Dispatches from Bordeaux – Vintage 2015: Part II

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It’s Tuesday morning and today we are heading to the right bank for a tasting at the offices of JP Moueix in Libourne.  This is always a thrilling tasting with all of the iconic properties in the Moueix family stable.

Highlights of the morning’s tasting:

2015 Clos St Martin
This has a very exotic, flamboyant nose of kirsch, ripe and candied.  Despite the ripeness of the nose, the palate is all business, nicely firm and well-structured, nicely polished.  The quality of this microscopic terroir really shines in the top vintages and this is one of those years.  Less than 500 cases produced, a great buy if you can find it.

2015 Chateau Plince
A nice blend of red fruit and earthy, mocha notes on the streamlined nose.  This has more depth and density than usual, lots of dark fruit tones and a hint of walnut on the palate.  An excellent vintage for Plince.

2015 Chateau Hosanna
The nose is a bit shy at first but with a little time in the glass there’s some beautiful complexity here, a mélange of dark fruits mixed with a spicy, savory olive note.  Nice weight with a rock solid midpalate and lots of substance.  Sexy and polished with a big round core of fruit.  This is going to be a benchmark vintage for Hosanna, reminiscent of the 2005, but I think this may be even better, this property is really hitting its stride.

2015 Chateau La Fleur Petrus
Luxurious and nicely complex with a very pretty Merlot driven nose, plums, spice and perfume.  Elegant and medium bodied on the palate with a nice long finish.  This is clearly highly pedigreed, understated with lots in reserve.  An exemplary top-flight Pomerol.

2015 Chateau Trotanoy
Gorgeous nose.  Masculine and very complex with sandalwood, turned earth, plum compote and dried herbs.  I usually say perfume to describe a complex feminine/floral character, but this is decidedly masculine, cologne?  Dense, rich and powerful on the palate, this is an absolute knockout, one of the top wines of the vintage and one of the best ever from here.

2015 Chateau Belair-Monange
A rich, ripe and dense nose of coffee, earth, plums and cigarbox.  This is a muscular Saint Emilion, showing the heat and concentration of the vintage but there’s a towering structure supporting it all.  The finish goes on and on.  It’s very impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish here over the last five years and this is clearly the greatest Belair-Monange to date.  Powerful and assertive.

Christian Moueix joins us after the tasting to offer some insight into the vintage.  Surprisingly he tells us that looking at the lab numbers the 2015s have one of the highest tannin levels in history, higher than 2005 and 2010 in many cases.  You’d never guess that from tasting the wines which have been very plush, ripe and effortless.  These barrel samples remind me more of a riper vintage like 2009, where you almost feel like you can drink them already.  I’ll have to track down the secret to this paradox.

Leaving JP Moueix, we head to the inimitable Chateau Cheval Blanc for a tasting and lunch.  Situated on the border between Saint Emilion and Pomerol, this historic property is actually closer to the plateau of Pomerol than the town of Saint Emilion.  Standing on the roof garden of Cheval Blanc’s new chai, you get a beautiful panoramic view of their illustrious neighbors: Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, L’Evangile and La Conseillante.

Shockingly, there is only one wine to taste in 2015.  The quality of the fruit in this vintage was of such excellent uniform quality that the chateau made the decision to produce no second wine.

2015 Chateau Cheval Blanc
A powerful, deeply pitched, polished nose.  Fresh coffee, dark chocolate, ripe blueberries.  The essence of perfectly ripe Cabernet Franc is really on display here.  Velvet textured, medium plus volume, supple with good concentration and intense flavors.  Lots of tannin on the end, this will age very well.  This has more stuffing than the excellent 2014, riper and denser.  Substantial but understated.  Muscular and intellectual.  A brilliant Cheval, this will be stunning after it fills out during elevage and will rank alongside ’05, ’09 and ’10 as a modern classic for this estate.

Over lunch we have the pleasure of sampling some back vintages:

2006 Chateau Cheval Blanc
Coffee, olives and licorice on the nose.  Savory, pure, harmonious, toasty flavors of dark fruit and café crème.  Nice medium plus volume and seamless texture.  This is drinking beautifully right now.

2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc
Deep and dark with notes of olives and licorice.  This is still youthful but beginning to drink quite well.  Rich, polished and opulent.  Perfectly judged acidity that keeps this fresh amidst all the density.  Amazing and will only get better over the next several decades.

After lunch we head the short distance over to Pomerol for a tasting at one of my favorite properties in all of Bordeaux: Vieux Chateau Certan.  Our old friend Alexandre Thienpont is waiting for us to sample the 2015.

2015 Vieux Chateau Certan
A ripe, deep, dark fruit nose.  Blackcurrant pastille.  Polished with hints of mint.  Dense and well defined on the supple palate.  Very serious and deep.  Wow, this is beautifully ripe and full of stuffing but without any sense of heaviness.  Lots of tannins, but they’re of the ripe and silky variety.  Very long on the finish.  An extraordinary, benchmark VCC that is a hypothetical mix of the 2009 and 2010.  This will once again be one of the top 5 wines of the vintage and, while not inexpensive, it remains a great value given the top-tier quality.

Alexandre says that this vintage reminded him of vintages like 1983, 1988 and 1996 where old vines were the star of the vintage.  According to him, 2015 had the rare quality of having both the Merlot and Cabernet Franc exhibit top quality, not favoring one or the other.  July was too hot, but this was mitigated by the August storms which revived the vines.  The autumn’s “Indian summer” allowed a long, relaxed harvest with optimal ripeness.  The 2015 has the highest alcohol percentage ever at VCC and very high tannin.  But both of those elements are deceptively hidden by the ripeness of the fruit.

Alexandre is a bit of a historian, with a great memory of old vintages, so it was interesting to hear him struggle to find a good comparison for the vintage.  “2009 was like 1945, ’10 was like 1950…but 2015 is unique” he says.

Heading back across the Gironde, we finish the day with an appointment at Chateau Haut Brion which early reports suggest is excellent this year.  Heading into their third story tasting room, I prepare for what are always some of the finest reds (and whites) of the trip.  Highlights of the tasting:

2015 Le Dragon de Quintus
A ripe, attractive nose leads into very pretty berry fruit flavors that display nice ripeness without great weight.  A very well made second wine in a great vintage.

2015 Chateau Quintus
Pretty, sweet red fruit and mocha on the nose with good precision.  Elegant with satin texture, nice ripeness and formidable structure.  This is the first great vintage since Haut Brion took over this property and we are really starting to see what this property is be capable of.  A strong showing for Quintus.

2015 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
Deeply pitched, black fruits, slightly closed today but with some time in the glass you get hints of soft vanilla and tobacco.  Lovely texture with cashmere tannins.  Supple and polished with big (but ripe) tannins.  A very impressive La Mission, reminiscent of the 2005.

2015 Chateau Haut Brion
Ripe blackcurrant pastille, smoky earth, mocha, and cigarbox.  This is a big, forward Haut Brion.  Grand scaled, supple and velvety on the palate.  The frame is massive but everything is in perfect proportion.  Near perfect, this is similar to the 2005 but with softer, riper tannins.  Incredible.

2015 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion Blanc
Coconut, lime, white flowers, white mineral, gravel and smoke on the highly complex nose.  This has great energy on the mineral driven and leaves your palate very fresh.  Excellent.

2015 Chateau Haut Brion
An understated nose with vanilla, coconut and kiwi.  Big and sweet on the palate which builds and builds to a massive intense searing finish that fills your mouth and stays on the palate for over a minute.  A great vintage for one of the world’s greatest white wines.  Stunning.

Dispatches from Bordeaux: 2015 Vintage – Part I

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by Geoff Pattison, Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer

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There’s something distinctly different about the feeling in Bordeaux during the good vintages.  There’s a sense of anticipation as you step off the plane.  Coming into the city everything feels a bit more vibrant. There’s a spring in the step of the people you meet.  Even when it rains, people are smiling.  Having read the early weather reports I already had a sense that the wines would be special.  There were whispers from negociants and vignerons in the months after harvest.  These insiders are usually in the business of having to “sell” a vintage so when they stop spouting superlatives and say “just wait til you taste the wines,” you know they’ve got the goods.

