en primeurs 2009

2009 JJ Buckley Bordeaux Report

2009 JJ Buckley Bordeaux Report

Wines of a Lifetime, But Not Vintage of a Lifetime

Post by Shaun Bishop & Chuck Hayward | April 26th, 2010

We visit Bordeaux every year in March to taste the new releases, or en primeur, but even before we booked our tickets we knew this trip would be different. For one, after years of flying under the radar, JJ Buckley was the talk of Bordeaux. Representatives of the trade from across the globe stopped to say hello. Wine journalists also sought out our opinions and observations. (see article in Decanter.com)

They also wanted to understand why we had just flown in ten of our staff to taste and evaluate the 2009 vintage out of barrel— a larger group than any other US wine merchant and more than most contingencies from anywhere in the world. But it’s our job as one of America’s top Bordeaux merchants to wade neck-deep into each vintage and sort out what’s what, which wines to buy and what to pass on. And in the case of 2009, we wanted to see if the reality would live up to the hype.

We spent ten days there sampling 50 to 200 wines per day, often tasting the same wine two to four times over the course of our visit. We talked to owners, winemakers, negociants, competitors, vineyard managers and even to our own customers from the US and abroad. Buyers of this vintage will need guidance and we are fully prepared to answer all your questions, give thoughtful and educated advice, and provide a personal perspective on the hundreds of wines that we tasted.

So, what about the hype?

Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Wines

Many have talked about 2009 as another “vintage of a lifetime”. The truth is that term is starting to wear thin, as there have been other vintages that were more consistently excellent across all appellations and chateaux. 2009 did produce some very, very special, even brilliant wines, perhaps more so than any recent “vintage of a lifetime”. However 2009 required work, both in the vineyard and in the winery. Winemakers were dealing with some off the charts measurements that required expert skill to manage. The bottom line in ’09 is if you didn’t have a skilled winemaking team and if you didn’t invest in your vineyards, you were likely left with an unbalanced mess.

But those that got it right in 2009 got it very right. In fact, some made wines unlike anything we, and many other wine professionals we have spoken to, have ever tasted. Some wines transcended their humble appellations and some even hit it out of the park. The truly brilliant wines show a perfect balance between tannin, fruit, oak, alcohol and acidity. They are rich and round, fresh and powerful, with the mineral notes and structure that defines Bordeaux terroir.

There has also been a lot of talk about how great the First Growths are in 2009 and how expensive they may turn out to be. Of course, we will offer the wines for sale. But truth be told, we don’t find 2009 to be a ‘First Growth year’. If you want the wines that will knock your socks off, you will find them at the lower levels, from the super seconds to the values from Cotes de Castillon and Fronsac. Wines from St. Estephe, St. Julien and Margaux are some appellations in particular to keep your eyes on. (Some appellations, like Pomerol, we feel made better wines in 2008). The professional critics will ultimately provide you with the final quality evaluation, but we will be there to help guide your decision making with informed, first-hand knowledge.

The 2009 Vintage As Seen Through Its Weather

The team at Ducru

Bordeaux probably has the most analyzed growing seasons of any viticultural area. It produces some of the planet’s most popular wines, which means that harvest information is very essential to a large number of people. More importantly, this meteorological scrutiny has created a large database of weather conditions going back for centuries. In trying to find out what the wines in the barrel will be like down the road, looking at the weather is a way to see what the past may reveal about a wine’s future.

As the wine industry in Bordeaux has changed from farming to serious business, the wine trade looks increasingly at meteorological data collected by government agencies as well as less formal information gathered from wine estates. Fortunately, all of this is collected and analyzed by Bordeaux negociant Bill Blatch whose annual vintage report has become a must-read for Bordeaux cognoscenti. He summarized the year’s growing conditions thus: “In 2009, we seem to have reached the extreme limit of Bordeaux concentration. Yet it was not the hottest year by any means – that was 2003 – nor was it the driest – that was 2005. In 2009, there were no extremes, just good regular heat at the right times, with everything coming in the right order: the vine amply nourished by ground water during its growing period, then, as from 15th June, starved of water – very progressively – during the ripening and concentration of its bunches right through the rest of the vineyard year.”

2009 began uneventfully with normal budbreak followed by a balanced flowering period devoid of rain or frosts. Some hail storms hit vineyards in St. Emilion and near Margaux but did not cause major problems. The quality of the vintage began to take shape during the dry summer with record amounts of sun and just a few showers that arrived at the right time to replenish the vines. The temperatures just prior to picking were high, but not overwhelming as winemakers began the traditional hand-wringing that occurs in anticipation of bringing in the year’s harvest.

