Friday, 30 November 2012

A visit to Petrus, and a taste of the 2012 and 1983

Rebuilding work under way
 Last month I was privileged enough to pay a visit to Petrus, that most renowned of Chateaus.

Their hospitality was superb, and the tour comprehensive.

Our host was charming, detailed and great fun. 

There's considerable rebuilding work going on, but the few images below should give you an idea of how the place looks.

The vines themselves

Beautifully manicured
 We tried the 1983 over lunch after this visit and it was staggeringly good. Probably the best wine I have had.

It's up there with my best wine experiences alongside Cos D'estournel 1990, Montrose 1982 and Latour 1976.

The Merlot that makes up around 95% of their grape output is not my favourite grape.

But Petrus's position on a 'cap' of blue clay, similar apparently to that at Meyney on the left bank, makes it a really different kettle of fish.

I tried the Gazin 1982 from the vineyard just next door, and the difference is stark. The terroir of Petrus really does seem completely unique.

Just after the harvest
 As a rank wine amateur visiting Petrus was a really superb experience. It really feels more like a working vineyard than some of the museum-like chateaus of the left bank, in say Pauillac. (with the exception of Latour)

But it's also, as you would expect, beautifully manicured. A really unique place and I was humbled by the experience.
If you are going to be a wasp, this is where you want to be

We arrived a few weeks or so after the harvest, in mid-October, just when the weather was turning towards the properly autumnal and towards winter.

The 2012 harvest was a few weeks, perhaps a month in the vats and we were allowed a secret sip of a few samples.

One could certainly taste the differences between the differet parcels. I could get a sense of how those with taste buds far superior to mine begin to decide how the final blend of parcels will go into barrel.

But of course at that stage the wine is so different from how it will taste in six, twelve or 18 months and beyond, it was hard to comment other than to say "wow" and keep quiet and listen.

Petrus are trying a new grape cooling machine, pictured below, which is apparently unique. Its job is to lower the temperature from the fields for pressing. 

2012 seems to have been a pretty reasonable year, from what I gathered. Not of course like 2009 and 2010, but by no means a bad harvest, from what I remember.

Of course one would jump at the chance to go back again sometime.

If I don't, I'll always remember our charming welcome and wonderful tour. Needless to say, if you get the chance to see it, it's a really very special place.
Where the magic happens

I won't go into prices. It's not a wine I'll be able to buy myself, unless I do much better in business one day than I currently do, but I'm delighted to have tried a couple of years of Petrus. Doing so is really one of life's special moments, particularly having seen the vineyard and heard the history first hand.

A memory to treasure. I can still taste every drop.
Beautiful concrete

Cooling harvest grapes


The 2012 harvest, a few weeks in

Sampled over lunch. Heaven.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chateau Haut Marbuzet 2009: Glorious and will only get better

This was a wine of two parts. When first opened and sampled, rather later at night that it should have been, I was not particularly impressed.

I realised the next day, having given it a good airing in the decanter, just how damn good it is.

There's a lesson to learn: Never grab a bottle from the wine fridge late at night when friends come back for a final drink before overdue bedtime. Always take it from the rack (where the quaffing wine lives) rather than the 14 degree fridge!

It definitely needs an hour or two in the decanter, prefably longer I would guess, and should not be drunk when one has already ruined their palate, as I had when opening it.

Tasting it properly I found it very accessible for the commune. Silky was the word that came to mind. But it had beautiful length and depth, and the finish is a good minute of wonderful pleasure. It's not like Ormes de Pez or any of the bigger, more minerally wines of Saint-Estephe. It's more like Montrose than Meyney for me.

Writers have scored it at 90-92. I would certainly agree. The pleasure is also in the anticipation of tasting wines like this when they have aged properly. This still be a stunner in 10-15-20 years. I can't wait. Right now its around £30-50 per bottle, depending on tax etc, and worth investing in as a drinker for years to come.

My bottle was from the Carrefour in Bordeaux, which is well worth a look if you are in the area and are looking for good value young St Estephe wines in the 20-30 Euros a bottle range. Their 2005 selection seemed particularly excellent for the prices.

Bordeaux 2010 Cru Bourgeois, an excellent guide

The view from St Emilion, October 2012
If, like me, you regard the Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux 'classification' as packed full of hidden gems, but also confusing in its makeup and history, then take a look at this post from Chris Kissack.

He's right I think, in saying this is where to find incredible value in the 2010 Bordeaux reds.

But one has to be very careful, as more and more wines are allowed in, and some poor quality plonk now uses the label. More on that, here.

