Monday, March 31, 2008

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 2005

Today is the official start of the Bordeaux 2007 primeurs campaign, which will run for about a week. Owing to unforeseen circumstances I am not there, so this year I will not be tasting the baby wines. Too bad. But the good news is that later this week I will be in the Loire Valley instead. Tasting young but mature wines. I shall report about that trip next week.

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 2005
Last week a good deal of my Bordeaux 2005's were delivered. Exciting - the wines that I bought en primeur two years ago.

As I was carrying these wines into my cellar, I realised that some of these bottles will only be dug up again when my son has grown up. We will hopefully drink these wines with him when he gets 18. Or when he graduates. A thought that I tried to share with him:

- How old are you?
- Three!
- OK. And see, these bottles here, are also three, just like you.
- (...)
- And when you've grown up, you and me will drink these wines together!
- Ja! (smiling)

So he got the point, and he observed me storing his bottles, for at least the next 15 years.

Among these new treasures is the Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, the second wine of Château Margaux. Already gone up in price, and a possible item to sell. But I won't do that (I am very much looking forward to drinking it.)

Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 2005
It is this 'tradeability' of the wine, and even more of its bigger brother Château Margaux 2005 - ten times more expensive -, that explains the interesting bottle bottom: the bottle's kick is decorated with something that looks like the château building. And there is the magical vintage 2005 printed in relief.

Child's play, this kind of anti-counterfeit measures, my son will think in many years. By that time a Château Margaux will have a built-in chip and a passport alike back label. Simply necessary with young bottles costing a fortune. With a release price of € 5.000,- per bottle the 2021 vintage appeared to be most extravagant year ever (with a quality level that resembles 1961, 2005 and 2012). Wines that aren't drunk any more, but have become financial assets, like the gold ingots that are safely tucked away in the safes of banks.

I hope, by then, my son and I still dare to drink our Pavillon Rouge... (And I hope my vision is wrong, I hope that everyone who truly loves wine will be able to buy Margaux again, and that these grand bottles do not go to ignorant rich Asians any more who happily mix it up with Coca-Cola - no joke, tomorrow it is the 1st of April, today it is not.)

Maybe it is healthy to miss out on the prices pushing primeurs lunacy...?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Live: Bordoverview 2.0

Last Wednesday my provider pulled a red handle and flushed my home-made first version of Bordoverview. This first version was rather plain, technically limited, but interesting enough to attract lots of visitors from all over the world. And also to have Bordoverview mentioned on many websites, and off-line for example in the UK newspaper The Independent.

Bordoverview 2.0
But to move ahead, beyond the technical limitations, an even-bigger-nerd-than-me was required, someone who really knows how to program. It was my old school friend Ward van der Put who saw Bordoverview, and its potential. But to get the most out of the data, he would have to rebuild the website. And that's what he did. The resulting version 2.0 looks more or less the same, but underneath it a lot has changed:

1. When viewing and sorting wines, you do not have to choose one year, or one river bank. You can combine years, and/or river banks, or both.
2. You can filter on all kinds of criteria. E.g. filter on the wines of Margaux, on Cru Bourgeois, or on 'Consultant'.
3. You can now store your preferences. Say you are not interested in Bordoverview's own wine ratings (hard to imagine), you go to Preferences, uncheck the Bordoverview column and it won't show any more.
4. Bordoverview is cross-browser compatible. So no matter if you prefer Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or some other exotic browser, the new site has the cleanest cross-browser compatible code that you can imagine.
5. Bordoverview is set up such that it can grow again horizontally (without loosing overview), so in the near future new tasters can be added.

As said, we didn't change the looks. So you do not have to get used to some fancy new interface. It is just the same old boring looking website.

Ward van der Put has written some release notes, so if you are interested, see what he explains about this major change.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Subprime bubbly anyone?

A long long time ago when I was studying macro economics in America, I learned great deal of interesting things about supply and demand, and too much money chasing too few goods, and how much someone coming out of three months in the jungle would pay for one hamburger, but the most useful piece of information was this: follow the dollar.

