THE GRAND CERCLE des Vins de Bordeaux en Primeur 2016 Tasting

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The Grand Cercle tasting of en Primeur 2016 Bordeaux took place in the grand setting of the second floor terrace of Le Meridien Piccadilly on March 15th 2017.

For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘en primeur’ concept, this can be described in two broadly different ways: producers and brokers might tell you it is a chance for interested buyers to get their hands on the latest vintage of Bordeaux’ most sought-after Château before before they have even been bottled, and at the lowest prices they will ever be. Sceptics might tell you it is a marketing trick to bring in much needed cash and interest to the Château at a slow time of year. I would say it is a bit of both.

There has been a lot of noise going on in the trade press recently about 2016 being a ‘miracle vintage’ – and this is just the sort of spin that tends to bring out the sceptic in me – indeed, Le Grand Cercle’ described in their press pack the wet and miserable spring, then dry summer from June, followed by much-needed rain three months later in September. In their words: ” Who, last may, would ever have believed in a vintage year after an unprecedented record amount of rainfall?”

All that said, the spin worked, and the result was a packed terrace full of tasters eager to see if it was true. I even put on a tie for the occasion (ties are not great at tastings, you have to keep them in check so as not to spit on them) – I think this may be an indication of my assessment of the vintage! .

Grand Cercle Tasting 2017

Bordeaux Tasting à l’anglaise (with ties)

So was this a miracle vintage? Producers I spoke to agreed that the last great vintage in Bordeaux was 2010, and without exception compared 2016 to that vintage. I tasted 25 or so wines, white as well as red, and not an unripe or lean one among them (you rarely get to say that about Bordeaux). The whites were lovely, ripe wines, with a beautiful mouthfeel, and nervy acidity, the reds full of bright ripe crunchy fruit, rich but melted tannins, and mainly good levels of acidity (although some of the Merlot based ‘right bank’ wines lacked a little).

It was the Cabernet Sauvignon Left Bank wines that impressed me the most, though. I look for a combination of ripe blackcurrant fruit with tobacco and meaty savoury notes as indicators of great Cabernet wines, and all of them had this, so the descriptions below only include additional features. On this side of the river my list of favourites was:

Château Serilhan, Saint Estephe – All the descriptors above apply, with an attractive oak polish like a veneer to endear it.

Château Haut Lagrange, Pessac Léognan – 40% new oak, but integrated and wrapped around the tannins

Château Roquetaillade la Grange, Graves – Delicately oaked (25% new) with velvety tannins and potential

Château la Tour de Bessan, Margaux – Classic margaux restraint, but blessed with charming fruit sweetness

Château de Villegeorge, Haut Médoc – This had a higher Merlot content, so was a softer wine than some others, with lower acidity, but lots of charm

On the Right Bank, I found less balance, with a few low acid wines where the alcohol showed more. A certain American critic may like them! I liked:

Château Mazeyres, Pomerol – Lovely bright and creamy fruit, 14% alcohol not showing, a polished wine

Château Godeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru – Ripe and sweet, with great depth and richness, great potential

Château Fombrauge, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – Charming sweet fruit and spice, with 45% new oak integrating already

Château Yon-Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – An almost delicate wine, with notes of violets, ripe red fruit, and firm tannins enveloped in 1/3 new oak

The whites were super too. In Entre Deux Mers, Château Sainte Marie refreshed me, and in Graves Château de Cerons had great balance and potential, and Château Saint-Robert was rich and satisfying.

My verdict: No spin or hyperbole, 2016 was a great vintage!

A Tasting of BA’s Club World Wines

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife's photographic skills.

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife’s photographic skills.

There are two ways to afford to travel in Club Class on a long haul flight. One is to get a proper job (and by this I mean one not in the wine trade) and pay the full price, the other is to marry someone who works for an airline. On a recent trip to California I was afforded the luxury of just such an upgrade on a BA flight (so you see which of the options I chose). This was worth it both for the bed it provided, which can only be described as a magnificent, jet lag eliminating, luxury, and the quality of the wines offered. On a similar scale, the wine would rate as more of a very welcome treat, but it was perfectly suited to relieving the monotony of long-haul flight, and a welcome change from the pleasant, but uninspiring Cotes de Gascogne Colombard I usually encounter on aircraft

I didn’t set out with the intention of trying to assess any difference that altitude has on the wines, but they don’t mess around on BA, and Taittinger Brut Reserve NV was served as soon as we had sat down, and the whole way through the climb, so a sort of impromptu comparison took place. This Champagne is a long-time favourite of mine, creamy but not too much so, toasty but not overdone, with Chardonnay elegance shining through; excellent, and perfectly balanced, at sea level, even better at 18,000 feet, and downright superb at 36,000 (or was that the second refill talking)?

I tasted (that is tasted properly, before drinking with lunch) all 4 wines on the list. All were well selected, with a well-deserved place on the list.

Ravioli and Sancerre

Ravioli and Sancerre

Sancerre 2013, Château de Thauvenay was a high fruit version, with pineapple and ripe acidity no grassiness in evidence.