It’s Monday morning and once again Wally’s President Christian Navarro and I are here to taste another new vintage.  It’s a special year for both of us as this is my tenth year tasting en primeur and for Christian his 25th.  And what a year it looks to be.  The early reports have been extremely promising.  Beginning in April, a warm, even spring allowed perfect flowering across the region.  As the summer arrived, June and July were extremely hot and dry which accelerated ripening and stressed the vines.  By August, many vignerons were starting to worry that they would face drought conditions, but then, at just the right time, the rain came and provided just what the vines needed to be refreshed.  At this point things were looking very good and all that was needed was a dry harvest to make the vintage.  In Margaux, Pessac-Leognan and the right bank appellations of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, they got exactly that.  A long, even September and October that allowed a relaxed harvest under ideal conditions.  In the Northern Medoc, the rain came at just the wrong time, mid to late September.  Pauillac and Saint Julien were hit with it in spots and the well drained terroirs fared much better than others.  Saint Estephe got the worst of it, double the rainfall of Pauillac, leading to inevitable dilution at harvest and making it the lone rough spot in this otherwise excellent vintage.

Our schedule this year begins in Margaux which from the early reports appears to be one of the most gifted appellations in 2015.  In a twist of fate, the September rains which ensnared the northern Medoc completely missed the southern appellations.  It seems this year has the makings of a modern day 1983, where similar weather patterns produced benchmark Margauxs that in most instances outpace the vaunted 1982s.

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We begin the morning at Chateau Rauzan Segla, which has to be one of the most beautiful properties in all of Bordeaux.  This year marks the first vintage under Rauzan’s new technical director Nicolas Audebert, who was formerly the winemaker at Cheval des Andes.  As we arrive we’re welcomed into the barrel room to taste several components directly from barrel.  While I’ve done this in many other regions around the world, it’s somewhat unorthodox in Bordeaux where we’re usually presented with a pre-drawn assemblage in a lab or tasting room.  It’s a small tell as to the new direction of the new regime here which is looking to shake things up a bit.

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Barrel tasting notes from Rauzan Segla:

New Oak Barrel #1 – Cooper: Demptos
-A pretty nose with fresh violets, primary red fruit and a good dose of polished vanillary oak.  There’s good concentrated fruit here with power.  Linear and focused.

New Oak Barrel #2 – Cooper: Sylvain
-This barrel is deeper and richer on the nose, bursting with blackcurrants.  There’s more freshness compared to the Demptos barrel and more structure too.  Excellent balance.

New Oak Barrel #3 – Cooper: San Martin
-Toasty, earthy aromas dominate the nose here.  This one is the most touched by oak, but again the balance is beautiful and there’s a great deal of power.

Neutral Barrel #1
-This is the most expressive barrel of the four.  Explosive red and dark berry fruit mixed with a kaleidoscopic array of spices.  Let’s call it spice rack.  Silky with really nice persistence on the finish, freshness melded with power.

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And now on to the full assemblage sample:

2015 Chateau Rauzan Segla
-The nose is tight and focused with blue/purple fruit (blueberries and blackcurrants).  Powerful and structured on the palate.  Linear and medium to full bodied.  Great freshness on the end.  This is a firm and serious Rauzan Segla that is more masculine than usual.  Very reminiscent of the excellent 2005.

Leaving Rauzan Segla we head to Chateau Margaux, the legendary First Growth.  This is a bittersweet vintage at the property as longtime Director Paul Pontallier just recently passed away in March at the age of 59 after a battle with cancer.  Before he passed, Paul was able to see the birth of the 2015 which looks to be very special indeed.

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2015 Chateau Margaux
-A gorgeous perfume of red fruit and milk chocolate, fine polished leather and blackberry leaf.  The texture is pure cashmere on the effortless entry.  This is absolutely seamless with beautiful, generous volume and expert balance.  Ripe and soft with very fine tannins.  Deep flavors, the spicy Cabernet character comes through more on the palate.  This is so integrated that you want to drink it already.  Extraordinarily elegant, an understated freshness carries through on the long finish.  Beautiful and pure.

I’ve been lucky enough to have tried all of the greatest modern vintages of Margaux and I think this may just be their best ever.  Talk about starting the trip off with a bang.  This is going to be very hard to beat, we’re only on our second stop and this is clearly a top candidate for wine of the vintage.

Presenting the wine is Paul’s son Thibault Pontallier.  Thibault remarks that his father described the infant 2015 as a mix of the ripeness of 2009 and the power of 2010 with the elegance of 2005.  In this vintage it seems you really can have it all.

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After leaving Margaux we head to some other top properties in Margaux and Pessac-Leognan.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

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2015 Chateau Palmer
-Lots of blackberry leaf and white mineral, this is somewhat closed on the nose today.  But the palate displays a towering frame.  This is extremely muscular and will be long lived.  There’s a strong vein of minerality underpinning the fruit here.  An intellectual Palmer that really shows more Cabernet character than usual.  I’d imagine that this will be compared to the 2010 for years as they’re rather similar in character, a true vin de garde with a 40-50 year lifespan easily.

2015 Chateau Giscours
-70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot.  Deep, dark blackcurrant fruit on the nose, almost crème de cassis.  Beautifully ripe and very pure with excellent volume.  All of this gorgeous fruit is wrapped up in a perfectly proportioned frame with soft gossamer tannins…very precise, like a tailored suit.  Wow.  What a stunning Giscours.  This is without a doubt the finest wine I’ve ever tasted from this property.  This should be one of the top values of the vintage.

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2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
-Massive but with good precision, this shows notes of lemon, coconut and white mineral.  Fairly exotic without going in too tropical a direction.  There’s a lot of fruit on the palate but it’s nicely balanced.  This is soft, ripe and agreeable, and while it lacks the power of a great vintage, this is very well made and should drink deliciously on release.

2015 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
-This has a big, broad, polished dark fruit nose that’s just ravishing.  Extremely ripe on the attack, but it’s packed with tannin and acid too.  A very forward, modern style this year but the quality of the terroir comes through clearly.  Somewhat atypical for the vintage, this is almost as big and fruit forward as their 100 point 2009.  To quote Spinal Tap, “this one goes to eleven.”

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Recap and Top Picks

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It’s been a few months since my last blog entry and, as the campaign wraps up, I thought I’d put together a review of the top wines of the vintage and best buys now that we know all of the pricing and can take a full view of the 2014 vintage. These are my insider recommendations based on my tastings in Bordeaux during En Primeur with an eye on the wines that provide the greatest value.

Let’s take a look at a few lists, beginning with the best of the best:

The Finest Wines of the 2014 Vintage

1) 2014 Chateau Cheval Blanc ($459.99, 96-99 WS)
2) 2014 Chateau Haut Brion ($319.99, 95-98 WS)
3) 2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild ($319.99, 95-98 WS)
4) 2014 Vieux Chateau Certan ($137.99, 95-97 WA)
5) 2014 Chateau Montrose ($114.99, 95-97 WA)

Based purely on quality I believe these are the wines that reach the highest heights in 2014. Cheval Blanc really stands alone at the top, it is a stunning wine with a level of class and luxurious sophistication that even the firsts don’t quite reach. It’s effortlessly pure and balanced, with an incredibly silky texture and extraordinary complexity. Wine of the Vintage, full stop.

While Haut Brion and Mouton are no surprises here, the obvious standouts are VCC and Montrose which represent incredible values for top 5 level wines. Montrose in particular is a stunning wine at a shockingly good price. In my opinion, which is shared by most of the critics this year, the 2014 Montrose is better than honorable mentions Lafite, Margaux, La Mission Haut Brion, Ducru Beaucaillou, the list goes on… Because of the incredible value on offer here, it’s my number one pick for this vintage. If you buy only one wine, Montrose should be it.

For the value hunters…

Top 2014 Bordeaux Quality-to-Price Ratio

2014 Chateau Barde Haut $26.99 91-94 AG
2014 Chateau Faugeres $29.99 92-95 AG
2014 Chateau Lafleur Gazin $32.99 92-95 AG
2014 Chateau Larcis Ducasse $49.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste $53.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Pavie Macquin $55.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse $74.99 94-97 AG

These are the wines that really overachieve in the $25-75 sweet spot. Barde Haut, Faugeres and Lafleur Gazin are all stunningly good. At $25-35, these are wines that will easily drink comparably with wines in the $50 range when they arrive. For those with the foresight to buy them now, these are great candidates for house wines and should be bought by the case.

Grand Puy Lacoste is a star in the making. Long a connoisseur’s favorite, GPL exudes a purity and clarity of Paulliac terroir that is rare at its pricepoint. For those looking for the wine most likely to make the leap (ala Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet), this is the estate. It also doesn’t hurt that it is a personal favorite of new Wine Advocate critic Neal Martin.

