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+ |
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-05-24
With the 2015 Burgundies arriving in the market these days and with more to come over the next period the market is showing mixed signals - some of continued excessive demand and some spell disaster for lesser producers trying to claim high prices.
The prices of the 2015 vintage
The price development for the 2015s shows a rather mixed picture at the primary level - some producers have showed great restraint and have in some cases kept the prices at 2014 level, whereas moderate increases have been seen even amongst the top producers in very high demand.
A lot of Burgundy producers are aware of the dangers of high prices even on village level, as these wines are now becoming very expensive in restaurants. If they want to maintain a good representation in restaurants the prices for a village level wine are near the limit - aside from the producers in extremely high demand.
Other producers seem not very aware of these dangers and have increased the 2015 prices by more than 20% - and while this may be viable in the very short run - I have talked to several wine bars and restaurants that have cut allocations already, and many will do so after the 2015 vintage. This will perhaps not have a huge effect on the 2016 vintage as the quantities are very small in some cases .. but in the long run some producers have priced themselves out of the market so to speak.
The 2016 vintage - what to expect
I have tasted some 2016s already and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, as quality looks very fine indeed. The wines are cooler than the 2015s, and in that way more classic. It's still too early to be very firm on the quality - but potentially a quite outstanding vintage - very well balanced and enjoyable for both the reds and the whites.
The quantities are very low due to the April frost, but also very uneven across the producers and appellations. My expectation would be that the low quantity will ensure a continued upward pressure on prices for the wines in demand, but the tendency could be trouble ahead for increases in prices for the wines with no real demand in the secondary market.
Francois Millet, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé - Picture: http://winehog.org/
The long-term effect of prices
In my view, we will see continued increases in prices on the wines in very high demand - i.e. wines getting high prices in the secondary market thus ensuring a margin for those who buy the wines in the primary market.
These wines will still be in demand, as many people will keep allocations as it's a good investment, but larger share will eventually end up in the secondary market. Some of these wines are now priced beyond the limits of the average quite well off consumer, and will be traded accordingly. Restaurants will do the same, and as it becomes more difficult to sell the wines at the tables - they will also cash-in offering wines on the secondary market.
The wines not in demand in the secondary market will eventually have problems, as consumers will cut allocations and move on to other products.
This is where Bordeaux was 15 - 20 years ago, and while the top Bordeaux wines have managed to increase prices the lesser wines from Bordeaux are struggling with low demand and low prices even though quality and the value of these wines often can be tremendous these days.
Take a look at the wine lists of today and note how limited the Bordeaux offerings often are these days - compared to 20 years ago.
Burgundy will prevail but demand will be more volatile
With the small quantities produced in Burgundy the risk of a full meltdown is not imminent even with the latest increases in prices. Some producers will struggle as they will be caught between the need or urge to increase prices and the restrain shown by some of the top estates regarding the prices on the low-level wines.
A good negociant will be facing the fact that their Vosne village will cost the same as the wines from a top end producer in the primary market. That is not sustainable in the long run - and these producers could well see a collapsing demand within a few years.
As prices go up I expect demand to be more volatile, as the focus on the great vintages will increase. This has happened in Bordeaux and with the globalisation and available price information around the clock this will also be the case with Burgundy.
So, I expect increasing and more volatile prices for the wines in demand, and a sluggish market for the producers with high prices without a good demand from the secondary market.
The calculative consumer
As the prices increase the consumers will be more calculative and look at the historic prices and the development in the prices and availability of back vintages. Is it the right time to buy, can the same wine in an equally good back-vintage be found on the market at a lower cost.
The conscious consumer will check these things, and will search for information, to ensure a good price and ensure a good investment, even though the wine is bought for pure pleasure. Importantly consistency in the prices seen in relation to back vintages will be needed at least for wines produced in relatively large quantities.
This will increase the focus on services that offer historic data on prices and the possibility to validate and research the “true” market price.
The rising stars will emerge and shine brightly
Furthermore, we will see new talented producers pop up - and become in fashion within a very short time - and achieve high demand for these wines in the secondary market very rapidly as the producers get the acclaim from the wine press. So, exciting times where buyers and investors must be on their toes to follow the trends in Burgundy.
As a wine writer, it's exciting times in Burgundy as new talents emerge all the time, and old somewhat lacklustre estates are transformed to a new star within a few years with the arrival of a new generation.
