Union Des Grands Crus

2011 Bordeaux Vintage Report

2011 Bordeaux: The quest for balance

In April, we sent 14 of our team to Bordeaux to wade neck-deep into the 2011 vintage en primeur. The result? Our largest report ever—119 pages and in excess of 580 tasting notes, along with a comprehensive vintage assessment, articles, market analysis and more.

The region to beat in 2011 is Pomerol, and it gets our nomination for appellation of the vintage. However, among an otherwise irregular crop, there are some exceptional wines to be found in other areas. The most successful wines showed elegance and balance, and can afford mid-term cellaring.

Visit our 2011 Bordeaux portal to download the report and access our videos, blogs, images and more. This page will also contain our 2011 Bordeaux futures inventory as wines become available.

Having tasted and re-tasted hundreds of wines over the course of the week, our experienced team is fully prepared to give thoughtful and educated advice to our customers, and will provide you with a personal perspective to guide your buying decisions. As we did with 2010, we will offer a 60% deposit only option on all 2011 Bordeaux purchases over $1000. The campaign has started and we will begin offering the wines in earnest next week.

Enjoy!

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.

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.

“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.

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!