Above: Old meets new at Château Cheval Blanc
Earlier this week, whilst visiting Bordeaux with an American client, I enjoyed the opportunity to return to Château Cheval Blanc and watch the inaugural vintage going into the newly constructed, state-of-the-art winery that is adjacent to the historic Château buildings.
This was my first trip back to the Château since their celebratory Grand Opening of the new winery during Vinexpo some three months ago.
The sight of the newly-installed cement tanks – with their distinctive pod shape - now full of fermenting grape juice is both memorable and impressive. One cannot help but notice the immense attention paid to absolute cleanliness here. The entire new facility resembles something between a clinical operating theatre, an opera house and a food processing plant.
During our tour, I also observed a number of small but important new details. For instance, not only does each vat now display the relevant reference information about the specific parcel from which the grapes contained within were harvested, it also shows the age of the vines from the relevant plot, often dating back between 50 and 100 years. It is clear that the ability to carefully track each individual plot has become absolutely vital to producing a successful modern vintage.
The 2011 growth cycle in this area of France has been one of continual challenges. Incredibly however, after months of inclement weather, during our particular week in Bordeaux (as was the case across much of Europe), a wonderful Indian summer had arrived.
I have no doubt that my friend Pierre Lurton, who spreads his talents between here and Château d’Yquem, will be especially excited about the prospect of another magnificent vintage. Thus far, it certainly looks to be something very special for the sweet wines of Sauternes.
However, here at Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t help but notice that the Cabernet Franc and Merlot berries coming into the winery required the strictest of selections during triage – a process that the many St. Emilion Mesdames and Messieurs on hand were approaching with both concentration and vigor. This harsh selection was necessary even though a significant part of the crop had already been dropped earlier in the summer during what is known as the green harvest, when unripe fruit is taken off the vines after a poor or uneven flowering period.
As I head back to London, my reflections are that, despite such a massive investment by LVMH, ultimately it is nature that still plays the leading role in making great wine. Surely my worst fear of further rising prices due to low yields (reduced from 35hl to 25hl per hectare) will not materialize this year!
By happenstance, en route back to the airport, I noticed Jacques Thienpont (Le Pin) and Alexandre Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan) messing about with a few final bunches in one of their roadside vineyards. I pulled the car over and we spent a few minutes casually talking about the past En Primeur sales campaign and the prospects for the next one. Candidly, Jacques explained that, “the little thing that holds children money in it, the savings, it is broken. The piggy bank,” he said, “it’s broken.” Jacques is a smart guy!
It seemed to me that this marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the marketing!
Tags: 2010 pricing, antique wine company, Pierre Lurton, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2010, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, Le Pin, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan, yquem, Chateau d'Yquem, Jacques Thienpont
Travel | Wine tasting
Since we opened AWC Wine Academy at our headquarters in Marylebone, it has been a real privilege to receive clients who occasionally stop by and taste great wines with our team. This is mutually beneficial because we like to stay up to date with vintages and our clients get the chance to share the expertise of those on hand.Earlier this week we had the pleasure of receiving one of our North American clients whose favourite tipples are the top wines of Pomerol. We decided to take a look at how the Right Bank wines from the 2000 vintage were coming along. Having tasted some of the Left Bank First Growths from 2000 recently, I felt that they were still too tight and tannic - not yet getting close to their best drinking window. However, on the evidence of this tasting, the Right Bank, Merlot-based wines are already more approachable. We began on a high with the 2000 Pétrus. Self-evidently, it is still a complete baby. This was immediately clear from the depth of colour – barely a hint of ageing around the rim of the wine. The nose is also full of primary fruit; still no secondary aromas at this stage. In the mouth the wine cascades over your palate, with sweet cassis, cherry and plum fruit, followed by an echo of cream and minerals. The acidity gives the wine a sense of vim and vigour with the tannic structure giving it the necessary stuffing to keep everything in harmony and balance. Significantly, while the tannins are beautifully ripe, they are just beginning to open up and soften. Although this will develop for several more decades (and will be worth the wait), it is undoubtedly very enjoyable already. 98 Points.
