Rosso is a world apart from the dark, plummy Nero d'Avolas made in the island’s south-eastern corner, and another world again from the juicy, mouthwatering Cerasuolos from Vittoria (these combine Nero d'Avola's brooding depths with Frappato's ripe-strawberry brightness). Add to this core the island’s traditional trademarks – fortified Marsala and sweet Muscats from Pantelleria and Noto – and you have crystal-clear stylistic diversity that any region would be proud of. The wildcards in the pack were the handful of dry Moscato wines we tried. These were an unexpected surprise –refreshing in every regard. First was Planeta’s super-refreshing, aromatic Allemanda, and then COS’ amphora wine Zibbibo-in-Pithos, which calls to mind orange blossom and Earl Grey tea.
Amphorae at COS. Definitely not jug wine.
Sicilians Don't Shrug
Marketing is key to Sicily's new look, and the island is doing it with flair. The island is more than just 'shrugging off' its old reputation. Those shoulders are shimmying with Mediterranean style, brilliantly exemplified by Donnafugata’s colourful labels. A visit to a Sicilian wine shop is like a visit to an art gallery. Many of the top wineries are hot on hospitality, too, with comprehensive tours and tastings available, and an increasing number offering accommodation (we stayed for two nights at a chic farmstay owned by the Occhipinti family). Planeta stood out on the hospitality front; our morning visit to their Buonivini estate was guided with expertise and generosity. We specifically requested to taste a few back-vintages of Cerasuolo di Vittoria and reds from Noto, to assess their cellaring potential. A cluster of wines from 2005 to 2015 soon appeared, and confirmed that top-level wines from both of these DOCs are indeed capable of developing for over a decade. One clear pattern was that the aromas and palate take on lives quite distinct from one another over the years; the 2005 Santa Cecilia Noto had a savoury nose of black olives and herbs, but retained noticeable fruity flavours on the palate. The lifespan of Sicilian wines will almost certainly increase in the coming years, as Sicily’s new generation of quality-focused winemakers continues to find its groove. This does beg one question, though…will the lively, soulful marketing and label designs disappear once the wines get more serious? Let’s hope not.
Five Sicilian Wines Worthy of Your Cellar
- Planeta Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2015
Drink 2018 – 2023
- Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2013
Drink 2018 – 2023
- Benanti Pietramarina Bianco 2016
Drink 2019 – 2029
Contact Benanti and tell them I sent you: email@example.com
- Torre Mora Etna Rosso 2015
Drink 2019 – 2025
Not yet released. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Terre Nerre Santo Spiritu 2015
Drink 2019 –2025
Planeta Buonivini Estate, Noto
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-05-02
There comes a moment in the evolution of every market where all the stars are aligned. Last week a bottle of CVNE Vina Real 1959 sold on an online auction for 905 euros.
One might well ask what this has to do with investing in (comparatively) young Rioja to make the best returns. What it confirmed to me was that the home market, Spain was back.
After several years in the doldrums the Spanish economy, at least for the wine drinking classes, was back on its feet.
What has also been noticeable is that recent releases have shown that wine makers felt able to increase prices by double figure percentages. Castillo Ygay for example has seen a 15% rise from the 2007 to the current release of 2009.
Other important factor is the considerable improvement in quality since 2001.
Wines that had consistently been receiving marks around the upper 80s and low 90s began receiving marks in the mid to upper 90s. I mention this not as a slavish follower of Parker; but as Maynard Keynes remarked investment is like a beauty contest where success is not necessarily about picking what one likes oneself but choosing what the crowd will like.
Secondly what is screamingly obvious is that Rioja is extraordinarily cheap in relation to French wines of a similar quality. Of course the market is much bigger, especially for Bordeaux, but like many markets the big returns come in the smaller markets. One only has to look at the Burgundy market over the past 20 years to see the truth in that.
Rioja prices have been suppressed by the fact that it is largely an internal market whereas Bordeaux is international.
Amongst specific choices Rioja Alta 904 and the even cheaper Vina Ardanza stand out as highly marked wines at very little purchase cost. Picking the best vintages of CVNE Imperial and Vina Real is also an inexpensive hobby. One only has to look back over recent vintages to see how rapidly all these rise in relation to their purchase cost over a 10 year period to see that returns of 200-300% are achievable. Given the Burgundy effect that could well prove very conservative…
My general advice is stick to the traditional names (making classically crafted wines) that are showing rising quality. Those in the know will note that I have not mentioned Lopez de Heridia: the reason for this most obvious of omissions is that I feel the market in their wines is so interesting as to be worth a further blog instalment.