So, stay on your toes, stay tuned in and informed on winehog.org - a yearly subscription is only 29€ - sign up here
Chief Tasting Officer
The team at Wine Owners love Steen’s Burgundy reviews. Just like us, he was an impassioned collector, until he decided to pack in his day job and apply his palate to Burgundy for the good of mankind (and perhaps to gain a little personal enlightenment along the way).
An annual subscription with https://Winehog.org is a bit of a bargain; plus the reviews are accessible, and when we taste the wines that Steen’s tasted, we ‘get it’. Furthermore he’s a real discoverer, so if you're the sort of collector who loves the idea of buying into the next young Burgundy buck before the rest of the world catches on and spoils the price, you really should subscribe!
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-05-17
Latour’s conversion to organically produced vines began almost 20 years ago when they stopped using chemical herbicides. Since then, they started experimenting with new techniques, and in 2015, 100% of L’Enclos was organic and 50% of it was biodynamic.
Producing according to biodynamic techniques is not new. This method applies ancestral practices of using only ingredients from the farm and maximising their impact. For example, fertilizing is from the manure from the cows and horses living on the estate, mixed in with different flowers of certain specific properties. This main idea is to create a sustainable and circular ecosystem aimed at protecting the earth and make it more fertile by freeing nature to multiply the microbial activity in the soil.
Pontet Canet can be considered as one of the pioneers. They did their first biodynamic trial in 2004 and the results turned out to be very positive: the vines were brighter and tighter. Alfred extended the test parcel and the vineyard became fully converted in 2006; a first for a Médoc Classified Growth. Ten year’s on, and their most recent vintages show an aromatic complexity that is quite clearly much more evident when compared to their wines from the mid 200s.
Now more and more vineyards use biodynamic practises to grow their vines and in the winemaking. After decades of intensive farming many of the top vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, including Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, began looking for new options since their soils were being exhausted and couldn’t sustain healthy vines with good grapes.
The biodynamic label, Demeter, has recently gained popularity in the Bordeaux region. Chateau Durfort-Vivens has this year been fully certified by Demeter, with the designation proudly added to their bottling in the form of a strip label. In a variable year the Margaux appellation, Durfort-Vivens 2016 showed out of cask as a wine of character, with a lovely aromatic profile,crunch fruit and a chewy, black cherry infused finish.
But it’s far from a one-way argument. As weather patterns become more extreme, protecting the plant and its fruit from the element under a strict biodynamic regime can be risky.
A wave of quality obsessed Burgundy producers increasingly use biodynamic treatments in a mixed approach to vineyard husbandry where the focus is on the soil’s microbial strength. But with repeated hailstorms, and the risk of rot in a warm humid environment, it takes a brave man or woman to forgo other practical fall-back options.
It’s a rich man’s game. Small Burgundy producers cannot afford repeated losses to disease when conditions get really rough and biodynamics might not be sufficient without heavy and repeated doses of copper sulphate,something which producers adopting biodynamic viticulture are reluctant to do with concerns about creating copper residues in the soil.
Château Palmer is a leading proponent of biodynamics and has been undertaking a great deal of research on test barrels of recent vintages, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and reducing use of sulphur as a stabilising agent. In 2016 they misjudged with one too-few copper sulphate treatments resulting in an attack of mildew, reducing their overall production volumes to just 28hl/ha, a miserly figure for Bordeaux in a generous year where most quality producers cropped at 45-50 hl/ha.
Yet biodynamics is ‘back’ here to stay, even if those who apply for Demeter certification are likely to be outnumbered by those who simply practise biodynamic principles and use many of the treatments.
Further north in Saumur, the legendary Loire estate Clos Rougeard has been practising biodynamics for ever. In the 1960s and 1970s when their neighbours embraced synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, they were mocked for holding true to their ancestral principles practised since the time of their great grandfather.
The last word goes to Nadi Fourcault, the remaining brother of Clos Rougeard (only recently bought by the Bouygues family who also own Chateau Montrose). “The only thing that’s revolutionary about us is that we’ve never changed.”
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-03-28
The potential of the 2016 Bordeaux en primeur assessed from a comparative examination of the weather conditions
There is a weather station located near the airport in Bordeaux which has been recording details of rainfall and temperature since 1911. It’s worth mentioning that rain in Bordeaux-Merignac does not mean rain in St.Emilion; nor does the absence of rain in Merignac on a particular day signify no rain in Margaux. But if the 2016 Bordeaux en primeur campaign is to find traction then some consideration of the weather is important.
