by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-11-28
Although wine markets have generally appeared not to correlate with the global economy over the last decade, we would not be surprised if this has changed from 2016 onwards and for the next 5-10 years.
Look back in time to the recession of the early 1990s, the Asian Crisis of 1997, the dotcom bust following Y2K, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 2003; and you will see that all these events that negatively affected global sentiment and equity markets also affected the fine wine market.
Go back further to the oil crisis of the 1970s, and wine plunged then too. But that was a different epoch.
Whilst the fine wine market has further globalized and broadened since the mid 2000s, people are still people: with the same human response to economic positives and negatives; that in turn reflects in levels of investment, spending and so on.
The fact that this is a discussion at all is down to the banking crisis and what happened in the period 2009-2015. Initially as stock markets tanked, the wine market rose, then rocketed in line with commodities and safe haven assets such as gold bullion.
But it was counter-intuitive. The response of the Bordelais in April 2009 was rational, to cut release prices to levels not seen for several years.
This was largely due a discontinuous, one-off event, namely China’s rapid industrialization, and what that did to commodity prices. In our opinion this does not mean that fine wine correlates with commodities. Or gold. As variously has been posited. You could just as easily correlate corruption, grafting and the adoption of fine wine as an alternative store of value for various indirect purposes within China during that period.
Wine is not a commodity. It happens to be one of the most commodity-like luxury collectibles, but that is not the same thing.
Wine is not a safe haven asset like gold bullion. When the world goes south wine warehouses do not fill up.
The basic question is whether wine is a hedge against the economic cycle? Historically it wasn’t. Recently it appeared to be but discontinuities are just that, so it’s not a reliable period upon which to form an opinion. Is the broader base upon which we now sit a game changer, where the laws of supply and demand, and the effect upon that of greater consumption, take over?
Scarcity has relentlessly driven Burgundy and cult Californians to new undreamt of heights, with top Baroli in hot pursuit. Will relative scarcity do the same for Bordeaux, or has the global base broadened at the same time as traditional markets, USA included, have shrunk?
And irrespective of all of the above, will the market continue to punish excessive pricing when things get out of hand?
FINE WINE PREDICTIONS 2018 - get your free report
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 2017-09-13
After a busy summer including in August our most productive trading month to date, we thought it would be instructive to run some analysis of trading trends and movements, compared to the same quarter in 2016.
Market share between regions remains relatively stable despite a large increase in trading value overall, with Bordeaux holding first place with a 75.14% share of market compared to 78.15% in the same quarter of 2016. That there is a drop is interesting in its own right, perhaps pointing to greater diversity in wines offered for sale, as well as to diversifying demand in export markets.
Burgundy is the major winner in market share, extending from 11.78% in summer 2016 to 17.10% over the same period in 2017, and we’ve certainly seen an increase in Burgundy purchases from Far East markets, showing a 17% increase on 2016 numbers by value.
Other regions remain very much minority sports, with Rhone up to 2.03% from 1.8% and Italy, surprisingly, down from 4.85% to 2.5%.
Within Bordeaux, the share of the market taken up by First Growths has grown from 28.26% in 2016 to 44.05%, perhaps reflecting heightened interest in the top wines, though the real interest is in how the First Growths compare within their own category.
Haut Brion is the major winner amongst the Firsts, increasing its share of the Bordeaux market to 13.35% from 3.2%. As a proportion of the First Growth market, the share increased from11.31% to 30.3%, putting Haut Brion at the head of the market alongside Lafite.
Lafite moved up to a 13.34% share of the Bordeaux market from 11.62%, but lost ground against the other First Growths, slipping to 30.29% from 41.12%, exchanging a clear lead in the class for an almost dead heat with the progressive Haut Brion.
Mouton showed a similar fall-off in share, dropping from an 8.63% share of Bordeaux to 7%, and a 30.54% share of the First Growth market dropping to a 15.89% share. Market and trading values for Lafite and Mouton remain robust however, so this feels more like a positive story about Haut Brion than a negative for the two Rothschild properties.
Latour has benefited too here, growing a very small share of Bordeaux (1.18%) to 5.07%, and increasing its share of the First Growth market from 4.18% to 11.05%.
Margaux has the least movement to comment on, increasing its share of the Bordeaux market marginally to 5.29% from 3.6%, and falling from 12.84% to 12.01% in its share of the First Growths.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-08-09
Caroline and Ludovic Decoster from Chateau Fleur Cardinale
Wine Owners: What is your greatest moment/regret as a winemaker?
Caroline Decoster: It’s a little bit sad to start this interview by a regret, but I have to say that we lost 95% of our vineyard in one night last April. It was heartbreaking. We’ve already invested in new machines, called Frostguards, for the end of the year, that will prevent us for this kind of catastrophe, but our main regret is not to have had them before.
WO: In what ways have your wine making changed over the last 10 years.
