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

Christian’s Bordeaux Blog 2012: Part 2

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Wally's In Bordeaux: 2011 Vintage
Saturday March 17th and Sunday March 18th

Waking up in Bordeaux on a Saturday morning could have been really dreary with nothing having been planned, but our friend had a surprise for all of us in store. He said, “Pack a bag, we are going to Cap Ferret for the weekend!” Yipee!! It’s the Bordeaux version of Montecito or Martha’s Vineyard, and something needed to recharge the batteries before a new week of heavy tasting. We went with friends to this quaint seaside village to act like real Frenchmen – shopping for our daily meals, and taking walks along its world-famous sand dunes. We also drank some spectacular bottles, highlighted by one of the best bottles I have had in a long time, 1990 Chateau Petrus. This wine had so many layers, that at the last sip you felt it was just starting to open up. We also had an amazing 2000 Trotanoy, and a 2003 Pontet Cantet,  just to name a few. If you ever get a chance to visit Cap Ferret, I highly recommend it. It’s a secret place where you can get lost and found at the same time.

We returned to Bordeaux Sunday evening to finally eat the pibales (live eels from the Bordeaux river). The pibales were an amazing combo with the yummy 2001 Chateau Haut Brion, and Lafite Rothschild (2001 is an underestimated vintage, one that is elegant and drinks well early with precise flavors and polished tannins).

Monday March 19th

On the road early to meet my dear Ivanhoe, who is taking us to our first appointment in the right bank, Chateau Clinet at 9am. This is a great way to start the day. It’s always great spending time with M. Laborde, as he has brought such great energy and life to the property – and is back now and better than ever. We have the opportunity to taste the three current vintages: the 100-point 2009, the 2010 (BUY), and the 2011. The 2011 wines are lighter than the 2009s and 2010s, but are still all there. The 2011 provides plenty of Clinet character with a more delicate tannic structure.

Throughout the day we see and taste over a hundred wines. Below are a few of my highlights from the day:

2011 Chateau L’ Eglise Clinet
2011 Larcis Ducasse
2011 Pavie Macquin
2011 Beausejour Duffau
2011 Vieux Chateau Certan
2011 Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere
2011 Clos Marsallete
2011 Soliel
2011 d’ Aiguihle
2011 Clos d’ L’ Oratoire
2011 La Mondotte
2011 Angelus
2011 Troplong Mondot
2011 Chapelle d’ Ausone
2011 Ausone
2011 Figeac
2011 Petit Cheval
2011 Cheval Blanc

It’s Lunch time and the opportunity to dine with Comte Stephan von Neipperg and his lovely wife, Sigweis, owners of Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere. We have a delicious veal dish with the first morels of the season (my favorite) and fresh vegetables grown in the family’s garden. We drank three interesting bottles:

2003 d’ Aiguilhe – this wine was nicely balanced and rich.
2000 Canon La Gaffeliere
(BUY) – drinking really well; seamless with a silky plushness that will continue to age for another couple decades,  and the
2001 La Mondotte (BUY) – one of my favorite under the radar vintages, as there are so many levels with this 2001. Terroir, terroir, terroir.

After a much needed coffee, I drag myself away from the table for the second half of the day. Our last stop of the day is at Chateau Troplong Mondot, where we meet up with one of the owners, the charming Xavier Paneriete. He shows us all of the new work he has been doing at the Chateau including a small exclusive B&B – a perfect haven if you want a great getaway in the vineyards of St. Emilion.

We taste the 2011 Troplong Mondot; wow, this is fantastic wine no matter what vintage it happens to be. The wine is deep, dark, and almost opaque. There are tons of black fruit, currant, and dark chocolate flavors all wrapped up in a suave silky texture with a finish that goes on and on. This wine is truly one of the stars of the vintage.

We end the day being hosted by Danielle and Florence Cathiard, at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. I know it must be hard to believe after the amazing score on 2009  Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte rouge, but the 2011 actually stands up to its slightly older brother, the 2009. The wine is pure Graves with it’s earthy mineral notes, cedar, coffee wild berries and that tell tale earthy grip – well done.  I also found the white to be delicious, with notes of pink grapefruit, honey suckle, and wet earth notes. The wine has a lot of richness, viscosity and fresh and long finish.

Finally, for dinner we prepare a simple roast chicken dish, with an interesting bottle of 1999 Smith Haut Lafitte blanc, a bottle of 2000 Smith Haut Lafitte, and finally, a bottle from the most-often ignored mono cepage area of Burgundy: Domine Sylvin Cathiard’s  2000 Chambertin, made by one of Daniele’s family members. I almost forgot how much I love Burgundy over these past days!

Christian’s Final Dispatch ’09 Bordeaux Tasting Trip

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Wally's Trip to Taste 2009 Bordeaux

This is the last dispatch from our trip to Bordeaux. Stay tuned as more wines become available for pre-arrival purchase. Our up-to-the-minute selection is always available at our 2009 Bordeaux page.

Wally’s blog will be publishing the comments and tasting notes of co-owner and Bordeaux aficionado Christian Navarro as he travels throughout Bordeaux tasting the 2009s and visiting with friends. Be sure to follow him on his twitter for even more commentary and notes from the trip.

