Bordeaux

No Reservations at Lafleur

No Reservations at Lafleur

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 5th, 2012

Bordeaux is not Napa. Most wineries are closed to tourists and the same standard applies to wine professionals, even during the busy en primeur week. Appointments are mandatory, and difficult to secure at most of the top wineries. And while a handful of chateaux like Prieure-Lichine allow visitors to rock up unannounced, Bordeaux, like much of France, remains a rather formal place.

So it was a bit disconcerting when our Bordeaux buyer impulsively decided to pull into the parking lot of Chateau Lafleur. Perhaps he was still riding the high following our incredible visit to Petrus (more on that in another post). But this is Bordeaux – you just don’t do this! (Especially at Lafleur….) Yet lo and behold, we quickly found ourselves in a small and intimate cellar, sampling some of the best wines of the vintage with Jacques Guinaudeau, the personable owner who was most generous with his time. (more…)

Shall I Compare Thee to Another Vintage? Drawing Parallels at Haut Bailly

Shall I Compare Thee to Another Vintage? Drawing Parallels at Haut Bailly

Post by Devon Magee | April 3rd, 2012

Château Haut Bailly

After five days of touring Bordeaux, it’s clear that the burning question aimed at leading producers has been: “To what vintage would you compare your 2011s?” It’s only natural – after back-to-back “vintages of the century,” we are all looking for a foothold in 2011. The market cannot support a third otherworldly vintage here, yet early murmurs suggest that, while the industry is cautious to overtly praise ’11, it is far from panning it. In fact, the earliest critic reports – from Parker and Suckling, who both just finished tasting here – are surprisingly optimistic.

So where does 2011 fit in a fifteen-year-plus string of vintages that has redefined Bordeaux with a relative average of warmer, dryer weather? Veronique Sanders invited us into her tasting room at Chateau Haut Bailly in Leognan yesterday evening to candidly discuss. Her family has been in charge of the Chateau since 1955, and she offered, in my opinion, the most poignant remarks of anyone about 2011. (more…)

Higher Ground Offers More Than A Good View at Pichon Lalande

Higher Ground Offers More Than A Good View at Pichon Lalande

Post by Eddie Wolowski | April 2nd, 2012

Chateau Pichon Lalande

We arrived at Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande, commonly referred to as Pichon Lalande, on a sunny afternoon for a lunch appointment. As we walked up to the estate, we nodded to former stable-mate Pichon Baron across the road (scene of tomorrow night’s dinner for some of us). The two estates were once united, but were split amongst siblings in 1850 and classified as Second Growths five years later.

After a Champagne toast with Chateau Director Sylvie Cazes, I sat down to lunch and a chat with Monsieur Philippe Moreau, the new technical director. Previously employed by Chateau de Pez and Chateau Bernadotte, Philippe completed his first vintage at Lalande last year. He was very generous in answering my questions. I have always wondered why Lalande’s wines take on a certain characteristic that is not reflected in the wines of its close neighbors Baron and Chateau Latour. The disparity between Lalande and Baron has always been particularly interesting, not just because of their proximity, but their common heritage alone should warrant more similarity. Philippe first agreed that while yes, the terrior is nearly identical for all three properties, one contrast lies in the technical winemaking style of Lalande – the way that grapes are pressed gently for finesse and not heavily extracted for power. (more…)

Terroir and the Art of Assemblage: Vieux Chateau Certan

Terroir and the Art of Assemblage: Vieux Chateau Certan

Post by Devon Magee | April 4th, 2012

Vieux Chateau Certan

2011 is decidedly not 2010 or 2009, yet from our week of intensive tastings in Bordeaux, it is clear that Pomerol is at the least, one of the standouts of the appellation and the vintage. Might cabernet franc play a role? According to Alexandre Thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan’s owner and winemaker, yes. Here in the gravel and clay soils of Pomerol, fully ripe cabernet franc gives the wine a distinctive violet perfume. And for the first time in more than a decade, the variety ripened fully and uniformly. Its success in Pomerol is a defining characteristic of this singular vintage.

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First Growths First: Harbingers of the Vintage

First Growths First: Harbingers of the Vintage

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 3rd, 2012

Mouton-Rothschild Tour "Bus" (who's that dashing fellow in the front?)

Let the madness begin! Save for the elite critics who arrived in Bordeaux one or two weeks ahead, en primeur week officially opened on Monday. We arrive early enough to get acclimated and rested up, as that first day offers an important opportunity get a sense of the vintage before later diving into the really big tastings hosted by negociants and the Union des Grand Crus (UGC).

So with schedules in hand and cars revved up, we headed north on the Route du Chateau (after a slow slog through downtown Bordeaux’s unfailing traffic jams), to make the most of our fresh, day one palates by tasting the First Growths. Sampling the crème de la crème of Bordeaux first is helpful, as it usually sets the standard for the wines tasted throughout the rest of the week. (more…)

Bottomless Pours at Chateau Margaux

Bottomless Pours at Chateau Margaux

Post by Alex Shaw | April 2nd, 2012

Here in Bordeaux, two words inspire more reverence than any others: First Growth. Thanks to the 1855 classification system, there are only five First Growths (Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, and Margaux, with Mouton added to the group in 1973), and they are widely considered to produce the finest wines from the Left Bank. We were lucky to taste all five on Monday, an excellent exercise that shed some light on the possibilities of the top end of the 2011 vintage. For many, including myself, the First Growth that inspires the most passion, even  reverence, is Chateau Margaux, so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to dining there that evening.

