What I Tasted When and Where

TUESDAY (3/29/16)
This first day for me was tasting appointments with two negoçiants: Barriere and Ballande et Meneret. Both appointments were more about looking at values and new properties than evaluating 2015s. That actually started in earnest on Wednesday after I picked up my Spec’s colleagues at the Bordeaux airport (aka BOD, aka Bordeaux Merignac).

Highlights of the first day: The few 2015s I tasted were frankly delicious – Ch. BEYCHEVELLE (94+) and 2nd vin AMIRAL de BEYCHEVELLE (92) showing great – but it is way too early to start making pronouncements about the vintage. However, I did taste two non-2015 wines that really got me going.

The first was a basic St. Emilion (not even Grand Cru) that has decided to be all it can be:
Ch. TRUQUET, St. Emilion, 2012
A unique blend of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (yes, Sauvignon – not Franc) and 80% Merlot grown on a gravelly area (rare for St. Emilion) near Ch. Figeac, fermented and aged all in concrete tanks.   Deep-red in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Supple, fresh, oddly gravelly-Cabby baby Figeac. Delicious red fruit. Fresh and alive in the mouth. Simple (in the best way) and pretty. YUM. BearScore: 91+. 
This is a find. When it comes in (it will be a while), it will be under $15 a bottle. Could be (along with Ch. Tour Salvet) a new house Bordeaux.

ChGruaudLarose1995The second was a perfectly aged older wine from a favorite producer:
Ch. GRUAUD LAROSE, St. Julien, 1995
A perfectly aged blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot.   Medium-deep-red in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with still freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Dusty, developed tobacco nose with sweet developed perfectly drinking red fruit, oak, and dusty gravel. Supple and still fresh. Absolutely Delicious. Stunningly good. BearScore: 96+.   We tasted this at the office and drank some with lunch. It should be about $160 (assuming a reasonably stable Euro) a bottle when it comes in and it will be coming direct from the chateau.

WEDNESDAY (3/30/16)
Welcome to Bordeaux, Now Get to Work.
I started with a portfolio tasting (no 2015s) at Clarence Dillon Wines (the Ch. Haut Brion folks) tasting their Clarendelle fine Bordeaux Red, White, and Rosé wines and an excellent Monbazillac Dessert White before heading to BOD to pick up the team. We got a quick, welcome-to-Bordeaux lunch and then headed north to our first appointments at Ch. Latour in Pauillac and Ch. Gruaud Larose in St. Julien.

On Wednesday we tasted more 2015s but, as on Tuesday, it was the older, more developed wines that stole the show.

At Ch. Latour where we tasted both the 2015s (which will not be offered as futures) and the wines Latour is currently selling (Pauillac 2010, Les Forts 2009, and Grand Vin 2000). The PAUILLAC de LATOUR 2015 (92), Les FORTS de LATOUR 2015 (95), and Grand Vin de Ch. LATOUR 2015 (97-99) all showed very well.

Here are my notes on the current releases from Ch. Latour – which has withdrawn from the en premiere system. We tasted the 2015s to get a look at the new vintage (even though the wines won’t be offered for several years) and then tasted these three wines that Ch. Latour is currently offering:

PAUILLAC de LATOUR (3rd Vin de Ch. Latour), Pauillac, 2010
A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44.5% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Red-Purple with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Supple, juicy; the flavors are developing but the wine is still fresh. Lots of red and darker red fruit with gravel and tobacco and a bit of spice. YUM. 92+.

Les FORTS de LATOUR (2nd Vin de Ch. Latour), Pauillac, 2009
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32.5% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petite Verdot.   Red-purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity; medium-chewy phenolics. Elegant, supple, developing. Deep red and darker red fruit with tobacco and spice, gravel and dust. 94+.

Ch. LATOUR, Pauillac, 2000
77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot. Red-purple in color, and with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity; medium-plus phenolics. Lovely-pure-focused-integrated-complete. Fruit, dry floral, and pencil shavings bouquet. WOW. Beautiful wine. 98.

No firm pricing on any of these as yet, but Spec’s will have all of them. Something to look forward to!

At Ch. Gruaud Larose, we got an interesting tour including a panoramic view of St. Julien from their tower and tasted four wines including the SARGET de GRUAUD 2015 (91+) and the Ch. GRUAUD LAROSE 2015 (95). It’s funny how things work out. Yesterday I gushed over Ch. Gruaud Larose 1995 and today we visited Gruaud. So now I can  gush over the 2009 Sarget (the 2nd wine of Gruaud Larose) and the 2001 Ch. Gruaud Larose.ChGruaudLarose1

Why the focus on Gruaud? I first became an appreciator of Ch. Gruaud Larose in 1983 when I got to taste from a magnum of 1962 which was then on the wine list at Tony’s in Houston. That 1962 dazzled me and I went back for more. In fact, I drank them out of that wine. And then I started looking at other vintages of Ch. Gruaud Larose.

Which brings me to now. Over the last two years, I have served multiple vintages of Ch. Gruaud Larose (’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’12) at several dinners and tastings and all have showed well, often against more expensive wines. As to the two older vintage wines we tasted:

SARGET de GRUAUD LAROSE (2nd vin), St. Julien, 2009
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Petite Verdot aged 18-months in all French oak barrels (30% new).   Red-purple in color, and with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity; medium-plus phenolics. Delicious, dusty pencil shavings, dark red fruit. spice, tobacco leaf. All in a swirl. Integrating nicely but the pieces are still somewhat defined. 92+.

Ch. GRUAUD LAROSE, St. Julien, 2001
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot aged 24-months in all 3-year air-dried French oak barrels (70% new oak barrels).   Sensory: red-purple in color, and with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Pencil Shavings and dark red fruit; ripe and even exotic. Tobacco-spice and dusty gravel. Supple, Alive. Complete. 95+.

