There’s no denying the mystique of Bordeaux. It’s entrenched in wine lore. Many will say: “And rightly so.” After all, Bordeaux is still regarded as the world’s leading wine producing region, by which all others are judged. And just about every New World wine region (from Okanagan to Napa, Stellenbosch, Maipo or wherever), has its own “Bordeaux Blend” or variation on it. If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, Bordeaux is mimicked in spades.
This week’s avalanche of pre-fall wine tastings included Barbara Philip’s now annual, “don’t miss” media preview for the upcoming BC Liquor Stores’ Bordeaux Release.
I’m always somewhat awestruck by Ms. Philip, (who is western Canada’s first Master of Wine). She’s driven and truly passionate. And when it come to Bordeaux, her knowledge is boundless, as she rattles off various chateaux, First Growth nuggets, vintage and harvest details as routinely as days of the week. Except, the great thing about Barb is that she brings it all down to earth, with a straight-ahead, completely un-intimidating, no nonsense explanation of what to look for and what to expect. There’s nothing elitist about her whatsoever
No doubt, come October 3rd., there’ll be the usual throng of people rushing to buy the 2012’s because, well, it’s Bordeaux; and, well, it’s there. They just have to have it, regardless of whether the wines are better than 2011 (they are) or not, whether they’re amazing (hmmm, depends); whether they drink them this year, tuck them away, cut them with ginger ale, or don’t ever drink them.
About that ginger ale reference. I really don’t think it happens any more. However, the late Eddie Cordes—who ran one of Vancouver’s original French restaurants, La Côte d’Azur—was horrified one day when some lunch guests ordered a bottle of Chateau Petrus and proceeded to cut it with ginger ale. In fact it may have been that act alone that propelled him to move the restaurant to Harrison Hot Springs!)
Yet, not everyone is a collector or Bordeaux aficionado—real or imagined. Nor do they necessarily have the funds at hand or the cellar space. What I truly appreciate about Barb’s approach is that she really does try to accommodate a wide range of tastes and points of view. What she has to say is as valuable for the seasoned oenophile as it is for the neophyte collector or someone who’d just like to learn little more.
One thing’s for for sure. China, not Europe, is now driving Bordeaux, with more than 100 chateaux purchased by Chinese investors in the last few years. And Philip says if you think the prices are crazy now, just wait until this year’s vintage goes on the market.
Here’s what I wrote for this week’s column …
Bordeaux: Still on a Roll
If you’re a Bordeaux lover, one of the biggest days in the wine year is fast approaching. On October 3 Bordeaux aficionados will line up in droves to buy what they perceive are some of the ‘must have’ bottles in the wine world, from the 2012 release.
Few people know Bordeaux better than Master of Wine Barbara Philip, European Portfolio Manager for BC Liquor Distribution Branch. At a recent preview she said that the interest in Bordeaux continues to surge unabated:
“The state of Bordeaux is crazy. And for the type of consumers buying at the high end it doesn’t really seem to matter. We sell everything that comes in. And for the petit chateaux … especially 2009, 2010, 2005 and 2002 (vintages), there’s still crazy demand,” says Philip.
“We’re still showing incredible growth. It’s done nothing but increase since the release of 2009,” notes the wine buyer, who expects the selection of 2012s that she’s purchased “to sell extremely quickly.”
Bordeaux 2012: An uneven season
Philip’s assessment of the 2012 vintage is diplomatic but candid.
Philip says that the year started with a cool and rainy spring, meaning an uneven flowering and fruit set and a reduction in crop. May and June continued to be wet and cool, July was nearly normal. And then in August came extreme heat and drought conditions. That meant a lot of vine stress.
“Typically there’s a beautiful September and October but it didn’t really happen,” says Philip. “And, although September and early October was sunny and warm, which is great for Merlot … after the first week in October, it rained, which is not great for Cabernet.” In fact, says the MW, “it likely didn’t ripen.”
Then again, she says, “If you’re a Cab person you won’t mind a little greenness.”
The early fall weather helped the dry whites considerably. But sweet whites were “a bit of a washout—and the botrytis never came,” she says.
A milestone year
Serious buyers will know 2012 as being the year when celebrated Chateau Latour ceased selling its first growth wines ‘en primeur’, the method by which major buyers, such as Philip, and negoçiants purchase wines for the future based on barrel sampling.
Instead, the wines will be sold when the winery believes they are ready to drink.
In part, the move is a reaction to the fact that—although luxury home wine cellars may be on the rise—many consumers no longer have the space to cellar large quantities of wine. Or, in some cases, they may not have the desire, as in emerging markets such as Asia, where, according to Decanter Magazine, “the concept of buying en primeur is still in its infancy.”
What to buy
Before we get to the 2012s, if money’s no object and you need to spoil that wine lover in your life, then you’ll already have tucked away for them a bottle of the extraordinary balanced and integrated, seamless cassis and peppery Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2010. If you somehow carelessly forgot, you can still find it at BCLS Park Royal. $1599.00 (taxes extra).
However, if their tastes (and your wallet) are more modest, don’t despair. Nose around and you’ll still find some worthy drops to tuck away from the soon to be released 2012s that (for Bordeaux) won’t break the bank.
• Chateau la Dominique 2012 (St. Emilion). Globe trotting Michel Rolland consults on this mainly Merlot, juicy, moden style, with bright aromas and solid mouthfeel, blue fruit and cassis plus a little spice that develops on the palate. BCLS $68. 92 pts. I thought, of the flight, this wine offered the best overall value for money. And would be a worthy introduction for the first time Bordeaux buyer.
• Chateau Rauzan Ségla 2012 (Margaux). Luscious fruit entry (54 / 44 Cab Sauv / Merlot) with floral notes, red current, firm acidity, ripe tannins with some earthy notes. BCLS $99. 91 pts.
• Chateau Rahoul 2012 (AOC Graves). Quite approachable Merlot / Cab Sauv (65 / 35%) with black fruit and some herbal savoury notes, easy tannins, good mouthfeel and a touch of heat in the end. $28, 89 pts.
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• Chateau Léoville Barton 2012. Mineral notes on top followed a still quite tannic but nicely weighted and elegant palate of bright red fruit with good length, finesse and structure. For cellaring. BCLS $138, 92 pts.
• Chateau Puojeaux, Moulis-en Médoc 2012. Some dusty notes on top, followed by bright red and black fruit on the palate, with good mouth feel and length plus lingering anise and spice. BCLS $50, 90 pts.
• Chateau Haut-Bergey Blanc 2012 (Pessac-Léognan). Up front lemon and floral notes with a clean and refreshing palate of zesty citrus and a crisp close. $60, 90 pts.