Monday, March 30, 2009

ProWein 2009 in 15 favourite Bordeaux's

Yesterday we visited ProWein in Düsseldorf. Up front I had made the wise decision to only explore the wines of Bordeaux. With that the whole thing was at least 'surveyable'. ProWein is drearily huge. Hall after hall stretches out, country after country, with countless sorts of wines. And everyone is trying to get attention. Anyway, ProWein is one big busy wine frenzy. But enough about that, let's focus on something good: the wines from Bordeaux that I encountered.

Notton, Moulinet, Pont Saint-Martin, Le Jurat, Baron de BraneA lovey row: Château Notton (Margaux), Château Moulinet (Pomerol), Château Pont Saint-Martin (Pessac-Léognan), Château Le Jurat (Saint-Émilion Grand Cru), Baron de Brane (Margaux)

I tasted a large number of wines, and in this posting I shed light on a few, the 15 that I liked the most. The descriptions are brief, as I didn't have the time to make extensive notes.

1. Clos des Demoiselles 2005, Listrac-Médoc. Soft fruit, pleasant, freshness, classic, good texture. Harmonious wine, much more open now than last year.

2. La Chapelle d'Aliénor 2004, Bordeaux Supérieur. Dark fruit, vital, powerful. Freshness too. Straightforward, not complex but a good wine (Maison Malet Roquefort, from La Gaffelière).

3. Château la Gaffelière 2004, 1er Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion. Complete, classic, medium-bodied. Still young. Balanced and quite refined, classy.

4. Château Arnauton 2005, Fronsac. Dark and intense. I particularly remember its force from the last time I tasted it, but now it comes across quite pleasant. Is it loosing its hard edges? Will soon retaste this wine.

5. Château de Gironville 2006, Haut-Médoc. Very good and vital fruit, good concentration. Convincing wine, very well made (sibling of Haut-Médoc Château Belle-Vue).

6. Château Fonroque 2006, Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion. Yes! One of the best this day, this organic Saint-Emilion. Refined-seductive. Tender base. Not heavy. Good acidity. Refined is the word that keeps coming back.

7. Château Liversan 2006, Haut-Médoc. Fresh and pliable, quite mineral wine, light to medium bodied, expressive, showing character. Harmonious.

8. Château Pauillac 2006, Pauillac. Proud and vital, with good structure and healthy fruit. Straightforward, no-nonsense.

9. Château Notton 2006, Margaux. Soft and juicy, easy, slightly spiced, tasty, very nice (again). Hearty, pure, drink young. Made by Brane-Cantenac, call it their 3rd wine.

10. Baron de Brane 2006, Margaux. This is the 2nd wine of Brane-Cantenac. Same style as the Notton but more structure. Hearty too, and good balance. Finish to chew on.

11. Château le Jurat 2004, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Trouvaille, located next to Grand Corbin-Despagne. Dark, hints of farm smells. Some sweetness. Bit of oak. Proudly standing. Good.

12. Château Pont Saint-Martin 2006, Pessac-Léognan. Another trouvaille. Manure (hint), some oak, quite polished. Modern. Nice, still young.

13. Château Moulinet 2004, Pomerol. Complete, juicy, hearty, solid, hint of sweetness, some oak, seductive, fraîcheur too, fine finish.

14. Château Robin "Classique" 2004, Médoc. Second wine of Vieux Robin (Bois de Lunier). Broad, spicy yet soft. Ripe and pleasant.

15. Château Vieux Robin "Collection Bois de Lunier" 2001, Médoc. Sweetness and power, warmth and tenderness. Ripe, supple... simply delicious. Very good wine (and not cheap).

Maryse Roba, owner of Château Vieux Robin with two of her 2005s: the Cuvée Bois de Lunier and the Collection Bois de LunierMaryse Roba, owner of Château Vieux Robin with two of her 2005's: the Cuvée "Bois de Lunier" and the Collection "Bois de Lunier". The nomenclature is intricate, but the wines are good.