Not a bad start to our trip.

THURSDAY (03/31/16) IMG_0094.JPG
Get Your Motor Runnin’
Everyone got a good night’s sleep after an early Wednesday dinner at the hotel’s bistro. And so at 8:30am we were off to an office tasting with brothers Archie and Ivanhoe Johnston of Bordeaux negoçiant Nathaniel Johnston before a full day of tasting with Ivanhoe on the Right Bank. Johnston is Spec’s largest supplier of classified growth Bordeaux and a good source for some fine value wines as well. 2015 highlights from the office tasting included:

Ch. TOUR SALVET, Haut Medoc, 2015 (90+)
A fresh and accessible, dusty-Cabby red from Cussac – Fort de Medoc between Margaux and St. Julien from the team at Ch. Retout.
Ch. TOUR SAINT BONNET, Medoc, 2015 (90)
Ch. VIEUX CLOS St. EMILION, St. Emilion, 2015 (91)
Elegant wine from a sandy terroir to the west of St. Emilion
Ch. SOCIANDO MALLET, Haut Medoc, 2015 (91+)
Ch. LAGRANGE, St. Julien, 2015 (91+)
Ch. d’ISSAN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Tasted again a week later with a higher score
Ch. MALESCOT St. EXUPERY, Margaux, 2015 (92+)
Ch. TAILLEFER, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
Ch. BERLIQUET, St. Emilion, 2015 (93)
Ch. le GAY, Pomerol, 2015 (92)
Ch. GRACIA, Pomerol, 2015 (94+).
Following the office tasting, we were off to Ch. La POINTE (93+, best La Pointe yet?), Ch. CLINET (94), and Ch. GAZIN (92+), before visiting old friend François Despagne to taste his Castillon Ch. AMPELIA (91+) and St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé Ch. GRAND CORBIN DESPAGNE (94).

Then it was on to taste with Jean Philippe Janouiex at Ch. La Confession where we were welcomed with the Texas flag flying and Jean Philippe in boots and a western hat. We tasted
Ch. CROIX MOUTON, Bordeaux, 2015 (90+)
Ch. le CONSEILLER, Bordeaux, 2015 (90+)
20 MILLE, Bordeaux, 2015 (91+)
A 100% Merlot vineyard next to le Conseiller planted to 20,000 vines per hectare (5,000 is standard)
CAP St. GEORGES, St. Georges St. Emilion, 2015 (91)
Ch. la CROIX St. GEORGES, Pomerol, 2015 (95-96)
Wraps around two sides of Ch. Le Pin and, more and more, tastes like it
Ch. la CONFESSION, St. Emilion, 2015 (94)

Next stop: Ch. DAUGAY (93 and best Daugay yet) to taste with the irrepressible Jean Bernard Grenie. After which we were off to Ch. Canon la Gaffeliere.

At Ch. Canon la Gaffeliere, we were greeted by self-described “poor, simple, lonely, French farmer” Stephen von Niepperg (who as a chateau owner is, in fact, a farmer) and tasted
Ch. CLOS MARSALETTE, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (91+)
Great value Pessac Leognan
Ch. d’AIGUILHE, Cotes de Castillon, 2015 (93)
The reference standard for Castillon
CLOS de l’ORATOIRE, St. Emilion, 2015 (93)
Ch. CANON la GAFFELIERE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-97)
Ch. la MONDOTTE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. CLOS MARSALETTE, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (92)
Delicious great value in a fresher-style Pessac Leognan white
Ch. d’AIGUILHE, Bordeaux Blanc, 2015 (93)
Delicious Sauvignon Blanc (grown in Castillon) fermented and aged in all older oak barrels
Ch. GUIRAUD, Sauternes, 2015 (94)
Yet another delicious 2015 Sauternes

After this great lineup, we finished Thursday in the bar at the Hostellerie de Plaisance overlooking the rainy town of St. Emilion with a glass of Billecart Salmon (aka “Billy Goat”) Blanc de Blancs Champagne (courtesy of Ivanhoe Johnston) to celebrate my 20 years in Bordeaux. There are a lot worse ways to finish the day.

FRIDAY (04/01/16)


At Work at Compagnie Medocaine

Just Another Day in Paradise
As did Thursday, Friday started with an office tasting with a negoçiant, this time Compagnie Medocaine, which is owned by international insurance company AXA. While AXA also owns Ch. Pichon Baron and Ch. Suduiraut, among other properties, Medocaine is primarily a source for us of some fine value wines from all over Bordeaux. Most of the wines we tasted there are not offered as futures and were not from the 2015 vintage and so are more the subject of a different report.

Nevertheless, the Medocaine team set up a tasting and lunch for us at Ch. Mauvesin Barton in Moulis where we tasted with owner Lilian Barton Sartorius and daughter/winemaker  Melanie Barton Sartorius (as well as with Medocaine boss Georges Haushaulter and Medocaine USA manager Guillaume Clarke). As Ch. Mauvesin Barton is both a wine chateau and a horse ranch (both Barton-Sartorius women are avid equestrians) and the Barton-Sartorious family are most welcoming, I felt quite at home.

Before a lovely family lunch, we tasted the 2015s from Ch. MAUVESIN BARTON (91), Ch. LANGOA BARTON (93), and Ch. LEOVILLE BARTON (94-96).