Tuesday April 13th
Today thankfully is more of a leisurely pace. It is a welcome break from the grind of the days before. First up, Chateau Palmer. This has always been one of my favorite Chateaux in Bordeaux. Having spent much time with one of the owners, James Sichel, and the Director General Thomas Duroux at the Surf & Turf dinner the night before, both Geoff and I were extremely excited about this particular visit. Upon arrival we were greeted by the communications director Bernard de Laage. The first wine up was the 2009 Alter Ego. Shocking. The color is very dark, a rich, deep red with purple edges. On the nose I found notes of scorched earth, spice and ripe red fruits. The finish is very long and creamy, which must have to do with the large proportion of Merlot in the blend. In fact the blend is 51% Merlot and 49% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ahhh, now the Grand Vin. This Palmer is unlike any other Palmer from my career. Dark, almost a black purple. On the nose I find it dense, yielding slight nuances of Briar, dried herbs along with sweet blackberry pie. That said, there is a tight-wound spring-like character that makes you feel as though there is going to be a rapid uncoiling that will explode in your mouth. I mention to Thomas and Bernard that looking back at my historical notes this wine has many similarities to the legendary 1961, except denser. If this turns out to be true, we have one of the world’s greatest wines before us.

Moving back up to St Julien, we stopped off to see Ms. Lilian Barton Sartorious, the Dame numero uno of the Barton group. We are really starting to see a thread running through the top wine estates. The Second wines rule. And they rule at a fraction of the price. The Langoa Barton is no exception– dark red with purple edges, this wine has an amazing amount of fruit for a Langoa and a certian suaveness that I usually don’t associate with Langoa. Defiantely St Julien. And very tasty.

The Leoville Barton is just a treat to drink. Year in and year out, this wine always delivers bang for your buck. On the approach this wine has a more dynamic quality than the Langoa, with powerful black currant and earth aromas leaping from the glass. On the palate, the wine is its typical large-scaled delicious delight with this superfine, rich core of fruit. It is scandalously long on the finish, with waves of sweet ripe tannins rounding out everything in one tight package. This is something you will definitely need to have in your cellar.

Chateau Pichon Lalande is my friend Jack’s favorite stop. We arrive to be greeted by the elegant and very knowledgeable director general Gildas d’Olleone. He is noticeably upbeat and happy. When I ask him about his mood he tells me “taste for yourself and you will see why.” The first wine he pours is the smallest wine of the family, Chateau La Bernadotte, their 3rd wine if you will. This is yummy stuff. Bright fruit with a round flavorful finish. The best wine from Bernadotte to date. Now we taste the Comtesse, obviously much more serious than the previous wine. Dark, tight and designed for the long haul. Finally, we get to the Pichon Comtesse Lalande. This wine is a show stopper. It is a high Cabernet Sauvignon vintage with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. I say to Gildas that this wine really reminds me of the great 1996. He says in fact, that is exactly what he is thinking. He rings down to the winemaker Thomas, who runs up with a bottle of the 1996. We pop the cork and yes there are many similarities. The large percentage of Cabernet shows through on the ’96 as well. Obviously the ’96 is all put together, but I think ultimately the ’09 will surpass the ’96.

Tonight’s dinner was at Chateau Talbot with the owners the Cordier family. This is a gorgeous Chateau filled with 19th and 18th century antiques and art. The dinner was very interesting– we had lampois (Bordeaux eel), Spring Pauillac lamb and asperge all coming from the region. I believe that this was the first all-Bordelais meal we had the entire trip. The wines were perfect with the meal. The 2000 and 1996 were drinking surprisingly well.

Wednesday April 14th
9:00am Chateau Calon Segur. This morning we were lucky to have an audience with Madam Gascaudon, the Grand Dame of St. Estephe. She has an amazing story: after her husband’s death, she took over the property with no experience and not only maintained the quality level but surpassed what her husband achieved. Her 2009 is another excellent example of the high quality that was produced from St. Estephe in this vintage. I believe Pauillac, and St. Estephe may be the regions with the highest quality. The 2009 is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon which is very high for this estate. The color is a classic red with purple edges, notes of dusty sweet cherries on the nose which follow on the palate. The finish is long and broad. The structure is there but you just can’t feel it yet.

I took the gang back over to Pessac to have lunch with Daniel and Florence Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte at their home just across from their hotel, Sources de Caudalie. They cooked an amazing Moroccan couscous and chicken dish with great spices. They served their new Rose with the course and it went perfectly. They also shared their 2003 and 2000. As good as these wines are, it’s hard to get my mind off what I feel is there best effort ever, the 2009. I think this vintage will go down in the annals of Smith Haut Lafitte as their greatest ever.

