Bordeaux

Winery Spotlight: Chateau Latour-Martillac

LM 3The JJ Buckley wine staff recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Chateau Latour-Martillac, one of the top estates in the Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux. Tastings with owners and their winemakers or marketing managers at our offices are always an important way to add to the knowledge we gain during our annual visits to Bordeaux. This visit, however, afforded us the chance to learn about something other than soils and varietals.

The domaine has a long history that starts with an ancient tower from the 12th Century that gives rise to the winery’s name. Vines were not planted until the middle of the 19th Century yet the quality of wine from the estate was soon recognized by Edouard Kressman, a negociant from Bordeaux. His son purchased the chateau and its 100 acres of vines in 1930 (about 80% is planted to red varieties with the rest planted to semillon and sauvignon blanc). The domaine remains in the family’s hands while members of the Kressman family still work as negociants.

The vineyards are located outside the little village of Martillac, some ten minutes southeast of the small town of Leognan that comprises part of the appellation’s name. The weather and soil composition of the two villages are quite similar but differ markedly from the Pessac wineries located next to the city limits of Bordeaux. There’s a sense of elegance and finesse found in the wines made here compared to the power and concentration found in wines from Pessac. Thanks to the heat generated by the warmth of the city, Pessac’s grapes there are picked two weeks earlier than in Martillac and Leognan.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kressman family’s purchase of the domaine and the creation of the winery’s distinctive label. As explained to us by Wilfrid Groizard, the estate’s Marketing Director, the label has remained unchanged since it first appeared. It was designed at the height of the Art Deco era and was based on a small diary owned by Alfred Kressman. (See photo on left) We were all quite fortunate to get a chance to examine this beautiful notebook which was carefully brought over to us directly from the winery.

But what really caught our interest lay inside the covers of this fragile journal, a detailed account of Alfred’s tastings over the years accompanied with sketches of labels and bottles. (See photo on right) It provides a fascinating insight into the wines that traveled across the tables of a top negociant during the early 1930s. In less than a month, wines from the 1864-1875 (Margaux,

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Malescot and Chasse Spleen among others) were complemented by more recent wines from 1911-1920 including a Petrus from Pomerol and St. Estephe’s Tronquay. But the most intriguing entry was for a bottle of 1911 Haute Rive from “Etats Unis”, more evidence showing that wines from America made it across the Atlantic. (See upper left corner) Unfortunately, little is known about this winery or what state it came from.

While it was great to taste through their wines (including a sumptuous 2001 blanc along with a ripe and powerful 2009 rouge), it’s often stories, history and context that make wines richer. Our session certainly proved this adage to be true.

2013 Bordeaux: Seeing What the Right Bank Holds

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

A quiet tasting at the offices of J.P. Moueix

After visiting wineries in the Medoc and the offices of negociants in and around Bordeaux, the JJ Buckley team traditionally turns towards the estates scattered outside the small town of Libourne. Located about a half hour east of Bordeaux, it’s in the communes of St. Emilion, Pomerol and their neighboring villages where merlot is king.

Heading there, we were reminded of the successes of many wines in the great vintages of 2009 and 2010. But what proved to be even more impressive was the quality that emanated from the Right Bank in the more difficult years that followed. Some of the top wines of 2011 and 2012 came from the Pomerol with many St. Emilions trailing closely behind in quality. Given the Right Bank’s ability to be successful when the weather creates problems, we looked forward to seeing what these communes produced in 2013.

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

Looking out at some vineyards of St. Emilion from Chateau Barde-Haut

And as it turned out, the wine regions of the Right Bank shared much in common with what we concluded from our tastings on the other side of the Gironde River earlier in the week. And so it is that the uniform theme to be found in the wines of both regions is that there is no uniformity. In other words, each commune had their share of successes as well as others that missed the mark. This is in stark contrast to the better harvests in ’09 and ’10 where all wineries benefited from the excellent weather raising the quality level for everyone.

