ugc

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.

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!

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!

Haut-Brisson & Tertre Roteboeuf – Bordeaux Day 2

The mission begins: Ch. Haut-Brisson & Tertre Roteboeuf

Post by Andy Frieden | Saturday, March 27th

Following a good night’s sleep after our turbulent flight from SFO, we set out on the road for our first look at the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. Hitting the Right Bank in a convoy of three rental cars, Saturday began auspiciously with a negociant tasting (see John Perry’s post “Pack Your Good Liver” for that adventure!), followed by visits to Chateau Haut Brisson and the venerable Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf.

Barrel room at Ch. Haut Brisson

Tasting in the barrel room at Ch. Haut Brisson

First stop: Chateau Haut Brisson in St. Emilion. On a roll of late with their “La Reserve” garnering accolades from Robert Parker, the main vineyard for Chateau Haut Brisson shares the same gravel soil profile with Chateau Monbousquet. Since employing Michel Rolland as consulting winemaker, the winery has grown from their initial eight hectares to 13, with plans to purchase three additional hectares in St. Emilion in just a few months.

The vineyard is planted to about 80% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 5% cabernet franc. Three cuvees are produced here – an entry level wine called “Les Graves,” the estate blend Chateau Haut Brisson, and the “La Reserve”. We tasted three vintage verticals of each of these wines and each perfectly represented Right Bank terroir, with dark purple color pretty perfume of black fruits and some crushed flower blossoms along with Michel Rolland’s signature silky texture.

I had an interesting discussion with the director of the Chateau, focusing on how soil profiles affect flavors and texture in wine. Haut Brisson has three distinct soil profiles and each leaves its mark in the finished product. Gravel rocky soil seems to impact flavors and aromas, giving rise to graphite, fresh pavement, and pencil lead notes, whereas sandy soil imparts power and clay soils give rise to a wine’s density.

Our next stop was at Tertre Roteboeuf where we met owner and winemaker Francois Mitjaville, a true Renaissance man and one you are not

Tertre Roteboeuf

Tertre Roteboeuf

likely to forget having met.  As we arrived, a sudden rain shower halted our plans for a vineyard walk, so Francois ushered us inside to a parlor room filled with antiquities and a coffee table stacked high with art books. We sat for awhile and listened as he spoke fervently about the emotional aspects of winemaking, contrasting this with what he sees as a focus on making powerful wines by the “new guard” of Bordeaux winemakers. His philosophy and passion for both wine and life are as captivating as the 150 year old paintings that adorn his walls.

Francois looks at wine from a completely different perspective than any vintner I have met in my 20 years in the business. He calls his philosophy of winemaking ‘emotional’, again in contrast with a ‘power’ approach. His young wines aren’t super dark, black, or inky purple in color. Rather, they are more ruby red or mahogany, with a savory perfume and soft tannins. He makes wine that reveals the terroir of each vintage and allows the wines to express this terroir as naturally as possible with little manipulation.

Two wines are made at Tertre Roteboeuf, the estate wine being the Chateau labeling and a Cote de Bourg wine called ‘Roc de Cambes’.  The estate vineyard is on the backside of the Pavie Hill, protected from the north and westerly winds that come with cold and wet weather. This sweet spot offers a gentle, even growing season and allows for a harvest two weeks later than his neighbors. Both wines show a more feminine finesse and possesses nuances rarely seen in a Right Bank wine today.

Francois Mitjaville & Alex Lallos

Francois Mitjaville shows Alex Lallos how to gesture in French.

As we began our tasting, I noticed that his wines are indeed lighter in color as Francois indicated. The delicate perfume and the body and texture of his wines alludes more to a fine Grand Cru Burgundy than the dark, inky purple color of wines made in the modern Right Bank style. They are distinctly delicate, supple and fleshy in the mid-palate. Francois says he has no problem with lighter color and thinks nothing of what anyone says about the choices he makes in producing his wines. This is in direct opposition to the prevailing trend toward dense powerful wines that get the attention of wine writers. Francois refers to his wines as ‘rustic’ and certainly there is a certain spicy savory component of dried tobacco leaf and black tea, along with an earthy truffle note.

We tasted the 2008 and 2009 vintages of both wines. The ’08′s are showing great now and will be bottled

Pavie Hill

Tertre Roteboeuf vineyard, backside of Pavie Hill

in August. The 2009′s are more powerful and just finished primary fermentation eight days ago! All of Francois’s wines have a silky texture to them that is alluring and provides a refreshing alternative to wines that are darker in color.  As a treat, Francois went into his cellar and brought out a 1985 vintage to show us how well his wines age.  This 24-year old wine is still showing a vibrant ruby red color with Francois’ signature savory bouquet of fresh red currant, cigar tobacco and tea leaf with subtle notes of cedar, saddle leather, and black truffle.  The palate was surprisingly fresh and juicy with a core of cherry fruit along with cigar box and earthly truffles and an absolutely fantastic way to conclude our visit here.  Cheers!

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.

Bordeaux 2009 Is Thirsty Work

Bordeaux 2009 Is Thirsty Work

Post by Chuck Hayward

The first day of tastings in Bordeaux saw the JJBuckley wine staff dodging in and out of typical March rains as we made our first visits to wineries and negociants. We had a great opportunity to get familiar with our surroundings by spending some time in Pomerol and St. Emilion but also to begin to familiarize ourselves with the young 2009 vintage, the reason for our trip!

We’ve tried a  smorgasbord of Bordeaux at various quality levels and price points and it quickly becomes apparent what’s what, even at this

Bottles arranged for negociant tasting.

Do we get an "I Survived T-Shirt" if we taste them all?

young stage in a wine’s evolution. What we’re looking for at this point is not so much specific flavors or textures, but an overall  impression of a wine’s aromas and palate. Some of the wines have displayed very rough tannins or overripe fruit flavors while the best have been very complex, almost ready to drink, thanks to more stringent fruit selection and meticulous care of the wine in the cellar.  Favorable assessments are given to those wines that display multiple layers of fruit, a softer finish and more integrated acids while chunky and/or bitter tannins on the finish are assessed less favorably.

As much as we are here to listen and learn, the Bordelaises are also curious about our take on the current state of the wine industry in America. There have been many changes in the channels by which Bordeaux is coming to market in the U.S. (see my post entitled “JJ Buckley Lands In Bordeaux!” for more info.) and  JJ Buckley owner Shaun Bishop was the subject of an intensive interview by Decanter regarding the current market conditions in the US for Bordeaux.

What clearly is exciting for me is the opportunity to taste many of these wines two or three times during the course of the week, which will give us all the opportunity to reassess and/or confirm first impressions. Those tastings will be coming up midweek – can’t wait for that!