Mike is a Wine Owners member and a long-term collector who started his cellar in the 1960s. Having witnessed the development of wine markets over the last 60 years, and a salesroom regular for several decades, Mike is well placed to spot opportunities.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-03-05
We would like to echo the sentiments of Lisa Perotti-Brown – the new face of Bordeaux at The Wine Advocate – who revels in reviewing great wines from vintages less hyped than the universally celebrated ones.
A review of past vintages is so much more pleasurable than one of a current vintage. It can be pursued at leisure, far from the madding crowd of en primeur set-piece campaigns. The wines have been in bottle for some years, and have grown into their skins, allowing them to express themselves and harmonise. There is none of the guesswork required when evaluating young wines. And it is not done as part of a tasting Megathon favouring the most obvious, richest wines…
Here follows a spotlight of vintages which hide truly great wines, many of which still represent good value.
Let's start with 2013, the worst climatic year Burgundy has experienced in a long time, characterized by a dreadful summer of cold, sodden weather. But that’s the thing with Burgundy; its growers refused to give up. They never do. They spent the summer in their Aigle wellies desperately battling the filthy elements and sticky, sucking mud. Coaxing what they could out of their precious vines - their livelihood - trying to make the best of a seemingly bad lot. The coaxing process involved leaf thinning, and sacrificing bunches to give the rest a chance at maturing properly. And that is the thing with Pinot Noir; it responds exceptionally favourably to low yields.
Now, if you like dense, sweet fruit with generous alcohols, 2013 may not be the vintage for you. But if you enjoy intensity of flavour without the weight of a hot year, red Burgundies from 2013 will positively surprise you. All the more so if you first tasted barrel samples back in January 2015; the wines are now positively transformed from that first recalcitrant showing.
It’s well known that a warm, accommodating, crisis-free growing season will result in wines that are generous and velvety-textured in their youth. But these aren’t always the wines that develop into fine, complex maturity. Take 1999 for example, lauded as one of the greatest Burgundy vintages of all time. Indeed, some of the wines are astoundingly good. But just as many others are really quite average. Why is that? Over-generous yields. It’s a fine line with Pinot, between harvesting as much ripe fruit as nature provides and allowing the fecund vine to produce as much as it’s wont.
Back to low-yielding 2013, and the best wines are beautifully crystalline, intense and transparent. Think a cornucopia of red fruits, blackberries and gooseberries: the essential ingredients of a refreshing summer pudding – a balancing mélange of sweet and sharp. Add characteristic Burgundy high notes of salinity (and a mineral-tinged, geological nod-in-the-glass to the inland sea of which the Cote d’Or was once a part) and hopefully you’ve formed a fair mental image of 2013 red Burgundy.
It’s no coincidence that blue chip stalwarts such as Eric Rousseau and Christophe Roumier love their 2013s. Aubert de Villaine sees his Domaine de la Romanée 2013s as long distance runners (in contrast to his more ‘forward’ 2014s). And they are delightful.
2013 is also one of the last sensibly priced vintages before Burgundy prices became vertiginous.
Wines from cooler Burgundy vintages often start out rather awkward, and out of kilter. Their acidity may add definition and length, but can also close the wine down, or conspire with tannins to suppress the essential grape characteristics in a wine.
2006 was one such vintage. Its wines were initially hard to taste, and broadly speaking, unlovely. Many of us viewed 2006 Burgundies as unwelcome magpies in our collector’s nest of more comely vintages.
But now, after a decade in bottle, the wines are starting to show very well. They exhibit well-defined fruit, great length and energy. Next to the 2005s, they may lack heft and powerful tannin structure, but they are nonetheless serious, intense wines. And they are beginning to drink well now. You’ll have to wait at least another decade for your 2005s to come around, but 2006 is a fine emerging vintage that will give pleasure now and for the foreseeable future.
For Bordeaux, 2011 was always going to be a tough sell. On release, the wines seemed scrawny and mean in comparison with the monumental 2009s and 2010s.
Yet a recent dinner event hosted by Wine Owners showed how dangerous it is to tar a whole vintage with the same presumptive brush, or to judge a more classic vintage too early. The highlights of that tasting were Vieux Chateau Certan 2011 and La Mission Haut-Brion 2011. They were both easily the equal of their counterparts from better-regarded vintages, and represent great value compared with any more recent vintage.
