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Chris Kissack
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Chris Kissack

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My first port of call in my exploration of Pomerol in the 2013 vintage was the Moueix offices, down on the quayside in Libourne. A few minutes after arriving I was seated at the end of one of their tables, tasting glass and laptop to hand, working my way through the usual line-up of Moueix wines; this means two or perhaps three wines from St Emilion, including Château Bélair-Monange of course, as well as a slightly larger number of wines from Pomerol, a range which tops out at Château Trotanoy these days, ever since Petrus withdrew to the tasting exclusion of its own rather salubrious new château a few years ago. Well, I write "the usual line-up" but unfortunately that isn't quite true in this vintage. It has been as difficult a vintage in Pomerol as it has anywhere else, and some châteaux have fallen at the final hurdle, failing to bring in a harvest deemed to be of adequate quality.

I suppose the warning signs for Pomerol were in evidence a few months ago, starting with the news from Jacques Thienpont who announced that, with only three barrels certain of making the grade for his 2013 Le Pin - meaning he will be releasing hundreds rather than thousands of bottles in this vintage - he would not (unsurprisingly) be pouring from his meagre stock during the primeur tastings. There were rumours that his cousin Alexandre Thienpont at Vieux Château Certan was also shutting up shop during the primeurs, but I have a tendency to disbelieve rumours, and I visited and tasted here as normal. Nevertheless, these were the warning signs; in an appellation full of desirable, old-vine Merlot, which was hit hardest by the bad weather during spring, it was perhaps inevitable that the ravages of the 2013 growing season took their toll on some notable names in Pomerol. There are gaps in the Moueix line up this year as a result.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013pomerol.shtml

More 2013 Bordeaux now, with Pomerol. A line-up headed by Lafleur (pictured - Baptiste Guinaudeau), Petrus, L'Évangile, Viexu Château Certan, including my favourite red wine of the vintage, one that transcends the stories of rain and rot. [subscribers only]
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Standing in the vines just behind Château Raymond-Lafon gives some indication of this property's enviable position in the Sauternes appellation. On one side of the château - although there are in truth three residences here, the château itself and then two other houses right nextdoor in which the extended family live - are the vines of Château d'Yquem. Indeed, the Meslier family, proprietors of Château Raymond-Lafon, own a small plot of vines nestled among those that belong to Yquem. Pierre Meslier, the father of the generation currently in charge at Raymond-Lafon, was once manager at Château d'Yquem.

While the view out across the vines of Yquem will be enough to send Sauternes-saturated pulses racing, I find the view from the back of the Meslier residences of greater interest. Here there is a gentle rise, the vine-encrusted land slowly climbing and then falling away out of sight. And beyond this false horizon there are rooftops, towers and spires poking up. To the left, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, in the middle Château Sigalas-Rabaud, and to the right Château Rabaud-Promis; indeed, it is probably the best view upon Rabaud-Promis there is, without actually visiting the estate itself. With such respected names all around, all of premier cru status (premier cru supérieur in the case of one, of course), and all living up to that status, it is little wonder that modern-day proprietor Jean-Pierre Meslier has the ability to turn out wines of such excellent quality.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013sauternes.shtml

I report on Sauternes and Barsac in the 2013 vintage, ahead of schedule by popular request! Includes a harvest summary, details in particular of the season and harvest at Château Climens (pictured - Bérénice Lurton), Château d'Yquem and Château Raymond Lafon. Includes 37 tasting notes. [subscribers only]
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As I write this I am sitting outside, and although there is a breeze in the air I can still feel the sun warm my back in quite a convincing fashion, and three days of Mediterranean sunshine over Easter weekend has prompted my garden to spring into life. My two new cherry saplings, each in just their second year, are covered in erupting buds. They aren't quite as convincing as the buds on the vines at I saw in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago, especially those at Château Sociando-Mallet, but they are good enough for me. The grape hyacinths (yes, they really are called grape hyacinths - I'm not making it up to try to keep this somehow vaguely relevant to wine) are now in full bloom, all five hundred of them. I haven't counted them, it's just that I know I planted five hundred last autumn, and it certainly looks like they have all come up. Above them my newly-planted acer is slowly unfurling its fire-red leaves, and stretching out its arms for the first time.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/weekend/taittinger_comtesdechampagne_1998.shtml

