The tasting notes on old Bordeaux

The old wines that fascinate us are the ones that are beautifully grown but somehow neglected by critics, and/or undervalued for a reason. For instance, Aymeric de Clouet bumped into a previous owner of Cos d’Estournel at a restaurant in Switzerland a few weeks ago. They chatted as old friends do, and concluded that 1993 is one of the vintages initially considered poor but matured into excellent 20 years later.

Here are Aymeric de Clouet’s latest tasting notes on old Bordeaux.

Hope you enjoy them.

 

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My ranking is based on a five-star system: five is the top of the world, needless to say very few wines get there, and not every year. Four is excellency, three very good, two interesting (if not too expensive), one is insufficient.

Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac 1986 : ***

Although not as expansive as its glorious leader, Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc Milon 86 is a very good wine, very sharp and at its peak. Far from the current concentrated wines, it is fine and discreet, with a very pleasant scent and a lasting taste in the mouth. Very good. Drink now.

Château Fourcas Hosten, Listrac 2009 : **

One of the best price quality ratios in Bordeaux, Fourcas-Hosten is a reliable source for good value, like many Listrac/Moulis wines. This 2009 is pleasant but definitely not one of the best I tasted from this château. Good, can be better. Go for the 2012, it is cheaper, and I find it better.

Château Croque-Michotte, Grand Cru Classé (or not) Saint-Emilion 1961 : ****

I am enthusiastic about this wine. 1961 is a great vintage, one of the greatest post-war (unlike 1982) but at this time many wines were still incorrectly vinified. This was excellent, a great finesse indeed, but all the complexity, great length, and perfect balance that are required to make a great wine. Not even expensive.

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan 1986 : ***+

A neglected wine by critics, Les Carmes is a fantastic vineyard in the heart of the city. I have tasted nearly everything since 1953 and I deeply recommend it in most vintages, until it was bought and completely transformed recently: the wines are darker, more concentrated, less typical and with less individuality, they could be made anywhere in the world: well, now they have good grades! This 1986 is a good example: strong personality does not required strength and concentration. Ample aromas, everlasting taste, not feeling of overuse of casks, etc. A great old fashioned wine. Forget the new arrivals and stick to the great ones from the past.

Château Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan 1998 : * (and I am sorry)

One of my favourite wines, I was shocked and surprised to experience such a tragedy: a mediocre Haut-Bailly! In fact, it was so average and uninteresting that we decided to open another bottle of wine and stop drinking it! I tasted the rest over three days, to make sure. Maybe it was the bottle, but the wine was flawless, it was just… nothing. No aroma, no taste, poorly balanced with bitter tannins… Nothing ! I really need to taste another bottle.

Château Latour-Martillac, Pessac-Léognan 2010 : **

Always a good value wine, it is pleasant to have those in a restaurant. Still, the 2010 is in its poor phase, good but closeted, with more potential than actuality. Buy now to store, start drinking in four – five years minimum.

Château Canon, 1er Grand Cru, Saint-Emilion 1975 : ***+

Like another me, Canon 75 is subtle and elegant, complex and refined… Let us stop there. Definitely one of the four – five best terroirs in Saint-Emilion, Canon has an amazing record of great vintages. This is one of the (few) very good 1975, the most disappointing vintage in History, but it is not a great one. Drink now after good decanting.

On Blindness and Beauty

Part of our service is wine tasting and we often combine the finest wine with art and music to make the occasion very special, something to remember.
We were very happy to be a part of a philanthropic evening with Sightsavers and Prosperoworld at one of the world’s finest jewellers, Boucheron.

 
Sightsavers is a charity working carefully and efficiently to eradicate blindness in over thirty countries, in some of the poorest parts of the world. It is one of the oldest UK charities and Her Majesty the Queen serves as a patron. The purpose of the evening was to raise awareness and funds among philanthropists. The guests experienced how life would be without sight, on the theme of “Blindness and Beauty.”

 

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With special goggles which make your vision totally blurred, the guests tried on some of the most exquisite jewellery and guessed its animal motif. Each ring came in the shape of an animal, for instance a tiger ring with a pink sapphire and diamonds.

 

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When it comes to wine, its colour can be misjudged when tasted blind. This is even the case for wine professionals as science tells us that sight is an important part of tasting. With Aymeric de Clouet, the guests blind-tasted Hermitage 1993 (blanc) vs Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2012 (rouge) to guess the colour of the wine. As you can see below, the result was often, Wow!

