Saturday, December 29, 2007

La parde, les demoiselles, l'esquisse et le jaugueyron

Last week I threw a tasting for a group of friends. We tried quite a lot of Bordeaux's. Before I dive into the details of my personal favourites and/or discoveries, these are the wines that were appreciated the most by the whole group (with the average rating from the group between brackets):

1. Frank Phélan 2004, Saint-Estèphe - 2nd wine of Château Phélan-Ségur (8.4/10)
2. L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001, Saint-Emilion - 2nd wine of Château La Tour Figeac (8.3/10)
3. Château Belle-Vue 2004, Haut-Médoc (8.1/10)
4. Clos du Jaugueyron 2003, Haut-Médoc (8.1/10)
5. Le Jardin de Petit-Village 2005, Pomerol - 2nd wine of Château Petit Village (8.0/10)

Clos des Demoiselles 2003
All five great wines. My personal favourites partially overlap (Frank Phélan, L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac and Clos du Jaugueyron), but there were two more wines that I found really convincing: Clos des Demoiselles and La Parde de Haut-Bailly. Below you find the tasting notes of my favourite five:

1. Clos des Demoiselles 2003, Listrac-Médoc
Seducing sweet fruit, ripe and with depth. Slight farmland stamp (manure). Delicious juice, smooth, dark and with plenty of strength. Delicious full red fruit. Pure joy, as wine should be. Soft finish.
2. La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2004, Pessac-Léognan
2nd wine of Château Haut-Bailly, cru classé de Graves
Scent of rose hip, hint of Crème de Cassis, quite ripe (thus). Smooth wine also, but with a little bit more strength than the previous one. Good grip, pleasant texture. Finish with chalky fruit and chewy ripe tannins. Good acidity. Lovely wine.
3. L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001, Saint-Emilion
2nd wine of Château La Tour Figeac, grand cru classé de Saint-Emilion
Pleasant quite slender nose, red fruit. Gentle texture, wine with - good - spirit. Harmonious, acids well in place. This wine constitutes a joyful whole. Très réussi.
4. Clos du Jaugueyron 2003, Haut-Médoc
Nose quite ripe but also somewhat modest in the start. Black and red fruit. First impression: a little unusual, with a distinct, but attractive character. Spice. Liquorice. And fraîcheur (acids). Very open, pronounced. Very good. The 2004 of this wine also stood an excellent chance at the Grands Vins de Bordeaux 2004 tasting of the Grand Jury Européen.
5. Frank Phélan 2004, Saint-Estèphe
2nd wine of Château Phélan-Ségur
Fresh red fruit, classic impression. Nose a bit closed. Slender, straight up. Youthful quite powerful fruit. Modest structure. Some pleasant seduction in the finish...

La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2004

Friday, December 21, 2007

Chateau La Fleur Morange 2005

This month an interesting blind retasting of the Bordeaux 2005 vintage was organised by Decanter magazine. Jancis Robinson attended, and reported. I didn't read much about it on the internet - unless the fact that there were some real surprises - so I thought let's make a small posting about it.

The big names did not stand out during this tasting. Where Cheval Blanc 2005 was Robinson's favourite right bank wine at the initial en primeur tasting (19.25/20), this icon was now granted only 15 points with two question marks... so maybe there was a problem with the bottle. But let's focus on the 'winners'. Three wines stood out by far. One well-known, Château Valandraud, Jean-Luc Thunevin's ultimate garage wine (18/20), and two rather unknown wines: Château Fonplégade (18/20) and Château La Fleur Morange (19/20!).

Château La Fleur Morange
A modern trio. The Valandraud story is well-known. Fonplégade has apparently improved after the American Steve Adams took over the château from Antoine Moueix, hired Michel Rolland and started working with 100% new oak. I have not tasted this wine myself, nor have I come across the third wine, Château La Fleur Morange. Not surprisingly: La Fleur Morange belongs to the group of very small garagiste properties, and it hasn't made its way yet to The Netherlands. Anyway, I will definitely look out for this wine the next time I visit Bordeaux. Just very curious now.

Château La Fleur Morange 2000
Château La Fleur Morange is a tiny property of less than 1,5 hectares in the far South-East of the Saint-Emilion appellation, close to Côtes de Castillon. The vines have the very respectable average age of 90 years, and the vineyard is handled with "painstaking care", as the owners themselves, Véronique and Jean-François Julien, put it. La Fleur Morange ages for 18 months on 100% new oak.

I was somewhat amused by the remark Jancis Robinson made after having tasted La Fleur Morange 2005 blind: "I think this may be Pavie but I still think it is very good wine!" Everyone will remember what Robinson said about Pavie 2003, calling it a "rediculous wine". And this month she tasted a wine she really loved, which... might have been Pavie... and is still very good, mm, it's quite difficult all together. Or maybe I'm missing something.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Visit to Burgundy, part II

One thing that I do not understand about the French is that they do not have a hook for the shower head (and also no tray for the soap). Combine this inconvenience with old taps that are extremely difficult to adjust, and the result is that you start your day with an annoying fight with your shower. But it also ensures that you arrive perfectly awake at your first domain visit. Which was good, because both visits were highly interesting this day. And fully English spoken, so it was easier to talk about all kinds of nerdy wine details. Both visits are about guys from abroad coming to Burgundy to make an adventurous dream come true. Both in their own way.

Saturday morning 8 Dec: Mischief and Mayhem, Aloxe-Corton
Mischief and Mayhem is the story of two friends starting a winery. One is Michael Ragg, who runs the domain in Aloxe-Corton with his wife Fiona, the other is Michael Twelftree, who flies over from Australia a few times per year, to be present at the key moments in the winemaking process. He himself runs Two Hands Wines, a Barossa Valley winery. In Ragg's previous life he worked for Berry Bros. & Rudd in the UK.

Mischief and Mayhem
At Mischief and Mayhem they do not grow their own vines. They buy grapes from selected vineyards. The selection process is strict, and is a pivotal first step towards making great wines. Working like this means that one can offer a wide (and also changing) variety of wines within a relatively short time. The alternative, acquiring your own (high quality) vineyards in Burgundy is extremely difficult, as we will see in the story about David Clark.