John Sweeney & Chris Caughman at La Mission Haut Brion

Harvest time in Bordeaux traditionally sees a change in weather patterns to cooler temperatures and more frequent rain showers. This creates a rather anxious situation, in which the need for the grapes to finish ripening in cooler temperatures is balanced against the need to get the fruit in before wet conditions create rot and mildew. The unique attributes of 2009 were warmer temperatures as the harvest progressed, combined with only one wet period of any consequence. Everything seemed to be in place to pronounce the vintage as successful, if not ideal.

As the wines have settled, many observers have noticed that this is not a uniform vintage, with many peaks and a few valleys to be found. The most obvious example of this is the difference in how merlot and cabernet each responded to the warmer weather at harvest. Merlot, being an earlier ripening variety, achieved very high alcohols thanks to the extended harvest conditions. This led many Right Bank wines to achieve alcohols over 14% with many easily over 15%. How winemakers handled the merlot component of their blends became an important factor in the success of an estate’s wine. In the Medoc, the more structured cabernet portion in the wines helped to balance the riper merlot.

Equally important was the tannin component of each wine’s composition.  At almost every estate we visited, winemakers noted that the tannin levels were high with many quoting a statistic called “IPT”, or Indice des Polyphenols Totaux, or in English, Total Phenolics. In layman’s terms, this is a measure of a wine’s tannin levels. IPT readings for 2009 were off the charts, with many properties seeing their highest scores ever. Whatever the numbers, tannins are an important aspect of the vintage in 2009, especially on the Right Bank where some winemakers had coarse, roughly textured tannins while others were finely grained and smooth as silk.

Wine Styles

In tasting the en primeurs, it’s important to remain as objective as possible.

There may be styles which we personally dislike or properties we have favored in the past, but as professionals we try not to be influenced by these factors. It’s also important not to allow the “white noise” of the vintage, e.g. the observations of the press or comments overheard in the tasting halls, to affect what we see in each wine. Nowhere was this more important than in assessing two of the most controversial aspects of the 09s—tannins and alcohol—especially in the examples from Pomerol and St. Emilion. The best wines were as thrilling to taste as a high-wire act it to watch— you almost expect them to go overboard but they never do.

Early observers were quick to note the ripeness found in the wines of the Right Bank, especially St. Emilion. It is here where the merlot plantings achieved unheard levels of alcohol approaching 15 to 16%, with ripe and juicy mid-palate textures and soft, round finishes. While these may not be favored by those who prefer a more traditional approach to the Right Bank, it is what Mother Nature gave the grower and not the result of some attempt to make “uber-wines” designed to score points. We all agreed the best examples shared two common traits of freshness and elegance thanks to clean and bright acids. These wines avoided a ponderous character and were livelier on the palate and longer in the finish thanks to this integrated acidity.

Elegant, integrated acids were not limited to St. Emilion. The best wines of the Medoc, especially in Margaux, St Estephe, and Saint Julien, had rich textures from ripe cabernet, but that avoided becoming too thick or unbalanced thanks to this unique attribute of the 2009 vintage. The ability of the top estates to keep acidity in their grapes came from the cool nights of late September and early October, which also allowed for the extended hang time producing ripe fruit. It is an exciting aspect of the vintage that bodes well for both immediate appeal and some time in the cellar.

Where the acids of 2009 gave the best wines a sense of refinement, poor

tannin management had the ability to ruin a wine completely, giving the consumer an unbalanced product. Winemakers and their consultants were not only required to control the shape of the tannins, but also the amount of tannin in the finished wine. A frequent topic of conversation with winemakers centered on record-breaking tannin levels, but high tannin levels do not necessarily create a better wine. If not managed properly, the mid-palate fades quickly and the wine will end with a substantially tannic finish.

More importantly, the lesser examples had tannins that were rough in texture and often had burnt and bitter qualities. These traits deterred from a smooth, soft finish and will require a bit of work in the cellar to clean up, but at the risk of stripping the wine from fining and filtration. The most exciting wines had such integrated tannin structures they nearly stole across the palate unnoticed. The key to this vintage was finding the perfect type and amount of tannin and it is here where the best wines really shine.

The Role Of The Consultant

From the time of Emile Peynaud and over the past half-century, the

consulting winemaker has become an agent of change in Bordeaux winemaking practices. Today’s superstars such as Stephane Derenoncourt, Michel Rolland and Denis Dubourdieu have made a definitive imprint on the wineries of their clients. Rolland, especially, through his work in the cellar, has done much to elevate the concentration of fruit on the palate of many Bordelais estates.

