2009 Bordeaux

Our exclusive coverage of the 2009 UCG & En Primeurs Tasting! Notes and anecdotes from the Bordeaux front.

Bordeaux 2009 Is Thirsty Work

Bordeaux 2009 Is Thirsty Work

Post by Chuck Hayward

The first day of tastings in Bordeaux saw the JJBuckley wine staff dodging in and out of typical March rains as we made our first visits to wineries and negociants. We had a great opportunity to get familiar with our surroundings by spending some time in Pomerol and St. Emilion but also to begin to familiarize ourselves with the young 2009 vintage, the reason for our trip!

We’ve tried a  smorgasbord of Bordeaux at various quality levels and price points and it quickly becomes apparent what’s what, even at this

Bottles arranged for negociant tasting.

Do we get an "I Survived T-Shirt" if we taste them all?

young stage in a wine’s evolution. What we’re looking for at this point is not so much specific flavors or textures, but an overall  impression of a wine’s aromas and palate. Some of the wines have displayed very rough tannins or overripe fruit flavors while the best have been very complex, almost ready to drink, thanks to more stringent fruit selection and meticulous care of the wine in the cellar.  Favorable assessments are given to those wines that display multiple layers of fruit, a softer finish and more integrated acids while chunky and/or bitter tannins on the finish are assessed less favorably.

As much as we are here to listen and learn, the Bordelaises are also curious about our take on the current state of the wine industry in America. There have been many changes in the channels by which Bordeaux is coming to market in the U.S. (see my post entitled “JJ Buckley Lands In Bordeaux!” for more info.) and  JJ Buckley owner Shaun Bishop was the subject of an intensive interview by Decanter regarding the current market conditions in the US for Bordeaux.

What clearly is exciting for me is the opportunity to taste many of these wines two or three times during the course of the week, which will give us all the opportunity to reassess and/or confirm first impressions. Those tastings will be coming up midweek – can’t wait for that!

The 2009 Bordeaux Vintage

The 2009 Bordeaux Vintage

Post by Chuck Hayward

There is general agreement that the weather conditions leading up to the the harvest for 2009 were perfect. Winemakers and government technocrats charged with weather statistics have continuously referenced the best of the past century’s greatest vintages. All point to a warm summer devoid of rains followed by a perfect fall that allowed grapes to be picked under ideal conditions. Stories abounded in the area that sorting tables were not needed because the fruit quality was so high.

At the beginning of each year, those involved in the Bordeaux trade look forward to Bill Blatch’s Bordeaux Bordeaux Vineyardvintage report which has extensive analysis of the weather leading up to the harvest along with initial observations on the finished wines. He summarizes that “in 2009, there were no extremes, just good regular heat at the right times, with everything coming in the right order: the vine amply nourished by ground water during its growing period, then…starved of water–very progressively–during the ripening and concentration of its bunches through the rest of the vineyard year.”

As always, though, the tendency is to compare the current vintage with past ones. Here, Blatch declares, “A decade with no off-vintages–Bordeaux has never experienced that before–even those all time great decades..had a few misses.” Many observers, however, would dispute that statement given the quality of vintages like 2002 and 2007. The Bordeaux wine trade, however, is not talking about a vintage of the decade. IN addition to years like 1982 and 1961, the ’09s are being compared to harvests that few people have ever tasted as a finished wine or from a cellar many years later. The vintage comparisons most bandied about are 1929 and 1947 due to the high alcohols and lower acid levels.

So what does all this mean to collectors and Bordeaux wine enthusiasts? What is interesting about the absolute best vintages from Bordeaux is how rare they are. Since the 1980s, vintages rated 95+ by Parker and the Wine Spectator only occur about three times a decade. In the past decade, the 2000 and 2005 harvests are confirmed as the best with 2003 controversially included by a few; it’s been some time since we had a top vintage.

More importantly is how the market will react to the quality of the vintage and the prices that will be set. There are oodles of unsold wines from 2007 and 2008 yet to enter the market but their prices are relatively high and their quality not so much. What we do know is that the demand from emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe will be increasing over the next decade. And when you are dealing with the truly great vintages such as ’61 and ’82, the demand for years such as these will be immediate and continue for decades to come.

JJ Buckley Goes To Bordeaux

JJ Buckley Lands In Bordeaux!

Post by Chuck Hayward | Thursday, March 25th

JJ Buckley returns to the annual Union des Grand Cru tastings in Bordeaux next week to assess the 2009 vintage. This yearly ritual is the first Bordeauxtime that most of the the world’s wine trade will have the chance to sample last year’s wines. We will be among many sipping and spitting young wines while meeting winemakers and negociants, all in effort to learn about the various estates and their upcoming releases. From these tastings, the world’s wine press will publish their initial assessment of the vintage while importers and wineries will finalize their first orders for Bordeaux futures.

Previously a quiet convocation of various parts of the wine trade, producers and sellers mixing with buyers and traders, today the event is a vital part of the Bordeaux wine market where upwards of 5000 people travel the roads of the region, tasting wines that will be released two to three years later. It was here that a young wine critic first tasted the 1982 Bordeaux some six months after harvest and proclaimed the vintage to be a great one. Ever since Parker’s reviews came out, a spotlight has shone on this event that had been previously hidden from the wine world.

