3 Tastings Days in Bordeaux

POSTED ON 29/06/2009

I’ve just come back from Vinexpo, the big wine trade fair in Bordeaux, where I spent a surprisingly happy three days. Last time I went 6 years ago, I swore I wouldn’t go again because it was sweltering and the traffic was appalling, but this year I had a good reason to go, to present a seminar on Cahors and Argentinian malbec, and it was much better than I feared. Partly because the weather was good and the air-conditioning worked. Partly because I didn’t go to any of the fancy châteaux dinners, least of all the Château Lafite dinner on the Sunday night.

Not the Lafite dinnerNot the Lafite dinner

Apparently it’s a tradition for one of the first growth châteaux to give a black tie dinner ‘en l’honneur de la Presse Internationale’, when the privilege of sucking up to the Bordeaux wine aristocracy is supposed to belong to the great unwashed of the Fourth Estate. It was due to be Château Latour’s turn this year but it seems as if their proposal to hold something modest (on the grounds that it would be unseemly to hold a lavish dinner in these straitened time) was turned down. I can’t see why. Château Lafite held the dinner at their place (and didn’t hesitate to take a sideswipe at the parsimony of their fellow first growth).

fun of the fairfun of the fair

It seems to me that the first growths are missing a trick. Instead of holding a pretentious, lavish, black tie dinner, why not show that such ostentatious displays of hospitality are now archaic and have instead a simple garden party and buffet in informal dress. That way you get to meet lots of people and have some fun, as I did on the three nights I was there, instead of being trapped next to one person all evening and having to sit like a stuffed dummy listening to Baron Eric de Rothschild using the occasion as a marketing opportunity for the Lafite brand. A no brainer.

At least I got to go to a good tasting on the Sunday afternoon. This was a tasting put on by Victor de la Serna, Spain’s best wine writer, and Carlos Falco, the innovative Marques de Griñon, who took on the might of the Spanish authorities to have a small denomination of origin created for his wine estate. Dominio de Valdepusa, near Toledo.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the better of the two white wines were a fine, zesty, grapefuity Albariño, the 2007 Fillaboa Seleccion Finca Monte Alto, from Rias Baixas. Reds were more mixed than I expected with a fair number of unnecessarily internationalised wines sporting cabernet and merlot, not to mention plenty of oak. Best of the reds for me were as follows:

2006 Finca Sandoval Cuvee TNS, Manchuela
2005 Casa Castillo, Pie Franco, Jumilla
2005 Enrique Mendoza Estrecho, DO Alicante
2005 Finda Valpiedra Rioja
2003 Mas Doix, Doix Costers de Vinyes Velles, Priorat
2005 Cervoles, Cervoles Estrats, Costers del Segre
2007 Luna Berberida, Finca la Cuesta, Bierzo
2004 Mauro, Terreus, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla

I was sitting between Oz Clarke and Steven Spurrier, which seemed to attract a crowd as Michel Rolland came up to talk to us, then Victor de la Serna and Carlos Falco, so I managed to get Adrian Webster, Oz Clarke’s publisher to snap us all.

Spurrier, Rose, Rolland, Falco, Clarke (front), de la SernaSpurrier, Rose, Rolland, Falco, Clarke (front), de la Serna

After the Malbec seminar the following day (more of which another time as I think it was very interesting; yes, I would say that wouldn’t I but judge for yourself when I put the results up on the site), I managed to find my way to the tent, about a kilometre from the entrance, where the tasting of the Bordeaux 2008 vintage was being held. If you’ve followed my blog, aka journal, and article in the Independent, you’ll recall that I pontificated from afar not having actually tasted the wines duting the week-long tasting in Bordeaux in April, so this was an opportunity not to be missed to pontificate after the event.

Tasting Bordeaux 2008sTasting Bordeaux 2008s

Not only did it take only half a day compared to a whole week, but I suspect that the wines were showing better at this stage, having taken their time to settle down a bit, even if most of them are still not yet quite the finished article, with press wine to be added to some, different fractional blending to be applied to others. Nevertheless it was a great opportunity for a snapshot of the vintage which many were surprised to find better than they thought while Robert Parker was positively effusive. And yes, there were some nice wines, some very nice wines indeed. And yes, I still think that it’s not a vintage to go mad about à la Robert Parker, who seems to have got it into his head that this is a great vintage. It’s not. While the best wines are deliciously drinkable in the short to medium term, I don’t feel there’s enough richness and concentration of fruit to put them on a par with a great vintage like 2005 or 1990. So still for me not a vintage to buy en primeur.

What did I like? Bearing in mind that the first growths don’t deign to show their wines on such occasions, nor do certain other fancypants châteaux such as Palmer and Cos d’Estournel, this wasn’t a full house so much as an ordinary flush. My top wines were:


Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Clos Fourtet
Chateau Haut Bailly
Château Léoville Barton
Château Lynch Bages


Domaine de Chevalier
Château Smith Haut Lafitte


Château Giscours
Château d’Angludet

Far more enlightening was a tasting put on by a grouping of biodynamic producers from around the world, mostly France, but a fair number in other parts of Europe and a smattering in the New World. Headed up by the high priest of biodynamics, Nicolas Joly, it wasn’t the best organized, being far too crowded but that in itself spoke volumes about its popularity, which was thoroughly well deserved because this was a tasting of some great and some fascinating, some quirky and some just plain wrong wines.

Nicolas Joly, high priest of biodynamicsNicolas Joly, high priest of biodynamics

In the time I had to taste, which wasn’t nearly long enough, my favourite wines from this tasting, all scoring 90 points or more, i.e. silver medal and above, were as follows:

2005 Marc Tempé Schoenenbourg Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive, Alsace
2005 Marc Tempé Pfingstberg Riesling Grand Cru, Alsace
2007 Domaine Becht Valentin Zusslin Bollenberg, Grand Cru Gewurztraminer, Alsace
2007 Josmeyer Les Pierrets, Alsace
2007 Zind Humbrecht Riesling Rangen de Thann, Alsace
2007 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace
2007 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace
2007 Philippe Delesvaux Anjou Blanc, Loire
2007 Philippe Delesvaux Authentique, Loire
2005 Château Tour Grise, Saumur, Loire
2007 Château Tour Grise, Fontenelles, Saumur, Loire
2007 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet
2007 Domaine Leflaive, Clavoillon, Puligny Montrachet
2007 Domaine Leflaive, Pucelles, Puligny Montrachet
2007 Pierre Morey Meursault
2007 Millton, Clos de Sainte Anne, Naboth’s Vineyard, New Zealand
2007 Millton, Chenin Blanc, New Zealand

the brilliant Anne-Claude Leflaivethe brilliant Anne-Claude Leflaive

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