My weekend wine, the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998; an excellent Champagne, perfect for an Easter Sunday. [free to read]
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Despite my experience with the wines of Moulis and Listrac in 2013, where my disappointment was fairly universal, this vintage is still not one where we should dismiss out of hand the less prestigious left bank appellations. This is as I have already described a vintage where success (or should I say, relative success) does not seem to depend on classification, appellation or the grandeur of one's terroir. In some appellations, cru classé châteaux have turned out wines that are uninspiring, while their little-name neighbours have hit the bull's eye. Other factors seem to be important, perhaps the speed of your harvest, or your winemaking savoir-faire. Thus, even in appellations such as the Haut-Médoc, there is always the chance of uncovering a hidden gem. Well...maybe.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013hautmedoc.shtml

I continue my 2013 reports with the wines of the Haut-Médoc appellation; there is variable quality here in 2013, but one wine of real interest. [subscribers only]
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I know I am repeating myself with my opening gambit here, but I strongly advise anybody with an interest in the wines of Margaux to take a look at the 2010 vintage. In that particular year this appellation, a collection of very gentle and somewhat lean gravel mounds scattered across five communes which lie barely twenty kilometres north of Bordeaux itself, simply excelled. If I were looking to stock the cellar with wines from this commune, or indeed if I were just looking to buy some Bordeaux of any style for future drinking, 2010 Margaux would provide a happy hunting ground. Not only are the wines rich in flavour, promising a long life and no doubt some future complexity, with a large number of châteaux turning in good performances, from Desmirail to Dauzac, from Siran to Rauzan-Ségla, there surely has to be one or two well-priced wines hidden in there.

It is, I acknowledge, perhaps a little strange to open a report on 2013 Margaux with some words on how the appellation faired in 2010. Perhaps I am trying to curry favour with the proprietors in this venerable appellation, in view of the conclusions of this report. The appellation of Margaux has been, in recent years at least, one of the most unreliable. Vintages such as 2010, when the commune suddenly surprises us all with an outstanding performance, seem to come along very rarely. The last such vintage I am aware of was 1983, when the region escaped the rains that dogged some communes further north along the Médoc, and as a consequence of some fine weather turned out wines which - at some estates at least - out-performed the already impressive 1982s. There have been good wines in the intervening years, of course, such as in 1996, and some of the other obvious candidates, but there are no other recent vintages which make me think - "oh yes - that was a really great year for Margaux".

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013margaux.shtml

I move on to look at Margaux in 2013; this is a difficult vintage, and the least consistent left-bank commune. [subscribers only]
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Chris Kissack

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During my tastings of the 2013 Bordeaux vintage I spent two days on the right bank, soaking up the wines of St Emilion and Pomerol. On top of that, I had already tasted quite a broad selection of wines the preceding weekend, at the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux (this is the new catch-all term for the organisation, now that Le Cercle Rive Droite has been joined by Le Cercle Rive Gauche) and La Grappe tastings, the latter being a showcase for the wines made with the assistance of Stéphane Derenoncourt. As such I had a fairly broad exposure to the wines of both appellations, as well as the likes of Castillon, Fronsac and the St Emilion and Pomerol satellites.

I will look here in as pure a fashion as possible at St Emilion, and deal with all these other appellations in subsequent instalments, nevertheless there is inevitably some cross-over between these many wine regions, in terms of terroir and dominant grape variety at the very least. Some of my thoughts about how the vintage has faired on the right bank are based as much on my tastings in Pomerol as in St Emilion, and there are one or two points of generalisation which can be applied. Before I move on to take a look at some of the more notable wines of this appellation, followed by Pomerol in the next instalment, I want to consider one or two of these right-bank 'generalisations'.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013stemilion.shtml

Published today, a five-page report on the wines of St Emilion in 2013, with some surprising findings in this appellation usually marked by over-ripe fruit and extracted tannins. I report on visits to all the 'A' level first growths (pictured, Alain Vauthier of Ausone), as well as taking a look at the wines of Figeac, Jonathan Maltus and Tertre Roteboeuf. Includes 69 tasting notes. [subscribers only]
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All eyes are on Pessac-Léognan in 2013, because yet again we have another vintage which seems to have favoured the white wines over the reds. Just as we had in 2012 of course. And in 2011 too. Although to be fair, when I tasted the 2012 barrel samples during last year's primeur tastings, I thought that the red wines of Pessac-Léognan also did rather well, the commune being - along with Pomerol - one of the surprise star performances of the vintage. The fact that it was a late vintage, and both appellations use Merlot more heavily than the Médoc, may well have helped. But the 2012 reds don't seem to have caught much of the limelight, whereas the 2013, 2012 and 2011 whites do seem to have grabbed their share.