CD: The global warming has affected our wine making. We are located in the coolest part of the appellation of Saint-Emilion, which means that we have a late ripening terroir. Ripening the berries over the past decades could had been difficult in this part of Saint-Emilion, because of the lower temperatures during October - which is the moment of the year when we usually harvest. But nowadays, due to this global warming, we can benefit from Indian summers year after year, to reach the optimal ripeness effortlessly.
WO: What vintage are you proudest of?
CD: It’s very easy to be proud of a successful vintage. Like in 2010 and 2015, the wine growers were most of all very lucky, thanks to good conditions all year long. But in difficult vintages, all the right decisions that we took in tough moments were decisive to make a good wine in the end. Like in 2014 and 2016 : after months of rain and cold temperatures, the sun came back at the end of the summer, and everybody was so excited to finally have good conditions of ripening, that some vineyards completely de-leafe the bunches, which could be a mistake in some cases: the weeks after that we’d had the hottest temperatures for September since 50 years. We did not de-leafe completely, because we were sure that everything could still happen, and it was the right decision to take.
WO: If you had to define your wines/domaine in one sentence?
CD: Lots of wine owners will say how passionate they are about their wines : but we believe that passion can isolate you and make you blind. That’s why we rather prefer to talk about the « enthusiasm » that we have for our life, a positive and dynamic way of life that we want to share in each glass of Fleur Cardinale, with a lively fruit, and wine with a great energy.
WO: Tell us about your terroir & microclimate, and your approach to winemaking.
CD: The vineyard is located at the east of Saint-Emilion, on one of the highest points of the appellation, and is planted on clay-limestone soil in the middle of the hillsides. The planting is 75% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Our aim, vintage after vintage, is to preserve the freshness of the fruit in the glass.
In terms of viticulture, it means for instance that we want each vine to be very healthy, and to express the full potential from its terroir. This year, we’ve been certified High Environmental Value (HEV). This certification is the highest level of a generalised scheme for the environmental certification of farms. It guarantees that the presence of factors of biodiversity (hedges, grass strips, trees, flowers, insects, etc.) is very widespread on our vineyard and that the pressure applied to the environment by our practices (on air, water, soil, climate, biodiversity and landscape) is kept to a minimum.
In terms of vinification, it means that the ageing time in barrels is perfectly well-managed : The wine is aged for 12-14 month maximum, in new French oak barrels. Our coopers provide us with barrels produced exclusively from wood of the 3 most qualitative French forests. A Burgundy toast has been adopted for all our barrels: this kind of toast is realized at a moderate high heat and for an extended period of time, so as to preserve the purity of the fruit and the silky touch of the tannins.
Thank you so much to Caroline for taking the time to answer our questions. All our best wishes to the entire team at Fleur Cardinale!
You can visit the domaine's website here and follow their dedicated work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-05-15
The release of 2016 of £775 (12x75cl) is a substantial jump up on the simply marvellous 2015. The previous (in our view better) vintage released at £615 (12x75cl).
So we are looking at a 21% increase YoY. Meanwhile the gap between the two vintages has since closed, with the best offer price of Pape Clément 2015 now trading at £720 (12x75cl).
Not only was 2015 a sound buy for those who jumped in this time last year, it remains an attractive hold, since the release price of 2016 and a rumoured reduction in release quantities attributed to the April 2017 frosts, will lend its price support and push it up to £800+ (2x75cl).
For whom do the frosts toll? Us, the consumer, wine lover, collector…those who buy. The reduction in production volumes now likely for 2017 are difficult for producers, especially in those areas most severely affected, parts of Pessac included. By far the worst affected were those in the lesser appellations on the right bank, St Emilion and Pomerol off the plateaux, and inland in the Medoc. For many of those producers the frosts really were a catastrophe.
As we described here the great estates alongside the Gironde were the least touched by the frost due to the warming effects of the river; those parts of their vineyards affected were on the whole those producing grapes destined for their second wines.
We need to bear in mind too that 2016 production volumes are up 10%-20%, in many instances offsetting the potential losses (subject to a faint possibility of second budding) relating to 2017.
So as consumers, we should sympathise and feel bad for estates such as Pape Clément for their loss of production. We should feel even sadder for producers’ losses in places like Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol and Castillon, where there will be economic casualties. But it doesn’t mean we will consequently want to buy much more expensive wine.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-05-11
The tasting event in Westminster for the trade in early May provided an opportunity to re-taste a number of 2016 Bordeaux comparatively with their 2015 and 2014 equivalents.
The conclusions reinforce to a large extent the general impressions we formed in Bordeaux at the start of April, but the comparison also showed it’s not one size fits all.
Starting with the one wine tasted from the right bank, Canon 2016 is showing more aromatics than 2015, very silky, integrated tannins and is thicker-styled, with riper fruit. Canon 2015 showed greater intensity, with a stunningly pure mid-palate of ripe, sticky fruit, and a prolonged finish. Canon 2014 is more classically styled, with a cedar nose and liqueur-like mouth feel, this is lovely now and looks like much earlier drinking.
