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DAY 1: Good Lord, the most glamorous week of the year has come round yet AGAIN!

London, Paris, Milan...pah, the Bordelais will tell you that it’s now all about the tastings organised by their Union des Grands Crus. In our cousins’ defence, however, arguably the finest claret vintage since 2010 is about to hit the ground...but running smoothly, or might there be the odd lurch?

Well, it’s 24 hours down the line, and here we are at midnight, with useless internet crashing time after time (does that happen because of a proper, continuous English drizzle?), and our initial impressions are that when the wines, are good, they are seriously very good indeed.

We kicked off our attack at 0830, chez Chateau Teyssier, and mercurial owner, Jonathan Maltus, was there to take us through his range of Saint-Emilions. Now, when a vigneron tells you “this is possibly the best (insert here) I’ve ever made”, we can roll our eyes like no other. But when it comes to 2015 Teyssier, Jonathan may well be right, such was the texture and harmony. The single vineyards of Les Asteries and Vieux Chateau Mazerat followed suit, and were topped with an utterly sublime Le Dome. Latter could well be one of the wines of the vintage on the right bank, and if we taste anything better...

Next stop was a run through some of the ‘minor’ right bank appellations (the likes of Castillon, Francs, Lalande de Pomerol etc.), where Chateau Gaby (Canon-Fronsac) took, and then wiped, the floor. We fell in love with the 2012, but the ’15 has very much moved up the table, a veritable Leicester FC amidst some much posher appellations. Fleur Cardinale and Le Moulin (anyone recall their 2000?) also took plaudits.

We then tripped to Pomerol in order to see how our purchase of Chateau de Valois’ 2014 was coming along – ‘sublety’, 'restraint’, and ‘harmony’ peppered the notes, and we managed to secure another 25 cases, having sold out at last month’s offer. Still only £15 a bottle approx, IB.

We then floated into the tastings of two outstanding Bordelais consultants, Hubert de Bouard of Angelus, and Stephane Derenencourt of La Gaffeliere: La Pointe (Pomerol), Clos Fourtet (Saint-Emilion), and Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Leognan) impressed, but the real revelation was Poujeaux. No Decorum purchase since 2009, but the 2015 just oozed balance, nothing angular, nor disjointed, a simply cracking drop of Moulis. An old favourite has returned.

Amateur organisation now pitched us over the Pont d’Aquitaine to the left-bank’s Saint-Estephe, but then again, it was to Chateau Montrose, where they are truly making ‘Grand Vin’: the 2014 was our wine of the vintage, and the 2015 will also be right up there in the mix.

Then to the Haut-Medoc’s Chateau Cissac, long a Decvin fave: really good effort here – a £12 bottle that we should hope to sell for no more than £7.50. And then to a massive negoce tasting: we’ll be hitting the left bank seriously on Tuesday, but both Bartons, Leo and Langoa, Cantemerle, and La Lagune indicate excellent things, while Malescot and Rauzan-Segla hint at the Margaux commune coming back into top form.

So, at the end of a long day, we ended with an appointment in the Bordeaux suburbs...La Mission Haut-Brion. Now, if we beat this...when you’re 86 wines down at 5.45 pm, the stamina starts to flag, but such was the quality of wine from the H-B stable...impeccable doesn’t really come close, it was a stellar line-up. Perhaps the stand-out was their Saint-Emilion, Quintus, now in its 5th vintage; but La Mission just had everything, possibly edging Haut-Brion itself (albeit it’s always a tad subdued in youth).

Now, if only it would just stop raining!

4th April 2016.

DAY 2: Not only did it stop raining for the Tuesday assault on the left bank, but, by the end of play, cloudless skies were in situ, with Bordeaux town glowing in the evening needs all the help available to keep the stamina on track...

So, today was all about big group tastings, a Famous 5 in total, all Cabernet-tastic: Pessac-Leognan, Saint-Estephe/Pauillac, Haut-Medoc/Medoc, Saint-Julien, and Margaux, the scene being that various estates take it in turns to host, year-to-year.