In Bordeaux, 2006 was a vintage that attracted more than its fair share of negative press, the effects of which are still in evidence today, judging by the affordability of 2006 Bordeaux on the Wine Owners Exchange. The success of a Bordeaux vintage depends on sentiment, and in 2006 combination of negative factors came into play.
First, it came on the heels of stellar 2005. Second, Bob Parker’s favourable rating of the vintage attracted criticism from many pundits, attracting further negative attention. Third, the release prices were too expensive– due at least partly to the high Parker scores. Why else would La Mission Haut-Brion be ready to trade at £1,550 per 12x75cl, yet be overlooked?
[ Top tip: buy La Mission Haut-Brion at this level – half of its opening (mis)price. It is considered a ‘wine of the vintage’, rivalled for this accolade only by the (much more expensive) Mouton. ]
We are fans of the Bordeaux 2006 wines we’ve tasted. They don’t have the powdery tannins and powerful black fruit of the 2005s, but they do have superb energy, and a sappy character that compels you to take the next sip. We see many wines from 2006 as more interesting than their counterparts from 2004 or 2008. Notable examples include Mouton, Pontet-Canet, Leoville Barton, Leoville Las Cases, La Conseillante (just a sampled tip of the iceberg). Whenever tasted comparatively, these showed extremely well alongside relative other vintages.
In our experience, where 2006 performs particularly well is its consistency. Simply put, we’ve never had a poor one. Other low-rated back-vintages produced a number of successes (such as 2007, 2011), but none are as consistent as 2006.
2002 is another Bordeaux vintage which suffered from poor reputation. The year’s poor weather consigned the vintage to the status of ‘restaurant wine’ before any of the wines were even bottled. But it’s easy to forget that the wines were very well priced; first growths were released at around £800 per case (just one-sixth of their 2015 release prices). If you had invested in 2002 Bordeaux 15 years ago, you would be feeling rather smug right now. 2002 is the vintage for the contrarian that lurks inside every wine enthusiast!
While they were never going to be the most profound expressions of Bordeaux (in the light of the meteorological conditions), the 2002s have consistently tasted savoury, fruity, and sweetly spiced with cloves, cinnamon sticks and liquorice root. At all levels of classification, we’ve yet to stumble across a disappointing example.
In 2002 Piedmont, like Bordeaux, suffered from rotten summer weather. Wine commentators have described 2002 in Piedmont in such terms as ‘wiped out’, ‘disastrous’, ‘severely compromised’, ‘a washout’.
But despite all of this, one wine survived the vintage’s humid gloom (and the hailstorms which repeatedly strafed Barolo) with enough salvaged bunches to benefit from perfect autumnal conditions. This is a wine made with such severe selection that yields were just 12 hl/ ha, and which epitomises viticultural triumph against the odds. The wine in question is, of course, the now-mythical Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2002.
Take a moment to consider the sacrifice involved in making wine with yields as low as 12 hl/ ha. Burgundy considers 25 hl/ ha to be painfully low, and in Bordeaux anything under 40 hl/ha is a very short harvest.
Giovanni Conterno – Roberto Conterno’s late father – called 2002 the greatest Monfortino of his lifetime.
The last word must surely go to Antonio Galloni, whose tasting note and review of this wine encapsulates why it’s so rewarding to seek out the greatest wines within those vintages in the shadows:
“…the 2002 Barolo Riserva Monfortino, a wine that may very well turn into a modern-day legend… 2002 was a cold, rainy year that in many parts of Barolo culminated with violent hailstorms in early September. The weather then turned picture-perfect for the rest of the growing season, but by that time most vineyards were severely damaged. The late-ripening Cascina Francia was an exception. Conterno green-harvested aggressively, which gave the fruit a chance to ripen. …The Conternos were so upset by the poor early press reaction to the vintage they announced they would let no one taste their 2002 Barolo. Conterno has fashioned an old-style, massive Monfortino that pays homage to the great wines of decades past. …It is a deeply-colored, imposing Monfortino loaded with dense dark fruit that today is held in check by a massive wall of tannins…classic, old-style Barolo the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again any time soon. Antonio Galloni, October 2008.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-02-09
Today’s post comes from Jonathan Reeve, Wine Owners’ newest team member. Jonathan joined us in January, after eight busy years at Wine-Searcher.com. You can reach him, if you feel so inclined, at Wine Owners HQ: +44 (0)2072784377
Yes ladies and gentlemen, V-day is imminent, but no we are not going to feed you a regurgitated list of the ‘best Valentines wines to buy for your loved one’. We are instead devoting this post to a quick look at Passion Assets. Topical and actually interesting. And profitable.
