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: First Day’s Observations

Jeffrey Davies (l)chatting with Veronique Sanders, general manager at Chateau Haut-Bailly

Jeffrey Davies (l)chatting with Veronique Sanders, general manager at Chateau Haut-Bailly

While I have not been on every JJ Buckley trip to en primeur (this is my fifth), I have been quick to enjoy the tradition of starting each year’s tastings with a visit to the house of Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections. A San Franciscan who decamped to Bordeaux long ago, spending time with Jeffrey gives us a perfect overview of the most recent vintage and the latest news (and gossip) about the Bordeaux wine business which helps to set the tone for the visits that follow during the rest of the week.

We chiselled away some time in our schedule to visit Jeffrey on a cloudy Sunday to taste through a wide range of 2013 reds that included wines from simpler appellations up to grand cru classe bottlings from regions all over Bordeaux and at varying price points. Between sips and spits, we walked through Jeffrey’s selections putting together our initial thoughts about the vintage.

“One thing you’ll not need to worry about in this vintage is the color,” observed Jeffrey and we had to agree. Each wine we tried had deep colors, usually opaque at the core of the bowl extending out to the rim. “It’s a good sign,” Jeffrey said “because it shows that the fruit got some measurable degree of ripeness.”

Given that the weather was cool and that many winemakers rushed to pick their grapes before things went south in their vineyards, we were also on the look for any green, vegetal characters in the wines we tried. “I think you’ll agree that there are not any wines here that are green or in any way herbaceous. This is not something that I’ve seen a lot with the 2013s.” We tended to agree noting that some people are more sensitive to herbal smells and flavors than others. Nevertheless, and unripe qualities manifested as overly vegetal are not as prevalent as might be expected.

A few of the 2013s tasted at the offices of Jeffrey Davies

A few of the 2013s tasted at the offices of Jeffrey Davies

While not as noticeable when going through his wines, Jeffrey commented that many wineries had difficulty dealing with tannins in 2013. “By picking before the rains, there was a risk of fruit with green tannins ending up in the cellar,” said Jeffrey. “And some winemakers pressed too late or too heavily which left considerable amount of tannins in the finished wines.” Jeffrey’s prediction proved to right on the money as a later tasting showed many wines possessing firm tannins that were drying to the palate instead of ripe, soft tannins that were in balance with the fruit levels of the wine.

When it came to successes in 2013, he clearly agreed with many others who have previewed the 2013’s that the white wines of Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes would be the wines to watch. Our upcoming visit to wineries in Pessac and Leognan will give us some insight on how the wineries from south of Bordeaux ultimately fared.

With these cursory, yet important, observations on what to expect over the next few days, we bid adieu to Jeffrey and went our way…. to another tasting.

Click here to read about our thoughts on the 2013 Bordeaux as we arrive at en primeur.

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.

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”