Tonight’s dinner is being hosted by FOW (Friend of Wally’s) Bruno Borie at what I feel is the best property in St Julien, Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. Bruno loves cooking and is an accomplished chef. Bruno has this great eat-in, state-of-the-art kitchen where everyone can participate in cooking. This is always a highlight of the trip. I especially liked the white asparagus wrapped in proscuitto and the rotisserie Veal was so tender and moist. Then the avalanche of wine came down on us! We had a complete vertical from 2009 through 1995 (Yes I said 2009.) The ’09 is already so complete, we actually enjoyed drinking it at dinner. The 2008 was shaping up nicely and well deserving of Parker’s high praise. I did however notice that the 2000s I have been tasting are coming around sooner that I anticipated. They are showing more roundness and complete qualities than I last remember. Bruno’s wines were no different. He noted that 2000 will not be as long-aging as some other vintages in recent years. I asked him what he thought the life of his 2000 would be, causing him to shoot back with a very serious face and “no more than 40 or 50 years I would think.” I just hope I live long enough to see if he’s right. From all of the wines, the one that was the biggest surprise was the 2007. Beautiful perfume nose, rich sweet fruit on the palate, and a long finish. This is a wine I will definitely be keeping my eyes on.

Thursday April 15th
9:30am Headed back to the right bank to spend the day tasting and touring the Moueix properties. We are met at the offices by my friend and newlywed Edouard Moueix. He invites us back to his office were we taste all of their 2009’s including Petrus, Hossana, Trotanoy, Certan de May, Magdelaine, Bel Air, Latour a Pomerol, La Fleur Petrus, and last but not least, Providence. It is truly amazing how this family is able to make so many great wines year in and year out. I found the Petrus to be a candidate for wine of the vintage. The wine is simply an amazing combination of texture and density that are unparalleled even in this vintage. The Hossana is utterly fantastic, deep with a mocha-java quality that will age for a very long time. Trotanoy may actually rival Petrus this vintage. I believe the Trot may have even more power. The Certan de May, although directly across the street from VCC, is completely opposite in style from its neighbor. The Certan is very large in scale and more backward than many of the 2009’s tasted on this trip. Delicious, but massive. The Providence is a walk on the wild side– rich and opulent, this is more in the newer style of Pomerol. The balance is amazing. The wine to watch is the Chateau Bel Air. The St. Emilion’s vineyards are perfectly situated in the heart of the best spots of the region. The Moueix family is putting so much effort and money in this place it will be a true star in short order. The ’09 sure puts them on the fast track. The incredible amounts of fruit, plush texture and the most important component, balance. A super effort.

12:30pm For lunch we roll in to what may be the hottest property in Pomerol, Chateau Providence. A small property with a gorgeous house. The lunch is from the outside grill. We had one of the best cote de boeufs I can remember along with two of my favorite wines from magnum– 1995 Chateau Bel Air and 2000 Chateau Hossana. With the 2000 Hossana, my glass seemed to empty every five minutes. I couldn’t get enough.

Dinner Tonight is our last dinner in Bordeaux and is being hosted by Alfred Tesseron and his niece Melanie at their Chateau Pontet Canet. I get a chance to re-try the 2009 and I find it better than the first time. The wines are changing so much at the moment. At dinner, Alfred serves a white Burgundy, a 2006 Camille Giroud Chassagne Montrachet. It is so refreshing to taste Chardonnay! For the reds, he serves a slew of 2001’s – Bon Pasteur, Leoville Las Cases, Pontet Canet, and Haut Brion. 2001 is overlooked by many, but it is a vintage I find really delicious and affordable. Worthy of my cellar.

Friday April 16th
Today we head off to Ville Franche for a few days R&R. It is always important to take a small break after tasting so many wines!

Does The 2009 Ausone Make Christian Cry?

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Wally's Tastes 2009 Bordeaux

Wally’s blog will be publishing the comments and tasting notes of co-owner and Bordeaux aficionado Christian Navarro as he travels throughout Bordeaux tasting the 2009s and visiting with friends. Be sure to follow him on his twitter for even more commentary and notes from the trip.

Monday April 12th
10:30am Chateau Pavie is a magnificent estate nestled up against the plateau de St. Emilion which perhaps (along with Ausone) has arguably the best vineyard sites in the region. For decades the chateau languished in disrepair, but Gerard and Chantal Perse have completely modernized it and really elevated the name of this property over the last ten years. It’s no secret that they frequently garner many of the top scores year after year from Parker and many other critics. While I think they’ve made some very good wines over the past decade, most notably the transcendent 2000, this is a property that’s known for a very modern, polished style of winemaking that often pursues ripeness and hedonism over balance and a sense of terroir. Knowing the style of the house and having heard about right bank Merlot coming in with an average alcohol of over 15% in 2009, I head into the tasting room like a dog being dragged to the vet. “Here we go” says Geoff as we brace ourselves for the lineup of fruit bombs…

Okay, I have to say I’m shocked! Tasting through the wines we found some wildly different highs and lows but not at all what we expected. Monbousquet is a disappointment, surprisingly thin and brittle, it has some sweetness on the nose but doesn’t follow through on the palate. There’s a huge hole in the middle of this wine. Imagine that you’re driving down the Wilshire corridor and hit a deep pothole. This is an example of a wine that is just plain over-extracted. 2009 Pavie however is surprisingly balanced and restrained. Henrique Da Costa states the reason for this is the high quality of the Cabernets in the blend– 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. These minority varietals give it a deftness coupled with knockout power reminiscent of Sugar Ray Leonard.

