Monday, June 27, 2011

Short trip to Burgundy, a summary

It's the Monday after the Vinexpo week, it is gorgeous weather, but the Bordeaux trade is locked in behind the computer because, as expected, the finale of the lengthy Bordeaux 2010 campaign is still being played. This morning Cos d'Estournel kicked off with 'friendly' price of - more or less - € 275 average consumer price. Friendly, because the price dropped a bit, by 5,7% to be precise.

Cos was followed by Margaux. The first rumours said the ex-négociant (the ex everything) price was € 500 (-7,4% on 2009) but after some discussion on Twitter it was 'agreed' that the first tranche was released at € 600 (+11,1% on 2009). Perhaps some very lucky guys were able to buy at € 500, but the general offer clearly was at € 600. A tiny offer, and there will soon be a second tranche.

The second wine, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, was released at around € 150 consumer price, which is 80% on the 2009. Dramatically on the one hand, but in light of the recent price rises of the second wines of the first growths in general, and that of Pavillon Rouge in particular, this new price - unfortunately - makes sense. A new third wine will soon fill the gap. The amount Pavillon made is down seriously, thus the allocations are smaller this year (about 50%!). The lovely and rare Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux was also released, at - more or less - € 133 consumer price (12,9% on 2009).

Now it's lunchtime, which allows me to write something about our Burgundy trip. As a guideline I will use the 5 tweets that Jan van Roekel posted after we returned (I did you some tweets while we were there). Here we go:

Jan van Roekel, tweet 1: "Recap of short trip to Burgundy: Aurélien Verdet: great range of 09s, from Bourgogne rouge (Vosne in disguise) up until lovely NSG 1er crus"

Aurélien Verdet' cellar. Perfect from the inside, simple from the outsideAurélien Verdet's cellar. Perfect from the inside, simple from the outside

Aurélien Verdet's father has been farming organically since 1971, and Aurélien (under 30) has of course continued doing that. Their vineyards are in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits near Arcenant where the cellar is located. A 100% functional cellar, nothing fancy about it, see the picture. Perhaps I'm the first merchant to shoot this bare barn, but it does tell something about Aurélien's wines: 100% purity, 0% bullshit.

Aurélien extended the domain and now produces a complete range of wines from the Côte. In most cases he is the one to work the vineyard, and in that case it is currently in conversion to organic farming (certification expected in 2012).

Jan points out the Bourgogne Rouge that was added to his portfolio. This is one of the wines which is in conversion to organic. It comes from land located just across the D974 from the appellation Vosne-Romanée. The wine has a lively nose of explicit Pinot, and some smoke, and it has a slightly creamy texture. For the rest it has what it should have: agility, freshness and intensity. Great affordable Pinots are always more than welcome! This one will be in Amsterdam soon.

Jan van Roekel, tweet 2: Recap pt.2: '10 from barrel at Anne Gros, all finesse, purity and fraicheur, A+ Dom. Arlaud: expressive, refined wines in '09 + '10, love it

The beautiful barrel cellar for the reds from Anne Gros, Vosne-RomanéeThe beautiful barrel cellar for the reds from Anne Gros, Vosne-Romanée

Two more favorites. Anne Gros belongs to the category 'artist'. She makes true "fine wines". It is curious to see all the new and quite new oak lined up in her meticulous cellar in Vosne-Romanée, as oak never stands out in her wines. What Gros makes could be summarized as very harmonious, pure and juicy. It's always hard to find and I tend to buy bottles here and there, and sometimes at auctions.

Number two is Domaine Arlaud. This is a fast rising star. One way to describe the wines is that - in comparison to Gros - they are a bit more masculin, without being tough or hard. The wine is kind of sketched, instead of painted. A different artist, and a different terroir. Every time I visit Burgundy I buy a case Arlaud at the Caveau des Vignerons in Morey Saint Denis. From the decreasing availability it is clear that this (organic) wine is more and more sought-after.

Tasting with Cyprien Arlaud in his cellar, Domaine Arlaud, Morey Saint DenisTasting with Cyprien Arlaud in his cellar, Domaine Arlaud, Morey Saint Denis

Jan van Roekel, tweet 3: Recap pt.3: DDC (Domaine David Clark) great as always, ultimate purity! Picked up my harvest pay (bottles) so I now have a decent stock :-)

Close to perfection. These wines are so gentle, these dance in the mouth. I have written several times about David Clark, the story about his technical past, about the vineyards which he tends as grand crus, about his extreme perfectionism which for example makes him design and construct a - thus homemade - bottling machine because the ones on the market aren't good enough. Or what to think about the near robotic vineyard buggy? On the photo you see David's machine, and everything is focused on... quality.

