Shock news torpedoes St Emilion classification system?

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2021-07-11


Will Cheval Blanc and Ausone no longer be Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ as from the 2021 vintage?

If so, it won’t be because of the Commission de Classement. The closing of the Saint-Emilion classification applications took place on June 30 and neither Cheval Blanc nor Ausone returned their copies.

Unlike the left bank classification system of 1855 that is pretty much immutable (with the exception of Mouton’s promotion to Premier Cru in 1973), the St Emilion classification is reviewed approximately once every 10 years, permitting a periodic revaluation of quality and performance. It’s not all been plain sailing; the 2006 reclassification was plagued by accusations of impropriety and was eventually annulled. Consequently, tastings conducted for the 2012 reclassification were outsourced to independent groups from across France to rehabilitate the process.

Cheval Blanc and Ausone, the first St Emilion producers to be awarded Classé A classification in 1954 when it was created, are effectively leaving the classification system.

The Classé A incumbents evidently concluded that the system is no longer sufficiently discriminating to reflect the ranking of their respective properties compared to their peers.

This bombshell threatens to undermine the kudos and financial benefits of promotion to Classé A, and in turn the market pricing potential of those that are elevated. Not to mention it raises questions of the credibility of the St Emilion classification system more broadly.

So what does the two colossus’s departure say about the process of decennial review? How does this reflect on the composition and process of the Commission de Classement?

Is Grand Cru Classé A about to lose its lustre; devalued by ambitious properties busy erecting glitzy edifices? Concrete and stone, some say, matter more than they ought to compared to the brilliance of the wines and their track record.

Or, is Classé A promotion a reflection of the qualitative transformation we see taking place in St Emilion - given the strongly weighted preconditions of a sustained track record of exceptional results and market recognition - and therefore are not elevations thoroughly deserved?

Let’s see what happens over the coming weeks. Can Cheval Blanc and Ausone be courted back into the fold, or is their departure (by omission of submission) a fait accompli? Assuming the latter, perhaps we'll see more promotions next year than we might have otherwise. What effect this all has economically on those producers who attain Classé A classification is now more uncertain than ever.


Chateau Palmer 2019

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2020-06-02


Palmer was released this morning at £999 per 6, a 31% reduction from the (pumped-up) pricing levels of 2016 and 2018. We are back into rational release pricing territory.

Does it work? Absolutely. Note we have put in a placeholder of 18 points but it works at 17 points too.

At this rate, if the whole of Bordeaux rallies around the reduction level of -30% to -35% set by Pontet Canet and now Palmer (and rumoured to be the level of reduction that Lafite will apply), this’ll be the first en primeur campaign since 2014 where it would make sense to buy more broadly than the very specific, narrow range that we’ve suggested makes any sense at all in the last 3 campaigns.

Here’s the analysis of Palmer.

First pricing and scores:

Chateau Palmer - En primeur 2019


And the relative value calculation. Note how much longer, and therefore better value, the 2019 bar is than any of the comparative vintages used for the analysis:

Chateau Palmer - En primeur 2019



Banner Image: www.chateau-palmer.com


Bordeaux 2019: the spring of hope

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2020-05-20


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  Charles Dickens.

18th May 2020 kicks off the Bordeaux 2019 en primeur campaign with the release of Chateau Angludet. They’ve partially gone down the amphora route to gain purity. It’s a great success, a very great Angludet, according to a number of merchant emails received today. Those same emails belie one small issue - that the wine has yet to be tasted. A reminder of the impact of Covid-19, the anxieties and emotions over this year’s releases dominated by hope and despair. So we have to take the Bordelais at their word that it’s a great vintage, fresher than 2018, in the same mould as 2016 or 2010. I’m sure producers are excited by what they have in cask or tank or whatever receptacle the juice is in these days. But it’s not unjustified to say that local opinion isn’t always entirely objective. So bring on those Chronopost and UPS samples and let us all taste...

We have to be honest, we’d have much preferred a deferral of the campaign to October after the harvest. We don’t agree that would have caused any issues with other regions’ releases. There is something very strange about releasing a futures campaign whilst so much of our economy is in deep purdah. But the die has been cast and June it is (for the 60-odd releases that the market chooses to focus on).