I cannot say enough about the amazing work done by Nicolas Thienpont and Stephane Derenoncourt at the trio of Saint Emilion properties they manage: Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin and Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record at this point, but the fact is no one else in Bordeaux comes close to making such consistently fantastic wines at very fair prices year in, year out. These wines are always incredibly exotic and expressive in their youth in an attractive modern style. What is baffling is the fact that they do so without any sense of overripeness or overt oak influence as so many modern styled wines do. They always clearly express their terroirs, show good balance and age extremely well. At $50-75 they deliver the quality of wines double their price and get my highest recommendation as the best bang for the buck wines in 2014 Bordeaux.

Now a look at some familiar names with not too familiar pricing…

Best-Selling Favorites at Their Lowest Prices in Years

2014 Chateau Calon Segur $57.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Haut Bailly $59.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Leoville Barton $60.99 92-95 WS
2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte $62.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Lynch Bages $83.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Pichon Lalande $88.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Pichon Baron $89.99 95-96 WCI
2014 Chateau Pontet Canet $89.99 93-96 AG
2014 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou $107.99 94-97 AG
2014 Chateau Cos d’Estournel $114.99 95-96 WCI
2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases $129.99 94-97 WS
2014 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion $194.99 95-97 WA
2014 Chateau Palmer $214.99 93-96 WS
2014 Chateau Margaux $319.99 94-97 WS
2014 Chateau Lafite Rothschild $414.99 94-97 WS

For those who have followed the prices of these wines from the heights of 2009 and 2010 (vintages where these wines are easily double or triple these prices), you can see just how striking the value of this vintage is. The scores are high, not far off the quality of those blockbuster vintages. And the prices are the lowest of any vintage currently available on the market. For so long it has been impossible to find Lynch Bages below $100, Leoville Las Cases below $200. And First Growths below $350. Yet here they are, and with incredible quality to boot.

Take Smith Haut Lafitte, a perennial favorite that usually lands around the $75-100 range. A pedigreed, single estate Cabernet blend with the highest level of winemaking. The wine is excellent this year and it’s available at $63. Try to get that sort of value from Napa Valley, it’s impossible. More and more, Bordeaux is producing excellent values that outpace the rest of the world.

For those with an eye on investment, I’ve grouped my targets into three categories providing the greatest opportunity for appreciation:

Limited Quantities on First Tranche
Lynch Bages
Margaux
Mouton Rothschild
Pichon Lalande

Undervalued/Room to Appreciate
Grand Puy Lacoste
Smith Haut Lafitte
Calon Segur
Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse

Great Wines and Underpriced Compared to Other Vintages on the Market
Ducru Beaucaillou
La Mission Haut Brion
Leoville Las Cases

My top three investment targets are Lynch Bages, Margaux and Ducru Beaucaillou. Lynch and Margaux are major, in-demand labels that are fairly priced and in more limited supply than their peers. Both wines will go up as stocks are exhausted, these two are can’t miss buys. Ducru Beaucaillou is a spectacular wine this year and likely a candidate for an upgraded score from bottle. At $107.99 it’s just criminally underpriced compared to other good vintages of Ducru. I could easily see it selling for double the current price within 5 years.

Looking at the lower end of the spectrum. Grand Puy Lacoste, Smith Haut Lafitte and Calon Segur are interesting investment plays in volume. Their combination of name-recognition, low prices and high upside make them clear candidates to double in value in a 5-7 year window.

Buying well-known Bordeaux labels from a great vintage at bargain prices is always a strong investment and the opportunity is there this year. If you have the ability to put these away now, they will repay you in spades when they are ready to drink.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me personally if you have any questions about Futures or are seeking advice.

Geoff Pattison
Wally’s Wine & Spirits
Director of Imports
(310) 475-0606 Ext. 131
geoff@wallywine.com

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 5

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 5

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Thursday, April 16th 2015

Today is the last day of the trip and our morning is reserved for a comprehensive tasting at one of Bordeaux’s largest negociant firms. While we always try to make it to as many properties as we can, it’s just not possible to visit them all in person, so this sort of “cattle call” tasting is a necessity to get a full picture of the vintage. Prior to the tasting we’re able to request barrel samples from a list of hundreds of chateaux throughout the region. The day before our tasting the samples arrive fresh in 375ml half bottles, ready for our consideration. I usually try to schedule this at the end of the trip so we are able to form a general opinion of the vintage “on the ground” and then fill in the gaps, as it were.

Over the course of 2 ½ hours the parade of half bottles both confirms and fleshes out our early impressions of the vintage. Some of the top highlights include:

2014 Chateau Gazin
-Charming nose of earth and blueberries, firm and structured on the palate, medium bodied. A nicely balanced expression that should age well.

2014 Chateau Beychevelle
-51% Merlot this year, the nose is pure red fruit with hints of gravel and iron. Nice fruit on the attack, good ripeness and density. Long finish, this is an excellent Beychevelle, clearly their best since the 2010.

2014 Chateau Faugeres
-A very ripe, polished nose of chocolate covered cherries. Very modern on the palate with ripe dark fruit and espresso. Still there is a great sense of weight and density for the pricepoint. Once again this will be a very attractive QPR.

2014 Chateau Le Gay
-A pretty nose of cedar and perfumed berry fruit. Lithe and elegant on the palate. Medium bodied and very nicely balanced. A lighter expression of Le Gay but everything is in good proportion, the volume is just dialed back a bit. This will likely drink well relatively early.

2014 Chateau Larcis Ducasse
-As per usual, very flamboyant on the nose, kirsch, crème de cassis, strawberries. Sweet and ripe on the attack, medium bodied, doesn’t have the density of its big brothers but there’s no denying this is a hugely attractive wine and very well made. It will be interesting to see where the price lands, this could be one of the best QPRs of the vintage.

2014 Chateau Pavie Macquin
-Seductive nose of Mocha, earth and plums that is textbook Pavie Macq. Again ripe, round and sweet on the palate with excellent richness. A very good vintage for them if perhaps lacking the structure of the best vintages.

2014 Chateau Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse
-Somewhat similar nose to the Pavie Macquin, mocha, earth, but more toward the cassis end of the spectrum. More complex and exotic with spice elements. Big and powerful on the palate with mocha, blueberry and animale flavors. This is a top notch terroir that has been firing on all cylinders under the watch of Nicolas Thienpont. Still one of the best values in Bordeaux, this could hold its own blind with Pavie, Angelus, Troplong, etc… and can still be had for a fraction of the price.

2014 Chateau Haut Bailly
-Nice ripe red fruit nose with herbal and mineral notes. Taut on the entry with mineral laced cherry and tobacco flavors. This is medium bodied but well-structured with a nice sense of tension. A precise Haut Bailly that should unfurl nicely in 5-10 years.

2014 Chateau Les Carmes Haut Brion
-50% Cabernet Franc. Deep, spicy, herbal berries and dark chocolate. Hints of violets. Lush and silky on the palate, ends with a drying persistent finish. Not a huge vintage but very elegant. This is one of the most exciting new projects in Bordeaux. Rhone inspired winemaking, stem inclusion, high percentage of Cabernet Franc in Pessac Leognan. What a strange and wonderful wine.

2014 Chateau Doisy Daene
-Very floral with white flowers and stone fruits. Rich, seductive and powerful, a decadent Doisy Daene. This is such a great value every year.

2014 Chateau Doisy Vedrines
-Honey, ginger and apricot jam on the nose. This is rich and sweet but has a nice line of acid running through it. Great quality for the price.

2014 Chateau Coutet
-Complex on the nose, mandarin orange, pineapple, honeysuckle, gingerbread. Strikingly sweet and intense on the palate, this is a monster Barsac. While one might wish for a bit more tension and finesse, the level of concentration and power on display here is impressive and frankly this is better that Rieussec and Suduiraut in this vintage. What a showing from this perennial value!

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Leaving the negociant’s offices we hop in the car and head to Saint Emilion. First stop is the imposing new compound at the newly anointed “Premier Grand Cru Classe A” Chateau Pavie. Gerard Perse has shepherded this estate’s rise from relative obscurity to become one of the jewels of the appellation. As of 2012 it joins Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angelus as the only “A” designated wines in Saint Emilion. There are two obvious standouts from their stable of wines:

2014 Chateau Monbousquet
-Funky nose with truffles, turned earth and coffee grounds. The palate turns more red fruit driven than usual here with a lovely underpinning of acidity running through. This is polished but well balanced. Shows the high level of winemaking of the Perse stable and should be a top value.