It's hard to find the right words to pinpoint this wine. Perfection is difficult to describe. I. Just. Love. It.

David Clark showing his vineyard buggyDavid Clark showing his vineyard buggy, Mark 4 I think it was

Bolomey Wijnimport is the only importer on the European mainland and I am glad the wine is not too popular: most people have never heard of it. I am always scared that it sells out too quick. Anyway, a vintage never lasts a year so often availability is zero. Funniest allocation is that of the Vosne: 12 bottles.

Jan van Roekel, tweet 4: Recap pt.4: If you think '09 is a great vintage only for reds, think again. Mouth-watering mix between richness and freshness @ Arnaud Ente

That's well put, Jan. I agree! To write a blog posting it is easier to visit some less great domains too. It's more difficult to be enthusiastic again and again. But anyone who knows the wines from Arnaud Ente knows that I am not exaggerating. We simply had a great line-up of visits again. A mouth-watering mix between richness and freshness, what to add to that... dear sommelier, if you were still snoozing this is the moment to wake up!

Jan van Roekel, tweet 5: Recap pt.5: incredible stuff at Dom. de la Bongran, truly unique wines. David Butterfield: very convincing wines at this micro-negociant

About three years ago we made our first visit to Domaine de la Bongran (Gautier Thévenet) in the tiny village of Quintaine beween Viré and Clessé. We brought back some bottles, and enjoyed them a lot. This is different, and very special. This is slow wine pur sang. The youngest vintage available is 2005, and we bought some 2004. Very rich and ripe, with honey and butter, this is simply a different league. If you want to know more, follow the link to the story I wrote about them back in 2008.

And then David Butterfield. Here I'm even the sole importer for all of Europe! Yes, truly convincing stuff. Despite the name it's not so buttery, a bit perhaps, it's definitely also refined and fresh. It's actually the same as with a good and affordable Pinot, it is great to have a quality-Meursault for just under 30 euros. In a few years time that won't be the case anymore, but at this moment the young David has not yet been widely discovered...

Reading back it almost seems like a sales story, but believe me, it's all true and straight from the heart.

In the meantime it's not lunchtime anymore, but this afternoon has been very quiet. Next round of releases expected tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vinexpo? No, Burgundy!

Time to take a break. Last week was extremely busy with Bordeaux 2010 primeurs being released. They all came at the same time, very convenient (just to be sure that there's no misunderstanding: I'm not serious: to process all these wines was quite a job). But things are rolling now and that's good.

I've been micro-blogging all the time so readers who follow me on Twitter have seen the releases flooding in, but I will repeat the major ones here (reds and Sauternes only, prices are compared to the 2009 vintage).

Tuesday 14 June
- Léoville-Barton @ ± € 100 (+15,2). Still relatively good value.
- Smith-Haut-Lafitte @ ± € 107 (+24,2%). Good but expensive.
- Gloria @ ± € 40 (+15%). Recommended!
- Climens @ ± € 100 (0%). Not tasted, but will be great.
- Lagrange @ ± € 56 (+6,5%). Quite modest price rise.
- Grand-Puy-Lacoste @ ± € 81 (+20%). Superb!
- Canon-la-Gaffelière @ ± € 83 (0%). Good wine, good price.
- Clos Fourtet @ ± € 100 (+20%). Liked this one also.

Wednesday 15 June
- Beau-Séjour Bécot @ ± € 68 (+11,1%). Fair deal, good wine.
- Lynch Bages @ ± € 139 (+38,9%). Copying Pontet-Canet, selling.
- Branaire-Ducru @ ± € 68 (+11,1%). Quite good deal.
- Larcis-Ducasse @ ± € 70 (+38,3%). Very good, wanted, selling.
- d'Issan @ ± € 68 (+21,2%). Missed this one, apparently great.
- Montrose @ ± € 182 (+22,2%). Sold fast. Not my favourite this year.
- Canon @ ± € 125 (0%). Liked Canon a lot, very pleasant.
- Pichon-Baron @ ± € 182 (+46,7%). This price! Parker 97-99+ effect.
- Clos du Marquis @ ± € 51 (+7,1%). Good wine, good deal!
- Petit Village @ ± € 63 (+23,6%). Liked it, but serious price.
- Brane-Cantenac @ ± € 76 (+25%). Like the wine, not the price...
- Montrose second tranche after 5 hours! ± € 200...
- Pape Clément @ ± € 132 (+2,6%). Not my wine, but like the 2,6%.