When we left the warm welcome and delicious lunch of Ch. Mauvesin Barton we were already late for Ch. Lafite Rothschild so we were, for the first time on this trip, scrambling. At Lafite, in their professional tasting room, we tasted five wines:
Ch. DUHART MILON, Pauillac, 2015 (92)
CARRUADES de LAFITE (2nd vin), Pauillac, 2015 (93)
Ch. LAFITE ROTHSCHILD, Pauillac, 2015 (98-100)
At this point in the trip, the best 2015 red I’d tasted and the best young Lafite I have ever tasted.
CARMES de Ch. RIEUSSEC (2nd vin), Sauternes, 2015 (92)
Ch. RIEUSSEC, Sauternes, 2015 (96-98)

GravetteAfter Lafite, we had a long drive back into Bordeaux for another negoçiant office tasting, this time with old friend François Thienpont at Wings. While we buy some classified growth Bordeaux from François, this tasting was more about value wines and some second wines from top chateaux (but not from the 2015 vintage).

Best wine from the Wings tasting: GRAVETTE de CERTAN (2nd vin of Vieux Chateau Certan), Pomerol, 2014 (93, due at Spec’s in 2017).

Biggest surprise of the Wings tasting (and maybe the whole trip):
PINS de DUNES, Bordeaux Rosé, 2015 (92+)

I wasn’t expecting to taste any Rosé on this trip (drink maybe but not taste) so that was surprise number one. Surprise number two is that, while I liked the 2014 iteration of this wine, I didn’t love it. I do love this 2015 Bordeaux Rosé. Formerly called “Pins de Pyla,” this is a blend of 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3 Merlot, and 1/3 Cabernet Franc made using direct pressing (no saignee) and aged only in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.   Pale-pink-rose in color with good legs; dry, light-bodied with fresh, refreshing acidity and scant phenolics. Bubble-gum-dust and Jolly Rancher melon, strawberry, and citrus. Although all that fruit leaves a sweet impression, the vivid acidity and beam of mineral keep it dry, clean, and super refreshing. Delicious.

We finished Friday with dinner at classic Bordeaux brasserie Le Noailles on the Allees de Tourny. I asked the guys to trust me – and they said they did – so we started our meal with oysters-on-the-half-shell and grilled sausages, foie gras, and bone marrow, all served with Sauternes – and they loved it. While Sauternes with foie gras was no surprise and with bone marrow was not much of a stretch, they were  blown away by how good Sauternes is with raw oysters, especially when interspersed with bites of the thin grilled sausages that are a specialty of the oyster bars in Bordeaux. You know you want to try it.


SATURDAY (04/02/16)
Family Affairs
Saturday right before the official UGC week (which really started on Monday April 4th) is necessarily a bit of a down day as everyone needs a break to get ready for the extremely busy following week. So we had three Saturday morning appointments at three small, family-owned chateaux that were unlikely to have lots of visitors the following week: Vieux Ch. Saint Andre, Ch. Laplagnotte Bellvue, and Ch. Truquet.

Located in Montagne St. Emilion, Vieux Ch. Saint Andre is the long time home of former Ch. Petrus winemaker (and current Ch. Petrus consultant) Jean Claude Berrouet. The wine is made by Berrouet and his son and the winery is an impeccably-designed, spotlessly-clean, jewel-box of a chateaux producing the reference point wine for all the St. Emillion satellites (Montagne, Lussac, St. Georges, and Puisseguin) as well as making a fine, more delicately-styled Lalande de Pomerol called Ch. Samion. Berrouet uses a pump-over fermentation in a mix of concrete and stainless steel tanks, all with temperature control, and ages the wines in barrels. While we tasted other vintages, the 2015 Samion was not available to taste due to where it was in the process. We did taste and quite liked the VIEUX Ch. SAINT ANDRE 2015 (92+).

From there we took the back roads to St. Emilion Grand Cru property Ch. Laplagnotte Bellevue where we tasted with Arnaud de Labarre, his wife Virginie, and their whole young family. Arnaud’s mother, Madame Claude Labarre, bought the property with its classic clay-over-limestone terroir and 70% Merlot – 30% Cabernet Franc (with a few Sauvignon vines) plantation in 1990 when she was still the major shareholder and manager of Ch. Cheval Blanc. Arnaud came aboard in 1996 (the first vintage I tasted at the chateau) and has steadily improved the wines since. The fermentations are in temperature-controlled concrete tanks with pump-overs, and the wines are aged in all French oak barrels, 25-to-30% of which are typically renewed each year. This Ch. LAPLAGNOTTE BELLEVUE 2015 (93) is  the best I have tasted to date – and I have tasted every vintage from 1990 on.

Our last stop on Saturday was at St. Emilion Ch. Truquet which is a property I had never before visited. I had tasted the wine before in the negoçiant offices of Barriere on two occasions scoring the 2011 at 91 both times and scoring the 2012 at 91+. I like the wine at the price point (under $15) so much that I asked to visit the property where we met Madame Hebert-Maison and got to re-taste the 2012 as well as a sample of the 2015 which we watched her pull the components of from each of her three tanks. The wines come from a plantation of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon on a gravel-and-sand terroir that is an extension of the terroir of Ch. Figeac which is just across the road from Truquet’s Cabernet Sauvignon block. Fermentation and aging are in concrete tanks. The draw here is purity and freshness with distinctive (if unusual for a lower-priced St. Emilion) Cabernet Sauvignon-on-gravel fruit.Think of Ch. TRUQUET 2015 (91+) as a sort of baby Figeac. Houston, we have a value-priced winner!

SUNDAY (04/03/16)
Sleepin’ In, Eatin’ Large
Sunday Morning, 8am. Still sleeping.
Sunday Noon. Now we’re talking. We’re headed out for a little lunch before an office tasting at Fourault. Since it’s Sunday, we’re listening to my Sunday playlist (think Hank Williams, Jr. and the Blind Boys of Alabama singing I Saw the Light) as we drive through intermittent rain and sun to find that the city of Bordeaux is almost barricaded closed. Why? Because on the-first-Sunday-of-the-month, much the center of Bordeaux is closed to automobile traffic so as to encourage pedestrian traffic. Who knew? Apparently, this is a new thing. Grumble, grumble.