11:30am Chateau La Conseillante is right on the border of St. Emilion on the Pomerol side overlooking Cheval Blanc. This has always been a true wine lover’s property and La Conseillante has always been a wine of delicacy and elegance. 2009 is no different. This year’s blend is 81% Merlot, 19% Cab Franc aged in 100% new oak. The wine is translucent in color with a sweet ripe red cherry tone. On the finish the wine is silky and long with an essence of violets. Jean Michel Laporte (winemaker) states this is a true classic style for La Conseillante, in fact he says this 2009 may be a modern day rival to the legendary 1989.

12:00pm We just mozy down the dirt road to Chateau Cheval Blanc. If there were First Growth properties in St. Emilion, this would surely be one of them. Geoff and I found the wines spectacular. First, they introduced us to a wine they are overseeing from a property just to the west named Chateau Latour du Pin. Pierre Lurton, the director of both Cheval and Chateau d’Yquem, states “this is a small property of our friend who we are happy to help.” The wine delivers everything one could expect for a $30 St. Emilion. It exhibits excellent sweetness and a dusty, ripe finish. Next we taste the Petite Cheval, their second wine. The Petite is a blend with more than 65% Cabernet Franc, the remainder being Merlot. This wine is amazingly dark and concentrated. I found it so expressive on the nose that I would never peg it for a second. This wine could stand toe-to-toe with the best wines of St. Emilion. We finally get to the ‘Big Boy’, the Grand Vin Cheval. The color is even darker than the Petite with aromas of dried herbs, black cherries and mocha leaping from the glass. Geoff and I both say “ooohh.” On the palate, this wine is similar to its aromas with the plushness of a chocolate mink stole. This wine reminds me of the 1990 except with more freshness and brighter acidity. Surely one of the superstars of the vintage.

2:00pm During a simple lunch on the square of St. Emilion we receive a terrific phone call from the Vaultier family. Luckily, their plans had changed: they would be at the Chateau and delighted to greet us. We immediately drop our forks and make a mad dash up the hill to Chateau Ausone. It’s always magical to visit this tiny historic property tucked away on a hillside just down the road from the town center in St. Emilion. The chateau is currently undergoing some minor renovations, which is in stark contrast to the ancient caves and medieval ruins that make up most of the property. The first wine is Chateau Fonbel, a wine we have historically been very successful with. And the 2009 will be no exception. This wine is truly an over-achiever. The dark, rich, reddish color indicates what’s coming. On the palate, there are notes of sweet currants and a dusty, long finish. Surely a great buy at twenty bucks. The next wine is Ausone’s second wine, Chapelle d’Ausone, which has a drawing on the label from the small Chapel they have on the property just above the Chateau. The wine is very dark, almost black. The nose on this sample is a little reserved but has slight notes of mineral and black currant. The flavors are full, with a core of black fruit. The wine is more precise than broad. Great structure but unfortunately only 6-8000 bottles produced. Next, the main event! I couldn’t wait to taste the Ausone. I wanted to know what made James Suckling cry. Was it the quality, the scarcity or the price. This 2009 blend is 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot. Mr. Alain Vaulthier states that the wine is a whopping 15% alcohol. The color is a black opaque purple. The nose is brooding, with dried herbs and briar with layers of black fruits and newly tanned leather. On the palate the wine is so dense that it takes us twenty minutes of swirling to start to pull out its flavors. Amazing amounts of cassis, wet stone and spice coat my palate. Although the wine has richness, I would say it is extremely focused yet broad. The finish stays with me all the way down the driveway. I can see what brought Jim to tears. It appears that it is truly all three. This will be a wine for the ages. I will just keep my tears in private…

3:00pm Vieux Chateau Certan. This is always one of my favorite stops, an estate that translates the soil without compromise or ego. Their 2009 is the perfect expression of Pomerol. This wine has a deep red hue and purple edges. Pure and ripe on the palate no appearance of extraction. It whispers and sings like a world-class tenor. I Love This Wine. A blend of 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon.

4:00pm Chateau Canon is the last winery of the day. This is another one of the beautiful estates owned by the Wertheimer family and run by our friend John Kolasa. This wine was much deeper in tone than any other barrel sample I have experienced from Canon with aromas of raspberries, spicy nutmeg and lanolin. The weight and power of this wine is commendable. The best effort of recent memory. This shows that hard work in the vineyard coupled with vision can make magic!

7:00pm Now on to the long journey back to the Medoc where we will be staying at the best hotel in the area, Cordeillian Bages, owned by the Cazes family who also own Chateau Lynch Bages. Tonight is also the when my partner Steve Wallace arrives. We have just enough time to get checked in and freshened up before heading out to the main event, Wally’s annual Surf and Turf dinner for Steve’s birthday. Every year we fly in 100 kilos of live Maine Lobsters and 100 pounds of Prime, dry-aged Kansas City steaks and host a Birthday Party the vignerons of Bordeaux never forget. This party is literally a who’s-who of the Bordeaux elite. We take over one of the great restaurants in the region, Le Restaurant Le St Julien, owned by the larger than life Claude Broussard. With a band playing American classics– from the Eagles to the Beach Boys– its like a beach party in Bordeaux. We finally wrap up around 3:00am, with cigars and Tesseron 29 Cognac on the veranda.