Thursday 16 June
- Haut-Bailly @ ± € 124 (+15,9%). Star wine, selling!
- Saint-Pierre @ ± € 72 (+13,2%). Quite interesting deal.
- Pichon Lalande @ ± € 191 (+9,5%). Ending up closer to the Baron.
- Pavie Macquin @ ± € 109 (+59,2%). Great wine, big price but wanted.
- Lascombes @ ± € 100 (+20%). Wow, Lascombes at € 100...
- Nénin @ ± € 59 (+9,4%). Preferred the 2009.
- Rauzan-Ségla @ ± € 117 (+40%). Surprising price hike.
- Haut-Bailly second tranche after 7 hours! ± € 145.

Next week it's Vinexpo and I'm glad I'm not going there, but instead to Burgundy! We'll be visiting some very interesting domains, and some lovely restaurants too of course. More about that later, if I find the time...

If you're interested in acquiring some Bordeaux 2010s you find our offers online: It's an expensive year, but there are definitely some very good value wines to be found.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bordeaux 2010 campaign finally accelerated

Finally some fireworks last week. After a quiet Monday we saw a number of interesting releases on Tuesday 7 June, a/o De Fieuzal, Haut-Bages Libéral, Quinault l'Enclos, La Tour du Pin, Gruaud Larose, Haut-Batailley and Latour-Martillac.

But things really started going on Wednesday 8 June when the hottest wine of all came out: Château Pontet-Canet. This "flying fifth" flew in with a 38,9% higher price than last year's, and this first tranche sold out in one day: hot cakes at about € 140 per bottle. Extreme, but it must be said, the wine is of extraordinary quality.

The annoying thing is that it seems perfectly normal that prices are up again. As if the châteaux forgot that the 2009 prices were extreme already. The defence will be that the market has changed with the new demand from China. But for some wines it almost seems as a natural reflex, not every wine is a Pontet-Canet.

The average price rise so far isn't too bad actually. I was surprised to see that we're looking at about 4,5% on 2009 at this moment. Note that this number will grow the coming weeks. Because this is one of the strange rules in Bordeaux: the more expensive the wine, the more steep its relative price rise will be. So be prepared.

Let's look at the extremes. From the ± 35 wines that went down in price these 5 are the most extreme:

1. Balestard La Tonnelle -28% (9 Jun)
2. La Croix Taillefer -19% (19 Apr)
3. Les Gravières -18,9% (19 May)
4. Sociando-Mallet -15,9% (24 May)
5. De Fargues -13,3% (30 May)

It's always good to put these wines in the spotlight. Personally I would say Sociando-Mallet is a good pick.

At the other side, here's the top 10 with the biggest price rise:

1. Faugères Cuvée Péby +50,8% (9 Jun, curious release)
2. Pontet-Canet +38,9% (8 Jun)
3. Pédesclaux +32,1% (9 Jun)
4. Durfort-Vivens +29,8% (9 Jun)
5. Boyd-Cantenac +28% (10 Jun)
6. Marquis d'Alesme +27,9% (9 Jun)
7. Grand-Puy-Ducasse +24,3% (10 Jun)
8. Beychevelle +22,7% (19 May)
9. Croix de Labrie +21,2% (9 Jun)
10. Giscours + 20,3% (8 Jun)

Note that these releases are all from this week, except for Beychevelle. Another indication that the +4,5% average will grow. In hindsight, the Beychevelle price jump wasn't so shocking, it now fits perfectly between its peers.

The price development over time reminds me of that of 2009. Wines that were perceived as expensive at first, later seemed quite reasonably priced. Those wines will get sold out the coming weeks.

I will conclude with some personal picks, based on quality and price, released this week:

- Giscours: not a bargain, but future joy guaranteed
- La Tour du Pin: made and owned by Cheval Blanc, very good!
- Haut-Batailley: great classic, precise, and still affordable
- Calon-Ségur: yes, but the real pick is little brother Capbern
- Pagodes de Cos: not cheap, but a great 2nd wine
- Phélan-Ségur: super this year, not cheap but value for money
- Langoa-Barton: tough pure honest classic
- Domaine de Chevalier: a favourite, refined and exciting

Next week will be busy, the last week before Vinexpo. During Vinexpo I take the opportunity to escape to Burgundy for a few days. We have some very interesting visits ahead of us, more about that later. And thereafter, in the first half of July, it will be time to wrap up this lengthy primeurs campaign, with the releases of the premier cru's. Also about that, more later.