Now you can be a dollar fan or a euro fan these days but the point, that if you start with the money angle you will understand a lot more, a lot faster, is the same. Because, basically, if you haven't got the money to do what you want, whether it is AIDS or wine, the myriad of related information and possibilities about how you do it becomes respectively, a) less relevant and b) less possible.

So, having written all that I could this week, about the expansion of the champagne growing area, I sat down finally read the Financial Times, only to find I had missed a key point.

The head line of the editorial was 'Subprime bubbly' – yes, yes, I borrowed it - and in it, they referred to the possibility of now calling the AOC champagne growing area - and I still kick myself that I didn't think of it - was 'appellation d'origine décontrôlée?'.

The thrust of the article was the possible counterintuitive logic of the Champenois - 'as petulant as they are pétillant', the FT said - expanding production area of what is essentially a luxury good, just as we are in the middle of a 'profound and puzzling financial crisis'.

Well of course they may or may not have realised, and I reckon they did, that it will not be until 2020 or so that any new champagne volumes actually come onto the market, and who knows what might happen by then.

But their main point was be careful when you debase a currency, or a product, as mortgages were in the US. You end up getting downgraded.

Now could it be possible? That champagne could lose its cachet? After all I like the taste, not the fact that it costs a lot or is hard to find. That yeasty, dry, minerally, tang. That is what I love. And more of it would welcome. At least so I thought. Until I remembered a strange few months in my life, even longer ago than when I was studying macroeconomics.

I was living with my then boyfriend in a house in the sticks (American/Irish word for countryside), which had two things: a) no parents as they were divorcing so the dad was living with his mistress and the mother had retreated to London, and b) a large cellar full of Louis Latour, Chablis and Sancerre, and the good Widow, Veuve Cliquot.

Anyway, I am ashamed to say, we forced the lock and made hay while the sun shone. I remember telling someone I had drunk so much champagne 'my pee was fizzy'. And yes, in the end I got literally and fashionably, sick of the stuff.

Hence the move to the Louis Latour. I didn't have time to get sick of that because both parents loomed and the house was sold and we were out on our ears.

So yes, you can get sick of champagne. Just like anything else. In all reality I doubt the expansion area will increase volumes enough to sicken anyone, but it is something worth bearing in mind.

And just now, creeping into the press, at least in the US, I see signs already, little snipes, that this move could reduce champagne quality.

Luckily, I have no fears. The Champenois are as avid readers of the financial press as I am, and I am confident they know enough not to make the same mistake as they are alleged to have done in the lead up to New Year's Eve 1999, when there were all sorts of rumours flying around, about over production and falling quality.

They know that traders drink to celebrate and to commiserate (Bear Stearns). They know people never drink bottles champagne alone (except me). They know that a French woman of 110 has just claimed that her remarkable age and health are down to drinking champagne and putting honey in her tea. And they are canny enough that when headlines appear about wine shrinking the brain, they speak only of 'champagne', and when headlines appear about how good wine is for your health, they speak only of their wine. They are, in short, dollar followers.

Now, must rush, as to celebrate the end of Lent, I am off to buy the best possible bottle of champagne and, like man who comes out of the forest in search of a hamburger, I am ready to pay over the odds.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ProWein 2008 in some images

Today I went to ProWein in Düsseldorf, accompanied by Jan van Roekel. Bordoverview editor Christophe Sevenster was also there - he will stay for a couple of days and will publish later about this BIG! wine fair in rainy Düsseldorf. For now I post some images made earlier today.

I'm glad actually I can post these images: last 4 and 5 February Christophe and I combed the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers for two days, and by mistake I flushed all the images after I got back to Amsterdam. The same happened to most of the pictures from my work experience at Château du Tertre in 2006. I was especially sad about the cool picture with me scooping out a fermentation vat. With boots trapped in the muddy remains of the grapes, and a sweat-covered torso glistening in flash light. An important picture for someone who lives a dressed live behind the computer, at least quite often.

