www.vinolent.net | VĪN'OLENT ADJ (OBS): ADDICTED TO WINE
Wine loving misanthrope. I taste wine, drink wine, love wine. I also sell wine and buy wine, talk about wine, write about wine and occasionally deliver wine. I’ve been doing it for a while now and like to think that I know my onions.
A month or so after the annual Southwold tasting, a similar group join up for the annual “Ten Years On” tasting. This year was thus the time for the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, a vintage that I’ve never really “got”, so I was looking forward to it. The snow, or rather the spineless, unimaginative, defeatist, nannying, etc, etc, etc ad infinitum, attitude of pretty much everything and everyone in the UK these days made it tricky but, thinking of Shackleton, Adams, Marshall and Wild, I made the epic journey from Farnham to Wandsworth. I was very keen to taste these wines.
My intrigue wasn’t to do with the anticipation of greatness, as with the 2005s last year, nor was it to do with seeing if I’d got a vintage right or not, as with the 2014s last month. It was to do with the commercial story of this vintage. 2008s have always been commodity claret in my view. Aside from the few customers who bought a six pack of Mouton or Latour (these were my picks of the vintage from barrel) on the basis that they might never again be able to afford a first growth, few customers bought these with future pleasure in mind. Or at least that’s what I reckon.
2008 Bordeaux was released in the Spring of 2009 at a time when the wine market was pretty much busted. In the second half of 2008, the market had plummeted; the Liv-ex 100, probably the best measurement of this sort of thing, dropped by a shade over 22% in six months. In November 2008 I had cancelled orders on my accounts that topped a quarter of a million pounds. It was scary and, as one does in a cold winter, one waits, and hopes, for Spring.
Spring brings en-primeur and the release of a Bordeaux vintage can act as a catalyst for the broader market. A good vintage that sells well adds positivity. A poor vintage that stalls adds negativity. And lots more in between. So the quality, and the price, of the forthcoming 2008 vintage was, at the beginning of 2009, something of intense interest to those that made their living selling wine.
Sadly, the news wasn’t good. The anticipated quality of the wines was deemed as being so poor that some merchants didn’t even go to Bordeaux to taste them. Some of those that did probably wished, at the time, that they too had the balls to stay at home and watch telly.
The wines were released at prices that, for once, seemed reasonable. A case of 2008 Mouton or Latour would set you back £1,750 or so. Lynch-Bages £360. And these wines, the wines that had established themselves as the equivalent of FTSE 100 stock, more or less worked. Not much else did.
And something happened.
At the end of April 2009 Robert Parker released Issue 182 of the Wine Advocate. He too had questioned the point of travelling to Bordeaux to taste, though returned to write that “the quality of the 2008 vintage turned out to be excellent, with a number of superb wines that are close to, if not equal to the prodigious 2005 or 2000 vintages (two years with many of the best wines I have ever tasted from top to bottom)?”
Which rather left most merchants scratching their heads and got the sharper ones on to their phones. Much business was done and much wine was sold. The market recovered. A year after its release, 2008 Mouton-Rothschild was selling for almost double its release price. At the end of 2010, fuelled largely by speculation that the white-hot market of the Far East would be endlessly enamoured of the lucky “8” vintage, it had traded on Liv-ex at £8,000 per case. You can buy a case today for £4,500 or so.
Writing up my notes on the wines is a little like doing 100 lines: I don’t want to do it, and the resulting text will have little worth. If you do not own 2008 Bordeaux there is no reason at all to go and seek it out. If you bought the wines early you will have done well, and I stress that Bordeaux does have this habit of softening out and somehow blooming in its decay. Recent bottles of 1993 & 1994 La Mission have confirmed this. There is nothing particularly awful about the 2008 vintage; it’s just that there’s nothing particularly good about it either. A year without charm.
