en primeurs 2009

Epic Day, Part Deux! Dinner at Talbot

Epic Day, Part Deux! Dinner at Talbot

Post by John Perry | Tuesday, March 30th

So after extricating ourselves from the mud in Margaux and finally finding a place to clean up and knock back a couple of beers, it was time to head off to Chateau Talbot for our scheduled dinner. Jean-Pierre Marty, the general manager of the estate and Paul Favale, the vice president of Maison Joanne USA, greeted us at the gate.

We were first given a tour of the cellars, where bottles were organized by

The "aged and dusty" package costs extra.

vintage going back to the beginning of the 20th century.  We jokingly suggested popping some of the older bottles (strictly for research purposes of course!), but our focus over dinner would be some of the more recent offerings from Talbot.

Chateau Talbot is planted to a whopping 102 hectares and annually produces over 400,000 bottles between their grand vin, second wine, and a vin blanc (Le Caillou Blanc).  Although they have a large production, quality levels are strictly enforced and I can attest through personal experience that they make some terrific wines.  Top-notch wine consultant Stephane Derenoncourt has recently assisted at Talbot, which should result in even more fantastic wines.

After completing a tour of the production end of the operation, we tasted the 2009 Connetable de Talbot (the second wine of the property) and 2009 Chateau Talbot.  The second wine, a blend of 45% Merlot and 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, showed some charming, spicy red fruit on the nose followed by a round body and finishing with sweet, fine tannin.  I found it quite approachable now and will look forward to it upon release.

White wine barrel hall at Talbot

The grand vin in 2009 is composed of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  Jean-Pierre explained that every vintage of Talbot contains an average of 5% Petit Verdot, used to give added structure to the wines.  The 2009 displayed better fruit intensity than the second wine and picked up some complex tobacco and cedar notes on the palate, finally rounding out with round and sweet tannins that are beginning to integrate nicely— truly a pleasure.

It was then off to dinner where we met Lorraine Cordier, one of the chateau’s directors and a member of the Cordier family who has owned the property since the early 1900s. We were ushered in to the ornate sitting room where Champagne was offered and enthusiastically accepted. Two bottles of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle (a wine I had the pleasure of drinking at the previous night’s dinner) were opened up and, again, kicked some serious butt. I could get used to having this wine every night before dinner! The sitting room itself was a blast from the past— plush, red velvet furniture, elaborate wallpaper and paintings— just a really classic feel. And there was something that you would never see in the states: cups filled with cigarettes on every table in the room. Mademoiselle Cordier freely smokes in the house and obviously permits her guests to indulge as well.

Dinner was soon served and we enjoyed a white Bordeaux from another property of the Cordier family, followed by the 2000, 2003 and 2005 Chateau Talbot. All the wines were sensational and were great matches with the soup, filet mignon, and cheese course. The real highlight of the meal was when Mademoiselle Cordier casually mentioned the soccer game between Bordeaux and Lyon that was being broadcast on TV that night. We all said that we would be more than happy to watch the game and conveniently enough there was a television at the end of the table!  The game was flipped on and we caught the first half of action over this terrific meal.

Byt that point, I was feeling pretty good from the wine and the relaxed atmosphere during dinner, and as we were enjoying our espresso I asked Mademoiselle Cordier if I could have a cigarette. Now, I don’t often smoke, but you know what they say, “When in Rome!” Or I guess in this case, “When in Bordeaux!” Her face lit up, happy to have a partner in crime and that this small group of Americans could cut loose and indulge a little bit. Jean-Pierre whipped out a box of his cigarillos that he shared with the rest of the group and we all puffed away, with full bellies and content to sit back and watch the game.

We adjourned to another sitting room to catch the second half of the soccer match. A fire was lit, cognac was poured and we sat on the edge of our seats hoping for Bordeaux to pull off a victory. Alas, they failed to come through with a win, the only black mark on an absolutely amazing day. We bid farewell and made the long trek back to Libourne, with me secretly wishing that we could have just crashed there for the night. Au revoir Talbot, thanks for everything!