They’re big news, and we’re hearing about them more and more. They’re becoming more…well, passionable. So what are passion assets? And why is wine the best passion asset?
Quick definition: Passion assets are essentially high-value luxury products such as fine wine, vintage watches, classic cars and antiques, which can be invested in for profit. Although originally created for some practical or aesthetic function, over time these products acquire a purely abstract financial value, born of a shared appreciation among the collective group of x lovers (wine lovers, watch lovers, car lovers etc.).
Passion assets are purchased initially because they have an emotional attachment, and are attractive in some way; they’re beautiful to taste, hold or look at. But because their value is simultaneously concrete and abstract, they are both a good store of wealth and a profitable investment. In truth, their investment performance is almost a coincidence. But what a beautiful coincidence that is. And there’s your answer; that’s why they’re quite so popular;
Since 2008 interest in tangible assets has grown massively. Rock-bottom interest rates and fears of market volatility have led investors to switch to investments which they can actually hold or touch, whose reality is more than just zeros and ones of stock market computer code. And what do those investors turn to when selecting these tangible assets? Things that they’re passionate about. Passion assets. Wine tops the list.
“Wine is the best passion asset.” Well, I would say that – I have wine passion. But genuinely, I mean it. I also have watch passion, and car passion, but I don’t invest in either of those. Investment wines may well be the only passion asset whose investment value begins from day one. Cars don’t become classics, watches don’t become ‘vintage’, and antiques don’t become antique until years after the initial purchase. Top-end investment wines, however, begin acquiring value from day one, as they leave the winery forecourt. If only cars did that…
It isn’t just me saying all this, either. Knight Frank say it too. Their Wealth Report 2017 confirmed wine as the world’s best-performing passion asset. Have a look at the Knight Frank Fine Wine Icons Index.
And here’s another reason. Which other passion asset gives you the opportunity to create such a diverse, romantic collection as wine? Not to mention flavourful. Every vintage brings several hundred products to select from and obsess over. Most collectors have their personal favourite producers, on top of the core handful which are mutually agreed by all as the ‘blue chip’ investment wines. And laid over this is the added dimension of the vintages themselves, dating back many decades, and even centuries in some exceptional cases. It’s hard to understate the power of a good vintage to spark adrenaline in wine collectors and investors.
And one last reason. Wine is more than the world’s most profitable passion asset; it’s also the most widely collected, and therefore one of the most stable. Win, win, win.
You get the picture. I think wine is a pretty excellent investment. If none of my points above have swayed you to my point of view, consider the following. If it all goes wrong, and the world pulls itself to pieces, as the warheads soar overhead and the bullets whizz past, would you rather sit in an antique chair counting down the seconds on an old watch, or would you rather pour and enjoy a glass of fantastic wine. Think about it. Happy Valentines Day.
P.S. If you really must hunt out a Valentine-themed wine, try Calon Ségur. It has a heart on the label, and happens to be performing very well as a passion asset.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-11-24
The Don, St Swithins Lane, London, a converted wine warehouse, was the venue for one of Wine Owners tasting evenings offered to its members – Trial and Terroir Dinner based upon the 2011 Bordeaux vintage. The evening was conducted in one of the Don’s private rooms with an earthy dinner by head chef Frederick Forster.
Lionel Dougnac, buying director for De Luze & Fils, one of Bordeaux’s most influential negotiants, helped us navigate the properties surrounding the waters of the Gironde estuary. Lionel has been in the Bordeaux trade for over 20 years, specialising in buying classified growths. He has also worked for the top barrel-maker in France. Oaking became an interesting discussion point half way through the evening.
The focus for the evening was to explore the concept of terroir through the different wines presented during the evening from the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux. A vintage which left many enthusiasts wondering if the so-called ‘harlequin’ year could justify its high prices at primeur. Not surprisingly, there was immediately an exchange over what terroir might mean and during the evening there was plenty of opportunity to plumb the depths of this compelling subject. Lionel was quick to point out that, in his view, terroir was not just about the weather and soils but also included other factors, and even the ambitions of the domain owner.
2011: for those that might have forgotten, it was an unusual year by any standard. The year started with a massive water deficiency in the vineyards, and an unusually warm and protracted Spring. This meant that the vines were well in advance over the average year. Average temperatures during this period were close to if not in excess of any records previously recorded. It culminated in two extremely hot days in June where the temperature exceed 40°C. Some exposed bunches of grapes, especially on gravel soils, were scorched and losses were considerable, as much as 20% of the crop in some instances. If vignerons were concerned that any continuation of the drought would decimate whatever crop remained they needn’t have worried as damp, cool weather set in for much of July, followed by a very hot August. The heat precipitated some substantial downbursts and overall precipitation was above average for the period. An Indian summer followed which provided optimum conditions for the harvest in September. A series of circumstances which profited the white wines of the region but the red wines were heterogeneous.