Château Garreau, Château Pauillac, Clos du Jaugueyron
Back to ProWein. Today I met Jean Philippe Cazaux from MC Consultant, one of the smaller Bordeaux négociant businesses, a/o active in spotting unknown high potential winemakers and their wines. Followed by - where necessary - helping the winemakers in bringing the wines to the market. The picture shows three of the wines that he was in some way involved in.

If you've read this blog before, you might recognize Clos du Jaugueyron. I wrote about the 2003 of this wine, and today I tasted the 2001 - again very good stuff. The other wines are Château Garreau (Côtes de Bourg, there is also a 1er Côtes de Blaye) and Château Pauillac, both very interesting. The vines of Château Pauillac are really in between the vines of Mouton-Rothschild, Lynch Bages, and other cru classés. Over time there have been many transactions between the various properties, and just in between this organised mess are the vine rows of the quite small, and quite unknown Château Pauillac.

Flanked by Jean Phillipe Cazaux (right) and Jan van Roekel
Here I am flanked by Jean Phillipe Cazaux (right) and Jan van Roekel. Besides the mentioned wines Cazaux sells two petit châteaux that most Dutch readers will know from the supermarket Albert Heijn: Château de Bon Ami and Château l'Argenteyre.

Bernard Magrez wines: Pape Clément, La Tour Carnet and Fombrauge
At the stand of Bernard Magrez - Pape Clément, La Tour Carnet, Fombrauge etc. - Didier G. from Belgium made us very welcome. It was too bad for him, only, that the juice of Le Clémentin du Château Pape Clément 2005 was so anxious to get out of the bottle that - without clemency - it spattered onto his immaculate shirt and tie... what a dramatic incidence on this spotless spot, Magrez' clean little temple on this big bourse.

Most of Magrez' wines are of high quality. But also: they are very well made, and they might lack some individuality. But let's not be a sourpuss, especially the jumpy Clémentine was very good, with lovely round fruit.

Caroline Chanfreau-Philippon with Clos des Demoiselles 2005
Finally, I was excited to meet one of the persons behind a wine that I really like, the tiny Listrac-Médoc Clos des Demoiselles (I wrote about this wine in December). An elegant wine, and so is the design of the bottle, and so is... well, it was great to taste the 2005 of this wine. On the picture above Caroline Chanfreau-Philippon is showing the Clos des Demoiselles 2005.

ProWein 2008 Düsseldorf
So far some stray thoughts on ProWein, Christophe's summary will follow soon...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Surprising St-Emilion 2005, and Cheval Blanc 1999

In the new Decanter I read an interesting article wherein Guy Woodward comes back on the surprising outcome of the Saint-Emilion 2005 blind tasting as presented in the second last Decanter edition. In short: the lesser known wines outperformed the big names. In the tasting report only a few words were said about the possible reasons for this outcome. And especially with the extreme price differences, it seemed worth looking for an explanation. Hence Woodward's second article.

Château Cheval Blanc 1999
Just to start with two surprises: the label "Best Value" was awarded to Château Tertre Daugay 2005. To fresh up your memory (if necessary): this was one of the chateaux that lost its Grand Cru Classé status in 2006. Implying that their 2005 will be the last vintage that is presented as a grand cru classé (well, at least for the time being). And at this very last moment, apparently the wine is finally shining... how theatrical.

Another surprise: Château Cheval Blanc 2005 is 'just' one of the 43 "Recommended" wines. Nothing more, nothing less. How Ausone and Pavie would have performed we will never know, as these properties declined to submit samples for the tasting. Cheval Blanc took the risk, but in Woodward's reflection on the tasting one can wonder if it was wise for this Premier Grand Cru Classé to take part. And the same can be said for quite a number of other participating grand Saint-Emilions.