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A video presentation was made by Dr Caroline Harper, CEO of Sightsavers. It was fascinating to learn that 80% of blindness could be prevented or cured, and a sight-saving operation for an adult only costs £30. At that price, surely we can help.

 

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The presentation was followed by a wine reception. The wine served that evening was Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc and Rouge from an award-winning producer, Domaine de la Confrérie.

 

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Here are Sita and Anna-Louisa from Prosperoworld, which conducts in-depth research to identify outstanding charitable projects to support. Their mission is to convene thought leaders, social innovators and philanthropists, to inspire debate and leverage funding for tangible solutions to poverty and inequality.

 

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Lastly, thank you very much to Boucheron for your generosity. It was a beautiful evening.

 
All photographs by Elijah Villanueva

 

Overstressed Wine Industry Can’t Believe Their Eyes.

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As sole judicial wine expert appointed by a high court, one of Aymeric de Clouet’s jobs is to authenticate wines, mostly on a confidential basis. Some cases are like international detective stories which have to be unravelled, and sometimes de Clouet enlists the help of other judicial experts from different fields of expertise. In France, the Paris High Court has appointed such a group of experts. They contribute to each other’s inquiry in their respective fields when necessary. The team includes a world papyrus expert and a former head of the Musée du Louvre. De Clouet is the wine expert.

Here is an article about de Clouet’s experience and his opinion regarding wine fraud. You may find it interesting.

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Last year, I was approached by a Singaporean wine merchant desperate to know about a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1929 that he considered fake, because its label was printed with pixels which didn’t exist at that time.

I asked them to bring the bottle back to France for me to examine. The pictures on my computer definitely showing pixels, which is fairly natural, on a screen. We then examined it together, and the whole bottle seemed to me to conform perfectly to what it was supposed to be. Old used foil, old glass, old label.

It was apparently not enough for my client, who kept insisting on the pixel-like printing. “Can’t you see, can’t you see, it’s obvious, it’s pixels”. I did not see, the whole label seemed fairly typical of the time period. So we asked for the assistance of a judicial expert in old paper since all other elements were now cleared. She confirmed that the quality of paper, the printing technique and all details were at least 70-80 years old. At the end of the day, not a single element of the bottle had given any reason for suspecting fraud, but a lot of fuss had been made.

It reminds me of a story told to me at one of the greatest estates in Bordeaux about a self- appointed wine expert who likes to have fake bottles destroyed, which would be ok if not for the fact that she does make people destroy perfectly good bottles, simply because she does not know what older bottles look like. In the post-war France, not all bottles looked alike, even within the same estate, and even in the same case of wine. At that time, nobody envisaged that someday wines would make such high prices, and that a single bottle could be worth a month’s salary or more. Châteaux did not pay the attention to detail that they do today. And let us not speak about Burgundy. They started to print corks in the 90’s!

The current wave of newspaper articles and TV reports, plus on-line articles does raise the level of fear regarding counterfeiting. Rightly so: after Kurniawan’s scandal, and some others that are not to be discussed (I am sworn to secrecy on the cases where I was consulted as an expert), it is true that the level of fake bottles has risen. It is only natural, since the value of wine has never been so high, as well as the ignorance of buyers, who collect wines as a sign of status.

Most fakes remain easy enough to spot. Others need a bit of knowledge. The infamous Kurniawan could sell Romanée-Conti 1945 jeroboams without raising an eyebrow in the US, while everyone knows that only 600 bottles (75 cl) were produced. Some years ago, a big international auction house listed a 1947 from the same estate – which was never produced. Recently, another auction house in the UK listed cognacs from different years and various producers, all with the same cork and foil; another listed magnums of Cheval-Blanc ’53, with neutral foil, never used there.

As so-called specialists let many fakes through, one still needs to be careful. But this is not a good reason enough to believe that there are no real treasures still to be had, provided they are bought from reliable sources and appropriately vetted

Behind the scene – French wine auction

 

 

What is your image of wine auctions? We sometimes see breaking news and headlines on very famous wines fetching millions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s in Hong Kong, NY or London. Is this what wine auctions are really all about?