L’Evangile vs Vieux Château Certan: the expression of the two first wines on offer provided an interesting contrast. The owners at VCC, the Thienpont family since 1924, have always worn their heart on their sleeve combined with an increasingly obsessive focus on managing the vineyard at a micro level of geography – and an ambition to let the terroir speak for itself using minimum intervention in the wine making. L’Evangile, now wholly owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild since 1999 (they had earlier acquired a majority a shareholding) is a neighbour from ‘Haut-Pomerol’ with an ambition to become one of the top Pomerol estates. The latter’s substantially higher Merlot in the blend offered a very round and pleasing profile – a whopping 94%, leaving little room for their Cabernet Franc. It was very elegant and restrained which contrasted with the beautifully defined structure of VCC. There were pleasing elements in both wines. Interestingly, guests were not to be tempted by the more voluptuous offer and unanimously preferred the ‘aesthetic values’ expressed in Vieux Château Certan 2011.
In Pessac, the contrast was even more stark. Haut-Bailly, as always, attractive and feminine, seduced much of the company with its approachable elegance based on a more merlotised style than usual - a statistical recognition, if nothing else, that its Cabernet Sauvignon suffered that year. The Cabernet Franc, already on the way out at the domain, hardly got more than a top-up role. Haut-Bailly have always acknowledged that their terroir has issues under dry conditions such as those experienced in 2011. La Mission Haut-Brion was altogether more muscular and intense. It possessed a complex tension which will be years in its evolution. Lionel had obviously selected the wines he felt would give us more to ponder. We digressed into a conversation about how artists’ materials are perhaps the elements of physical terroir; that artistic genius is the inspiration, imagination and ambition of an estate’s terroir interpreted by the owner. Whatever the canvas that year, Wine Owners terroirists’ marginally preferred the more ‘traditional’ yet polished properties expressed in the intense muscularity of La Mission Haut-Brion 2011.
The grand estates of Pauillac were represented by Pontet-Canet and Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the influence of biodynamic viticulture in the region and its impact on the wines of Pontet-Canet. Clearly something had separated the processes of these two estates which are largely comparable in terms of size and varieties. When it came down to it, Pichon Baron managed 82% Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend, whilst Pontet-Canet a mere 60%. Yields were disparate too – 39% in the case of Pichon Baron whilst at Pontet-Canet it was 32%. It’s worth just quoting from the specification sheet of Pichon-Baron 2011 to understand properly the enormous lengths châteaux had to go to preserve the quality in the bottle:
“Bespoke grape picking: the grapes were picked and brought in the vat-house plot by plot, in order of maturity, with particular attention to selection on the plots. Sorting in the vat-house was highly meticulous [their bold] keeping only the very best grapes. The grapes were sorted twice, both before and after de-stemming. Once de-stemmed, the selection of the grapes was fine tuned on two sorting lines, one manual and one using optic systems.”
This extensive and costly work appears to have been justified as the assembled company substantially preferred this wine. Perhaps the more laissez-faire practices of biodynamics don’t favour complicated years albeit it may be a more ‘authentic’ product.
Our final flight of the evening ended with a cheese plate and perhaps two of the most interesting wines of the evening – Chateaux Montrose and Calon-Ségur. Both estates in their own ways have seen major upheavals over the last 5-10 years. One could even be forgiven for thinking that terroir might the servant of the ambition of the two new owners. Certainly, the Bouygues have invested colossal sums in an estate which they were always destined to own. The recent vintages have all demonstrated that their terroir has justified the trust of its billionaire owners producing wonderful wines in supposedly less good vintages. 2011 was no exception. Montrose’s enhanced ‘environmental responsibility’ which the Bouygues have brought to the estate extends the work of one of its founders, Mathieu Dollfus, who established a programme of social care for his workers building them free housing in the ‘Montrose village’, included them in profit sharing and even offered free health care – making ‘unique contributions to the community’ of Saint-Estèphe. The windmill which stands on the property is a ‘symbol’ of his tenure and his fight against phylloxera – the windmill drew up water which flooded the vineyards – a practice which had some success in reducing the disease at the time. At Calon-Ségur, despite the death of its owner at harvest time, pulled off a stunning wine - contradicting received wisdom about yields (the estate had one of the largest yields of all the wines tasted) and demonstrated that even in turbulent times estates can pull something out of a hat. Triumph in adversity is part of the story of Bordeaux. Opinion was equally divided on their relative merits.