Looking at a Table of Cumulative Precipitation (below) which covers several of the greatest vintages of the last 2 centuries (with a couple extra thrown in to demonstrate the ‘exceptions which prove the rule’), one is immediately struck by one anomaly - the 1982 vintage (the others we know about).
It is a sine qua non of red wine grape production to have a sufficient period of dry weather in the summer to induce hydric stress in the vine so that the plant will cease growth and focus on maturing its fruit. It’s also a general rule that wet weather at harvest time is not conducive to healthy picking conditions and produces rot.
Table of Cumulative Precipitation
It is widely accepted that warm weather (as opposed to canicular heat - remember that 2003 had 50 days of temperatures warmer than 30°) is another critical ingredient in the production of great wine (also interesting to see just how much cooler it was in 1982) - see the table below of Maximum Average Temperatures.
Maximum Average Temperatures
Clearly, the temperature progression during 2016 was unusual and extraordinary. Not shown, but also relevant, is a table constructed of average minimum temperatures: 2016 was about average, and slightly cooler than many other years in July; certainly not as warm as 2003.
ASSESSMENT OF BORDEAUX 2016 VINTAGE
Whilst the general weather picture for a vintage is a good prognostication of the quality of the wines not everyone will have been dealt the same cards. Terroirs are not the same. Not every estates’ ambitions are equivalent. Not every vigneron has the tools, techniques and vision to maximise the potential. Some producers will undoubtedly over-reach themselves. Comparing the general climatic conditions for 2016 with other remarkable vintages several features of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage stand out:
- First, 2016 had no phenomenological events of any significance eg frost.
- Second, the precipitation in the growing season and replenishment of the water table set it up for drier conditions later in the year. Of course, warmer humid weather at this time meant vigilance in case of mildew etc.
- Third, the uniformity of temperatures and the progression of average temperatures until August, without the heat spikes of 2003.
- Fourth, August was an unusually sunny month in 2016.
- Fifth: the dry, warm months of July and August were followed by a beautiful autumn.
On the face of it, the charts above, general as they are, demonstrate that 2016 was one of the most remarkable years that Bordeaux vineyards have ever experienced. One might, with some justification, call it a ‘benchmark’ year. Coupled with the advancement in oenology and the investment in the vineyards which have been undertaken in the last 30 years and if meteorology were the only factor in determining vintage quality (so ignoring viticultural practises, key husbandry decisions, winemaking approaches and trends, sharp temperature spikes masked by monthly averages) then 2016 could be one of the greatest, if not the greatest of Bordeaux vintages. However, the true quality of the vintage will only be demonstrated by the en primeur tastings which are about to commence.
Estates are surely crying (with happiness) over their wines and as for the rest of us, to paraphrase Goethe: “If you've never drunk wine while crying, you don’t know what life tastes like.”
Stay with Wine Owners as we taste our way through the Bordeaux appellations next week. Follow our tweets @WineOwners1. As ever we shall represent the voice of the wine lover and collector pointing out where there's value and where it makes no sense to buy early. Not forgetting the merits in back vintages that en primeur comparative evaluation often spotlights. We look forward to your company along the way.
Tables: compiled and coloured by Wine Owners from data by Infoclimat
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-03-22
Few producers ever achieve the magical 100 point rating from the Wine Advocate. Parker’s ratings have been the most influential in the world, so to achieve the magic century is quite some accolade; to achieve it more than once is the stuff of dreams; to achieve it 28 times as have Guigal’s famed Cote Rotie triumvirate of La Landonne, La Turque and La Mouline (collectively nicknamed ‘the La Las’) is unprecedented. No other producer from a single appellation comes close.
You might have thought that these three wine with a claim to be among the finest in the world should cost the earth, shouldn’t they? Well, in fact they don’t – at least not in comparison with the finest wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California.
For the purposes of this analysis we’re going to look at the 2009 vintage, which paints a fairly typical picture for these wines. Historically there is very little variation in the values of the three wines, with prices often within a 3% range. So, this chart for La Mouline ’09 is mirrored closely by the other two. What is immediately noticeable is that prices have, until midway through last year, fallen consistently. This despite two 100 point scores in November 2013 and September 2014!
The fall in price is on a par with the falls in value of Bordeaux wines in the same period, but importantly the La Las did not have a huge price rise immediately prior to the falls that insulated many buyers from the slump. It seems, on the face of it that Guigal’s amazing wines were simply the victim of a lack of global interest in Rhone wines at the top end.