How do you follow Pétrus? The answer is, with difficulty. However, a bottle of 2000 Le Pin was the perfect foil. As with many Le Pin vintages, what struck me most was the accessibility of the wine – its texture noticeably silkier than the more muscular Pétrus. The fabulously perfumed nose was exquisite – blackcurrants, violets and camphor. The utterly refined, sweet and creamy palate was more of the same, with a finish that seemed endless. One cannot help but love Le Pin’s exotic, flamboyant and hedonistic style. This was right up there with the best vintages from this tiny estate. But will it age as well as the Pétrus? On this, the jury is still out. According to my tasting notes, there’s definitely no rush to drink this or the Pétrus just yet, as both will repay considerable cellaring. However, my money would be on the Pétrus to make the oldest bones out of this pair of sumptuous Pomerols. 97 Points. Last, but by no means least, we uncorked the 2000 Lafleur to see how it was shaping amongst such esteemed company. Happily, it too shone quite brightly – though closer to Pétrus than Le Pin in style. This wine is impressive due to the purity of plum and damson fruit along with the cedar and mineral components - all of which were cushioned by à point acidity, balance and texture. Again, this is still one for the cellar. Yet, like both the Pétrus and Le Pin, it too is beginning to come out of its shell as the tannins are now starting to mellow. 98 Points.On the evidence of this tasting, my advice would be to resist pulling the corks on these wines for a little while yet. However, if you do, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The message for our clients is - next time you’re passing through London, we would welcome you to stop by. We prefer a little notice though, so we can be sure to have the wines decanted and ready!
Further to this profound tasting, we wanted to provide you with the opportunity to enjoy these phenomenal wines yourself, particularly since we now have case quantities of these rarities available. As we’ve just tasted these wines and can comment first-hand on their exceptional quality, speak with one of our expert advisors today to secure them as your own.
I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on these wines and towards recieving you in our beautiful facility when you are next in London.
Stephen Williams, CEO
Tags: Le Pin, Lafleur, Chateau Lafleur, Chateau Petrus, petrus, AWC Wine Academy, antique wine company, fine wine, Jacques Thienpont, pin, private tasting, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, wine education, wine academy, wine, wine school, wine tasting
Education | Wine tasting
Wine in Mainland ChinaAfter Singapore it is on to Beijing via a five hour flight on Singapore Airlines. For any wine enthusiast who has flown this carrier recently, it just may be ‘The World’s Greatest Airline.’ What other airline offers Krug, Clos de Vougeot and Cos d'Estournel as their preferred wine selections! I must remember to congratulate my friends Jeannie Cho Lee (her book Asian Palate is a most interesting read), and Stephen Spurrier on their triumph as wine consultants for this airline.It is a misty evening when I arrive at the Aman Resort, located at the lovingly restored Summer Palace on the northwestern outskirts of the city. This is not a hotel but a palace in itself, comprising 53 suites, three restaurants, and a clubhouse constructed around a 5,000 bottle wine cellar. To cap it off, the resort has private access to the 3500 year old Emperor’s Summer Park, spanning an expansive 1800 hectares.
The next day I enjoy an early dinner with Krishner, the Aman's capable Wine Director. The evening is pleasantly passed by discussing his previous assignment at The Setai in Miami (The Antique Wine
Company supplied much of the extensive cellar there as well) and other hot topics related to wine in Asia, including Malaysia's duty-free island of Langkawi and the prospects for fine wine in India. The following day (still quite jet-lagged) I awake mid-morning to another misty day that quickly turns into rain as the temperature suddenly plummets from 30 to 20 and the humidity drains from the air. Brunch includes a half-dozen delicious Canadian oysters and I spend the afternoon preparing for my important dinner meeting.
This meal is the main purpose of my visit to Beijing, and I am being hosted by one of my clients. A gentleman who was born in the city, but educated in the USA and awardred a fellowship by Harvard, this client has become one of Beijing’s most successful entrepreneurs. At the arranged time, I am picked up at the Summer Palace in a top-of-the-range Audi and taken to the heart of Beijing’s diplomatic area. It is a bit like Belgravia, but with busier streets.
There are three of us in total, my fellow guest an English expatriate investment banker, and we dine in the private room of a busy Chinese restaurant. The ensuing discussion is wide-ranging and stimulating. We cover the history of the Rothschild and Rockefeller families, the financing of wars, railroad construction, antiques, economics, and Chinese culture. It is also revealed that my client is learning to fly airplanes at the little known Hong Kong Flying Club, something that I did not previously realize and which reminds me of a flying experience I enjoyed at the old Kai Tak airport in my early flying days on one of my first visits to Hong Kong. During the dinner we don't drink a single glass of wine. We instead consume a continuous parade of thimble-size glasses of white liquor. My host informs me that it is 50% ABV and it is clear that it is a race to see who can empty their bottle first! This is so different than dining with wine. After dinner it is a tradition in China to sing, so we move on to a few rounds of Karaoke accompanied by fine Cognac. I feel as though I learn a lot about Chinese culture during the course of this evening but I also fear for my state of body and mind the next day.
When I eventually rise the following morning I get geared up for business and move to one of Beijing's hippest hotels, the Park Hyatt in the centre of Beijing's Chaoyang business district. It is a glorious blue-sky day and from the 47th floor of the Hyatt I can see the entire city laid out beneath me with unrestricted visibility. This rarity probably only occurs once every few weeks, and I am pleased to see it.