One observation we made during the en primeur tastings was that certain estates consistently showed ‘above their place’, so to speak. Towards the end of our stay as we gathered to discuss our favorites, many of the same wines rose to the top and they had a bond amongst them that surprised us: Stephane Derenoncourt was the consultant to many of those estates. This should have been obvious, as Derenoncourt’s wines have always been some of our most admired. His recent success has led him to expand his influence from the Right Bank properties of Pomerol and St. Emilion to the grand vins of the Medoc working with Chateaux such as Talbot, Prieure-Lichine, and Smith-Haut-Lafitte, as well as properties as far way as India, Turkey, and Lebanon.

Cory Gowan at Reignac

One of the things that makes Derenoncourt so unique in Bordeaux is his detailed work in the vineyards. Where much consulting work in Bordeaux has centered in the cellar, Derenoncourt is working to increase the use of organic and biodynamic vineyard methods in an area that has traditionally avoided those techniques due to difficult weather conditions. A self-taught winemaker, he credits his 15 years as a vineyard laborer for informing his approach on the importance of the grape and how it is grown.

But all of this is no good if the wines aren’t pleasing to drink and the Derenoncourt style was easily evident in the wines we preferred. In a vintage that could produce wines that were jammy and over-the-top, his wines demonstrated beautiful acidity, giving the flavors precision and elegance. And where many wines had tannins that were chunky in texture and substantial in quantity, Derenoncourt’s tannin profiles were silky and smooth— almost imperceptible on the palate. From the less-well known properties of the Côtes to the premier estates of the Medoc, Derenoncourt’s wines are the cream in an excellent vintage and deserve your attention.

Pricing

Alex Lallos with Francois Mitjaville

We have obviously asked our suppliers in Bordeaux about pricing and there is little doubt that the prices will be higher for this vintage than for the 2008s. The real question is, by how much? Ultimately, the market as a whole will decide, but the initial release prices are likely to be up 10% on lower to mid-tier wines and up as much as 100% on the top wines as compared to 2008, while down maybe 10% to 25% from 2005.

The current marketplace as a whole is also somewhat in turmoil. On the one hand, we have a US market that has quite frankly disintegrated— large suppliers like Diageo Chateau & Estates, Southern Wine & Spirits and other big players are no longer participating in the Bordeaux en primeur campaign. This is contributing to limited access for many end consumers and ultimately may limit the total demand from the US.

On the other hand you have emerging markets such as countries in Asia (as well as established ones like Japan). For now, the demand coming from Hong Kong and China seems limited to the ‘brand names’— in particular Chateau Lafite and about ten to twenty other ‘big names’. We feel that Asia’s demand for the top names will certainly help make up for lack of US demand for these wines, but ultimately it will not reflect overall market health.

Disclosures

All wines were tasted non-blind. Most tastings took place at negociants or at

the Chateau with additional tastings conducted at the appellation-designated UGC events (also in non-blind format). Most wines were tasted more than once. If we missed a wine, it’s because it was not shown at any of these tastings.

Our scores reflect our opinion of the wines, but its important to note that it can be very difficult to assess quality in the tasting environments in which they are presented. Large UGC tastings are not the best place to attempt disciplined tasting— there are too many distractions, too many people, and in some cases, too many non-vinous odors!

Negociant tastings are better, but palate fatigue does occur from exposure to acid and tannin that can make accurate assessments more difficult. In addition, there can be a high amount of variability in barrel samples. We had some mixed experiences with certain wines where they clearly showed differently depending on the sample. (One Chateau owner told us that different barrel samples of the same wine leads some to think each is a completely different wine.) The weather can also impact the way a wine tastes on any given day. During our trip, the barometric pressure was generally low, which can suppress aromatics and flavors.

Vintage Highlights

Top appellations in 2009 will be St. Estephe, St. Julien, and Margaux. Pauillac also fared well, but we believe the top estates could have made better wines. In all, the Left Bank performed better than the Right Bank, although both banks did produce some monumental wines. Cabernet (both franc and sauvignon) was the king in 2009 and the wines from the Left Bank, generally speaking have a greater percentage of cab in the blend than the Right Bank. Merlot is used more on the Right Bank and some estates certainly made some great wines with their merlot. However, others harvested their merlot at very high sugar levels and those wines may have turned out a bit sweet or overly alcoholic.

Top 2009 Bordeaux Wines

The top wines of the vintage are rich and round, fresh and powerful; with the mineral notes and structure that defines Bordeaux terroir. These include, in no particular order of preference: Ausone, Beausejour Duffau, Clos l’Eglise, Cos d’Estournel, de Fargues, Ducru Beaucaillou, La Mission Haut Brion, La Violette, Larcis-Ducasse, Lascombes, Latour, Leoville Las Cases, Lynch Bages, Malescot St Exupery, Margaux, Montrose, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer, Pavie, Pontet Canet, Rauzan Segla, Tertre Roteboeuf, Troplong Mondot, Trotanoy, Valandraud, Yquem.  (We did not taste Petrus, VCC, Le Pin, or Lafleur.)