In the meantime: our Bordeaux 2010 offers are updated daily.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Château de la Negly and Robert Parker

Dwayne Perreault - Possibly the best known of the 10 Grand Crus of the Languedoc, La Clape nonetheless remained a recent discovery for me--but what a discovery! At a recent tasting held by Winefield’s Auctioneers where such luminaries as Château Giscours 1975 and Château Palmer 1970 stood on the table, I found myself coming back repeatedly to taste the La Clape “La Falaise” 1998 from Château de la Negly.

Château de la Negly
Considered by many to be the red-headed stepchild of France, the Languedoc does not get its fair share of respect. But a simple google search will show you that Château de la Negly is an exception. I happened to be in the region, and decided to pay them a visit. I was greeted by the young Dylan Tabaret, who for the past eight months has been working for the Château as an apprentice.

I tasted a total of 11 wines by Negly, but it is important to note that only four of them are called La Clape, and this does not necessarily mean that they are the best wines. La Clape is a mountain just south of Narbonne and the legal requirements state that the whites must contain at least 40% Bourbolenc, while the reds must be an assemblage made principally from Grenache, Mourvèdre or Syrah. Other permitted grapes for the whites include Grenache blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle and Picpoul, and for the reds, Carignan and Cinsault. Any wines made from any other proportion of grapes fail to meet these regulations, but the result is deceiving. In fact, Negly’s top wines fall under the generic Côteaux du Languedoc appellation.

The question might be asked: does La Clape give Château de la Negly name recognition, or is it the other way around? I don’t know. But as it turns out, Robert Parker had visited the Château just one week earlier. And I couldn’t help but ask Dylan, how did he find the wines? He was a bit coy. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Then I will tell you. Parker sniffs the wine, then he walks outside, about twenty meters, and speaks into his dictafone under his jacket so nobody can hear. Then he comes back, stone-faced, and says nothing.

“It goes further,” says Dylan. “Later that evening, we had a dinner together, just a convivial gathering of friends around the table. We were drinking Rivesaltes from 1926. But even then, Parker spoke into his dictafone under his jacket so we could not hear his impressions. I found it rather strange.”

I mention this not to poke fun at Parker but to underscore just how much of an institution he is. In a world where everyone waits for his latest judgements, secrecy is an absolute must. So while the world waits for the latest Parker points to appear, I wish to release my own “pre-Parker” judgement of Château de la Negly’s wines… only there is one problem. I am of the Hugh Johnson school of wine criticism, so I refuse to give a wine a number. But here are my impressions:

La Clape, L’Écume 2010 (made from pressurage direct) and La Clape, Les Embruns 2010 (saignée made from Cinsault and Mourvèdre) are weak rosés, thin and even watery in texture and lacking acidity. Costing only €4.80 and €7.50, you could still drink a lot better wine for the money.

La Clape, La Brise Marine 2009 is a beautiful white wine made from Bourbolenc, Marsanne and Roussanne. With a bouquet of apricots and white blossom, and as its name suggests, you can practically taste the sea breeze, all for €8.

Moving to the reds, the Coteaux du Languedoc, La Côte 2008 was a bit disappointing. 70% Carignan, and I am a lover of this grape , but I know how difficult it can be. At €7.80, it is rather one-dimensional and lacks depth.

La Clape, La Falaise 2008, €15. As I said before, the hallmark of this wine is its sweet dark fruit and concentrated minerality. Made from 55% Syrah and 45% Grenache, it is well-rounded, persistent and very expressive. Aged one year in barriques, 25% new wood. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this wine.

And now for the toppers, all tasted from the vat, as bottling was scheduled to take place the following week. The Coteaux du Languedoc, L’Ancely 2009 is 100% Mourvèdre, with extremely rich, potent dark fruit. A beautiful wine at €53 per bottle.

The Coteaux du Languedoc, La Porte du Ciel 2009 is 100% Syrah with two years oak ageing. Possessing a bouquet of tobacco, cassis and black cherry, it has a buttery texture with very fine tannins and piquante notes of chocolate and spice. €82

And finally, the Coteaux du Languedoc, Clos des Truffiers 2008 is also 100% Syrah, harvested from a lot that, as its name suggests, formerly contained truffles. There is an explosion of dark fruit and… truffles! I swear, an oily texture and taste is to be discerned behind the Grand Cru price of €91, which most people would agree is a little offsetting. But as Dylan confided, a Swiss gentleman had arrived earlier in the day, had liked what he tasted, and ordered 600 bottles.