2014 Chateau Pavie
-A classic Pavie nose, ripe, plush and sexy but fresh. Nice balance on the velvety palate, powerful with no holes. Rock solid midpalate. The overall sense is still medium bodied, this is a dialed back Pavie that shows a bit more sinew and tension than usual. Quite good.

Leaving Pavie we head to Chateau Troplong Mondot where we will taste the first vintage since the passing of the incomparable Christine Valette. There is only one wine to taste:

2014 Chateau Troplong Mondot
-Rich, ripe, powerful nose full of espresso and macerated black cherry. Deep, rich, powerful, suave and round. 85% new oak this year. Very good volume, a beautiful Troplong.

In addition to being one of the great terroirs of Saint Emilion, Troplong Mondot is also home to a charming on-site boutique resort called Les Belles Perdrix which happens to have one of the best restaurants in the Right Bank. We settle in for a delicious 3 course prix-fixe lunch. The cooking is market driven, creative and at a very high level. If you find yourself in Saint Emilion make sure you make a reservation here, it is a must. Our lunch is paired with the excellent 2006 Chateau Troplong Mondot

Leaving lunch it’s a full afternoon of appointments in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. Highlights of the afternoon:

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2014 Chateau Ausone
-60% Cabernet Franc. Framboise, lovely red fruit, ripe tannins and very long. This feels so effortless on the palate but you really sense the power on the end. Sneaky good structure. Excellent acid balance, a very elegant Ausone.

2014 La Fleur de Bouard
-A ripe, deep jammy nose. This is big and round on the palate but fresh with a nice underpinning of acid and good volume. Well done.

2014 Chateau Angelus
-Plush, round floral infused dark chocolate on the nose. Very concentrated chocolate and berry compote on the palate. Excellent freshness and very tannic as this usually is at this stage.

2014 Chateau Cheval Blanc
-55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc. A markedly complex, deep, luxurious herbal nose with considerable fruit and charm. Lovely silky texture, medium bodied with zen-like balance. Elegant, long and aromatic, there’s something Burgundian about the sense of inner perfume here. A tour de force, this is likely one of the top wines of the vintage.

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2014 Chateau Figeac
-Dark chocolate, berry fruit, somewhat herbal. The Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe and lends nice muscle. Good freshness. A masculine, sinewy Figeac reminiscent of the 1995 or the 1988.

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2014 Chateau L’Eglise Clinet
-Dazzling, knockout aromas of boysenberry, kirsch, wild flowers and cherry heering. Just stunning. Rich, ripe, sexy berry fruit on the palate. All of this exoticism is buttressed by a huge structure with good volume and muscle. This is a fabulous, pure L’Eglise Clinet that will likely be rather affordable. Highly recommended.

Dinner tonight is at a local negociant’s home where we enjoy a laid back meal among friends. Our good friend Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer (who will be in LA for our Palmer Vertical Dinner this fall) has come to join us and we start off the evening with the 2011 Vin Blanc de Chateau Palmer, a rare bird indeed. Not commercially released and limited to just 100 cases per year, this is an odd blend of Muscadelle, Loset and Sauvignon Gris. Very fresh and full of white orchard fruit on the nose. The palate is rounded and airy with nice acidity. As dinner unfolds we open spectacular bottles of 2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc and 1998 L’Evangile. Wonderful conversation on Bordeaux, Hollywood and Jazz end the trip on a high note.

Now off to bed. And tomorrow on to Paris for a bit of fun before the flight home. Looking back on the trip this is a truly excellent vintage and given the outlook on prices and the currency exchange rate, this should be a very exciting campaign indeed.

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 4

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 4

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Wednesday April 15th 2015

Another early morning today as Christian, Michael and I head out to the Right Bank for the first time in this vintage. The reports around Bordeaux are that this vintage is stronger in the Left Bank than the right. More substantial rainfall in Pomerol and Saint Emilion coupled with the fact that Merlot did not benefit from as much of the Indian summer mean that things are supposedly less uniform on this side of the Gironde. Today we will see for ourselves if these wines can match the stunning 2014s we’ve tasted thus far in the Medoc.

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Our first appointment is 9:15 am at one of our favorite properties in the world: Vieux Chateau Certan. This is a magical terroir is located directly adjacent to Chateau Petrus and one could make a case that they have surpassed their neighbor in several recent vintages. We are welcomed warmly by our old friend Alexandre Thienpont who has shepherded VCC since he took over for his father in 1986. There is only one wine to taste:

2014 Vieux Chateau Certan
-Pure, deep, soft red fruit on the nose. There is a lovely purity to the red fruit and fine mineral driven flavors here. Good weight on the palate with a powerful, structured, building finish. A muscular VCC with amazing depth and great precision, this has to be one of the top wines of the vintage.

Leaving VCC we head to the offices of JP Moueix in nearby Libourne. This legendary negociant firm is headed by Christian Moueix, proprietor of Chateau Petrus. Today we will be meeting with Christian’s son Edouard who is in the process of taking over the reins of the family business. Edouard leads us into their drawing room where their illustrious stable of wines are laid out for us to taste at our own pace. Leaving us to taste in private we now get to try the 2014s from some of the greatest terroirs in the right bank. The highlights include:

2014 Chateau Plince
-Lovely, harmonious nose of berry fruit with complex herbal tones. There’s a current of sweet tobacco running through the silkly, elegant palate that displays nice volume and texture. A very good Plince, best since 2009.

2014 Chateau Bourgneuf
-A fairly ripe, deep nose of red fruit with mocha tones. Muscular and tannic with nice length and good persistence of the mocha-driven flavor profile which follows through on the palate. Recommended.

2014 Chateau Gazin
-Dark Chocolate and blackberry fruit on the nose. This has a sweet balanced palate with a vein of minerality running through. Nice power.

2014 Chateau Latour A Pomerol
-A complex, resonant, spicy nose leads into a balanced ripe berry fruit driven palate with hints of truffle and spice in the background. Great texture and a long, nicely integrated finish. Harmonious and seamless. Not a big wine but totally complete and well-balanced.

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2014 Chateau Lafleur
-Complex, powerful, class nose. Deep. Sweet silky flavors of pure red berries with nice weight and texture. Elegant and feminine but keeps pumping through on the finish with serious muscle and length. Textbook Lafleur. Excellent.

2014 Chateau La Fleur Petrus
-Wow, this has a gorgeous polished nose of high toned plum and raspberry. Merlot driven. Great texture, medium bodied, good structure. Harmonious and long.

2014 Chateau Trotanoy
-Smoky and spicy with lovely plum fruit and truffles on the nose. Long, powerful and buttoned up. There’s something aristocratic about this Trotanoy’s personality. The palate is seamless and supple with great purity and depth. Excellent.

2014 Chateau Belair-Monange
-Expressive, powerful nose that leaps out of the glass with ripe herbal toned dark fruit. Slightly more modern than the Pomerol stable tasted before. Nice structure, good balance and freshness. Finishes long with pepper and dark chocolate tones. We are just starting to see what this property can do with the addition of the former Magdelaine vineyards. A fascinating estate to watch that could one day be one of the top estates in Saint Emilion.

After concluding the tasting, we head to Saint Emilion with Edouard to tour the vineyards of Chateau Belair-Monange. Since the Moueix family took over this historic estate in 2008 they have vastly upgraded the chateau and vineyards. There is currently a massive effort underway to replant several large parcels and we are struck by how many hectares are fallow at the moment. For Edouard this is a lifelong project, it will be decades before we really see what this well situated terroir is truly capable of.

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Edouard leads us down into the limestone quarry beneath the vineyard. This labyrinth of caves, carved out over hundreds of years, just completed a retrofit to strengthen and stabilize the limestone. It’s a reminder of the history of the place (much of the limestone harvested was used to build the town’s buildings, streets and walls) as well as the truly ideal soil composition here in Saint Emilion.

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Leaving Saint Emilion we head to Pomerol and Chateau La Fleur Petrus where we enjoy a wonderful lunch paired with the beautifully mature 1989 La Fleur Petrus and an absolutely delicious magnum of 2000 Trotanoy (just entering maturity, full bodied, plush and deep). Saying our goodbyes, it’s a long journey back across the Gironde to some afternoon appointments in Pessac-Leognan.