Wines That Outperformed Their Price Point

Bellevue, Berliquet, Calon Segur, Feytit-Clinet, Fleur Cardinale, d’Aiguilhe Querre, Gironville, La Tour Figeac, Le Bon Pasteur, L’Estang, Le Thil, Lilian Ladouys, Louis, Lucia, Pavillon Rouge, Pagodes de Cos, Pedesclaux, Petrus Gaia, Rol Valentin, and St Pierre.

Full 2009 BDX Tasting Notes Here

In Summary

Team JJB

Despite many of the more critical observations detailed above, there is no doubt that the 2009 vintage was one of the most pleasurable vintages we’ve tasted from barrel. The best wines had an immediate appeal and a sense of harmony that allowed them to be almost ready to drink today. While many people compared these wines to great years such as ’82, ’61 or ’47, we can’t really tell you what those wines were like out of barrel (and we doubt that there are many people left who can!) What we can tell you is that the best wines gave us a sense of exuberance and excitement that we haven’t felt in many vintages. We were almost giddy as we tasted one fantastic wine after another. Yes, there are some clunkers but there will be some unbelievable wines at all price points. They are wines that will be a great introduction for the Bordeaux novice and a reminder to the Bordeaux enthusiast about why we love it. Enjoy!

-Shaun Bishop, Proprietor – Bordeaux Buyer
-Chuck Hayward, Fine Wine Specialist – Wine Buyer

The JJB Advantage

We want you to know that before you make a decision to buy these wines, that you can count on the following:

As a licensed importer, wholesaler and retailer, JJ Buckley buys directly from Bordeaux, bypassing third party wholesalers and/or importers. This gives us and you a significant pricing advantage.

In order to secure large allocations of the most sought after and highly rated wines, JJ Buckley has worked hard over the years to build strong relationships with the most respected negociants and other suppliers. We are in Bordeaux at least twice a year to ensure we stay informed and well connected.

Our sales team has a broad and deep understanding of the vintage. Please call, email, or stop by and discuss the wines with our sales team who have just returned from Bordeaux. Over the past few weeks, they have analyzed, lived, breathed, practically bathed in the vintage, so no question will go unanswered.

Wines of a Lifetime, Not Vintage of a Lifetime | ’09 Bordeaux Futures Offer #1

Wines of a Lifetime, Not Vintage of a Lifetime:

2009 Bordeaux Futures Offer #1

Post by Shaun Bishop

We visit Bordeaux every year in March to taste the new vintages, but this year was different. After years of flying under the radar, JJ Buckley was the talk of Bordeaux. Nobody could understand why we had just flown in ten of our people to taste and evaluate the 2009 vintage out of barrel— a larger group than any other US wine merchant and more than most contingencies from anywhere in the world. But it’s our job as a Bordeaux merchant to wade neck-deep into each vintage and sort out what’s what— which wines we’d be buying and which we would take a pass on. And in the case of 2009, to see if the reality would live up to the hype.

We spent ten days there sampling 50 to 200 wines per day, often tasting the same wine two to four times over the course of our visit. We talked to owners, winemakers, negociants, competitors, vineyard managers and even to our own customers from the US and abroad. Buyers of this vintage will need guidance and we are fully prepared to answer all your questions, give thoughtful and educated advice, and provide a personal perspective on the hundreds of wines that we tasted.

We want you to know that before you make a decision to buy these wines,
that you can count on the following:

As a licensed importer, wholesaler and retailer, JJ Buckley buys directly from Bordeaux, bypassing third party wholesalers and/or importers. This gives us and you a significant pricing advantage.

In order to secure large allocations of the most sought after and highly rated wines, JJ Buckley has worked hard over the years to build strong relationships with the most respected negociants and other suppliers. We are in Bordeaux at least twice a year to ensure we stay informed and well connected.

Our sales team has a broad and deep understanding of the vintage. Please call, email, or stop by and discuss the wines with our sales team who have just returned from Bordeaux. Over the past few weeks, they have analyzed, lived, breathed, and bathed in the vintage, so no question will go unanswered.

**************************

So, what about the hype?

Many have talked about 2009 as another “vintage of a lifetime”. The truth is, that term is starting to wear thin as there have been other vintages that were more consistently excellent across all appellations and Chateaux. 2009 did produce some very, very special, even brilliant wines, perhaps more so than any “vintage of a lifetime”. However 2009 required work, both in the vineyard and in the winery. Winemakers were dealing with some off the charts measurements that required expert skill to manage. The bottom line in ’09 is if you didn’t have a skilled winemaking team and if you didn’t invest in your vineyards, you were likely left with an unbalanced mess.

