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 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

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2013 Dispatches – Part 3

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

Tuesday May 13, 2014

Today I tackle the rest of the Medoc making an early drive up to Pauillac to start off the day with a 9am appointment at Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste followed by Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Pontet Canet with Proprietor Alfred Tesseron, Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Chateau Montrose.

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There are two clear highlights of the morning:

2013 Chateau Pontet Canet – The nose is extremely pure with a ripe, candied framboise character.  There’s good grip here with unmistakable Pontet Canet style and good concentration for the vintage.  They clearly did the work in the vineyard to make a superlative wine in a nuanced, feminine mode.  C’est jolie!

2013 Chateau Montrose – Lovely dark fruit and violets on the nose with truly remarkable structure, power and weight.  One of the most muscular efforts of the vintage with good flesh in the mid-palate.  I ask them how they were able to achieve such ripeness and it seems the northern part of St Estephe missed some of the worst rains during harvest.  Wow.  Without a doubt this is the red of the vintage for me thus far, a classic Montrose.

Lunch today is at Chateau Phelan Segur where I am thrilled to get to taste a complete vertical from 2005 to 2013.  The best of the bunch is the 2010: deep and dark with a cool, reserved character, it smells substantial before you even taste it.  There’s excellent volume with nice ripeness and structure.  Sweet tannins.  A steal for the price.  You can really see the progress made here in recent years.

A light lunch is paired with the perfectly mature 1996 Phelan Segur and the decadent 1990 Phelan Segur.  Though there’s not really any of these wine left in the chateau’s stocks, they are spectacular for the money and a testament to their superlative terroir.  This is an estate to watch and the recent vintages are going to be huge values as they mature.

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After lunch, the afternoon’s appointments begin at Chateau Pichon Baron, followed by Chateau Leoville Poyferre with Manager Didier Cuvelier and Chateau Palmer before we end the day at Chateau Margaux with Director Paul Pontallier.  The 2013 Margaux (99% Cabernet Sauvignon) is an undeniable success, with a beautiful classic Margaux nose, an ethereal, spicy Cabernet character, velvet texture and excellent length.  I remark to Paul that it seems to me that the estates that had the most success in this vintage are the ones that naturally have an elegant, nuanced, subtle feminine style (ala Margaux, Rauzan Segla, La Conseilliante, VCC, etc…).  Paul agrees with me but he adds that we must not forget the power that can come with such a style.  And indeed I must agree, the wines that embrace the style of the vintage seem to be the most naturally balanced, powerful and effortlessly complete.

geoffffDinner tonight is at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte where I am hosted by technical director Fabien Teitgen, and owners Daniel and Florence Cathiard.  There are lots of improvements going on at the chateau (where they are building a new cooperage) as well as at their beautiful adjacent resort Les Sources de Caudalie where a few new buildings will house expansions to the hotel and spa.  Florence tells me that her daughter is now living in LA and has opened an outpost of Caudalie on Abbot Kinney in Venice which I will definitely have to check out when I return home.

Tasting the 2013s, I am impressed by the Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge which has captured a level of ripeness that I had not seen in the Medoc.  It’s actually quite a concentrated and pleasurable effort.  But most impressive of all is the 2013 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc.  Very refined, this is extremely poised and perfectly balanced with beautiful clarity to the flavors of lime, grapefruit and chalk.  It seems quite subtle compared to some more exotic recent vintages, but then the incredibly persistent finish just goes on and on for minutes…it’s one of the most remarkable Bordeaux Blanc I have ever tasted.  An absolute showstopper and takes the crown for the best 2013 (red or white) I’ve tasted thus far.  Bravo!

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Dinner is a fun, laid back evening among friends around the kitchen table where we feast on a French Country dinner highlighted by a delicious Pot a Feu and some of the best fromages I’ve had on the trip.  The 2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is broad, exotic and utterly delicious right now.  A comparative pairing of 2009 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge (100 points RP!) and the 2005 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge is a thrill to taste and a real testament to what this chateau can achieve in remarkable vintages.  For all the richness and decadence of the 2009, I actually find the 2005 slightly more compelling.   There’s a level of tension, concentration and potential in the 2005 that is truly beguiling.  I’d love to revisit this comparison in 10 years, I think the 2005 will eventually win out.  But the 2009 is pretty damn tasty tonight…

After saying our goodbyes, it’s off to bed for the night.  I have a big morning tomorrow and need to kick that jetlag to the curb.  Bonne Nuit from Bordeaux!