Christian’s next installment will be his last from the trip, so stay tuned!

’09 Cos D’Estournel: A Paradigm Shift In Bordeaux

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Wally's Tastes 2009 Bordeaux Blog

Wally’s blog will be publishing the comments and tasting notes of co-owner and Bordeaux aficionado Christian Navarro as he travels throughout Bordeaux tasting the 2009s and visiting with friends. Be sure to follow him on his twitter for even more commentary and notes from the trip.

Friday April 9th
9:30am Our first stop of the day is perhaps the most complete wine estate on the planet, Chateau Margaux. The sheer majesty of the Chateau and perfectly manicured grounds is always jaw dropping. Tasting with Margaux’s director Paul Pontallier is like having a meeting with the Pope. He says he’s never seen a vintage anything like 2009. He remarks that you would have to think of a hypothetical blend of the plushness of 1990 and the power and concentration of 2005. But 2009 has even more depth than either. Only 35% of the production went into the grand vin this year, a shockingly strict selection that Paul says was fairly easy as they only put the oldest, best parcels into Chateau Margaux. It’s getting hard to think of Pavillon Rouge as a second wine, it’s the best ever in 2009 showing more elegance and richness than many grand vins in the appellation and even some lesser vintages of Chateau Margaux. Because the selection was so strict this year, many of the barrels that would normally go into Margaux were added to Pavillon Rouge. I highly recommend adding some of this to your cellar. Now we move on to the grand vin which is flat out spectacular. The blend is almost 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and opens with a nose of refined red fruit, hints of minerals and pain grille. The wine is incredibly silky and pillowy on the palate. It’s rich and concentrated but extraordinarily delicate, almost like floating on air. While there is substantial structure on the end, the tannins are ripe and caressing. It’s a pure embodiment of grace and femininity. If Latour is the king of the vintage, this is the queen. Superb.

As we taste through the wines, owner Corinne Mentzenopoulos joins us with her adorable beagle Zorba in tow. I’ve know Corinne for a long time and it’s a pleasure to spend some time with her catching up discussing the past, present and future of Chateau Margaux. One interesting topic that came up is the fact they had so many high quality grapes this year there might be a chance of a third wine from Margaux for the first time. I made the suggestion that it should be named Margaux de Margaux.

10:45am Heading up the Medoc we stop at Chateau Talbot in St. Julien. Some of you may have some large format Talbot in your cellars from our offering last year that came straight from the property’s library. Great bottles of 1945, ’50, ’52, and ’55 with impeccable provenance. This is a historic house and Geoff and I can’t wait to see what they’ve done in ’09. We’re greeted by the winemaker who tastes us on a very good ’09 Talbot, dark and spicy on nose with great freshness and a strong tannic backbone. A remarkable find is Talbot’s 2009 Caillou Blanc. This delicious white has a fresh nose full of mineral and lemon zest that is broad on the palate with nice volume and a powerful long finish. This will be relatively inexpensive and Geoff notes that it is perhaps the best value white we’ve tasted outside of Graves. Many of you may recognize this as it is the white wine that Chanel serves at all of their events.

11:15am We now head down the road to see our old friend Bruno Borie at Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou who is one of the most charming bon vivants you will ever meet. Upon arrival we’re treated to a particularly enthusiastic tour of the chateau by the Maitre d’Chai who speaks not a lick of English, but somehow we get the gist nonetheless. This is always one of the coolest stops in Bordeaux as this medieval-looking chateau houses a great collection of modern art including a number of original street pieces by Keith Haring that line the tasting room walls. Meeting up with Bruno, we taste through his lineup of wines, standouts include the amazingly dense and concentrated 2009 Ducru Beaucaillou as well as Chateau Fourcas Borie, a great new Listrac-Medoc property that Bruno is deservedly proud of. This will come in around $30 and is full of ripe, sexy red fruit with nice weight and ripe tannin. We were able to acquire some of the equally enthralling 2008 which will be available soon and offers serious value.

Continuing up the Medoc we stop in the small village of Bages for a much needed casual lunch at one of our favorite spots, Café Lavinal . We order up some foie gras and poulet frites and a few glasses of 2000 Chateau Cordeillan Bages. Geoff, apparently feeling adventurous, chooses a tripe sausage salad, something you definitely don’t see too often in L.A. This charming brasserie is at the center of a newly constructed town square that Lynch Bages’ visionary proprietor, Jean Michel Cazes, has created in Pauillac next to the excellent Hotel Cordeillan Bages. This charming village also includes a great boulangerie and the Bages Bazaar which houses a fine wine shop and a clothing boutique. If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux, this is one of the best places to stay and an easy base for exploring the Medoc. After a quick café, we’re back in the car heading back up to St. Estephe.

