Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bordeaux 2009 – a backstage view

Bordoverview Blog invited Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen to share his insider's view with us on the Bordeaux 2009 vintage. Since 2003 Bache-Gabrielsen is technical director of Château Belle-Vue and Château de Gironville (both Haut-Médoc) and neighbouring Château Bolaire (Bordeaux Supérieur).

In addition, since the 2009 vintage Bache-Gabrielsen is also in charge at Pauillac classed growth Château Pédesclaux, and Château Lilian Ladouys in Saint-Estèphe. Both estates were acquired by Jacky Lorenzetti in 2008.

It will be worth following the developments at these two châteaux. Pédesclaux is known as a notorious underperformer since long, and with the change of ownership the future of this classed growth is shining.

With the malo ended, and in some cases still in progress, it is a good moment to take a closer, and detailed, look at the much talked about Bordeaux 2009 vintage. Bache-Gabrielsen's experience is focused on the Médoc, yet spans this area from south (Belle-Vue, De Gironville) to the north (Lilian Ladouys).

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Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen − In September 2008 Jacky Lorenzetti asked me to take charge of the winemaking at Château Lilian Ladouys. The aim was to revive the château's glorious past of the late eighties. A lot of hard work began in order to make this wine as good as possible. After having finished the 2008, we began to prepare the 2009 vintage. Pruning was redefined in order to have the best spreading out of the grapes. All interventions that can help create the best ripening of grapes are done. Unwanted branches and leaves are removed.

In May 2009, I also started at Château Pédesclaux, which was bought by Lorenzetti as well. We had the opportunity to put in place a very qualitative preparation of the vine for harvest. In both Lilian Ladouys and Pédesclaux, it was the first time that such work was done.

Weather in 2009 was quite perfect to make a great wine. Nevertheless, some rain in May and June allowed mildew to become a bit aggressive and we had to be watchful in order to protect leaves and grapes against this disease.

We also have to remember the hail that destroyed some vineyards in Entre-deux-Mers, Saint-Emilion and Margaux. The village of Labarde, where Belle-Vue has one plot, was affected. Luckily, we were at the edge of the cloud and we didn't have any damage.

In July, August, September and until October the 20th, we had very dry weather (only 19 mm in August - one third of the normal rainfall, and 20 mm in September). From the first of October to the 20th, we had no rain.

At the end of August, we waited for a little bit of rain, because some Merlots vines in gravelly soils showed some signs of thirst. The berries were very small and some grapes began to shrivel. Luckily, some rain arrived around September the 19th (15 mm) and allowed ripening to continue in good conditions. But the berries were still small. The juices would be very concentrated but the yields would probably be lower than expected. In Saint-Emilion and the Graves region, the rains were very important and reached nearly 100 mm, which allowed some vintners to accelerate their harvest while others waited longer in order to concentrate the grapes.

When we made the first samples of grapes at the beginning of September, we found an incredibly high level of sugar and quite low acidity. The question of when we have to harvest rises and will be the center of every conversation with others winemakers. Some want to harvest early, some want to wait.

The berries tasting, using the method that we created at Château Belle-Vue in 2003, will give the answer. While there is a lot of sugar and the color is very dark, the skins still are very tough, releasing some green aromas and tannins. We chose to wait until the end of September, but some prestigious neighbors in Macau or Saint-Estèphe began between September the 14th and the 19th. This period is always very difficult because there's a lot of pressure on our shoulders. A lot of owners or winemakers concede and harvest rapidly, in order to reduce risks. But I am convinced that decisions at this stage determine the quality of the future wine and that calculated risks are indispensable to make great wines.

An enormous amount of work of tasting berries begins at Château Belle-Vue, Lilian Ladouys and Pédesclaux. Lilian Ladouys has more than 170 plots and we have to taste the berries 2 or 3 times to settle the good harvest date.

The weather is still perfect for ripening. Days are hot and dry, nights are cold. Therefore, we have a good synthesis of aromas and tannins.

We started harvesting the plots of Merlot of Château Pédesclaux and Château Lilian Ladouys on September the 30th. We waited until October the 2nd for Château Belle-Vue. We harvested in order to protect integrity of fruit and conserve all the aromatic potential.

The grapes were healthy and the sorting was not hard to do before destemming. But it is hard to separate berries from stems. It is probably because of the small berries and the pretty hard skins. We put in a lot of work sorting after the destemmer and we are really happy with our new system of optical sorting, using a new machine that separates the green parts from the berries, using cameras and compressed air.

