As you know, we spend a fair bit of time looking for value Bordeaux. There has been ample proof over the years that such things do exist, and we are tickled when we can find enough quantity to do an email. Sometimes there are only ‘bits’ that can’t be emailed because there isn’t enough juice, so we’ll occasionally drop some notes in this space.
As we have mentioned on many occasions, one of the beauties of a great vintage is the quality ‘trickle down’ to the less famous estates. Chateau de Macard 2009 defines the kind of sleeper that exemplified the vintage. On a plateau overlooking the Dordogne River, this Bordeaux Superior sits on a south facing plot comprised of clay and limestone. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet with the vines averaging 45 years of age (one plot of Franc vines is a century old).
Hand harvested, aged entirely in tank, this is the antithesis of Bordeaux’s broad image. It is an honest, fruit-driven, delightful and unpretentious wine at what is certainly an easy to swallow price ($13.99). It’s a ’90’ from Wine Spectator with comments, “Ripe and dense, but fresh, with silky-textured plum, blackberry and blueberry fruit carried by sweet spice and maduro tobacco notes. The fleshy finish shows nice drive. Should open up more with brief cellaring. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Fronsac is one of Bordeaux’s most historic terroirs and the usually solid Chateau Rousselle turned in an exceptional performance in 2009. Robert Parker’s notes tell the story well enough, “An absolutely stunning sleeper of the vintage, this blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc has produced an uncommonly rich, concentrated wine that is one of the very best wines of Fronsac. Opaque ruby/purple in color, the aromatics offer up notes of blueberry liqueur intermixed with kirsch, blackberries, licorice and crushed rock. The wine hits the palate with some serious thunder and lightning (14.5% natural alcohol) and lots of depth, richness and mouth-filling intensity. Consultant Stephane Derenoncourt has made the best wine I have ever tasted from La Rousselle, and it should continue to drink well for at least a decade…92 points.”
For the past two weeks, I was in France spending four days in Burgundy (I’ll get to that part of the trip later) and the rest of the time in Bordeaux hunting for deals as well as tasting the 2016’s which is the topic of this article…
Over the years, I’ve been traveling to Bordeaux for the annual En-Primeurs tasting and have experienced some of the greatest vintages ever produced in the region. As much as many will try and deny it, Bordeaux is the undisputed King of wine with a rich history going back to Roman times. There is nowhere in the world that can produce a wine that tastes quite like it. While we here at the Exchange love wines from the many regions of the world, Bordeaux has been and continues to be at or near our top selling category over our 35+ years in business.
No matter how long I’ve been going to En-Primeur, it’s always exciting to taste the wines at this early stage of their evolution. Over the years, the bar for Bordeaux keeps getting higher and higher as investment continues to pour into the region. Today, Bordeaux lovers are blessed. There are so many great wines being produced at all price points that there is something special for everyone willing to look. The problem is that there is so much happening, it’s getting harder to keep a finger on the pulse and on top of who’s the new up-and-coming estate.
For Bordeaux 2016… what can I say that you haven’t heard from previous great vintages… “It’s a vintage of a lifetime”! As much as I hate to admit, I must say it surely is one of the greatest vintages I’ve ever tasted at this stage of the game. When it comes to having your cake and eating it too, 2016 has it all. The wines are striking with rich, intense fruit, incredible structure, silky texture, great freshness and acidity and big but velvety tannins that are sweet and seamless and finish on an up-note. There was no specific regional winner. From Right Bank to Left, there were estates that made some of the best wines they have ever produced. In fact, they’re so good and so balanced, you can drink many of them now!
The 2015s are also great and I can’t’ say at this point which one I prefer as a vintage. That’s a good problem to have. I can say that the wines from the Northern Medoc in 2016 are uniformly sublime which was not the case in the more erratic 2015 vintage. But for the Right Bank, Pessac Leognan and Margaux, 2015 is great! It’s the Cabernets, both Sauvignon and Franc, that make this vintage special. That in combination with great Merlot and Petit Verdot made for some spectacular wines.
So, for now, with two outstanding vintages in the chai (not to mention the very good 2014s coming to market), the city of Bordeaux is bustling and every major chateau owner has a big grin on their face. But what does this all mean for prices in the coming months? We’ll see.
As a retailer, we of course are excited and will participate in this campaign. But it’s going to be tricky. For the moment, we can’t emphasize enough that, again, Bordeaux has a chance to win the hearts of Americans. We have a strong U.S. Dollar versus most of the world currencies, including Great Britain, one of Bordeaux’s most important markets. However, the old saying “sound as the Pound” has a little resonance thanks to Brexit (United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union).
Given that, imagine if the chateaux raise their prices 15%. That would translate to the Brits, given the currency, as receiving nearly a 30-40% rise in the costs over the 2015s. So the Bordelaise have to be extremely careful. Europe, America and Great Britain are the biggest buyers of En-Primeur (China still isn’t into buying ‘paper’). Who knows… that may change in 2016 but nobody in Bordeaux is counting on it as far as I’ve heard …we all know what happened with the 2010 vintage.
C’mon Bordeaux! Let’s make En-Primeur fun and interesting again, both to the trade and consumers. We say that knowing that a lot of folks in the Bordeaux trade pay attention to what we say (if not always heed it). En-Premieur may never be what it was in the mid-2000s, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to try and give people a reason to play. Okay, maybe that’s wishful thinking. But the opportunity is there to potentially make Bordeaux as relevant in the marketplace as it used to be prior to 2010. It just matters how bad the chateaux owners want it. Time will tell…
In the coming weeks, we will dissect the vintage by appellation starting with the Satellites as they’re most likely the first to release.
So in typical Wine Exchange fashion… Let the Games Begin!