Finally − something I shouldn't forget mentioning − Bordeaux négociant Guillaime Cottin from Dubos was so kind to offer me a glass of Château d'Yquem 1997, and I briefly scribbled some keywords in my pocketbook: Suave-sweet. Mineral start. Unctuous. Endless finish. Freshness too, also in the nose. Superb.

Altogether an interesting and well-spent day. We − Miranda Beems and I − finished in downtown Düsseldorf where I devoured a − very German − Eisbein: a huge pig's trotter served up to the skin. But no worries, it was well-shaved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bordeaux 2008, the campaign is near... let's put on our pink glasses with Bordeaux 2008 rosé

In Bordeaux people are holding their breath these days. For next week they have organised grand tastings and related festivities: the yearly primeurs circus where the new Bordeaux vintage is presented. But who will be going to Bordeaux this year? Definitely not everyone. A/o this week Farr Vintners said they wouldn't go, and that's quite a statement from this big primeurs buyer. They say that there is no real reason to buy primeurs now, unless of course the price will seriously go down. I wrote about this likely reluctance to buy in a previous posting − should you be interested.

Bordeaux 2008 rosé: le rosé de Soutard 2008
By the way, I'm not going either. But no worries, I soon get to taste plenty of Bordeaux 2008's, and then I do not mean the 2008 rosé's in this posting. But more about that later.

Quite often I encounter the good solution to postpone the primeurs campaign. The tastings next week will take place, that's for sure. But why not wait with releasing the prices, repeat the whole thing in half a year or perhaps even later? And then release the prices, for wines that in the meanwhile have left the phase of extreme infancy? Moreover, if this would be done structurally, and not just for the 2008 vintage, the wines do not need to be made to perform so super early.

But back to this vintage... hopefully later this year there is more willingness again to buy. Hopefully the economy has then arrived in somewhat smoother waters.

I think this all won't happen − mainly due to the force of habit (and in some cases the hunger for early cash). What will happen: I actually do think the prices will go down, and I think they will even get quite close to the level of 2004. Why I think this? Because these are truly tough times, and what's the alternative? Okay, postponing, but that's probably too far out of the box.

A dead campaign − after releasing old-time high prices − is not an alternative. The ball lies in Bordeaux: they can push the button to get it rolling again. I'll wait and see.

Bordeaux 2008 rosé: le rosé de Pavie Macquin 2008
In the meanwhile I am having fun with two Bordeaux 2008 rosé's: Le Rosé de Soutard 2008 and Le Rosé de Pavie Macquin. Both rosé's from Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé's.

I think I have a slight preference for the Soutard. This is a harmonious rosé with a very pleasant soft, fat texture. I would say it is the more vinous one of the two. The Pavie Macquin comes across more youthful − it might be bottled a little later − and is more lean, more jumpy, and a slightly less dry. I actually like 'em both, but the Soutard seems to offer a little more, at least to me, and at least in this stage.

But we shouldn't think too much about these rosé's; we should drink them!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A French President who doesn't drink

He's an odd figure, that Nicolas Sarkozy. Is there a historical precedent for this kind of président, one who doesn't drink, not even a glass of wine? He provides a stark contrast to Jacques Chirac, who during his time as Mayor of Paris had turned the cellars of the city hall into a kind of Fort Knox of fine wines. In October 2006, 4000 of these bottles valued at £400,000 were put up for auction to put back money into public funds.

Teetotaler Sarkozy, however, chose to attack alcohol, first in his portfolio as interior minister by bringing in tougher laws against drunk driving. But as president his tacit support for the ANPAA − the national association for the prevention of alcoholism and addiction − is not making anything easier for the wine industry, which employs 340,000 people in France. The French parliament are now debating "a proposed law that carries an article banning promotional sales of alcoholic beverages as a way of curtailing binge-drinking among youths." (Reuters)

In essence, what this could mean is a ban on promotional giveaways of alcohol, so free tastings of wine at cellars and shops would be prohibited. Legally, you would be required to purchase each sample. This is obviously a ridiculous prospect to wine enthusiasts and professionals alike, but it is now being debated in the French parliament.

