Whilst here in Hong Kong anticipating the lines of Chinese visitors for tomorrow’s opening of Vinexpo Asia, I wonder who would have thought ten years ago that this Asian market would be the driving force behind the fine wine business as it is today? It’s an explosive phenomenon best illustrated by the rise in value of Lafite 1982. Three years go The Antique Wine Company was supplying this wine at £10,000 per case. We are now supplying the same wine for £40,000 per case and every case of Lafite, not only the 82 but even the shadow vintages of its second wine, goes to China and we still can't find enough. This is good news if you're a European client with an odd case or two in the cellar that you might wish to sell!
Two years ago, whilst at The Antique Wine Company's “Three Centuries of Lafite” event (co- hosted by Chateau Lafite and The Antique Wine Company) at Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat in the South of France, I asked Lafite's winemaker Charles Chevallier, over a glass of their 1959 vintage, "what do you attribute the apparent popularity of Lafite in China to?” He answered, two reasons, the first being that "Lafite makes the best wine in Bordeaux" (an answer which the world’s most esteemed winemaker is almost duty bound to give with hand on heart and one which is perhaps true), but the second reason was probably equally important; "Lafite is a name that is pronounceable in Mandarin, and there's also something special about the word "la feet" in the world's biggest, fastest growing economic force.
During this Vinexpo show, I'll be taking a massage of La Feet every day!
© 2010 Stephen Williams
Pic; The Great Antique Lafite Collection 1787-2000 sold by The Antique Wine Company in 2007
Tags: Bordeaux, lafite, pauillac, Primeur, rothschild, tasting, vintage, wine
Tags: primeur, futures, chateau, yquem, 1989, 2009, pierre, lurton, ygrec, cabernet, merlot, franc, sauvignon
Tags: pavie, primeur, futures, 2009, chateau, decesse, monbousquet, perse, emilion
Day 2 - Pontet Canet, Montrose and Leoville-las-Cases
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Pontet Canet can’t reach the heights of the Lafite we tasted just before lunch yesterday. Nonetheless, there’s no question that this is a rising star in Bordeaux. Moreover, Alfred Tesseron and his team have produced another good wine in 2009 but which perhaps lacked a bit of depth and was just a touch austere on the finish. 15 points.
Of course, Pontet-Canet is the only classed growth to have been certified as biodynamic and whilst there isn’t time to go into that here, I will delve into it for sure on a podcast at some future point.
And like Latour, they are using horsepower to work the soil rather than tractors, said their chef de cave Jeanne-Michel Comme who I talked to at length about the benefits of this natural approach to vine growing.
‘We have three horses. But I think we will have more. They are only a brick in the wall we want to build. Because to improve the wines, we have to take care of the soil. When we started to farm biodynamically, we noticed that the soils were in bad shape because of damaging pesticides and heavy tractors which compacted it and prevented oxygen from getting to the natural microbes in the soil. So we have to get the soil in the right condition for the microbes to return. Then the soil will be in better health which we hope and expect that will improve condition of the and ultimately the fruit and the wine. But this will take years. It is a long process.’
Our next stop was Montrose in St Estephe. It too has ambitions under its relatively new owner Martin Bougyes and Technical Director Nicholas Glumineau – not least because of the number of building projects on the go at this second growth, including plans to generate all their own electricity using solar panels.
However, they’re not just expanding their capacity in the cellar,they have recently bought 22ha of vineyards from Phelan-Segur. According to Glumineau what is so exciting about this is that is a very good terroir. ‘It is the same kind of soil at the top of the hill abutting the estate and used to be owned by Montrose a long time ago. So we are very happy to get it. The vines are not too old or too young vines and I think it was the best part of Phelan Segur.’
Glumineau showed us four wines including the first and second wines of Tronquoy Lalande. Both had a lot more Merlot because of the terroir – it has more clay and less gravel. But I preferred the Montrose wines – particularly the Grand Vin.