Lionel’s deft commentary on the wines permitted discussions on all other matters of interest to the guests. This wasn’t just a working evening – although there was much to delve into.
The evening conversation turned to a brief but informative discussion about the commercial prospects of ‘La Place’, advantages or otherwise of buying en primeur and discussions on some practices of specific châteaux to release wines as ‘library’ wines after primeur campaigns - subjects which Lionel was uniquely qualified to explain.
For those still with the will to carry on tasting there was ample opportunity with additional samples as backup. Overall, the unscientific assessment was that there were 3 stand-out wines – La Mission Haut-Brion 2011, Montrose 2011 and Vieux Château Certan 2011.
Broader definitions of terroir escape the confines of the tightly worded official description. The Australian economist David Throsby outlined the concept of a ‘cultural good’ (in his seminal book Economics and Culture, 2001) which might fit better to the breadth of considerations Lionel managed to convey during the evening. Throsby’s thesis is that a person’s preference for something would be based upon the characteristics of the good which contribute to its cultural value. Some of these are highlighted above in quotes but, in summary, they include aesthetic properties eg elegance and balance; spiritual value – emotional and inspirational attachment; environmental which includes PDO (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) and environmental responsibility; historical – evolution and tradition; symbolic, such as the name of ‘Bordeaux’ itself and what it inspires and among others one might conjure; and authenticity which is embodied in the unique character of a wine drawn from the local area where it is produced.
The WineOwners Trial and Terroir Dinner managed to elucidate these concepts and more.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-10-26
What a treat to welcome Matthieu Bordes to a Lagrange dinner in London, with a full house of Wine Owners’ enthusiasts around the table.
Matthieu was subsequently described by one member in attendance as ‘informative, congenial and charming’. His passion for Lagrange shone through. Matthieu is both boss (Directeur Générale) and the wine maker since 2013, the year that extensive modernisations were also made to their wine-making facilities.
Chateau Lagrange is an unmorcelated parcel to the west of the commune of St Julien, classified as a 3rd Growth in 1855. Owned by Japanese beverage giant Suntory, it’s very much run with a free hand by the local management team.
Arums de Lagrange 2016
The tasting kicked off with the estate’s white wine, Les Arums de Lagrange 2016, comprising sauvignon blanc, semillon and a dollop of muscadelle. Arum is a form of hardy lily, and the name is aptly chosen. Les Arums is delightful with a delicate nose and very attractive purity. There’s no trace no heaviness, nor any overt cépage character, due to the gentle handling of the fruit and a balance between barrel fermentation and a period of élevage in steel. It’s drinking beautifully already: there’s clarity to the fruit underpinned by appealing freshness. No need for a Coravin with this one; it’s too tempting to drink the whole bottle!
Chateau Lagrange 2015
A fitting guard of honour for the 2016 vintage that followed. There’s a benchmark cedar nose, with warm and inviting fruit. The initial impression on the nose is of a lush wine, yet the attack is firm, and the fruit is beautifully pure – crystalline. There’s impressive intensity, but at present without the sense of coiled energy of the greatest vintages. Nevertheless this will drink well moderately young, with its warm and inviting nature unlikely to turn taciturn. Very impressive given it had only recently been bottled, a time when wines can pass through an unsociable teenage phase. We wouldn’t be surprised if this gained much more length with time.
Chateau Lagrange 2016
Unsurprisingly with a barrel sample, the nose is on the 2016 is un-evolved, with primary, juicy fruit to the fore. The initial impression at first sip is that the wine is elegant and of medium weight, with a mild savoury streak adding interest. This is an insinuating wine though, whose accomplishments and embellishments become apparent progressively with time in the glass. The tannins are so ripe and silky that their velvety texture cloaks a very considerable underlying structure to the fruit. IPT levels were rather high within the best sectors in 2016, essentially a measure of tannin and colorant from skins, pips and vegetal matter. That substance is very much in evidence chez Lagrange, with a delightful balance that suggests great class. Magnificent.
Chateau Lagrange 2005
We’ve always been fans of those 2005s where the wine making wasn’t unduly extracted, and this Lagrange ticks that box. There’s a dusting of white pepper on the nose, with a blast of kirsch and liquorice. The attack is sweetly fruited, with black ripe cherry dominating the mid palate, and a liqueur-like texture. The finish is heady and visceral. A soulful wine, and very well balanced too. Destined to drink sooner than some other 2005s but with the wherewithal to sustain a long drinking window.
