Tag Archives: Bordeaux

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.

Decanting old wines

decanting

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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The tasting note: 1990 Pessac-Léognan

Tasting Notes - Pessac Leognan copy

 

1990 Pessac-Léognan

Enter the competitors: Château La Louvière, a wine from Léognan (South of Bordeaux), well known for its white more than its red, but I tasted it before so I knew its exceptional quality and value (around 20 € in France). Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, not related with its prestigious neighbour, not a Cru Classé from Pessac area, but a wine first tasted with the 1953 vintage and many more since then. The story of Les Carmes is that of a sleeping beauty, a fantastic wine poorly rated because it doesn’t fit to current tasting standards. In deed, I found it well-balanced, tannic, no exaggerated new wood, no excessive alcohol, no residual sugar… it needs time to evolve, again, not fit for the recent trends in tastings!

Unfortunately, Château Les Carmes-Haut-Brion was recently purchased, of course the new owner decided to “make a better wine”, which generally consists in making 100% strong new oak, late harvests, long macerations, etc. Not wine, really, but fit for the most critics. Forget about recent vintages, take 1990, a great vintage (with exceptions) and savour.

Les Carmes is much more typical of what is called “Goût de Graves”, which is the smoky after taste of Pessac wines. La Louvière is excellent, but the taste could be typical of Médoc as well as Graves. After evolving in the glass, La Louvière stands as the soft rounder one, more easily pleasant, but Les Carmes surpasses it with a great strength, a long finish, and this special Graves taste. Should I be in a picnic, I would certainly prefer La Louvière, but here with a traditional Côte-de-Boeuf Château Les Carmes-Haut-Brion is an obvious choice.