But those that got it right in 2009 got it very right. In fact, some made wines unlike anything we, and many other wine professionals we have spoken to, have ever tasted. Some wines transcended their humble appellations and some even hit it out of the park. The truly brilliant wines show a perfect balance between tannin, fruit, oak, alcohol and acidity. They are rich and round, fresh and powerful, with the mineral notes and structure that defines Bordeaux terroir.

There has also been a lot of talk about how great the First Growths are in 2009 and how expensive they may turn out to be. Of course, we will offer the wines for sale. But truth be told, we don’t find 2009 to be a ‘First Growth year’. If you want the wines that will knock your socks off, you will find them at the lower levels, from the super seconds to the values from Cotes de Castillon and Fronsac. Wines from St. Estephe, St. Julien and Margaux are some appellations in particular to keep your eyes on. (Some appellations, like Pomerol, we feel made better wines in 2008). The professional critics will ultimately provide you with the final quality evaluation, but we will be there to help guide your decision making with informed, first-hand knowledge. Stay tuned for a full list of our tasting notes and opinions on hundreds of specific wines.

Our futures campaign begins today and we’ll continue to send you offers for the most noteworthy wines as they are released over the next couple of months. For starters, take a look at the wines below which are among the first 2009s released. It’s refreshing to find 90-95 point reds from proven appellations that can still be had for under $25. Enjoy!

-Shaun Bishop, JJ Buckley Proprietor and Buyer

Read about our adventures in Bordeaux on our BDX09 blog!

FRANCE – BORDEAUX

Pre-Arrival: ETA 2012

2009 Chateau La Tour De Bessan (Margaux) – $19.99

The Wine Spectator, April 2010, 91-94 points: “Blueberry and floral aromas follow through to a full body, with superfine tannins and a long, flavorful finish. But very refined and subtle. Love the texture.”

Decanter Magazine, April 2010, 3 Stars: “Purple red, fine smoky cassis nose, almost a feminine touch, very good Margaux. Drink 2013-18.”

2009 Chateau Côte Montpezat Cuvée Compostelle (Côtes de Castillon) – $14.99

The Wine Spectator, April 2010, 91-94 points: “Beautiful nose of crushed blueberries and raspberries. Full-bodied, with soft and velvety tannins and lots of pretty fruit.”

Decanter Magazine, April 2010, 3 Stars: “Round and supple with a little more fruit intensity than previous years. Drink 2012-2016.”

JJ Buckley Fine Wines, April 2010: “The nose is very attractive with nice complexity and layers of aromas with nicely integrated oak scents underneath. The palate mirrors what the bouquet offers up showing some juicy oak and very fine tannins. This is a very complete, harmonious wine at this point and quite hard to resist. Another great wine from Stephane Derenoncourt who was in top form with his 2009s.” -Chuck Hayward

2009 Chateau Gigault Cuvée Viva (Côtes de Blaye) – $17.99

The Wine Spectator, April 2010, 90-93: “Grapey, with lots of mineral and floral aromas that follow through to a full body, with well-integrated tannins and a juicy, fruity finish. Love the raspberries. Excellent as usual.”

2009 Mauvais Garçon (Bad Boy) by Thunevin (Bordeaux) – $15.99

The Wine Spectator, March 2010, 90-93 points: “Intense coffee bean, toasted bread and concentrated ripe fruit. Full-bodied, with soft and velvety tannins and a medium finish. A juicy wine in a flashy style. This is now called Mauvais Garçon, which means “bad boy” in French.”

2009 Laroche de Beaulieu Aster (Côtes de Castillon) – $17.99

The Wine Spectator, April 2010, 91-94 points: “A blockbuster wine for this appellation, with masses of fruit and velvety tannins, toasty oak and chocolate. 75 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.”

2009 Chateau Domeyne (St. Estephe) – $21.99

The Wine Spectator, April 2010, 91-94 points “Full-bodied, with plenty of ripe fruit, toasted oak and spices. Long and caressing. A relatively new estate to watch.”

Saving the best for last— My final, final at Chateau d’Yquem

Saving the best for last— My final, final at Chateau d’Yquem

Post by John Perry | Friday, April 2nd

Last day in Bordeaux. Gotta go out with a bang, and boy did I ever. Just like capping off a terrific meal, my trip ended on a high note at none other than Chateau d’Yquem. And the best part? I didn’t know I was going until the boss handed me the car keys.

The day started off with a light breakfast and catching up on work at the hotel.  It was one of the few off periods for me, and I spent the morning

Chateau d'Yquem

banging out blog entries, tasting notes, placing orders and catching up on emails. Truly fascinating stuff. Most of the JJB crew was off doing some morning tasting and I knew that my options when they got back would be a) more computer work or b) more negociant tastings. You can imagine my surprise when I went downstairs to chat up the boss and found out that I was going to d’Yquem! Not only going, but Shaun says, “you’re driving”. Score! The best sweet wine in the world and I get to speed all over Bordeaux. (Honestly, I don’t know what it is about Europe that turns our crew into Formula One wannabes.)

