Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Vintage Report; Bordeaux 2016 by Matthew Hemming MW

The sun shone on Bordeaux during the en primeur tastings of the 2016 vintage, both literally as temperatures flirted with the upper 20s, and figuratively as we tasted some exquisite young wines. Believe me, even if you’ve not yet heard them, the Bordeaux jungle drums are picking up the beat for another big vintage; hopefully I have bought myself a little credibility by waiting until after the tastings before making any comment about the potential quality the wines.  I almost feel compelled to whisper it but much of what I tasted from 2016 is looking absolutely stunning, with many wines to rival or even out-perform their 2015 brethren.
Image result for matthew hemmingIn brief, 2016 was born of a wet winter followed by a warm, dry summer – crucially, with cooler nights – a sprinkling of rain just before the harvest period and, finally, a prolonged period of clement weather during picking.  If I had to pick one factor that shaped the vintage it would be that warm, very dry spell in the summer.  At Cheval Blanc we were told that you have to go back to the late 19th century to find a vintage with so little rainfall during the same months.  The late season rains helped refresh the grapes, and the cooler nights to preserve their acidity, but the drought certainly raised the spectre of hydric stress in the vineyards.  In particular, the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot struggled with the lack of water whilst the later ripening Cabernets were better able to take benefit from the rains and the beautiful late-season weather.  That said, the wet winter had replenished water reserves in the soil and clay-based terroirs in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, for example, retained sufficient moisture for even Merlot to survive the drought without negative impact and there are some magical wines from both villages. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Burgundy 2015 - Vintage Report

The 2015 vintage in Burgundy
Image result for matthew hemming

Burgundy is an informal place in comparison to Bordeaux, populated by farmers with dirty boots and fingernails rather than overseas investors with crisply ironed shirts and tailored suits.  That said, it would be a mistake to assume that the land of the Chevaliers du Clos Vougeot, mapped by monks in the Middle Ages, is free from a certain amount of etiquette.  

One manifestation of this is the reluctance I feel to ask producers to compare their new wines to previous vintages.  Whilst we British seem fixated on finding the next 2009, 2005, 1999 or 1990, it should appeal to our own – famous – reserve that there is something indelicate in asking someone to rate their latest ‘child’ against the elder siblings.  Social niceties aside, in pure winemaking terms it is clearly ridiculous to compare a 2015 wine to one made a decade before – vineyard techniques have changed, winemaking has changed, fashion has changed, even the climate is changing...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Rhone 2015 - En-Primeur Vintage Report

In July this year I spent a week travelling between producers in the Rhone Valley tasting 2015s, a year that I am confident will unequivocally wear the badge of a great vintage as the years pass and corks are pulled.  Up and down the valley - from Condrieu to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from Ardeche Vin de Pays to prestige cuvee Cote Rotie, from Syrah in the north to Mourvedre in south - and across both reds and whites, thrilling wines have been made. 

For my palate, 2015 rivals the outstanding wines of 2010 – ahead of the 2005s and superior to the over-hyped 2007s.  When Michel Chapoutier came to London to present his range in April, he told us that 2015 is the best vintage since 1990.  Michel’s neighbours at Guigal are making comparisons to 1961 and 1947.  Whilst neither my memory nor cellar extend quite that far back, this is unquestionably a year that hits extraordinary heights in the Rhone.  Since returning, I have been squirreling away funds in preparation for the releases.

My first experience of 2015 in the Rhone came in July of that year, 12 months prior to my tasting visit, just as the vineyards were undergoing veraison - when the juvenile grapes change colour and start to ripen – whilst tasting the 2014 wines.  It was hot.  In fact, it was furnace-like, with a run of days over 40c – conforming to the official definition of a heat-wave – and a prolonged dry spell, causing the vines to struggle.  Especially in the north, where Syrah is particularly vulnerable to extreme conditions, growers were starting to worry about hydric (water) stress leading to wines with insufficient acidity and dry, leathery tannins.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Chateaux Montrose, Pichon Lalande, Angelus & Pavie

En primeur 2015 has made it to the home straight this week as the last remaining wines of the vintage are finally released.  Of particular note is Chateau Montrose, an estate whose claim to be the finest in St Estephe is now firmly established.  The incredible levels of investment at this property are paying off with wines of ever greater precision, intensity and complexity, and Montrose continues to be priced below neighbour and rival Cos d’Estournel.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A bit more Bordeaux

The En Primeur wheels have finally creaked into motion over the last couple of days with a flurry of big name releases – out prior to the big Bordeaux wine fair in Hong Kong next week.

Chateau d’Armailhac marks the first major Pauillac and the first of the Mouton-Rothschild stable to offer their 2015.  A crisp and red-fruited claret, we have stock available at £310/cs.  Chateau Clerc Milon – the other Mouton-owned Pauillac – joined it’s sister property in releasing this morning.  Very little stock seems to have been released but we expect to have some available – in 6-packs – at £240 very soon.  Clerc is a far bigger, richer wine than d’Armailhac, markedly Pauillac in style and a success of the vintage.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Bordeaux 2015 - More and more releases...

Whilst we’re still waiting for the Cru Classe estates to break ranks in a meaningful way the last few days have seen a number of releases, including wines from the Chateaux Pichon Baron, Leoville Barton and Lynch Bages stables – suggesting more significant releases may be imminent. In addition, we have sold out of Chateau Angludet and a number of other wines, such as Gazin and Coutet are moving into a low stock situation.