Coming back to 2013 now, I think it fair to say that a large contingent of the world's wine press and wine trade had already decided the nature of the vintage, thus sealing its fate, long before the primeurs week even began. After a dreadful growing season which I don't need to go over again right now (I will present some specific details relating to a couple of the 'usual suspects' in Pessac-Léognan on the next page) and an earlier-than-planned harvest forced upon the Bordelais by the march of rot, it seems many decided the red wines simply weren't worth tasting, buying or trading. The white varieties, however, handled the vagaries of the season much better. This is because nobody minds more prominent acidity in white wines, and higher acidity is just what you get in a vintage like 2013.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013pessacleognan.shtml

I continue my exploration of 2013 Bordeaux with a look at the red and white wines, of Pessac-Léognan, and I ask the question; Is this truly a 'great' white wine vintage? [subscribers only]
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The 2013 vintage was never going to be an easy one for the vineyards of the Médoc, which are the northernmost outposts of viticulture along the left bank. For anybody interested in all Bordeaux, not just the big names, I strongly recommend a drive up here, although I also recommend you bring a warm sweater, a flask of coffee and maybe a suitably stuffed picnic hamper for your lunch. Although the distances are not huge, the long, featureless, windswept roads make it feel much further than it is.

The soils are colder here, damp clay rather than warming, free-draining gravel, eventually giving way to a more sandy landscape the further north you travel. As you approach Le Verdon-sur-Mer, the camper-van equivalent of Santiago de Compostela, the sand takes over completely, covering the tarmac roads and railway lines with the help of the winds coming in off the Atlantic. This little town sits at the very northern tip of the isthmus, looking out onto the mouth of the Gironde, and seems to appeal mainly to campers and, I suppose, anybody wanting to catch the ferry across to Royan.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013medoc.shtml

I take a look at a handful of wines from the cold clays of the Médoc in the 2013 vintage. Rather like the Haut-Médoc in this vintage, just one wine of real interest here. [subscribers only]
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To the west of Arcins and Lamarque, two of the communes that are squeezed in-between Margaux (to the south) and St Julien (to the north), lie the two lesser-known Médoc appellations, Moulis and Listrac. They are both, ordinarily, communes worth knowing about. Moulis, which has a little gravel, certainly enjoys the better reputation, and its wines can on occasion challenge those from the lower ranks of the 1855 classification. Listrac should not be ignored though, even if the wines here are rather less typical of the left bank, the soils being more marked by limestone and clay. The wines can, despite this, offer some degree of typicity and they can certainly be good value, if you choose wisely.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013moulislistrac.shtml

I go on a wine safari at Château Clarke to discover the 2013s from Moulis and Listrac. [subscribers only]
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Like a frenzied Maindrian Pace I braked hard, causing the nose of my hire car to dive down towards the tarmac, before swinging the wheel around and turning into the grounds of Château Lagrange. I could smell the warmth of the brakes, their only means of complaint (other than disintegrating completely, of course) after a series of sharp brake-and-turn manoeuvres. Now, as I made my way towards the château and cellars, I joined the back of a queue of cars, trundling in an infuriatingly slow manner towards the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the St Juliens of the 2013 Bordeaux vintage.

I was ruing my misfortune at hitting this slowly moving roadblock of vehicles, all being steered so gingerly down the dusty track towards the château by their post-lunch pilots, when I had a stroke of luck. All the host châteaux have parking attendants for these tastings, as the grounds can soon become ensnarled with vehicles, and somebody needs to maintain some sense of order. The attendant waved on the first few cars, directing them to some distant temporary car park on the edge of the vines, probably half a kilometre from the cellars where the wines were being poured. Perhaps he thought the lengthy walk to the cellars might help them clear their heads? But then he directed me towards a freshly vacated parking space right within the courtyard between two long cellar buildings. The game was back on. I parked up, grabbed my laptop, and hot-footed it towards the tasting.

http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2013stjulien.shtml

St Julien 2013: Maindrian Pace, Bond and Blofeld. It's what it's all about. Click the link to read my report on St Julien 2013, with comparative data on St Julien vintages back to 2003, and barrel tasting notes. [subscribers only]
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Chris Kissack is the author of Winedoctor.
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Chris Kissack is a British wine writer, creator and author of Winedoctor online, and the Pocket Guide to Bordeaux in print. Having launched Winedoctor online in 2000, Kissack was one of the earliest writers to adopt the internet as the main medium for his writings.
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  • Douglas High School
    2014
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