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Domaine du Caillou, 2010 Vintage

Two wines here from Domaine du Caillou, a leading domaine in the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. Both are from the 2010 vintage and were bottled very recently, in March 2012.

In terms of style these are definitely for fans of concentration, substance and texture. I find them rather on the warm and voluptuous side for my palate, but they are technically very good wines for sure. I have included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

The first comes from vines within the Clos du Caillou, but outside the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation as it was laid down in 1936. The fruit is fermented in wooden vats with a 30-day maceration, and délestage (emptying and refilling the vats, a very forceful method of ensuring the cap is mixed with the fermenting wine, enhancing extraction) as well as pigeage.The wine was bottled in March 2012, after 16 months in oak (different vessels for the two varieties featured).

Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône Les Quartz 2010: A blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre, picked at 20 hl/ha. A rich and vibrant hue here. Big sweet cherry-liqueur characteristics on the nose, with a layer of rich tones laid over the top, scents of chocolate and smoke surely reflecting some time in oak. There is a garriquey edge to the fruit, but no shortage of solid impact aromatically. There is very voluptuous texture on the start of the palate, and although it is not immediately apparent on second and subsequent tastes there is an undeniable warmth to it here as well. This comes close to dominating the palate with time, but thankfully there is a good cushion of cherry fruit to provide some counterbalance, and there is still some pepper and spice character in the end. Some grip and acid here, but they play second fiddle at best, in what is undoubtedly a ‘hedonistic’ style. Alcohol 14.5%. 14/20 (May 2012) (£135 per case, in bond)

Next up, the Châteauneuf du Pape, handled in much the same way as the Côtes du Rhône, although here 17 months was spent in older wood, 7-11 years old for the Grenache, 2-3 years for the Syrah.

Domaine du Caillou Châteauneuf du Pape Les Quartz 2010: Also a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre, yield 25 hl/ha, this has a less rich hue than the Côtes du Rhône, less dense, but still showing some vibrant youth. There is a more restrained fruit character here too, albeit overlaid with a very slight hint of toffee, and again a slightly wispy nose that suggests warmth. It tends to suggest the fruit was very ripe and sugar-rich at the time of harvest. This does not show as overtly on the palate as it does in the Côtes du Rhône, but it is undeniably there, although there is also a little more balance and harmony here, more cushion for the structual elemants as well as the alcohol. Definitely more savoury, less primary, but with no let up on power and substance on the palate, backed up by pepper, tannin and spice. From a technical point of view, a very good wine. Alcohol 14.5%. 15/20 (May 2012) (£395 per case, in bond)

Born Digital Wine Awards 2012 Shortlist

No prizes for guessing why I’m posting on this today. The sad rule about competition shortlists is that – aside from a few notables – most people who aren’t shortlisted suddenly lose interest!

I’m delighted to note that I’ve been shortlisted in the Best Investigative Wine Story category of the Born Digital Wine Awards, for this piece: Pressure Sensitive.

Looking across the category I’m also delighted to see that Jim Budd has been shortlisted for his Campogate, no Pay no Jay story. Quite right too. This (a joint effort between Jim and Harold Heckle) is proper investigative wine writing, part of a long exposé which has seen him belittled and inappropriately criticised by Robert Parker, as well as threatened with legal action by the subject of the cash-for-review scandal, Pancho Campo. And the ultimate outcome clearly indicates that Budd was on the right track all along; Jay Miller resigned (apparently agreed before the scandal broke, but – reading his posts on the Parker bulletin board yesterday – he clearly associates his departure with the scandal) and Campo left the wine world, resigning his MW, which has the effect of preventing the IMW report becoming public.

I hope Jim wins the category. He deserves it.

The full list is as follows:

Best Editorial Wine Writing

Best Investigative Wine Story

Best Wine Tourism Feature

Best Winery Self Produced Content

Best Wine Themed Video

There is also a photo-essay category, details (and images) on the Born Digital site.

Domaine Chandon de Briailles, 2010 Vintage

Despite my continued hankerings Burgundy remains a niche interest on Winedoctor. I think it is a region you have to know really well in order to make any informed comment of interest to knowledgeable Burgundy drinkers. For that reason (it’s not just that I’m short of time – although that’s true as well) it is a region I touch upon when the opportunity presents itself, rather than me chasing the experience.

