A couple of days in Bordeaux

Bud Cuchet and I spent a couple of days in Bordeaux last week – the first time that either of us have visited Bordeaux during the harvest despite nearly forty years in the trade between us. The aim was twofold: to see the 2012 crop coming in and to retaste a few 2011s and 2010s.

Pontet Canet Grapes SmallDespite our hosts being rather busy, it is a great time to visit. There is a real energy and excitement as the grapes come into the winery and the excitement is tangible everywhere and in everyone from the chateau proprietors to the workers at the sorting table. The talk on 2012 was positive; some properties may have a smaller yield than usual though this is not necessarily the general rule; Alfred Tesseron at Ch. Pontet-Canet told us that his yields in 2012 are as healthy as ever, largely on account of the endless work undertaken in the vineyards during the growing season. The grapes coming into the winery looked exceptionally healthy, evenly ripe and they had a lovely sweetness to them, pips and all.

At Pontet-Canet we were also given the pleasure of retasting the 2011, one of the vintage’s real stars, and the flawless 2010. It is often said that the team at Pontet-Canet are aiming to be Pauillac’s best non-first growth but this isn’t true. In Alfred’s words: “I want to be the best in Pauillac”, and he’s not far off. The 2011 is pure and sweet with enormous depth and finesse; the 2010, bottled last July, is simply perfect and, in my opinion, better than the 2009 (so Mr Parker will need 101 points for this one).

Margaux wines with lunch smallAt Ch. Margaux we were welcomed by director Paul Pontallier and owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos, which is a treat in itself. Having harvested most of the earlier-ripening plots of Merlot, Paul had decided to take a break of a couple of days before harvesting the grander plots. We were treated to a tasting of 2011 Pavillon Blanc, Pavillon Rouge and the grand vin itself. Paul believes 2011 Pavillon Blanc to be the best white wine they have made at the chateau and the reds were lovely. There is an argument that tasting the previous vintage in April is far too early and, having tasted the same wines in both April and October, I am inclined to agree. 2011 Pavillon Rouge has purity, depth and balance. “Leagues better than in April” reads my note. The grand vin itself was again much, much more impressive than it was six months ago: beautifully fine, and clearly a wine with breeding. The tasting was rounded off with the quite brilliant 2009, which is something very special indeed. Paul thinks this is even better than the other-worldly 2005, and he does have a point. Beautifully sweet and rich, this wine manages to be fat and muscular and elegant and svelte at the same time. Quite remarkable.

Margaux lunch smallLunch with the Margaux team followed, and we can vouch for the fact that the workers are very well fed during the harvest. I’m not sure that the pickers are served 2006 Pavillon Rouge and 1995 Margaux with their lunch, though these both impressed with a simple yet delicious five courses (so that the pickers have the energy for a full afternoon’s work…).

At Mouton-Rothschild the harvesting had started for the Merlot and we were greeted by the view of workers waiting at the balcony of the new winery for the next batch of grapes to arrive. The tasting of the 2011 and 2010 wines was a real eye-opener: 2011 d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Mouton itself have all put on considerable weight since April. Armailhac is pure, fresh and focused; Clerc-Milon is a flamboyant, fleshy, plump wine. I would be happy to have either in my cellar. 2011 Mouton-Rothschild is of course a more serious proposition and is all about elegance and finesse, with a little Mouton “flashiness” on top. The star of the show, though, indeed the star of the week along with 2010 Pontet-Canet and 2009 Margaux, was 2010 Mouton, which I feel might just have the magic 100 points on the way. Breathtaking depth of flavour, and a depth that persists in the seemingly endless finish.

Leoville Lascases Arch smallOur visit to Leoville-Lascases warrants a report in itself – Bud and I are now part of a select group who have been “behind the lion”, which is to say inside the gates of the clos. The first of the Merlot was arriving here, where a first sorting is undertaken in the vineyard prior to a second sorting, by optical sorting machine, at the doors of the winery. The grapes were ripe, healthy and sweet; owner Jean-Hubert Delon and director Pierre Graffeuille were both happy and relaxed – a good sign at harvest time.

Latour Vineyard smallAt Chx Latour, Rauzan-Segla and Leoville-Poyferre there was a similar energy. The next fortnight is very important (and it has been raining since our visit) though we could have some good wines on our hands in April next year. Then we can talk about prices which, for the most part, the Bordelais recognize need some attention.

Moreover, the 2011s that we tasted are all showing much, much better than they did in April – this isn’t as mediocre a vintage as some have made out – and the 2010s that we were shown were simply stunning. It would appear that the hype surrounding this vintage is true.