September weather concentrated grapes and sugar levels were very high. Some Merlots were higher than 16% alc vol and some Cabernet Sauvignons were higher than 14%! Luckily, the acidity was good (pH between 3.6 and 3.8) and the average of each vat was not higher than 15% alc vol. The Petits Verdots were perfect, with high sugar levels combined with big acidity and a huge color. These big levels of alcohol are moderated by freshness and intense tannins.

After harvesting the Merlots, we waited some days until starting the Petits Verdots and Cabernets. While walking along the vines, we found a few berries attacked by rot so we decided to continue harvesting.

We chose to use cold maceration before fermentation in order to extract fruit and soft tannins in aqueous phase. We succeeded in keeping the must at a temperature under 5°c for more than 10 days (until 28 days on a vat of Merlot).

Considering the high level of sugar, we think that it is imperative to use selected yeasts. We chose bayanus on Merlot (more security) and more qualitative yeasts on Petit Verdots and Cabernet Sauvignons that do not have so much sugar.

We were a bit surprised by the color which appeared slowly, even during the long cold maceration. On gravelly soils, it will be the same for the tannins. The first fermented vats of our neighbors analyzed by the laboratory show a light color and few tannins (IPT* are about 50). The 2009 vats need considerable work.

We use the technique of délestage exclusively at Belle-Vue and Lilian Ladouys and alternate with pigeage at Pédesclaux. Tannins are very soft and we extract very late in the fermentation. While we should have stopped extraction very early in the fermentation because of the alcohol levels, the numerous tastings indicated that we could continue our work.

We also have to be careful with fermentation temperatures. We control temperature to be under 25°c in order to have good conditions for yeasts.

After fermentation, we chose to empty a vat in order to fill the others. We want to have a long maceration in order to harmonize this big structure (some vats have IPT* between 100 and 141). The wines seem to be sensitive to oxidation.

We finished the pressing on November the 25th, about 2 months after the beginning of harvest.

Malolactic fermentations are finished at Pédesclaux and happening now at Belle-Vue and Pédesclaux. We have to be careful with brettanomyces that can develop during this period.

Ageing will have to respect fruit and the high quality of tannins. The high alcohol level in our wines will make them extract the tannins of wood and we have to be very careful on preserving these wonderful wines. We made a drastic selection of new and old barrels (one and two wines) in order to eliminate any imperfections.

Bordeaux 2009 is very special. Even with a high percentage of alcohol, they are not hot. They have freshness, density and are very expressive. They have the combined qualities of 2003 (aromas) and 2005 (structure). They present chalky tannins. Only the best vats of 2005 had this quality of tannins. They are already smooth, without aggression.

The challenge will be to preserve all these qualities and stabilize them with ageing. Cabernet Sauvignons show a very long mouth and will once again be the stars of the Médoc. Bordeaux 2009 is again an excellent year for Petit Verdot (and we are thinking about planting some at Château Pédesclaux).

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*The IPT (Indice des Polyphénols Totaux) is a measure of total tannins (including anthocyanins and therefore reflecting color) in grapes. The average in Bordeaux was 70 in 2000, 73 in 2003, and 78 in 2005. This shows a significant increase over time: in 1982 it was between 62 and 63. This means that total phenol levels have increased from 5 g/l to 6 g/l over 20 years [source].

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Follow the future updates on the Bordeaux 2009 vintage on Twitter, Bordoverview Blog, Bordoverview (from April 2010) and – for Dutch and Belgium readers –

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On lunar golfing, Jefferson, Mozart and wine

Dwayne Perreault − It's one of those useless questions, sort of like asking "What is it like to play golf on the moon?" but sometimes when I'm drinking a great wine, like a Hermitage or a Bordeaux grand cru classé, I can't help but wonder, "What did this wine taste like hundreds of years ago?"

M. Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette
Well, guess what? During the Apollo 14 mission to the moon in 1971, Alan Shephard strapped the head of a six iron to a sampling instrument and purportedly drove a golf ball several kilometers in the direction of a crater, the largest sand trap ever. So that's what it's like to play golf on the moon.

As for how wine tasted in the 1700's, that's a little more difficult to determine. Obviously we can't taste the wines today, so we have no point of reference to compare them to contemporary wines. If wine is to be considered an art, it is like an ice sculpture which melts in the sun: temporary, fleeting, to be enjoyed before it disappears.

There are exceptions. I think of the 1811 Chateau d'Yquem Robert Parker tasted in 1996. He awarded it 100 points, his absolute bench mark. But most wines never live that long, and it is the privileged few indeed who get to taste such specimens.

But there are historical records of great wines which give us an idea of how they tasted. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was a fine wine lover and while French ambassador from 1784-9 he travelled extensively throughout France, Germany and Italy noting his impressions of the wines he tasted.