In January 2008 a French court ordered Le Parisien to pay the ANPAA €5000 in damages for publishing an article entitled "The Triumph of Champagne", which the ANPAA contended was a form of advertising for alcohol, which they obviously do not like very much. So anything seems possible. If you had told me five years ago that it would no longer be possible to smoke in cafes and public places, I probably would have laughed.

A bigger question here is, what does Sarkozy really have in mind for France? Does this austere man really wish to replace the sumptuous culture of the bon-vivant with a kind of Calvinistic sense of moderation and responsibility? Ultimately, will the French accept this? As Ed Starren lamented in his excellent Dutch weblog Wijnerij, "Where have the luxurious drinking and eating habits of the Élysée palace gone, which in the time of 'Monsieur le Président' Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac were a rule rather than an exception?"

Yet Sarkozy is odd. While on a state visit to the UK a year ago, he had the audacity to demand to see the Queen's wine list before a formal banquet, raising eyebrows in Buckingham palace. Since Sarkozy doesn't drink, one would have to assume the request was for his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who apparently enjoys a good bottle. One hopes the Queen's wines met with her approval.

Strangely, up until about six months ago I was able to sell a wine that was a personal favorite of Jacques Chirac's, 'La Reine Blanche' from Jean Reverdy et Fils, a beautiful, bone dry Sancerre that cries out for crustaceans. It's said that when Chirac was president, thousands of bottles were reserved yearly for the French government. My importer no longer imports it. I know I can't blame that on Sarkozy, but somehow I would like to.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bordeaux 2008 and its likely effect on 2007

It happened in the middle of the night, at the end of September last year. I was laying awake, worrying about the 2007 primeurs I had reserved for my young wine business. It was already clear that the 2007's (just as − to a lesser extent − the 2006's) were not going to be the hot cakes like the 2005's were. But the market still behaved like it had for years: if you wouldn't buy certain wines, you'd miss out on these − in other words: if you'd snooze, you'd loose.

The financial crisis was still far away. But that night I just didn't feel good about "taking a position" in Bordeaux 2007, about making an investment in this average vintage − while unsure about when to eventually sell these cases.

The feeling was strong, and I had experienced more than once that strong feelings shouldn't be put aside. So the next morning I carefully informed about the possibility to give back most of my reservations. It was no problem. What might have helped: the wines that I had selected are among the most sought after, e.g. Léoville-Las-Cases and Pavillon Rouge.

Today I am glad that I made this decision. That something inside me decided to wake me up that night. Today we know that everything is different, that the old rules do not apply any more, that we have entered an era of uncertainty and question marks.

One sure thing is that prices are under pressure. Particularly for the more speculative wines (the most expensive, the most prestigious), and for certain − relatively highly priced − vintages. Number one is 2007 I'm afraid. The customer wouldn't mind a price drop, but for the trade it would mean a loss.

Regarding the 2007 prices, until now not much is really happening. We are overlooking a tranquil, frozen field in which prices are stamped like the grooves from a plough. Nothing moves in this wintry landscape, no one wants to move. And no one really has to... until the Bordeaux 2008 campaign is pitching its tents here, and stirring up the lurking market.

In January I wrote about Bordeaux 2008 and what to expect from the primeur campaign and I won't repeat myself here, but when we look at it in a simple way it seems that there are two possible outcomes: Bordeaux 2008 is expensive again and won't sell, or the prices go down, with the effect that Bordeaux 2007 becomes too expensive. For the trade both directions are undesirable, for the buyer it's a different story of course.

There are other routes, e.g. as suggested by fellow blogger Nick Stephens (in the italic part of his posting) but I'm afraid all this is too creative and intricate in the eyes of the rude beast called Market.