This seems to be changing however, as over the last 6 to 9 months the relatively attractive pricing has found favour, and sentiment seems to have turned positive. All good vintages across all three wines are moving upwards, and demand is out-stripping supply for the first time in many years.
La Mouline 09 is 15% up since July, and is on its way back to the £4000 a case level last seen in early 2013. In our view there is reason* to be confident that this recovery is a fundamental re-evaluation of the value of the wine, rather than simply the beneficial effect of weak Sterling, and there is definitely reason* to add this to a cellar, for both investment and drinking purposes.
So, what is this reason you may well ask?
Sadly, the La La’s were among the chosen wines of various boiler room, sales led operations who decided that they were ideal wines to sell as investments to unsuspecting investors at way over fair market prices. This created skewed pricing and led to reputational damage to the wines that caused prices to drop. Thankfully most of these operations have now closed down, and their negative impact on the market has dissipated. The secondary market is now a healthier place for these great wines, and prices are once again reflecting the supreme quality and longevity of Rhone’s finest.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-02-13
Romance and wine are irrevocably linked for the simple reason that alcohol reduces our inhibitions and allows the true poetry in our souls to bubble to the surface. And if we're not quite as lyrical as we'd hoped, it gives us a very good excuse the next day. So here are 10 tips to help you navigate the wine pitfalls of Valentine's Day. (But that is all. We can't guarantee love).
1. Order a couple of glasses of champagne whilst you're looking at the menu. And let your date have one of them. Champagne shows you have class and you care.
2. Try Italian. Any Italian wine will enable chaps to pretend they're Casanova, whilst ladies can dream they're in Venice or Florence.
3. Women like pinot noir. Yes, it's expensive, but is she not worth it? Try one from Russian River or Oregan or go wild with a Nuits St Georges or Chambolle from Burgundy. Speak like Louis Garrel and she'll have shivers down her spine.
4. The Spanish are arguably more passionate than the French or Italians. Lively whites from Verdejo, Godello and Albarino and intense reds from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero. You can get all emotional and wear a cape and tight trousers, but girls, avoid the moustache.
5. Look into your dates' eyes as you sip red wine. It will light your face with a rosy tint and make you even more attractive. Yates wrote "Wine enters through the mouth, Love (through) the eyes." Make sure you get it the right way round.
6. Spice up your relationship with a peppery little shiraz or grenache. Try wines from the untamed landscapes of the Southern Rhone and Languedoc. Think Wuthering Heights with grapes. Adding pepper to a glass of house red may not have the same effect.
7. If you're nervous and tongue-tied, splash out on some proper claret. You will feel like a Scottish Laird and talk like Sean Connery.
8. Sweeten the mood. Try dessert wine. Perhaps have it instead of dessert, if you're watching the waistline. Sauternes, Coteaux du Layon or great German Riesling will inspire all manner of affectionate language like honey and sweetie, but we suggest you avoid calling anyone pudding.
9. Beware the rugby club humour of buying wines with names that talk for you. "Flowers" and "Fairytale" are just cheesy. "Flirt", "Menage a Trois" and "Fourplay" (an Italian red) may leave you facing an empty seat.
10. Finally, however well it goes, bear in mind Rosalind's words in As You Like it. " I pray you do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine."
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-02-06
Let me first put my hand up and say I’m a fan of 2014 as a Burgundy vintage. It seems to me to be a year of rather lovely balance across the board. No doubt with exceptions, it’s a vintage to buy as high up the qualitative tree as you can afford, quite unlike 2015 where the hot summer provided a metaphorical leg up to wines on cooler, less exposed sites and colder soils.
Adam Brett-Smith, Managing Director of Corney & Barrow the UK exclusive agent for DRC, describes 2014 as the ‘happy vintage’ but warns that it’s easily underestimated. I do agree. The wines may be ‘on the fruit’ and correspondingly expressive, but there’s sufficient fine-grained structure, dry extract and acidity to see the wines develop over the medium to longer term.
The ability of Burgundies to age from classic or un-showy vintages seems consistently under-called by wine critics, especially where there’s a degree of natural concentration through moderate or normal yields, which seems to make a big difference to the finickety nature of Pinot Noir. 2014 should age effortlessly for 15-20 years.