The d’Yquem property is set on top of the highest hill in the general vicinity. With scenic views of everything around, it was the perfect prelude to our tasting.  Unlike most of our visits where there are multiple wines on offer, at d’Yquem there’s only one. We drove over an hour for one wine— and it was totally worth it, seriously everything that it’s cracked up to be.

Tasting at d'Yquem, the glass is always half full, even when it's not!

Our host explained how the 2009 growing season was ideal— great for maturity of the grapes and great once the botrytis set in.  Often it’s good for one or the other— either it’s an easy growing period, but then botrytis devlopment is difficult, or else it’s a challenging year for ripening, but the botrytis is wonderful. The 2009 vintage was a perfect combination of both and really shows in the wine. Furthermore, we were told that this vintage was their largest production since 1893 (!) as well as having the highest level of residual sugar (the highest previous level was 2001).

A blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc (the usual cepage for d’Yquem), which will spend 30 months aging in 100% new oak, the wine was terrific. Fabulously concentrated with notes of pineapple and apricot, opulent but extremely focused, precise and fresh, balanced by acidity and displaying excellent length. Really outstanding, and it left all the other sweet wines we had tasted on our trip in the dust.

Little did I know that we would be enjoying twenty-plus wines at dinner and I would keep the party going at a discotheque until the wee hours of the morning. But for all intents and purposes the tasting at d’Yquem was the end of our hectic trip to Bordeaux and I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate finale.

Accidental tourists: Lunch at Troplong Mondot

Accidental tourists: Lunch at Troplong Mondot

Post by Chuck Hayward | Friday, April 2nd

When traveling to a wine region, keeping to schedule is important in order to maximize your time on the ground. But a certain flexibility is required as you never know what accidents might occur or what special opportunities may present themselves.

Sometimes this is nearly the same thing.

So it was during a late night soiree hosted by Stephane Derenoncourt that we found ourselves invited to lunch the following day at the famed

At Troplong Mondot with Xavier Pariente

Chateau Troplong Mondot. What to do? We had a totally packed schedule, but hell, we were going to be in in the neighborhood that morning at Ausone…certainly we could find an hour to squeeze in lunch! Good thing too, as our hostess Christine Valette wasn’t going to take no for an answer.  So after leaving the caves at Ausone, we sped off to the beautiful town of St. Emilion to procure a flower arrangement for our hostess and then on to lunch at the Chateau.

A visit to Troplong Mondot is a special thing. Consistently among the best of their appellation, this was validated in 2006 when Troplong was elevated to Premier Grand Cru Classe. And it’s easy to see why as we walked about the hill of Mondot in blustery weather. With a commanding view of the village and the vineyards below, the estate has numerous terroirs with which to pick and choose the best parcels.

I could see why Shaun could not say no to our visit as we met Christine and her daughter Margaux, our guide about the property. Just returning from an extensive stay in Africa to help at the winery, Margaux explained that she is the oldest of Christine’s five (FIVE??) daughters which caused a collective gasp amongst our party. I managed to refrain from asking if a merger could be had with myself and my four brothers! We later met Christine’s husband, Xavier Pariente and as we stood before this calm, collected gentleman, someone asked how did he do it (raise five daughters, that is).

“I am god,” he replied.

Lunch was fantastic. Informal and relaxed, an assortment of workers and visitors sat at long picnic tables covered with checkerboard tablecloths. A buffet of salads, plats du foie gras, and lentils followed by cheeses and much bread gave us needed nourishment. We had a chance to try an assortment of older vintages highlighted by a double magnum of the 1992, a perfectly poised wine with a palate of youthful fruit yet beginning to reveal the secondary characteristics of earth and truffles. A bit of sauternes from an estate owned by friends and we were off!!

We had to stay on schedule after all.

A “Novice” in Bordeaux

A “Novice” in Bordeaux

Post by Chuck Hayward | Friday, April 2nd

Working in the wine business has many benefits, not the least of which is the opportunity to travel. In my two-plus decades in the industry, I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to visit many of the world’s great wine regions, to taste the wines, meet the winemakers and sample the local cuisine. As wine is inextricably tied to the course of human history, visiting such places has allowed me insight into the culture, politics, economics and spirit of these areas that few outside the industry will ever know. What is incredible to me now, after having been here for nearly a week, is that during these many years I’ve never been to Bordeaux.

