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.

SCREENSHOT FROM THE BEAUTIFUL ALLIANCE'S WEBSITE, IT WILL JUST NEED SOME UPDATING

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.

CHATEAU POUJEAUX, ONE OF THE NINE FORMER CRU BOURGEOIS EXCEPTIONNELS, WILL SOON BE ALLOWED TO CALL ITSELF CRU BOURGEOIS. JUST THAT. I GUESS BRAND NEW OWNER PHILIPPE CUVELIER HAS MORE AMBITION WITH HIS ACQUISITION...

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.

Château Fonroque 2002 as photographed by Nicolas PatteCHATEAU FONROQUE 2002, BIODYNAMIC GRAND CRU CLASSE OF SAINT-EMILION, PHOTOGRAPH BY NICOLAS PATTE

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.

Thinking about Bordeaux 2006THINKING ABOUT BORDEAUX 2006 IN FRONT OF CHATEAU COS D'ESTOURNEL (5 APRIL 2007)

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.

ON BORDOVERVIEW.COM YOU FIND THE ORIGINAL RELEASE PRICES FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT BORDEAUX PRIMEURS FOR THE VINTAGES 2004, 2005 AND 2006. YOU CAN USE THESE OVERVIEWS TO SEE FOR YOURSELF HOW MUCH A PRICE OF A WINE YOU ENCOUNTER HAS GONE UP, OR DOWN.

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.