Chateau Lagrange 2009
The nose is extremely fruity yet somehow delivers an impression of being very well integrated. There is enormous intensity to the 2009, with cloves, liquorice, chocolate and blackcurrants, wrapped up in a beautiful texture. The ripeness of the tannins is defining, providing a structure and focus to a bold wine. 27% Merlot, 63% Cabernet Sauvignon. This will need a number of years to properly resolve, by which time the evidently exotic bouquet and textured palate should ensure it develops into a wine reminiscent of 1982 St Juliens.
Chateau Lagrange 1996
Shifting away from young wines with a long life ahead, the 1996 surprised with its maturity. The nose is gamey, with leather notes, and savoury aromatics of smoked meat and sweet wood scents. On the palate there’s a satisfying depth to the wine, in common with other successful 1996s, yet with less noticeable acidity at this stage of evolution than many other top crus classés. Cloves, liquorice and blond tobacco dominate the mid palate before an attractive finish. The freshness of the vintage is seamlessly resolved into the whole. There’s a significant 7% of Petit Verdot in the blend that salt and peppers the 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 27% Merlot. This is a success offering good value drinking now. If you haven’t already decided on the wine to serve with the Turkey, duck or goose this Christmas, look no further.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-10-09
The first of 3 dinners to taste through 61 red Bordeaux ‘Growths’ classified in 1855, the 2007 vintage had been kindly provided by 2 wine enthusiast brothers who were keen to share this extensive horizontal with fellow members.
The wines were cleverly organised into suitable flights to accompany each dinner course by Christopher Delalonde, resident Master Sommelier at The Don on St Swithins Lane, ensuring a peak was hit with the glorious venison main course, with further high spots to be enjoyed in the tail-end of supporting wines.
Given the less than enthusiastic press on the 2007 vintage, the wines showed a remarkable degree of consistency. 2007 was not a vintage to try to force, and the great successes at all levels of affordability and rank were those founded on balance and the natural aromatics of the vintage. Whilst bargains are far and few between, some of the lesser known Crus still represent good value for money. At the top end, the Firsts and most of the Seconds showed their class and the value of their top terroirs.
| Cru || Note || |
| Croizet Bages, Pauillac, 5th || Fruit forward, spiced nose. Licorice leads the creamy attack, round supple mid palate. Fresh orange zest on the finish provides focus and suggests there's plenty of scope for near-term future development. Still young and promising. || 92 |
| Cos d'Estournel, St Estephe, 2nd || Cool nose, spiced and generously perfumed. Savoury with with a saline element, and a texture reflecting fine, grainy tannins on the already resolved attack. Lifted, sappy, fruity mid palate and a finish that ends on a sweet crescendo. Delicious already, with plenty of future potential, and avoiding the overextraction of 2009/2010 vintages. || 95 |
| Prieuré Lichine, Margaux, 4th || Cool, spiced nose with trademark Margaux perfume. Savoury attack and mid palate, with a blast of licorice. A little obvious and currently a disjointed finish. Mid weight, but this might just be a bit young and yet come together. || 88 |
| Pouget, Margaux, 5th || First time I've ever tasted this Cru? That I can recall. Lovely, sappy nose: a sense of freshness and vitality. Fruity, rounded attack with the dry character of the fruit lending firmness. Mid weight mid palate, with an intriguing orange zest twist to the finish. Balanced and attractive. One to seek out at a bargain price as a household staple for Sunday lunch, given it's anonymity (and relative lack of buyer interest) in the market? || 91 |
| La Lagune, Haut Médoc, 3rd || Perfumed nose betraying it's proximity to Margaux to the North and close to La Garonne. Energetic attack, meaty notes, and lightly spiced blend to create a strong appeal. Only a medium length finish lets it down, but still lots to like. || 90+ |
| Pedesclaux, Pauillac, 5th || Pre the recent renaissance under Lorenzetti, who since 2009 bought 12 hectares next to Lafite and Mouton to enlarge and improve this forgotten Cru. It needed rescuing based on this showing: Licorice infused nose, slightly bright point of attack, nice density but with a bright acidity that isn't integrated and overall paraxodically shows as rather neutral. || 86 |
| Dauzac, Margaux, 5th || Spiced nose, savoury and round. Rather dull and flat in character. Recalls the edgeless wine recipes made by producers for Naked Wine. Think Barry Manilow (unless you like Barry Manilow in which case think of someone else). || 84 |