Introductory tastings at St. Emilion and Pomerol revealed a slew of wines that were acceptable but missed that extra level of excitement that separates the great wines from the middle of the pack. These wines had a shared style about them: medium bodied palates with darker red fruit flavors, a firm structure with noticeable tannins in support. These were not the exuberant high-alcohol styles that proved to be so controversial back in 2009 and 2010. Instead, we saw classically shaped wines of moderate alcohol levels and with just enough acidity to add a bit of levity to the fruit. However, there was also a sense that the wines were one and the same, lacking the unique signature that defined each domaine’s terrior.

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

The new cellars at Cheval Blanc

But just as the terroirs of the first growths on the Left Bank clearly shined in 2013, it wasn’t until we visited many of the smaller, more exclusive estates that we were able to witness some of the region’s success stories. Those estates that were the most successful in 2011 and 2012 managed to make wines that rose above the fray showing exceptional concentration and balance. Some estates in St. Emilion showed a more masculine profile emphasizing the structural elements of their wines while the top examples of Pomerol were more lithe and supple, effortlessly gliding across the palate in a silky manner.

The best wines in both appellations rivaled those of the Medoc. They were complete wines with layers of flavors and the nuance and complexity that separates the exceptional from the ordinary. What was most exciting in tasting the best wines was to see the best qualities of the main varietal (cabernet sauvignon in the Medoc, merlot on the Right Bank) express themselves completely and clearly. This was not a case of merlot looking like a cabernet or vice versa.

This was just a post to wet your whistle. Look for our favorite wines from all over Bordeaux in our upcoming report!

Let the 2013 Bordeaux Futures Campaign Begin!



photo[2]JJ Buckley just wrapped up their week at en primeur where they had a chance to taste the 2013 vintage. Travelling to Bordeaux for the 8th year in a row, we once again had the privilege to catch up with negociants and interview winemakers about this controversial vintage. Tasting the new wines on site allowed us to shape our own perspective.

So what can be said about the 2013s?

The vintage holds its surprises. Some bottlings exceeded expectations and there are worthy candidates for your cellar; most will provide exceptional drinking over the next 8-10 years. As with any vintage, a few domaines missed the mark; but disappointing wines? Not in the least. In sum, don’t believe the hype.

Here are a few facts and observations:

We expect prices will not decrease by more than 20% compared to last year. Overall yields were down considerably compared to last year due to poor weather. To ensure that the grand vin was of sufficient quality, many wineries declassified more wine than usual resulting in even less wine for sale. With less wine to sell, some wineries have less incentive to drop prices.

The only way to guarantee access to this year’s top wines is buying en primeur. With low yields and strict selections, many estates will have little wine to sell. Some chateaux will make 80% less wine than last year. Many negociants will miss out on allocations leaving their clients without access to the smallest domaines. JJ Buckley’s close relationships with the region’s top firms will allow us to get the wines you want.

This will be a short and quick campaign. Chateau Pontet-Cantet took the unusual step of releasing prices and allocations before the wines were presented to the trade, while the perennial “first offering of the campaign” from Chateau Gazin arrived during en primeur week. Pressure to get the wines sold as quickly as possible is evident, which means be ready to act quickly for the wines and formats you want.

If you have a favorite wine, remember that buying en primeur is your best chance to secure half bottles or large formats. Wineries traditionally only bottle as much wines as needed to fulfill orders for alternative formats placed en primeur. Do not miss this opportunity to secure the bottle sizes you want.

The whites from Bordeaux are clear standouts of the vintage – act sooner than later. The white wines of Pessac-Leognan as well as other Sauvignon-Semillon blends crafted by wineries of the Haut-Medoc are made in small quantities. White wines typically make up only 10-20% of a winery’s total production. Given the excellent quality and limited production, final releases will be miniscule.

Remember that buying en primeur is the best way to ensure provenance. Provenance is guaranteed. The wines go from the chateau to our negotiants and then directly to JJ Buckley in refrigerated containers where they land at our climate-controlled facility, ensuring that the wines remain in perfect conditions every step of the way. No need to worry about your wines arriving in nothing but the safest and most secure method.

