2016 Bordeaux - Day 1… opening salvo...
Good Lord, has it really come round again? Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…but, to be fair, what did Peter Benchley (with huge respect) know about great claret? When we boarded our Easyjet express this last week-end, there was a buoyant and expectant mood: a vintage that at the beginning of last August was looking somewhat akin to a 1970s disaster movie, then blossomed like the proverbial ugly duckling, as three months of ideal weather (warm days, cool nights, only short, sharp bursts of rain) took hold to shepherd the grapes through to almost-perfect ripeness by the end of October.
Perhaps we had another 1978 on our hands? All to play for…
As has become a Decorum tradition, it was the right bank to which we first headed – arguably, easier to get the (2016 virgin) palate around a plump, Merlot-based number, than an austere Cabernet. Even so, Merlot can still be big and robust, so not quite a fool-proof theory! Anyway, the generic tasting of Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés threw up a clear winner in the shape of Château Saint Georges, Côte Pavie: we sort of expected that, as we’ve been buying back vintages since the estate’s superb 2009 (sorry, sounds like a smug gloat, but we got a tip-off on this 5 ha estate a few years ago…often the way…).
Then off to Château Montalbert for a look at one of our favourite ‘minor’ appellations, that of Fronsac, as well as various Pomerols (also much revered, but there tends to be a price differential…) : the former were extremely strong – Moulin Haut-Laroque, Dauphine, Haut-Carles, La Vieille Cure all shone, and even Rivière appeared to have made its best wine since its 2005; over in the posh seats, La Clémence and Lécuyer tasted superbly, Vray Croix de Gay too, but there was no stopping Feytit-Clinet, very much the leader of the pack, first ‘wow’ of the tour.
Now, two of the most influential wine-makers/consultants in Saint-Emilion are Hubert de Boüard and Stéphane Derenencourt: each now guide a plethora of properties. Hubert’s main role is to be Monsieur Angélus: an elegant, sophisticated drop, oozing poise. Meanwhile, there were lots of wonderful things chez Derenencourt (hosted at La Gaffelière), seriously lovely Beauséjour Duffau and Clos Fourtet. Furthermore, really good efforts from Larcis Ducasse and Petit-Village, and those are words we seldom write!
The rest of the day was spent mainly consolidating: we have learnt over the years that barrel samples can sometimes be a tad variable, and it is therefore vital to taste the wines as often as possible. For example, the Fronsacs got a further three samplings, including a specialist tasting where all those mentioned above showed their mettle once again. There should be cracking value ahead, and thoughts turn to the magnum format.
The day ended in the cellars of one of Bordeaux’s largest négoces, a huge warehouse near Cantemerle. Now, going back to the earlier theme of the 1970s, there was a touch of prog rock in the air, as we double-tracked, triple-tracked etc. Repeated slurps of Fronsacs, Pomerols, Saint-Emilions. However, we also got our first hit of the left bank, some famous names…too early in the week to make any firm calls, but we are very much looking forward to re-evaluating, amongst others, Rauzan-Ségla, Malescot, Branaire, and Calon…and especially Domaine de Chevalier rouge. Indeed, Pessac-Léognan is the 0930 port of call on Day 2…
3rd April 2017.
2016 Bordeaux Day 2..."we produce red wine, not black wine...".
Like many of the greatest lines, the best are sometimes SO obvious…more anon…
Come 0920, the Decvin team had piled into Château Carbonnieux in order to take a view on the wines of Pessac-Léognan. Now, when the wines are good (think ‘classics’, such as Pape Clément, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut-Bailly, and, of course, the Haut-Brion stable), they are the finest in the region – great stat that La Mission Haut-Brion has more 100 point Robert Parker vintages than any other claret (discuss…); on the other hand…where’s the next generation, wouldn’t we love a chasing pack?
We certainly liked Les Carmes Haut-Brion…a lot…but as for the rest of the reds, it was very much business as usual, not much to inspire. Great shame.
Whites? The wine trade LOVES dry white Bordeaux, it’s a unique wine, there’s nothing really like it anywhere else in the wine world. Semillon/Sauvignon blends, they are rare indeed. Dom de C blanc ruled the roost today, as so often (if this estate had Instagram followers, it would be a heady cocktail of Kardashian/Delevingne/Hadid), but the next best, we reckoned, was Château Olivier, last purchased by us in the 2005 vintage: vibrant, balanced, zippy, and will be way less expensive than a Chassagne 1er Cru. We may well have missed a trick over the last decade, but we aim to make amends.
Next stop, Château Canon, the great 1er Grand Cru Classé: 2014, 2015, and now 2016. Utter genius, beautiful, structured, aristocratic claret, the wine we always heard about in our formative wine trade days. EVERYONE is talking about it, unsurprisingly…well, we say that, but there was a time when it was thought of as somewhat of a lightweight. Hindsight/absurd/chestnut.
N.B. Canon’s annual crop had resulted in a wine of a crimson/brick/red tinge, rather than something of a much darker hue hence “…red wine, not black wine…”. To explain, there still seem to be plenty of wines in this new vintage where the tannins completely overwhelm the fruit: so, you get a big, powerful number, but one that is also both unbalanced and unattractive. And as for their colour, they often tend to be the deepest of purples! We try and steer clear.
