On Location

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!

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.

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from Burgundy’s Fringe

JoursFollowing a busy day tasting the wines of the Cotes de Nuits, Jeff Loo, JJ Buckley’s man in Beaune spent the next few days attending sessions focusing on the so-called “lesser” appellations of Burgundy. While the villages of the Cote d’Or get most of the attention, the Grand Jours de Bourgogne tastings really open your eyes to the diversity of wines made throughout the region. Whether it’s sparkling wines, beaujolais and even high-octane brandies, Burgundy is so much more than pinot noir and chardonnay.

While not as glamorous, areas like the Maconnais and Burgundy are becoming increasingly important to the region’s economic well-being. The price of land in the Cote d’Or is becoming frighteningly expensive making it difficult for families to hold onto their properties. With such high prices today, only banks and multinational conglomerates have the wherewithal to purchase these expensive vineyards. With that comes a loss of the traditions passed down from generation to generation of winemakers and farmers, a blow to the region’s cultural heritage.

For years now, many large family owned negociants have traveled south to purchase vineyards in Beaujolais and the Macon to ensure they have consistent availability of fruit for the more affordable wines in their portfolio. The rise in quality of cru Beaujolais and site-specific Pouilly-Fuisses over the past decade are evidence that quality wines can be made outside of the Cote d’Or and at affordable prices.

Jeff Loo had this to say after his tasting sessions:

“As I tasted my way through the wines of the Macon region, there were plenty of examples that were simply meant for everyday drinking but I also found some stunning discoveries that would give wines from Chablis and Beanue a run for their money. 2012 is a super vintage here. The wines are expressive with great fruit profiles as well as weight and acidity. I get the feeling the best examples will easily age for a decade. Yet the quality is so good, it will be hard to keep them in the cellar.

Tasting through the wines of almost 100 producers was a thrilling experience. The winemakers I met are all fiercely proud of their regions and their wines. There’s a sense of pride to be found here and the top estates are making thought provoking wines that will please even the most jaded palates. To be clear, these are incredible values and it will be a big mistake if you overlook them. St Veran gets my nod as best of the bunch in 2012.”

Coming up is Jeff’s final report from the Burgundy’s most important trade event as he travels south to taste through the wines of the Cote de Beaune.

Click here to read our blogpost about the 2012 wines from Chablis presented at the Grand Jours. And here for Jeff’s updates from the Cote de Nuits.

Can’t make it to the Grand Jours de Bourgogne? These wines are great introductions to the “other” Burgundy.

2010 Vincent Girardin Domaine de la Tour du Bief Moulin a Vent “Clos de la Tour”

2010 Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres

2010 Georges Duboeuf Brouilly Flower Label

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from the Cotes de Nuits

JJ Buckley's Jeff Loo took his trademark cowboy hat to Burgundy but this producer had him beat!

JJ Buckley’s Jeff Loo took his trademark cowboy hat to Burgundy but this producer had him beat!

Following the introductory tastings in Chablis that start the Grand Jours de Bourgogne week, the wine industry entourage turns their attention southwards and begin their immersion into the wines of the Cote d’Or. The day focuses on the wines of the Cote de Nuits which are presented in four different locations from the village of Marsannay in the north down to Nuits St. Georges. There are over 200 tables at the four tastings and each producer can easily pour 4-6 wines, often pouring multiple vintages of the same wine. So basically, you’re looking at almost 1000 wines being poured on Tuesday. And there are three days of tastings to go. And folks in the trade say that tasting Bordeaux en primeur is hard……

Starting the day, you have to come to grips with the fact that there’s no way to taste all the wines you hope to try and that time management is essential. Knowing all this information from our visit to the region two years ago, it was probably rather cruel of us to send JJ Buckley’s Jeff Loo to fend off the crowds all by his lonesome. But we figured that his enthusiasm for Burgundy was all that he needed to handle the moshpit at each tasting.

Here’s a brief synopsis of his thoughts after tasting the day’s wines.

“As a whole, the village of Vosne Romanee is the most successful in 2012. They were simply the best wines I encountered today and that’s saying something given the sheer number of wines that were available to try. The amount of stunning wines that I tasted, whether grand crus or simple village wines, was simply incredible. These bottlings will be among the best candidates for long term cellaring. 

I found the 2012s from Gevrey Chambertin to be extremely fruit forward and strong. They were almost modern in style, yet still exhibited a significant measure of restraint. The best examples showed grippy tannins that are typically encountered in wines from this commune that also showed off some mouthwatering acidity. Some years in the cellar will be essential with Gevrey’s top cuvees.

The day wasn’t just about the most famous crus of the Cotes de Nuits. Part of this tasting included wines from Marsannay and Fixin, two appellations that can offer some of Burgundy’s best values. While the 2011 vintage was delicious in Marsannay, the 2012’s will easily outlive them.  Fixin also had a strong showing in 2012, with most producers making wines easily in the 88-92 point range. Look to this commune when looking for well priced pinots from the Cote d’Or.”

Look forward to Jeff’s final report from the Burgundy’s most important trade event as he travels south to taste through the wines of the Cote de Beaune.

Click here to read our blogpost about the 2012 wines from Chablis presented at the Grand Jours.

Can’t make it to the Grand Jours de Bourgogne? JJ Buckley brings the Cote de Nuits to you.