Chateau Liot has long provided the Sauternes entry point into our range, with great value wines and consistent quality. 2015 is an outstanding sweet wine vintage and we’re delighted to be offering Liot at the same en primeur price as the 2013 release - £80 per 12 halves.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

4 more releases have been added to our offer of 2015 Bordeaux En Primeur

Chateau Gazin - £480/cs (12) – is one of the biggest names thus far to release its 2015 to the market. In recent years, Gazin’s winemaking team have been refining the style at this famous Pomerol chateau and I’ve noticed the difference as the wine has been quietly out-performing itself and moving up the rankings at our annual blind tasting in Southwold. The wine is far less rustic than vintages of old and the tannins have a much greater degree of polish and finesse. 2015 is a year that favours Pomerol and Gazin is shot through with a delicious seam of mineral freshness. There are only a few cases available, though, so please don’t sit on your hands it you’re keen to have some in the cellar.

From St Estephe’s famous 2nd growth Calon Segur, Chateau Capbern is thoroughly delicious, a screaming success of the vintage and sure to be one of its best value wines. The sweet, ripe, blackcurrant characters really capture the fruit purity and succulence that define 2015 Bordeaux. This is an enormous amount of wine for £140/cs (12).

Wine Advisor Masterclass - Saturday 23rd April

On Saturday April 23rd we welcomed 40 guests into our Bristol cellars for our second ‘Wine Advisor Masterclass’. The aim of the event was to dig deeper into the world of wine, in a fun and engaging manner. We had four of our most knowledgeable wine advisors on hand to give presentations on wine topics of their choosing. We also welcomed our friends at the Arch House Deli in Clifton, who provided us with their usual fantastic selection of cheeses.

For Adam Simpson, our lead account manager, the decision of which region he wanted to discuss was an easy one, he’s been a fan of the Rhone Valley in France since he can remember! He opened up with a creamy, rich, mouth-filling Rhone Valley white, from his favourite estate in the Rhone, Domaine Mourchon, an estate he has visited on numerous occasions. Moving on to the reds, he opened the Domaine Andre Aubert Le Devoy, from Grignan-les-Adhemar, the appellation formerly known as the Coteaux-du-Tricastin. Returning to his favourite estate, we tasted the Domaine de Mourchon Cotes du Rhone Villages Seguret Grande Reserve 2012, a rich, full-bodied, southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Saving the best for last we tasted the Domaine Rostaing Cote Rotie Ampodium 2011, this was possibly my favourite wine of the afternoon, and at £45 per bottle, so it should be!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur - Release Update

The en primeur releases are starting to gather pace this week as familiar names and old favourites are beginning to be released to the market.

Margaux is an undeniable star of the 2015 vintage and we’re pleased to be offering one of the appellation’s most stylish Cru Bourgeois in Chateau Labegorce. The svelte texture and sweet blackberry fruit give a modern but classy rendition of the vintage at £200/cs. Alongside this we have one of the UK’s favourite Margaux wines in Chateau Angludet. The estate seem to be following a wider theme amongst the chateaux in reducing the number of cases they release en primeur. We are still trying to buy additional stock but please contact us if you’re keen to add Angludet to your 2015 purchases. Angludet’s 2015 gets an impressive 17-/20 from Jancis Robinson MW and the price is £215/cs (12).

Fronsac seems to have been coming up the inside track in recent years, quietly over-achieving and providing claret lovers with some serious wines at very fair prices. This year our top pick is Chateau Dalem, a particularly richly-structured example, full-bodied, with succulent fruit and a lifted, juicy finish. Unlike many Fronsacs this year, this is clearly built with the ambition to age, and I’d recommend stashing it in the cellar for 3-4 years from release. Dalem 2015 delivers a lot of wine for £145/cs (12).

Joining the ever popular Chateau Cissac (£100/cs), Chateau Chasse Spleen was released earlier this morning. The 2015 vintage of this wine has a greater degree of polish than we’ve seen in previous releases and is much less rustic in character. The price is £215/cs (12).

Finally, one of the best sweet wines I tasted other than Chateau d’Yquem has been released. 2015 delivered near-perfect conditions for noble rot and Chateau Coutet is blossom-scented and elegant, with a citric edge and a scintillating balance. A wine of delicacy and poise, I rated it 18/20 and will find it extremely hard not to hand over £150 for a case of 12 halves – world class wine and great value.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Bordeaux 2015 Vintage Report

A complex set of wines that, at their best, are entirely seductive and from a similar mould to the delicious 1985s.

Last week’s tasting of 2015 marked my 10th consecutive year of en primeur tasting in Bordeaux so, after 5 days and 400+ wines, you might expect some sort of authoritative opinion on the vintage. However, one thing I’ve learned from a decade of barrel tastings is that 5 day’s of sipping and slurping is far too little time to pass any sort of judgement on the product of a year’s work by a vigneron. These are wines we aspire to tuck away in our cellars for upwards of a decade; to expect to understand them after less than 6 months in barrel rather misses the point.

The wisest comment I’ve heard about 2015 is that it is not like tasting a single vintage and more like two or three that happen to have fallen within the same 12 month period. I wish I was clever enough to have said that myself! 2015 has produced a complex yet fascinating set of wines, the best of which I found utterly charming and which I’m entirely prepared to believe share much in common with the delightful 1985s. As ’85 has been a favourite vintage for claret lovers for as long as I’ve been drinking Bordeaux, the 2015s seem to be well worth your attention.