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

An Introduction to Buying Bordeaux Futures

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If you have any connection to the world of wine, there is little doubt you’ve been hearing all about 2010 Bordeaux Futures. These wines have created a frenzy that falls somewhere between a hungry school of adult piranha and the crowds at a Neiman Marcus Last Call sale. To wit: when it’s over, all the good stuff’s gonna be gone.

But what exactly are Futures? How do you buy them? Why should you care?

To help you understand what all the fuss is about – and to whet your appetite – read on!

What are Futures?

Bordeaux Futures – or any other wine futures (also called en primeur) – are wines that are purchased in advance of physical availability. Every year there are big, fancy tastings all over the world, for all of the world’s top wine regions, usually before the wines have even been bottled. Trained professionals, wine enthusiasts, and an assortment of oenophiles give their opinion on the quality of these wines and the market responds accordingly. When they buy, consumers bank on the fact that the juice will be every bit as good as the experts say it is (or will be). For their leap of faith, buyers are rewarded with discounted prices that can’t be replicated once the bottles hit the shelves.

What to know about buying en primeur

Easier than playing the stock market – and less risky – the way to buy futures is the same way you buy anything else: Lay down a form of payment (cash, check or charge; thank you and have a nice day!). Here at Wally’s, customers can purchase futures from our website and/or over the phone – just like buying any other bottle of wine. The only difference is your en primeur won’t be available to take home for another two years – that’s when the wines are released by the chateaux.

Choosing what to buy requires a little more effort.

The most important decision a futures buyer has to make is: How much am I willing to spend? After that, the next question – inseparable from the first – is: What do I intend to do with this wine? Now more than ever before, some futures are delightfully drinkable young. Others – often from the better-known chateaux – require cellaring before they really show their stuff. Those also tend to be investment wines: The bottles people bequeath to their children or include as part of their assets and retirement funds. Due to a fairly new and seemingly immutable market change, those are also the wines that will be extremely difficult for consumers to obtain.

What you buy, therefore, should depend on your preferred style of wine, available storage options, and your level of thirst for and commitment to first growth (aka Mouton, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion).

What to know about the market

People have been crazy for claret for hundreds of years – that’s nothing new. But what is new is the fervor with which people are going after the top-tier juice from this famous region.

2005 was a record-breaking vintage. It wasn’t just that the wine was that good (which it was); the world economy was booming; wealthy new players got into the game when the staggering points came out, and the savvy business people in Bordeaux knew how to price accordingly. When the 2009’s arrived, the prices were up 30% over 2005. 2010, said to be another “vintage of the century,” will probably see another 30% increase, due to comments like these: “[2005, 2009 and 2010 are] three of the greatest Bordeaux vintages I have tasted in my career” – Robert Parker; “No one in his or her sound mind could say that 2010 is not an excellent vintage for Bordeaux” – James Suckling; “2010s have much higher levels of acidity [than the 2009s] and, in some cases, the tannins taste much drier. This makes the 2010 vintage much more structured, and arguably more refreshing” – Jancis Robinson.

Bordeaux is sur le feu, with absolutely no sign of cooling down.

What this means for you

If you’re looking to break into Bordeaux, you couldn’t ask for a better vintage. The reviews on these wines are amazing, they’re going to be fabulous to drink (or inherit), and they’re almost certain to continue to increase in value as the world economy rebounds and more and more people get the Bordeaux bug.

Remember that the more celebrated the chateau, the higher the prices will be, the lower the allocation, and the harder it is to bring those bottles home. If you want to get into the first growth game, be prepared to pay to play, and know that you’ll have to move quickly.

For the lesser growths (third, fourth, fifth), still expect a 30% jump over the 2009 prices and a return on investment commensurate with market fluctuation. But these wines are generally more affordable for the average person, and a great place for the Bordeaux beginner to cut his or her teeth.

Where and when to buy

Bordeaux is released bit by bit. These “bits” are known as tranches. The first tranche is a litmus test of the market, and often the prix di sortie (the initial release price) is the lowest lucky consumers will see. Once the first tranche sells out, the chateaux release another and another, until all of their futures offerings are gone. With each release, the prices go up and the availability dwindles. How much will the prices increase? That’s always impossible to say, and it’s one of the reasons buying on future is a gamble. Where she stops, nobody knows!

The futures release is the Bordelaise’ Big Dance. To prepare, wine merchants all over the world work for months to negotiate, bargain, beguile, bewitch and cajole chateau proprietors into giving them big allocations at [relatively] small prices. Those of us who’ve been in the wine business for a long time have obviously developed relationships over the years, and usually our practiced charm and honeyed magnetism pays off for our customers. The established guys often get some of the best prices on each tranche and – here’s the small print – if the chateaux oversell their stuff, wine stores like Wally’s are not the ones who get short changed. (Remember the part where I said buying futures is a bit of a gamble?). Is it possible to find lower prices on the internet? Yes. To be honest, it is. Can you be certain that you’re going to get the wine you paid for from these online marketers? Well. It depends on how much of a gamble you want this to be. Everyone wants the best price, but sometimes cheap is expensive…

The bottom line

Do your homework, ask questions, taste a few bottles from the different regions within the Bordeaux AOC. Figure out your preferred wine style and how long you’re willing to sit on something (and whether or not you have the proper conditions to hold onto it for the 20+ years some bottles require to be at their best). Research your merchant, ask about their track record (in our 30-year history, we’ve never lost a bottle). Give us a call; we’re happy to help answer any questions you have.

And once you make a decision – if you want to take advantage of the en primeur discounts – be prepared to move fast. The market is thirsty, and there is only so much juice to meet the demand.