Once again a bright, beautiful Bordeaux morning beckons at Chateau de Sours where I am staying all week – in some luxury - with my chum Martin Krajewski. Today, our first en primeur appointment is some considerable distance away in Pauillac. So we are on the road by 8.00am to beat the inevitable traffic on Bordeaux’s ring-road or Rocade.
It might seem odd tasting six month old claret at 9.15am but there are worse places to do it than the magnificent Chateau Pichon Baron with its splendid mix of ancient and modern architecture and wonderfully manicured gardens. (The grass lawns here are as good as any golf course!)
Inside we are greeted warmly by Christian Seely, AXA Millesimes’ genial, multi-talented and perennially bow-tied, boss, who tells me that he is also about to launch his very own English sparkling wine in a few weeks – called Coates & Seely. But this was no social call and it was quickly down to Bordeaux business, beginning with Chateau Pibran - which was such a success in 2009. This year, the wine didn’t quite leap out of the glass to the same degree and merits 90 points. Equally, I couldn’t get quite so excited about Pichon Baron’s second wine Les Tourelles, but the Pichon Baron was reliably good and true to form. 93 points.
Above: Tasting at Pichon Baron with Christian Seely
Christian also kindly opened the two previous vintages for us to compare. The 2009 is still stunning, but has tightened up a fraction. However, the 2008 doesn’t really pass muster against its younger siblings. It seems insubstantial in comparison.
For me the best wine that Christian has produced in 2010 is unquestionably the Petit Villages from Pomerol which is really singing this year. The property has a very good terroir and some top notch neighbours so it is perhaps no surprise. The wine was ripe, juicy, fresh and full of plums and damsons. No harsh tannins here, just sweet sultry fruit and some fine acidity. Not having been to the Right Bank yet this year, I have heard that some Merlot wines are too big and alcoholic. That was clearly not the case here as the tannins and alcohol were firmly in check and balance. 97 points.
Less successful was AXA’s Sauternes, Chateau Suduiraut. It was perfectly correct and well made with nice sweetness, creamy fruit and acidity. But the wine lacked sufficient weight to merit a better score. 90 points.
Our next appointment was conveniently close and therefore required just a short stroll across the D2 to Pichon Lalande. There the first person we bumped into was none other than Pichon’s relatively new proprietor Frederic Rouzaud of Champagne Roederer. It is sad to think that the property is no longer owned by May Eliane de Lenquesaing, but one cannot help but think that Pichon Lalande is now in good hands - especially with the appointment of Sylvie Cazes to run this superb Second Growth.
Unfortunately, the first two wines I tasted were distinctly under par. The Bernadotte registered a lowly 87 points, barely exceeded by the St. Estephe, Chateau de Pez which tasted hollow and warranted 88 points. Similarly, the Pichon Lalande wasn’t entirely firing on all cylinders. It seemed altogether too light, delicate and out of place in this forthright vintage. However, in my experience, Pichon Lalande rarely shows well at en primeur and needs time in bottle. 2010 may be a case in point. 90 points.
From Pichon Lalande, our next appointment was at one of Pauillac’s rising starts – Pontet-Canet, owned by Alfred Tesseron. This large estate abutting Mouton has a very good terroir and a substantial are – 81 hectares which are now farmed entirely biodynamically. In fact, it is the only Grand Cru Classe in Bordeaux to be accredited as both organic and biodynamic.
This year, Pontet-Canet has produced a dense, muscular wine with 65% Cabernet, 30%, Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The fruit and acidity are good, but they are completely overwhelmed at this early stage by the tannins. Consequently, this will take a long time in the cellar to come round. As a result, I marked it 92 points.
Above: AWC Client Account Manager Thomas Watson tasting at Pichon Lalande
Of course, there are plenty of very good Pontet-Canets to enjoy in the meantime and the chateau very generously poured one of them over a very good three course lunch. Tasting these tannic, unformed wines is hard work and it was a pleasure to drink the property’s wonderfully good 2000 vintage with some foie gras, followed by slow cooked beef in red wine with cheese to finish.
Whilst enjoying this excellent spread, I also couldn’t help noticing that the large room was literally half-full with Chinese and Asian buyers.
If day two had been a bit mixed in terms of quality, it was about to get a whole lot better. Not least because our next appointment was Lafite which as we all know is on such fabulous form these days. As ever, expectations were sky high.
On the way in, we met Lafite’s oenologist Charles Chevallier who looked his usual confident and relaxed self. And well he might, having pulled yet another magical vintage out of the hat.
We began with the now famous second wine - Carruades de Lafite. For me this was right up there with the 2009, which I loved. This had the most stunning, creamy cassis fruit that mingled effortlessly with ripe, elegant tannins and fresh acidity. A beautifully accessible, sure-footed Carruades. 98 points.
The Duhart was delicious but seemed a touch heavier than the Carruades. Again it was wonderfully polished and precise but the tannins seemed not quite so refined. Nevertheless, it is still a great 2010 in its own right and merits 97 points.
Then came Lafite itself - the Grand Vin and the grand finale. Make no mistake, this was unquestionably the wine of the vintage – thus far – at least in my tasting book.
The nose was divine with a floral, perfumed flourish. On the palate it was cream, leather and vanilla with voluptuous plum and damson fruit. There’s cedar and lead pencil too plus a bit of mocha for good measure. The tannins are so well constructed that you barely notice them. But they are there in abundance, silkily coating your mouth. If the tannins are soft and fine grained, the acidity is juicy and fresh and is what brings the wine to life. The finish was long; very long.
Though not perhaps as immediately delicious and voluptuous as 2009 was this time last year, this wine is not far behind. It’s also a vin de garde which has an enormous life span ahead of it. 99 points.
Charles Chevallier explained the secret of its success. ‘It’s a great vintage because everything was so perfectly balanced.’ He also suggested that the key to the tannins was not to extract too much. Here, less is more – without a shadow of a doubt.
Above: Discussing the vintage and market pricing of Lafite-Rothschild with Charles Chevallier
Naturally, any wine that came immediately after Lafite was going to have a hard time. But in point of fact, both the Grand Puy Lacoste and the Lynch-Bages both showed extremely well at the nearby UGC tasting, held this year at Patrick Maroteaux’s Branaire-Ducru. Under Jean-Charles Cazes (Jean-Michel’s son) Lynch-Bages is on cracking form and this vintage rates 93 points. Grand Puy Lacoste which has also produced another classical claret weighing in at 13.5%. It was harmonious and elegant, showing fine cassis fruit, deft tannins aided and abetted by some nice acidity. 93 points.
I also took the opportunity to try the Pichon Lalande again. Sometimes, a second look can make a difference. And the second bottle definitely seemed to have more to it than the one I tried at the chateau. 92 points.
A feature of this annual gathering is that one can’t help being diverted away from serious tasting by running into so many familiar faces including John Salvi , MW and Eric Vogt of eProvenance, which has some very exciting technological solutions to shipping wine in good condition. Someone else I chanced upon was the US importer and negociant Jeffrey Davies who told me that he had tasted the vintage with Robert Parker before the official en primeur week.
Jeffrey told me that Parker is excited and impressed by the 2010s but is likely to rate it a notch below the 2009s. We will wait and see. His report will no doubt provide interesting and influential reading.
Check back later today for Part 2 of Day 2...