I certainly have begun to try and find the decent value 2009/10 drinkers, and it's hard going (and it feels sinful to drink them so young).

Kissack writes that, regarding the 2010:

"Many châteaux set new records for their prix de sortie. In such a situation, what can the Bordeaux-hungry drinker on a budget do? Look abroad for alternatives, to California or South America, as suggested by Benjamin Lewin MW in a recent edition of The World of Fine Wine? It hardly seems like a sensible solution to me, as such plainly warmer climes are bound to give a fleshier and darker wine, lovely in their own right perhaps, but a poor substitute for the cool climate style we have in Bordeaux. Much more logical is to look to Bordeaux itself, beyond the cru classé estates, to the wines of the cru bourgeois and other 'lesser' châteaux."

Here's a link to his review of the 2010 wines and tasting notes. A useful guide for red wine drinkers. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Poujeaux 2008: Solid, if unspectacular, every day drinking

Cru Bourgeois from Moulis
Poujeaux is often regarded as one of the best of the small region of Moulis. Here's a map.

I've tried a few before. The 2004 and another vintage which I forget

I liked the 2004, the forgotten one I was not a fan of. I recall it was far too austere for me. Or perhaps had not been stored correctly, who knows.

This 2008 is just the right side of restrained for me. It's mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more Merlot than you can taste.

It's not got a huge amount about it, but sometimes that's what you want. A nice, simple classy Medoc without too much bright fruit. (God, I hate that term)

So for a simple reliable 2008, if you like classic Medoc, it's worth a punt. It's clearly changing quickly as it ages though, as you can see from the Winedoctor's reviews.

For UK folks, it's about £20 a bottle, and worth it at that price.

I picked up my bottle at Carrefour in Bordeaux (amusingly, having just been tasting the 2012 harvest out of the vat at Le Pin!.. ah how the mighty fall) for about 13-15 Euros I think.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Chateau Meyney 2010: Drink a bottle a year for the next 20

The wine to drink in 2025 and beyond
Meyney is fast becoming one of my favourite wines.

I was turned onto it by the 1989, which is incredible. Since then I've also sampled the 2005 which is just as good. 

Meyney seems to combine all the best elements of Cabernet Sauvignon (66% of vines) and Merlot (25%) in a very affordable way. It feels like it should cost a lot more than it does. Thankfully it does not.

I've become increasingly appreciative of the grape combination, the more I read about the commune it hails from.

The wines of Saint-Estephe need that mix of both due to the location and weather combinations.

There's more Merlot than further south in Pauillac, needed, apparently, to smooth out the Cabernet grapes. This is due to, I think, to the fact that the vines are on reclaimed land and there's more clay, which suits Merlot more than Cabernet, which prefers more gravelly soils.

They say Cabernet provides the 'spine' whilst Merlot adds the 'flesh' to the wine.

If that description puts you off, it's worth noting that in his book on the region "Bordeaux St Estephe, Wines of a Great Commune" David Copp writes that the Merlot at Meyney " planted in a three metre thick streak of the same blue-clay sub-soil that is found at Chateau Petrus in Pomerol".

Having recently had the immense privilege of trying the 1983 Petrus I can see just what he means.

I'd suggest you can even taste it in the 2010 Meyney, a wine ought to be far too young to drink now.

Clearly it is far too youthful, a classic Bordeaux year such as 2010 demands cellaring for decades.

But the Meyney 2010 is worth buying now and sampling a bottle a year or more, for evermore.

It's simply superb. Big, smooth, slightly muddy, it's just delicious.

Even now you can get to grips with its complexity, length, depth and balance.

I found it smoother than say, Pez or Ormes de Pez, which can sometimes be a little too 'minerally' by comparison. Parker gives it 89-91. I'd say 93. Others agree. More reviews are here.

At the current price it's a complete steal. I'll be buying as much as I can. More on availability here.

Marquis de Terme Margaux 2000: Great value for the year

Bargain 2000 4th growth but way too young
I sampled this recently at new-ish Marylebone wine 'workshop' 28-50.

It scores pretty high with the critics, from 16/20 upwards, and then from 86-92 with various others.

I'd give it an 88. But it's excellent value particularly if you pick it up at retail prices. Options for that are here.

For a 2000 4th Growth if you can pick it up for under £50 it's worth trying.

Various community tasting notes suggest it could still be a little young.

My limited experience of left bank Bordeaux is that 2000 is still very young. Most of those I has tasted of that year feel like they have a very long way to go. Terme 2000 may be no exception. Still a lovely drop as it is, but I'm looking forward to trying it another ten years.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beychevelle 1981, excellent value aged Saint-Julien

Not rated by critics, but that's their loss
A common refrain among those who know wine, or at least, know a lot more than I do, is "buy the years next to the 'great' years if you want exceptional value".