The choice of timing of the releases is significant. It is quite obvious that, just like the 2008 vintage release, there will have to be a very significant reduction in release prices for 2019 to find a market.  Those properties who have tended to use en primeur more as a marketing opportunity than a selling one will have to think about what it means to them: the prospect of a marketing campaign has more or less evaporated. For those properties who expect or need to sell a sizeable percentage of the harvest, only one one of the four marketing ‘P’s matter. It can be the best vintage in the world, it can garner (in the fullness of time) more 100 pointers than any of the last 40 years, but success will boil down to one thing and one thing only: price.

That decision will have ramifications on the whole of the Bordeaux global secondary market. A significant reduction of 30%-40% can ignite interest in the region’s great wines. It can draw in a new generation that has largely ignored the region, or doesn’t see the point of purchasing new releases two years before shipping. It can reward buyers of the last vintages who are under water and likely to remain so. A compromise that shows intent but brings us back to the levels of 2015 will consign Bordeaux to another year in the shallow quicksands of a secondary market lacking direction, fearful of the future, unwilling to commit cash, failing to see the point anymore. 

Ah, I hear you say, but the world is awash with cash desperately looking for a home, just as it was post-Lehmann - when the fine wine market benefitted royally. I disagree. We are entering uncharted waters and cash in the bank trumps FOMO, the fear of missing out. Warren Buffet can be wrong sometimes, but not all the time, and moving to an underinvested position does not seem completely crazy. 

So let’s say that 2019 is the equal of 2016, increasingly recognised as the greatest classic Bordeaux vintage in a generation. 2019 is likely not its older sibling’s equal (probably, but who knows) but let’s pretend it is for a second. Even on this most optimistic reading of the new vintage, would you rather buy into a vintage that has been tasted, re-tasted, evaluated ad infinitum and has withstood the scrutiny of the entire market, or roll the dice with a vintage that will be narrowly evaluated based on posted samples? Add to that 2016 prices that have barely moved or drifted down, and the comparative case for 2016 is about as strong as it gets.

Bring on June, and a prediction: either the most successful en primeur campaign since 2016 (notwithstanding Covid-19) or a non-event, determined purely by one variable - price.

Nick Martin

20th May 2020


Bordeaux 2018 vintage – ‘les cinqs’ (5 essential conditions for a good vintage)

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2019-04-08


To compare with the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux visit our post 2016 vintage conditions


Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron – 2eme cru classe
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron – 2eme cru classe ©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners


Looking over the weather stats for the Bordeaux 2018 vintage one is struck by several positive features and, unfortunately, a couple which are likely to cause some difficulties for winemakers. There are certain key weather conditions which the vine needs to perform well. Bearing in mind, always, that generic weather data does not focus on an individual terroir and the way it might cope with the weather nor does it reveal winemakers’ attitudes and decisions.

Bordeaux 2018 weather

Bearing in mind the chart above, there are 5 essential conditions for a good vintage:

  1. A calm, warm and relatively dry period in the Spring to permit healthy flowering and

  2. similar conditions for fruit set a little later;

  3. Gradual introduction of dry summer conditions to induce hydric stress no later than veraison (when the grapes change colour)

  4. Warm weather for even maturation with adequately dry (but not too dry) conditions in August and September, and

  5. Optimum harvest conditions in September and October without rain.

Looking at the chart above one can see that many of these conditions appear to have been met except that although cumulative precipitation was beneficial in the first few months, the wet conditions in June and July plus the warm weather encouraged the onset of aggressive mildiou which provided very difficult conditions for many and particularly estates managed on biodynamic principles. It was an unusually sunny and dry summer fulfilling the criteria for a good vintage although a hail storm in late May affected a few properties in the Medoc. The resulting long period of hot and dry conditions might be referred to as a ‘drought’ – it hardly rained at all for 4 months. The year which had started late for vine development reversed itself and it became an ‘early’ vintage – a rare enough occurrence in Bordeaux.


Fabian Cobb


En Primeur - DAY 2: "The First Rule of 2017: There is No Rule..."

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-11


Reflecting on day two, with the heady aromas of Pavie and co still flickering around our mouths, and a hard day's tasting behind us, we searched for patterns and rules. But, on reflection, there really is no rule that we can suggest.