Michael Ragg tells about his wines with infectious enthusiasm. He's excited about everything that has been achieved in a few years time. And he should be: the wines are impressive, and absolutely joyful. Bill Nanson from Burgundy Report summarizes the style as follows: "Clean and aromatic with a lovely core of acidity". The wines go from slender youthful to rich with a little cream in the texture, but they all share an certain - attractive - clarity. Ragg talked about "an acidic stream that runs through the middle" of the wine, from start to finish. Say the spine around which the wine revolves. Vital stuff it is. These are my favourites: the Chablis, the Meursault and the Pommard 1er cru, all 2005.

Michael Ragg, Mischief and Mayhem
Besides making great wine Mischief and Mayhem intend to "demystify Burgundy", as they put it themselves. Burgundy is a complex region, and the wines from Mischief and Mayhem all have friendly descriptive labels.

Saturday afternoon: David Clark, Morey-Saint-Denis
Just as passionate, but in a totally different way, is David Clark. This young winemaker left his technical job for the Williams Formula 1 team to make wine in Burgundy. Problem one: French. David spent a year in France learning the language, after which he started attending the Dijon wine university. With some luck he then found a house with a cellar in Morey-Saint-Denis, and off he went. 2004 was his first vintage.

David Clarke in his cellar
Buying grand cru vineyards is out of the question, and not affordable. Premier cru vineyards is almost out of the question. But in the few years David has been around now he has acquired quite a few impressive pieces of "lower qualified" vineyards, and he tends these vineyards like grand crus: the way of (high) trellising, the ploughing only at the foot of the vine, leaving the natural weeds in the rows, the extremely low yields comparable to those of Domaine de la Romanée Conti...

His best piece is a four rows wide strip of Morey-Saint-Denis, he owns a lovely slope of Côtes de Nuits Villages, and he owns pieces of Bourgogne and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. David is working the land all by himself, makes the wine all by himself, is making a living all by himself. No family there in France. He comes across as a very friendly, even somewhat shy, young man. But he must have an enormous drive, an enormous power. And he's not 'just making wines'. David is in an ongoing search for the ultimate purity. Experimenting for example with leaving out sulphites. Which is difficult, and may appear to be too difficult. And adding an oak-flavour to wine he defines as "cheating".

David Clark in front of his AOC Bourgogne
We tasted the 2006's from the vat (David was almost about to bottle these wines), and the results are beautiful. Very ... pure ... fruit. Available in very ... small ... quantities. Most sold in the UK (Ragg's Berry Bros. & Rudd!), and in the US. And I feel very lucky to have bottles no. 2 and 3 from the 2006 vintage. Bottle no. 1 was issued to the Guide Hachette.

David was so kind to drive us around and show us his cherished vineyards. A truly interesting visit, and I will definitely follow David the coming years.

Before we left Morey-Saint-Denis we bought some wines at the Caveau des Vignerons (some Arlaud, and two Clos des Monts Luisants blanc 2005 (Ponsot) that I will drink with my son in 20 years, he was born in 2005; a 1988 that I recently tasted was quite spectacular). And we concluded the day in Le Comptoir des Tontons with a very mediocre Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru (Clos Saint-Jean 2001) from Alex Gambal. We shouldn't have been so strict about this Anglo-Saxon theme... for we'd almost opted for a Domaine Leflaive... Will do next time.

Further reading:
- Jan van Roekel's Burgoholic (we made these visits together)
- Informative Mischief and Mayhem website (the slow intro will soon be removed...)
- David Clark's blog, very interesting

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Visit to Burgundy, part I

This weekend I visited Burgundy with my friend and Burgundy-connoisseur Jan van Roekel. He is creator of the Burgoholic website and had only been four times to Burgundy this year, so he thought it would be a good idea to visit a fifth time. Today I will write about our first day, later I will add a Burgundy part II story about Day II. In short: we had a number of very inspiring meetings with great winemakers, we visited some mouthwatering wine stores, and we spent quite some time in exciting restaurants.

Friday morning: Domaine Jean Tardy, Vosne-Romanée
On 25 March 2006 I attended a comprehensive tasting in Nuits-Saint-Georges, with many wines from many Côtes-de-Nuits appellations. In the Vosne-Romanée corner Guillaume Tardy introduced me to his wine; it appeared to be my best encounter that afternoon. I asked him where I could buy his wines, but these seemed difficult to find, so he sold me two bottles "under the counter". I promised myself to visit Guillaume in the future. Not only he had great wine, but he was very friendly also. Last Friday we met again.

Guillaume Tardy, winemaker at Domaine Jean TardyGUILLAUME TARDY OF DOMAINE JEAN TARDY, VOSNE-ROMANEE

After his study Oenology at the University of Dijon and an eight months work experience in Australia, Guillaume (now 30) got in charge of the winemaking at the family domain in 2001. Ever since he is combining the traditional knowledge that he has acquired from working with his father Jean, with his own – say more modern – insights. We tasted all wines from the 2006 vintage from barrel, and we were thrilled. Every wine is a different exponent of Guillaume’s idea of winemaking: the result should be an accessible wine with healthy forward fruit, and that embedded in a suave and tempting texture (when trying to summarize his wines in one sentence).

One of the things that account for the type of fruit in Tardy’s wines is that he does not crush the grapes before they enter the fermentation vat. That means that much of the fermentation takes place within the grapes, more or less comparable with the so-called maçeration carbonique method, known for producing very spontaneous, lively fruit. Another thing is that during barrel aging, Tardy doesn’t do any racking (i.e. transferring a wine off its sediments into a clean barrel). In doing so, more is kept within the wine: the wine ages on its lees.

Now it also got clear to me why I wouldn’t have been able to find his wine: almost everything is exported to far away countries: mostly US and the Far East. Last year only a small proportion was bought by Alain Ducasse for his three Michelin stars restaurant in Paris.

After this highly interesting visit we had lunch at the well-known restaurant Ma Cuisine in Beaune – especially their heavenly tarte au chocolat would be a valid reason to return.