The philosophy is that the great years (say 1982, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 etc) are often over priced.

Pick the right Chateau the year before or after, for example, and you could discover a real gem.

I heard this again recently in Bordeaux from someone whose family have been in the wine industry for more than half a century and own a first growth Chateau.

And so it was with the Beychevelle 1981, pictured left.

It's not rated by the critics. Wine Spectator gave it an 81, Robert Parker an 83. I'd give it an 89 personally.

It's not easy to find great 1981 vintages, from what I understand. On that basis, this is a gem as drinking it is a fairly rare experience not easily repeated.

This Beychevelle 1982 had lots of fruit left, a surprising amount I thought, and had clearly been well cared for in London's Planet of the Grapes wine store, and wherever else it has been. That's obviously so important for a 31 year old wine. It drank beautifully. Our host at Planet of the Grapes who tasted a glass with us, very much agreed that it was quite a special experience.

According to this site, there are some other good examples from Saint-Julien in that year for fans of aged value left bank Bordeaux.

Price-wise, it's about £50-60, which is outstanding value. More on stockists, here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Marquis de Pez 2008: A decent drop at under ten Euros

I picked up a bottle of Marquis de Pez 2008 at Carrefour in Bordeaux recently. This was along with quite a few other wines, most of them in the 20-30 Euro a bottle range. I'll be reviewing them in the next few months as they are drunk.

Amusingly, we came straight from visiting visiting Chateau Le Pin (where we tasted the 2012 harvest from the vat) to filling up the car at Carrefour. How mighty are the fallen.

Marquis de Pez 2008, at around ten Euros a bottle, is among the cheapest I bought. I assumed it was the second wine of Le Pez or Les Ormes De Pez but that appears not to be right.

In fact, it's very hard indeed on Google to find out any thing about it at all. How odd.

The excellent book "Bordeaux St Estephe" by David Copp has nothing about it, and there seems to be little on the web.

I found one place it can be purchased, at ten Euros a bottle, here.

I assume it's close to Le Pez and Ormes de Pez. Berry Brothers seem to like Ormes de Pez 2008, as you might expect. Read more about it here.

So how is the 2008 Marquis to drink? That surely is the most important question.

Bright fruit, with that typical Saint-Estephe dry middle and a finish where you note the tannins, but not unpleasantly.

Let it breathe and you pick up that classic slightly muddy, mineral characteristic of the region.

I can't tell you it's got much more than that about it, but at the price, it's a very decent drop, if of course, far too young. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2008

They say Grenache is the most under-rated grape. Along with Carmenere, I'd have to agree.

This little beauty, Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2008, is very highly rated on various wine sites.

I can see why. I tried it this week and it's superb. A real surprise to me. It had an almost Pauillac elegance, power and smoothness, with a subtlety I usually taste more in Bordeaux wines. (Yes, the left bank mainly, I am thinking St Julien)

Berry Brothers, not known for being particularly verbose in comparison with some wine retailers, are very keen, saying it is the "Most Exciting Wine of The Vintage".

They go on to say:

"Warm, ripe, sweet red and black fruit with sun dried herbs on the nose… intoxicating and hedonistic on the palate… this really is very close to the mighty 2007 but in some ways it is more yielding, and will be ready to be quaff as the 2007 lies dormant. It’s like a Provençale perfume: a beguiling essence of where it was grown. This is an estate on the up. (Simon Staples, Fine Wine Director)

The 2008 is made up of 46% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsualt and 1% intriguingly described as ‘divers’. The wine has a floral perfume and an elegant and beautifully balanced palate, with notes of hedgerow and gentle spice to the fore and attractive velvety tannins providing eloquent support.
(Simon Field MW, Rhône Buyer)"

I can't do the detail they can, but I can recommend it as an unusual (to me) CNP.

Chris Kissack, AKA the Wine Doctor, has a useful and readable profile of the Chateau, as usual, on his site.

He notes that they are a careful bunch, and it shows in the 2008 that I tasted:

"The fruit is harvested by hand, with careful attention to ensure each variety is picked at the appropriate time; with so many different varieties in the typical Châteauneuf vineyard, the temptation to save time, money and effort by picking all together is not inconsiderable."

It's not cheap, at somewhere between £30 and £40 a bottle, depending on duty etc. But it is a real gem.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Beau-Site 2005 Saint-Estephe: A decent mid-range drop

One of the many great things about living in London is the vastly improved restaurant scene.