French wine auctions may reveal slightly a different picture. About €30-€40 million worth of wines are sold in French auctions every year. In small village auctions, people bid on wines for Christmas and their families’ birthdays. Larger auctions, taking place in big cities, are mainly for professional dealers at the top of the distribution chain, selling mainly to export, wholesalers and eventually to restaurants and retail shops. Supply to auction houses comes from many sources: from restaurants reducing their inventory, institutional wine investors, private collectors such as Alain Delon and the French Prime Minister’s private cellar.

The most sought-after châteaux and vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy tend to surprise the world for the high bidding prices they usually reach, however there are still many value trades. For instance Aymeric de Clouet believes some off-vintages are completely undervalued for good reason. 1986 would be a fine example. It’s one of the greatest vintage for Médoc but their prices have been hampered for decades due to the poor quality of Pomerol and the subsequent criticism of an influential wine journalist….

So, there could be a price advantage in sourcing wines from auctions, but what about wine quality and authenticity, in particular given the increase in wine forgeries? In France, the wine auctioneers are bound by law to compensate for a loss incurred due to fraud. Because of this, the wine auction houses employ the services of an independent wine expert to assist the auctioneer. The wine expert examines all the bottles and suggests a prospective pricing in the auction catalogue, based on quality and how each wine has been kept. Aymeric de Clouet at FAIR WINES is not only one of the few wine experts working with French auction houses, he is also the sole wine expert appointed by the Paris Court of Appeals since 2011. When it comes to a legal dispute, the judge bases his decision on De Clouet’s judgement on a wine.

Please be assured that all the wines for our cellar service are sourced by de Clouet at the wine auctions where he serves as the judicial wine expert.

Lastly above are photographs of Alain Delon’s private cellar auction, with de Clouet in action as the wine expert for the auction house.

Decanting old wines

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I recently lost my nerve on a social media following a post regarding decanting and old wines, and I sure should not have. The post was published by a sommelier who considered that 1990 was an old vintage, proving that he did not even know what he was talking about !

I only got upset because I feel in pain for all those wines, all those producers who work hard, all those merchants who select and keep the wines with care, to find them slaughtered by an ignorant consumer after 30 years of cellaring! Yes, an old wine needs decanting, even more so than a young wine.

The reason may be difficult to explain, but the experience is easy to have: open two bottles, decant one two hours in advance, the other just when dinner begins. I mean any Bordeaux, except 1978 (please do not ask why: 100% of 78s that I drank were worn out after 15 minutes, not even decanted). Any wine ! 1928, 1945, 1990… Any area: Médoc, Saint-Emilion, Pessac and of course Sauternes… Sometimes, even poor vintages like 1973 can better in a decanter (they cannot get worse anyway).

I unfortunately cannot count anymore the number of old wines that I opened, but it is well over 3,000… The number of wines that I regretted to have opened too early is exactly four, all of them 1978, and I can recall each one : Duhart-Milon, Haut-Batailley, La Lagune, Pichon-Comtesse. Very good wines, but not over 15 minutes after opening.

I am not here to solve the 78 mystery but I want to try and prevent the old wines’ massacre with this message: do not listen to Cassandras and try for yourselves. The rule is to put a bottle standing at least four hours before decanting (best the day before), and to open it two hours before dinner time. Decant immediately, which you can do with a candle or an electric light, it is not as traditional but virtually the same.

If the cork is hard to extract, and you could not do it without a lot of crumbs in the wine, ideally filter with silk. Unfortunately, silk filters are not produced any longer, I guess I have two of the few remaining in the world. A paper coffee filter will do, but it is so unfortunate to let so much wine be absorbed! Then you can either but a glass stopper to the decanter or not, it is not essential, as long as the wine surface in contact with air is wide enough. Serve after two hours: the wine is clean, the nose is fresh, the mouth is well balanced… Nothing you can get from a freshly open bottled.

We always recommend decanting any wine, in particular old wines, to get the most of them. You might be surprised at how the taste and flavour could marvellously change if properly decanted.

Lastly here comes a short video showing how to decant old wines. You might be surprised at how simply it can be done. What you need is just a decanter, a flat candle, and… a bottle of wine! To watch the video, please click here. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

2015: year of the decade, but only because it started in 2011!

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Unfortunately, my numerous activities did not allow me to spend more than three days tasting the Primeurs, and there are a lot of important wines that I would have liked to taste. Still, I can share some hints about the harvest past and the bottling to come.