So why could it happen, this outcome? First, in a great year many wines are great (Jancis Robinson: "Quality is very much closer together than prices in 2005"). Second: most top wines aren't really made to instantly please and seduce in their early youth, and especially when tasting blind it is very hard if not impossible to correctly assess the quality and future quality of an infant wine. And third: the top wines were bottled the latest, so they had the least chance to become more or less stable in the bottle.

And while the experienced tasting panel realises these things, still the highest scores were granted to the fruity and more accessible wines. A very interesting sentence to quote also: "The modern-style Château Angélus was one of only two premiers grands crus classés to score four or five stars, suggesting again that while tasters may claim they are sceptical about a more modern style, their marks tell a different story."

Confusing. Difficult. And at once I felt like opening and tasting my one and only bottle of Cheval Blanc, a 1999. One of my most special bottles from the last century, maybe kept to be drunk many years later on some special occasion. But no, I was going to drink it now I decided, so I called my friend Job Verhaar and asked whether he felt like tasting the wine. And unless the fact that he'd recently had a disappointing experience with a Cheval Blanc 1947, he said he would show up.

Job Verhaar tasting Cheval Blanc 1999JOB VERHAAR TASTING CHATEAU CHEVAL BLANC 1999, AND READING ABOUT IT.

To start with the conclusion: I would give the wine a 9- (out of 10). The nine because the wine was great, the minus because it didn't fully live up to its high expectations, its status, its price.

Cheval Blanc 1999. This is what I regard as a very classic Bordeaux. No fat oak, no big concentration, but an original, pure and softly ripened Bordeaux. The wine is dark, with in the scent some black currants alike sweetness. Plenty of depth - if that isn't putting it too irreverently.

I'm not sure if this is what one calls the apogée of a wine, but at least it is getting close I would say. Many 1999's are great to drink these days, and so is this Cheval Blanc. The nose is very open and very convincing. In the mouth the wine is soft yet intense and powerful, with serious acids kicking in rapidly (but pleasantly) after the first oral touch.

And where the wine started off a tiny little bit dusty and distant, the Cheval Blanc 1999 ends beautifully, singing, with lovely purple fruit. A refined Bordeaux. I wished to open a second bottle right after. And isn't that the best possible sign?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Nightmares of balaclava clad Russians might soon be replaced by reality

Rumours are again rife about a chateau for sale in Bordeaux, that some Russians might want to buy, although, one of the three owners, Alain Laguillaumie, is categorical in his denials.

"The chateau is not for sale," he said. "If someone turns up one day with a very large suitcase full of money, you never know, but at the moment, nothing is in the works."

Laguillaumie is on the board of a company called Teleperformance and the vice president of the company, Jacques Berrebi is the second owner, along with Dominique Hebrard, who is based in Bordeaux.

Denial, while annoying for a journalist trying to write a story, is quite the right thing to do. Never mind the fact that reliable property sources say the first round of paper work has been signed. The all important second round of signing has not been finalised and no money, or perhaps not enough money, has changed hands yet.

Chateau sale transactions are notoriously tricky and discreet for that reason. A buyer might run scared, or a seller, once something slips out. The reasons you might fail to buy a chateau, especially if you are in business – Russian or otherwise – are not something you want the whole world to know.

Nor does one want anyone to think a chateau failed to sell, or has been on the market for anything longer than a day. Château Lascombes for example has allegedly been on the market 'for years', 'for three years' or 'for too long' depending on who you are talking to. The fact that it has recently expanded its growing area by renting the next door farm and is producing very good wine – at least the 2004 I tasted recently was very good – always comes second.

And anyway, I would far prefer to write a story about Russians having bought a chateau in Bordeaux, rather than that they might.

They have after all been trying for ages – not all of them obviously, but some. And no luck so far. The reasons for this range from something along the lines of a 'swart gevaar' – the paranoid fear of black people that gripped many white South African's just before the end of Apartheid – to basic cultural difference in attitudes to business and difficulty with getting money from Russia – and other countries – declared OK for use in France.