2:00pm Chateau Cos d’Estournel. We have seen this property go through so many changes over the last few years. Jean Guillaume Prats has guided this storied estate into the 21st century with mastery. The massive new winery is a jaw-dropping modern marvel and all of the hard work and investment of the past eight years is clearly evident in their watershed 2009 grand vin. This wine is absolutely stunning: the most concentrated Bordeaux of the modern era. It sports an extremely deep, ripe, sweet crème de cassis nose and floods your palate with gobs of impossibly rich, thick, concentrated fruit. The viscosity of this wine is shocking and at a level I never imagined could be possible in Bordeaux. If you were to compare this wine to an athlete I’d put this somewhere between of a combination of Mike Tyson and Carl Lewis, incredible power and nimble raciness. Maybe a bit more Tyson, the power is amazing… This represents a true paradigm shift and makes a bold statement. Do not underestimate the significance of this wine, it will go down in history as a true game changer in St. Estephe. Geoff and I predict this will probably flirt with a perfect score when Robert Parker releases his report at the end of the month.

3:00pm Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste is an old favorite owned by Xavier Borie brother of Bruno. This Chateau has produced some top flight wines over the years in vintages such as 1982, 1985 and 1990. This 2009 definitely belongs in the pantheon with those and is all about Pauillac terroir. While many of the wines we’ve tasted in the Medoc impress with massive power and scale, this is a wine that is all about balance and purity of expression. It’s understated and sublime, perhaps the best modern vintage from this estate.

We now head back to Chateau Rauzan Segla where we’ll have dinner with John Kolasa, the genius Director of both Chateau Rauzan Segla and Chateau Canon in St Emilion. John first gained fame as the Director General of Chateau Latour where he remained for over two decades overseeing many of their greatest postwar successes. Looking for a change of pace he went to the Werthheimer family (owners of the Chanel Group) and offered to do the same for Canon and Rauzan as he did for Latour. They of course said yes and the rest is history. Despite his departure from Latour, he remains a close friend of Monsieur Pinault and still advises him from time to time. The dinner is a standout, the main course is an amazing duck confit potato and Truffe noir cake. It sort of reminded me of a French rendition of Shepherd’s pie but with so much more going on. Pure decadence.

It’s funny, in Bordeaux they always like to serve everything blind and essentially make you sing for your supper by guessing the wines. The first wine is revealed to be the 1986 Rauzan Segla, very flavorful with an elegant Margaux delicateness. The show stopper is the 1959 Chateau Canon from magnum. This wine is incredible and bears all the hallmarks of its legendary vintage. Still completely fresh with tons of vigor and richness. This really shows what this property can accomplish. Sometimes wines are so delicate and elegant I believe that they sometimes get missed by the press until 20-30 years later. The finale is a delicious bottle of Sauternes. After many guesses it is revealed to be 1981 Chateau d’Yquem. Along with Krug Champagne, probably the greatest wine of the vintage. This turns out to be even more special as it happens to be the birth year wine of our own Geoff Pattison. After dinner, we retire to the chateau’s game room where an entertaining game of French Billiards brings this amazing first week to a close. Though it’s a valiant effort, Geoff is no match for my considerable three-ball skills. Next week we’ll head to the right bank to see if Pomerol and St. Emilion can match the stunning achievements of their left bank neighbors. Until then…

“Wines of Unprecedented Ripeness, Power and Integration”

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Wallys Tastes 2009 Bordeaux Part 3

Wally’s blog will be publishing the comments and tasting notes of co-owner and Bordeaux aficionado Christian Navarro as he travels throughout Bordeaux tasting the 2009s and visiting with friends. Be sure to follow him on his twitter for even more commentary and notes from the trip.

Thursday April 8th
9:00am Today we start at the iconic Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The Chateau is undergoing some significant construction and renovation at the moment but we’re able to find our way to the tasting room and are presented with 2009 Carruades, Duhart Milon and Lafite Rothschild. We find the wines amazing as expected. Carruades has a lot of the character of Lafite’s terroir with plenty of graphite and gravel. Duhart Milon is a standout value in this vintage after many years of continuous improvement. The texture is pure silk and finishes with a sublime smoky mineral quality. Lafite clearly displays its trademark elegance and finesse. It comes across as pure and untouched. Charles Chevalier the master architect of the Rothschild group remarks that he has not seen a more complete wine at this stage since 1996 but says 2009 is so much better. It’s so great because it was so natural and completely made in the vineyard.

10:00am Now we are just down the road (D2) at Chateau Mouton Rothschild where we taste through a knockout range of 09s. 2009 Clerc Milon is a revelation. It’s incredibly big and assertive but with a seductive plushness at the same time. Undoubtedly the best Clerc Milon since 1986 and definitely a wine to buy. 2009 Mouton continues the streak of amazing first growths. It’s rich deep polished nose shows hints of Eucalyptus and mint and it comes across plush on the palate with great freshness and structure. Herve says it’s definitely the best Mouton since 1982 and 1986, their two most iconic modern vintages, but says we may need to look back to the 40’s to find a wine with such power and richness.