Highlights of the afternoon visits include:

2012 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge
-Deep, dark fruit on the nose with a lactic element. The palate is midweight and beautifully silky. Soft, plush and very accessible early.

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2014 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge
-Reticent nose, wow this is very tannic and muscular. Slightly austere but with amazing structure, one for the cellar.

2014 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
-A gorgeous nose of citrus, pure mineral and melon. Very expressive aromatically. Rich on the palate but with plenty of racy acidity, finishes very long.

2014 Chateau Le Thil
-Primary red fruit and floral notes, very sweet on the attack, port-like. Pure Merlot. Finishes smoky and decadent.

2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge
-Dark fruit and the essence of stones. A touch of blackberry leaf. This is tannic, but midweight with excellent volume, rock solid midpalate. Finishes with nice freshness that balances the considerable fruit here. An excellent Smith Haut Lafitte that will likely be one of the best values of the vintage.

2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc
-Reticent nose, soft on the entry but the acid pumps through on the end, very good for the vintage, but not at the level of the stunning 2013. A very nice, midweight vintage of SHL Blanc.

2014 Le Dragon de Quintus
-Ripe, well defined red fruit on the nose. Punchy, intense flavors, primary, slightly jammy and exotic but with nice tension. A very attractive second wine, well done.

2014 Chateau Quintus
-Lovely nose of plum compote, sexy and liqueur-like on the palate but balanced and with good tension. Very well made, can’t wait to see where this property goes over the next 5-10 years under Haut Brion’s ownership.

2014 Le Clarence de Haut Brion
-Very pretty blackcurrant pastille with hints of scorched earth. Black fruit and incense. This is substantial but expertly balanced. A great second wine with lots of Haut Brion character, this should be more accessibly priced this year and is recommended.

2014 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion
-Slightly closed nose with graphite and herbaceous notes. Sweet and silky on the attack with blackcurrant and licorice, finishing with persistent flavor and lots of freshness.

2014 Chateau Haut Brion
-Deep and opaque with dark fruit, tobacco and spice. Palate is pretty with a strong notion of scorched earth. Midweight with good acid and a strong tannic backbone.

2014 Chateau Haut Brion Blanc
-Gorgeous white flowers, lanolin and pure grassy, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc fruit. Incredibly focused with laser sharp acid on the attack, midweight and seamless. Very fine.

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Dinner tonight is at Chateau Haut Brion with Director Jean-Philippe Delmas. After a long day of tasting we relax over Champagne in the chateau’s beautifully appointed drawing room while talking of the campaign, the recent rise in popularity of La Mission Haut Brion and Wally’s plans for growth. Dinner is elegant and beautifully paired with 2011 La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (Astonishingly precise with beautiful minerality, salinity and laser like acidity), 2003 La Mission Haut Brion (very youthful for an 03, definitely showing the decadence of the vintage but with plenty of room to age) and 1999 Chateau Haut Brion (In a great place for drinking, substantial but with resolved tannins, this is a pure Haut Brion with lots of incense, licorice and truffle). Being presented with a humidor full of Habanos is tempting after dinner but we decide we’ll have to pass if we are going to make it through tomorrow morning’s comprehensive tasting of nearly 100 wines! Heading back to the hotel we marvel at the incredible day we have just had…from lunch with a Moueix to dinner at a First Growth. Just one more day to go!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 3

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 3

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Tuesday, April 14th

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Another early start today, heading out of Bordeaux at 7:45am to return to the Medoc. Today we will visit the rest of the major Left Bank chateaux, beginning with morning appointments at Leoville Barton, Montrose, Calon Segur, Latour, Leoville Poyferre and Rauzan Segla. Highlights of this morning’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Langoa Barton
-A complete, deep, open knit nose of dark red fruit with hints of spice box. This is medium bodied but classic Langoa with accessible exuberant fruit for a St Julien. Very nice.

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2014 Chateau Tronquoy Lalande
-A somewhat reticent dark fruit and dusty stone driven nose. Really good weight and richness on the powerful palate, tannic. This is a more muscular Tronquoy Lalande, really shows the quality of St. Estephe in this vintage, clearly their best since the 2010.

2014 Chateau Montrose
-A lovely beguiling nose. Pure, fine dark fruit and crushed stones, sensual on the seamless palate. Velvety with very good weight, but not overly heavy. Gorgeous texture, the tannin and oak are well integrated. Powerful, terroir-driven and polished. Montrose has really gone to another level over the past few years and this is nearly as good as the 100 point 2010. Clearly one of the wines of the vintage, it’s astonishing the way Montrose has been able to make substantial improvements while retaining an un-erring purity of character. Bravo!

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2014 Chateau Calon Segur
-Expressive dark berry fruit and kirsch on the nose, nice texture, but very tannic at this stage. Good freshness, this has a somewhat perfumed, feminine profile but with power. Marked by a more modern style than in years past. We are starting to see the new direction of the new ownership and it appears they are taking their stylistic cues more from Cos than Montrose. Rather flamboyant with little of the rusticity of the old regime.

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2014 Chateau Latour
-Reticent with hints of iron, cassis and gravel. Nice fruit on the attack. Powerful, muscular and tannic. Midweight and somewhat austere at this point, but the finish is very long. Not offered en Primeur.

2003 Chateau Latour
-Sexy, musky, truffles and sous bois. Decadent oak tones, walnuts, leather, cigar box on the nose. Sweet on the attack, nicely mature at this stage. Finishes soft, but well wrapped up with good length. A rather exotic, hedonistic Latour but certainly providing a lot of pleasure right now.

2014 Chateau Leoville Poyferre
-Dark color, sexy, crème de cassis on the nose. Plush and ripe. Nice mid-palate weight with a good amount of fat along a tannic backbone. Forward, round and charming. This is very generous and seems somewhat atypical for the vintage. A lot of sweet tannin and rather low in acid. This will likely drink well relatively early.

2014 Chateau Rauzan Segla
-Sweet and earthy on the nose, lovely silky palate with excellent volume and a strong tannic backbone. Medium plus body. This has a floral red fruit character on the palate that is classic Margaux, but its serious and long.

Lunch today is at Rauzan Segla with the chateau’s longtime Director John Kolasa. This will be John’s final vintage at Rauzan as he is retiring later in the year. Joining us for lunch is new winemaker and director Nicolas Audebert who was previously the winemaker at Cheval des Andes in Mendoza. We have a fun lunch discussing the history of Rauzan Segla and the new direction of the estate. Nicolas’ sensibilities are very closely aligned with John’s so it seems the chateau’s trademark style will remain elegant and classical. Lunch is accompanied by some treats from the cellar. 2001 Segla (a nice mature vintage of Rauzan Segla’s second wine, tannins are completely resolved and this is drinking really well 13 years after release), 1998 Chateau Canon (barely an adolescent, this shows the fantastic quality of ‘98 in the right bank. Earthy and powerful but very elegant), 1983 Chateau Rauzan Segla (beautifully mature, another sleeper vintage that is legendary in Margaux. Drinking perfectly right now.) and 1966 La Lagune from magnum (a real treat, completely resolved but this shows no signs of fading, delicate with fine fruit from the warm ’66 vintage.)

After saying our goodbyes we head back up to Pauillac to continue our appointments. Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
-87% Cabernet Sauvignon. A dark opaque color, this is dense and inky with that classic Lafite graphite and gravel buried under black and blue fruit and toasty oak. Very concentrated and muscular, this is somewhat austere at the moment but with lots of potential. Should be long-lived.

2014 Chateau Pichon Baron
-80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Pretty, ripe dark fruit with cedar and pencil lead on the nose. Classic Pauillac. Excellent volume in the mouth, good concentration. Nice tannic structure and good freshness in a midweight style. A very zen expression of Pichon Baron, the muscle is there, it’s like 2010 just with the volume turned down a bit. Like so many in this vintage, it’s like a welterweight fighter as opposed to a heavyweight.

geoffff2014 Chateau Palmer
-Very dark, plums, earth, mineral and animal on the nose. Delicate and silky in the mouth but finishes with substantial structure. Fresh with crisp acid. Lots of length, chewy and taut on the finish. A dark, muscular, masculine expression of Palmer, should be quite age-worthy.