A particular favourite of mine is the Hawksmoor steak restaurant in Spitalfields, near Liverpool Street Station.

It's the original of a fast expanding chain of five, and does excellent steaks.

Importantly, the folks who run it offer £5 corkage on a Monday evening.

And so I've spent a fair few Mondays enjoying great food and wine, at a much lower cost than usual, thanks to them.

Last night, for the first Monday night in a while, we sampled Beau-Site 2005, a Chateau I must admit I had not heard of.

As you can see from prices vary. We paid about £35 for our bottle, which is about the top end of what it's worth, I'd say.

If you sample some, it needs serious decanting. We had it open for half an hour but on first taste it was bitter and overly mineral. I almost declared it undrinkable. After another thirty minutes or so it opened up beautifully and went well with rare streak, as dry reds always do.

For most who sample it, it rates in the 80's and I'd say that's fair. It's still too young to drink really, but of course, the problem with storing lower/mid range wines like this are cost and space.

It's not amazing value at over £30. But if you paid under £30, you'd feel you'd done well.

Berry Brothers say the estate is good value and drinks well early. The 2010 looks like it will be worth sampling.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Harlan Estate 1994 and Bond Estate Melbury 2002

 I've often wondered, if I was genuinely rich, or even just wealthy, how much I'd pay for a bottle of wine.

I can't of course answer that. I'm not rich, or wealthy, and cost is subjective depending on what proportion of your holdings that cost represents.

Wine, like art I suppose, plays with money in unusual ways. Zeros can be added that don't make much difference to some people.

The value is as much in buying the rarity as it is in how it tastes and the institutions, individuals or organisations you support by paying whatever it costs.

I was lucky enough to try both the wines on the left recently, over a dinner with some folks from Harlan Estate and Bond Estate.

They were charming company, and it was fascinating hearing how both Harlan and Bond Estate got started.

There's a great mini-history-and-personal-essay from the Harlan proprietor on this page. Well worth a read.

And the wine? I tried a whole variety of wines from the estates over the course of the evening.

It was my first experience of the high-end Napa wines.

My favourites were the two eldest, in keeping with my love for aged left bank Bordeaux wines of course.

The 1994 Harlan was the stand-out of the two. It's hard to get and I'm not even going to mention the cost. I will say that for the same money I could buy an entire case of superb aged Bordeaux.

Does that mean this wine is not worth what it costs to drink? No, not at all. Great wine like this, with an amazing story behind it, in great company, is worth whatever you want it to be.

Would I buy this wine myself, being who I am and with my tastes? Right now, no.

But if I was a wealthy fan of California reds, I'd feel it would be my duty to support the immense effort and artistry that goes into making great wines such as Harlan and Bond.

Plus, it drinks beautifully. Taking the financials out of it, I can now see what all the fuss is about with regard to the top Napa reds.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Chateau Lilian Ladouys 1995, great value vintage drinking

Of all the wines I've tried recently, I think this one represents the best bang for my buck.

The Chateau doesn't get great reviews on the web.

The Wine Doctor, aka Chris Kissack, says he expects great things in the future from them.

Perhaps I got lucky with this bottle of 1995. At £28 from The Sampler in Islington, London, I thought it was the pick of the bunch that I've bought recently.

They don't appear to have it any more. I can see why it sold out so fast. This site says they have it for £25 a bottle.

It's classic aged, top value Saint-Estephe. Big, minerally, but perfectly aged. The bottle I had was at its peak.

Saint-Estephe wines are not for the faint-hearted, though this one is not as bold and mineral as a Pez, for example.

But if you like your Bordeaux with some character, this is a steal if you can find it.

Pichon-Longueville 2001: Superb 'affordable' second growth

A king among wines
I was lucky enough to visit this Chateau just over a year ago for a tasting. We tried the 1996, the 1998 and the 2000.

All were incredible. As you'd expect.

Pichon Baron, as it is sometimes known, (not Comtesse, just across the road) is one of my favourite wines.

It's owned by French company AXA. Whatever you think about corporate ownership of top wine producers, you have to admit they have done an amazing job.

The Chateau itself, completely re-done in recent years is stunning. One of the best looking I've seen. It has an almost magical look to it. Here's a pic.

It's not cheap drinking of course, as a second growth.

The 2001, pictured left, is somewhere between £50 and £70 a bottle, according to Wine-searcher.

Of all, the 1998 has been my favourite so far. But this 2001, which I had recently in Shanghai, of all places, is a superb example.

It's still far too young, but still a big smooth elegant, powerful Pauillac. I've run out of words now. Just drink some when you can. It's just a true masterpiece at the price.