Category Archives: Aymeric’s Tasting Note

No one wants a great vintage

by Aymeric de Clouet

(This article was originally published in French.)

Every year the Primeurs campaign in Bordeaux is the opportunity for a nuptial parade from the producers in front of critics and journalists. Every year is an opportunity to explain why the vintage is even better than the previous one, which was already fantastic, the opportunity to widen one’s vocabulary in order to express it all. But the truth is, the last thing that producers, journalists and professionals want is a great vintage.

The good old times are past, when people knew how to handle a great wine, cellar it for 30 or 40 years with infinite patience. The times when it did not matter if a wine was completely undrinkable for 10 to 15 years. There are fewer old cellars, because of new buildings, robberies, and lack of finance.

The times are over when a small vintage was an economical nightmare for the producer and a long punishment for the consumer. All grands crus are at least drinkable and the last horrible vintage in Bordeaux dates back to 1992. Even 2007, a wine with little future, can be enjoyed in 2017.

The times are over when producers forced the vineyard to produces huge quantities of red, and with smaller yield came a better quality, steady demand and better margin.

The more you look into it, the more the wine industry is moving towards Champagne’s strategy: the same taste every year, to the utmost joy of restaurants, while even investors and owners are happy, because the speculation and price variations are limited but safe. Even producers are happier with a good vintage rather than a great one: it means steady price increase, instead of up and downs. 2010 was a difficult vintage to sell, to explain, and in the end made a loss for investors, despite the quality. In times of mediocrity, one needs to adapt.

We have to thank our predecessors who made 1928, 1947, 1959 and 1961 that we enjoy so much today, wines with genius instead of wine with skills. And even if I only mentioned reds here, I could say as much about whites, when 1964s are fresher than 2002s.

Value lies in aesthetics, whether it is with food or wine, not in the product quality. Patience lacks, and education, to appreciate great vintages. Will 2005 be the last real one? We can only hope that new trends will help to make great wines again, with the return of concrete vats, the end of overheated casks or excessive macerations, etc. The hope in balance between tannins, acidity and alcohol in wine.

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.

 

****************

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.

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

12 bordeaux

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Drinking tips

decanting

 

We present here our personal drinking tips. In our opinion, many bad habits have developed over the recent years due to both poor services prevailing in most restaurants and traditional savoir-faire no longer passing down through generations. Let us review some simple facts:

Serving temperature

It is commonly known that red wines should be served at room temperature. But is it really so?

What is known as ‘room temperature’ dates back to the time when dining rooms were (not much) heated at 16 or 17° C. Many restaurants today serve wines at 25° C, but no wine should be served above 20° C. Of course, white wines should be served between 8 and 10° C, while sweet whites can be chilled at 6° C. The wines will rise in temperature in the glass anyway.

Decanting

So many clueless theories are heard about decanting that we have to weigh in with strong affirmations.

Contrary to common belief, old vintage wines should be decanted even longer than young wines. It is a way to get rid of their ester aromas caused by their ageing, but which contributed to form their complexity. Two hours is a good minimum. The risk of having wines fading does exist, but it is rare and far less dangerous than not decanting it sufficiently. I know only one exception: all wines from the 1978 vintage will pass after twenty minutes.

You can decant all sorts of wines; even white wines and champagne will be better if decanted, but as for champagne you need to be very careful to avoid an excessive disappearance of bubbles.

Before decanting, you need to put the bottle up for at least one hour to let the sediments fall to the bottom. Otherwise your decanted wine will look like mud.

The basic rules for decanting are: put a light on a table (electric or candle), take a decanter in one hand, the bottle in the other, and incline slowly the wine bottle over the light and pour delicately into the decanter. When sediments appear in the light, stop. That’s it!

Filtration

When you open an older bottle, you may experience difficulties with dry corks. If you do not have a two-blade opener, your only possibility is to take the cork out as much as you can and filter the wine afterwards. The best filters are in silk, but hard to find nowadays. A coffee filter will help, but that is a bit of a waste.

Glasses

Again, there are lots of theories about glasses, but only one answer is good: a beautiful glass is always more pleasant. A fine crystal glass with a large bottom and a somewhat restricted opening is ideal, especially with young wines, while a larger opening is more suited for older vintages (20 years and above). Please forget about flutes for Champagne, and use tulip shaped glasses instead. The flutes are just a clever invention to make more glasses from one bottle!