Eventually, we got some lunch at Comptoir Cuisine (across from the Opera House) and then headed over to meet negoçiant Eric Fourault and taste in his office. Eric had about fifty wines he wanted us to taste. After I de-selected some, we tasted 34. Of those (Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne), most were pretty good. The most noteworthy of his 2015 Bordeaux wines were: Ch. MALMAISON (Baronne Nadine de Rothschild), Moulis en Médoc, 2015 (93) and Ch. CLARKE (Baron Edmond de Rothschild), Listrac Médoc, 2015 (93), both of which were the best examples of these wines I have yet tasted. Could it be the influence of Bordeaux’s best consultant Eric Boissenot who is now working with both properties?

Then we headed back to the hotel to suit-up for dinner at Ch. Batailley all the way up in Pauillac. Little did we know it would turn out to be the . . .

BatailleyWinesListBEST. WINE. DINNER. EVER.
So. Me and the boys (that would be Richard Malphrus, James Barlow, and Robert Boyd, all of Spec’s) were invited to this dinner at Ch. Batailley celebrating the launch of the new 2nd wine of Ch. Batailley – Lions de Batailley. These folks – the Castejas and their manager Noel Richard – have been friends for a long time. And I love the wines of Ch. Batailley (a fifth classified growth Pauillac) so saying yes was a no-brainer. Also, I’ve been in the cellar at Batailley so I know that there is a wealth of older vintages available to serve at a special dinner. I envisioned 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000, 1995, 1990, and maybe 1982 with traditional Bordelaise food. That would have been a great line-up with fine food.

But no. Try Ch. Batailley 1881, 1900, 1904, 1929, 1945, 1949, 1961, 1982, 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2010 plus Ch. D’Yquem 2007 plus Michelin-three-star chef food (and that doesn’t even include the 2002 Pol Roger from magnum served as the aperitif wine). Philippe Casteja raided his cellar for these stunning vintages and hired Chef Michel Gerard of Michelin thee star restaurant Les Pres de Eugenie (in Eugenie les Bains) to come to Pauillac to cook a five-course meal which included an obscene amount of truffles incorporated into the first four courses. I’ve never eaten better food and have never had a better, more consistently excellent selection of wines. In addition, the pairing of the wines in multi-vintage flights with the food was brilliant.

I’m stingy with 100 point scores but I will allow that – on this night – at least eight, and maybe nine, of  these wines (none of which had ever left the cellars of the chateau) warranted 100 point scores. And the other three or four deserved scores of 95 or more. ALL of the wines improved in the glass. The first bottle of 1900 was corked. Too bad, so sad? No. They opened another bottle which turned out to be brilliant. All in all, a legendary evening.BatailleyMenu

MONDAY (04/04/16)
And then it all went south …
Monday Morning, 8am. One of my guys is down with a stomach bug and can’t go that day. We figure he can sleep it off and this too shall pass – and the rest of us head out to Pessac Leognan (which actually is south of Bordeaux) for the day starting at Ch. CARMES HAUT BRION (95-96). After a great visit (tasting their super Cabernet Franc-dominated wine from a unique clos inside the city of Bordeaux) and being asked not to publish or post any pictures of the visually-arresting-but-site-appropriate-ultra-modern new winery designed by Phillip Stark, we headed to Ch. La Mission Haut Brion. There we tasted through Domaines Clarence Dillon’s three red second wines: DRAGON (92), La CHAPELLE (93), and CLARENCE (95-97), three red grand vins – Ch. QUINTUS (95-96, best Quintus yet), Ch. La MISSION HAUT BRION (96-98), and Ch. HAUT BRION (98-100), and three white wines – CLARTE (92), Ch. La MISSION HAUT BRION Blanc (97-99), and Ch. HAUT BRION Blanc (98-100).

As we were leaving La Mission, another of the guys started down the stomach bug path. Instead of going on to our next appointment at Thomas Jefferson favorite Ch. Carbonnieux – which we tasted later in the week and found both the red (94-95, and maybe the best Carbonnieux red ever) and the white (also 94-95) to be excellent, we took him first to the coolest McDonald’s ever (big golden arches, ‘50s diner decor and a pink Cadillac in the outdoor seating area) for a Coke in a futile attempt to settle his stomach. That didn’t work so it was back to the hotel – followed by a trip to the local grocery store for some stomach-settling food and drink (for when they were ready) and to the pharmacy for  anti-stomach-problems drugs.


My nice new hat at Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte

Once they were somewhat settled, my last guy and I headed back out to Ch. HAUT BAILLY (95-96 with the most Cabernet Sauvignon they have ever put in the blend). We then stopped in at Domaine de Chevalier where we tasted samples that were in less than peak condition (although later in the week both the red (94+) and white (94) tasted much better. We finished up at Ch. SMITH HAUT LAFITTE where both the red (95-96) and white (95-96) rocked.

All good but, as we were leaving Smith, my stomach was beginning to rock, too. Back to the hotel, call and cancel on a dinner at Ch. Haut Brion with Prince Robert of Luxembourg (I don’t even want to know which wines were served). By 7pm, I went from feeling rocky to I-want-my-mommy. Being alone-and-sick in a hotel room sucks.

And now you know why my blog posts were so late in coming.


TUESDAY (04/05/16)  
And the Wheels are Still Off …
Tuesday Morning, 8am. Still too sick to go. Cancel morning appointments and reschedule Ch. Margaux from 11am to 2pm. Go back to bed and pray to feel better.