Dinner tonight is at the brand new La Grande Maison Joel Robuchon with Frederic Engerer, Director of Chateau Latour. Walking in it’s clear this is the finest restaurant in Bordeaux aiming squarely at three Michelin Stars. The stunning tasting menu is an intricate parade of Robuchon’s trademark dishes with beautiful presentation and the highest level technique. Service is at the highest level of professionalism and attentiveness. A bottle of 2008 Domaine d’Eugenie Clos Vougeot is showing beautifully, just beginning to shed its tannin with lovely fruit, displaying the pure, transparent character of the 2008 vintage. The 2000 Chateau Latour on the other hand is unbelievably youthful. Guessing blind I’d almost peg it as the 2005 it’s so primary and tightly wound. A massive wine, it will need another 10 years before thinking about touching it, but it’s fun to check in on its evolution tonight.

After an absolutely flawless dinner it’s time to head home and get some rest before we head for the right bank and Pessac-Leognan tomorrow. I can’t help but marvel at what Robuchon has done here in Bordeaux. La Grande Maison is truly as good as any 3-Star in Paris. Wow!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 2

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 2

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Monday, April 13th

8:15am…Christian and I head out from the center of Bordeaux up the D2 toward the storied chateaux of the Medoc.  This morning we are in Pauillac and Saint Estephe with appointments at some of the most famous estates in the world:  Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch Bages, Pichon Lalande, Cos d’Estournel, Mouton Rothschild and Pontet Canet.  Highlights of the morning’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste

-A deep, classic Pauillac nose of gravel, fine leather and pure cassis fruit.  Sleek and balanced in the mouth, satin textured with excellent freshness.  Medium bodied.  Lovely.

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2014 Chateau Ormes de Pez

-A round, seductively spicy nose of earthy dark fruit.  Good volume on the palate, this is big with a lot of dry extract.  A great Saint Estephe.  This chateau gets better every year and is really delivering well above its asking price.

2014 Chateau Lynch Bages

-A classy, polished nose of ripe cassis.  Suave on the palate, huge tannic structure as usual.  This is generally one of the more backward wines to taste en Primeur, but it has really nice texture this year with unusually silky tannins.  A classic vintage of Lynch Bages.

2014 Chateau Pichon Lalande

-65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot.  Slightly reductive and muted on the nose.  With some coaxing, some soft plum and cassis fruit with floral notes in the background.  Silky and elegant in the mouth, medium bodied.  This wine was often made in too light a style in the mid to late ‘00s, but they have really come back strong under the direction of new director Nicolas Glumineau.  This has beautiful texture and excellent weight in the mid palate.  A complete and effortlessly beautiful expression of Pichon Lalande, clearly their best since 2010.

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2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild

-81% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is pure class with cassis, subtle spice and vanilla.  The palate is seamless and silky with nice texture and volume in the mouth.  There’s good weight here but still a sense of delicateness with excellent balance.  Claret styled.  Finishes long and complex with spice box notes.

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2014 Chateau Pontet Canet

-Gorgeous, striking, exuberant cassis, blackberry, Darjeeling tea and exotic spice leap from the glass.  Wow, what a knockout nose.  Dense on the palate with intense flavors.  Middleweight but very fruit forward and dynamic in the mouth.  Excellently judged acidity and good length.  As usual this is an exotic style but there is incredible raw material here.  Best since the 100-point 2010.

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It’s early, but we can start to get a sense of the vintage.  The spring of 2014 was extremely promising with warm, dry conditions leading to early flowering and the look of an early harvest.  But then July and August brought unusually cool, overcast, humid weather.  Around the end of August many exasperated vignerons thought this vintage could be even worse than 2013.  Given the coolness of the summer, there seemed very little chance that the grapes would ever achieve full ripeness.  But then, miraculously, the weather turned.  September and October were exceptionally warm and dry.  An “Indian Summer” that allowed the grapes to ripen late into the season and be harvested under absolutely ideal conditions.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the northern Medoc, Saint Estephe, Pauillac and Saint Julien. Cabernet Sauvignon was especially comfortable with the late ripening season and the vineyards on gravel relished in the late season warmth.

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Lunch today is at Chateau Pontet Canet with our good friend Alfred Tesseron who has managed the ascent of this incredible terroir since the 1994 vintage.  Alfred has pulled some amazing bottles from the cellar to share including 2010 Haut Brion Blanc (one hell of an aperitif, majestic and powerful but completely seamless, intensely packed with flavor but impeccably refined.  In a perfect place for youthful drinking, clearly a 100 point wine), 2005 Pontet Canet (muscular, brooding and already showing some secondary character) and 1958 Pontet Canet (a real treat, fully mature but still completely alive and not fading at all, lovely mature Pauillac).  It’s hard to pass up the offer of some Tesseron Cognac as a digestif, but we’ve got a whole afternoon of appointments lined up, so we unfortunately have to head out.

Bidding a fond farewell to Alfred we continue on to Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Las Cases, Branaire Ducru, Malescot St Exupery and Chateau Margaux.  Highlights of the afternoon’s tastings:

2014 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

-A sweet, dark, dense nose leads into big, muscular, concentrated dark fruits that are tightly wound for the moment.  This has good grip.  Very well balanced, this benefits from the midweight character of the vintage.  In some bigger vintages you could argue that Ducru can be almost overwhelming with its bombastic style, but this 2014 seems just right, everything in proportion.  A platonic ideal of Ducru Beaucaillou?

2014 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

-The nose on this is full of pencil lead and very red fruit driven, different from LLC’s usual jet black fruit profile.  On the palate this is fairly soft, finessed, already approachable dare I say pleasurable.  The tannins are ripe giving this a lot of charm.  Beautiful midweight balance.  An atypical Las Cases but very well made and should be approachable relatively early.

2014 Chateau Branaire Ducru

-Earthy, spicy red fruit on the primary nose.  65% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sweet and silky on the attack.  Juicy, pretty, nice structure.  This is a very pure Branaire with nice density.  An excellent expression with almost zen-like balance.

2014 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux

-Very pretty white flowers on the nose, demure and understated.  Fresh and clean with lots of acid pumping through on the long finish.  Excellent.

2014 Chateau Margaux

-90% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous, understated, elegant nose of mineral driven red fruit.  Pure, silky, complete and seamless on the palate.  Extraordinary balance.  An utterly beautiful, ethereal expression of Margaux.  Pure class, this has to be one of the wines of the vintage.

Dinner tonight is at local hotspot L’Univerre which boasts one of the best wine lists in the city with a focus on Burgundy.  A delicious country French menu is paired with Champagne Roses de Jeanne, 2002 Brenot Batard-Montrachet and 2001 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne Romanee Les Suchots .  A fantastic meal that’s a brief break from a week of Bordeaux.  Off to bed, tomorrow we hit the rest of the Medoc!

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Read up on previous dispatches from Bordeaux:
Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 1

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2014 Dispatches from Bordeaux – Part 1

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It’s morning in Paris.  Once again I’m headed to Bordeaux to taste the brand new 2014 vintage with Wally’s President Christian Navarro.  Christian has been making this trip since 1991.  This will be my ninth year having started tasting en Primeur in 2007.  It’s always a thrilling prospect to be among the first to taste the new vintage and 2014 has had some major buzz with early word that this is the best vintage since 2010 and may stand among the best vintages of the past few decades.  A week from now we will know for ourselves.

A scheduling snafu has us staring down a four-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle, an airport with a serious dearth of options for killing four hours.  Christian and I commiserate over our situation.  A four-hour layover…you could drive to Bordeaux in five!  This gets us thinking and a few minutes later we decide, to hell with it, let’s rent a car.  We can be there roughly around the time our connecting flight would leave and we can have lunch in the Loire and a great story to tell.

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Off we go speeding down the E5 in a Citroen Picasso, headed for Orleans.  The Paris suburbs give way to open countryside and a few hours later we are flying by highway exits bearing the names of the famous Loire chateaux: Cheverny, Chaumont, Amboise, Chambord.  Using far too much of my data roaming package, I pull up the details of a Michelin One Star restaurant that looks like a good bet for lunch.  La Maison d’A Cote sits in the center of the small town of Montlivault, a place neither of us would likely ever have visited had it not been for that fateful layover.

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Lunch is fantastic, Chef Cristophe Hay’s cuisine is inventive and modern but thoroughly takes advantage of the beautiful produce from the region known as “the garden of France.”  A little local Pouilly Fume and Chinon really hit the spot with our three-course prix fixe.  Back in the car we continue south and a few hours later we arrive in the center of Bordeaux.