72% of production has gone into the wine with Cabernet at 65% and 29% being Merlot. To me this is very pure, polished and fairly monumental but it’s also surprisingly approachable now. I am sure it will be a vin de garde because of its sheer concentration and fresh acidity. The tannins are also powerful but ripe and the fruit is terrific. So the balance is good and there’s no hint of heaviness. 18 points.
Last but by no means least is Las-Cases in St Julien, which remains one of the leading performers of all the classified growths. More often than not, it’s First Growth quality and the rumours that are ricocheting around Bordeaux are that M Delon has produced something special in 2009.
Apparently, 300 visitors showed up on Monday and Tuesday was just as busy, according to chef de Cave Bruno Rolland whose family have been at Las-Cases for the last three generations.
The Nenin was good from Pomerol but I preferred the Potensac from the left bank, which I thought was really impressive this year and will be a great value wine for drinkers. Also impressive was the debut vintage of Le Petit Lion, Las-Cases’ brand new second wine. It had excellent jammy fruit with a hint of tobacco. Also on top form was Clos du Marquis which was very well made and I gave it 18. To me it was a velvet glove in an iron fist.
But the Las-cases simply blows you away. It is the complete package – sweet, cedary, very ripe, creamy tannins. And there’s an awesome black fruit sweetness with a savoury character. The colour is opaque and there’s a fat texture full of glycerine without being over extracted. And it has wonderful length and balance. To me this is vinous perfection again and I have no hesitation in giving it a perfect 20.
On a final note, what I also like about the Las-Cases is the alcohol level at just 13.4%. My view so far is that the very best wines of 2009 are at or around this level and the common thread which links them is Cabernet Sauvignon. Similarly, the least successful wines that I have tasted with higher alcohol of over 14% are from the Right bank with higher percentages of Merlot.
So the conclusion I am reaching is that this is shaping up to be more of a left bank vintage – and here’s why. Essentially, the left bank chateaux could pick the ripe cabernet at the right time when it was ripe and not too alcoholic. But on the Right bank, many chateaux have had to wait for their Merlot grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness. And, of course, that has meant a big build up of sugar and has resulted in some wines being overextracted or just too alcoholic for their own good.
However, today I’ll get a much clearer picture of the Right bank as my itinerary today includes the likes of Cheval Blanc and Petrus. So tune in later for the latest news on this exciting vintage.
Tags: pontet, canet, montrose, leoville, las, cases, chateau, primeur, futures, 2009, parker
Day 2 part 2
The Rothschild connection.
Mouton Our first lunchtime appointment was at Mouton, where the cellars are being modernised. Because of this and the rain we were bizarrely transported by electric golf buggies from the car park to the tasting room. It must have been all of 200 yards and at one point I wondered whether we were on our way to EuroDisney?
However, this is no Mickey Mouse operation. Waiting for us were Mouton’s MD Herve Berland and winemaker Philippe Dhalluin, both of whom were looking confident and relaxed. And so they might. Le Petit Mouton was fresh and aromatic, with good acidity, classic dark fruit and medium body. Armailhac was in the same mould, but had more lifted aromas, sweet creamy fruit and superb length with a touch of spice. Clerc Milon was also elegant, fresh, firm and with lovely fruit as well as more minerality. The finish was long and complex.
And what about the star of the show? For me, Mouton was terrific. Blackcurrant fruit, layered texture, cashmere tannins and superb delineation, poise and polish. Very classical too in terms of structure with just 13.1% alcohol. I gave it 18+. For me it wasn’t quite as good as Margaux but still very, very good.
As I was leaving, I took the opportunity of asking Herve Berland what he thought about the market for the forthcoming campaign. His comments were fascinating and insightful. His first point was that the Asian markets would be very important in this campaign and in particular he was confident that mainland China would definitely be in the market, a first for the mainland Chinese. The second point he made was that the chateaux do need to take note of the fragile economic climate. In fact he was almost at pains to emphasise that this will be factored into the price. To me, this was interesting because he was one of the few Bordelais who was willing to talk about the all important issue of price. Let’s hope he is right on the money.