Tuesday, 1:10pm. We cowboy up and get back on the road. First stop: Ch. Margaux for a 2015 tasting in their blending room on the second floor of the new Norman Foster-designed winery building (stunning – both practical and beautiful). Really excellent PAVILLON ROUGE (95-96+), outstanding Ch. MARGAUX (97-100), and stunning PAVILLON BLANC (96-99). So-far-so-good. Thank you Ivanhoe Johnston and Aurelien Valance of Ch. Margaux for accommodating/working out that rescheduling.


Me and the Mules of Ch. Margaux

On to Ch. Ferriere where we were greeted warmly by owner/winemaker Claire Villars Lurton and treated to a tour of her absolute jewel box of a Margaux estate along with a fine tasting of the wines she  and her husband Gonzague Lurton make at their various properties: Ch. La GURGUE (91+), Ch. FERRIERE (93), Ch. DURFORT VIVENS (93), and Ch. HAUT BAGES LIBERAL (Pauillac, 93+).

Patrick at Branaire

Patrick Marteaux

On to St. Julien and Ch. Branaire Ducru (30 minutes late) where we are greeted by and taste with owner Patrick Maroteaux (one of the true gentlemen of Bordeaux). His 2012 Duluc (the 2nd vin) is showing very well (91+), as are the 2011 (92+) and 2012 (93+) Ch. Branaires but the 2015 Ch. BRANAIRE DUCRU (95-96+) was the star of the show.

Then a quick stop to taste Ch. GLORIA (93+, as good a Gloria as I can remember) and Ch. SAINT PIERRE (94+).

And so on to St. Julien’s Ch. Leoville Poyferre to taste with Anne Cuvelier and Thierry Gramon. Here we got Ch. Le CROCK (St. Estephe, 92), Ch. MOULIN RICHE (93), and Ch. LEOVILLE POYFERRE (96-98) along with a warm welcome and an American  flag flying at the chateau.

After stops to taste Ch. SENEJAC (Haut Medoc, 92+), Ch. TALBOT (St. Julien, 94+), Ch. CAMENSAC (Haut Medoc, 92), and Ch. CHASSE SPLEEN (Moulis, 91+), we headed back to Margaux (now 45 minutes behind schedule) to taste at Ch. Pontac Lynch.

Bear@PontacLynchAt 6:45pm, we pulled into Ch. Pontac Lynch in a cloud-of-dust to meet owner Marie-Christine Bondon and her team, including my favorite dog in Bordeaux, Bijoux (who is beginning to show his 10 years, but is still up for greeting visitors and getting his ears scratched). Here we tasted her located-on-sandier-terroir, just-east-of-the-Margaux-appellation, behind-Ch. d’Issan-Haut-Medoc Ch. Pontac Phenix 2012 (91) and 2014 (91+) first. Then we tasted the touching-Ch. Margaux-on-the-north-and-Ch. d’Issan-on-the-south-east-and-Ch. Palmer-on-the-south-west-and-Ch. Rauzan-Segla-on-the-west (How’s that for a good address?) Ch. Pontac Lynch 2014 (93) and Ch. PONTAC LYNCH 2015 (94++). While this 2015 was far from the highest score of the day, it was my favorite wine of the day and this was my favorite stop of the day. Why? Because Pontac Lynch is a throwback. The winery is old school (compact, concrete tanks, basket press, non-fancy barrel room) and the wines (both the Pontac Phenix and the Pontac Lynch) are that very  pure, very elegant, all-fruit-and-terroir, non-extracted, lighter-colored style (which I love) that you don’t see much at all anymore. They are a pure pleasure and frankly delicious.

WEDNESDAY (04/06/16)
Back in the saddle again?
Wednesday Morning, 8am. All present and accounted for. None of us ate much for breakfast and we started the day sipping Cokes as we headed out to Libourne to taste at the offices of JP Mouiex with Christian Mouiex and his son Edouard. In years past, this has been a difficult start to the day as it is a lot of wines to taste at a first (9am) stop and the samples tend to be not-just-cool-but-cold. Also, these are big wines that take some thought. Well, this year was easier. We were well-greeted and welcomed and ushered-into-a-private-room where we (along with François Thienpont with whom we spend Wednesday) tasted through fifteen not-overly-cold-but-still-cool 2015 St. Emilion and Pomerol wines to start the day. Highlights included
Ch. PUY BLANQUET, St. Emilion, 2015 (91+)
Ch. PLINCE, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
Ch. La GRAVE, Pomerol, 2015 (92)
Ch. BOURGNEUF, Pomerol, 2015 (93)
Ch. LATOUR a POMEROL, Pomerol, 2015 (93)
Ch. CERTAN de MAY, Pomerol, 2015 (93+)
Ch. La FLEUR PETRUS, Pomerol, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. TROTANOY, Pomerol, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. BELAIR MONANGE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)

Some of these scores may have suffered for all the competition present in the room. Before we left, I spoke with Eduoard Mouiex about scheduling a-whole-morning-plus next year to actually visit all these properties (they are cheek-by-jowl) to get a better feel for each of their specificities. He’s onboard. And isn’t that why I go to Bordeaux?

After the Mouiex office tasting, it is straight on to Ch. Cheval Blanc to taste Ch. QUINAULT l’ENCLOS (94 and the only St. Emilion in the city limits of Libourne), Ch. CHEVAL BLANC (98-100, no 2nd wine was made; This is a top-three-red-wine of the vintage), and Ch. d’YQUEM (98-100, Utterly Stunning).

Next stop: Ch. Figeac – which is just across the street from Cheval Blanc on the most gravel terroir in St. Emilion. The PETIT FIGEAC (94, 2nd wine) was so good I almost forgot I wasn’t yet tasting the grand vin. And the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Ch. FIGEAC (97-99, Ethereal) is clearly one of the  great wines of the vintage.