2010 Domaine de l’Arlot Cote de Nuits Villages “Clos du Chapeau”

2003 Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin les Marchais

2010 Domaine Tortochot Clos de Vougeot

2010 Bouchard Pere et Fils Vosne Romanee

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from Chablis

Grand JoursThe Grand Jours de Bourgogne tastings began a few days ago with the traditional start to the event held in the northern region of Chablis. While our preferred focus was on the famed chardonnays of this famous region, one can easily be immersed (or most likely distracted) by the diversity of wines that come from the northern reaches of Burgundy.

Consumers and the trade are guilty of thinking that chardonnay and pinot noir represent the entirety of what is produced there. But there are intriguing subregions in the north including the Grand Auxerrois that sees minerally and racy sauvignon blancs emanating from the chalk soils of Saint-Bris, aligote wines that are more frequently found further south in the Cotes Chalonnaise and even some sturdy pinot noirs from the cold area of Irancy.

We just received an update from JJ Buckley’s Burgundy specialist Jeff Loo who is our man on the scene at this year’s Grand Jours tastings. He will compile tasting notes for the top wines of each commune while offering commentary on how each village fared with the 2012 vintage. The best of his on-the-scene reporting will be summarized along with his notes in a JJ Buckley report on the 2012 Burgundies to be published shortly after his return.

In the meantime here are a few observations from Jeff on his visit to Chablis:

“In 2012, it’s not just the grand cru or premier cru bottlings to look for. In this vintage, the village level wines and the lesser appellations found amazing success. The 12′s are very good compared to the 2010′s. They have an incredible roundness to them as though they already had enough bottle age to develop that ‘fatness’ that comes out in white Burgundies with age. Many winemakers considered the 2012′s as a combination of the styles found in 2009 and 2010 Chablis melding the fineness and acidity from ’10 and the richly textured fruit from 2009.  There really wasn’t a dog at this day’s tastings.”

The Tuesday tastings will be one of Jeff’s toughest days of the Grand Jours as he shuttles between four communes in the northern Cotes d’Or. He’ll be jostling and fighting for tastes of the crus of Vosne Romanee at the historic chateau of Clos Vougeot and then running up north to Marsannay to sample the wines from the commune of Gevrey Chambertin. In between he has tastings of wines from Nuits St. Georges, Morey St. Denis, Chambolle Musigny and more. Wow, I’m just tired writing about it.

Stay tuned!!

Drink with Jeff by enjoying these tasty Chablis:

2011 Domaine Louis Michel Chablis “Grenouilles”

2009 Domaine Laroche Chablis “Blanchots”

2007 La Chablisienne Chablis “Bougros”

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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In 2012, The Right Bank Gets it Right

In 2012, The Right Bank Gets it Right

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 17th, 2013

Definitely not running late to an appointment...

Definitely not running late to our appointment…for lunch

Visiting en primeur is not only a test of mind and palate – it’s also a trial in organizational skills (or occasionally, lack thereof). With so many tastings and wineries to visit, all spread across the wide swath of land that makes up Bordeaux, it’s imperative that appointments are scheduled in such a way that one spends more time tasting than travelling. It can take an hour to go from Bordeaux to Chateau Calon Segur in St. Estephe. If your next appointment is at Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, you’ll need 40 minutes – more if you get stuck behind a tractor. A lesson learned the hard way…

So JJ Buckley makes sure to focus our appointments on each bank to lessen travel times. Once we finished with our cabernet-themed Left Bank travels, we zoomed off to our base in Libourne to sample the merlot-dominant wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol. And thanks to the fact that we could leave our hotel and arrive at Petrus’s door in about ten minutes, we were confident we could taste more during the second half of en primeur. Good thing too, because early reports had indicated that the best wines would be found on the Right Bank.
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Pontet-Canet ‘Saddles-Up’ in 2012

Pontet-Canet ‘Saddles-Up’ in 2012

Post by Alex Fondren | April 16th, 2013

Vast Pontet-Canet vineyard view from the tasting room

Pontet-Canet vineyard view from the chateau

In a variable vintage like 2012, it’s often hard to find consensus on which appellations and wines showed best. Our first official day tasting up and down the Haut Medoc proved no different, with some very spirited debates regarding the success of several big name properties. One estate that proved incapable of rousing much controversy, however, was Pontet-Canet.

Probably one of “the” wines of the Left Bank in 2012, the majority of us left impressed with what the chateau was able to achieve given the hand it was dealt. But after visiting, it was clear (as is always the case with Pontet-Canet) that this success was no mere accident. (more…)

Bordeaux 2012: An Insider’s Look at This Year’s Pricing and Strategies

Bordeaux 2012: An Insider’s Look at This Year’s Pricing and Strategies

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 15th, 2013

JJB's Ryan Moses and Jeff Loo take notes on the vintage

JJB’s Ryan Moses and Jeff Loo take notes on the vintage

My fourth consecutive visit to Bordeaux en primeur was accompanied by the usual meetings with negociants and wineries. It wasn’t long before I began to pick up on the topical trends that began to occur with every conversation. At first, there’s always a discussion of the weather – understandable given the way it shapes the quality of the region’s star commodity. Then the chatter turns quickly to the quality of the recent vintage. If there’s a bit more time, everyone asks how Bordeaux is selling in China and America.

But eventually, the discussion turns to the topic of utmost importance: the pricing for the new vintage. It’s here where things get interesting. Negociants inquire about what pricing it will take for the upcoming campaign to be a success, while at the same time buyers are asking around as well, trying to ascertain how prices will pan out for this vintage. The conversations can get quite animated – strong opinions are posited while each party tries to discern the mindsets of chateau owners and wine buyers. The 2012 vintage has done nothing to change this ritual. If anything, the discussion about pricing has been more open than in the past. Rather than playing poker this year, the cards have been laid out on the table.
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