At this point I must be starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s impossible not to. Chateau after chateau we are seeing wines of unprecedented ripeness, power and integration.

11:00am We have just arrived to visit our dear friend Alfred Tesseron’s estate with the gifted heir apparent Melanie Tesseron. After tasting the two first growths next to Pontet Canet we couldn’t help thinking that Pontet Canet is now producing wine so close to first growth quality one wonders what might happen if they were to update the Bordeaux classification system today. Wait, hold on, stop the presses. This wine is profound. The nose is sweet, thick and concentrated with crème de cassis and hints of blackberry leaf. It washes over your palate with waves of thick, viscous, impossibly rich seductive fruit. The texture of the wine is absolutely incredible. Despite its massive weight it comes across as completely balanced, like pure velvet. It’s all wrapped up with a solid structured long finish. This is the embodiment of the classic expression “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Do not miss 2009 Pontet Canet, this is outrageously good and defintely one of the top wines of the vintage.

11:45am We continue in Pauillac with a stop at Chateau Lynch Bages (unannounced) to see our friend Jean-Charles Cazes. When I see I am relieved he actually remembers me. It’s no small feat given he has seen more than 1500 people this past week. I’m not sure he recognizes his own image in the mirror today. The hits just keep on coming as their 09 lineup is impressive as well. 2009 Ormes de Pez is the greatest ever from this estate boasting a serious broad structure full of power. A truly great St Estephe and a serious value to watch for. The 2009 Lynch Bages is their best since 1989, probably better. It’s a powerful expression of Pauillac with sweet rich dark cassis fruit and excellent definition. There’s more tannin here than any other modern vintage of Lynch Bages, but the wine is so seamless you hardly notice it. This is so inviting and ready to go that you almost want to drink a glass today.

12:15pm We are now on our way to visit Chateau Du Tertre for a tasting and lunch with our good friend Alexander Von Beek who manages both Chateau Giscours and Chateau du Tertre. Tasting the 09 Du Tertre and Giscours is a pleasure. Tucked away in a serene pocket at the top of the Margaux appellation, Du Tertre is feminine, precise, and balanced. The essence of Margaux. More complete is the Giscours which is the best young wine I’ve ever tasted from this estate. Lunch is an elegant and sumptuous dining experience where we enjoy Spring Rack of Lamb with a coconut and lentils accompanied by 2003 and 1982 Du Tertre, as well as the powerful 2000 Giscours. The terrific wine and food only tell part of the story. Much to my surprise the owner Eric Jelgersma is there. An amazing man of strength, courage and vision. The Chateau is filled with all of the great 17th century master artists rivaling the great 2009 vintage for greatness. An afternoon of inspiring conversation makes this lunch end too soon.

3:00pm Chateau Malescot St Exupery. It’s always a joy visiting with Jean Luc Zuger who has a no BS brass tacks style about him where the truth always comes through. This 2009 is ripe, floral, with an incredible viscosity and velvety texture. Again this is an embarassment of riches again and again I am saying the best ever. This is just one of those years I guess.

5:00pm Now off to taste 50 wines at a notable negociant where we discover some knockout values. The discovery of the tasting is the outstanding 2006 Chateau Frontenac which offers plenty of classic terroir driven Bordeaux character and will sell for only $10.99 when it hits the shelf. It’s the perfect house wine to buy by the case. The 2006 Chateau Courreges is just as good as our best selling 2005, bursting with lively fruit and the 2006 Chateau Lusteauneuf is full of aromatic cassis and smoke giving the impression of a wine twice its price of $24.99. The good news is that unlike the 2009s these great value 06s are all ready to ship now and will be available at Wally’s within a month or so.

6:00pm Tonight we have dinner at locals’ favorite restaurant La Gravelier in the center of Bordeaux with a top negociant. This is a great restaurant that does excellent French/Asian fusion dishes. After a few bottles of great wine and some lively conversation we’re headed back to Rauzan Segla to catch some zzz’s before heading out to taste the last remaining first growth at Chateau Margaux tomorrow morning.

Is 2009 Latour The Wine To Beat?

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Wally's Tastes 2009 Bordeaux Part 2

Wally’s blog will be publishing the comments and tasting notes of co-owner and Bordeaux aficionado Christian Navarro as he travels throughout Bordeaux tasting the 2009s and visiting with friends. Be sure to follow him on his twitter for even more commentary and notes from the trip.

Wednesday April 7th
Today is our first day in the Medoc where early reports are saying we’ll find many of the best wines of the vintage. We’ll be visiting St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux which should give us a good overall glimpse of the left bank by day’s end. We first make a quick stop to drop off our bags at Chateau Rauzan Segla where our good friends the Werthimeimers have generously offered to host us. This is an historically outstanding Margaux which has made a great resurgence over the past several years under the masterful guidance of Director John Kolasa.