Thienponts at l'If

Thienponts: François, Jacques, Nicolas, and Cyrille (who did not get the red pants memo)

Next stop: Ch. Pavie Macquin to taste the Thienpont wines with François, his older brother Nicolas who manages the family estates – Ch. PUYGUERAUD (91) and Ch. La PRADE (91) as well as Ch. BERLIQUET (93), Ch. LARCIS DUCASSE (94+), Ch. PAVIE MACQUIN (95-96), and Ch. BEAUSEJOUR DUFFAU (95-96), and his nephew Cyrille (son of Nicolas). There were two whites shown here that may be offered as futures: Ch. PUYGUERAUD Blanc (90+, 40% Sauvignon Gris, no oak) and Ch. CHARMES GODARD Blanc (91+, 25% Sauvignon Gris, all in barrels).  After Pavie Macquin we stayed in the “Mondot” area of St. Emilion to stop in at l’IF (not “Ch. l’If” – just “l’If” – pronounced “leaf”) to taste Jacques Thienpont’s (owner of Ch. Le Pin which is not being shown yet due to a late malo-lactic fermentation) 2015 l’IF (96-97+).

Are we having fun yet? We think so. Next stop: Lunch at Ch. Grand Barrail which is a fabulous restaurant and hotel on the north side of St. Emilion. Great food, but I was the stereotypical ugly American drinking coke with my lunch (trying to settle my stomach). I got up from the table feeling both rocky and wobbly. Our next stop was Ch. PETRUS (97-99) but I had a tough time with it (my problem, not theirs).

After Petrus, we went to VIEUX Ch. CERTAN (97-100, also known as “VCC”) and tasted with estate manager/winemaker Alexander Thienpont (another of the great gentlemen of Bordeaux). Afterward, I think I remember walking out of VCC and driving back to the hotel to be alone in my misery. The guys continued on tasting with François Thienpont and went on to the Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner that night (where Richard won a bottle of 1999 Ch. Haut Brion). I went back to I-want-my-mommy.

Great wines. Rough day.

THURSDAY (04/07/16)
Gentlemen, Start Your Livers …
Thursday Morning, 8am finds us on the road to Pauillac which is a full hour north of where we’re staying at Bordeaux Lac on the north side of Bordeaux (not far from the old German U-Boat pens).

First stop, Ch. Pichon Baron to taste the AXA-owned chateaux, arriving in the rain. Much to my surprise, AXA managing director Christian Seely (who does office at Ch. Pichon Baron) is standing behind the tasting bar to pour the wines. This is new. First comes Ch. PIBRAN (90+) and then the two 2nd wines of Pichon: the merlot dominant Les TOURELLES de LONGUEVILLE (92) and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Les GRIFFONS de LONGUEVILLE (92+) followed by Ch. PICHON BARON (94+) and Ch. PETITE VILLAGE (91) and finally Ch. SUDUIRAUT (93). Are these scores too low? Maybe. Quite possibly. It could be that I was still a bit out of sorts that morning. Or it could be that that is just how they showed. I did not have a second chance to taste these wines – and we did not have time to linger – so I’m stuck with what I’ve got.


François Xavier Borie at Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste

From Ch. Pichon Baron to Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste is maybe five minutes, and in that time the sun came out and the skies cleared. Warmly greeted by the ebullient and professional François Xavier Borie (yet another of Bordeaux’s great gentlemen) and his daughter  Emelie (who is quite popular with certain elements of the Houston fine wine scene), we tasted 2nd vin Ch. LACOSTE BORIE (92+), Ch. HAUT BATAILLEY (93+), and Ch. GRAND PUY LACOSTE (96-98+ and wow, wow, wow!).

On to Ch. Lynch Bages where we were greeted by the limping (scooter accident) but ever genial and entertaining Jean Charles Cazes who several years back took over the properties from his father – University of Texas alumnus (petroleum engineering) and former Pauillac mayor – Jean Michel Cazes. We tasted St. Estephe Ch. Les ORMES de PEZ (92+), Pauillacs ECHO de LYNCH BAGES (92+) and Ch. LYNCH BAGES (95), and Bordeaux BLANC de LYNCH BAGES (94).

Next came Ch. Mouton Rothschild were we tasted Ch. d’ARMAILHAC (93), Ch. CLERC MILON (93+), PETIT MOUTON (94), and Ch. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD (97-99) and then across the road to Ch. PONTET CANET (96-98) before we stopped (in the rain) for a lovely lunch with the  delightful Veronique Dausse of/at Ch. PHELAN SEGUR (94+).

There is a lot of talk, especially from producers in Pessac-Leognan and Margaux (where they didn’t get as much late season rain) that “poor St. Estephe and Pauillac and St. Julien” got too much rain too late and so are less good. It appears that, at least at those chateaux with well-draining deep gravel-sand terroirs, that late rain wasn’t much of an issue. This 2015 is the best Phelan Segur I’ve ever tasted.

Leaving Phelan (and still raining), we headed for Ch. COS d’ESTOURNEL (94-96), then Ch. Montrose to taste Ch. TRONQUOY LALANDE (91+), La DAME de MONTROSE (92), and Ch. MONTROSE (94-96) before a sprint over to Ch. Calon Segur. At Calon, we tasted Ch. CAPBERN (92+, from a separate terroir close to Tronquoy Lalande), 2nd vin MARQUIS de CALON (93+, another of those 2nd wines that can be mistaken for a grand vin), and Ch. CALON SEGUR (95-97+).

I’d say St. Estephe made a more than respectable showing.

And so on to one more Pauillac, Ch. Pichon Lalande before we finished the tasting day in St. Julien. With estate manager Nicolas Glumineau (formerly of Ch. Montrose) who has really improved the process here, we tasted RESERVE de la COMTESSE (93) and Ch. PICHON LALANDE (96-98).

