Bordeaux – September 2012

Bordeaux 2012 Tasting Trip - Lay & WheelerFreshly back from a tour of Bordeaux last week, The Lay & Wheeler Management team share their thoughts and experiences

Dave’s View

Last week, I travelled to Bordeaux with Nick Dagley, our Fine Wine Buyer. I decided to take the scenic route of the Eurostar and TGV, whilst Nick travelled from Luton Airport – I think you can guess who arrived on time and who did not!

This was my first trip to Bordeaux, perhaps surprisingly given that I’ve been at Lay & Wheeler for nearly 30 years! Lay and Wheeler has an excellent reputation in Bordeaux and this was evident from the very first visit. We spent time at wonderful estates, where we were greeted with kindness and enthusiasm by each and every person that we met.

Day One Accompanied by Mathieu Chadronnier , the General Manager of négociant CVBG , our first day included a visit to the amazing (almost futuristic) cellars at Cheval Blanc, followed closely by a visit to Ausone. Whilst Cheval Blanc is a jaw-dropping example of modern architecture and design, the cellars at Ausone date back to medieval times and there could not be more contrast! In all we visited six estates in the afternoon and, for an inexperienced man in Bordeaux, it certainly felt like a tough, but thoroughly enjoyable day!

Wines tasted included: 2011 Cheval Blanc, 2009 La Tour du Pin, 2006 Cheval Blanc, 2008 La Conseillante, 2009 Fonbel, 2011 Ausone and the wines of Bon Pasteur and Fonroque (a possible new estate for us).

Day Two Car problems (Nick couldn’t work out our convertible Volvo roof!) meant a slightly late start, but we were soon into our stride with morning visits to Malescot-St-Exupéry and Labégorce – and lunch at the superb Château Palmer. If there was any doubt about the quality of the 2011 vintage, it was dismissed at Palmer – here both Alter Ego and the grand vin Palmer tasted brilliantly. Following a lunch that included the sublime 1985 Palmer and 2006 Alter Ego, we headed off to Las Cases and Pichon-Lalande, before pitching up at Mouton Rothschild, where they are currently finishing their enormous new chai. For me, the surprise wine at Mouton was 2011 d’Armailhac, which was well balanced, aromatic and comparatively easy to understand for someone like me who is not used to tasting such young wines. To round off the day Mathieu took us to Latour, where the 2009 Pauillac was showing very well indeed.

Wines tasted included: 2006/07/10 Malescot-St-Exupéry, 1999 to 2009 Labégorce, 2011 Alter Ego and Palmer, 1985 Palmer, 2006 Alter Ego, 2001 and 2009 Potensac , 2008 Nénin, 1997 Las Cases, 2004 and 2011 Pichon-Lalande, 2011 d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Mouton-Rothschild, 2009 Pauillac de Château Latour, 2006 Forts de Latour, 2004 Latour and the wines of Cambon La Pelouse.

Day Three If you haven’t been to a Bordeaux Château and have a picture in your head of what a château should look like, then the chances are it looks like Margaux. Set at the end of an avenue of trees the Château is absolutely stunning – we were not able to go inside but I can imagine what it is like. Managing Director Paul Pontallier met us, despite being busy finalising the plans for a major development project (watch this space for what is sure to be amazing, given the renowned British architect working with the Château). We tasted 2010 and 2011 Margaux. Back in 2011, Nick was of the opinion that the 2010 vintage was the best wine he had ever tasted en primeur – our tasting confirmed Nick’s view. Our tasting at Margaux was followed by time with the very entertaining Jean-Pierre Foubet at Chasse Spleen – I really enjoyed the 2010l’Héritage here – another 2010 that was very easy to taste. Lunch was at Grand-Puy-Lacoste – a Château that has made exceptional wines year on year, under the stewardship of François-Xavier Borie. An excellent lunch with father and daughter was accompanied by 2005 Haut-Batailley and 2000 and 1996 Grand-Puy-Lacoste, all of which were fantastic – but, for me, the 2000 had the edge. After lunch, we ventured out to Sociando-Mallet, which is one of the properties close to the the banks of the Gironde. This is another estate that has clearly invested in infrastructure – its wine-making and storage facilities are first class. 2011 La Demoiselle showed very well here (beautifully balanced and very much to my liking), whilst 2010 Sociando confirmed its status in Nick’s mind as one of the wines of the 2010 vintage. Then onto Château Montrose, where Hervé Berland has taken over the management of the estate following his move from Mouton. It’s early days here for Hervé, but I sensed that – with the huge investment being made – this is a property that aspires to even greater things.

And that, I’m afraid, was that – three days of splendid tasting and exceptional hospitality. Back on TGV and Eurostar, allowing me the time to write up my notes in a degree of comfort, safe in the knowledge that I’d arrive home on time and relaxed.

Wines tasted included: 2010 and 2011 Margaux, the wines of Chasse Spleen, 2011 Lacoste-Borie, Haut Batailley and Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Lacoste-Borie, 2006 Haut Batailley, 2006 and 2000 Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 2011 and 2010 La Demoiselle, 2011 and 2010 Sociando Mallet, 2011 Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne, Tronquoy-Lalande and La Dame Montrose.

Nick’s view:

We are just back from a week in Bordeaux, where the harvest has begun – we saw white grapes being picked and pressed at both Mouton and Palmer. Bordeaux has had almost perfect weather in August, great for holidays and ripening grapes. Both were needed as, up until then, it had been quite a stressful time, with a sodden June and much work needed in the vineyards to keep things on track.

Most people we saw were planning on starting their Merlots in the last week of September, already with a potential alcohol of 13.5 or so degrees. The forecast is good, which will ripen skips and pips – as ever balance will be key for the wines of the right bank!

The Cabernets on the left bank look better and I suspect there will be some better wines made here. At Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier was as enthusiastic as ever, predicting great things for the Cabernet-dominated Grand Vin – assuming they don’t get a typhoon! Whilst there, we tasted both 2010 and 2011 with the Cru Classé buyer of our hosts CVBG. Mathieu and I agree that the 2010 is the best wine produced in this outstanding vintage anywhere in Bordeaux; we are happy to have some stock! During most visits we compared 2009, 2010 and 2011. On the left bank I prefer 2010, but can see many reasons to buy all three vintages.

My personal tasting highlights were:- 2011 Alter Ego – amazing value for a second wine, at the same level as Forts de Latour. 2011 Palmer – the best wine made in the Médoc in 2011! 2011 d’Armailhac – floral with crème de cassis; extremely open and approachable Pauillac 2010 Chasse Spleen – better value would be hard to imagine, unique terroir, perfect for Burgundy lovers! 2010 Sociando-Mallet – M. Gautreau is quite a character and was one of the very few to lower his price in 2010, the year he made his finest ever Sociando. Buy it while you can at the release price. 2010 Fonroque – Biodynamic Grand Cru St-Emilion. Well-situated, making exciting mineral wines. Watch this space…

Dave Smith & Nick Dagley

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