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02/04/2014

Bordeaux En Primeur 2013 - Day Two

by Giles Cooper (Head of Marketing & PR)

The morning after the night before. Dinner at Chateau Margaux was sublime - great food, relaxed company, the 99 actually singing slightly louder than the 85 (which took us all by surprise) and the 2011 Pavillon Blanc truly lovely. Many times we have looked down the gravel driveway towards the property from outside the gates - it was quite the treat to look back down at the gates not just from the steps, but from inside the house. How the other half live, etc. Their 2013 grand vin is a beauty too, layered with perfume and bright red fruits - Pavillon Blanc is also very good. Looks a good year for Bordeaux Blanc.

This morning we took up arms again against Pauillac and St Estephe, beginning as ever with the Pichons. It's ludicrous that we consistently talk about these two properties in the same breath, as if sharing part of a name and being on opposite sides of the road from each other should somehow make them suitable for comparison. The truth is that for some years now their aims and ambitions have been quite different and the wines are chalk and cheese: this year the Comtesse is all elegance, a startling (and historical first) 100% cabernet, and very stylish it is too; the Baron is broad, ripe and ambitious but fortunately with that all-important gentle touch in the winery. It's a beautiful, glossy wine especially in the context of the vintage (their Merlot seemed to ripen especially well - but more on this later). Production levels once again are hugely down in both estates, sacrificing quantity for quality. But there I go, talking about them together again.

Heading further north, the Cabernets just get better. Cos is a remarkable 12.7% alcohol; a beautiful, elegant and digestible style. Hard to imagine this happening under the old regime. Montrose, with its truly astonishing new chai, is very much of its style with robust, mouth-filling tannins but once again there is Cabernet elegance here; this is really a very seductive wine in 2013. Perhaps the best surprise was Calon, a Cabernet-heavy blend with a gorgeous, enticing nose - one of the few that has made me actually say "wow!" Beautiful wine, arguably the finest we have tasted on the left bank.

I've already said it is impossible to make sweeping judgements across whole communes but arguably, with the exception of its eponymous 1st growth, Margaux has found the game toughest in 2013. For many estates, the rain was too hard to deal with and the resulting wines are tough, acidic and dilute. Rauzan Segla was a notable exception.

There are some very pretty, beautifully precise, defined and elegant wines here in 2013. There are also some stinkers. Those who had too much reliance on Merlot (on the left bank I hasten to add - right bank reviews start tomorrow) or who could not afford the various costly, labour-intensive practices required to rescue the ripe grapes have made wines with green elements, hollow mid palates and short finishes. I did state that in at least one case there is an exception to this, and that is Pichon Baron. Their wine contains 18% Merlot and there is a clear ripeness, flesh and gloss from the grape that is not present in so many others. They claim a bit of good fortune, much hard work in the vineyard and good terroir for allowing the Merlot to flourish when for so many others it has been a disaster.

A very real benefit to this vintage is the very welcome reduction in alcohol. I cannot recall anything above 13.5 and the average looks much closer to 13. This means the wines have a sense of precision and detail; sure, they are lighter in body and weight but, where the acid and tannin profiles are well matched and the fruit achieved real ripeness, the overall effect is truly one of classic Bordeaux - refreshing, digestible, elegant and stylish. For those drinkers for whom alcohol levels in this region have become intolerably high - a complaint we often hear, it must be said - this will be well received.

To finish, we pepped our weary palates with a tasting of Sauternes. There's no doubt that it's a good year for Sauternes, and virtually all estates have had significant success with botrytis. If you have a favourite style or estate, it's likely to be worth having in 2013.

Dinner tonight is with our dynamic right bank friends from La Conseillante, Clinet and Cheval Blanc, along with a selection of mystery wines from a good Belgian friend. More on this tomorrow... Along with a report on the first of Pomerol and St Emilion.