Bordeaux folklore currently comprises stories of balaclava covered Russians, descending from limos with blacked out windows, accompanied by translators in short skirts with legs up to here, to conduct drunken meetings with sober chateaux owners. Suitcases of money have not been mentioned but I am sure they must be in the limo.

Last September I wrote an article about Russians trying and failing to buy, but it ended with two reliable bankers, from UBS and Transactions R, the property of Rothschild Bank, saying they were in no doubt that a Russian client would buy 'in a year or two'.

"Of course, they are not stupid, they are realising how they have to do it," said Frederic Dubois of Lazard Bank's Bordeaux office last September. "They need to arrive with someone in the Bordeaux world, who can manage the codes," he said.

"Today some of them are breaking their teeth, arriving all tanks and trumpets blaring. But the ones who are determined, and who can crack the code will succeed," he said, so I am sure they will get here soon. Personally I can't wait.

For the moment though, no wonder so many of them seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in London with the apparently less coded – or differently coded, shall we say – English. Those that are not dead that is.

Just think of the story I heard a while ago about a friend of a friend who was explaining to her daughter, the day before the start of 'big school', that not everyone would be quite like her. Meaning not everyone would have two ponies, a house in London and one in the country, a driver, etc. etc.

Well, the little girl, all of ten or eleven, went off to school and came home in agreement. "You are right mummy," she said, "They are not all like me. I sit beside a Russian girl and SHE comes to school in a helicopter." So there.

Just think how that would go down with the Bordelaise, who will probably vote for Juppe as mayor again mainly because he is the conservative local politician who has managed to totally distance himself, despite being in the same party, from the bling bling of Sarkozy.

You see how I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pierre Sourdais & Les Boulais: the synergy of Cabernet Franc and great terroir

At the recently held Conference on Climate Change & Wine in Barcelona different and even opposing views on the subject of climate change have been expressed. One of these views is that classic regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy will have serious problems in producing the high quality wines that they are known for. I would think nobody will miss today's habit of chaptalising when it becomes unnecessary. And don't the experts always tell us that drought is essential for the creation of truly great wine?

An opposing view comes from heavyweights Michel Rolland (wine consultant) and former owner of Cos d'Estournel Bruno Prats. They say that climate change will have a positive effect on mentioned classic regions. No more artificial tricks that will have to be carried out to get enough maturity or concentration.

Prats furthermore sees a new role for old Bordeaux grape varieties – and champions in respectively Chile and Argentina – Carmenère and Malbec. Hear, hear! He also said that Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have great future potential.

Cabernet Franc, being the main ingredient for the prestigious (and expensive) Cheval Blanc, is a particular good choice I would say. It is the same variety that was selected and planted by abbot Breton from the Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil abbey in the Loire valley, where it is since also referred to as "Breton". Here, and in neighbouring appellations Bourgueil and Chinon, it comes to its best results.

At the Salon des Vins de Loire, which takes place in Angers every year in the beginning of February, David and I 'discovered' a relatively unknown producer who makes fantastic Chinons, Pierre Sourdais. His range of wines splendidly reflect the richness of terroirs in this tiny appellation.

Pierre Sourdais, Les Boulais, Chinon
Sourdais' top cuvée, Les Boulais, comes from the plateau overseeing the river valley. The more than 50 years old vines are planted on a limestone soil covered with white pebbles, perfectly retaining the heat of the sun. To me the Boulais is an unbelievable example of what the combination of terroir and the underestimated variety of Cabernet Franc is capable of delivering.

The colour of both the 2005 and the 2006 is deep purple. On both nose and pallet this wine exhibits powerful, rich and complex flavours of plums and blackberries, lead pencil and tobacco, (white) pepper and... stones warming up after a serious rain shower.

The wine is already delicious, but very young and very powerful, and you should not hesitate to store it for at least ten years. A truly serious wine this Boulais, comparable with classed growths from Bordeaux... and that with a retail price of just € 16,50... hear, hear!