No doubt there are glorious wines from the Libournais in 2016, but both St Emillion and Pomerol do not conform to a vintage stereotype in these two vintages, and you will have preferences for individual wines from one or other year.
Smith Haut Lafitte
Jumping down to Pessac-Léognan, Smith Haut Lafitte (SML) 2016 is firm and properly dry, with crystalline fruit. Very intense and just on the right side of focus, with a very grippy, licorice finish. SML 2015 has a very energetic attack, sweet, refined tannins, a warm, fruity mid-palate and an aromatically spiced finish. SML 2014 was delicious but not in the same league as the other two vintages.
2015 was a stellar vintage in Pessac and Graves across the board. The same is not true of 2016 but SML showed (along with Haut Bailly, Chevalier and Carmes Haut Brion) that the best 16s are superlative and brilliantly architected for the long-term.
Rauzan Ségla 2016 is refined, with a liqueur-like mouth feel, and a hint of prunes. It’s less pure than Rauzan-Ségla 2015, with its fine nose, superbly energetic attack, refined mid palate and liquorice infused, fruit-driven finish. Rauzan-Ségla 2014 is dry, mid-weight, unforced and classic, with appealing grip, and a great, insistent finish.
Margaux was a star appellation of 2015, and this wine confirms how relatively disappointing the commune'’s wines are in 2016. They remain fine claret from a good vintage, but they miss out on the excitement of the ‘15s.
Our Pauillac representative of the comparative tasting stood out for its increasingly aromatic character, a factor that Justine Tesseron attributes to the growing influence that biodynamic farming is having on the fruit.
Pontet Canet 2015 was one of the most refined and silky examples of the appellation, yet today it just didn't cut it in the company of the glorious 2014 and deeply serious 2016. Pontet Canet 2016 displayed a fine nose, wonderfully textured fruit, a really firm mid-palate with bitter-edged fruit before sweetening into the long finish. Serious, long-haul stuff – and I suspect might become a legend 50 years hence. Pontet Canet 2014 is extremely aromatic, sweetly imbued with angelica flavouring, and with proper, grainy tannins on the finish.
Montrose 2015 is delicious and aromatic: a fine showing for the vintage, yet seemed to lack a bit of structure. St Estephe in particular produced some of the best wines in a generation in 2016, and Montrose shows up that difference as does almost every wine from the appellation. Montrose 2016 is equally as expressive as 2015, but feels like a wine for the longer term, with more serious structure and vital freshness. What impresses here is the focus and elegance, which make this one of the stars of the vintage.
Picture: Wine Owners Ltd.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-04-28
27th April is a date with heart-rending connotations. On that night last year (2016), the vast majority of the Cote D'Or was affected by a really hard frost. The rising sun the following morning burned the vines and a high proportion of the young plant growth was irrevocably damaged, reducing the size of the harvest by up to 80%-90% in the worst affected vineyards.
Much of the month of April 2017 has been unseasonably warm. In Bordeaux en primeur week of 3rd April saw temperatures in the mid to high 20s centigrade, and that warm weather held for a good 3 weeks, encouraging bud break and a significant amount of plant growth 2-3 weeks ahead of the normal cycle.
But during the night of 27th April, temperatures dived as low as -4c, and in certain sectors a large proportion of the potential crop has been lost.
The best terroirs next to the Garonne were largely if not entirely unaffected, thanks to the warming influence of the river. But away from the river, and near woodland, this year's hard frost hit hardest. That means some areas of Margaux were badly affected, the Haut Medoc, Listrac and Moulis, with bits of lower lying areas of St Julien also touched.
Significantly there has been widespread damage across the right bank including in St Emilion, aside from the Plateau which was spared. Pomerol is said to have also been affected. The right bank satellite appellations have been hit very hard. South of the city certain parts of Pessac and the Graves have been affected, where the damage is said to have been patchy.
Low lying areas have been most affected, which means a lot of second wine from some top estates will have been much reduced if not entirely wiped out.
Fears were that the early hours of the 28th April would create more devastation. The weather forecast did not augur well. And as painful as it is to say, that's exactly what happened. Our hearts go out to all those affected. Like a boxer flat out on the ropes at the bell yet with the prospect of having to go back in the ring to receive more punishment the following round. No doubt low lying areas and estates near woods or forests were once again worst affected. We pray that overall it won't be as bad as 1991.
Aside from the terrible blow the frosts have wreaked, the commercial implications are threefold: there will be less 2016 wine offered at first release than would have been the case, certainly in the worst affected sectors; what is released might be more expensive than it would otherwise have been; and it could slow down the en primeur releases, resulting in a longer campaign.
The best second wines in 2016 could be worth extra focus if you are intending to drink at that level, as there will be proportionally much less next year.