Friday afternoon: Domaine Marc Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet
In the afternoon we visited the well-known Domaine Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet. Sabine Mollard, granddaughter of Marc Morey, had us taste various Chassagne-Montrachets from the years 2006, 2005 and 2004. I was especially impressed by the endless finish of these young whites. Grand wines that will last long, and these rich characters are best enjoyed with something good to eat.

Domaine Marc Morey
The Marc Morey label is quite characteristic with its green background, and Jan and I had just mentioned to each other that the design is not particularly beautiful... and what a coincidence: for the 2006 vintage new labels are going to be used! Totally different, and definitely more stylish. I was so stupid not to take a picture of it...

At the end of the day we visited two wine stores that stand out for both their collection and their good prices: Le Cavon de Bacchus in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Le Cellier de la Cabiote in Beaune (and we couldn't resist buying some jewels).

We concluded this great day in Caves Madeleine (Beaune) where I had my first Pied de Cochon, pig’s trotter. While enjoying this remarkable piece of meat, tendons, toes, bones, skin and fat we listened to owner Laurent Brelim who explained to us that great wines should not be opened when there is a low pressure atmosphere (it was raining the whole weekend...), and even more strict: you should only open a bottle of a great wine when the moon is changing. So, keep that in mind when looking at your own cellar treasures!

Day II (Visits to Mischief and Mayhem and to David Clark) will follow soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mood altering cognac

I have always blithely said I preferred armagnac to cognac – which was really just a knee jerk opinion formed years ago due to one brutal hangover from drinking too much cognac, and then, a few years later having one or two glasses of armagnac one day after a long lunch.

Last week I went to cognac. Less than two hours from Bordeaux but a whole different ball game. The grapes are still there, but it is the distilleries, at least at this time of year, that are the stars of the show. The aim was to understand a bit more about the place, and because I have an article to write about their booming sales – 163 million bottles sold in the last 12 months from October 06 to October 07. The most ever since the appellation was founded in 1939.

Two distillery visits were organised by the BNIC – the local cognac board. The first was to Ragnaud-Sabourin, a small family owned operation near Segonzac and the second to Frapin, also family owned, but on a bigger scale, in the same area.

Both are owner/distillers with vineyards in the prestigious Grande Champagne Premier Cru area. Frapin is the largest single owner in the area, with 216 hectares of grapes, while Ragnaud-Sabourin has 50 hectares.

The explanation of the inner workings of the still at Ragnaud-Sabourin was detailed and impressive – or at least I thought so, but then again I have never seen one before. Favourite Christmas present from here would be a bottle of Paradis which has 90% cognac from the early 1900’s, and 10% pre-phylloxera cognac - before 1870.

I didn’t taste it but the story was good enough to vaguely imagine spending 660 euro. That was, at least, until I tasted pure 1870 cognac at Frapin’s, hauled up out of a hessian-covered demi-john in a thing that looked like an old test tube. It tasted very strange. And very, very good.

I still have the empty glass and I can still smell it. There was a lot of talk about old leather and rancio – that desirable blue cheese type smell you get off very good, very old cognacs. For me it was all about old libraries, dusty paper, a vague metallic inkiness and that pre-exam awareness that all this might be snatched away simply by failing.

But whatever about the taste, the old Frapin 1870 was great for the mood – turning a straightforward, rainy afternoon tasting, into an impromptu bonding session, with war stories and childhood memories all over the shop. And that was just as a result of smelling it. I have yet to see something like that happen at a Bordeaux wine tasting.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cru Bourgeois classification: good news!

After the recent sighs of relief in St Emilion (see my posting from 17 November) there is also good news from the Médoc region. Not that the 2003 Cru Bourgeois classification will be restored (that is not going to happen), but an important step is made towards a renewed use of the term Cru Bourgeois. The Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, beaten by the storm that blew away their new classification last February (it was annulled by the Bordeaux Administrative Appeals Court), is clearly scrambling to its feet, and presenting yet another milestone for their New Plan.


Not being able to use the words Cru Bourgeois was very bad news for many winemakers in the Médoc, and for the Bordeaux wine trade in general. So after having nursed its wounds, the Alliance presented its resurrection. In short: Cru Bourgeois will stand for measurable quality, and anyone can apply for the new qualification. The idea was already presented in July, but in order to make it really happen - including the possibility to already use the term on the 2007-labels - various parties had to agree.

On 22 November this agreement was reached between the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, the Union des Viticulteurs du Médoc and the Coopération du Médoc: these parties have now agreed upon the specifications for the use of the term Cru Bourgeois. And these are:

1. Cru Bourgeois is recognised as a designation of quality.
2. Qualification is based on two elements - production (determined by visits to the properties) and results (determined by a tasting of the wines).
3. Annual qualification is determined by an independent organization.
4. Qualification may be obtained by any property in the Médoc.

I talked to Frédérique Dutheillet de Lamothe, director of the Alliance, and she sounded quite sure that the renewed Cru Bourgeois title can directly be used on the coming 2007 labels (bottling will be in 2008). But note: just the words "Cru Bourgeois": the categories "Supérieur" and "Exceptionnel" will not return, at least not in the near future.

Which I think depicts the weak spot of the plan: if the specifications remain quite general, and in fact comparable to specifications for an appellation (OK, those are less strict), the Cru Bourgeois title might in the end become a more or less undistinguished label. For the short term however, today's plan seems to be the best way to move ahead, and I hope that for the top châteaux (like the old Exceptionnels, often better than many Cru Classés) something extra will be thought up. Which I think will happen.


Finally, one question remains... since any Médoc property may obtain the Cru Bourgeois title, and it is purely an indication for quality, can a Cru Classés also apply for the qualification? It would be a very special appearance: Château Latour, Cru Bourgeois du Médoc.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wine energy, biodynamics, Nossiter and Bridget Jones

Having read Jonathan Nossiter's new book Le Gout et Le Pouvoir, and realised that he, like Bridget Jones, is a great believer in wine energy, I am ever more energetically seeking out biodynamic wines.

Nossiter likes energy in his wines, and, is also an advocate of finding new ways of talking about wine, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive.