My wine of the tasting was Haut-Brion, with Latour and Mouton a whisker behind. I scored Pavie well, though concede that even after my recent Pavie epiphany, it wasn’t really my bag. Outside of the really big boys my wine of the tasting was a quite excellent Pichon-Baron. There were no crushing disappointments aside from a bit of oxidation and cork taint.
So what started out as a review of the top 70 wines of the vintage turns into a paragraph, and the introduction, the opening paragraph, has turned into the piece itself because the 2008 Bordeaux vintage is and has always been a commodity vintage. One that that sold, and sells, on relative value rather than intrinsic quality. I have a feeling that the merchants, those of us that bought and sold the wines, are inclined to like them more than they would otherwise on account of the profitable commerce that they have enjoyed. And I remain flummoxed by Mr Parker’s original reviews (since corrected). It may well be the only vintage that he ever got wrong. So not a bad record nonetheless.
I thank Liv-ex for the numbers. It’s a numbers sort of vintage.
If you are a particular sort of wine merchant there are certain wines that you are not supposed to like. Nor are you supposed to encourage your customers to buy them. It’s a strange sales technique though makes perfect sense to those that employ it.
These wines are not exclusive to any particular region. What they tend to have in common is new ownership and a change in style. A paradigm example would be Château Pavie, modern vintages of which (1998 onward) still split opinion. For those unfamiliar with the château and its recent history, a brief précis would be this: Mr Gerard Perse bought St Emilion estate Château Pavie in 1998, got himself a consultant who knew how to get good scores, toshed up the buildings, and started making St Emilion Turbojuice.
An alternative summary would be this: in 1998 Mr Gerard Perse bought Pavie, an under-performing estate with arguably some of the best terroir in St Emilion, and (a) set about restoring both vineyards and buildings and, concurrently, (b) started to see what sort of wine they could get from this rather special spot. Winemaking for the newcomer, even with a fancy consultant or two, is a bit hit and miss. And you get just one crack at it every year. And the weather is your master. It’s not easy. It might take a while to work it all out.
I first visited Pavie in 2004 to taste the 2003 vintage. This was back in the day of 200% new oak and the 2003 was one of the property’s most controversial offerings. I last visited Pavie in 2015 to taste the 2014 vintage. I mostly remember not the wine, but the Bulgari handwipes in the Gents’, the lovely motor car outside (see below; I think it’s a Citroen), the regal interior – it’s like being inside a very grand hotel – and the furnishings: I very nearly spat my 2014 Pavie into an avant-garde table lamp, thinking that said avant-garde table lamp was an avant-garde spittoon.
And the last time I tasted Pavie was last week at Berrys’, at a dinner that simply wouldn’t have happened back in the old days. Because you were not supposed to like Pavie and you certainly wouldn’t encourage others to do so (though spoofulated Pauillac was obviously fine).
In the company of the impossibly charming and mild-mannered Philippe Develay, who has run the show at Pavie since 2016 I tasted two trios of Pavie: 1998, 2000 & 2010 followed by 2014, 2015 & 2016. Herewith some notes:
1998 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Very punchy nose. The aroma comes from the glass like warmth from a fire. Raisins. Ripe. Very inviting. In the mouth this is ripe and rich and very curranty. At first the mouth doesn’t quite match the nose, though over the course of an hour or two it broadens and fleshes out. This is very tarty, and very big. But I do rather like it.
2000 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
This is much more restrained and elegant on the nose, with a touch of that gentle graphite minerality that you get on 2000s. It opens up gently, and is almost left-bankish. Quite lovely. Clean, gentle and pure. All here and no jam to this. Intense but not heavy. Really lovely.
2010 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Dark – you can’t see through it. Sweet, cool, pure and minty. Cassis. Very clean. Lots of power. Massively intense in the mouth with a pin-sharp structure. Very 2010 in that there is the hint of perfection to come at some stage, but when will that be?
I thoroughly enjoyed these. I think I liked the 1998 more than my neighbours, but the 2000 – I think – seduced the room. The 2010, as with many 2010s, was technically brilliant though I do wonder where these wines are going to go and just how long we’ll have to wait for them. This is a wine for your kids.