| Chateau Batailley, Pauillac, 5th || White pepper seasoned nose, griottes and cedar. Attractive cedary attack too with enough acidity to be mouthwatering. Firm, classic claret with enough cut to accompany the foie gras. Being picky, the mid palate came across as hollow on this showing. || 88+ |
| Desmirail, Margaux, 3rd || Quite a neutral nose, on its reserve. Restrained. But the texture shows grainy tannins, offers an elegant intepretation of the appellation, and shows good persistence. The mid palate is dominated by its savoury character at present. Given it was part of the vast Rauzan estate in olden times (together with Rauzan Segla and Gassies), it probably should be offering more than is evident today. || 88 |
| Haut Brion, Pessac, 1st || Liquor-like aromas intermingle with perfume on the nose. There's a stunning, illuminated attack with crystalline red fruit predominating. Superb energy driving into the long, long finish. Primary for now, this is not yet showing any of the unique Haut Brion Graves character one might expect, of charcoal, smoke and stoney minerality. It will come in time - give it 15+ years. Demonstrating once again how good Haut Brion is in off-years (or average years to give 2007 its dues). || 96 |
| La Tour Carnet, Haut-Medoc, 4th || As ambitious as its master, Bernard-Magrez, this is a big wine. A liquory nose leads you in, where the palate is rich, with confit fruit leavened with cedar. Modern but nevertheless quite impressive, it offers value and should settle down with age into a gentler form with a little more refinement. Very recent vintages have pulled back are are a bit more restrained. || 89 |
| Pichon Baron, Pauillac, 2nd || Very creamy nose, anis seeds adding aromatic complexity to the dominant oak influence. Huge cedary attack., sweet fruited mid palate, where the spice and licorice kicks in. Creamy oak influence evident here too. Impressive in its style, but I personally would have preferred more elegance for a Super Second. Yet it's young, needs time, and is an engaging wine for those who are attracted to its powerful form. || 92+ |
| Calon Ségur, St Estephe, 3rd || Always a 'giving' Cru with a good dose of Merlot, the nose immediately shows off its fruit, which is shot through with graphite. Nice intensity to the attack, creamy yet balanced, with an underlying exuberance that's contained. Medium length to the finish which ends a little flat. The ending lets the whole down for now, but may well gain in energy and interest with age. || 92+ |
| D'Issan, Margaux, 3rd || Another estate owned by Lorenzetti, who has been making improvements here for longer than at Pedesclaux. Fruity nose, with gamey notes and a trademark D'Issan salinity. There's a super energy to the mid-palate, fruity then savoury and with great progression. Super-fresh, bright acidity is well integrated into the fruit, and is unforced in its style though I'd prefer a touch more finesse. This should develop very well with time, and should make finer old bones. || 92 |
| Lafite, Pauillac 1st || Creamy nose, black pepper, but very much on its reserve. Superb intensity and an aromatic, floral quality to the fruit. This is defined at this stage of its evolution by refined tannins, is very persistent on the palate and leads into a rich, confit lemon finish. Stunning but terribly young for now. Should be magnificant in 10-20 years. || 96+ |
| Beychevelle, St Julien, 4th || White pepper nose, a fine attack and a round mid palate, nicely integrated but a bit simple overall. For the cash, one expects more. || 88 |
| Kirwan, Margaux, 3rd || Perfumed nose, confit, sticky fruit on a rich attack leading to a thickly textured, disjointed mid-palate. I can't help feel it would be a lot more interesting if it followed the less interventionist approach of D'Issan. Disappointing. || 88 |
| Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauillac, 5th || Perfumed nose, licorice notes, Firm attack, medium weight fruity mid palate with the right amount of freshness to lend lift and definition, and a citric thread driving the finish. Surprisingly good. Perhaps we're so used to the excellence and consistency of Grand Puy Lacoste we're overlooked a 'value' Growth here? || 91 |
| Leoville Barton, St Julien, 2nd || Balanced, classy perfumed nose is a big step up. Very energetic attack leads to a mid palate showing real complexity, mixing savoury notes with licorice and creamy red fruits. Good length, lovely. || 93+ |
| Ducru Beaucaillou, St Julien, 2nd || Cedar and saline nose with a dash of perfume that adds complexity. Smooth entry, svelte fruit on the palate, giving the impression overall of a very polished wine. It's quite possible this is less mute on the palate than was my impression, and that the reserved nature of the fruit augurs well for the future. Somewhat worse for wear by this end point, the note was correspondingly short! || 92+ |