Day 2 part 2
The Rothschild connection.
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….