2014 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Cool, sweet pure and restrained. Almost floral on the nose. And open. This doesn’t have the intensity or the class of the 2010, but it’s not far behind. This is rather good.
2015 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Darker fruit, and a touch of bubble gum on the nose. An almost tangible – think plasticine – depth to the nose. There is a thickness to this. This follows in the mouth with a similar intensity. A lift underneath, still. A little too rich for me.
2016 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Back up there. Freshness, lift. The intensity here is more ballet than sumo. This is a cask sample, so not quite the finished article, but quite lovely and quite complete nonetheless. Mr Perse apparently reckons that he has found the essence of Pavie in this vintage.
There was a definite change in style to these three, with the possible exception of the 2015. I don’t know 2015s as well as I should but I remain unconvinced by the vintage for the moment.
What was convincing was the wine. I’ve tasted every vintage of Pavie since Mr Perse took over in 1998, though I have never, to my shame, actually drunk it. Which is wot wine is for. And which is maybe why it was so easy to denigrate what I didn’t understand back when I was one of those merchants.
I’ve always thought the 2014 Bordeaux vintage to be a bit of a sleeper, by which I mean it’s a vintage that lies a little under the radar. It’s not a shouty vintage, and it was released at a time when a few merchants had seemingly given up trying to sell Bordeaux.
I liked the wines from the start, probably more than others did. It struck me as a “proper” Bordeaux vintage, one where the elegance and class of this region’s inimitable wines could show their best. And, after three pretty miserable vintages in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (though some 2011s and 2012s are starting to show rather well), I got the feeling that the winemakers of Bordeaux had taken their foot of the gas a little in terms of extraction and, forgive me, “spoofulation”.
Last week I joined a score or so of the UK wine trade’s finest to taste through the top 240 wines of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage. The wines are tasted blind, and at a fair pace. The surroundings – Farr Vintners’ swanky offices on the Thames – are pretty much perfect for this, especially with their knack for organisation, which borders on the military. Wines are scored out of twenty, with group discussions following the reveal. Here’s what I thought:
These wines are frequently a little tough to taste. Indeed I have in the past considered that when I do my time in purgatory I will be blind tasting young St Emilion. In 2014 there was no such torture. It may well be the character of the vintage, though I think it more likely a toning-down of the winemaking in this real patchwork of a region.
The outright winner for me, and the group, was Tertre-Rôteboeuf. Lashings of flamboyant mocha and vanilla, and the tell-tale development of a Mitjavile wine: a ripeness that borders on decay. Canon followed – a totally different wine with tight, pure, focussed fruit. Tasting these wines blind throws up a few surprises, the main one being Quintus, which you’re not supposed to like, but which is rather good, if ambitiously priced.
These were a bit of a disappointment to be honest. I’ve long held the view that most Pomerol tastes the same outside the top ten or so châteaux, though in 2014 some of the top wines are a little samey too. Eglise-Clinet topped the group vote with my top pick – Gazin – coming in a close second. Looking back at my scores and notes, I’d personally take a case of Roc de Cambes ahead of all of them, though much of that is personal taste.
I struggled with these and was probably under-scoring by this stage. My pick of the bunch was Haut-Bailly, with Pape-Clement almost pipping it. The group, as it invariably does, picked Domaine de Chevalier as the winner with Smith-Haut-Lafitte a whisker behind it. As with the Pomerols, I was a little disappointed with these.
After St Emilion, Margaux is often the most challenging appellation to taste because, as with St Emilion, there is rarely any consistency. Ch. d’Issan and Pavillon Rouge were my winners here, just ahead of Palmer and Rauzan-Ségla, both of which, to be fair, gave the impression of more to come and I may well have underscored them a little.