After Pichon came Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou where we tasted Bruno Borie’s two Listrac wines – Ch. DUCLUZEAU (90+) and Ch. FOURCAS BORIE (91) – which are among the cleanest, least funky wines of Listrac, followed by his St. Julien wines Ch. LALANDE BORIE (90 here, but a better sample the next  day at Joanne got 91+), La CROIX DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (93, and now a separate property, no longer a 2nd vin), and Ch. DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU (97-99, and the best young Ducru I have ever tasted. Weightless. Ethereal).

We ended the tasting day at Ch. Leoville las Cases running only 25 minutes behind (which unfortunately is about normal). Normally this is not one of my favorite tastings as 1) it always seems to come at the end of a long day and 2) I have sometimes (often?) struggled to understand these wines. Not this year. The two Medoc-appellated wines from just north of the Haut Medoc appellation of St. Seurin de Cadourne – CHAPELLE de POTENSAC (91+) and Ch. POTENSAC (92+) – were fresh and lively. The St. Julien former 2nd-vin, now-separate-property CLOS du MARQUIS (94+) now has its own second wine called La PETITE MARQUISE du CLOS du MARQUIS (92). Which brings us to the main event: 2nd vin Le PETIT LION (94) and Ch. LEOVILLE Las CASES (96-98, and the most enjoyable young Leoville las Cases of my career).

At this point we were all feeling healthy enough to go to the river front in Pauillac and sit outside during a break in the rain for a sip of Champagne and nibble of jambon before the drive back to Bordeaux. Nothing cleans your mouth up – and gets the purple off your teeth – after a long day of tasting young red Bordeaux like Champagne.

A great day despite the rain – but it’s not over. We had an hour-plus drive ahead of us to get to a party at negoçiant Archie Johnston’s house where the Champagne and oysters flowed freely, the conversation about the new vintage and Bordeaux in general was intelligent and lively, and later in the evening some jewels like 1982 Ch. Haut Brion and 1955 Ch. Lafite got drunk (as opposed to tasted).

FRIDAY (04/08/16)
The Home Stretch
Friday Morning, 8am. Everyone seems to be on-their-game today and that’s good thing because we’re heading out to the offices of Bordeaux negoçiant Joanne for a warehouse tasting where we’ll pick up some of the wines we’ve missed and re-taste a few more.

The idea of UGC week is that the trade comes to Bordeaux and cycles through a number of large tastings organized at designated chateaux where trade members can taste the wines of 20 or more chateaux from a given area (say Margaux for instance) in one location. It started off as a good idea but there were/are problems. A lot of the people pouring the wines either had no technical information on the wines or were indifferent to the people they were pouring for. Sometimes the samples were off and often they were off-temperature, but again, the pourers were generally indifferent. And, as often happens at big, annual events, the social aspect began to get in the way of efficiently tasting and recording tasting notes. So to taste better samples and gather more information, I began to schedule more and more tastings at chateaux – but we still had to attend the big cattle call tastings to taste everything we needed to evaluate. Then came an invitation from Joanne to visit their warehouse where we’d have the opportunity to taste ALL the UGC wines in one location while seated at a table with the option to plug in the computer for note taking, and with someone there to provide technical information (such as the blend) on all the wines. Doing this would free up more time for more appointments at more chateaux. So we scheduled to visit Joanne on Friday morning of UGC week. That was five years ago and I have never looked back.

When we walked into Joanne, we were escorted to a private tasting area for just our group (and maybe a couple of others – this year with two friends from the Liquor Control Board in Ontario). We were handed a catalogue of all the wines available to taste and we checked off the ones we wanted to taste. Then the fun began. University interns poured the wines so we could rock through a lot of wine in a fairly short period of time. This year, we tasted through over forty wines in under three hours. Some were re-tastes, but most were wines we had missed, either knowing we would taste them at Joanne or because of the stomach bug – the “Grand Mal (big bad) de Bordeaux” (or GMdeB)– that had been going around all week. Here are the highlights of the Joanne tasting:
Ch. CANTEMERLE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (92)
Ch. La LAGUNE, Haut Medoc, 2015 (91+)
Ch. du TERTRE, Margaux, 2015 (91+)
Ch. CANTENAC BROWN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. GISCOURS, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. d’ISSAN, Margaux, 2015 (93+)
Ch. BRANE CANTENAC, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. RAUZAN SEGLA, Margaux, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. LASCOMBES, Margaux, 2015 (93)
As these and our other scores for Margaux wines show, this was fine year for that appellation.
Ch. LALANDE BORIE, St. Julien, 2015 (91+)
A re-taste from the day before with much better results due to a better sample.
Ch. BEYCHEVELLE, St. Julien, 2015 (94+)
Ch. MEYNEY, St. Estephe, 2015 (93+)
Ch. LAFON ROCHET, St. Estephe, 2015 (93++)
A wine to reckon with this year due to improved facilities and a new consultant in the person of former Petrus winemaker Jean Claude Berrouet.
Ch. PAPE CLEMENT, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94+)
Tasted at the behest of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Quite enjoyable 2015 after some years of way too much extraction.
Ch. CARBONNIEUX, Pessac Leognan Rouge Rouge, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. CARBONNIEUX BLANC, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (94-95)
Best young Carbonnieux wines of my career.
DOMAINE de CHEVALIER, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94++)
Much better here than at the chateau on Monday.
Ch. CANON, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
The guys tasted this (and loved it) on Wednesday but I was by that time a casualty.
Ch. CLOS FOURTET, St. Emilion, 2015 (95
Ch. la DOMINIQUE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95)
Tasted on the recommendation of Joanne’s Dan Snook. Improved facilities and new team have made a big difference.
Ch. TROPLONG MONDOT, St. Emilion, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. NENIN, Pomerol, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY VEDRINES, Barsac, 2015 (93-95)
Ch. COUTET, Barsac, 2015 (94)
Ch. DOISY DAENE, Barsac, 2015 (94+)
Clearly 2015 is a fine vintage for Sauternes.