First up was a trip to Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere in Leognan, that rare stage where you hit wines of both colours (those under-rated white Graves, which we in the trade adore, but the consumer, not so much!). We departed a tad puzzled, in that the quality had been somewhat patchy, and it was Domaine de Chevalier rouge, alone, that stood head and shoulders. And much as we loved some of the vibrancy and lemon freshness of the whites, the acidities were on the low side, and they perhaps lacked a little concentration (don’t ever think we’re giving up...) .

Next was Lafon-Rochet in Saint-Estephe. It was fitting that the host property had made the finest wine on show from that commune (Montrose, Cos, and Calon did not partake), a worthy follow-on to its excellent 2014. And then we passed on to the Pauillacs, the big guns of Lynch-Bages, the two Pichons, and Grand-Puy-Lacoste amongst the, expectation is a proper factor, and yet they were still all trumped by Clerc Milon! GPL probably came a close second, but we assumed  a few more winners...expectation, expectation (we’ll stop now), but judgement deferred, as almost all the wines will be re-tasted on Day 3.

Then to the beautiful Chateau Citran (well worth a Google). Two wines emerged from the huddle – Poujeaux confirmed what we had thought the previous day (comfortably outshined Chasse-Spleen), and Cantemerle demonstrated that their wine-making has become very serious indeed.

Only a short drive to Gruaud Larose for Saint-Julien. Now, how do they (St-J) do it, vintage after vintage? We almost ALWAYS leave this tasting, declaring that it’s a) the best and most consistent of the week, whether b) a great year such as 2009/10, or c) a trickier number, like 2011/12.

Yesterday’s views on the Bartons came good. And of the rest? It’s very much A+ (+), with Beychevelle, Talbot, Gruaud, all achieving.

But can we talk about unsung heroes? Why not? Lagrange, and Branaire-Ducru: so many times, over the last 10 years, it’s been back of the net – they might not have the power that certain journalists perceive to be the key to a 95+ point, but we, as wine merchants, tend to think “we want to drink that...”. And there’s always that price-point issue...

And can we add in one more St-J? Sorry for over-coaxing it, but Chateau Gloria: set amidst a lot of Cru Classe, it held its own...massively...and for the first time, since...since...we’d usually just pass, but this year...fingers crossed on price, as we haven’t delved for so long...another sleeping giant returns (Poujeaux-esque, see above, and yesterday).

Almost declaring (no 20/20 here), it was Chateau du Tertre for a Margaux spray-on. The last few vintages across the appellation have lured us to thoughts of over-extraction, never our calling-card. But, surprisingly, opposingly, can we talk Malescot, Rauzan-Segla and Brane-Cantenac? Genius, all three, we’d buy-‘em all, not kill’em.

Finally...our yesterday ‘plan’ of ending up in clover suddenly looked uber-canny, especially as we were in re-create mode: so, for Haut-Brion, read Palmer, Margaux.

Two wines, simple, perfect. Much as we might whinge about the price, it so does what it says: 1st Growth quality...and the rest. Shame it’s not quite what it used to be on the costings, but the world etc. Their ‘second’ wine (don’t start...well do, not much time, as we write...), Alter Ego, is very probably the finest AC Margaux, per se.

Day 3: we’re all over the posh boys, it’s Leoville Las Cases at 0900...

5th April 2016. 

DAY 3: The ‘mails just keep on coming, don’t they? But we promise that this one will be shorter, and, hopefully, more succinct than the recent ramblings, involving various absurdities such as football analogies, and vague references to early Metallica.

Having set the scene on our first two days, it was time to bring a bit more focus by visiting some of the top estates on the left bank. Furthermore, our (continued) aim was to assess what wines we’d want in our very own cellars, those for which we would think “pulling the cork on THAT in 2026 is likely to bring unbridled hedonistic pleasure, along the lines of things such as 1998 Feytit-Clinet, 2000 Cantemerle, 2005 Chasse-Spleen, and 2014 de Valois”. 

Leoville Las Cases was our early starter in Saint-Julien (yesterday’s star commune, yet again). Never a showy number, it remained true to character: deep, dense, brooding. Up the road, Ducru-Beaucaillou was its traditional up-beat self, although at 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps not quite as ebullient as in previous vintages.