We check in to the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux, the recently restored five-star hotel directly across from the Bordeaux Opera House. Dinner tonight is a low-key Sunday supper at the home of Basile Tesseron, proprietor of Chateau Lafon Rochet.  Basile welcomes us with a glass of homemade Lillet Blanc.  We have a great night discussing the vintage and dine on some of the best Duck Confit I have ever had.  The 2000 Lafon Rochet is showing beautifully tonight, broad shouldered and full of ripe fruit just getting into its plateau of maturity.

After a whirlwind day it’s off to bed, our schedule starts tomorrow with some major names in the Left Bank including Mouton Rothschild, Pontet Canet and Margaux.

-Written by Geoff Pattison, Director of Imports

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2013 Dispatches – The Conclusion

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

Thursday May 15, 2014

Today is thankfully a slightly later start. After an energizing breakfast I head out to Libourne to meet with Christian and Edouard Moueix at their offices. I love tasting here as they always leave you in a room to taste alone. At most appointments you have the winemaker watching you taste, eager to read your expression, so it’s sort of refreshing to get to taste and make notes in solitude. After a short meeting with Edouard we head to the home of Christian and Cherise Moueix. A beautiful spot on the banks of the Dordogne, we enjoy Champagne in the garden while I tell them about Wally’s upcoming store in Beverly Hills. Lunch is a supremely civilized affair and we spend much of the time discussing current events in Napa Valley, home of Christian’s Dominus. Wines for lunch include 1989 Chateau Magdelaine (a beautiful, elegant, mature St. Emilion drinking perfectly right now) and a pristine half bottle of 1950 La Fleur Petrus (Deep and still very much alive with notes of dried plums, black tea, iron and sandalwood). Very special indeed. After lunch I head back to Pessac-Leognan and meet up with Veronique Sanders at Chateau Haut Bailly. Then it’s on to Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Pape Clement and Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion.

Highlights of the afternoons tastings include:

2013 Chateau Haut Bailly
-A very pretty nose with nice fruit, notes of blackcurrant pastille and fresh ground coffee. This is bright but everything is well integrated already. A very admirable effort for the vintage.

2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
-A very fresh nose with a rich, focused, powerful current of acid running all the way through. This is impressively muscular and reminds me of Dagueneau’s Silex. There’s a very long life ahead of this one. What a vintage for Bordeaux Blanc!

2013 Les Carmes Haut Brion
-The new direction of this house is amazing and completely unique. Majority Cabernet Franc, stem inclusion, Rhone inspired winemaking techniques, bold stuff in Pessac-Leognan. This has a ripe, plush, silky, mouthfilling tannic structure with good volume. The nose is almost kinky with spicy strawberry and licorice. This is definitely an estate to watch with lots of buzz in Bordeaux at the moment. Buyers would be smart to get in on this early before the price rises.

Dinner tonight is at Chateau Haut Brion. Arriving at the chateau I have the opportunity to sample their 2013s. Chateau Quintus (St. Emilion) is the newest property in the Haut Brion stable having been acquired just a few years ago. This used to be Chateau Tertre Daugay, Haut Brion has put considerable effort into upgrading the vineyard and chateau to the highest level. The 2013 Quintus sports a plush nose of pure red fruit, juicy on the attack with bright, punchy flavors of raspberry coulis and turned earth. The 2013 La Mission Haut Brion is reticent, but with coaxing hints of leather and crushed stones waft forth. This is medium bodied with a bright, muscular personality.

The 2013 Haut Brion is the class of the reds. Rich, round, smoky, with a plush, velvety palate. Nice texture, excellent length. Very good concentration of the classic Haut Brion character, elegant and bright. A real winner in this vintage.

Now the Blancs. The 2013 La Clarte Haut Brion is a blend of lots deselected from Haut Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut Brion Blanc. At a fairly reasonable pricepoint you really get a sense of the Grand Vin Blancs, undoubtedly some of the finest white wines in the world. The La Clarte is creamy with a rich soft entry, flavors of lemon sorbet with a powerful acid spine. It lacks the length of its older siblings but this is definitely the best La Clarte yet. Stunning stuff.

The 2013 La Mission Haut Brion Blanc has a soft, herbal, flinty mineral character on the nose with pure mineral and gravel flavors. An essence of white raspberry builds on the palate and goes on and on with excellent persistence. There’s loads of acid structure here but it comes across as rather subtle and integrated.

The 2013 Haut Brion Blanc has a rich, ripe, soft nose that is pure class. I don’t think Sauvignon Blanc gets any better than this, the nose is perfect with an understated elegance about it. Delicious and extremely balanced on the palate, seamless. The acid is extremely well hidden, this almost whispers to you despite its obvious power. There’s a crystalline beauty to the subtle fruit and a pure soft clean texture like fine fabric. Absolutely jawdropping Bordeaux Blanc. We retire to the parlor for Champagne before sitting down to a fantastic dinner. Vicysssoise de Homard is paired with a heavyweight bout between 2010 Haut Brion Blanc vs. 2010 Laville Haut Brion. The Haut Brion Blanc comes out a nose ahead for me, but the comparison is almost moot. These are both legend candidates. Absolutely flawless young Bordeaux Blancs from a great vintage. The main course of Carre de Veau is paired with a couple of library selections, 1998 La Mission Haut Brion and 1988 Chateau Haut Brion.

The spectacular 1998 La Mission is just hitting maturity, still very fresh and structured. This is somewhat of a secret vintage in Pessac, most people know about the quality of 1998 right banks, but you can see here just how much better Pessac fared than the Medoc. This is a 98 point Parker wine and it’s every bit that good. This has to be the wine of the vintage, on par with the best right bank 98s. The 1988 Haut Brion is a real pleasure. Beautifully mature and absolutely classic Haut Brion with lots of cigar box, truffles and scorched earth. It has a slight austerity in the character of the vintage that keeps this a buttoned up affair but it doesn’t detract, this is drinking really well tonight.

After saying our goodbyes I head back to my hotel and toast another fantastic trip to Bordeaux. Despite the challenging vintage, I found a lot of very good wines and the people were as wonderful as ever. I’ll always remember this trip fondly and look forward to the next time I return.

Friday May 16, 2014

Today is a travel day as I head up to Paris to meet up with Wally’s Burgundy Champagne Buyer Manuel Bronson. After checking out of my hotel I head to the train station to catch the TGV. As the French countryside whizzes by I have time to reflect on my tastings and offer a retrospective look at the best buys of the vintage.

What to buy in 2013:

The First Growths: Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion &
Mouton-Rothschild

-In a vintage where terroir is of utmost importance, all of these storied properties produced very good wines in 2013. They are truly a cut above in terms of concentration and balance and while they are not blockbusters, they remain very true examples of these rarefied terroirs. Most important, pricing is back at accessible levels. At $465 for Lafite and $349 for Margaux, Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild, this is likely to be the most affordable opportunity to acquire these wines for the foreseeable future. The First Growths are increasingly looking like they will be reserved solely for the $500+ market, I can’t really see them going any lower. For those who have been waiting for the firsts to return to the prices of yesteryear, this is the year. Don’t hesitate to put some quality first growths in your cellar at value-oriented prices. I think they’re likely a smart investment as well given strong performance of vintages like 2004 and 2008 in the market.

The Overachievers: Montrose, Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, Pavie Macquin

-These are the wines I believe to be the overachievers in this vintage. Most likely to be upgraded and perform at a level above their attractive price-points.

The 2013 Montrose is a stunning wine and by far the best wine in St Estephe. Situated in a rare sector of the Northern Medoc that did not suffer from many of the rains around harvest, this is a major sleeper and looks to be better than both the 2012 and 2011. This historic estate just keeps improving, I would not be surprised to see Montrose move up towards the pricing of Palmer, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Cos within a few years time. The quality is certainly there. Buy this for under $100 while you still can.

Vieux Chateau Certan’s 2013 is a gorgeous, delicate, stylish affair that embraces the character of the vintage. It’s perfect balance, depth and seamlessness are a testament to this gifted terroir. VCC fans will love this wine. Do not miss it.

The 2013 La Conseillante is similarly beautiful in a feminine style. It takes the soft, delicate character of the vintage and turns it into a strength. Highly perfumed with that classic violet character. A very pretty wine that should drink fantastically in the mid-term.

Pavie Macquin has been on a roll the past decade, often producing attractive wines in difficult vintages. They’ve clearly done it again in 2013 and despite all the accolades they’ve been collecting over the past decade, this remains very affordable. At $53, this is such a great value, better than many wines asking double the price.