Chateau Pavie - Bordeaux en primeur, ©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

An Unexpected Guest

Cabernet Sauvignon made an larger-than-usual appearance in several top wines we tried today, most noticeably Vieux Chateau Certan and Cheval Blanc. Typically, VCC contains just 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, but in 2017 that was increased to 5%. Although there was no overt Cabernet Sauvignon aroma profile in the wine, its freshness and focus almost certainly added to the completeness of the mouthfeel. Cheval Blanc is a quite different story; 2017 is the first vintage in many years that the wine will contain Cabernet Sauvignon.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

Shining Examples of Franc

Cabernet Franc is absolutely not in the dog house in 2017, despite the general impression that it had a tough vintage. Three stand-out wines from today's line-up contained substantial levels of Cabernet Franc; Chateau Troplong- Mondot, Chateau Canon and Cheval Blanc's Petit Cheval. The former pair included around 25% Cab Franc, and Le Petit Cheval put on a blinding performance with a relatively massive 48%. So, while the variety may have had a very tough vintage in some parts of the right bank, it is showing admirably in others.


Frost Patterns

There is a lot of emphasis this week on The Frost (27th and 28th April 2017), and rightly so; it was absolutely devastating from some producers, and has had clear repercussions in their 2017 wines. But not all vineyards were affected, and some seem to have escaped entirely unscathed. Chateau Canon, for example, was almost completely untouched by frost. The wines are suitably excellent - refined, bright, tight and focused. Vieux Chateau Certan - our second tasting of the day - is another example of a winery seemingly undaunted by the frost. It tasted magnificent, silky and balanced this morning, all those tannins ago. But many of those right bank producers who did experience frost have found ways to produce good, and even excellent wines. Some adjusted the blend of grapes they use. Soutard is a fantastic and successful example of this; their 2017 is very good, and will be a great value buy when released. Their 2017 blend was 90% Merlot (significantly higher than the 65% normally used), with Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Malbec making up the remaining 10%.

Chateau Gazin was untouched by frost, but the team there nonetheless felt that their Cab Franc wasn't quite up to scratch. They took the decision to boost their blend up to a fat 95% Merlot, resulting in a 2017 grand vin with a silky mouthfeel, great balance, and an enticing touch of kirsch dancing around on the nose.

On the left bank yesterday, the story was quite different. The frost was relatively indiscriminate there, affecting most vineyards to some extent. But here in the right bank, the hillier landscape allowed the freezing air to drain away from some places...and to gather catastrophically in others. Thus the distribution of frost damage was much more patchy here. Clay-based areas and lower-lying sites were obviously hit very hard by the frost. We do feel for those producers hit hardest - it was clearly not an easy vintage for them, and they face challenges ahead when the wines are released to market.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

So the rule really is that there is no rule here. Which makes exhaustive primeurs tasting all the more valuable. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head to Graves and Pessac-Leognon in the morning, to taste the Haut-Brion wines, and then on to Pape Clement and Malartic Lagraviere. We shall see if, and to what extent, the gravel soils helped mitigate the frost impact here...


Wine Owners 2017 Bordeaux En Primeur Week - DAY ONE

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-10


Starting early, we hit the Monday-morning Bordeaux commuter congestion armed with laptops, phones and an excellent pain au chocolat. Day one launched us headlong into the Medoc grand crus, starting at Lafite, then moving through Mouton, Cos d'Estournel, Pontet-Canet, Calon-Segur, Montrose, finishing at Chateau Margaux.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Tongues still tingling from untamed tannins, we are now reviewing the day from the wine-free environs of our rented loft- conversion apartment. There is blue sky peeping through the skylights.

Three main themes emerged from today's en primeur 2017 tastings:


Cabernet Cornucopia

The most obvious pattern is that 2017 was clearly a Cabernet vintage in Pauillac and Saint-Estephe. Almost all of the wines we tried have a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends than in 2016. The particular weather patterns of the 2017 growing season meant that Merlot was tricker in 2017, and Cabernet performed well. Lafite, Montrose and Calon-Segur particularly exemplified this - their wines glowing from the healthy Cabernet. The Calon tasting demonstrated this most clearly; comparing side-by-side the Marquis de Calon and the Calon-Segur (Cabernet was particularly higher in the latter) it became clear how a higher percentage of Cabernet has worked wonders in 2017. The Calon is fresher, brighter and more defined than the Marquis, has more-focused acidity, and will be by far the longer-lived wine.

A noteworthy exception to this pattern is the grand vin at Chateau Margaux, where the team are obviously very happy with their Merlot this year. In fact, their Merlot was apparently so good that it was used worthy of a greater dose in the grand vin this year - a move which brought production levels of the grand vin up to almost 2015 levels (impressive from the smaller 2017 vintage). This is an unusual moment of glory for Merlot, which is typically the ‘insurance policy' grape.