You can look forward to:

  • 2013 Futures offerings of wines will begin shortly. All Futures offers will be centralized in a daily offer by JJ Buckley as they become available. Remember, we buy direct from Bordeaux – we will provide our comments on each wines and some of the best prices around.
  • JJ Buckley’s 2013 Bordeaux Report, including informative articles on the vintage along with our top picks and detailed tasting notes.
  • Continuing coverage of 2013 Bordeaux through social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs).

Our team has a broad and deep understanding of the 2013 vintage and perspective from past vintages. We are fully prepared to give thoughtful and educated advice and provide a personal view on the hundreds of wines we tasted. You will not find such a depth of knowledge and experience anywhere else in the country.

Do you want to stay up-to-date with the Bordeaux Futures offers for the 2013 Campaign?  Simply sign up for our newsletter or send an e-mail to marketin@jjbuckley.com.

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2013 Bordeaux: That’s Why They Call Them The First Growths

Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux

Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux pontificates on the 2013 vintage

The first growths are so designated because they are considered to have the best terroirs in the Haut-Medoc. (I say this knowing that the Right Bank and Pessac are excluded here.) The argument here is that the land speaks more than the winemaker’s hand.

Over the past few years with Bordeaux consistently churning out some incredible wines, the riding tide of quality that comes from a great vintage compresses the distance between the first growths and other top notch estates of the Haut-Medoc. Witness the astounding Pontet-Canets from 2009 and 2010 which arguably give the first growths a run for the money.

But what happens in the more difficult years? Do the supposedly superior terroirs actually allow the first growths to produce wines better than their neighbors? Or has the new money that has modernized so many wineries in combination with whipsmart winemakers closed the gap between the first growths and their upstarts? With some of the worst weather in decades, the wines from 2013 would provide a good platform to answer these questions.

Luckily, our schedule was constructed to visit all of the Haut-Medoc first growths in succession. Now let’s acknowledge that from a purely hedonistic point of view, this was going to be a pretty awesome experience. We consider ourselves quite lucky to have a morning where we can indulge in some of Bordeaux’s best wines, one after the other. This all notwithstanding, we had some work ahead of us!!

Tasting the 2013 Chateau Latour

Tasting the 2013 Chateau Latour

Fortunately, this morning also followed a couple of days going through many of the wines that comprise the other four classes of the 1855 classification. Domaines like Pontet-Canet, Cos d’Estournel and Palmer are among the 10-20 or so estates that can easily challenge the first growths as one of the best wines of the vintage. Would any of these wines surpass the quality of the first growths in 2013?

A visit to Chateau Margaux showed that 2013was a test the winery passed successfully. As winemaker Paul Pontallier observed, “We feel we are quite privileged to have the means to make great wine. But also it is true that in vintages like 2013, great terroirs show their supremacy.” Parceling much of their merlot into the domaine’s other cuvees, this year’s grand vin had 94% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cab franc and 1% petit verdot and showed graceful power with good length. This vintage shows a richness of fruit that is tempered by Margaux’s trademark finesse and was a success for the vintage.

Focusing again on a first growth that possesses a finessed palette, Lafite Rothschild showcased it’s prettier fruit expression clearly in 2013. Like Margaux, Lafite depended on cabernet sauvignon (98% in this case) to provide the power and foundation of the grand vin. One trait of the 2013’s is a fresh and vibrant red fruit expression with a crisp and crunchy texture that slowly gives way to more depth and concentration with some air. The wine’s fine grained tannins were in balance with the fruit weight keeping the sleek structure that Lafite is known for.

