2009 en primeurs

Pack Your Good Liver: Tasting With A Negociant

Pack your good liver: Tasting with a negociant

Post by John Perry | Saturday, March 27th

I thought that by coming to Bordeaux for the tasting of the 2008 vintage last year I would feel more hip to the experience on my sophomore trip. But it’s still an impressive (and intimidating!) sight to enter a room with hundreds of bottles of wine lined up on a table – all to be opened and tasted.  This is how we spent a couple of hours on Saturday evening on a return visit to one of our negociants. The sheer volume of what was presented to us I remembered all too well from the previous year. Believe me, it takes some strength to come out of one of these on top!

This year we started in a tasting room dedicated to wines from the 2009 vintage, with a handful of 08s thrown in for comparison.

At Barrieres Freres

"Take one down, pass it around, 99 bottles of wine on the wall..."

Although there were hundreds of bottles, it was not quite as jam packed as last year. There were spaces on the table for 2009 samples that had yet to arrive, and more space in the location in general, allowing for a slightly more relaxed experience.  Corks were popped and we dug right in.  Of all the 2009 wines that we tasted, I was particularly impressed with the offerings from Margaux (d’Issan, Brane Cantenac, Malescot) as well as St. Julien (Beychevelle, Lagrange).  Phenomenal aromas, big and round on the palate, terrific structure and length- whether this is indicative of the vintage in general remains to be seen, but for me things were getting off to a fantastic start.

An American wine writer happened to be visiting the negociant at the same time we were there and he was welcomed to join us in tasting.  It was a pleasure to get a perspective from outside our group, and as things often do around here the discussion boiled down to quality and price.  What will the market for 2009 Bordeaux be like?  Whatever the outcome, there was the sentiment that Americans don’t want to get burned by the Bordelais…we don’t want to see the wines we purchase now on the market for the same price or less two years down the road when they come stateside. I had a similar feeling last year, though having a child born in 2008 made me desire the vintage regardless of quality and where the pricing would go. I have a similar stake in 2009 as I would like to document a unique moment in my life with this vintage. Fortunately, the quality that I’ve experienced thus far makes these a very compelling purchase.

After wrapping up in the first room, we were invited into the second tasting room, smaller with a semi-circular table.  At least we presumed there to be a table as every square centimeter was covered by our evening’s work. It was an intense experience last year when there were just four of us there to taste.  This year, there were eleven of us crammed together like kids in a candy shop.  We had bottles on the table from the mid-90s through 2007 and what a blast! One person would try something they really liked and I would rush over to try it too.  Then I would hear about another amazing wine across the room and I had to rush over and try that one!  Of course, not every wine is the most amazing thing ever, but even when we came across average bottles or outright duds it was still very enjoyable to get that much palate education in one fell swoop.

By the time we were finished we were all famished and in need of some serious food. None of us had really eaten save for a baguette, prosciutto, pate and cheese at a tasting eight hours earlier and it was definitely time to go.  So without further ado, we were off with yet another successful and wonderful tasting at this negociant in the books!  Au revoir, see you next year!

Thuning Up The Palate – Bordeaux Day 2

“Thuning” up the palate

Post by Alex Lallos | Saturday, March 27th

Here we are in Bordeaux once again! As I sit here with some (extremely rare) spare time, trying to recall what little French I can, it feels good to be back for my third go-round of en primeurs tastings. Especially so considering that there has already been a lot of talk about the 2009 vintage as compared to my previous two trips for the ’07 and ’08 vintages. These should prove to be an excellent reference point going into this highly touted (and frankly heavily hyped) vintage.

After arriving in Bordeaux around 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday we settled down to regain our bearings (read: 30 minutes to throw our luggage down and grab a shower) following our bumpy ten-hour

Bad Boy

Bad Boy - Good Merlot

flight before heading off to taste some wines with local friends and have a casual dinner. (See “Eating Here Is Half The Fun”.)

Day Two (Saturday the 27th) was jam packed right from the get-go.  Our group of ten (up four more people from last year!) ate a quick breakfast at our hotel and sped off with alacrity to our first official tasting of the trip at Thunevin. Here we tasted a dozen or so wines made by Jean-Luc Thunevin, the official self-proclaimed “bad boy” of Bordeaux. (Just a note: This guy is on his game for sure, currently making some of the best and most highly sought after wines in Bordeaux.) We started our visit with Jean-Luc by tasting through a few of his non-St Emilion wines, including Bellevue Tayac (Margaux), Clos de Beau Pere (Pomerol), and Thunevin-Calvet (Roussilan, Southern France).

