Day 3. Sit rep: weather significantly improved; hotel dramatically improved; hangover - still no sign. And we really tried this time...
Today sees us begin our foray into the wines of St Emilion and Pomerol. Much has been said about the late ripening period of the 2014 summer, and how this suited Cabernet much more than Merlot; well, it was time to find out.
A brief aside on accommodation: Auberge de la Commanderie - our hotel in St Emilion - makes as much of a mockery of its 2 star status as the France et de l'Angleterre in Pauillac does, albeit in the other direction. Whilst the latter would struggle to achieve 1 star in almost any other country in the developed world, the former is a truly welcoming, clean, well fitted out, comfortable place to stay. It also affords you a fantastic view to wake up to. With this, and a mysterious glowing ball hovering in the sky (the sun, I'm told), we set off for the Plateau.
The morning's usual circuit took in La Conseillante, VCC, Le Gay, L'Evangile, Le Pin and, for the first time, Lafleur. Propitious might be the word for this final aspect: Lafleur looks like the Pomerol of the vintage, being beautifully complex, delicately fruited, perfectly balanced, completely unforced and, quite frankly, a knockout. What a wine to taste on our Lafleur premiere.
One word on La Conseillante and its exiting winemaker Jean Michel Laporte. Jean Michel has been at La Conseillante for many years and for some of us, truly embodies the estate: restrained, charming, confident but never showy. 2014 is the last vintage that Jean Michel will make and present at La Conseillante and as a great friend to BI and a truly talented winemaker and communicator, we wish him the very best for whatever venture comes his way next - if the world is in any way rational, wineries should be fighting for his services.
Onto the afternoon's festivities and first up was the ever-fascinating trip to Angelus. This tasting, held in one of the most beautiful of the new buildings in Bordeaux - seriously, the craftsmanship is mind-blowing - houses all of the wines which are consulted on by mastermind Hubert de Bouard. The wines are generally made in a large-scaled, concentrated style with considerable extract and structure but generally with very pretty fruit - and the 2014s tick all the boxes. At the upper end, Angelus itself is a relatively restrained beauty with great texture and sweet, supple red fruits; at the value end, the ever-reliable Fleur de Bouard is one of the value buys of the vintage, especially if you like a little grandeur in your glass.
Other standouts of the afternoon included Clos de l'Oratoire, La Gaffeliere, Pavie Decesse and Pavie itself, all very impressive, delicious and true to their style. Perhaps the standout wines of the afternoon session were the remarkable Cheval Blanc and, on absolutely magnificent form, Petit Cheval. These two wines completely embody the possibilities that smartly-run estates on the Right Bank had in 2014; utterly ethereal in texture, freshness, sweetness and balance, totally unforced, harmonious, characterful and utterly charming. Hauntingly pretty yet serious, approachable yet admirable, supple yet chiselled, they had everything. The Petit Cheval could be one of the smartest buys of the vintage and Cheval Blanc is the closest runner to Lafleur for Right Bank wine of the vintage.
After the always informative and slightly dotty visit to Francois Mitjavile at Tertre Rotebouef - who has made a trio of typically exotic and generous wines in 2014 - Head of Purchasing Oliver Sharp and myself had the rare pleasure of dinner at Chateau Ausone with Alain and Pauline Vauthier. Prior to supper we tasted their range of 2014s and aside from the Grand Vin - a natural vote-winner - the Chapelle d'Ausone, the ever reliable Fonbel and the brilliant value Moulin St Georges all showed brilliantly, with the last of the three looking like perhaps the best value St Emilion on the block.
Dinner was a pretty intimate affair and, with just 12 of us round the table, the wine and conversation flowed, covering everything from pricing of 2014 and the Roman history of winemaking in St Emilion to English Sparkling Wine, disciplining small children and which brand of wellington boots was best (Hunter vs. Aigle vs. Le Chameau - answers on a postcard). The wines were, as might be expected, a real treat, the highlight of which was the extraordinary 2003 Ausone.
Thoughts on the Right Bank thus far?
Elegance and finesse seems to have been the best target for growers in Pomerol in 2014. The Cabernet Franc in most cases is all it is cracked up to be and whilst it seems that the Merlot does, in all but the very best wines, lack a tiny bit of concentration in the mid-palate compared, for example, to the great 2012s, there is more than enough quality to work with if the grapes are simply allowed to express their terroir. Where this has been done, as with the ethereal VCC, the gorgeously Burgundian Le Pin, the bewitching Lafleur or the sumptuous Cheval Blanc for example, the wines have great purity, clarity and class - much the stye of the best Left Bank wines, really speaking of their terroir. That said, L'Evangile and, to a certain extent Ausone, are great examples of Pomerol and St Emilion which have been made in a more dense, broad-shouldered, concentrated style and achieve real highs in doing so.
Tomorrow is another packed day finishing the Right Bank with the genius Denis Durantou before heading down to Pessac for the monolithic Haut Brion and La Mission tasting.