Bordeaux winemakers, some of the greatest in the world, have united to make a community, Le Grand Cercle de Vins de Bordeaux to help ensure quality, spread the best methods and techniques, and help find wine fans and customers around the world. I was invited to their En Primeur 2016 tasting show to taste last season’s wine, harvested over Autumn/Winter 2016, which is coming onto the market to canny people willing to buy now and get a bargain. Later, when some of these wines have aged, their price will seriously increase and perhaps even multiply.
At London’s Le Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly, the dedicated winemakers and estate owners assembled for this special tasting, designed to give buyers and reviewers a sneaky peek at what will be coming from Bordeaux over the coming months and years.
The first wine I sampled was the Chateau de Cerons sweet white wine. Based in the same region as Graves (Rive Gauche of Bordeaux), Cerons was, as I was informed by owner Caroline Perromat “a miracle”. She explained that Cerons is a “tiny appellation” of 21 hectares only. The same Semillon grapes are used as the more well-known Graves AOC wine, with the deciding factor being the amount of botrytis on the grapes. 80% Semillon, 18% Sauvignon, 2% Muscadelle is the makeup of this unique wine. The vineyard is only 6km from Sauternes, but the result is a botyritis late harvest wine which is very different from its illustrious famous cousin.
I found a good balance of acidity, a delicate aroma, without over sugaring. Touches of saffron are detectable with slightly mild sweetness and the merest hint of orange. Caroline explained that it is always a challenge to balance the texture with freshness of the fruit, but I would say they have met that challenge with panache. The Chateau de Cerons sweet white wine is made by an extraordinary natural process, and as a result, they do not produce a wine each year and only 3000 bottles are produced if done at all. Quality and condition of the grapes is the key factor. Quality control and care appear to be the watchwords, as the wine is generally kept for 10 years of aging before being marketed; the 2008 is only now on sale. A gorgeous wine for an indulgent Foie Gras starter or with dessert.
Chateau Fombrage was the producer of my next wine, another white wine, from the same estate as a renowned Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe. However, despite being produced in Saint Emilion, it cannot be granted AOC status because the region famous for its red wines. The 2016 En Primeur wine is made up of 60% Sauvignon blanc, 20% Sauvignon gris and 20% Semillon, it was a little young at present, but with great potential. The clean fruitiness of the Sauvignon blanc will be balanced by the herby greenery of the Sauvignon gris and the richness of the Semillon.
Pomerol, on the right hand side of the river (Rive Droite), is famous for being excellent and expensive; one of the very best in all of Bordeaux. It’s a deeply rich red wine which is almost fleshy. I met Stephany Lesaint, and sampled the 2016 Chateau Mazeyres Pomerol. The wine is biodynamic, meaning that not only is it organic, but the grapes are tended and looked after depending on the place on the Biodynamic calendar.
Suitable days for pruning, watering and harvesting are identified and acted upon with diligence and strictness to get the best out of the grapes. The wine resulting is smooth and rich, with 73% Merlot, 24.4% Cabernet Franc, 2.6% Petit Verdot. I tried both the 2014 and the 2016 En Primeur to compare the effect of aging. The 2014 had mellow acidity, deep fruit flavours with rounded taste, a velvety feel in the mouth with elegant tannins. The 2016 has fruitiness and the beginnings of those classic Pomerol velvet texture. One to watch, I would say!
Hopping back over the river Garonne to Rive Gauche to the famous Margaux appellation, my next wine was the Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere, made by the De Schepper family. This 1550 hectare estate makes its own Margaux from a combination of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot grapes.
The Margaux 2012 won the 2015 gold medal for Vignerons independents (independent winemakers). The estate is situated such that the grapes are grown on gravelly ridges in the Bordeaux landscape, and the “hidden ingredient” is the tiny proportion of those Petit verdot grapes. They are a very small, exceedingly difficult to cultivate grape used for its deep red, luscious colour. Unsurprisingly, the 2012 was excellent and the 2016 a work in progress to be reckoned with.
Staying on the left side of the river, I moved back to white wine to sample the Chateau de Myrat Grand Cru Classe Sauternes 2010. Don’t worry, I changed my glass! Sauternes is made in a small part of the Graves region of Bordeaux. The 2010 had a deep yellow colour with a touch of orange, with a restrained sweet aroma. The taste is everything you would expect from this utterly delightful appellation!
The current 2016 En Primeur has a makeup of Semillon grapes, 88%, Muscadelle 4% and Sauvignon 8%. Care is taken to choose the finest grapes to make the most elegant wine; the aim is to avoid strong, unsubtle sweetness in the final wine. Cultivating some minerality and a slight acidity to achieve balance is the intention. The noble rot or botrytis can occur between mid September and mid November, making planning ahead for harvesting very difficult. The 2016 needs time, but it already has the beginnings of brilliance.
Alain Raynaud is the President of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux. A retired doctor and current wine maker, he lives and breathes the wines of Bordeaux. I had a chat to him and asked him which single wine, which single producer would be his pick. Alain recommended Haut Carles and maker Thierry Perdigon. This Rive Droite wine is a Fronsac appellation wine, made directly in the barrel.
It is rare these days for all of the fermentation to happen in the barrel, in these days of high capacity steel tanks. I asked Thierry why, and he informed me that his process enables the soft extractions of all the tannins and flavours from the grapes, which is far better than the harsher process occurring in stainless steel tanks. His bijou 7-hectare estate grows a combination of grapes with 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec making it into the smooth and highly enjoyable blend. Alain knows his wines, and this is a one a wine merchant or buyer with savvy will scoop up!
Chateau de la Dauphine was another Fronsac appellation wine which caught my attention. Each year the balance of grapes changes; the 2011 was Merlot 85%, Cabernet Franc 15%, but the 2016 En Primeur is 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Interestingly, the 2016 already has a deeper colour than the 2011. The 2011 wine is lightly oaked in a tasteful way, so we can expect the same from the aged 2016. I detected mild liquorice, blackberry, hints of eucalyptus and touches of minerality.
The ground at Chateau de la Dauphine, Lisa Sauniere explained to me is very mineral, so the tannins from the grape skins temper the minerality. The 2016 has a good lingering finish for a very young wine, making it a strong candidate for a fabulous wine in 5 years’ time!
Finally, my last selection is the Entre-Deux-Mers Chateau Sainte-Marie white wine. Owner Stephane Dupuch told me that 2016 had been a great year for white wines, particularly for texture and ripening. The resulting white wine (grown over 21 hectares) is made from 71% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Semillon, 7% Muscadelle. Stephane told me that slow ripening during 2016’s August and September has preserved the acidity of the grapes. The warm days and cool nights have been most welcome. Warm nights cause the skin to be ruined, losing aromas and flavours.
The 2016 Chateau Sainte-Marie has the crispness of Sauvignon Blanc, good richness from the Semillon. Stephane does not believe in oaking, as the goal is to bring out the grapes. I found the acidity was perfect. 2016 was a good year for both quality and quantity of grapes, a feat which only happens every 2 to three vintages in a decade. A delightful white to be enjoying soon!
Snigdha attended the En Primeurs tasting of Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux as their guest. Snigdha has not received any incentive, whether paid or otherwise, for posting this review. This review represents her genuine opinions of the wines tasted.