Bordeaux Blanc: Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

I’m going to go on record saying that Smith Haut Lafitte has produced their best white ever in this vintage. It’s a truly stunning Bordeaux Blanc with a level of finesse and length that takes them to the next level. For under $100, this is a transcendent wine experience easily on par with many Grand Cru White Burgundies.

Over the past decade Domaine de Chevalier Blanc has established itself as the finest Bordeaux Blanc outside of the Haut Brion/LMHB family. The 2013 is no exception, this is a massively concentrated, powerful wine with a racy acid spine. At under $90, this really delivers and while I believe Smith has bettered them in this vintage, we’re still talking about one of the top four white wines in Bordeaux, rarefied air, not far off the quality of the $600+ Haut Brion Blanc.

Sauternes & Barsac: Doisy Daene, Guiraud

Year after year, Doisy Daene produces one of the finest values in all of Bordeaux. For under $50 this is an extremely well made, exemplary Barsac from a great vintage. Bursting with the pure essence of crème brulee, this is better than many Sauternes at twice the price, a true steal for anyone who enjoys sweet wines.

Chateau Guiraud has gone from strength to strength recently and their 2013 is a knockout. Decadent and spicy with excellent balance. This generally approaches the $100 range, but in 2013 the futures price is under $50. Grab this top vintage, pedigreed name at a discount price while you can.

– Geoff Pattison

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2013 Dispatches – Part 4

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

Wednesday May 14, 2014

This in many ways is the most daunting morning of the trip.  I have a 9am appointment with a Bordeaux negociant to taste through barrel samples from nearly 100 different chateaux.  Though I try to make an effort to visit as many properties as possible, ultimately it’s necessary to have at least one of these sorts of laundry list tastings to get a complete picture of the vintage.  It’s an exercise that tests the limits of your palate and system.  Though I won’t be drinking a drop, the presence of all that alcohol on your palate over a course of a few hours does work its way in and then there’s about a dozen Sauternes to put a sugar rush on top of it all.  Brace yourselves folks, this is intense professional wine tasting at its finest.

Arriving at the negociant’s warehouse I am given a smock and list of wines to be tasted.  Then a parade of half bottle samples begin to arrive at the table, all sent from their respective chateaux within the last 24 hours.  Spending about 30 seconds on each wine, I spend the morning tasting, spitting and taking notes.  The overall impression I get is that in a challenging vintage the top terroirs really won out.  This is the most heterogeneous vintage I have tasted in my career and the difference between the top crus classes and lesser appellations is stark.  But there are some undeniable winners, especially in Blanc and Sauternes.

The standout wines of the tasting are:

2013 Chateau Fleur Cardinale – This has nice ripeness in a more modern style.  Round and fruit driven, the acid is nicely integrated and there’s some good structure here.  A real success for the vintage and a good value at $37.

2013 Chateau La Croix St Georges – Situated directly adjacent to Le Pin, this is has a classic Pomerol nose with some nice spice and complexity.  There is subtle fruit and good balance to the palate with a seamless feel.  This estate can often be inconsistent, but they clearly overachieved in 2013.  A brilliant effort and a relative bargain at $46.

2013 Chateau Le Gay – Some real depth to the nose with a cool, refined floral element and crushed red plum fruit.  The quality of the terroir shines through here with a solid midpalate and fine silky tannins.  Pure class.

2013 Chateau Latour Martillac Blanc – On the rise the past few years this may be their best effort to date.  Exuberant grapefruit and white flowers meld with a distinct flinty gunpowder note.  The 55% Semillon lends some nice flesh to the vintage’s characteristic acid backbone.  Very good and at $33 a real value.

2013 Chateau Doisy Daene – The refined nose is pure crème brulee with spicy botrytis.  Very concentrated with good volume and excellent acid balance, this is a knockout Sauternes and clearly the best value among the sweet wines this year.  Bravo!

2013 Chateau Guiraud – This has a decadent honeyed nose with subtle ginger and pain d’epices.  Spicy on the palate this has a rich, plush texture but with enough acid to keep things lively.  Highly recommended.

With my fingers and tongue stained deep purple I make sure to brush my teeth before heading out to St Emilion for lunch at Chateau Pavie Macquin with Managers Nicolas & Cyrille Thienpont and their team from the chateau.  Nicolas is also the man behind Larcis Ducasse and Beausejour Duffau-Lagarrosse which have been some of the most exciting wines in St Emilion over the past decade.  His 2013s are uniformly excellent for the vintage, capturing fine ripeness, beautiful aromatics and a really distinct sense of each terroir.  Larcis is aromatic and perfumed, Pavie Macquin is beguilingly satin textured with a deep mocha character.  And Beausejour Duffau towers above them all with great structure and broad shoulders as usual.

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Sitting in their newly constructed reception building overlooking the vineyard, lunch is fantastic, highlighted by some ridiculously good Poulet in a rich cream sauce with Fresh Morels. Cyrille asks me whether I would prefer to drink the 2000 or 2001 Pavie Macquin.  While I think the 2001s are lovely wines, I decide to opt for the landmark 2000 vintage.  “Ah…you are Americain” quips Cyrille.  The 2000 is excellent, still very youthful with a massive, plush palate with deep, rich tones of plums, mocha and earth that go on and on.  When the cheese course arrives they decide to pull the cork on the bottle of 2001 Pavie Macquin as well.  Where the 2000 is barely an adolescent, the 2001 is fully mature exploding with complex secondary notes of truffle, tobacco and animale.  It has good concentration, supple texture and excellent balance.  I must admit, today, the 2001 is hands down the better wine.  It will be fun to revisit the 2000 down the road as it matures.

After lunch it’s a full afternoon of visits in the right bank: Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Figeac (with a complete vertical tasting back to 2007), Chateau La Conseillante, Chateau Cheval Blanc and Vieux Chateau Certan.

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Figeac

The standouts of the afternoon:

2013 Chateau Figeac – Cabernet Franc driven as usual with spicy herbal chocolate and berry fruit on the nose.  There’s a luxuriousness to the silky polished palate, acid and tannin are in fine balance.  Fine dark chocolate on the long finish.

2010 Chateau Figeac – An extremely deep, dark nose of cocoa, licorice and blueberries.  The palate is like a skyscraper, broad with excellent fruit and huge concentration.  I am in awe of the scale and power of this wine.  A towering achievement, this is bound to be a legend.

2009 Chateau Figeac – The nose is beautifully ripe and opulent with lots of exuberant mixed berry fruit and espresso.  But there’s lots of structure here too, nearly as big and muscular as the 2010.  Complex flavors of chocolate, cigar box, ripe berries and earth.  A massive, muscular 2009 that will run neck and neck with the 2010 for years.

2013 Chateau La Conseillante – Unmistakably La Conseillante with the classic violets, lots of perfume to this.  There’s good volume and depth, nice freshness with very well integrated acidity.  The fruit shines all the way through from start to finish.  They really did well with the subtle, demure style of the vintage.  A very pretty wine that whispers to you.

2013 Vieux Chateau Certan – Floral and classically delicate.  Wild strawberries on the palate, this is so soft and silky in the mouth.  Like cashmere.  Demure.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as this is all classic VCC, but no other estate captures such a profound sense of grace and delicateness and it’s on full display in the character of the vintage.  Still this is serious old vine stuff and there is a fine mid palate, with density and plenty of ripe fruit.  One of my favorite wines of the vintage.

Tonight’s dinner is with a historic negociant at one of the hottest new restaurants in Bordeaux called L’Univerre.  Strangely enough L’Univerre is actually focused on the wines of Burgundy and the Rhone, but it’s a welcome change of pace in the middle of a week of only Bordeaux.  Everyone I have talked to says it has one of the savviest wine lists in town and indeed, the selection of wines from small, sought after boutique producers is fantastic.  Over the course of a few hours we enjoy Vouette & Sorbee Champagne Blanc d’Argile (Rich and mineral with a decadent toasty, leesy character), 2006 Domaine Fourrier Les Cherbaudes (stunningly pure with beautiful fruit and an extremely complex nose of cherry, raspberry, floral perfume, musk and sous bois) and 2007 Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard (rich and opulent with concentrated blackberry, smoke, earth and espresso tones). After a fun dinner it’s a short walk back to my hotel through Bordeaux’s bustling city center.  Time to get some sleep, tomorrow is my last day of tastings.  This is the home stretch!

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To be continued…

– Geoff Pattison