These two wines are one such opportunity. The domaine is one I am reasonably familiar with (my way of saying I have a few bottles in the cellar). Now in the hands of Comte and Comtesse Aymard-Claude de Nicolay, the domaine is I think a good source of wines away from the top tier appellations, with a portfolio that is centred on and around Corton, including Savigny and Pernand-Vergelesses.

These two wines are barrel samples from the 2010 vintage. I have thus marked with ranged scores. I have also included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Les Lavières 2010: A good depth of colour here. And a characterful nose, with a good intensity to the fruit, vibrant but rich, with the depth of dark cherry but with the brightness of loganberry, and a twist of grey smoke. It has a rather granular depth to it, and overall it seems to have promise. This comes across as a confident character on the palate, with full fruit but also a crunchy definition, and the grip of good structure. A very convincing palate, broad and with appealing flesh. Overall, very good. 15-16/20 (May 2012) (£235 per case, in bond)

Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Île des Vergelesses 2010: Dark cherry fruit here, showing a good intensity of aroma with savoury elements to it redolent of mushroom and truffle, but there is an appealing freshness and vibrancy to it as well. Less granular than the Savigny tasted alongside, a more integrated, admittedly chocolate-tinged polish here. Full, rich, but with a more silky tone to the structure and overall composition which I like. This is certainly no delicate lightweight though, as there is substance and potential here beneath the flavour and definition. Good potential here. 15.5-16.5/20 (May 2012) (£265 per case, in bond)

Bordeaux, 2008-2011

I couldn’t resist making the trip down from Scotland to London today for the annual Bordeaux Cru Classé Tasting, in which a group of châteaux – including some top names such as Pontet-Canet, Canon, Guiraud, Canon-la-Gaffelière and so on – show their four most recent vintages. So this year that was 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, the first two vintages from barrel, the latter two from bottle (in most cases – I noticed Pontet-Canet’s 2009 was labelled up indicating it was also from barrel – Pontet-Canet Gran Reserva, anyone?). What could be more fascinating than a chance to look at two great vintages sandwiched between two weaker ones, to compare and contrast, especially when so many are drawing parallels between 2011 and 2008?

The tasting was indeed fascinating, on many levels. So many, in fact, I can’t really go into them all in the detail I would like to here (sitting in St Pancras Station) and now (with my train due in a few minutes) so I will just touch upon three themes.

2011: Just one month on from tasting these in Bordeaux, those wines I have tasted before (it was my first taste of some wines, in particular Mondotte, Canon, and a few others) showed consistently. Naturally in a month they have moved on, but looking back at my primeurs scores I’m ranking them the same today, e.g. Aiguilhe 2011 gets 16-17/20 again, Pontet-Canet 17-18/20 again, Branaire-Ducru 15-16 again. Gazin I’ve scored a half-point lower, otherwise there are no differences. To cut it short, the past month in barrel certainly hasn’t changed my impression of the vintage.

2009: The remarkable aspect of this vintage is just how it was tightening up. When I tasted the wines at the UGC in October 2011 I was struck by the rich, velvety drapes of fruit which hid the tannins and acidity so well I wondered if the fruit was all there was at times. But they have really tightened up since then, there is still plenty of fruit, and one or two still show that gloriously velvety weight, almost like a mouthful of double cream, but many now allow the structure to show itself more readily. I like that. I have been warming to the 2010s recently, preferring their structure, but the 2009s have it as well. It is going to be fascinating to watch these two vintages mature.

2011 vs. 2008 It was very notable how weak both these vintages were against the 2009 and 2010 vintages (both are better in Pomerol, but only Gazin represented that commune, and none of the wines there – from any of the vintages – were stellar). In terms of absolute quality, there is not much between these two vintages at present. Bear that in mind as the 2011 prices continue to roll out. Oh, and one last thing. Am I imagining it, or were there indeed a few critics or wine forum posters who proclaimed 2008 to be a great vintage at various points in time in the first year or two after the harvest? I am sure that was the case. Would anyone who once described 2008 as ‘great’ care to speak up in support of the vintage now? There was certainly nothing “great” about it today!