According to James Gabler's book Passions: the wines and travels of Thomas Jefferson, "Jefferson considered white Hermitage and Champagne the two best white wines of France. He held white Hermitage in such high esteem that he called it 'the first wine in the world without a single exception.' During his presidency he purchased 550 bottles of white Hermitage from the House of Jourdan. The Jourdan vineyards were eventually inherited by the Monier family who, because of their ancestry, revived the name Chastaing de la Sizeranne. The Jourdan vineyards presently belong to the house of M. Chapoutier who calls his red Hermitage, La Sizeranne and his white Hermitage, Chante-Alouette (Lark's Song). To drink a white Hermitage from the same vineyard, and made from the same grapes that Jefferson shared with dinner guests at the President's House, one need only buy M. Chapoutier's Chante-Alouette."

So I did (see the picture of the bottle above). For tasting notes, please refer to my posting, Visit to M. Chapoutier.

Meanwhile, at the same time Jefferson was whetting his wine appetite in France, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in Vienna composing the operas The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787). Unlike Jefferson, Mozart was not a collector of wines, but he was an avid drinker. It would appear that his favourite wine was the Marzemino from Trentino, for in his opera, Don Giovanni, just before being delivered into hell, sings "Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzemino!"

Eugenio Rosi 'Poeima' 2003 Marzemino
It may be that Marzemino was widely available in nearby Vienna at the time, or it may have to do with the fact that Roverto, the second town in Trentino, hosted Mozart several times; in fact, the thirteen year-old Mozart gave his first public performance there. But today, Marzemino is a relatively obscure varietal wine with just a handful of producers in Trentino.

What does good Marzemino taste like? Well, I happen to sell one: the Eugenio Rosi 'Poeima' 2003. This is an outstanding example of this variety, worthy indeed of some bottle ageing despite possessing medium tannins; this is perhaps due to the good acidity in the wine. Silky in texture, the focus here is on wild berries, plums and dark fruit, a balanced wine that accompanies both white and red meat dishes, or simply drinks itself away. If it tasted like this in the 1780's, I can understand why Mozart enjoyed it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What we've been drinking lately

Busy times for a wine merchant, December, but a blog needs to be fed. Perhaps my postings will be a little shorter these days. In this one I briefly mention some of the wines we've been drinking − some interesting, and some great.

Barnaut Millésime 1999 and Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru 'La Forest' 2004
These first two bottles both unquestionably belong to the category "great". I love Barnaut, but I hadn't tasted their Millésimé yet. Wow! This is a different world − another dimension added, an extra depth, call it complexity. You smell this champagne from a distance. The wine is ripe but there is - still - plenty of freshness in this 1999. Bread and some yeast in the nose, and a certain creamy touch. A very soft champagne, and simply delicious. Then the Dauvissat, another experience! Tight and intense, mineral. Ripe and somewhat spiced, plus a hint of honey. These are two wines I do not mind waking up for.

Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet white and red
One evening we opened two Chassagne-Montrachets from Domaine Ramonet, one white, a Villages from 2004, and a red, the Premier Cru "Clos de la Boudriotte" 1999. I didn't take any notes, only a picture. The evening was very good, and these Ramonets without doubt contributed to that. These two wines simply prove (again) that Ramonet is a great producer. Both wines were very 'drinkable', digestible, elegant and characterful. This is the style of Burgundy I like.

David Léclapart L'Amateur
David Léclapart is a purist. Organic, to start with. And no liqueur d'expedition after dégorgement. But not just that: the little bit of champagne that is lost with the dégorgement is not compensated - the bottle is not topped up. So Léclapart takes "no liqueur d'expedition" very literally - simply nothing is added. At first we had to get used to the taste of this champagne; it is truly very dry, like chewing on stone. But very pure and fresh too. And the further we got (towards the bottom of the bottle) the more we liked it. Always a good sign, but I wouldn't really call this a "commercial" champagne. Something for devotees for sure.

Frank Phélan, Labégorce-Zédé & La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2006
Finally some Bordeaux 2006 samples crossed our path. They were very young, so I retasted the day after. My final verdict: I prefer La Parde de Haut-Bailly. The first evening it was the Labégorce-Zédé that came across best, for it is more approachable - a slightly lighter structure with more obvious oak (and fresh leather and mint). What I was wondering also: am I sensing the hand of the new owner, is there a bit more make-up (and modernity) in this wine, compared to the 2005?

La Parde de Haut-Bailly especially showed its beauty the second day, when the tight fruit had opened itself somewhat. It is a powerful wine, energetic, with healthy and tough purple young fruit. It has a bright future.