We then headed to Jean-Luc’s house in downtown St Emilion where we were received by his wife, Murielle. We were there to taste Valandraud (Thunevin’s baby), which debuted in 1991 and recently has been on a tear, being one of the most consistently high scoring and sought after “garagiste” wines in St Emilion.  The property is a minuscule 2.7 hectares planted to 75% merlot with the remainder cabernet franc and a tiny bit of malbec. No expense is spared on this wines and it shows.  We also tried the 2009 Virginie de Valandraud (the 2nd wine of Valandraud) along with 2009 La Dominique (Thunevin consults since 2006) and 2009 Fleur Cardinale (maybe the best bang for the buck in Bordeaux). Last but not least, we tried the 2009 Valandraud, which was absolutely stunning.

I won’t get into tasting notes quite yet but I was ultimately surprised to find that the 09s were (as reported) dense and concentrated yet fresh with all the stuffing (tannins, structure, length, color, fruit, and all the rest). Jean-Luc assured us that it was important not to over extract in 2009 because the wines will have extraction given the pedigree of the fruit itself. We will see over the next week who got it right and who dropped the ball. Stay tuned!

Eating There Is Half The Fun – Bordeaux Day 1

Eating there is half the fun

Post by John Sweeney | Friday, March 26th

After a rather turbulent flight from San Francisco to Paris and a short layover we finally arrived in Bordeaux at around 3:30 in the afternoon this past Friday.  Pleasant weather and a bit of adrenaline got us quickly to our home base in Libourne, about 30 minutes from the center of Bordeaux and a quick ten minute drive to the center of beautiful St Emilion.  After a shower and change of clothes we headed out for a bite to eat.

Assembled at a quaint and beautiful Chateau on the banks of the Gironde River, we began our evening with a glass of 1996 Henriot Champagne – a

Normandy Oysters

Who's eating who in this scenario?

wine of amazing complexity, tremendous youthfulness and a terrific way to start off any wine tasting trip.  After savoring this delicious bubbly, we sat down to dinner with what has to have been the largest plate of oysters I’ve ever seen! These Normandy gems were like kissing the ocean…just a squeeze of lemon and you were in for a real, French-styled Atlantic treat. Along with what must have easily been two hundred oysters, we tasted three spectacular bottlings of 2007 William Fevre Chablis – the Mont de Millieu, Bougros, and Vaillons.  Each bottle is from a different single vineyard in Chablis and is the perfect wine to accompany fresh oysters.  This was definitely my favorite part of the evening as Fevre’s Chablis are incredible examples of what can be done with the chardonnay grape when it is not masked by the over-use of oak and malolactic fermentation.  Of the three, the ‘Vaillon’ stood out for me, with notes of lemon, lime, pineapple, an ever so slight touch of oak, and a beautiful shell-like minerality that persisted on my palate for close to a minute.  My tasting note said, “really incredible!”

Following the onslaught of oysters, we were treated to fresh baked French bread, perfectly grilled ribeyes and homemade au gratin potatoes – totally to die for.  To pair with this simple but heavenly meal we tasted a flight of newly released 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Papes, figuring these would get our palates warmed up for the 2009 Bordeaux ahead. As anticipated, these young gems from the Southern Rhone Valley were totally delicious. Standouts for me were the 2007 Chateau Vaudieu Chateaneuf du Pape, 2007 Grand Veneur ‘Les Origines’ Chateauneuf du Pape and the 2007 Domaine Durieu Chateuneuf-du-Pape.  But my favorite of these was the 2007 La Bastide Saint Dominique that was out of this world delicious! It showed incredible complexity for such a young wine with an intoxicating perfume on the nose, along with superb purity of fruit with notes of cassis and licorice. Powdery-soft tannins made this my favorite wine of the flight.

As if a dozen CdP’s was not enough, we opened a few young Brunelli from the great 2004 vintage, including two of my favorites, the 2004 Fanti and Collemattoni.  These both showcase how complex and delicious the sangiovese grape can be, showing copious amounts of red raspberry, blackberry, black pepper, and vanilla flavors.  Incredibly silky textures, tremendous length, well integrated oak and balanced tannins. I was surprised how well these wines showed this evening and what incredible potential they will have in 5-10 years.

I guess I’m ready for the onslaught of 2009 Bordeaux…all 750 wines or so we’ll be tasting over the next week! But hey, someone’s gotta do it.

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.

2009 Bordeaux Vintage – News From The Front

Stay tuned – our live report is coming soon!