Bordeaux 2011: The Fat Lady has Sung

They say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Well, when it comes to Bordeaux 2011, I think the fat lady sang last week. Or rather, an ex-lawyer from Baltimore sang. And although it didn’t exactly bring the house down, it certainly brought the tragic opera of Bordeaux 2011 to a close…..before the campaign ever really began.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2011 is not a great vintage. Nevertheless, I think many thought that of 2008, and then Parker came out with some very positive scores, with 167 wines out of 416 wines rated (40.1%) achieving a score range starting at 90 points. And there were some high scoring wines; Lafite, Petrus, Ausone and Trotanoy all had scores indicating a potential 100 points.

Those that released early got burnt; prices rose, and the châteaux missed out on potential profit. They saw the vintage differently to Parker, and they paid the price. In a time where en primeur prices are being pushed upwards to keep the profit with the châteaux and not the traders and speculators, that really hurt.

Back on March 30th, when all the talk was of an early and quick campaign, I tweeted: “RP has made positive comments. They [the Bordelais] will wait for his scores. Remember ’08?“. To me it seemed inevitable that would be the case; although Parker had made some very negative comments about 2011 before tasting, on his return he backtracked, commenting on his site that the vintage was “better than expected“. There was hope for the Bordelais after all. A few came out early of course; Lafite, despite being extraordinarily expensive, judged the market right (all they had to do was make it the cheapest Lafite on the market for the speculators to bite, of course). Others failed. Cos d’Estournel was too expensive, even with a large percentage reduction. But most waited. After all, once Parker published his scores, the market would rally – just as it did in 2008, right?

Wrong.

Parker’s scores were pretty dismal. OK, so he opened his report with a conciliatory comment on the vintage, that it “could turn out to be close in overall quality to years such as the underrated 2001 and 2008“, but the scores were way down. In 2011, of 365 wines rated, 115 were given 90+ point ranges (31.5%). That’s only three-quarters of the 90+ scores dished out for 2008, not really comparable (unless that is an admission the 2008 vintage was initially over-rated, of course). Ausone received a surprise nod with 96-100, but otherwise few scores touched a potential 95 or 96. And there are more scores in the mid-80s than I have seen for a long time. Lafite was a surprise low, at 90-93 (is there another story hidden in this score?). You can spin it whatever way you want (and the merchants have – remarkable how positive the emails dropping into my in-box are!) but Parker has destroyed any hope of selling this vintage the Bordelais might have had.

Looking back to another of my pre-campaign tweets, on March 29th I wrote “There is a potential for a massive stall if the prices are too high“. In the face of such low scores this seems inevitable. So, with Parker’s scores in their mitts, what will the Bordelais do now? We are due a rush of releases today (Wednesday May 2nd), after two days of holiday in France (a Tuesday public holiday, and what the French call a pont, a bridge, where everybody takes Monday off as well).

It seems to me there are two options:

(a) release now at a reduced price. I think it would be applauded by potential buyers, and it might generate some interest, but from the Bordelais point of view, how will your neighbours view it? Does this admit ‘defeat’ in some way? What effect will it have on the prices of other vintages? How will it look when the fabulous 2012s (you never know…) are released at an increased price again? And, with low levels of enthusiasm and low Parker scores, will the wines sell at any price?

(b) release now at a comparable or even increased price. We can call this hubris (“my wine is superb every year“) but maybe it makes commercial sense for the Bordelais. Write the vintage off. Buyers will look at the comparable prices of 2009 and 2010 and back-fill with the better vintages for the same money. When the superb 2012s (see above….) are released, the comparable price for the better vintage will seem generous (amazing how short our memories can be). And in time, as the prices continue to rise, the 2011s will eventually look good value. There’s a lot to be gained. Why hurt long-term growth, and the brand image, with a price reduction just to sell a few bottles now?

I know which I think is more likely. Stand ready for some releases, at comparable prices or – at best – some token price reductions. What do you think? If you were one of the Bordelais, what would you do?

Postscript, Wednesday afternoon: I just got off the phone with a UK merchant who confirmed that he is seeing increased sales of Bordeaux 2010 during the 2011 campaign. The Bordelais can take that as a positive effect of the campaign, and fits with plan (b) above.