Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2013 Dispatches – Part 1 – from Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer, Geoff Pattison

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Editors Note – The following entry was submitted by Wally’s Bordeaux buyer, Geoff Pattison

Sunday, May 11, 2014

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Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer, Geoff Pattison

There are worse fates than a long layover in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.  It’s massive two story concourses are packed to the gills with diversions of all sorts.  The typical duty free shops and luxury boutiques are interspersed with cafes, massage spas, oxygen bars, a casino, a Virtual Reality Formula One experience, a Bols Genever museum and a truly spectacular Champagne/Seafood bar.  It’s the sort of terminal that makes you feel like LAX has really got to get it’s act together.

On this grey afternoon, I opt for the Grand Café Het Palais, a high ceilinged, wood paneled bar/café that recalls the old smoke stained cafes of Amsterdam (in the days when smoking was still allowed in such places).  There’s plenty of room to open my laptop and Dutch beer on tap.  A lovely place to start this blog.

I am on my way to Bordeaux again.  Though this is my fifth time on this familiar trip, it’s decidedly different as it’s my first jaunt without Wally’s President, Christian Navarro.  Preparations for our second outpost in Beverly Hills have kept him in LA and left me with the sole responsibility of judging this vintage for our customers.  It’s not one that I take lightly and I feel a great sense of pride in this being my first official vintage as Bordeaux Buyer for Wally’s.  Though I’ll be seeing a lot of familiar faces, there is undoubtedly a certain loneliness that comes with a week of solo business travel.  So I hope that you, dear reader, will be my companion as I return once again to the terroirs of Bordeaux.

Those who have read the press that has come out thus far will know that 2013 was a very challenging vintage in Bordeaux.  In terms of the weather, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did.  A cool, wet spring led to problems with mildew and poor flowering.  The early summer saw extremely uneven weather with everything from wind battered deluges, to heat spikes to hail storms.  July and August were mercifully warm and rather tranquil, offering a glimmer of hope before September rains put a damper on the harvest.  With many parcels struggling to achieve full maturity and the risk of rot a very real danger, vignerons found themselves between a rock and a hard place deciding when to pick.

This is in all honesty the worst Mother Nature has handed Bordeaux since the early nineties.  But this being the modern age, the classified growths have great means at their disposal in the vineyard and the chateau to make the necessary adjustments to produce good wines in even the most difficult of vintages.  It will be very interesting to see which properties were able to make the right choices to produce grand vins that defy expectations. Pricing has come out at the lowest levels since 2008, meaning there is certainly a potential for values.  Most of the First Growths are around $250 and many rarefied terroirs that crossed the $100 mark in recent vintages can be had for half the price.

While I expect the reds to be a mixed bag, this looks to be a banner year for Bordeaux Blanc and Sauternes, among the greatest in the past few decades.  So there should be some definite high spots to discover as I taste through the vintage.  My aim is to help you find the wines that are worthy of a place in your cellar, from an honest and value oriented perspective.

Arriving in Bordeaux, I am greeted by my trusty driver Jurgen.  His thick German accent belies his many years spent in living in Bordeaux after marrying a French woman.  He knows the region like the back of his hand and is always quick with a joke.

I check into Le Boutique Hotel de Bordeaux and after getting settled, head out for a short walk to the home of Alexander Von Beek and Veronique Sanders, proprietors of Chateau Giscours and Haut Bailly. Both of them have had great success improving their respective chateaux over the past decade, but more importantly they are genuinely wonderful people and excellent hosts for a casual dinner on my first night in Bordeaux. We dine on a home-cooked meal of fresh Asperges Blanc and Herb Roasted Poulet paired with the excellent, still very youthful 2005 Chateau Giscours (Cool, muscular, well-structured and driven by dark fruit, it will be fun to watch this as it matures) and the adolescent 2004 Chateau Haut-Bailly (just turning the corner towards maturity, driven by a classic Pessac nose with smoky mineral notes, this value vintage is better than initially thought and is starting to drink very well).  After a fun night with friends I head back to my hotel for a good night’s rest. To be continued…

– Geoff Pattison