This is where things started to get interesting. The group picked Cos, Montrose and Calon in that order, followed by Meyney, which has a habit of performing well at these tastings. This has to be a value pick, along with an excellent Phelan-Ségur, and a wine that has become a yearly must-buy: Capbern.
This is always, always the most consistent appellation in Bordeaux. Léoville-Barton was the group favourite, followed by Poyferré, which was mine. Langoa was a cigarette paper behind them, and I confess to thinking it was Lascases when I tasted it, such was its solid precision. No wine disappointed in this flight, and you can buy 2014 St Julien blind. A case of the aforementioned Langoa will set you back less than £400, which looks an attractive buy to me.
St Julien may well be the most consistent, but Pauillac is where my heart is. It’s the Vosne of Bordeaux, and I love it. And I can, sometimes, nail them all blind. Sometimes. But things change.
Pontet-Canet used to be the easiest of the lot to spot on account of its tasting like New World Grenache, though it has started to taste like Pauillac again. On the other hand, Lynch-Bages used to be the epitome of Pauillac and, whilst it’s not pushing the boundaries of reason in the way that Pontet-Canet has done, it doesn’t taste like Pauillac to me any more, or at least not like Lynch-Bages. Maybe I got it wrong, because the group had Lynch at the top.
My Pauillac picks are Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon-Lalande and Pichon-Baron. All three are absolutely stonking. GPL (which I initially thought was Lalande) has a sylph-like elegance that is hard to catch or describe. Pichon-Lalande is glossier than it has been in the past, and is impossibly well put together (I thought it was Baron, which maybe shows how it has come on under Mr Glumineau). Baron was equally impressive, and unmistakeably Baron, which rather threw my previous guesses out of the window. All three are grand vin.
The Big Boys
I write these up separately as they are in a different world. Not necessarily of quality, but certainly of price. Perspective: a case of 2014 Pétrus, which I scored highest over the two days of tasting, will set you back at least twenty grand before duty and VAT. Bananas. Le Pin isn’t far behind. For the price of a case of either wine you could have a case each of Roc de Cambes and Tertre-Rôteboeuf, my car, a week in the Caribbean, a Rolex and probably some left over to boot. And – this is closer to the point – just who is buying these wines? People who are going to drink them? I wonder.
That notwithstanding, Mouton led the left bank first growths, with Latour just behind. I rated Mission top, and rather liked Angélus too. Margaux was, disastrously, corked.
In terms of ranking I put 2014 ahead of 2008 & 2006, and reckon it could turn out to be like 2001: wines for the decanter and for the table rather than wines for showing off with. It’s not going to match any of the great vintages of this century, but for those that like good, elegant and “proper” claret, the wines are a success, particularly in St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe. There is no great need to go and fill your boots with this vintage but these are the wines that I would buy from 2014:
Feeling flush: the two Pichons and Tertre-Rôteboeuf.
Feeling moderately flush: GPL, Roc de Cambes.
Have a few quid spare: Capbern, the second wines of the two Pichons, Phélan-Ségur.
After months of inactivity, we are off. It hasn’t been writers’ block, more a lack of anything interesting to write about and, to a not inconsiderable degree, auto-ennui. And then a Burgundy vintage comes along.
BBR kindly invited me to two 2016 Burgundy tastings this January, the first being their “main” en-primeur tasting, which rather flummoxed me. The only pattern I could find was that of tasters telling me that it “was their sort of vintage” and that they liked the freshness of the wines after the burly hot fruit of the 2015 vintage (I do love the way that a vintage can lose its shine as soon as it’s all been sold). But I didn’t really “get” the wines, and don’t feel entirely comfortable making any sort of judgement on the vintage without tasting some more.
Moreover, there is no shortage of commentary by far more experienced and practised tasters than me. The report that I have enjoyed most is that of Mr Jasper Morris MW, who is now free to say what he likes about the wines that he tastes. For comprehensive, sober and well-written notes and observation click here and follow the instructions.