When it comes to power, Mouton Rothschild and Latour traditionally show the full-bodied texture and intensity of flavor that is a foil to Margaux and Lafite’s elegance. Once again, these two properties stayed true to their identities pouring 13’s that were as good if not better than last year’s wines. Depth and concentration abounded, not only in their top cuvees but also in the second wines. Already looking like complete wines, layers of blackfruits peeled away to reveal even more nuance and complexity. Just the right amount of acidity added vibrancy and precision to the flavors while the integrated tannins added support contributing to the wine’s overall balance. These were thrilling examples that stayed true to the pedigree of each estate. At the same time, these wines proved that excellent wines could be found in this difficult year.

The setup at Lafite-Rothschild

The setup at Lafite-Rothschild

Compared with the wines of the Haut-Medoc tasted during the previous two days, the first growths clearly stole the show. Their 2013s were what you would expect of a first growth, maybe without the potential to age 25+ years, but they were no slouches. The other top chateaux of the Haut-Medoc clearly showed more variability among them with successes mixed with others where the challenges of the harvest proved difficult to overcome.

In the end, it seems that in 2013, the great terroirs of the first growths added that something special to make wines of greater quality than what we found in all the Haut-Medoc wines encountered beforehand. The technical talent and equipment available to Bordeaux’s best estates is relatively equal so perhaps it is the terroirs that speak with a stronger voice in challenging years. Why? Who’s to say. As those at Chateau Margaux say themselves, “The genius of great terroirs is difficult to fathom.” But in 2013, the terroirs of the top estates clearly showed why they are called “The First Growths of the Medoc”.

2013 Bordeaux: JJ Buckley Pursues a Road Less Travelled

This sign leaves no doubt as to where we are

This sign leaves no doubt as to where we are

On the first big day of tastings at each years en primeur, many folks find themselves cruising up and down the famed D2 highway of the Medoc visiting the domaines that line the rolling road from Margaux and St. Estephe. This year JJ Buckley decided to take the road less traveled and headed south to Pesssc-Leognan to dig a little deeper into the red and white wines of this unique appellation. As it turns out, it was a great plan.

The region formerly known as Graves has been a source for delicious wines over the past few years. Whether red or white, the wineries of Pessac (just outside the boundaries of Bordeaux city proper) and Leognan (where estates are scattered among the rolling hills some 20 minutes south) have been making wines that rival those made by the top domaines of the Haut-Medoc. And it’s not just the top estates like Haut-Brion or La Mission Haut-Brion that are driving the region forward. Reds like Haut-Bailly and Domaine de Chevalier are proving that quality extends among many.

Knowing that the reds of Pessac-Leognan have often successfully weathered the problems that arise in difficult vintages, we were optimistic that we would find some exciting surprises. Well we did but not as expected. For the most part, the wines we sampled showed medium-weighted palates with vibrant red fruit flavors. Bright and expressive, there were often firm tannic undercurrents found across the appellation that detracted a bit. It’s hard to day whether this came from pressing that was too vigorous or picking grapes too early. It is true that the delicate nature of the fruit in 2013 required that tannins be in balance.

One of the top wines from 2013 are twice as nice here

One of the top wines from 2013 are twice as nice here

The top wines immediately brought the best Burgundies to mind with their suave textures and softness of fruit. Many times we found ourselves guessing whether a wine was more like a Cotes de Nuits versus a Cote de Beaune. The delicate nature of the fruit in 2013 required wineries to adopt more gentle techniques on the cellar to minimize the tannins so my guess is that the pinot noir resemblance came from this lighter touch. Could some wineries been a bit too gentle?

Where the reds left us a bit underwhelmed, the same could not be said about the whites. These are wines that are thrilling to taste and are full of potential. Already showing oodles of fruit that swirl around and reveal even more nuance and complexity, these wines will be stunning wines during the next 4-8 years. The best wines will rival anything that Burgundy can produce with mouthwatering minerals and acidity adding spine to broad textured palates full of pear and apple flavors. These wines are always made in small quantities when compared to each winery’s red wine production so they are well worth searching out. Look for our upcoming Bordeaux report to read about our favorites.