Boys, beer and bright ideas: Epic Day Part One

Boys, beer and bright ideas: Epic Day Part One or How we got bogged in Bordeaux

Post by John Perry | Tuesday, March 30th

I’m supposed to be writing about our dinner at Chateau Talbot, and I’ll be providing all of the juicy details on that later. But I would be remiss if I didn’t set the scene for one of my most epic days in Bordeaux.

We had started the day with the typical schedule – wake up early, hop in the car, hit up some tastings, yadda yadda yadda.  After wrapping up the regional UGC tasting for Margaux, a group of us (John Sweeney, Alex Lallos, Chuck Hayward and myself) had about four hours to kill before going to our dinner appointment. It’s not often that we get that much free time on our Bordeaux trips, and the first thing on the agenda was to find a place for some lunch and a couple of beers. We made a swing through the center of town, but unfortunately no options presented themselves so made our way to the next town to see what we could turn up.

Rounding a turn in the road, we came across a small field with a dirt track through the middle that eventually connected to the paved road on the other side. With all of the rain that we’ve had, it was looking a little flooded. But we figured the SUV we were cruising around in would be up to the task, so we had the altogether brilliant idea of going through the field instead of around it.

As boys will be boys, we didn’t exactly ease our way into the muddy field. About halfway across, we had to slam to a stop due to a very large and treacherous looking puddle. No problem, we’ll just swing a u-turn and head back out the way we came.

Um, not quite.

We negotiated the u-turn ok, but decided to veer slightly off course on the

Comment dit-on "Triple AAA" en Francais? Anyone?

way back to the road. Come on, after hardly sleeping and working our butts off, how could we possibly resist a little off-roading? But as we neared our goal the SUV ground to an untimely halt, and a collective “uh-oh” could be heard as the front of our vehicle was sucked into the mud– all the way up to the bumper.

Seriously? So now we’re bogged down in the middle of a muddy field, what are we supposed to do? A few half-hearted attempts to push the car were effected, but considering we were all in loafers, slacks and jackets we weren’t exactly dressed for the task. Mud and water were creeping up over our shoes with every step.

Time for Plan B.

A few hundred yards away, there were the remnants of a vineyard being cleared- plenty of medium sized vines, sticks and whatnot. Thinking we could build some traction under the tires, we took off to grab what we could. A car passed us in the process of doing this, and I can hardly imagine what they were thinking as they watched four nattily dressed Americans traipsing across a muddy field with stacks of branches. Unfortunately, the wood didn’t provide the needed traction and we were at a loss as to what we should do next.

It was then that we saw a tractor coming through the adjacent vineyard. We didn’t know if this guy was coming to scream and yell at us  (or possibly to shoot us, I don’t know how French farmers handle such matters) or if he was going to offer some much needed assistance. He motored slowly past and I had the thought that maybe he just wanted to gawk at some dumb Americans stuck in the mud. But he hopped down from the cab of the tractor and approached. Thank god Lallos can speak a little French.

Lallos (in French): “We have a small problem.”
The guy’s response:  “Small?”

He didn’t speak another word and proceeded to go the back of our car to open the trunk. Miraculously, there was a small hitch that screws into the front of the bumper and can be used for just this kind of situation. He grabbed a chain off of his tractor, hooked us up, and the car was out in a second.

“Pick up the sticks,” were the only other words he uttered as John slipped the guy 20 euro for his help.

The fact that we were able to escape that situation with only our shoes caked with mud was amazing. Up until then, I was sure that we were going to be totally screwed– dinner was going to be missed, our boss was going to kill us, and this was going to be the worst day ever in Bordeaux. But that all changed in the blink of an eye. And we still had time to knock back a beer.

The Things We Do For Wine – Bordeaux Day 5

The things we do for wine…

Post by Geoffrey Binder | Tuesday, March 30th

Today marked Team JJBuckley’s first official UGC tasting of the trip.  Up until now, we’ve spent our time in private Chateau and UGC 2010negociant tastings and this would be our first foray into a traditional trade show, tasting shoulder to shoulder alongside our peers from around the world who had arrived at Chateau Batailley eager to get first impressions of Pauillac, St. Estephe and St. Julien wines from the ’09 vintage. While we did not expect to have the personally tailored, intimate experience we have been treated to thus far, those of us first-timers were somewhat unprepared for what we were about to encounter!