What could be more inclusive, in vocabulary terms, than talking about a wine having energy or not? We all understand energy and the lack of it. I think he might like to know, however, that it was Bridget Jones who first mentioned the concept of wine energy, when using chardonnay to 'get energy back' due to being shagged out and tired by work and life.

So now, in my latest tasting notes - the ones I speak out loud more often than actually write down - gone are the searches for hints of liquorice, or cinnamon notes, and in are words like energetic, lively, flat and dull. In also are feelings. Does the wine make me want to talk, recite poetry and generally give my opinions freely? Or does it make me want to collapse silently on the sofa in front of the fire? Whether I actually like the taste or not, is also back in – something that got a bit lost in all that identifying of flavours.

Searching around the other day for new words to describe a wine that just didn't taste quite right, the words 'no energy' came immediately to hand. But so did separated. It was exactly as though a mix of heavy, musky, unsweetened grape juice had had a layer of alcohol poured over it, and been neither shaken nor stirred. There were two separate entities in the bottle. There may be a technical term for it, but separated worked for me.

The trouble with language, though, is that it has to work for other people as well as oneself. That is in fact one of the main points of language. So when I enthusiastically told someone else it tasted separated, and they looked blank, I realised I still had a way to go. Oh, well. Next time I taste something like that I will try and find another word.

But anyway, hence the search for biodynamic wines that are supposed to be full of energy. And variation. Variation from vintage to vintage – so sorry to Hugh Johnson, but I disagree in this case with his recent claim that vintages do not matter anymore. In biodynamic wines they do. Which I am in favour of – mainly because I have now lived through three Bordeaux summers, and I like being able to think, well that was the one that was hot in April, or wet in September or whatever, and see if I can 'taste' it in the wine.

Such is the current biodynamic wines have over me, I have to stop myself opening one every night, despite the fact that the only one I can currently find in my local Carrefour costs 17 euro. And that is on special offer. I think when it goes back to its normal 22 euro price I will have to restrain myself. Or find another.

Biodynamic wine – Château Fonroque 2002, Grand Cru Classé de Saint Emilion, 17 euro at Carrefour on special offer.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clos Badon Thunevin 2001

It is good to present a cherished wine to your tasting club friends. And it can be confronting also. For example: someone smelling your favourite wine and saying "Mm, a little chemical". What?? But you keep smiling - everyone at the tasting can have his or her say, whatever that is.

At a tasting that I threw yesterday I opened one of my favourite clarets. Not without any risk, having invited a number of unscrupulous tasters - some even with a more or less critical attitude towards the expensive blah-blah wines from Bordeaux. They tried: Clos Badon Thunevin 2001. They knew: it's a Bordeaux, c'est tous.

Clos Badon Thunevin with Jean-Luc Thunevin
To my relief - to be honest - most people gave the wine a warm welcome. Maybe especially after the 1988 Vieux Château Certan that didn't come out very well - I think it was some time past its apogée. The Clos Badon was convincingly characterised as a very complete wine, and a wine that is both powerful and unctuous. True, and also true is that this wine combines the merits of the classic claret and the modern Bordeaux. A delicious achievement.

The nose. Has it all: dark ripe fruit, just the right touch of seducing oak, a hint of stimulating farmland manure, etcetera. Truly exciting, you just keep sniffing. The mouth. The corpus of the wine is young and athletic. Like Michelangelo's David. It is powerful, but not as a result of an enormous extraction, as we see so often in Saint-Emilion these days. No, this wine has a pleasant texture, with ripe tannins. There's a hint of sweetness, and there are refreshing acids. Overall: the Clos Badon is multifaceted, and its facets are harmoniously presented. It is a precise wine.

Guyon, Vieux Chateau Certan, Clos Badon Thunevin, Raveneau, Jarry
After having tasted the 2001 several times in Amsterdam, I had the chance to try more vintages while visiting Jean-Luc Thunevin in Saint-Emilion. In his garden in the village centre we tasted 2006, 2005, 2004 and 1998. From these I was especially thrilled about 2006 and 2005. We also tasted the 1999 and 1998 Château de Valandraud. Absolutely impressive, but personally I prefer the - less sweet, more lively - Clos Badon. So what does Thunevin do to create this beauty? Most of all: listen to nature.

The Clos Badon vineyards lay at the foot of hills belonging to Pavie and Larcis Ducasse, and the sandy land here (6,5 ha) is actually quite flat. The earth between the densely planted vines is ploughed, as a healthy alternative to spraying. Quite special is that the fermentation is being sparked by natural yeasts that live in the vineyard, no artificial yeasts are used. The wine matures in 100% new barrels, and before the wine gets bottled it is neither fined nor filtered.

Today's Clos Badon consists of 50% merlot and 50% cabernet franc. This will at least be the case up to the vintage of 2008. As a reaction to global warming Thunevin has started to plant the slower ripening cabernet sauvignon, and in the future wine the cabernets will make up for the biggest part of the blend. Another indication that Jean-Luc Thunevin is not just making wine, but working with a clear vision.

Should you ever visit Thunevin: look out for the chicken that is on the label of the Clos Badon. It is actually - still - hopping around in his garden!

(By the way: the Raveneau was spectacular, Jarry's Vouvray impressive and Guyon's Beaune very pleasant.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

St Emilion classification 2006 reconsidered

Without doubt, many St Emilion châteaux will have heaved a deep sigh of relief: earlier this week the Conseil d'Etat abolished the temporary suspension of the 2006 St Emilion classification. It doesn't mean that all problems are solved now, but at least the classification can be used again, and the words (Premier) Grand Cru Classé can be printed on the labels of the 2006 vintage, as usual. This decision from France's highest administrative court in Paris came right in time for the Bordelais.

Château Ausone
But the complaints about the new classification - surprisingly all from demoted châteaux - will later still be dealt with by the Bordeaux court. And just to be helpful to all parties involved, and to make things less complicated, Bordoverview hereby presents its own subjective reconsideration of the classification.

The revised list below takes as a starting point the new 2006 classification. And dear reader, please do not hesitate to formulate your reaction to this alternative list.

Premiers Grands Crus Classés A (no changes)
Château Ausone
Château Cheval Blanc

Premiers Grands Crus Classés B
Château Angélus
Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot
Château Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse
Château Belair
Château Canon
Château Canon-La-Gaffelière (promoted from GCC)
Château Figeac
Château Larcis-Ducasse (promoted from GCC)
Château Magdelaine
Château Pavie-Macquin
Château la Tour Figeac (promoted from GCC)
Château Troplong-Mondot
Château Trottevieille
Clos Fourtet

Grands Crus Classés - changes only
Château Pavie (demoted from 1er GCC)
Château La Gaffelière (demoted from 1er GCC)
Château Bellevue (promoted, or actually restored to where it was)
Clos Badon Thunevin (promoted)
Château La Bienfaisance (promoted)
Château Carteau Côtes Daugay (promoted)
Château Moulin Saint-Georges (promoted)
Château Quinault l'Enclos (promoted)
Château Tertre-Roteboeuf (promoted)
Château de Valandraud (promoted)

Demoted: removed from Grands Crus Classés
Château La Couspaude
Château Destieux (actually placed back to where it came from)
Château Monbousquet (also placed back)
Château Fombrauge

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

René Gabriel added to Bordoverview

Since today the Swiss wine pope René Gabriel has his own column on Bordoverview. At this moment only on the 2006 left bank page (view with Internet Explorer), but later this week also on the right bank page. And when I have some time left, I will also update the 2005 information with Gabriel's ratings.

As a matter of fact Gabriel should have already been part of Bordoverview, as he is one of the most important European tasters, and the most important taster of the German speaking part of Europe. I have also received a number of e-mails from visitors who were wondering why Gabriel was missing.

René Gabriel
Now that his ratings are entered, and can easily be sorted, a number of things directly stand out:

1. For Gabriel, top ratings aren't the exclusive terrain reserved for top wines. A 'smaller' wine can even have a higher rating than a First Growth (Lafite, Margaux etc.). In the eyes of Gabriel Phélan Ségur 2006 (19/20!) outperforms almost all Médoc First Growths.
2. Gabriel's left bank "wine of the vintage" is not a First Growth either: lonely at the top is Unofficial-First-Growth Léoville-Las-Cases. Directly followed by Phélan Ségur together with Pape Clément, Haut-Bailly, Léoville Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Cos d'Estournel and - the only First Growth in this row - Mouton-Rothschild.
3. So does the observant reader notice that for the Graves region Gabriel is more thrilled about Pape Clément and Haut-Bailly than about Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion.
4. It is also interesting to look at the agreement and disagreement between Gabriel's judgement and that of other famous tasters. Take for example Phélan Ségur again. His favourite wine received just few attention from the American press: James Suckling awarded the wine with a quite modest score, and Robert Parker didn't taste the wine.
5. Gabriel has tasted an incredible amount of wines. His Bordoverview column is almost completely filled, and besides the wines listed on Bordoverview Gabriel has tasted many more - I will see if I can add some of these wines to my overview as well.

René Gabriel publishes the wine magazine Weinwisser, and he has his own website containing all his ratings from 1982 to 2006. And he's especially known for his unabridged Bordeaux bible Bordeaux Total, containing about 20.000 tasting notes.

Should anyone think that another taster is still missing on Bordoverview, let me know.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

2006 campaign fails, prices likely to come down

Talking to several Dutch wine merchants reveals what was already apparent: the Bordeaux 2006 primeurs campaign has been a failure. Reason number one is that the prices were too high for this 'average' year. The sales volume has sometimes plummeted to only a fraction of what was sold the previous year. Reason two: people have already emptied there wallets for the 2005 primeurs, everyone wanted to get hold of at least some wines of this declared super-vintage. And a year following a great year is naturally overshadowed by its predecessor - this has happened for example to the good 1983 vintage and more recently to 2001 and 2004, both interesting classic vintages. Fact is that most buyers are reluctant to empty their wallet for a second time.


If we look at the price development of a more or less comparable vintage like 2004 we see that the majority of the wines can later, at the French Foire-Aux-Vins, be acquired for a better price. Not all wines are available at this bi-annual wine market, but many can be found. Compared to 2006 the 2004 primeur prices at the time were modest. With the large remaining 2006 stocks it is thus quite likely that in 2008 and 2009 Bordeaux 2006 will be offered at interesting prices.

And there is a more striking indication: at the last Foire-Aux-Vins (September 2007) even the prices for a majority of 2005s had come down! Of course there was room for the prices to move downwards, for the primeur prices had never been that high. But we're talking about the extremely sought-after 2005 vintage, and I must say I had not foreseen this. Clearly this makes the expectations for 2006, to go down in price, even stronger. One remark: most top 2005 Bordeaux wines (the First and some Second Growths) were not available anymore. Betrand Le Guern - once again - presents us the underlying data for this story. To see all price comparisons check out his excellent website.

In my eyes the châteaux try to raise their prices, over the years, 'saw-toothedly': when there is a good vintage the prices jump up, and when there is a lesser vintage the prices do not go back to where they came from... as if we don't see this happening...

One reason for the château owners to raise their release prices is the widespread speculation with Bordeaux wines. Château owners see their older wines (5 - 10 years) being sold for higher, and sometimes much higher prices. And what they are trying - understandably - to keep some of that 'bonus' for themselves. By holding their own wines in stock, and asking higher prices. In doing so the châteaux themselves have entered the realm of speculation: they invest in their own wines.

Good reasons altogether not to buy too many Bordeaux wines en primeur (except for the really rare ones). Also, speculation might in the future not be as profitable any more as it used to be. With the new level of release prices, few room is left for significant price raises, at least within the first years after release (as Le Guern shows us). For 2006 the difficulties are now even hitting the (near) top level of the market: other than before, selling the so-called Super Seconds appeared to be not so easy, and difficulties were even reported (see most recent Decanter) bringing Cheval Blanc to the market. A sign, because usually all First Growths are being sold like hot cakes.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chateau Carteau Cotes Daugay 1999

After just having tasted some acceptable 1996s - Pibran (7+/10), Labégorce-Zédé (7+/10) and Lilian Ladouys (7,5/10) - I came across two splendid 1999's: Château Arnauld (8+/10) and Château Carteau Côtes Daugay (8,5/10). Realising once again the Relativity of good years, lesser years etcetera. But also: for many 1999s I think it is now the perfect time to be opened. The mentioned 1996s aren't very accessible, they are somewhat tough, and some are even a little bit dusty. They do share a pleasant autumnal bouquet, giving - say - the romantic impression of a forest after rain. But the 1999s offer more. This posting focusses on a not so well-known wine: Château Carteau Côtes Daugay.

Château Carteau Côtes Daugay 1999
During the Primeur tastings from last April I noticed that - other than the wines from the left bank - many Saint-Emilions suffer from the same defect: they're overextracted. Unfortunately I did not taste Carteau Côtes Daugay 2006, but I truly hope that the Bertrand family did not alter the style of their wine. The 1999 is in my eyes the near perfect example of a classic Bordeaux. It's a delicious drinking wine, lean and supple; while nothing lacks... it's all there: the nose is tempting and at the same time modest... a fine balance which gives the wine a beautiful tension: slenderness with an almost erotic touch. The texture again shows this great precision and harmony: the wine is supple yet with marvellous depth (cassis, cedar, coffee). Before I realised the bottle was empty.

Château Carteau Côtes Daugay is situated just alongside the D670, the main road leading from Libourne to Saint-Emilion. From this road a hill gently rises. This hill (tertre is an old French word for hill) bears the name "Daugay". More well-known is Château Tertre Daugay, situated near the top of this hill. Carteau is located on the south-west slopes (côtes) of the Daugay hill. The slopes mainly consist of limestone: a thin top layer of loose debris on a subsoil of solid rock. The limestone debris is mixed with clay, and in the lower parts we find more sand. The land is planted with merlot (75%), cabernet franc (20%) and cabernet sauvignon (5%).

Château Carteau Côtes Daugay does not belong to some large corporation, but is still family owned: several generations of the Bertrand family have been in charge, and today the wine is made by Jacques Bertrand and his three children Anne-Marie, Bruno and Catherine. Information about the wine is quite scarce on the internet, and just a few professionals taste (and rate) the Carteau en primeur: for 2006 only Jacques Dupont and Stephen Tanzer did. But on the internet I found a page titled "French Wines You May Not Have Heard of but Should Try" on which the wine was rightly mentioned. And particularly noteworthy: Jean-Luc Thunevin mentions Carteau Côtes Daugay on his blog as a wine that should possibly be promoted to the category of the Grand Cru Classés. Definitely a clear statement from this successful winemaker. Anyway, a wine à suivre!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Statistics prove: Parker did not favour his winemaker friends

While yet another fire rages around the head of Robert Parker, lit this time by rebel filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter (Mondovino), French wine geek Bertrand Le Guern presents his proof that one of the main assertions in Hanna Agostini's Anatomie d'un Mythe (published last week) is wrong.

Michel Rolland and Robert Parker
Le Guern dove into the historic data and shows us that there is no correlation between Parker's friendship with a winemaker at the one hand, and the rating he has given for this befriended winemaker's wine at the other hand. He looked at the ratings that Parker and many other wine critics gave for the wines from Jean-François Moueix, Alain Raynaud and Michel Rolland, as compared to the ratings that were given for the wines from other winemakers; the same analysis is conducted for four subsequent years. Le Guern's statistics show that in the 'bigger' years 2003 and 2005 Parker is more enthusiastic about his friends' wines, and with a little hope one might think to find a vague correlation. But in the more classic years 2004 and 2006 there is clearly no correlation. For these years, shiploads of other wine writers are more positive about the wines of the three friends.

I'm not an expert in statistics, and I cannot judge the quality of Le Guern's analysis, but looking at his track record my estimate is that his statement is well-founded. Just take a look for yourself.

Where last week everyone was yelling about Agostini (and her book), this week it is Nossiter (and his book, from the same publisher also) who is getting all the attention. Including Parker's, who is raving about a "Wine Gestapo". Quite an excessive classification, but that's a different subject. One of Nossiter's pronouncements was: "To give an absolute judgement on anything is horrific in my eyes. To taste 300 wines in one day and make mathematical judgements on those wines is crazy, and a betrayal of the person who has made that wine." I wouldn’t advice Nossiter to have a look at Le Guern's freak show with numbers. I think it would make him sad, all those calculations, all those averages, all those decimals – it would make him very sad.

By the way: whose book is getting published next week? It would be great to prepare a bit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cantenac Brown 2006 and its crazy price

Talking about interesting wine prices (see my previous post about Larcis Ducasse)... when Château Cantenac Brown 2006 was released on the 4th of June, everyone was in shock. The big question for 2006 was: how much will the price drop. Cantenac Brown decided to turn things around: instead of lowering the price, they doubled(!) the price. Result: the all-inclusive consumer price ended up being around 60 euros (nice graph: 2004 was 20 euros and 2005 30 euros).

Cantenac Brown 2006
What was happening here? Well, there is a new owner: the ambitious Syrian-born English billionaire Simon Halabi, who earlier also bought the Mentmore Towers in the UK. Anyone who knows Château Cantenac Brown will see the stylistic resemblance between these two impressive structures. After the improvements by previous owner AXA Millésimes (conducted by the Lynch Bages dream team of Jean-Michel Cazes, Daniel Llose and Christian Seely), Halabi sees an even bigger future ahead for this Margaux Cru Classé. Most interesting here is the letter that Halabi wrote to the Bordeaux wine trade (the négociants); the original in French is printed below.

Simon Halabi about Cantenac Brown 2006
Under the heading "Château Cantenac Brown announces a wine of great quality" Halabi's words can be summarized as follows:

- hereby we announce that with the vintage 2006 the wine has been transformed
- the selection for the Grand Vin is restricted now to the best plots only, with the effect that instead of 75% just 30% of the produce is used for the first wine (i.e. Cantenac Brown)
- the Halabi family considers this development as a milestone, and a historic moment for the château

Right after the release many négociants decided to boycott the wine for its surprising price policy. Investments are made everywhere in this prosperous region, and a château can not expect that these are paid back within one single vintage. But there was some demand however, and some traders just acquired the amount of bottles that were ordered. I guess no trader has decided to build up stocks of this wine.