The second tasting is one that I foolishly skipped last year. BBR represent Olivier Bernstein, whose wines are shown separately from the rest of their offering, and I sort of understand why. More importantly, as far as I was concerned, my palate was working.
Olivier Bernstein is an “haute-couture” negociant, one that BBR have represented since the 2007 vintage. He has a tiny cellar in Gevrey, and pays top-dollar for swanky fruit from vineyards that he and his team look after themselves.
I knew his wines from the start. They have always been impeccably made, though they were maybe a little too “glossy” for my palate in the first few vintages. That said, I recall being seduced by his 2008s, upon which I commented “I do not like the taste of winemaking, but I do love those”. Or some such tosh. The last vintage of his that I had tasted was 2010, and I was intrigued to see how his 2016s were, especially having tasted what seemed like a mixed bag so far and having read Mr Morris’s report.
The wines do not disappoint, and were not what I expected at all. Herewith some notes:
(From three plots: Carougeot, Epointures and Evocelles)
Gentle weight here. Some breeding evident and this isn’t brutish. Rich and plush in the mouth, though there is a freshness here, and a savoury/spicy finish. The freshness persists. Very good.
2016 Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru Les Lavrottes
A touch more in terms of intricacy rather than power. A perfume rather than a bouquet. Ripe and plush again in the mouth, though not at all fat or wonky. Finishes with a lifted and savoury freshness.
2016 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Les Champeaux
Some meat. Some weight. A level up from the Chambolle with lovely Gevrey punchy fruit. The finish is a little dry but the fruit keeps up. Long and classy. These are very nicely put together.
2016 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Les Cazetiers
A bit of toast on the nose. There is depth to the perfume, which entices you back for more. And just gorgeous in the mouth. There is some terroir here, that inimitable Burgundian depth. Long. This is very, very, good. And long, long, long. This could probably cut it as a grand cru.
This seems a little more loose-knit. Some silkiness and a little bit of cream. Growing. Rich yet poised in the mouth. This is very, very classy and then gets a little bit “animal”, a bit developed in the finish. Ripe. Very good.
2016 Clos Vougeot
(From the middle of the strip at the Vosne end)
Some Vougeot crunch to this. Pure. Lifted. And exactly as it should be in the mouth. Vougeot lift, light and crunchy. Floral.
2016 Clos de la Roche
Not giving much on the nose. A hint of rosewater. All here in the mouth. Pulled-back poise. Weight, and really quite complete fruit. Savoury. All here. Long, lifted and rather good.
2016 Bonnes Mares
Rounder on the nose. Some weight here. And full and plush and he has caught the character of the vineyard well. Spicy and fresh finish.
Boxy punch; squaring up to you. Angular power and a touch of cream. A steely, lifted structure in the mouth. As with most of these I don’t want to spit. There is a poised restraint of power. Very good. Grand vin.
2016 Chambertin Clos de Bèze
Weight again, and even the nose seems to be impeccably tailored. Very punchy in the mouth though again there is lots here but it all seems so restrained. Savoury. Length and depth in abundance. These are almost boringly good. Long, long, long.
Chocolate box on the nose. Clean. And full and weighty. A perfect balance of sweet and savoury, Meat. Lift. This is excellent.
I think it’s fair to say that I liked them, and liked them a lot more than expected. Before leaving I asked Mr Bernstein just three questions: where did the village Gevrey come from? Where in the Clos does his Vougeot come from? And who makes his barrels?
I could have guessed the answer to the last question. I’m not good enough to pick Jupilles or Fontainebleau blind, but I am good enough to detect and appreciate the impeccable use of barrels. Mr Bernstein is one of those guys that chooses his own wood, oversees the seasoning himself, then works with the cooper directly. As with his wines, the barrels are tailored. And he knows what he is doing.
And – this is what impressed me most – there is a definite style to these, and one that I like. The wines are polished, and beneath the polish lies a clear quality, and a savoury, raw sort of edge. A Daniel Craig James Bond, if you like (though wearing the correct timepiece).