The wine industry has roots in many places— the hills of the Douro Valley,

Taking notes at Tertre Roteboeuf

the steep slopes of the Mosel, the caves of Champagne. But it all pales in comparison to the history and traditions that populate Bordeaux. Without the agricultural traditions and social forces that developed here, there may not have been a modern wine industry at all.

It’s exciting to see an area like Bordeaux for the very first time, but with the palate of an industry “old-timer”. This visit has made me feel new all over again as I swivel my head to and fro to take in each and every vista of hillside vines and wineries hidden behind groves of trees— places whose wines I have tasted many times, but have never visited. For me it has been an incredible freshman immersion, tasting and re-tasting for understanding, but with the palate I’ve gained from years of experience instead of the innocence of my first days in the business.

There are a few things that I can take back with me about my first visit here. For one, it is a big business with an arm that reaches clear around the globe. There are few wine regions that command the attention of the entire world— Bordeaux is one of them. I have met industry representatives from many countries in these past days, some buying, others selling, while even more are here to learn or are working to support our tasks.

Second, I’ve quickly learned that Bordeaux is a complex and diverse area. This is most readily identified in its grossest geographic form— the difference between the left and right banks of the Gironde. The right bank regions of Pomerol and St. Emilion, home to merlot based wines, are populated with small estates on gently rolling hills. You get an impression of artisanal winemakers crafting tiny amounts of fine wine in small cellars filled with the few barrels they can maintain by themselves. The left bank is populated by larger wineries reigning over large estate vineyards. The vineyard landscape is flat and covered with grayish-white pebbles as far as the eye can see. Here, the chais are large, cathedral-like rooms that ask us to kneel to the majesty of cabernet.

Finally, as we taste the newly finished wines we are able to really distinguish the difference between the two basic regions on the palate. The merlot is ripe and round and many of the young wines are so fruity and succulent they could be drunk right away. The left bank wineries are making enticing wines as well, and you quickly see the power of cabernet as the wines here are more structured and robust.

I am excited to have discovered a whole new palette (and palate!) of scents and flavors. And I’ve caught myself grinning, eager to try samples again and again as I did when I was first learning about wine. It was easy to ignore Bordeaux for many years as I chose to specialize in other wine regions. Perhaps what has impressed me the most is how Bordeaux has brought me back to my first days in the business. That power is hard to resist, and I can see now why it has been so successful over the centuries. Bordeaux is not back, it has always been here.

Foreign relations, Peugeot-sized prime rib and dirty jokes: Dinner at Ducru

Foreign relations, Peugeot-sized prime rib and dirty jokes: Dinner at Ducru

Post by Chris Caughman | Wednesday, March 31st

I’ve always been a big guy and a pretty good athlete, if I might say so myself. When I was a kid, you definitely would have picked me first for touch football at recess. Unfortunately, as I found out at dinner Wednesday evening, the Bordelais don’t play touch football.

This is all I could think about as dinner guests were singled-out and placed strategically around a lavish table set for 16 in the dining room at Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. Here’s how it went down:

Proprietor Bruno Borie picks JJ Buckley founder Shaun Bishop first out of all

Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou

the guests assembled (go JJB, woot!), followed by a wealthy Chinese gentleman speaking neither French nor English. (Yeah, ok. I saw the prominently displayed Chinese flag flying in first position outside the chateau. He is more important than moi. Oui, je comprends.) M. Borie then selects the next ten guests for seating. Eventually it comes down to me, and Team JJB members John Sweeney and Alex Shaw. I’m now thinking we just got picked last for recess touch football— Bordeaux style.

With a bruised ego, I took my seat at one corner of the table smack amiddle three young Chinese ladies, all speaking Mandarin. Bringing all my big American hospitality and manners to bear, I turn to my left and introduce myself.

“Hi, I’m Chris.”
Lovely Chinese lady Number One replies, in perfect English, “Oh, I don’t speak English.” (Giggle, giggle).
Ok, let’s try the right. “Hi, I’m Chris.”
Lovely Chinese lady Number Two replies, “Oh, I don’t speak English…,” (giggle, giggle, giggle) “…just kidding, Chris!”

Well played, Fen Zhu. You got me.

It turns out Fen works as Export Manager to Asian markets for a Bordeaux negociant. These days you’d be hard pressed to find a negociant without a Chinese employee in a similar position. Since she started her job three years ago, she’s seen Asian interest in fine Bordeaux wine expand outside of Hong Kong to Beijing, Shanghai and now beyond. The next step, she thinks, is a more educated Asian buyer. Instead of the Lafite-Or-Bust mentality, there will be buying decisions based on critical acclaim, flavor profiles and personal preference, not simply on luxury brand recognition. Something tells me Lafite will still do ok, though.