The number "7" is clearly the problem, 1997 went down in price as well. Also a mediocre vintage, and overpriced at the time. Well, whatever happens... it is going to be very interesting. I keep you posted.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Robert Parker & Bordeaux 2006: the final verdict

About a week ago Robert Parker has published his final scores for the Bordeaux 2006 vintage. For example a wine with an initial rating of 90-92 has now been updated to 91. Or more, or less. Most wines get a final score that is close or quite close to the initial score, but there are always interesting exceptions. Big winners, an big losers. Up front my apologies: we're talking about wines, not about a football match. But well: it wasn't me who rated these wines... I'm simply the messenger. Here are the most spectacular adjustments:

The winners:
- Château Haut-Brion 2006, Pessac-Léognan: from 92-94+ to 96
- Château Lafite-Rothschild 2006, Pauillac: from 91-94+ to 97

And the châteaux that were less lucky:
- Château L'Arrosée 2006, Saint-Emilion: from 92-94 to 89
- Château Bellevue 2006, Saint-Emilion: from 92-94 to 86
- Clos Saint-Martin 2006, Saint-Emilion: from 92-94 to 87
- Château La Croix Saint-Georges 2006, Pomerol: from 94-96 to 91
- Château La Fleur-Pétrus 2006, Pomerol: from 94-96+ to 90+

La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) and Bellevue-Mondotte (Saint-Emilion) were, together with Mouton-Rothschild, the wines of the vintage (all three scoring 96-100). Only Mouton-Rothschild managed to keep that position (98+), La Mission Haut Brion and Bellevue-Mondotte both had to give up some points (and went to 95 and 95+ respectively).

For all details check out the updated Bordoverview.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How does rosé age?

I live on the third floor in a new apartment building in the Jordaan in Amsterdam, so I don't have a basement, and unfortunately that means I don't have a wine cellar. But cellars are not an uncommon feature among Amsterdam's older houses; whether or not they are suited for wine storage is another question. Among other things, a good cellar requires ventilation.

wine tasting in the Corvershof
But there are some truly amazing cellars or caves in Amsterdam. My personal favourite is the cave of the Corvershof, built in 1723 and is now the location of Tastevin Dehue and wine educator Sander Salburg's Wines Unlimited, on the Nieuwe Herengracht. A tasting here by candlelight is a truly unique experience. Such a beautiful old cellar does however come with a price: several years ago, the brick walls and roof started leaking, requiring them to pump a special foam into the masonry, an expensive undertaking.

Yes, there definitely are beautiful cellars in Amsterdam, I just don't happen to have one. So I did the next best thing: I used my ground floor storage space (known in Dutch as the "box"). It's in a shady part of the building, is locked and is generally quite cool. In fact, I have to say after monitoring the temperature over the last year, I'm quite impressed. When the mercury rose to close to +30º Celsius this past summer, the box stayed reasonably cool at 15º. And as I write this, with the outside temperature being -6º, the box is a balmy +7º.

I know this is not completely ideal, but look it's not like I'm storing Lafite-Rothschild down there. My box is not meant for long-term storage of wine, at least I don't think it is. But as for the question "how does rosé age," the answer is not very well. We all know rosés should be drunk young, though quality rosés have a slightly longer life. So I was rather chagrined to find, while poking around in my "cellar" recently, that I still had two bottles of rosé from 2005. Not extremely old but getting onto four years now. The good news is this is quality rosé: Reuilly, François Charpentier, a full-bodied, mineral style Pinot Gris rosé vinified in the same way as a red wine, six weeks of skin contact at 6° Celsius and a slow, cool yeasting.

I sell this wine and enjoy it often in the summer; I know it well. And so my first taste led to disappointment: the wine had lost its fruit, both in the nose and the mouth. But it was a bit thick in the mouth; that was something new. And there was just a subtle hint of raspberry. Above all the wine was mineral, dry, and the more I drank it the more I was pleased. This was actually quite special, like a dry aged quality Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of red fruit, if you will. And then there are people who say Sauvignon Blanc doesn't age well either, but this is Pinot Gris.

That last bottle is for me. However the '06 is available, and I would recommend laying a few bottles around for 2010. I know I will. By the way, don't try this with your supermarket rosé.