Into Pauillac for the Lafite trio of Duhart, Carruades, and the Grand Vin itself. And it was the top dog that completely stole the show. In the past, Lafite has often been a puzzle, perhaps bought more on reputation than actual reality...? Not so here. Totally impressive, oozing breed and class, a true aristocrat.

Further Pauillac quality came in the shape of Pontet-Canet, where, in order to maintain freshness in the wine, amphora are being used to age 35% of the production. The result is sublime, beautiful blackcurrant poise, and enormous length on the finish. Then came Haut-Batailley and Grand-Puy-Lacoste: so suave, sophisticated, and urbane that if they had tailors, we’d be talking Savile Row all the way.

Saint-Estephe offered us the double-header of Cos d’Estournel and Calon-Segur...votes came in for the latter, where second wine, Marquis de Calon, was gloriously ‘typique’, and Calon itself was harmony and balance personified.

We had another head-to-head, post-lunch (we returned to Pontet-Canet for sustenance, and for those who might have a case of the 2004, you have an absolute treat, now until 2025), namely Lynch-Bages v Pichon Lalande. Verdict? The stunning La Comtesse won out, and re-inforced by its ‘second’ wine (‘Reserve de la...’) that was every bit as good as those we tasted on Monday at La Mission Haut-Brion.

Now, does anyone recall how we thought Pedesclaux might take off under new ownership? Well, it’s looking good, with a brand new winery that is a pump-free zone, gravity rules OK. Very natural texture, an easy  flow over the mid-palate.

Finally, our attempts to end each day on a high saw yet another success, as we finished off at Mouton Rothschild. Two words here: Clerc Milon. Succulent, yet refined, gorgeous blueberry fruit that was streamlined, not overblown. Yes, please.

And that was farewell to the Medoc. Final day on Thursday, and it’s right bank all the way.

6th April 2016.

DAY 4: The home straight beckoning...and to ease us through the final paces, a leisurely start was fairly crucial. Luckily, (rare) sensible planning had been put in place, and by staying in Saint-Emilion (population 600, wine-shops 53, an encouraging ratio), it was only a short drive to Libourne for the first appointment.

This took place at the offices and cellars of Jean-Pierre Moueix, the family who own, amongst other things, Château Pétrus. Not much shame there, but alas, no samples for Decorum, as we were steered towards the other properties that the company has accrued over the years, all on the right bank, and all tip-top. There, a nicely juicy Lafleur-Gazin, and a grainy (in a very good way) La Grave, were followed by an extremely impressive trio of Latour à Pomerol, Certan de May, and La Fleur-Pétrus.

However, the star was Bélair-Monange: back in 2012, Moueix merged the two Saint-Emilion 1er Grands Crus Classés of Bélair and Magdelaine, and just as it took the Haut-Brion team a few vintages to get Quintus motoring (see Day 1), so it has been a similar story here. We tasted it side-by-side with Pomerol’s legendary Trotanoy, but it was the B-M that took the chequered. Of course, the bulk of the vines are all sandwiched between Ausone and Canon, just prime chunks of magical ‘terroir’.

And talking of Canon...the star of 2014 is also wonderful in 2015. It was a quite superb tasting at the château: in the ‘chai’, we were offered the choice of 3 different casks, each from a different cooper. We then adjourned to their tasting-room for another go at a blended sample. Majestic wine on all four counts, perfect harmony. And the 2006 over lunch also showed beautifully. Here is a property that is firing on every cylinder available; and, quite frankly, producing not just one of the finest wines on the right bank, but surely in the whole of Bordeaux.

How to follow that? Well, with some degree of difficulty, as we filled the afternoon with various generic Saint-Emilion gatherings. But we managed to end on a high at 6 pm, arriving at the tiny estate of Château Milens. A gorgeous, ‘jolie’ 2015, a rich, rounded 2014 (we secured a further 12 cases...remember, only 3 hectares under vine, and almost all the production gets funnelled through the owners’ shops in the town), and a forward, drinking 2011.

And our work was done! Never has a Heineken felt quite so good...

7th April 2016.




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