 

 

 

The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux

Bordeaux 2014

The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux : a fair vintage, in the end

This week was held the “En primeurs” tasting in Bordeaux. The general impression is a pleasant one, although not impressive. Tannins are soft, acidity good but not too high, average to good length on the palate, one can say that 2014 is a fine classic Bordeaux vintage.

It all comes down to this : if prices are kept low, it is a good vintage to buy, if not, it will be a disaster for Bordeaux and all players in the industry. The wine does not justify a price increase, it is better than 2011, 2012 and 2013 but those vintages did not sell ! For example, this year, in my rating system, I put no wine with five stars, and only a handful with four.

Basically, as all visitors of the Atlantic coast could see last year, the weather was terrible until august 15. Then : dry & sunny until late october ! therefore the quality went to the late harvesters.

Let us get to business : the right bank was said to have very poor wines, because of the Merlot grape variety, in fact I was rather pleasantly surprised with some very good wines, but not a lot : Ausone stands out, but also Troplong-Mondot, exceptional, and a few others like La Couspaude, Clos Fourtet. Big disappointment with Figeac. The Pomerol are more difficult, but Gazin is excellent and Beauregard impressive.

The left bank, with the Cabernet-Sauvignon, is considered to be more successful this year : it is perfectly true for Saint-Julien, with the best average grades in Médoc, no wine standing out but none left aside ! As for the Pauillac area, with the great Pichon Baron and Pontet Canet (****), and the very good Clerc-Milon and Grand-Puy-Lacoste, it is rather good but not fantastic. Then comes Saint-Estèphe, some very good wines fairly priced (in general): Château de Pez, Les Ormes de Pez, Lafon-Rochet (***) etc… And Margaux, the worst area, few wines worth saving : Brane-Cantenac, Dauzac and the only 3 stars wine, Malescot-St-Exupéry…

Last, this time, the Graves area : whites are ok but some too soft; so I recommend the usual selection : La Louvière, La Tour-Martillac, Olivier. As for the reds, big recommendation on Picque-Caillou (***), a well-priced Pessac with a fantastic terroir. Domaine de Chevalier and La Louvière are good (***), Smith Haut Lafitte and La Tour Martillac rather good (**), Pape-Clément catastrophic.
So, an interesting tasting, good wines which will be easy to drink young, a few very good, not always the most expensive ones ! Go for it if prices are stable.

All ratings and individual comments on http://www.de-clouet.com/blog in French or http://www.fairwines.co.uk/ in English

 

 

 

The 2012 vintage in Bordeaux

12 bordeaux

 

This week, to verify the consistency of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux held the first « in bottle » tasting since the “in primeurs” round.

The general impression is of an average vintage. Even if modern methods of wine-making can help to avoid the great catastrophes witnessed in the past, the 2012 Bordeaux wines are not great. Fortunately, even in such average vintages, there are some great discoveries to be made, and not always the expensive ones.
I started with the Graves region (Pessac-Léognan), as I like to start with whites. After the exceptional 2011 vintage -one of the best in the last decades for white Bordeaux-, 2012 could only be disappointing, not unpleasant but lacking some nerve. A beautiful length for Domaine de Chevalier, and a very good value for Latour-Martillac and La Louvière, two very good wines which remain affordable. That is the extent of my selection. As far as the red Graves go, not bad at all, but heterogeneous: very good (***) for Les Carmes-Haut-Brion and Domaine de Chevalier, good (**) for Château de France (a surprise), La Louvière, Malartic-Lagravière, Olivier, and rather good for Latour-Martillac, Picque-Caillou and Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Two big contenders went down : Haut-Bailly and Pape-Clément. For the latter, power is not everything, they should try to make a wine with a taste of grape instead of alcohol and wood. What a shame!
Saint-Emilion is next : an average vintage here too, Figeac, despite the family issues, stands out, the rest is hardly average. Pavie-Macquin distinguishes (disappointedly) itself with its taste of Port and sugary finish. When I want Port, I drink Port! Not a Saint-Emilion.

Pomerol does not do any better than its neighbour. Beauregard,Le Bon Pasteur, and La Croix de Gay were fair. Clinet and La Conseillante, rather good. That’s it! Really average.