The tastings have become ever more important this year.  The 2009 vintage has been tapped as extraordinary based upon the shared hallmarks of the best vintages of the past century.  Meanwhile the state of Bordeaux sales in America is in a state of turmoil. Over the past 30 years, Chateau & Estates, the wine arm of the giant drinks company Diageo, controlled most of the the Bordeaux sales in America. The firm has announced they will no longer participate in the purchase and sales of Bordeaux wine futures, leaving all with a passion for Bordeaux, be they consumers, retailers, restaurants or wine distributors, with no easy way to source the 2009s. (Click here for more information.)

With this backdrop, JJ Buckley’s visit to Bordeaux takes on even more importance. Rather than depending on third hand assessments by others, we will be able to make a direct analysis of the wines and vintage. And where American importers like Chateau & Estates provided a useful function for the Bordeaux market in the past, taking out the middleman combined with our ability to import direct will give you the ability to purchase Bordeaux futures at even lower prices than before.

More importantly, thanks to changes in modern technology, you won’t have to wait weeks or months to find out what the wines look like. We’ll be sending updates from the trenches along with comments and observations directly from the winemakers themselves. Join us as we embark on this adventure and feel free to send us questions for the winemakers and negociants we will visit.

France on 75,000 Calories a Day

France on 75,000 Calories a Day

Posted by Anonymous | Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The morning is always my favorite part of these trips.

I wake up “well rested”, which translates to “no sleep, oh well”. To quote our youngest traveler John Perry “we can sleep when we are dead.”

Speaking of dead, I am surprised I am still alive after some of the “delicacies”

We still have not identified this...

we were served last night. The first animal does not have an English name because it was banned by the FDA in the US and several other countries, but it is big in Asia. While everyone agreed it came from high up in the Pyrenees, there was great debate whether it walked on two legs or four. Several glasses of wine were consumed discussing if it was related to cow, sheep or bear. We never came close to finding out what part we ate of whatever it was.

The next creature came from the bottom of the ocean. I know this through the fantastic mime our host provided by sticking his knife in the bottom of his water glass and exclaiming “Jacques Cousteau! Jacques Cousteau!” I would have found out more details but (butt?) it was time for yet another cigarette break. For those you not up on the news in France, smoking is now banned in restaurants. This has increased business for street vendors by 5,000%.

We enjoyed our feast (there are no simple meals in France, only a series of morning, afternoon, and evening feasts) at Chateau Ménage a Trois. The Chateau is a bit fixated with the number “3”.  For example, instead of selling the wine for say 78.99, it is 78.33. We just missed their big festivities on March 3, you get the picture. Officially, the name comes from the creek, the stream and the river that converge to form the moat surrounding the property. Locals often mention the three towers of the Chateau. We need not say what they look like from a distance.

M. Cochon had a habit of missing the bidet, perhaps because the size of his nose made night vision difficult.

Biographers go back to the history of the owners during the 1800’s. In 1872 the Chateau was owned by Pierre Rousseau, known locally as “Pierre Cochon” (Peter the pig). At the time, the Chateau was much smaller than today and simply went by the name Ch. Le Petite Hovel. After a night on the town, M. Rousseau and his wife Madame Jean-Marie Le Pure had a heated argument concerning M. Rousseau’s habit of urinating in the bidet. The next morning Pierre was found floating in the moat, and the widow Veuve Jean-Marie Le Pure inherited the Chateau. Soon after, Dominique Frotter and her sister Boise-Moi Frotter, known locally as “the twins” moved in. At that time the name changed to Chateau Ménage a Trois.

Tannat was planted in the original vineyard by Moses so he would have something to drink in the desert. In 1808, it was largely replanted to Viognier by Napoleon because he couldn’t stomach red wine- it reminded him too much of the battle field. Today the vineyard is planted with many grapes, including Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Chenin blanc, Riesling, Albarino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Verdot and several others. Today the blend is made up of 95% Bonne Rouge, a local grape.

Ch. Menage a Trois was only one of the many stops during our day. If you think this story bounces around, try riding in the back of the car when Shaun drives. When I drew my short straw and discovered what car I was in, I took a tip

On the road to Supre Grande, it is discovered that Shaun has declined the optional rental car insurance.

from John Sweeney and went to buy some life insurance. Before I got to sign the papers, the agent over heard Shaun and a local discussing a short cut between Ch. Lafite and Ch. Margaux that involved a goat path, four wheel drive and a blessing from the parish priest. No insurance for you monsieur!

Next stop was to get new tires and brakes—it had been five days—and to stock up with Dramamine for the ride. I checked twice and there was no number on the side of the car, but it always felt like we were in a Formula One race.

Our goal was to get to Ch. Supre Grande before they closed at 3:00 (ahh France). It was 2:15 and they were only 100 kilometers away. As we rounded the corner after passing a Renault and a tractor we heard the wailing siren. As the Officer approached, Shaun Bishop suggested to Alex Lallos (the French speaker) that “this is a good time to limit your French to ‘sorry’ and ‘I am an American Tourist spending beaucoup money’.”  At the same time, let us know if key words like “arrest” or “jail” come up.

After waving our passports and vowing to enlighten the world on the great Bordeaux vintage awaiting to be purchased, we were off. Arriving at Ch. Supre Grande with t-minus five minutes to spare, we went in. We tasted their wines and were very impressed by their firm structure and forward fruit.

It was our last appointment before dinner, so we accepted their kind offer to share a bottle of some of their older vintages. The first older vintage was a bit anti-climatic as it was 2007, aka in bottle, rather than a barrel sample of 2009. Perhaps they sensed our disappointment, as the second wine was a 9 liter (12 bottles in one) of 1909.

I can’t wait until next year.