As we pulled up to the Chateau, the winds were blowing hard and cold. We had to park some distance away and the weather added to the sensation that we were on an arduous pilgrimage, making our way toward what would surely be the vinous Promised Land inside. As event signs were blowing down around us like paper dolls, we reached the doors, excited as much for shelter against the blistering winds as the tasting itself.

"Is this the line for Lafite?"

Inside we met a dazzlingly chaotic scene, and I almost imagined I had landed at Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Legions of tasters of all nationalities were huddled together, clamoring for their registration materials and entree into the tasting. With our papers finally in order, we entered the grand tasting hall where tables were set up to present the wines. Now let it be said that at professional tastings in the U.S., personal aromas (the kind that you spray on and cost a lot of money, I mean) are frowned upon as they necessarily interfere with the sensory process of evaluating wine. So I was somewhat surprised to encounter a veritable atomic mushroom cloud of perfume and cologne upon entry, but hey – when in Rome, right? Our merry band of pilgrims summoned our collective fortitude and entered the fracas.

Amid elbows and glassware akimbo, we made our way around the hall, seeking out wines that we wished to assess for a second and third time. In this let me say we were very fortunate, as we had tasted many of these incredible wines in relative solitude earlier in the trip. So our mission was less one of reflective contemplation and discovery than of confirmation of initial impressions of individual wines and an overall sense for how each region fared in the 2009 vintage. Over the course of the day and in the days ahead, we will repeat this process for the wines of Margaux and other AOCs to further cement our grasp of the regions and the vintage.

Regardless of the setting in which they are tasted, the 2009 wines are spectacular! I can hardly wait until I can bring them to my customers and I’ll definitely be grabbing whatever I can for myself.  Á votre santé!

Using the wide-angle: A macro assessment of the ’09 vintage

Using the wide-angle: A macro-assessment of the ’09 vintage

Post by Andy Frieden | Tuesday, March 30th

There is rain, wind and sun coming in cycles throughout the day. It’s March in France and the French call it the ‘jubilee’ season. For us, it is just wet and cold weather, which makes it a challenge to travel from one appointment to the next. But thankfully, there is joyous work at each stop— this is en primeurs week in Bordeaux and we’re here to taste.

One of the places we get to sample the most number of wines in a single setting is at a negociant-hosted tasting. So setting out from Libourne, we

I know there was one in here somewhere with plus concentration...

battled Bordeaux’s legendary traffic and arrived at one of the top negociant firms in the land. The owner’s son  greeted us on arrival and ushered us in to get down to business. This is not a fancy tasting room at a picturesque romantic Château organized by winery marketing personnel— at a negociant tasting there can be anywhere from 100 to 300 wines open and our job is to taste, evaluate the vintage and to share our recommendations and tasting notes with you.  (We’ll be posting our TN’s shortly after we return from en primeurs).

While it’s a lot of work to focus on that many wines in one shot, I actually look forward to this type of tasting every year. Here’s an opportunity to compare and contrast wines both within and between appellations. This is an invaluable experience, as it allows me to take an overall look into the vintage by tasting the top, classified growth Chateaux wines from both banks in one sitting. When tasting wines within an appellation— side by side between the left bank and the right bank— patterns, styles, intensity of fruit, and overall structure within a region can emerge. This is a macro approach to tasting and it gives us the opportunity to make intelligent vintage assessments and buying decisions.

At no other time during the trip will any one single tasting event give me a chance to clearly identify what the vintage looks like more than a visit to a negociant— and we have scheduled three of them this year! This is what we’re here for as these insightful tastings allow me and my colleagues to confidently recommend a Bordeaux buying strategy tailored for you. Indeed, the 2009 vintage is turning out to be a vintage for the ages and will provide an excellent opportunity to buy wines for a lifetime of enjoyment. Exciting stuff!

Dinner at Lascombes with Michel Rolland: Bordeaux Day 3

Amateurs party on weekends…Pros throw down Mondays with Michel Rolland

Post by Chris Caughman | Monday, March 29th

After completing our third full day of speeding recklessly down the medieval cobblestone streets of St. Emilion and chasing down every Right Bank chateau that would take us, we finally made our way up the D2 to the sprawling expanse of Bordeaux’s Left Bank.  Regal chateaux rise from the rocky-soil vineyards, dot the horizon and refuse to let us forget we are anywhere other than where we are.

