[Above: the AWC team ready for a busy day of châteaux visits]
Much like the 2014 vintage as a whole, my first trip to Bordeaux for En Primeur brought with it excitement, a hint of anticipation, an overall curiosity over how well the wines would perform and, of course, most importantly, what the release prices will look like.
Early Morning Tasting
After a drizzly early Monday morning start, the first stop for us was the Haut-Médoc, for a négociant tasting at Château Belgrave. Comprising over 200 wines, we selected half a dozen flights covering the most important areas from Bordeaux’s Left and Right banks, giving a rough overview of all the different communes before we descended on the individual Châteaux. Tasting the wines in this manner was extremely rewarding, and by far the best way to understand the different styles, terroirs and micro-climates of Bordeaux’s wine producing regions.
[Above: a comparative flight of Pomerol wines, including the high-scoring Château La Conseillante]
Starting with the Right Bank, we compared a flight from Pomerol and one from Saint-Émilion. Straight away it was clear that the wines from the 2014 vintage were going be very classical, with incredible freshness and purity of fruit. After tasting around 20 wines from both regions we were able to make the assessment that Pomerol had performed better than Saint-Émilion, with Château La Conseillante receiving the highest scores from our team.
Moving onto the Left Bank we sampled the Margaux appellation. These displayed pretty floral aromas, good acidity and the elegance which is often associated with this appellation. Château Lascombes was already showing great complexity - with flavours of candied cherry, bacon fat, as well as currants and blueberries – it was very refined and was a clear winner for me, and it also scored well with my colleagues.
Following this were two flights from Pessac-Léognan and Graves. This was our first opportunity to sample some of Bordeaux’s dry white wines, which are without doubt some of the finest in recent years. Offering generous fruit concentration, crisp acidity and fantastic length, the whites from 2014 are very promising indeed. Often over-looked in En Primeur, they could potentially present great value purchases.
Touring the Left Bank Châteaux
[Above: the tasting room at Château Ducru-Beaucaillou]
Armed with a broad overview of the vintage, we were ready to tackle the individual Châteaux of the Left Bank. After a quick stop at Château Léoville-Poyferré, we arrived at Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. According to my colleagues Ducru-Beaucaillou was consistent with its showings in previous years, presenting incredible concentration of pure fruit. The Grand Vin always uses new oak, however apart from the obvious notes of vanilla and spiciness the oak seemed very well integrated, with a firm structure but also very polished tannins. This is a 2014 to keep an eye out for, especially for mid-to-long term ageing.
[Above: Managing Director Paul Pontallier introduces the wines at Château Margaux]
Our next stop was one I was really looking forward to; visiting the iconic Château Margaux was a real privilege, and also offered up a surprise personal highlight. We began by tasting Pavillon Rouge, which as Margaux’s second wine gave us a glimpse of what to expect from the Grand Vin. At first the Grand Vin wasn’t very expressive on the nose; however this can be quite typical when tasting barrel samples. With a bit of aeration it revealed notes of cherry, cassis, coffee and cedar wood, while the palate was very clean, elegant and pure. This wine is exactly what you would expect from Château Margaux’s unique terroir and it promises to be a real classic.
The final wine we tasted was the exceptional Pavillon Blanc – a real ‘wow’ moment for me. Incredibly clean and displaying pure fruit, it was almost crystalline on the nose, with distinctive notes of citrus fruit, preserved ginger and fresh herbs. The amazing palate built up layer upon layer of crystal clear crisp fruit, as well as peaches, grapefruit, lime zest and a creamy rich texture - absolutely stunning. The dry whites have been exceptional this year and clearly offer real value.
[Above: barrels at Château Palmer]
After leaving Château Margaux slightly shell-shocked by the quality of their wines, we made the short journey to neighbouring Château Palmer. I’ve always been a fan of Palmer’s wines and they didn’t disappoint this year either. Both Alter Ego de Palmer and the Grand Vin showed extremely well, with fantastic complexity, perfectly fine, rounded tannins, and once again the compelling freshness that the 2014 vintage seems to be displaying overall.
Ending the day in Pessac-Léognan
Our final appointments of the day were in Pessac-Léognan, including a visit to the appellation’s only First Growth, Château Haut-Brion, for a showcase of Domaine Clarence Dillon’s portfolio. Overall I found many of the reds fairly closed on the nose, however Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Haut-Brion were already very complex and well balanced - exactly what you’d expect from these two estates. The Château Haut-Brion Blanc and Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc were also very good, once again confirming the quality of the vintage for Bordeaux’s dry whites.
[Above: AWC’s Purchasing Team sampling the wines at Château Pape Clement]
We finished the day on a high at Château Pape Clement, which offered up some of the highest scoring wines of the day, certainly ones we’d happily recommend – depending on price of course.
As per last year, AWC will only be recommending the wines we feel are of real quality, represent fair value and are wines that we’d be happy to drink ourselves. Keep up-to-date with the latest releases by registering your interest.
Coming Soon: Part Two of our trip continues in the Left Bank, including Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild.