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 eRobertParker.com 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: http://www.la-tour-de-by.com/

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!