Clos Pegase Carneros Chardonnay 2012 was beautifully peachy, with a rich, creamy butterscotch palate and sherbet acidity, but definitely moderate by Californian standards, and a good food pairing with a duo of salmons.

Flor de Campo Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast, California, is in fact from the south of the state, near Los Angeles, but cooled by that Pacific fog which pervades the coast, and creates cool climate conditions. This showed an expected attractive ripe red fruit, a hint of spice, chocolate oak, but not overdone, and great balance, restraint even.

Steak and Medoc

Steak and Medoc

Château des Cabans 2011, Cru Bourgeois Médoc was poised, with ripe berry fruits and a hint of violets, earthy, mid-weight, and with spicy oak. Although Cabernet dominant, it showed quite fluffy tannins, which went very well with my steak.

A memorable flight, lovely wines, great company, good food (it’s not every day you get to say that about airline food), and a start to a California experience that culminated in a visit to Ridge, described elsewhere. All you have to decide is which route to take to Club Class. A difficult decision; both options have attributes in common, of which troublesome but rewarding might be the best summary.

‘Classic’ and ‘Balanced’ Wines in Saint Emilion

‘Classic’ and ‘Balanced’ Wines at L’Association  de Grands Crus Classés de Saint Emilion Tasting

Altitude 360, 5th June 2013

 

The annual tasting of Saint Emilion Grands Crus Classés took place at the trendy and spacious Altitude 360 in Pimlico. This year, vintages on show were 2009 and 2010, so the growers had little to apologize for. That said, Ch. Faurie de Souchard was one of those hit by hail in May in 2009, Thibaud Sciard, presenting the wines, described to us the difficulty of losing 90% of his crop as a result.

 

Otherwise, the wines were largely as expected, with only good surprises, really. The reputation of these two vintages is well known, not only due to the comments of a certain American with the same name as a pen, but also because of the interest and ‘buzz’ that two magnificent vintages in a row creates; everyone has written about them.

 

Don’t you love Bordeaux euphemisms? ‘Classic’ is a word often wheeled out to excuse unripe wines from a poor year; this time, though, it seems to work for the 2010s. They are anything but unripe, and have a deep coloured, dark fruited spicy character, and aniceed freshness. ‘Balance’ is used in a different context, often to justify high alcohol, and again the sceptic in me wakes up when I hear it. However, I tasted all three of Jacques Capdemourlin’s 2010s, Châteaux Balestard le Tonnelle, Cap de Mourlin, and Petit Faurie de Soutard (please note the similar spelling to Faurie de Souchard, above; they are indeed two different châteaux, it’s just part of that adorable French complication). Part of my note to the Balestard la Tonnelle reads: “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Thierry Capdemourlin pointed out alcohol levels of, 15, 15.5 and 15.5%, in order, for these three wines, but talked of the balance, and my note confirms this. The alcohol didn’t stand out in any of these, nor in any of the other wines I tasted on the day.

 

My tasting notes are repetitive. Big, ripe, soft fruited 2009s, with red, sweet Merlot fruit, lowish acidity, and velvety tannins, drinking well now, and more angular, serious, spicy (both words versions, I suspect, of ‘classic’, a word I don’t really use) 2010s, with “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Have I said that before?

 

Another common theme appears to be the consultant Michel Rolland; he’s everywhere. I recently read a cartoon book called “Robert Parker Les Sept Péchés capiteux” (The seven ‘heady’ sins), by Benoist Simmat and drawn by Philippe Bercovici, which portrays Big Bob colluding with Michel Rolland to homogenize the flavour of Bordeaux and create a ‘Parker taste’ (‘capiteux’, in the title, translates as ‘heady’ while ‘capitaux’ is deadly, which would be the more familiar expression). It’s a great book, by the way, very witty (if you are a wine nerd, otherwise you won’t understand it) but it hasn’t been translated. It is, of course, satirical, but most of the Rolland consulted wines seemed to show a full, chocolaty, extracted character, and high alcohol (none less than 14%), but those are also characteristics of both vintages. The three from Capdemourlin above are all consulted by his laboratory.

 

One exception to this was Château Grand Corbin d’Espagne. François d’Espagne, the very affable owner, explained that he was fully organically certified, and trying out biodynamic production. He tried to point to this fact in the otherwise very well-presented fact sheet that accompanied each estate’s page, but it wasn’t there. He remarked that, although he did inform them, the Association must have omitted to print this information (a bit of Bordeaux politics, perhaps)? His wines of both vintages showed a charming harmony, with easy acidity, melted but prominent tannins, and yes, great balance, even classics. They were still 14% (2009), and 14.5% (2010).

 

An enjoyable and informative tasting of two great vintages. If the following one features 2011 and 2012, a different set of euphemisms will come to the fore. Anyone who hasn’t been living on Mars for the last few years will be familiar with the financial sector’s descriptors of choice: challenging, and difficult. Bordeaux has added a new variant to these two for the 2012 vintage: A winemaker’s vintage (but aren’t all vintages)? Maybe the turnout will be lower for that one.