On Location

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…)

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…)

Under the Bordelais Sun? A Weather Analysis for the 2011 Vintage

Under the Bordelais Sun? A Weather Analysis for the 2011 Vintage

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 30th, 2012

If it’s March, it must be time for Bordeaux en primeur!!

And indeed it is with half of the JJ Buckley sales staff already on the ground and the rest due to arrive tomorrow. Awaiting us is a very full schedule of tastings, appointments and dinners. It promises to be an eventful trip… Indeed, we started out with a (near) bang as Shaun Bishop, our Bordeaux buyer, had a close call in the rental car lot with a major American wine critic (who was clearly in a hurry to get to work tasting the vintage)!

Vines at Bordeaux Airport

As in years past, look for pics, blog posts, and Facebook updates from us as we taste through the latest vintage. In addition to our initial thoughts on the quality of the 2011s, we want to show you what life is like during en primeur week. That’s why we brought along our friend Hardy Wallace again to put together some videos that will give you a unique perspective on what it’s like to be in Bordeaux during this exciting and intense time of year. Stay tuned for those as JJ Buckley embarks on a trip we like to call “A Hard Day’s ‘Flight'”.  And don’t forget that JJ Buckley’s annual Bordeaux report will bring you vintage analysis, hundreds of tasting notes, and articles of interest. (more…)

Napa on the Block: Behind the scenes at Premiere Napa Valley

Napa on the Block: Behind the scenes at Premiere Napa Valley

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 1st, 2012

This past weekend saw the wineries of the Napa Valley host their annual Premiere Auction Weekend. This was the 16th edition of the Napa Valley Vintners Association’s second most important event. The Napa Valley Wine Auction held each summer in support of local charities is more well known and geared toward raising funds from consumers. For the wine trade, Premiere Napa Valley is where it’s at. Here, auctions of unfinished wines are directed to bidders in the retail and restaurant industry, with proceeds destined for the region’s marketing and education efforts. Consumers cannot bid on these lots.

The auction represents the culmination of a week-long series of events in the valley, including a wine writers’ symposium, educational tastings, as well as the traditional parties which form the foundation of any gathering of the wine industry. It brings to mind en primeur week in Bordeaux with familiar crowds of journalists and buyers from across the globe traipsing from winery to winery attending tastings and parties.

Tim Mondavi (l) and Stuart Harrison (c) of Continuum with Joshua Greene (r), Editor of Wine & Spirits

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