Most buyers seemed to be new customers, not aware of the old price of the wine - the loyal customers that followed this wine over the years have largely pulled out. Which I think should be of concern to the château. I expected most new customers to be Asian or so, but it seems that the wine is also sold in Europe (Germany, Denmark, Spain, even some in France, but I'm sure nothing in Holland). Nevertheless, Halabi has not altered his price since, and unless the smaller production, the château must have enormous stocks. I'm very much looking forward to the Foire-Aux-Vins of 2008 and 2009, and see what will happen to the price...

Last April I tasted the wine myself. It's a modern wine, quite oaky, and a bit extracted. Not the typical refinement of a Margaux (my rating: 7/10, see Bordoverview, also for all other ratings). But this is an early judgement for a very young wine, and I'm looking forward to retaste the wine after it has grown up. If I can afford it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Château Larcis Ducasse 2004

The last affordable Larcis Ducasse? I'm glad it's not.

En primeur the Château Larcis Ducasse 2004 was 'just' 25 euro, I bought the wine two years later in a French hypermarket for only € 26,50 (i.e. before the start of the Foire-Aux-Vins). The 2005 belongs to a totally different league: this vintage showed the freaky price jump of 75 euros to € 100,- per bottle. An unprecedented leap, and the result of a perfectly marketed super-vintage, combined with the exceptional ratings for this Larcis Ducasse 2005. Most well-known tasters were enthusiastic, and the Americans were most passionate about this Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion from the hands of the talented Stéphane Derenoncourt. It was Robert Parker who had already picked out the Larcis Ducasse 2004 as a very successful wine, and a year later the 2005 was given the top rating of 95-98, which he later even revised into 96-100. James Suckling (from Wine Spectator) had directly honoured the 2005 with the ultimate score: 95-100 points. Well, the effect of these scores were clear: the 2005 vintage got more or less out of reach for most of us.

Larcis Ducasse 2004
But luckily, the Larcis Ducasse 2004 is not the latest affordable vintage: with the 2006 the owners showed that they can also bring down the price: the 2006 en primeur is priced an acceptable € 38,-. Although my estimate is that lots of 2006 prices will in future Foire-Aux Vins have come down (more about that subject later), I think the Larcis Ducasse 2006 will maintain its price. Personally I found this wine one of the recommendations within the large 2006 fleet.

Back to the 2004, I tasted it yesterday. Impression I. Dark wine with a dark-fat nose, clearly quite some concentration. The just opened bottle exhibits firmness, a wine with a bite, with tough acids. And yet the texture of the Larcis Ducasse is - already - fairly soft.

Impression II. Wine has breathed and warmed up a bit (it came straight from the cellar). Nose is showing seductive, vital red fruit - depth with some nice cassis-alike sweetness. Intense. On the palate the wine has gotten more and more unctuous, but with good grip. It is rich, 'well-filled' and quite powerful, without being harsh. The acids nicely kick in as the finish commences. I would not call this wine elegant, or utterly refined (at least not in this stage). This is what I would define as very attractive youthful strength. Absolutely delicious.

For those readers who are interested in seeing more 2004 tasting notes: I recently created a Bordeaux 2004 Revisited page on Bordoverview. It contains a growing number of tasting notes for this classic and often very enjoyable vintage.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

EGJ President: book Agostini will have terrible effect

François Mauss, President of the European Grand Jury is making a remarkably firm stand against the new book of Hanna Agostini, which contains serious accusations on her former employer Robert Parker. At this place I will not dive into the history preceeding this book (the so-called Geens affair), nor will I look at the actual accusations. But in general: it seems that a lot of vulgar drama is involved here.

With his explicit reaction François Mauss is now adding a new chapter to this ongoing soap opera: "(...) this is the end of an era about the relations of Mr Parker with the Bordeaux world".

Hanna Agostini about Robert Parker
Mauss himself is not looking forward to entering this New Era, but in his strong belief that it is simply inevitable that we are heading there, he surely does support the process:

- "My friends: we are entering a tsunami period. It will take time, but it will hurt, and hard."
- "Obviously it is very hard for you to catch the terrible effects this book will bring, first in Europe, then, most probably, in USA and Asia."
- "We are at a cross section. Nothing will be the same."
- "This time, believe it or not, is something which will have an other dimension than the regular journalists' articles about "the end of Parker"."

These quotes come from the long thread on the Bulletin Board. Mauss starts the thread with a clear message, later to be followed with his more emotional cries as the discussion (almost 80 reactions already!) evolves. Mauss has also published his account on his own European Grand Jury website.

If you're interested, and want to know why we should expect heavy weather around the person of tasting pope Robert Parker, just check out the thread. The sales of Agostini's book, Anatomie d'un Mythe, will undoubtedly benefit from Mauss' hyperbole. It will be available (first in French only) by October 25. Also the editor's expectations seem high: a special website has just been launched to present the book.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mouton 1995 lacks in new book Crum & Jacobs

Three months ago I called wine writer Frank Jacobs to share with him a rather hilarious wine story. I did not have this blog yet, and I thought it could be suitable for his monthly wine column in Perswijn. And indeed, the story ended up in the August/September edition of this magazine.

Nevertheless, Frank regretted that he hadn't heard the story before: the deadline for the book he was writing with Gert Crum had already passed... Well, this week the book has arrived in the bookstores (for now in Dutch only). Without the story about our building contractor and his unfortunate bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild 1995.

Legendarische wijnverhalen Gert Crum & Frank Jacobs
What happened? Well, our contractor - at the time - is an exuberant man, crazy about good food and about good wine. And a skilled worker also, but his one big problem: planning. We didn't have any idea about when things would be finished. And the project lasted, and lasted... But we still felt that in the end everything would be fine, and to express our trust, for Christmas we gave this man a beautiful Bordeaux. Yes, I 'gave up' my only Mouton Rothschild 1995.