An incredible string of appointments with legendary Left Bank producers, including four First Growths (don’t worry, Latour. . .we’ll get to you

Ch. Lascombes

"And a martini. Shaken, not stirred."

later), finally came to an end with dinner at Chateau Palmer for part of the team, while the rest of us made our way to Chateau Lascombes in the heart of the Margaux commune. And oh yeah, rock star consulting winemaker Michel Rolland happened to be there.

A tour of the Chateau with our host, Karen, revealed the details of all-things-Lascombes. Chateau Lascombes has been producing wine apparently since before anybody can remember, but took its magnificent current form when purchased by an American company, Colony Capital, in 2001.  Under the direction of General Manager and the maybe nicest guy you’ll ever meet, Dominique Befve, Lascombes boldly ripped up 12 hectares of cabernet sauvignon. With the guiding philosophy that terroir will dictate varieties, the vineyards were replanted with merlot, which now accounts for 50% of the vineyards, alongside 45% cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot (unique to Lascombes in Margaux).  Our tour led us through the cellar, where we ogled the Chateau’s library collection with vintages dating back to 1892, and concluded in the tasting room for a true highlight of the trip.

Barrel room at Lascombes

The barrel room at Ch. Lascombes doubles as a discotheque!

We were presented not only the 2009 Chateau Lascombes to taste, but first the single-variety bottlings of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot that combine to make for the final cepage.  This is truly a rare and special experience from a Bordeaux producer, showing Lascombes’ commitment to education and openness about winemaking . . .and obviously it’s

amazing to play Bordeaux winemaker and note what each variety brings to the table. Merlot for rich fruit and softness; cabernet for power and tannin; petit verdot for color, density and earthy complexity.  The finished product displays deep, layered aromas of rich, but not overly ripe black fruits, mocha and earth.  The palate boasts gorgeous, round velvety structure that shows balance, power, length and definite indications of a long life to come.

When we finished raving to one another about our experience (“dude. . .THAT was awesome”), we were invited to the dining room for Champagne, appetizers, and a chat with M. Rolland about the 2009 vintage.  Although the term “vintage of the century” gets thrown around a lot, Michel says this time it might actually be true. He prefers 2009 to 2005, pointing towards the harmony and definition of tannin as the determining factor. The tannins are “so integrated, so silky that they’re good to drink today, three years from now, and 20 years from now!” The last time Michel Rolland felt this strongly about a vintage?  Yup, you guessed it: 1982.

Simply Irresistible – Dinner at Ch. Palmer

Simply irresistible: Dinner & tasting at Ch. Palmer

Post by John Perry | Monday, March 29th

Ah, Monday.  Officially the beginning of en primeurs, and as per our usual M.O. we hit the ground running.  Appointments were stacked back to back to back to back and a hectic pace was kept all day (complicated by horribly wrong directions as well as excruciatingly slow restaurant service, but that’s an entirely different story).  After careening at break-neck speeds up and down the Left Bank, I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to sitting down to a long, pleasant dinner.  That our meal would be enjoyed at Chateau Palmer, a fantastic bastion of high-quality wine in Margaux, made it even sweeter.

I had the pleasure of visiting Palmer last year and was quite impressed with Chateau Palmertheir 2008 efforts.  At this point in the trip, I’ve had a handful of Margaux wines (mostly terrific I might add) and I was definitely looking forward to what Palmer would pull off for 2009.  My fellow sales team members Alex Lallos and John Sweeney as well as the president of JJ Buckley, Shaun Bishop, accompanied me at the Chateau.  Our tasting was conducted by Bernard de Laage de Meux, a director at the Chateau who would also be our very charming host for the remainder of the evening.  The two wines, 2009 Alter Ego and 2009 Palmer, were outstanding and a real step up from the 2008s that I had enjoyed so much last year.  Bernard informed us that they experienced an easy vintage at Palmer- no extreme fluctuations in weather during the growing season that allowed for a slow and steady ripening of the grapes and the result was optimum maturity.