Warm, red fruited nose. An expressive, spiced attack with nice energy and a twist of licorice. A degree of firmness merely hints at the character of the archetypal Corton appellation (although there is huge variation between the various Corton soils) and leads into a giving, fruity finish.
An inviting yeasty nose, in turn earthy and creamy. Once again, a degree of firmness that’s overridden by open, expressive, croquant fruit. It’s a wine that pinotents – delivering the essence of Pinot Noir, into a finish that’s framed with an orange citrus cut.
A fresher nose, vinous and earthy. There’s greater complexity, finely balanced with a bit more structure, more defined and an elemental, vinous character. On its reserve for now, with a freshness and depth that tempts a prediction of a great GE.
Sweet pastille fruit on entry, less evident grip, more expressive with greater mid palate volume. Super upfront fruit with a fine grained back palate. Freshness kicks in on the finish with good persistence.
Liquory aromas rise from the glass. Power comes through on the nose but paradoxically there’s a balancing restraint to it. Greater intensity than preceding wines, much less up-front fruit but with a bit more torque - progressive, earthy and very complex. Flashes of fruit push through, towards a grainy back palate with building intensity. Real grip and substance with old vine character.
Another step up, right now it presents as a more chiselled form of the Richebourg, a rather elegant and cushioned expression of La Tâche at this early stage. There’s lots of latent power and a sense of reserve on the back palate with a long and persistent finale.
Expressive nose of fruit, earth, and a greater sense of minerality. Powerful yet very refined. Darker character, with a brightly illuminated outline to the dark fruit. A controlled finish with fine-grained grip and a sense of penetrating depth.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-01-30
This report is written on the back of 3 days of tasting cask samples and back vintages chez producers in Burgundy, hot on the heels of the London tastings.
We visited 13 small producers and tasted well over 100 wines in cellars, tasting rooms and producers’ homes, evenly split between the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.
The London en primeur tastings showed open wines with plenty of fruit. Those that were bursting with energy stood out, with some showing somewhat mute: a little flat or lacking in definition. Such are the challenges of transporting samples directly from barrel and expecting them to perform. Sometimes they do, often they don’t.
Barrel tastings in situ are a much better opportunity to judge wines individually and form a view on the vintage overall. Unsurprisingly the wines showed much more consistently than they had done in London.
If you can taste alongside prior vintages, as we did on a few occasions, that’s all the better as it provides useful context.
Comparisons have been drawn with previous vintages by commentators, notably 2005 and 2009 (presumably due to the hot summers they all have in common).
The producers don’t agree. 2009s show in a bigger, atypical mould. 2005s are considerably more tannic, built for the very long term, and most will need a good while yet. A few producers see 2005 as the greatest vintage of their generation, but many more look to 1999 as their benchmark.
2015 has the fruit and accessibility of 2012, with more volume and structure, and seemingly similar PHs. It’s an alluring vintage without the generally slacker character of 2009. Most of the successes were picked early, before the rains on 10th September. But some held off and still produced lovely wine. Others who harvested after the 10th have wines that seem to me to be too sweet, perceptibly lower in acidity and have less fine tannins. For the majority that were successful, the watchword was very little or no punching down, almost everyone opting for gentle extractions.
Some producers went for a high proportion of whole bunch fermentation. Those practising the inclusion of whole bunches do so to add an extra sense of freshness and complexity. It’s worth pointing out that stems actually slightly increase the PH, so lowering acidity in the finished wine. But they also contribute different, plant-derived flavours such as eucalyptus and mint, and it’s possibly this that gives the impression of making the wine feel light-footed. Perhaps the marginal lowering of acidity also contributes to a silkier mouth feel. Theoretically whole bunches also add a bit of structure, but I’d guess it depends on what percentage is used and often you don’t sense it.
Having tasted plenty of wines with and without whole bunches, it does seem that a common aspect of the vintage character is the silkiness of the tannins that are present irrespective of these types of winemaking decisions.
Another facet of 2015 is its lovely concentration. Pinot Noir excels in vintages that aren’t bountiful. Yields in 2015 were generally lower than in 2014, 1990 or 1999. This was especially true of the Cote de Beaune because the vines hadn’t fully recovered from the stressing effects of hail in the preceding years.
2015s are fruity, rich, with good density and show definition. On balance I personally preferred cooler sites – due to location, aspect or being in a windy spot. But others will favour out-and-out richness and a broad-shouldered character from the warmer sites. We all have our palate preferences and that’s as it should be. In any case there are no universal rules to successful buying in 2015 since the different vineyard characters shine through.