House Styles

One obvious pattern showing in day one's tastings was house styles. These are very much in evidence in 2017, and most obvious at the Mouton stable, where d'Armailhac, Petit Mouton, Mouton and Aile d'Argent all shared the house's exuberent, borderline-exotic richesse. This continues right down to the house's entry-level Baronarques brand from Limoux, which we were also warmly invited to taste. The four Cos d'Estournel wines also had a family feel about them, being clean, bright and focused, without being overly ‘new world'. The pattern was most pleasing, perhaps, at Montrose, where both the Dame de Montrose and the grand vin showed brilliantly, and shared a distinctive style; cool, fresh wines (yes, high Cabernet content) with lots of tightly wound potential, and a whiff of something herbal (along the lies of nettles and lavender) marking them out from the crowd.


©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
Past and present

References to the past, as a means of promoting the present, were frequent in the presentations today.

Lafite's new director, Jean-Guillaume Prats (previously of Cos d'Estournel), pointed to technology as being significant in the quality of this 2017 vintage. Thirty years ago, he said, given the same vintage conditions, it would have been 'very tricky' to make a wine of such high quality as they have managed this vintage with both the Carruades and grand vin. Of course, his job is to say such things, but his demeanour was very real, honest and open. And the wines spoke for themselves; the Lafite was its usual elegant, impressive self even at this early stage in its life. 

Also illustrating progress by pointing to the past was Thibault Pontalier of Chateau Margaux, who highlighted that the blend of Pavillon Rouge today is exactly the blend of the grand vin thirty years ago. A strong part of his reasoning for this was the ever- increasing quality of Cabernet Sauvignon that Margaux is able to produce, thanks to investment in technique and technology. This was in evidence for more than just the reds, however; Margaux's stunning Pavillon Blanc 2017 ended today with a refreshing flourish of beautifully concentrated, linear Sauvignon.

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners


Comparing 2017 with 2016, the majority of wines from day one appear to be a notch less intense and refined than 2016. We're interested to see if this continues on the right bank.

Tomorrow we visit Nenin, Vieux Chateau Certan, Cheval Blanc, Gazin, La Couspade, Canon and Pavie. Watch this space tomorrow, for reflections on the right bank.



2017 - the year in wine that was

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-12-21


Broadening interest

2017 was a fascinating year for the wine market: a year of solid growth, consolidation and even a flash of speculation!

It was also a year of broader consumer interest reignited.

Knight Frank’s global Wealth Report includes analysis of the fine wine market provided by Wine Owners. Wine was by far the best-performing collectible asset of 2016, up 24%. As a result, lots of positive press in 2017 brought plenty of new interest into the market.

Health

After the sharp price increases of 2016, when the Bordeaux market leapt as it rebounded off its 2014 lows following a couple of years of ticking up, 2017 was always going to be a less dramatic year for the classified and blue chip Bordeaux market.

It was encouraging to see a successful 2016 en primeur campaign that saw generally modest increases over 2015 in Euros, even if increases were more substantial for UK buyers due to the weakened currency. Overall gains in 2017 were low single-digit for First Growths (after the 30% readjustment seen in the previous year). Other Classified growths and Right Banks rose an average of 7%.

Such moderation was less evident in the primary or secondary Burgundy market, the latter up 14.5%. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the top of the market is holding onto 5-year gains of 100%, thanks in part to enduring Asian interest.

Hard luck stories

Burgundy was really hard hit by frosts in 2016. It’s a super vintage, but with many producer cellars that are 2/3rds empty. Only Vosne-Romanée and parts of Morey-St.-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin escaped the April ‘gel’. Pretty much everywhere else was heavily hit. The night-time freeze hit the Grand Crus and vineyards high up, the morning sun burned the buds of other premier crus and villages plots.

That big reduction in volume does add something to the intensity of the reds most noticeably. They are balanced, intensely redcurrant or blackcurrant in character, saline and fresh, with a vein of blood orange pulsing through them. The whites are fine but don’t quite have the extraordinary rich, bright core of the 2014s, although in their favour the whites show more site specific character at this very early stage.

In 2017 Burgundy narrowly missed a second successive year of April misery, with an abundant vintage of good quality. Instead, Bordeaux was badly affected by freezing night-time temperatures in the last week of April, after a warm spring had encouraged early growth. Some areas on the Right Bank, Graves and parts of the Medoc away from the warming waters of the Gironde were devastated. Chateaux de Fieuzel in Pessac isn’t making any wine in 2017.

What that will do to en primeur pricing next year remains to be seen, but widespread rises are on the cards, probably even those properties who emerged unscathed.