Despite difficult conditions with an extra dry summer and a rainy august, everyone seems enthusiastic about the end result. I am not. There are some very good wines, but some failures too. With my five-star ranking system (since I still refuse to score on a hundred point scale and will continue to do so), five meaning exceptional, there is no wine with them. Although Petrus was close.

Without further delay, here are my recommendations:

-Best areas : Graves (Pessac-Léognan) and Saint-Emilion

– Disappointments : Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac

I could not taste the Premiers (including Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Mouton) and the “Super-Seconds” which prefer to have tasters at their place. So my selection cannot include them! It is unfortunate that not more châteaux bring their wines to the common tasting, although some still do. So here my selection of my year’s favourites:

Petrus
Cheval-Blanc
Léoville Poyferré
Gruaud-Larose
Quinault L’Enclos
Lafon-Rochet

And my greatest disappointments:

Lynch-Bages
Les Carmes Haut-Brion
Beauregard

Why those three? Because I love them (usually), and you cannot be disappointed by something you do not like! But I was also not happy about other wines, the list you can find on my spreadsheet.

Nevertheless, it is a very good year in general, and I especially recommend you to buy the following very good value wines:

Gruaud-Larose, Quinault L’Enclos, Lafon-Rochet, Bouscaut (white & red), Olivier (red), La Tour Martillac (white & red), Petit-Village, Dassault, Cap de Mourlin, Balestard-La-Tonnelle, Siran, Dauzac, Brane-Cantenac, Kirwan, Branaire-Ducru, Clerc-Milon.

Domaine de Chevalier and Château Malescot-St-Exupéry, Léoville-Poyferré, Pichon-Lalande, Petrus, Cheval-Blanc are also very good, but the price might be a little bit steeper!

In the end, it is a vintage with exceptionnally smooth tannins, which might combine everyone’s dream: easy to drink in its youth, with a good ageing potential. The right bank is far above the left, with Saint-Emilion outstanding. Go for good prices, avoid gold diggers!

 

 

 

 

 

London Kimono Fashion Show

One of our services is to create and organise wine-related events for corporates. Sometimes we work with non-profit organisations and charities whose good causes we are proud to support.

Recently Fair Wines participated in the London Kimono Fashion Show which took place at Burgh House in Hampstead. The show was part of a project led by a NGO to promote Japanese Kimonos to be recognised as a World Heritage at the UNESCO.

Before the fashion show itself, the event included a talk about the tradition of Kimono and an actual demonstration of how to put the Obi on (i.e. the sash). Violin play and opera singing added grace to this special Sunday afternoon amongst flowers and champagne. The entire event was filled with the Omotenashi spirit.

Omotenashi defines the spirit of Japanese hospitality, though the meaning goes way deeper than providing hospitality. “Omotenashi” means “to entertain a guest wholeheartedly” as every encounter is single and unique.

It was a truly magical moment surrounded by the beauty and tradition of the Kimono world. Let us share some pictures of the day.

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All set in the beautiful location of Burgh House in Hampstead.

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More than 100 glasses were prepared for the champagne reception which followed the Kimono fashion show.

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Welcome speech from graceful Chieri Ikea, the organiser of the show.

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Soprano solo Masami Suzuki and Violin solo Haru Ushigusa were a real treat to listen to.

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The audience was fascinated by the quotation of a famous Japanese poet, in essence saying that if you look beautiful from the back, you will look beautiful from the front… Until told the quotation was actually made up. Obi joke!

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Let the London Kimono Fashion Show begin! Here is Miss Kimono on a cat walk. A good kimono is made out of silk and is hand-printed and/or dyed. It is a true art of craftsmanship, and is often passed on from generation to generation as a family asset.

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A Kimono with long sleeves is meant for young and unmarried ladies so that they could warm and embrace many potential suitors! In fact there are countless Kimono dress codes specific to ladies.

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At the Champagne & Sushi reception which followed by the fashion show, here is the team from Wasokan, the first Kimono shop in London (located in Notting Hill). A well-deserved celebration after such a large contribution.

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Little helpers were busy offering Japanese cookies to the guests. Thank you my darlings!

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Guests and all the Kimono models. You might spot me amongst the Kimono models. Thank you everyone for such an unforgettable day!

It would be great if you could share this and help the Kimono world receiving greater recognition!