The greatest relative successes are the lesser appellations. There are some truly superb Bourgogne rouge and village level wines. You’d be seriously missing out if you just focus on trophy wines.
Village wines in 2015 are priced similarly to the levels of Premier Crus from just 2 vintages ago. Grand Crus are up by a third in many cases. If you go long on 2015 now and choose to rationalise in a few years’ time, there are no guarantees that you’ll get your money back.
If you ask which were my favourite communes in 2015 that especially shone, I’d plump for Pommard, Aloxe-Corton, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin.
Nevertheless, I was delighted by lovely wines from Auxey-Duresses, Santenay and Volnay. I thought Nuits-St-Georges and Vosne-Romanée were stunning successes in 2014, and it was no surprise that they showed at least as superbly in 2015.
By now you’ll have formed the impression that 2015 is a great vintage across-the board. Indeed it is. Yet not everyone is happy.
A proportion of long-term collectors are refusing their allocations this year for the first time, which may tell us something about the sustainability of these levels. Some of those ‘given up’ allocations are going to overseas buyers who spend vast annual sums with the big London merchants. But Burgundy producers are well aware of the grey market of en primeur releases originating out of the UK. For now, they are tolerant of it, but for how much longer?
Many merchants are concentrating allocations in the hands of their wealthiest buyers who spend by far the most throughout the rest of the year. And when I say spend, I mean spend. Their dependence on wine investors or wine accumulators makes it harder for them to allocate widely, and correspondingly difficult for Burgundy lovers to gain access to many Grand Crus and Premier Crus. In that fundamental sense the market has changed out of all proportion.
Overall takings at the 2016 annual Hospices auction were down 25% on the previous year (although it’s worth remembering the historic 2015 auction record was in aid of the Paris victims of the IS-inspired atrocities). There is less of 2016 to go around due to the catastrophic late April frosts from the tip to almost the toe of the Cote D’Or, but the quality of what was made is very good and it’s another warm vintage.
If you’re UK based, one other thing to consider is that the Sterling Euro exchange rate will be volatile over the next couple of years, and many will be betting against the Euro during this timeframe. Presidential election results in France in 2017 could have a major impact on the Euro’s relative strength or weakness.
With this in mind, and given the extremely high release prices in the UK for 2015 Burgundy, it’s worth revisiting 2014 for all those who held back.
With a few months or more in bottle, the red wines are showing superbly, with dark, ripe fruit, excellent minerality and sufficient structure to assure medium to longer term drinking.
2014 is a good vintage. It’s a more classic red Burgundy vintage than 2015, majoring on its lovely balance. Based on these tastings, I am delighted to have bought so much of it.
2014 white wines have wonderful intensity, and though enjoyable for their terrific concentration already, are going to age beautifully. I’ll be laying down my best bottles for 15 or more years, but will surely be tempted to dip in regularly along the way.
2013 was plagued by miserable weather. Producers needed to battle the elements, along with mildew and rot. They had to work assiduously all the way through. Perhaps because of this the best producers are proud of their achievements. Reds 'pinottent', that is to say they show fine, overt varietal expression in a really fresh, lifted mid-weight style, with one proviso: just so long as vineyard husbandry was top notch the wines were able to draw energy from the life of the soil and yields were managed to concentrate the berries.
2013 reds may be mid-weight, but the best have a lovely ethereal intensity, and village wines are starting to drink already; they have none of the hardness and excoriating acidity of 1996, or the sharpness of 2006. Tasted 2 years ago as barrel samples 2013s were particularly taciturn, rather dry and mute, as you might imagine the product of such filthy weather. Today they are transformed.
However much the 2015 white wines are being talked up as being fresher than one could have imagined given the heat of the year (and they are), they are simply not in the same class as 2014. They lack the same degree of definition, intensity and breeding with which that vintage is blessed.
With prices increasing for whites too, there’s really very little reason to go long on them this year, and it’s noticeable that recent merchant emails contain a lot more white wines still on offer compared with the mostly sold-out reds. I’ve only bought a few affordable cases for nearer term drinking, and thought the best vineyard sites of Mercurey in the Cote Challonaise showed particularly well. But I’ll be drinking them well before my 2014s.
As a parting footnote, don't overlook Moulin-a-vent in the Beaujolais. From the red granite soils of the appellation’s best terroirs and in the able hands of top Cote D’Or producers, Gamay shows what it can create: truly a noble grape.