Star of the Day:
Montrose – one of its best performances that I can remember in an EP week, controlled power, dense black fruits and spices, with minerals deeply sown into its fabric
Day one of this year's Bordeaux En Primeur tasting week began with blue skies and open minds at Ch. Rauzan Segla. Having arrived during Sunday, Richard Sutton, MD of Armit Wines HK and I took full advantage of an empty tasting room first thing in the morning, with some 300 wines available to taste from across the whole of the Bordeaux region, rattling through 65 or so in a couple of hours in order to put down some early markers (highlights of which below). Buyers James Snoxell and Jacques-Etienne Le Clerc, along with Linda Theisen from our Private Client sales team joined us mid-morning, "fresh" off the early bird from Gatwick which had meant 3am alarm calls. A quick greeting and we were all quickly immersed into the task of discovering whether Bordeaux 2015 lives up to its billing.
Throughout the week, we will encounter many hundreds of wines between us. Very few, if any, are in a finished state and so we always have to be conscious of being too definitive with our judgements at this stage. Barrel samples can be notoriously badly behaved and hence we like to give ourselves repeat opportunities to taste the wines where possible. Naturally though, certain patterns do start to emerge and it is this that we will attempt to share as we go through the week, before wrapping it all up into our vintage report and eventual recommendations of what to buy. At this stage, we are also solely concentrating on the wines themselves. No prices are set, no allocations are being fought over. It is a pure tasting exercise, something which I find very rewarding. There will, after all, be plenty of opportunity to assess the commercial appeal of the wines when the releases begin.
After Rauzan, where they host a simple but delicious lunch with some of the best oysters you will find anywhere, we hit the D2 and headed to the far North: St Estephe. First stop was a very busy tasting room at Cos d'Estournel where we waited patiently before being called to the bar to give our verdicts on Goulee, Pagodes de Cos, Cos d'Estournel and Cos Blanc. There has been a notable change of style here under Aymeric de Gironde and we welcome his move towards a wine that is less about power and scale and more about nuance and precision. The Grand Vin was brimming with freshness and pure fruit and with new oak reduced to just 65%, there is extra transparency, allowing the fine terroir to come through.
Then to Calon Segur, where a major renovation is ongoing. Three wines were presented: Capbern, Le Marquis de Calon and Calon Segur itself. Always a popular stable for us, this will again prove a happy hunting ground in 2015. Capbern was simply delicious- fruit forward, fine-boned and with supple supporting tannins. We expect this to be a bargain buy. The second wine, Marquis de Calon, contains all of the property's Cabernet Franc and this component clearly adds a vibrant, peppery, almost tobacco leaf note which provides a counter to the silky tannins. The Grand Vin was delectable, length and precision clearly on display with tenderness in the fruit. They have never aimed for a blockbuster style here and we applaud the work that is going on to fine tune the quality further.
To complete the trio, we took the road along the river to Montrose, another property physically transformed and now quite magnificent. The tasting was held in a room with double height ceilings, views of the Gironde from one window and of the barrel cellar below and of course commanded by the ever-welcoming Herve Berland. It was here that we found our wine of the day. Ch. Montrose has surely put in one of its best performances that I can remember in an EP week, controlled power, dense black fruits and spices, with minerals deeply sown into its fabric. It is meaty, serious, noble wine that will require lots of time but could make for one of the real legends of the future.
To Pauillac next and a pair of Pichons. At Pichon-Baron, we tasted the full set of wines with Pichon-Baron itself performing as expected: fine, straight, pure with plenty of fruit although perhaps not quite showing an extra gear today. We will taste again later in the week. A wine that was in full pomp however was Suduiraut. We talked with Christian Seely about the travails of selling Sauternes and like many, he is frustrated that fashions do not favour these nobly-rotten beauties. Christian believes 2015 to be a "lovely year for Sauternes", with very good botrytis in October and an excellent balance between the sweet, intense fruits and the cleansing acidity. Thanks to the work they have done on identifying their best parcels and pushing them even further, he thinks this to be better than the legendary 2001.
Across the road at Pichon-Lalande, another property with a gleaming new cellar, we tasted Reserve de la Comtesse and the Grand Vin. Often a favourite but with a reputation in the past for enigmatic showings from barrel, Nicolas Glumineau is trying to bring greater consistency and this was a star performer for us in 2014. On today's showing, which portrayed a wine of stature, with classic Pauillac notes of cedar and graphite, he has clearly done much to firm up the core, but it was harder to detect the flourish and flicker of some of Pichon's finer features. We will see if we can find them later in the week.
At the morning tasting, I concentrated on the right bank satellites, the wines of the Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac and Moulis plus some of the Margaux, St Emilions and Pomerols that were shown. I found good things in all areas, a promising sign of the overall quality of the vintage but also some inconsistency, suggesting that either nature was not 100% benevolent or that man has made a few bloopers or both. Standouts included Cantemerle, Potensac, Prieure Lichine, La Pointe and Sociando Mallet. Wine of the tasting was a close run race between Canon, Figeac and Rauzan Segla, none of which were at the Montrose level but very close to it. Perhaps more exciting was that I detected more wines from the right bank in particular which seemed to have taken care not to push for over-ripeness and over-extraction, something I have railed against for years. There are still some crimes against wine out there of course but I look forward to seeing if this is a trend that continues in our tastings tomorrow.
With almost 100 wines tasted during the day, it's now time for a well-earned beer and a toothbrush!