The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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{ }  47 and often a decade before it can be drunk. I have a large, cold cellar in our house in Dorset, and since I taste these wines in their infancy every year, I tend to place my bets early on, generally buy- ing several different wines direct from a Bordeaux merchant for personal drinking. The least I have ever bought since 1990 has been just two wines in 1994 (Léoville- Barton Saint-Julien and Pontet-Canet Pauillac, both still very good) and the most was sixteen cases of the 2012s (of which more later). However, despite buy- ing direct, the only vintages which have showed me a profit in the last decade have been the classic 2005s and the "bar- gain" 2008s. A recent article on Decanter. com by Bordeaux resident Jane Anson under the title "Can the 2014 vintage save en primeur?" compared current prices offered by La Place for the vintages 2010, 2011 and 2012 today to those offered en primeur, showing a rise of 0.3% for the 2010s, a loss of 1.48% for the 2011s and a rise of 1.2% for the better and cheaper 2012s. Those who bought at the start will have inflation and in most cases (not mine) keeping charges to attend to. My answer to Jane Anson's question is No. The only compelling reasons for buying en primeur are that the wines will be more expensive and/or unavailable at a later date. This is true for highly-regarded estates in Burgundy, as the production is so small, but no longer for Bordeaux. Back to the 2012s. During my week April 2013, two quotes stood out: "A nice surprise" from Emmanuel Cruse of Margaux's Château d'Issan, and "a dif- ficult year, one that we would not like to see too often" from Charles Chevallier of Pauillac's Château Lafite-Rothschild. I agreed with both, for the success of these wines had to come from constant attention to detail, both in the vineyard and the cellar. For June 2013 Decanter I wrote: "Who were the winners and losers in 2012? The principal loser was Sauternes, where yields were tiny and the quantity variable, causing Châteaux d'Yquem, Rieussec and Suduiraut to announce that they would not be pro- ducing any wine under these 1er Cru labels (though tasted in London, the seven estates present—Climens, Coutet, La Tour Blanche, then Rayne-Vigneau, Doisy-Daëne, then Doisy-Védrines and Bastor-Lamontagne—were all true to their "terroir" and very fine); the winners were the dry whites, especially in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol with their high, early-ripening Merlots, and those Medoc estates with money to sacrifice quantity for quality. Colour was good to very good, fruit was upfront, tannins present but balanced and alcohols around 13-13.5%." Fast for- ward to October 2014 and Sebastian Payne MW, recently retired buyer of Bordeaux for The Wine Society, said "these are just the sort of clarets I would like to open in two to three years and drink into their second decade." I agree entirely, for there is very much to like in the 2012s and the market will make the prices reasonable for the pockets of most of us, for if it does not the classic wines of Bordeaux will no longer find themselves on wine lovers' dinner tables. Ready to drink now, but slightly less good overall than the 2012s, are the 2008s, 2007s and 2011s can, in my view, be passed over and the 2009s and 2010s are too expensive, yet on the rule to "buy lesser wines in great vintages and great wines in lesser vintages", the non- classed growths are the ones to go for in these years. For 2012, I gave 19/20 to Haut-Brion and just a fraction less to the other First Growths, but these have a life and a price of their own. After the tasting in London, I found that my "sure bets", which for me means wines that represent Bordeaux at its best in a good but not great vintage and will therefore give great pleasure both intellectually and emotion- ally over a period of five to 15 years, were confirmed. There were so many châteaux to recommend, that I will just list here my favourite wines from the châteaux pres- ent in London, many of which are already booked in for my cellar. Saint-Émilion: Figeac, Canon, Clos Fourtet, La Gaffeliere, Troplong- Mondot, Trottevieille, Canon-La- Gaffelière, Beau-Séjour Bécot, Larcis-Ducasse Pomerol: La Conseillante, Gazin, Clinet, Petit-Village, La Pointe Pessac-Léognan White: Domaine de Chevalier, Pape-Clément, Malartic- Lagravière, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, La Tour-Martillac, Bouscaut Pessac-Léognan Red: Haut-Bailly, Pape-Clement, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Les Carmes Haut- Brion, Malartic-Lagraviere Haut-Médoc: La Lagune, Cantemerle, Camensac Margaux: Rauzan-Ségla, Brane- Cantenac, Durfort-Vivens, Lascombes, Kirwan, Monbrison, Rauzan-Gassies, Prieuré-Lichine Saint-Julien: Léoville-Barton, Léoville- Poyferré, Gruaud-Larose, Langoa- Barton, Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Pierre Pauillac: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pichon-Longueville Baron de Longueville, Lynch-Bages, d'Armailhac, Batailley Saint-Estèphe: Lafon-Rochet, de Pez Sauternes: Coutet, Climens, La Tour Blanche, Rayne-Vigneau, Doisy-Daëne Of course this list excludes wines that were not present, such as Montrose and Calon-Ségur in Saint-Estèphe, Ducru- Beaucaillou and Léoville Las-Cases in Saint-Julien and Palmer in Margaux, all absolutely top of their class. But this list does show that "class will out" and that the better châteaux tend to produce the bet- ter wines. This is true from top to bottom of the Bordeaux pyramid, and while there are very few wines at the top, more in the middle and many more lower down, I still maintain that for a classic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, Bordeaux represents a benchmark. Price may be a problem today, but as the great Michael Broadbent says: "One always comes back to Bordeaux." PHOTO COURTESY UNION DES GRANDS CRUS DE BORDEAUX

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