To be continued…

– Geoff Pattison

Wally’s Bordeaux Blog – Vintage 2013 Dispatches – Part 2

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Editors Note – The following entry was submitted by Wally’s Bordeaux buyer, Geoff Pattison
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Monday, May 12, 2014 
An early start this cold, grey morning.  After a quick breakfast I leave my hotel at 8am for a drive up the Medoc to St Julien.  This morning’s tasting appointments include Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou with proprietor Bruno Borie, Chateau Pichon Lalande with director Nicholas Glumineau, Chateau Latour with Frederic Engerer and Chateau Lafite Rothschild with Director Charles Chevallier.

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The standout wines of this morning’s tastings are:

2013 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou – Sporting a fragrant, pure, fresh nose of crème de cassis and herb tinged blackberry fruit, this has nice texture, good length and admirable density.  A softer more feminine expression of Ducru.

2011 Chateau Pichon Lalande – It’s refreshing to get another look at this just released vintage which is already drinking incredibly well.  The nose is deep with ripe dark fruits, truffle and a classic Pauillac gravelly mineral character.  The palate is supple and savory with fine balance and energy.

2013 Les Forts de Latour – The nose is pure class with a complex and refined bouquet of mineral, plush fruit and leather.  This is much more open at this stage than the Grand Vin and while it lacks some of the muscle of the big brother it has beautiful texture, good freshness and nice density.  This wine gets better and better every year and it’s a real surprise in this vintage.

2013 Chateau Lafite Rothschild – Deeply pitched with lots of cassis fruit, tobacco and leather.  This has excellent volume and texture for the vintage and while it lacks the intense minerality you usually see here, the pedigree is clear and there is an unmistakable sense of mid-palate vigor that comes straight from the terroir.

After Lafite it’s off to lunch at the very popular Café Lavinal in Bages with a local Bordeaux negociant.  We discuss the vintage over a light bistro lunch that refreshes my palate for another round of tastings in the afternoon.

After lunch I head up through the windswept plains of St Estephe to Chateau Calon Segur.  This beloved estate is under new ownership and beginning a very ambitious renovation that will see a complete overhaul of their winemaking facilities as well as replantings of some major vineyard parcels.  It’s a major project that will take the better part of a decade to complete.  Heading back down the Medoc I stop at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateau Giscours.

The standout wines of the afternoon:

 2013 Aile d’Argent – Mouton’s Bordeaux Blanc features an explosive bouquet of toasty coconut, pineapple and white floral notes.  The palate is generously weighty but with a lot of power lying in its acidic backbone.  This is a bold style of Bordeaux Blanc and very compelling for the price.

2012 Chateau Langoa Barton – This is a real sleeper of the vintage offering a precocious nose of exotic red fruit (strawberry?).  This is a stylishly sexy Langoa that will drink well early with beautiful integration and a sense of voluptuousness with effortless balance.  A steal at under $50, buy this wine on futures now.

2013 Chateau Giscours – A flamboyant, complex nose of leather, wood spice, red fruit and floral perfume leads into a lithely textured, silky palate.  This is well focused with admirable structure for the vintage.

Dinner tonight is at Chateau Rauzan Segla a second growth jewel that has reached new heights under the leadership of John Kolasa who previously ran Chateau Latour for many years.  I have an opportunity to taste the 2013 Rauzan Segla before dinner and it is a striking success for the vintage.  Beautifully balanced, this Rauzan has managed to capture the feminine, elegant spirit of the vintage with plenty of floral red fruit character and a real sense of charm and grace.  It’s one of the best ‘13s I’ve tasted thus far.

Dinner is an elegant affair with the standout pairings being a delicious Mushroom Stuffed Chicken paired with 2001 Chateau Rauzan Segla (now beautifully mature, this understated vintage is providing so much pleasure right now.  Exquisitely balanced and displaying lovely secondary notes of tobacco and truffles).  Second and perhaps most memorable, a selection of cheeses is paired with the very fine 1988 Chateau Canon (deeply pitched with mature, musky notes of dried plums, mocha and cigarbox).  John is a gentleman and a scholar, full of insight into the current state of Bordeaux seen through a very sharp lens that comes with a career of experience in the business.  His honest comments about the past, present and future of Bordeaux are refreshing and inspiring to hear.  Off to bed now, another full day in the Medoc looms tomorrow.

To be continued…

– Geoff Pattison

 

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

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

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Wally’s Bordeaux Buyer, Geoff Pattison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Geoff Pattison