Back in the car we quickly head to our first appointment of the day at Chateau Montrose. We’ll be tasting with legendary proprietor Jean Bernard Delmas and winemaker Nicholas Glumeneau, who recently brought the house down at Wally’s annual Fete du Bordeaux with a stunning Operatic performance. There’s no doubt that the 2009 Montrose is one of the finest young wines ever for this estate. What a way to start off the day! Incredibly rich texture and pure rocky St Estephe terroir. Though it seems silky and inviting, Nicholas informs us that the tannin levels are about 10% higher that the monstrously tannic 2005. This wine will last for 50+ years but almost tastes like you could drink it today! Incredible. The legendary Jean Delmas, who oversaw Haut Brion for decades, compares 2009 to legendary vintages suc as 1989 and 1961. Though even he is at a loss to say that he’s ever seen anything quite like it.

Next we head down to Pauillac to taste at Chateau Latour with the dynamic director/winemaker Frederic Engerer. Despite all of the great wines we’ve had so far, we’re immediately blown away. Geoff commented that he thinks it might be the wine of the vintage, I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best barrel sample I’ve ever tasted in my 20+ years in the business. It’s massive, exalting, opulent, completely balanced. Pure luxury in a glass. Though we’re only a few days into the trip, this may be the horse to beat.

These wines are so amazing you have to wonder if this is what it was like for wine merchants to come taste legendary vintages such as 1982 and 1961 en primeur.

Now back to Margaux to taste and have lunch at Chateau Lascombes. Ever energetic Director Generale Dominique Befeve first treats us to a tasting of the component varietals of 2009 Lascombes and tasting pure 100% 2009 Margaux Cabernet Sauvignon is a revelation. You can see where the backbone of these superb left bank wines comes from. The Cabernet is ripe, defined and exceptional. The final blend is great. Lascombes has really made a great wine in their signature style here. Round, plush, opulent and full of fruit. Afterwards we are treated to a wonderful lunch accompanied by 2006 Chateau Lascombes which is showing superbly. This is a wine to buy now that offers plenty of open-knit fruit.

Now we’re off to St Julien to visit our good friend Patrick Maroteaux of Branaire Ducru. The 2009 is incredibly balanced and pure. Patrick says it was basically a gift from nature. They’re making great strides at this estate and it seems the 2009 is a culmination of a string of good vintages such as 2005 and 2006.

Dinner with winemaker Jean Rene Matrignon at Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron is the perfect end to a day of running up and down the Medoc. Jean Rene is generous enough to offer up 2000 and 1989 Pichon Baron as well as some sublime dessert wines in the legendary 1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional (a rare, absolutely spectacular vintage port) and 1989 Chateau Suduiraut Crème de Tete. A lively discussion of the vintage is the perfect pairing with these superb wines.

Now back to our rooms at Chateau Rauzan Segla to get some rest before waking up early to taste 2009 Lafite!

Another Critic Checks In From Bordeaux

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As we anxiously wait for our very own Christian Navarro to offer his analysis via twitter, critic for Stephen Tanzer’s Wine Cellar, Ian D’Agata has recently added to the growing list of sound bites from some of the region’s biggest celebrities:

“Many proprietors gushed with praise for 2009. Alfred Tesseron, the very likable owner of Château Pontet-Canet in Pauillac, smiled at me incredulously: “You are asking me if I am happy with 2009? Let me put it this way: if I weren’t happy with 2009, then I need to change jobs.” Michel Rolland, the renowned winemaking consultant and owner of estates like Château Le Bon Pasteur and Fontenil on the Right Bank, put it bluntly: “Quite simply, 2009 is the best Bordeaux vintage I have ever worked with.” Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour said that “It’s important that those of us lucky enough to have tasted this wine now, as a futures offering, fix it in their memory, because 30 years from now it will still be the vintage by which all new ones are measured.”

The litany of superlatives continued unabated, day after day. Paul Pontailler of Château Margaux told me: “It’s the most concentrated Château Margaux ever, but the wine is so amazingly balanced and harmonious that you really don’t realize how massive it is.” Jean-Philippe Delmas of Château Haut Brion echoed that view: “It’s an absolutely exceptional vintage because we have wines with exceptional richness and incomparable balance. At Haut-Brion, we haven’t seen these levels of concentration in centuries, and I stress the word centuries.”

Consulting winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt added: “What I really like about these wines is that they are easy to taste and flattering upfront, due to relatively high alcohol levels and very ripe fruit. In this respect they have a completely different taste than the wines of 2005, which were a little more rigid, even brutal with all their power and structure—at least at first.” According to Philippe Dhalluin, who directs Mouton-Rothschild, “It’s not that 2009 was a perfect year climatically—it wasn’t even that hot—but there were at least 200 more sunlight hours than average, which is more or less equivalent to 20 more sunny days. And the fall was perfect, allowing us to harvest at the optimal time for each grape variety.

That latter observation is key: a few winemakers and owners warned that 2009 is not good across the board, and that consumers should exercise caution when making purchase decisions. Pierre Lurton made an outstanding Château Cheval Blanc but pointed out: “It’s a different vintage than 2005, when just about anybody could have made a fantastic wine. In 2009, picking the grapes at the right time was critical, especially here on the Right Bank. Those who weren’t precise in their work ethic risked picking merlot grapes that were way overripe and cabernet grapes that were still green.”