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No One-Trick Pony: Recapturing Rusticity at Pontet-Canet

No One-Trick Pony: Recapturing Rusticity at Pontet-Canet

Post by Roland Hankerson | April 2nd, 2012

The cool breeze of a spring day in Bordeaux carries with it wisps of dust, which settle between the forty-year-old vines that line the gravelly vineyard of Pontet-CanetThe hoofs of horses drawing plows kicked up the dust, as they are charged with turning the earth on this stately property. The “old ways” of producing classic Bordeaux are new again in a vineyard accustomed to producing world class wine of power and elegance in a manner that preserves its piece of earth with great care.

Brittany horses cultivate the vines of Pontet-Canet

Alfred Tesseron, proprietor of Pontet-Canet, is on a quest to provide a world class wine that adheres to his environmental ethics. He turns to his long-time winemaker, Jean-Michel Comme, (a 22-year veteran of the estate) to not only make the wine, but also head a program of certified organic and biodynamic viticulture on the property. No expense has been spared on this project, and Jean-Michel was handed complete autonomy with which to transform the vineyard over the course of several patient years. By now, he has transformed vineyard operations in a manner that allows the grapes to express in his words, “…the true identity of themselves in terroir while caring for the future of the earth the grapes come from.” (more…)

Homage á Bages: Dinner with Jean-Charles Cazes

Homage á Bages: Dinner with Jean-Charles Cazes

Post by Alex Shaw | April 1st, 2012

Not surprisingly our trip to Bordeaux is not ALL about the wine: this is France after all. During the day, our entire focus is on tasting wine (upwards of 100

Restaurant Cordeillan-Bages

today alone). But once the sun sets, we get treated to some of the greatest food in the world. Typically our dinners are in chateaux: with their grand rooms, high ceilings, and Renaissance art, they certainly inspire awe. But this evening, a few of us were fortunate to dine with Jean-Charles Cazes from Chateau Lynch-Bages.

After our tasting of Lynch-Bages’ four 2011 releases (Les Ormes de Pez, in St. Estephe, Lynch Bages, Echo de Lynch Bages, the house’s second wine, and Blanc de Lynch Bages) at the chateau, we drove around the corner to Cordeillan-Bages, the property’s Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the single greatest meal I’ve had out of my three trips to Bordeaux for en primeur. (more…)

A Different Kettle of Fish: Dinner at Ducru-Beaucaillou

A Different Kettle of Fish: Dinner at Ducru-Beaucaillou

Post by Devon Magee | March 31st, 2012

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

When I think of popping open a bottle of Left Bank Bordeaux with dinner, I typically think of medium

rare steak. But tonight, Bruno Borie, owner of Second Growth Ducru-Beaucaillou, dared us to think outside the box, pairing his lineup of Cab-based reds with seafood.It makes sense, really, with the bounties of the Atlantic – and especially the Bassin de Arcachon – only a stone’s throw away, eating local here is seafood. Except that drinking local here means structured, tannic Cabs.

And for a producer whose latest release – the ’09 – was just awarded 100 Points by Robert Parker,  the prize of the night was not necessarily the wine, but the fish! We caught a glimpse of the enormous, flat fish through the side door just as we arrived. We watched as the two women manning the kitchen, together hoisted the turbot off the ice and into the oven. I looked at my colleagues in wonderment. Could it be? Fish with Ducru?

Yes! We never saw the Bordeaux staples – duck breast, confit, or even foie gras. Instead, Bruno poured us a Magnum of 2000 Dom Perignon with a side-by-side comparison of Spanish “Pata Nega Bellota” jamón – 5-year aged, acorn-fed ham – and French “Pate Noire” jambon. As we chewed on the juicy question, Bruno hopped into the open kitchen in front of us to sauté clams and mussels.

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A ‘Cos’ for Celebration

A ‘Cos’ for Celebration

Post by Cory Gowan | March 30th, 2012

It’s no secret that Cos d’Estournel has been on a qualitative roll, but when Robert Parker awarded 100 points to the 2009 vintage, Cos squarely placed itself among the Left Bank elite. Delivering what its winemakers deem as First Growth quality wines from St. Estephe, Cos has worked hard to place its name on every Bordeaux lover’s wishlist.

One of several Asian elephant statues at Cos d'Estournel

With that in mind, you can imagine the anticipation was high for my third visit to Cos d’Estournel to taste the 2011s. With a private, first-look tasting of the new vintage and a special dinner invitation from director Jean Guillaume-Prats, we motored our rental Puegeot up the D-2 highway eager to spend our first night in Bordeaux delving into the 2011s.

Visiting Cos d’Estournel is always a grand affair. After parking in the gravel driveway under our honorary American flag, we found ourselves in a brand new tasting salon (finished in 2008), more reminiscent of a hip Manhattan nightspot than an historic winery (the name Cos d’Estournel dates back to 1810). After a quick trip around the nippy barrel room where we viewed the 2011s in barrel (the 2010 vintage had already been moved for blending), we popped back upstairs to taste. (more…)