Therefore my surprise was big when I moved on towards Listrac and Moulis, two honest wines from these villages in the Heart of Haut-Médoc, with a very traditional style of Bordeaux (in term of Cabernet blends and terroir). I was met with a correct Château Clarke (*) and a quite good Fourcas-Hosten (**), followed with good (**) Chasse-Spleen and Maucaillou, as well as a very tannic Poujeaux. A good ensemble.
The rest of Haut-Médoc was also interesting, with a good Camensac, one of the best value for cru classé. Almost all the other wines were fair. Almost? Once again, La Tour Carnet distinguishes itself with a very poor taste, and for once La Lagune appears to be completely flat.

The day is not over yet, but I still have all great Médoc appellations to taste; I am so amazed by those “tasters” who would have hundreds and hundreds of wines, keep them for two minutes in their mouth, and would still tell the difference on each of them… Every decent professional knows that it is impossible! My magic powers for young wines have a limit, so I move on with Margaux.

Curiously, the first, d’Angludet, is quite good, but the rest is not so interesting : Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac-Brown, Dauzac, Durfort-Vivens (watery), and du Tertre were disappointing. Desmirail, Labégorce, Lascombes, Marquis de Terme, even Rauzan-Gassies were correct, as well as Rauzan Ségla and Siran. As a whole, not bad, nothing worth storing, but ok for a Restaurant wine list.

The Saint-Juliens are much better, with the exception of Beychevelle and, to my great surprise, Branaire-Ducru (a château I love for their fantastic wines at very good prices). Apart from these, all wines were rather good with Lagrange being a little bit above the others.

I have now reached 107 wines tasted, and it would be unfair to Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe to keep going on. This tasting was only one afternoon, so no break possible here, as opposed to the Primeurs tasting which lasts three days. There, you can do it all day, generally 4 rows of 40 wines a day. But I got the general idea for 2012: better than expected in Médoc overall, and not a vintage to be cellared but convenient for a restaurant’s consumption, plus a series of good value wines in Listrac and Moulis. Not so bad, after all.

 

 

1982: the most overrated vintage of the century?

chateau-lafite-rothschild-1986-75cl

Ducru-Beaucaillou 1982
Léoville-Poyferré 1982
Léoville-Las-Cases 1982
Duhart-Milon 1982
Lynch-Bages 1982
Margaux 1982
Latour 1982
Lafite-Rothschild 1982


It is with great excitement that we organised this exceptional tasting. 1982 is widely regarded (at least in the Anglo-Saxon world) as one of the greatest vintages ever. Thirty years is a good minimum to truly evaluate great Bordeaux, so the timing was ideal.

First, a disappointment : Ducru-Beaucaillou is rather bitter and acidic, and we move on to the next wine Léoville-Poyferré, quite good although not at the same level as the 1986 or 1990 vintage years. The worst will come now : Léoville-Las-Cases, a flat wine, flawless but with no real quality!

Now the better wines : Lynch-Bages is good, not one of its best vintages, but still decent. Duhart-Milon is very good; I have always liked this wine, especially since an incredible 1945 vintage, and it always tastes quite well in primeurs (at least much better than Carruades de Lafite, from the same producer). 1982 Duhart is well-balanced, very pleasant, both simple and marvellous, easy-drinking but in the good sense of the term.

Time for the premiers crus : Margaux goes first, simply because of its poor image in 82, suffering from the comparison with the 83, one of the best vintages ever (for Margaux). In fact, for the first time I could compare the 82 Margaux to other 82 Bordeaux, and it is really impressive. A lot of aromas, a great complexity, fantastic length on the palate, a great wine.
Latour is now entering the dance: second time I am tasting it, it is the same average quality indeed. I admit that it is a good wine, but not more. It has power, a little bit like the 75 vintage, although not at the same price, but nothing to compete with the magnificent 1970. Average.
Last but of course not least, Lafite-Rothschild : here comes the king of all 82s ! It needed a long time to open, and it was only at the end of the meal (by the second tasting round) that it expressed all of its potential. Words lack to describe the sensation. Powerful, but a controlled power, expressive, but not in excess, it is a great wine with still a great ageing potential.

Conclusion : 1982 is not a great vintage overall, it is a vintage with great successes. And disappointments too!

Expected achievements : Lafite, Poyferré, Lynch-Bages
Unexpected achievements : Margaux, Duhart
Disappointments : Latour, Las Cases, Ducru