Assuming he is, how will the campaign develop? This year the problem may be more to do with getting hold of the top wines rather than how much they will cost. Not least, because the chateaux will drip feed a miniscule amount of wine on the first tranche – in order to test the market and also to be seen to be fair and reasonable.
If I was in their shoes I would be tempted to sell the minimum and wait to see what develops. So I expect a long drawn out campaign with multiple tranches. I also think that the most prosperous chateaux may well release less wine this year simply because it will be in their interests to hold it back and sell it subsequently at a higher price. Either way, it will be an interesting few months as the wines emerge from April onwards.
Then it was off to Lafite, or rather Duhart Milon in Pauillac where Lafite’s winemaker Charles Chevallier was showcasing his perennially impressive wines. One minor problem was that nobody seemed to know precisely where Duhart was situated in the village. Fortunately, we found it quite quickly – but I imagine that there are some who are still looking for it.
Nonetheless, the tasting room was full with about 40 or so tasters as you would expect. But what I did notice was that there wasn’t a single Chinese buyer present, something which took me by surprise given the level of demand coming out of Asia for anything with brand Lafite on it. So the question remains: will the Chinese buy en primeur for the first time? We’ll have to wait and see. However, even if the Chinese don’t buy, there will be a host of speculative investors who will happily fill the link into the Chinese market. You can bet your house on that.
And let’s not forget the wines! Carruades was again almost indecently delicious and almost invited you to drink it rather than spit it out. The purity of cassis fruit was utterly beguiling and the tannins were barely noticeable. It easily merited 18 out of 20. It will sell like hot cakes, particularly if they price it keenly which seems to be the rule rather than the exception for Carruades.
If Carruades was reassuringly good, Duhart was a revelation. This property is on the up and Charles Chevallier and his team have done a terrific job this year. ‘One of the reasons why we are holding the tasting at Duhart was to raise its profile,’ he told me. So they are clearly repositioning it for the future but the wine is starting to speak for itself. This 2009 was outstandingly good and I think will really turn some heads this year. It is definitely one to watch. On the nose and palate, it is simply sublime and I rated it 19 out of 20.
So where does that leave Lafite, the headline act? The answer is firmly in the spotlight. Once again, Chevallier has produced a quintessential and classical Lafite that could be another legend in the making. The fruit is ‘à point’, the tannins are so svelte that you can hardly perceive them – except perhaps on the finish, where they make their presence finally felt. And the balance of acidity, fruit and structure is all that you would want – and more.
This wine doesn’t attack your palate, it seduces it with a slow building crescendo that envelops your senses. It’s a bit like Ravel’s Bolero - and almost as long. How do you score such a wine? Easily, you give it a perfect 20 points.
Sadly, the next chateau we are going to has an almost impossible act to follow. And tomorrow morning, I’ll tell you how it (Pontet-Canet) fares as well as Montrose and Leoville-Las-Cases. One of them gets another perfect score so tune in tomorrow to find out which chateau it is. See you then….
Tags: mouton, rothschild, lafite, duhart, milon, carruades, caruades, 2009, primeur, tasting, futures, charles, chevalier, estournel, pontet, canet, leoville
Tags: estournel, margaux, pavillon, pagodes, primeur, 2009, futures, tasting, vintage
Palmer, Latour and Haut-Brion
Horsing around at Latour…. See below for the inside track on Latour’s new secret weapon.
After a quick, but nonetheless good lunch at Rauzan-Segla, it was a short journey across the road to our next appointment at Palmer, one of Margaux’s undoubted superstar chateaux. It may have been a short trip but, for me, it was a big leap in quality. At the top end, this is turning out to be a fascinating and intriguing vintage.
There’s no question in my tasting notes that Palmer is one of the firm front runners of all the wines I’ve tasted today. For a kick-off Alter Ego, (its second wine) was hugely impressive and already temptingly drinkable . However, centre stage was completely occupied by the Grand Vin.
Frankly, the Palmer 2009 is a stunning wine, which rates a handsome 19/20. The blend is 41% Cabernet and a substantial 52% Merlot and a significant 7% Petit Verdot, which is most unusual. On the palate, it is rich, sweet, dense and seamlessly elegant (as Margaux should be) with intense black and red fruits and remarkably supple tannins. The oak is 50% new, but the fruit is so vibrant that the oak barely registers. The finish is awesomely long.