Previously, my concierge at the Aman had mentioned to me the existence of the Chateau Laffitte Hotel in the countryside west of Beijing. The combination of time constraints and having read some adverse notes on Trip Adviser meant that I did not end up staying at Laffitte, but I surmise that it is surely a prospective client and it turns out during my afternoon meeting that there is a connection. Certainly this is an opportunity to be pursued in the future. This particular meeting is also amusing because my importer is Chinese but was educated at France's Metz University, so the entire conversation is conducted in a most interesting blend of ‘Franglais,’ but spoken with a Mandarin accent!
Later in the afternoon I have tea with one of our other Beijing clients. An entrepreneur in the oil business, he explains to me that he throws parties with Lafite but would like to learn more about other wines. This is the trend that all of us in the Western wine trade have been waiting for, and I have been certain of its imminent arrival for some time now. Interestingly, this particular client not only collects wine but also has a passion for antiques. To my surprise, I learn that there are now more ancient Chinese antiques in Europe than in China.After an aperitif meeting with one of our American clients, who is in the process of establishing a wine investment fund purely focused on the Chinese market, I elect for what I hope will be a quiet night of dining alone at one of Beijing's up-and-coming hip restaurants. The restaurant I am most intrigued by is owned by Michelin-starred Irish chef Brian McKenna.
Upon my arrival however, Brian introduces me to Patricio, one of our wine trade clients from Shanghai who also happens to be dining at the restaurant with his team of salesmen, and further informs me that my table is next to the famous television personality Johnny Chan. Johnny's weekly show on wine draws an average audience of 10 million viewers and has made him China’s biggest TV ‘Wine Celebrity.’ We dine together on Rib of Scottish Angus Beef and discuss fine wine at length; a happenstance which I find is a fantastic and a fitting end to my three day visit to mainland China. I leave with the impression that the wine business in this vast market is still only just beginning and that the scale of future opportunities is awesome.
Travel arrangements booked by Amex Platinum Travel Service.
Tags: The Anique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Wine Travel, China, Wine in China, Mainland China, Wine, Fine Wine Asia, Aman Resort, Singapore Airlines, Beijing, Wine in India
A Busy AutumnThe last trimester of each year is always my most hectic. Since relocating to France ten years ago, I’ve resigned myself – with only minimal protest - to the fact that one cannot help but be dragged into the vacation month of August. The entire business economy comes to a halt, the schools are all closed, and with the kiddies in tow, away we go with the rest of the nation to embrace the remaining warmth of summer. When September returns, it is always with a bit of a shock. The days become shorter and cooler, wine lovers move from poolside to fireside and from veranda to dining table, and cellars become progressively depleted as evening consumption increases.
As we move forward in these continually rising market conditions, many wine lovers are keen to replace their diminishing stocks and prepare for the remainder of the year and coming winter months. For wine merchants worldwide, fall is definitely the busiest trading period in the yearly cycle.
This year my business activity has returned with a vengeance. This has included two trips to the United States, one to the Middle East, almost daily travel around Europe throughout September - including Burgundy and Bordeaux during the harvest - and most recently, a seven day visit to the important regions of Singapore and the ever-expanding markets of mainland China and Hong Kong.SingaporeAlthough I say the trip was seven days, I do not officially count the weekend of arrival. This adjustment is made because I am such a terrible traveler that jet-lag always seems to wipe out the first two days after any long flight. This recovery period is something I now purposefully make allowances for in my schedule. On this occasion, my adjustment was spent at the truly splendid resort hotel Cappella on Sentosa Island. A former British Army camp that has been rebuilt as Singapore's modern entertainment capital, Sentosa now features a Universal Studios theme park and a massive casino.
Thankfully, Capella offers an oasis of tranquility amid the lights and noise. It is a fantastic hotel with an exacting attention to detail. Just opened in February 2010, this was already my second visit to the hotel. As a testament to its quality the hotel was also recently listed on the prestigious annual 'Hot List' from Conde Nast Traveller that lists the top 134 new hotels around the world. When the resort staff is expecting you, the effort they put into your welcome is something quite special. They take every opportunity to use your name, know that feather pillows and extra large bath robes is what are required, and they don’t need to be asked twice. Capella's wine list is under development, but it still offers a host of First Growth Bordeaux and fine Burgundy including Romanee Conti. Already it is a wine list that makes the top restaurants in London appear modestly conservative in comparison.
Economically, Singapore is on the cusp of becoming the entertainment capital of South Asia. Since the government granted operational casino licenses to the Malaysian Genting Corporation and the Las Vegas Sands (both of which, incidentally,
are clients of The Antique Wine Company), they have picked up US$500M in tax revenue during the past three months alone! How even the conservative Singapore Government can get this equation right, in comparison to the UK's aborted gaming reforms, is a debate for another day.