Notable winning regions

Champagne extended its run with top back vintages (where relative scarcity starts to play) racing ahead, up 13% in 2017. The world’s appetite for Champagne remains insatiable.

It was gratifying to see Northern Italy in rude health, with interest for Barolo Crus broadening significantly and prices of the best producers very sharply up this year on the back of a string of good vintages culminating in the highly sought after 2013s.

Speculation

Talking of that flash of speculation, Margaux 2015 announced in November that Margaux would release their 2015 as a special edition in honour of Paul Pontallier, the managing director of the estate who died in March 2016.

We saw the first release from the chateau, offered in individual single wooden cases, at a significant premium to the release price.

Based on the Chateau’s announcement, we saw speculative trading in the wine between EP club members rise and rise, with bids climbing from under £6,000 to £12,000, representing more than a 130% increase compared to the release price to UK consumers of £4,650.

The limited edition black bottles with a variation on the classic Margaux label in gold invited comparison with the 2000 Mouton Rothschild, which attracts a significant market following based on collectability, despite not being in the top flight of Mouton vintages or even one of the best wines of the vintage.

Looking ahead to 2018

If you're interested to learn more about the health of the fine wine market and are interested in our predictions for 2018, you can now download our Fine Wine Predictions 2018 report, a must-read for collectors, wine lovers looking for value, and investors searching for opportunities.


DOWNLOAD PREDICTIONS 2018 REPORT


* * *

We wish you all a very enjoyable festive season, and much vinous pleasure as you open great wine bottles to celebrate and see in 2018.

Best wishes for health and happiness from the Wine Owners team!




The Wine Owners Trial and Terroir Dinner 23 November, 2017

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 First floors, 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 First floor 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 First floors – 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.


Bordeaux 2007 dinner club - Part 1

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.

Christopher Delalonde

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

NM Score

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+


Bordeaux en primeur 2016 and the Dory Syndrome

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-08-08


Early afternoon 22 May 2017 word spread that Lafite was out. A few calls were made. But where was the wine? Allocations were down 50% but with the promise of another tranche in a couple of weeks’ time. Négociants waited, not wishing to be stuck with more highly priced second tranche releases.

In tandem the Chateau also attempted to revive its 2010 vintage strategy of tying other wines in the stable to allocations of Carruades and le Grand Vin. Either Rieussec and Carmes de Rieussec were being tied to Carruades, or Carruades was being tied with Duhart, or Duhart was being tied with Lafite.

As an aside, there was nothing subpar with Duhart this year, a properly serious wine in fact. But using it in a bait-and-switch move is unlikely to enhance the bait’s secondary market reputation.

Then, without waiting for the second tranche, more than one of the smaller négociants broke ranks on releasing the first tranche to customers, but estimating the cost of the second tranche and pricing at the intersect of the two. With lack of market transparency buyers were uncertain what fair value might look like.

In fact the majority of estimated intersect prices turned out to be the level of the second release price, handing merchants a handy profit of 20%, and suggesting Lafite were less aggressive with their second release pricing than they had previously signposted.

Thankfully, Lafite 2016 represents a big step up on the previous vintage, so the price increase will likely be justified in the medium term, if as expected, the secondary market adds 25% to its release price over the next few years. In fact Lafite 2016 is simply glorious: an absolute pinnacle of classicism in this great left bank vintage.

Notwithstanding, the Lafite release ‘strategy’ represents everything that is most unattractive about Bordeaux en primeur at its opaque worst.

None of which would matter, if it weren’t for the consumer. It wasn’t so long ago that the Bordeaux market was moribund: the market killed off by aggressive pricing of 2009 and 2010 vintages and a subsequent market collapse. As long as consumers end up nursing persistent losses, there is a high risk of a collapse in market confidence. Commodity-like collectible markets that wine epitomises are particularly sensitive to the maintenance of positive sentiment.

We’re certainly not back in territory as yet. Lafite 2016 released at almost 50% below that of 2010, whilst for UK buyers the collapse of Sterling has magnified price increases, whereas the strength of the US Dollar provides a tailwind for Bordeaux sales into the USA.

But the Bordelais need to be mindful of what happened following the mis-priced 2010 release. Lest we forget, it was barely 3 years ago that the Bordeaux secondary market was still in the doldrums. The remarkable market resurgence that started in late 2014 should not be taken for granted. The Chateaux have a profound responsibility to avoid the Dory Syndrome, named after the forgetful fish in the Disney film animation.

Picture: Wine Owners


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