After Joanne, we had two more appointments: 3:30pm back at Ch. Haut Brion so James Barlow – who had missed Haut Brion on Monday due to the “GMdeB” – could experience bliss and 5:15pm at Borie Manoux as we had all missed getting good notes on those wines for the same reason.

At Ch. Haut Brion, the wines were consistent with Monday with the reds as a group maybe showing a bit better on Monday morning (across the road at La Mission) and the whites as a group maybe showing a bit better on this afternoon visit to Haut Brion.


My hat at Borie Manoux

Finally, we went to Borie Manoux to taste through the range of chateaux owned by the Casteja family (who were our hosts for that fabulous dinner on the Sunday prior). Owner Philippe Casteja himself  actually poured and provided the technical details for our tasting.

Here are the highlights of the Borie Manoux tasting:
Ch. BEAU-SITE, St. Estephe, 2015 (91+)
Brilliant white gravel and sand terroir overlooking Calon Segur.
Les HAUTS de LYNCH, Haut Medoc, 2015 (90+)
2nd wine of Lynch Moussas with some of the grapes coming from outside the Pauillac appellation.
Ch. LYNCH MOUSSAS, Pauillac, 2015 (92)
LIONS de BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (91)
New 2nd wine of Ch. Batailley.
Ch. BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (94+)
My “reference standard” in Pauillac.
Ch. la CROIX du CASSE, Pomerol, 2015 (91+)
DOMAINE de l’EGLISE, Pomerol, 2015 (93+)
La DAME de TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (91+)
Ch. TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
Premiere Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion at a very high level with a small part of pre-phylloxera vines.

Whew! What a day. What a trip.

With that, all the tasting is done but the fun is just beginning.


The Best of 2015?

Ch. Lafite Rothschild (98-100), Ch. Haut Brion (98-100), and Ch. Cheval Blanc (98-100), were my top three red wines of the vintage.

They were followed closely by Vieux Ch. Certan (97-100) and Ch. Margaux (97-100), then Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou (97-99), Ch. Figeac (97-99), Ch. Latour (97-99), Ch. Petrus (97-99), and Ch. Mouton Rothschild (97-99). My top dry white was Ch. Haut Brion Blanc (98-100) with Ch. La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (97-99) and Pavillon Blanc du Ch. Margaux (96-99) close behind. My top sweet white was Ch. d’Yquem (98-100) with Ch. Rieussec (96-98) not far behind.

Other 2015s That Made the Biggest Impressions*:
Ch. GRAND PUY LACOSTE, Pauillac, 2015 (96-98+)
Ch. la MONDOTTE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. la MISSION HAUT BRION, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. LEOVILLE POYFERRE, St. Julien, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. PONTET CANET, Pauillac, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. PICHON LALANDE, Pauillac, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. LEOVILLE las CASES, St. Julien, 2015 (96-98)
Ch. TROTTEVIELLE, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-98)
L’IF, St. Emilion, 2015 (96-97+)
Ch. CALON SEGUR, St. Estephe, 2015 (95-97+)
Ch. CANON la GAFFELIERE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-97)
Le CLARENCE de HAUT BRION (2nd vin Ch. Haut Brion), Pessac Leognan, 2015 (95-97)
PAVILLON ROUGE du Ch. MARGAUX (2nd vin de Ch. Margaux), Margaux, 2015 (95-96+)
Ch. BRANAIRE DUCRU, St. Julien, 2015 (95-96+)
Ch. la CROIX St. GEORGES, Pomerol, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. les CARMES HAUT BRION, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. QUINTUS, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. HAUT BAILLY, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. SMITH HAUT LAFITTE BLANC, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. SMITH HAUT LAFITTE, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. TROTANOY, Pomerol, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. BELAIR MONANGE, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. PAVIE MACQUIN, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. BEAUSEJOUR DAUFFAU, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. CANON, St. Emilion, 2015 (95-96)
Ch. LEOVILLE BARTON, St. Julien, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. La FLEUR PETRUS, Pomerol, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. COS d’ESTOURNEL, St. Estephe, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. MONTROSE, St. Estephe, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. TROPLONG MONDOT, St. Emilion, 2015 (94-96)
Ch. RAUZAN SEGLA, Margaux, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. CARBONNIEUX, Pessac Leognan Rouge Rouge, 2015 (94-95)
Ch. CARBONNIEUX BLANC, Pessac Leognan Blanc, 2015 (94-95)
Les FORTS de LATOUR (2nd Vin de Ch. Latour), Pauillac, 2015 (95)
Ch. GRUAUD LAROSE, St. Julien, 2015 (95)
Ch. LYNCH BAGES, Pauillac, 2015 (95)
Ch. PONTAC LYNCH, Margaux, 2015 (94++)
DOMAINE de CHEVALIER, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2015 (94+)
Ch. BEYCHEVELLE, St. Julien, 2015 (94+)
Ch. LARCIS DUCASSE, St. Emilion, 2015 (94+)
Ch. PICHON BARON, Pauillac, 2015 (94+)
Ch. PHELAN SEGUR, St. Estephe, 2015 (94+)
Ch. GISCOURS, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. BRANE CANTENAC, Margaux, 2015 (94+)
Ch. BEYCHEVELLE, St. Julien, 2015 (94+)
Ch. DOISY DAENE, Barsac, 2015 (94+)
Ch. BATAILLEY, Pauillac, 2015 (94+)

*These are not necessarily the highest scores but they did make the biggest impressions.