These examples are more prevalent on the right bank, and at a tasting of Saint-Emilion’s top properties, Clos Fourtet and Troplong Mondot easily led the way, plenty of rich, ripe fruit in their structure, the tannins folded in, as opposed etc.
Then to Pomerol: Beauregard oozed opulence, closely followed by a high-toned Gazin, and an excellent La Pointe. Nenin hosted another small gathering, dominated by a pristine La Conseillante.
Finally, as per yesterday, we hit a négoce line-up, attempting to sum up some of the day’s impressions. Pomerol loomed large once more, including a voluptuous Fleur de Gay; Beau-Séjour Bécot definitely showed itself to be a red wine in the Saint-Emilion area; and we finally got some Sauternes in the glass, the best value fine wine in the world – look out for Doisy Daëne, Lafaurie-Peyraguey, and La Tour Blanche.
Léoville Las Cases tomorrow at 0900, the left bank big boys loom…
4th April 2017.
2016 Bordeaux - Day 3
Always got to mind the Ps and Qs on a day like this – you can take the wine merchant out of Kensal Rise…
If the following comments sound a bit like a clipboard, a) the MD would approve (although he’d complain about the lack of spread-sheet attachment), and b) er, that’s because they are…visit, taste, next, visit, taste, next, visit etc…we mused on the programme’s resemblance to the Hokey-Cokey (a song rarely discussed in Pauillac, as far as we know), excepting the variation that it’s in, THEN shake it all about (preferably via a Riedel), and THEN out. Furthermore, Noddy Holder is sadly absent to add the soundtrack (now there’s an idea, the Rothschilds would love it, surely?).
Anyway, enough of Decvin’s sweet dreams!
0900 at Léoville Las Cases: the Grand Vin, as always, kept its iron fist tightly gloved, great depth, very intense, indubitably. Star of the show, however, was the Clos du Marquis, an absolutely classic drop of Saint-Julien.
Remember: C du M is no longer the ‘second’ wine of Las Cases (that’s now called ‘Petit Lion’), it’s a very separate vineyard within the estate’s holdings.
Then off to Lafite. Now, we’ve been lucky enough to slurp many a First Growth over the years, but occasionally, the question has been raised: “what is your point, caller?”. The wine just hasn’t matched up to expectation (which, we confess, is always large…but that’s as it is, price, glamour, reputation etc.). 2016 Lafite, however, does not fall into this category in any way, shape or form. Utterly exquisite, almost faultless, everything in its right place, perfect harmony. Proper ‘wow’. If one DID have the cash…
Up the road to Grand-Puy-Lacoste, where the wine NEVER lets you down, a gorgeous layer of concentrated blackcurrant fruit running through the palate. And we have to mention the property’s ‘second’ wine, Lacoste-Borie: a total joy, a true ‘vin de plaisir’. We’ve always loved this option, a wine giving the customer a chance to experience a château’s production, without having to wait too long, and without having to pay full whack. But like Château Olivier blanc (see yesterday), we probably haven’t done enough plugging down the years. We will hope to rectify.
Now, as we headed north (buoyed by a double whammy of Earth, Wind & Fire plus Bee Gees on the car radio…this comment may get cut by the editorial committee), word on the street was that the commune of Saint-Estèphe had brought great quality to the table, as per 2014. At Montrose, first stop, what an understatement.
OK, did we mention ‘second’ wines a bit earlier? La Dame de Montrose actually tasted like a ‘first’ wine, just brilliant, and probably a very approachable drinker around 2022. And as for Montrose itself, genius. Only word that springs to mind. A hair’s breadth behind Lafite, heads were being shaken in admiration at what had been poured in the glass.
Then, round the corner to Calon Ségur, and we hit the jackpot again. Magnificent Calon. And its sibling, Capbern, will deliver amazing value, classed growth in all but name. A cracking morning ended at Pontet-Canet. No comment required, another sublime example from the Tesseron family. Heights etc.
PM, and we drive into the love/hate of ours that is Cos d’Estournel.
Extraordinarily, we are now full-on love, 2016 easily the best Cos we can recall – there might be some dusty note-books, back in the Kensal Rise archives that would offer an alternative view (yesterday’s theory of ‘black wine, not red’ is of occasional relevance), but this was the turn-up of the day. We had left Montrose, chuckling, “neighbouring Cos won’t come close, hasn’t got a hope”, yet in 100 metre terms, a mere half a yard behind Usain Bolt, and definitely a sub-10 seconds. And we mustn’t forget the Pagodes de Cos, also ‘en pleine forme’.
Moving on, Pauillac’s Pédesclaux has possibly made its best wine ever under the new (ish) ownership, plus another joyous, bouncy, ‘second’ wine called Fleur; Pichon Comtesse shone, as did Léoville Poyferré; Ducru, last appointment of the day, was also very serious.
Probably enough for the time being! Focus now turns to Saint-Julien and Margaux…Ps and Qs still in play…
PS Did we mention Lafon-Rochet?