Starting in the 1980’s, Singapore became one of the earliest Far East markets to develop a taste for fine French wine. Due to this head start, it now has one of the most advanced and competitive wine markets (with some of the finest wine stores you will see on the planet) in all of Asia, along with a host of food and wine events for enthusiasts to attend.
Over afternoon tea with one of my importers, a former electronics and real estate entrepreneur who extended his wine hobby into a business, he tells me his current list of great wines includes 1982 Lafleur, Le Pin and Armand Rousseau’s 1985's. This year his operations have grown from six shops to ten, but he emphasizes how fiercely competitive the business is becoming in Singapore.
Later in the evening, my second importer tells me that the country is now so competitive he has actually spent more time selling wine in Russia this year than in Singapore. These days the wine business has few geographic boundaries!Travel arrangements booked by Amex Platinum Travel Service.
Tags: The Anique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Wine Travel, Singapore, Wine, Fine Wine Asia, Capella Resort
General | Travel
Ask any wine lover from New York to New Zealand about Lebanese wine and they will likely mention Chateau Musar. But ask them to name another wine from Lebanon and they will probably draw a complete blank. So how did this tiny producer manage to achieve such remarkable international recognition?
It all began in 1979 when Michael Broadbent pronounced the 1967 Musar the ‘Find of Bristol Wine Fair.’ Thereafter, in the 80s and 90s Musar appeared in the headlines for winemaking above and beyond the call of duty. Not least because Serge Hochar somehow managed to produce a series of vintages amidst the bombs and bullets of the Lebanese Civil War.
Making wine in normal circumstances is challenging; having to grow and vinify grapes in a war zone is almost beyond belief. It is no wonder Serge was deservedly named Decanter’s first ever Man of the Year in 1985.
Since the end of that terrible conflict and, of course, the more recent Israeli invasion in 2006, Lebanon has returned to more secure and stable times. Consequently, a new chapter of peace and prosperity has begun, which Serge is only too happy to see.
“People think of Musar because of the bad times in the Lebanon,” he says. “But now we have a new story to tell here. It may not get us so many column inches in the papers and wine magazines, but I prefer to talk about wine rather than war,” he told us as we drove north from the capital up to the winery – located in the historic Maronite Christian enclave of Ghazir overlooking the Bay of Jounieh.
Serge is equally happy to talk about the latest organizational developments at Musar, including the fact that a new generation is beginning to take over the reins of the family business. This year, Serge’s son Gaston has been joined by his brother Marc who is now devoting less of his time to his Dubai-based hedge fund and much more to Musar.
Nonetheless, Serge is still ‘Mr. Musar’ and he has lost none of his passion for life or wine. Moreover, 2010 is a landmark year. “Of course, we are very excited about the future with my two sons on board,” says Serge. “But this is also our 80th anniversary year. It is good to look back and taste what we have achieved,” he says with a warm and characteristic grin. “Come on,” he beckons. “The wines are waiting.”
The first of our two marathon tastings began with a barrel sample of Serge’s latest 2010 and ended with his second ever Musar vintage, the 1960. In between, we tasted Musar’s greatest vintages from the 00s, 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s. It was an amazing and instructive experience.
Having never tasted so many Musar vintages at once, a number of things quickly became apparent. First was each wine’s remarkable longevity and marked ability to improve in the glass. Second were the hallmark aromas and flavours which continued to reappear vintage after vintage. Often these emerge as earthy, animalistic notes amidst the plethora of fruit.
All of this underpins the unique nature and originality of Musar. In part, this is due to the unusual blend that makes up the wine. Since 1977, Serge has settled on roughly equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan – all grown in the Bekaa Valley, some 80kms away from the winery in Ghazir.
The Musar winemaking process uses very little sulphur and there is never any fining or filtration prior to bottling. Serge assembles the final blend after two years and bottles the following year. After an additional seven years of ageing the wine is finally released for sale. “These are wines which are built for ageing. If you give them more time, they will give you more joy,” says Serge.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Hochar believes in terroir and letting the fruit and vintage express themselves. His attitudes to wine are trenchant and unflinching. “I prefer authenticity, elegance and balance. I like a wine I can see through,” he proclaims over the 1983.
Of course, it is a miracle the 1983 was even made. At the time, the Israelis were launching a ground offensive from the Chouf Mountains which surround Beirut. At the same time there were artillery bombardments from Druze and Christian militias.
Harvesting the grapes was dangerous enough, but even more perilous was getting the crop from the Bekaa Valley to Ghazir as shells peppered the route. Serge himself survived two rocket attacks on the coastal road.
Tasting these remarkable wines and listening to the stories behind them only enhances the fact that Chateau Musar is much more than just a wine. It is a piece of history, perfectly captured in a 75cl time-capsule.
Tags: The Anique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Serge Hochar, Chateau Musar, Lebanon, Wine
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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