For me, Palmer’s drinking window could open sooner rather than later. But will it age? Yes, I think it almost certainly will – because of the acidity and tannin that underpin the wine. This could be another 1990 in the making. Except that this is even better.
The other question to answer is whether 2009 is shaping up as a great vintage? The word in the tasting rooms of the Medoc is that it is looking that way. It’s certainly shaping up as something unusual and exceptional. It’s ripe but not like 2003 because it has more freshness. Nor is it like 2005 because of the fleshy ripeness of the tannins. When it comes to vintages, comparisons with previous years only take you so far. In other words it’s something else again.
However, it wasn’t easy either. According to Sabrina Pernet, Palmer’s Technical Director, the most challenging aspect was when to pick. ‘We had to wait a bit for phenolic ripeness for the tannins to soften, which was a little scary because the potential alcohol was getting worryingly high. But it all came right because we waited and it worked perfectly. The tannins are beautifully ripe this year.’
Off to Latour
It was tempting to stay longer at Palmer to talk more about the vintage. But we had a 3.00 appointment at Latour. Naturally, one doesn’t want to be late for Latour so we made a quick getaway, which was just as well as there was a bit of a bottle neck in St Julien. Thankfully, we arrived at Latour right on schedule.
As ever, the vineyards and chai looked immaculate as we were shown into the tasting room. The 09 Pauillac – Engerer’s third wine was good, but no match for its second wine Les Forts de Latour. Already, rumours are circulating that Parker has rated this the best ever Les Forts. I wouldn’t be surprised.
What did surprise me was that Sonia Gerlou of Latour told me that this was one of the most difficult and complicated harvests that Latour has ever completed. It had to be done very quickly using an army of 200 pickers. Time was of the essence. In contrast 2005 was a breeze, she told us.
However, the result for both the deuxieme and the Grand Vin in 2009 are without question seriously prodigious efforts and are right up there in the pantheon of great Latours.
The latter in particular is a Latour de force, which has been treated to 100% new oak. There were concerns about the levels of alcohol, but what saved the day was the high acidity. Certainly, there is a remarkable freshness and ripeness to the wine, which almost seem at odds with each other. But tasting is believing.
Just 38% of Latour has gone into the Grand Vin, so selection has been rigorous again. Indeed, only 8,000 cases have been made, which is very, very low – even for Latour. As for the cepages – it is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot – no Cab Franc or Petit Verdot made the cut.
On the palate? Well the nose seems to have been lifted from Margaux, such are the aromatics. But look out for the cedar and lead pencils, plus the creamy cherry and cassis fruit and sexy sumptuous tannins. The balance is poised and pinpoint, perhaps because Engerer has kept the alcohol firmly in check at a manageable 13.7%. And there’s a sheen and polish to this wine. Frankly, it’s pretty faultless and registers another 19 points out of a maximum 20.
So we left on another high. But as you’ll see from the picture, what also caught my attention at Latour was a magnificent nag called Olympe who was dutifully ploughing the rows between Latour’s hallowed vines just in front of owner Francois Pinault’s pad and the historic tower at Latour.
Why a horse in this age of the latest gizmo technology? According to her boss Bertrand, she is one of three horses now fully employed at Latour. And the reason is simple. They do less damage than tractors to the environment and to the soil. ‘Tractors compact the soil and create more erosion. Olympe does no damage at all,’ Bertrand told me. A case of back to the future at Latour, where clearly not everything is ultra high-tec. Personally, I think it’s fabulous to see such traditional, tried and tested approaches to viticulture and vinificaton making a comeback.
Meanwhile, tomorrow morning, look out for my latest blog on Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. They’re worth the wait….
Tags: latour, 2009, primeur, futures, chateau, palmer, haut-brion, brion, haut, vintage
Tags: pichon, baron, primeur, 2009, tasting, chateau, rating, pauillac
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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