He never drunk the wine, but - months later - smashed it against the wall of his house. Why? He was fighting with his girlfriend, and just to provoke him, she'd opened his carefully kept bottle Mouton and downed about half of it. His extreme reaction to this, the blatant cursing, the BANG! from the bottle against the wall, the noble juice spattering around, the red stripes crawling down slowly and dramatically, and finally his outraged exit from the house, all that frightened her so much that she had the police change the locks of the house. That night, our friend ended up in a sad hotel. Fueled with beer, not Mouton.

Anyway, there are other great stories in Legendarische Wijnverhalen, Legendary wine tales. For example: which wines were drunk by the six bankers from Barclays at the diner that lead to their discharge (one of the most expensive dinners ever recorded)? Which bottles do you find in the private cellar of Château Lafite Rothschild? What was the price of the wine that was given to Helmut Kohl at his visit to London?

Both Frank Jacobs and Gert Crum were my teachers at the Dutch Wijnacademie. Only one time have I seen a man trying to explain the grandeur of a wine by adopting an elegant ballet pose in front of a large audience: it was Gert Crum dwelling about great Burgundies. I'm sure this expressive capacity can again be found in this new book.

Legendarische wijnverhalen Frank Jacobs & Gert Crum
Legendarische wijnverhalen
Frank Jacobs & Gert Crum

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thomas Barton, Barton & Guestier and Anthony Barton

This week the winners were announced for the Dutch wine contest Klassiek Europa, Classic Europe, organised by the Dutch wine magazine Perswijn. The good news: everyone seems to see a trend 'back' to the original values of classic Europe. Many interested wine drinkers know by now that outside Europe people really know how to make wine - ripe and accessible, and often modestly priced... but the real adventure lies in the idiosyncratic wines from the old regions where the indigenous grape plant is performing its never-ending battle with nature. With varying results from year to year. Exciting.

But of course we've learnt from the newcomers also. About marketing for example. Branding wines: not just making accessible wines, but also accessible labels. See the label of Thomas Barton, one of the winning wines at Klassiek Europa (not to confuse things: it is the wine that has accounted for the prize, not the label!).

Thomas Barton Medoc Reserve 2005
The Thomas Barton Médoc Réserve 2005 (submitted - and sold - by Kwast Wijnkopers) is the winner in the category "best Cabernet under € 10,-".

Barton? Is this a branded wine made by the Bartons from the classed Médoc growths Château Léoville-Barton and Langoa-Barton? No, it is not. This Thomas Barton comes from the trading company Barton & Guestier, which is not related anymore to the Bartons who own the mentioned châteaux. Moreover, these Bartons have their own branded wine (as well as their own trading company Les Vins Fins Anthony Barton). And although the wines they make are great, the label for their branded wine is not as sleek as the one from Thomas Barton. Let's say it is a little old-fashioned.

Anthony Barton Médoc
The separation of the Bartons took place in the late '60's: Barton & Guestier was sold to Seagram. The famous Médoc châteaux are currently owned and managed by Lilian Barton Sartorius, the daughter of Anthony Barton, who is now retired. When Anthony was young he worked some time for Barton & Guestier, and he took over Léoville-Barton and Langoa-Barton in 1983 from his uncle Ronald Barton.

And who is Thomas Barton? He is the man who started this long family story in 1725, when he came from Ireland to Bordeaux and set up a successful trading business. In 1802 Daniel Guestier joined him, and since the company was named Barton & Guestier.

I found some interesting articles about the Bartons:
- overall history of the Bartons and their business(es)
- the history of Barton & Guestier
- nice wine web shop with interview with Lilian Barton Sartorius

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

La Tour de By 2000

Why not open this blog with a great normal wine: Château La Tour de By. If only as a tribute to Marc Pagès, the owner of the château who died in July this year. For me this is one of the best examples of a fine classic Bordeaux for a friendly price. La Tour de By comes across very sympathetic, and I follow - and drink - the subsequent vintages with pleasure.

We can only hope that Pagès' grandson, Frédéric Leclerq will continue to deliver wines in the spirit of his grandfather, with the same great price-quality ratio. Leclerq has already been involved in the wine making for a number of years, so there is a good chance that the character of La Tour de By will be preserved.

I tasted the 2006 vintage en primeur - Pagès' last vintage - and it outperformed most its competition.

Château La Tour de By 2000
Yesterday I opened a 2000. Supposedly a legendary year, but lots of wines that I taste from this year do not (yet) live up to the high expectations (don't get me wrong: I've tasted beautiful wines - one that spontaneously pops up in my mind is Le Petit Cheval 2000). The La Tour de By 2000 is clearly satisfying. The classic aspect of the wine hauls me back instantly to Christmases in the '70's when I was allowed to sniff the wine that my grandfather had opened - the association comes with lightning speed, as the nose of this wine is very intense.

La Tour de By is always an elegant wine. Made for drinking. All present in pleasant harmony: dark fruit, bit of oak (light), some bay leaf, some tanginess and a - pleasant - hint of ink. In the mouth: quite full start, intense as said, and good acids for a good balance. The finish is quite lean with a pleasant freshness. Not a grand wine, but definitely a delicious wine.

Château La Tour de By 2003
The picture above shows me at La Tour de By 'inspecting' the grapes of the 2003 vintage. During our visit the temperature was about 40 degrees Celsius! As the lower parts of the Médoc, with the wetter grounds, had an advantage during this hot year, we can look out for an interesting (and hopefully more than that) 2003 vintage for La Tour de By. More about that later, perhaps.

Website of La Tour de By:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Opening: Bordoverview Blog

Today I'm starting this Bordoverview Blog. What to expect? Just all kinds of news issues, be it an update on the soap opera called Classification, an interesting change of ownership, or a tasting note that I want to share with you. As a matter of fact I'm not really sure what exactly I'm going to offer, I guess we will have to see also.

The stupid thing: I have the idea that almost nobody will read a first post. Probably Google will only have indexed this blog after a couple of days, and I still have to go around on the internet asking webmasters and moderators for a link to my new blog. Maybe I first have to write something before they will want to exchange links... chicken and egg.

Anyway, let's hope this blog will be a big success!