2013 Bordeaux: Let En Primeur Begin!

 

A line of samples telling us the work that lies ahead

A line of samples telling us the work that lies ahead

The month of April approaches and at JJ Buckley, that means its time to renew our passion for the wines of Bordeaux. It’s about this time that the region’s wineries and negociants throw open their doors and pull out the corkscrews and spitbuckets as wine buyers, the media and a few other hangers on descend on Bordeaux to taste the latest vintage. At the same time, pronouncements on the quality of the new wines are made and business decisions are scrutinized in the lead up to the en primeur sales campaign.

This year, just as in the past eight years, members of the JJ Buckley team will be there attending tastings and visiting wineries to learn first hand what the new vintage has to offer. We do this not only to make our purchasing decisions but to give direct and informed assessments to our clients.

What do the 2013 Bordeauxs have to tell us at this point. The weather has played the most important role in what these wines will offer. Rain and cooler temperatires wreaked havoc in Bordeaux forcing growers and winemakers to deal with problems they have rarely encountered. (More information about the weather during the 2013 growing season can be found in our upcoming report on JJ Buckley’s visit to Bordeaux.)

The bad weather clearly foced some wineries to panic. Over the past few months, reports of wineries declassifying their entire crops while others made infinitesimal amounts of their grand vin crept out into the market. With this news of poor quality and little wine, wine writers declared the vintage a washout and questioned the need to even sell the wines en primeur. Others declared their intention to avoid tasting the wines all together.

Much of this hoohah seems to be a bit unprofessional. Responsible writers and buyers recognize that Bordeaux is going through some problems with unsold expensive wines backed up in warehouses and a few vintages of challenging quality soon to come. And the fact that Bordeaux is suffering from a hipster credibility crisis has not been lost on anyone. So the bashing continues…

But to say the 2013s are of poor quality before even tasting them seems a bit prejudgemental. Wineries are better equipped to make wines in difficult years like 2013 than they were even 25-30 years ago. Sorting tables, green harvesting procedures, declassification of substandard lots are just a few things that Bordeaux has utilized to improve wine quality since the last rainy harvests. The proof will be in the pudding. And that’s why JJ Buckley tastes at en primeur.

marketing@jjbuckley.com

marketing@jjbuckley.com

Early reports say that the 2013s are charming and approachable with good quality to be found here and there, a surprising assessment given the gloomy prognistications by the press. There will definitely be less 2013 red wine entering the market thanks to very low yields caused by the poor weather as well as strict selections in the vineyard and the cellar to maintain quality.

The success of the vintage will depend, as it always does, on pricing. Some in the business are calling for prices 30-50% below what the owners got for the 2012s. Others want prices that were found for the 2008s which were set low as the impact of the GFC was being felt. The decision of the Tesseron family at Chateau Pontet Canet to not only annouce their pricing before the tasting season began but to set the price equal to the 2012s has made many Bordelaise nervous.

We’ll keep our ears to the ground and keep you informed on the quality of the harvest along with talk regarding the pricing right here. Also check our tweets for pictures and quick notes (check #JJBATBDX) and friend us on Facebook for even more.

Where to Wine & Dine: Bordeaux

Grand Bar Castan: Oldest Bar in Bordeaux

Grand Bar Castan: Oldest Bar in Bordeaux

Where to Wine & Dine: Bordeaux

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 1st, 2013

For anyone traveling to the wine regions of France, it’s assumed (and rightly so), that an immersion into local cuisine should be part of the experience. After all, what is a trip to Burgundy without eating escargot or fine dining while visiting Champagne? So it goes without saying that a trip to Bordeaux will be incomplete unless you dip your toes into the local dining scene.

But the geography and the way business is conducted in Bordeaux conspire to make it difficult to indulge your appetite as thoroughly as your palate. And while the wines of Bordeaux resonate across the globe, the local cuisine has yet to achieve such recognition. A recent check through the latest Michelin Guide reveals far fewer starred establishments in Bordeaux than in Burgundy or Champagne.
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