As we arrived, Bernard kindly offered us some Champagne to refresh our palates.  The NV Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle that was poured was just what the doctor ordered – seriously kick-ass Champagne!  With cleansed palates and a full appetite, we moved into the adjacent dining room.  The first wine of the flight was one of the more unique wines that I’ve had during this trip.  Bernard called the wine “a history of the late 19th century” and it was a blend of Syrah from Hermitage in the northern Rhone with some of the wine from Palmer’s 2007 vintage.  Apparently, this was a regular practice before it became illegal to do so under the strict appellation control system.  Although now this wine can only be labeled with the generic ‘table wine’ designation, during the 1800s you could frequently find wine designated as Hermitage-Bordeaux.  Palmer continues the practice today, though makes a ridiculously small number of cases that are sparingly doled out.  Fascinating to say the least, and a wonderful complement to the mushroom and garlic risotto first course.

As we waited for the second course to be served, Bernard poured us blind on another wine and asked us to guess the vintage.  We narrowed it down to the mid 1990s (’95 as it was later revealed) and it was amazing how fresh and vibrant the wine looked.  Another wine was poured blind a few minutes later and at first I thought that maybe Bernard had grabbed the same decanter because the wine looked remarkably similar in color.  Upon further inspection, it was slightly less dense and saturated with some lighter ruby showing up on the rim and it was time again to guess the vintage.  Alex nailed it like a pro- the 1990!  From a decidedly riper vintage, the ’90 was stunning on all levels.  The aromas were enchanting and complex (in fact, Bernard mentioned that he even picks up notes of aged Sauternes in this wine, and with my eyes closed the slight whiff of citrus made that easily apparent).  On the palate, this was silky smooth, voluptuous and rich- an absolute pleasure.  When more was offered it was impossible to say no!

Alas, the evening had to come to an end.  After a round of espresso and some more engaging discussion, we made the short stroll to our car as the full moon shone down from above.  It’s nice to know that despite the insane schedule that we keep it’s still possible to slow down for a moment and enjoy some of the finer things in life.

PS: Check out this…interesting musical interpretation of the 2009 vintage at Ch. Palmer.

First Impressions of the Big Five

First Impressions of the Big Five

Post by Chuck Hayward | Monday, March 29th

They are called the Premier Grand Crus, the First Growths— a Bordeaux Best of the Best, designated as such by the famed Classification of 1855 (with a certain exception made in 1973). These five revered wineries— Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild— produce some of the most sought after and coveted wines by enthusiasts and collectors from across the globe. And I was about to taste them all!

There has been much debate about the 1855 Classification and whether it’s

The JJB Team at Chateau Margaux

still valid today. Many wineries further down in the classification are now producing wines that are considered superior to those made by the Premiers— and you can be assured that the JJ Buckley staff have been hacking away at that old chestnut over the course of our visit! But this is not the time nor place to rehash the argument. I can say, though, that these wines are something special.

Interestingly, however, the ways these grand estates present themselves and their en primeur wines is sometimes anything other than grand. In the case of Chateau Haut Brion, we tasted the new wines in a beautiful salon. For Lafite it was an unadorned conference room and at Latour, we tasted quietly in a lab.

Whatever the setting, the wines from the “big five” were exceptional, each with its own, unique personality. Margaux stood out for its almost rustic qualities. Lafite impressed me with its restraint and elegance, while at the same time avoiding any unripe qualities or a sense of dilution.

For those who favor power, Latour, Mouton, and Haut Brion will be at the center of the First Growth conversation in this vintage. All three offered up rich, mouthfilling flavors that never ended. These are big wines but do not become cloying or ponderous thanks to fully integrated acids and the barest of tannins to support the thick fruit.

The key observation for all the Premier Grand Crus is that each wine, while being fully expressive, seems to offer a sense of restraint and the feeling that there is much, much more to come down the road. Tasting them young is like being in a boxing ring, knowing that my opponent is holding something in reserve that’s later going to put me on the ropes.

Well, if it’s going to be a Premier Grand Cru that clocks me, then just ring my bell.