The difficult thing about tasting wines En Primeur in the era of instant information and social media is not that people have tasted some of the wines before you, but that they've told you what they are like and how good they think they are – even if they were only there half an hour earlier. It is incredibly challenging to go into a tasting with a clear head when somewhere, lurking in the back of your mind, is the knowledge that a judgement has already been made – good or bad. It takes discipline and experience and we were very fortunate to have a strong team out here to assess and analyse on our own terms.
What we are good at is finding the joy in wines which speak clearly and truly of where they come from, both in terms of region and vintage. It was thus with some quiet enthusiasm that we headed out into the mists of Pomerol to uncover the truth behind the 2015 Right Bank Merlot/Cabernet Franc phenomenon... We were not disappointed. Conditions during the year were such that under-ripeness was not an issue and this is clear in the wines, with no greenness or lack of mid-palate. However, where some producers have slightly under performed it is through over-ripeness, producing wines that show prune and chocolate characters, that lack the essential tension and energy which makes claret exciting, and which falls short on the finish. But these are few and far between and of course, if we don't like something, we won't suggest that you buy it... so for now we'll focus on the good stuff. And it is seriously, exceedingly good.
It would be too easy to suggest that there are simply two schools of thought which divides St. Emilion and Pomerol. In broad terms there are two key styles within each appellation: Pomerol is divided between ultra-fine, elegant, ethereally-weighted wines (in 2015 La Conseillante, Vieux Château Certan and Lafleur would be fine examples) and rich, weighty, intense styles (such as Gazin or L'Évangile in 2015). The exception which proves the rule would be L'Eglise-Clinet, which successfully ticks both boxes; the 2015 is stacked with power but layered with ultra-clean, ripe, perfumed fruit. What shines through most clearly is that winemakers had options; they could pick at leisure when they were entirely happy their fruit was ready.
St. Emilion is too often cast as the villain with over-extracted, over-ripe wines of immense structure and concentration; while some still fall into this camp, their number is reducing and, in truth, vintages as successful as 2015 show how the grand, ambitious style can actually work – Pavie in 2015 is both monolithic and utterly beautiful. There are plenty of pretty examples too, with the ever-improving La Gaffelière and the ever-magnificent wines of the Vauthier family showing enormous charm right across the range.
Did we see the best and the worst of the vintage on the Right Bank? Yes.
Will there be value here? Undoubtedly – look out for Grand Village, the home estate of the Guinaudeau family and producers of the potentially perfect 2015 Lafleur (the first wine to hit the magic 100 end of the range from our team); Moulin St. Georges from the Ausone stable; and the superb petit domain wines of Denis Durantou – La Chenade, Montlandrie etc.
Is there genuinely world class here? Unquestionably, with the aforementioned Lafleur, plus Ausone, La Mondotte, La Violette and Pavie all likely to achieve greatness.
Our final dinner of the week, at Cheval Blanc, was the perfect combination of relaxed and luxurious. Hosted by the genial, charming Arnaud and Pierre-O, we enjoyed a delicious meal and a number of Chevals including a delicious, and surprising, 1981, followed by Yquem and Calvados.
The final day will unveil the delights of the Mouiex portfolio followed by a brief but intense sojourn into Graves and Pessac.