As we are making conversation, out of the corner of my eye I notice a small French automobile has driven into the room. Wait…no, that’s my main course! This prime rib roast was seriously the largest piece of meat I’ve ever seen- and I’ve seen some big meat. It was also seriously delicious served with potatoes au gratin, which seems to be a staple of the Bordelais diet. Chewing away happily, I almost choked and spit out my 2000 Ducru, when M. Borie dropped an incredibly inappropriate and awesomely funny joke. I’d repeat it, but really it’s a little too R-rated for a blog that my Mom will probably read.

“Jay-Jay-BEUC” Does Ausone & Cheval Blanc – Bordeaux Day 6

“Jay-Jay-BEUC” does Ausone & Cheval Blanc

Post by Cory Gowan | Wednesday, March 31st

After our first real good night’s sleep (6hrs) since arriving in Bordeaux,  the JJ Buckley crew and I headed out from the town of Libourne on a sunny morning to the only two Premier Grand Cru Classe “A” châteaux in St. EmilionCheval Blanc and Ausone. What a way to start the day!

After a quick stop at a working man’s bar (FYI the B.O. was all-encompassing, eclipsed, perhaps, only by the giant poster of Britney Spears adorning the walls) for a quick café (espresso) we were soon careening through the vineyards in our Renault, and arrived via the stately driveway of Cheval Blanc.  Inside the grand tasting room with our negociant friends, we tasted the three wines of Cheval Blanc from the 2009 vintage— La Tour du Pin, Le Petit Cheval, and Cheval Blanc.

La Tour Du Pin is a newly acquired property adjacent to the château and is composed mostly of Merlot from vines around 35 years old. The wine

Cheval & Snails

showed a lot of freshness thanks to an early harvest date and featured a very long and silky finish. The Petit Cheval made up only 35% of the harvest in 2009, meaning a remarkable 65% of the crop made it into the Grand Vin. The 2009, typically a merlot dominant blend with cabernet franc, showcased the vintage’s fresh, ripe qualities but also exhibited a remarkable level of restraint due to the strict harvesting date— a mere two days later and vine manager Nicolas Corporandy felt the wine could have verged on being overripe! The Grand Vin, an inky red at just under 14% alcohol, showed a fresh core of fruit without feeling heavy, impeccable structure and a velveteen finish to die for.

Hey there, big spenders!

After a quick Team JJ Buckley (or “Jay-Jay-BEUC”  as we have become know in Bordeaux) photo outside the château, we headed up through the breathtaking town of St. Emilion, a UNESCO world heritage site with Romanesque churches, ancient narrow streets (I did my best to not drive off a cliff), and western sloping vineyards. Château Ausone sits on the edge of town and looks west along spectacular views of the vineyards. Its cellars are literally carved into the limestone underneath the town of St. Emilion with vineyards growing on top! Alain Vauthier gave us a personal tour of the caves of the estate (click for video), where the barrels for the 2009 vintage are perched upon stone foundations also carved out of the floor of the caves. This is such a special place and standing in these caves talking to Mr. Vauthier was a highlight of the trip and something I will never forget.

Back in the château, we were treated to a private tasting of the six wines from the Vauthier family— Fonbel,

Church overtop the cellars at Ausone

Simard, Haut Simard, Moulin-Saint-Georges, Chapelle d’Ausone, and Ausone.   The Moulin-Saint-Georges and the Haut Simard were personal favorites from the non-Ausone properties, with the Moulin-Saint-Georges showing incredibly fragrant aromas of blooming flowers and essence of fresh fruit with exceptional body and structure.  This is the inaugural release of the 5 hectare vineyard of Haut Simard, a separate parcel from Château Simard which Vauthier felt featured exceptional fruit from the sandy clay soil.  Comprised of 70% Merlot, it was a delicious wine with a core reminiscent of hard candy with fine tannins leading to a gorgeous finish.  With 2,100 cases produced, I’m hoping a bottle (or two, or twelve) will work their way into my hands come 2012.

The Chapelle d’Ausone and the Grand Vin were both, in a word, astounding.  We stood around the tasting room in awe, singing the praises of the wines in hushed voices and voraciously taking notes.  The production is tiny, with only around 1300 cases of Ausone (and just 6000 bottles of the Chapelle) and both a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with the Chapelle made mostly from Merlot and the Ausone nearly equal parts of both varietals.  At 14.5% alcohol (highest ever), the 2009 Ausone is a shapeshifter, featuring an inky red color with hints of purple (but not nearly as much as wines from the Left Bank) and a glorious nose, soft entry on the palate, spice, and utterly fine tannins carrying the finish well into next week.  It is a wine (and experience) I will not soon forget, and looking at the town of St. Emilion with its churches, limestone, and ruins in my rear view mirror on the drive back to Libourne I was truly thankful that I’ll always have its wines to remind me of this immense sense of place.  Now that’s terroir.