Bordeaux En Primeur Day 5: The First Growths

Yes, it is a good vintage.


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This week of en primeur 2008 started out as downcast as any I've seen. The economy weighed heavily. By Friday, when an unprecedented number of chateau owners came from throughout the entire Bordeaux region to lunch with departing journalists, one would have thought the world had been remade in five days.

Yes, it is a good vintage. Yes, consumers will be happy with lower prices. Whether chateau owners deliver on their promises is a story still to come.

The prices of great wines of Bordeaux won't fall as fast or far as gas but fall they will as the 2008 futures prices roll out over the next few weeks.

For the first time in a long time, the greatest of the great, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Mouton and Latour among them, are expected to announce prices within two weeks. They could fall by 50 percent or five percent. That is yet to be determined. But at Château Cheval Blanc, among the best of the Right Bank, director Pierre Lurton, who called the American market put this delightful news into context: "we just have to be reasonable. We are going to be offering high quality wines at a low price. It will be our response to the crisis."

If you are on the buying side, this good vintage could be a buy worth making. All depending, of course, on price. Some chateaus are already indicating that the American market where everything is big, including crises, may find itself on the receiving end of what Lurton called a "catastrophic" price cut.

So, let's say there are deep reductions in price for the very top wines. Having bought these potential bargains, what should you do to protect yourself and actually receive the wine in two years when it is released?

Simple. Due Diligence. "Be careful. Know the retailer you are dealing with and that it is solid," said Lilian Barton of Chateau Léoville-Barton. Beyond that, Barton and Count Stephan von Niepperg of Château Canon La Gaffelière, say it is wise to track the wine beyond the retailer.

While every year, wine companies go bust, in this salty season it is essential that if you buy en primeur, demand ownership. If someone along the way goes bankrupt and the wine has not been signed over to you, you will have to cry in your beer because there won't be any wine.

Niepperg insists that speculation is out, seconded by Philippe Castéja: "the reason to buy wine is to drink it," he said. A good thought to end a week that ended, finally, with a buzz.

The Wine

It may not be the superb 2005, but 2008 is very, surprisingly good. Surprising, because nobody—not even the producers—expected it. Bordeaux had luck. As Tristan Kressmann of Château Latour Martillac said to me: "every year we have been saved by September. But this year, we weren't just saved, we were given a blessing."

What is impressive about 2008 is the range and depth of the quality. It spreads across the whole Bordeaux region. Of course, there are star regions. Sauternes and the Graves (including Pessac-Léognan) are the leaders. But they are closely followed by Saint-Emilion and Pauillac. Only in Margaux and the southern Médoc are there huge variations in quality.

The reds are characterized by their fruit. There is a delicious juiciness to many of the wines. But in 2008—unlike , for example 2004—there is a depth of tannin as well, which suggests these wines have aging potential.

The whites are full, but have retained the essential freshness of the Sauvignon Blanc, which dominates this year after frosts damaged the Sémillon. The sweet whites are intense, packed with botrytis, heralding a stellar year.

The Wine of the Vintage

It has been harder than usual to determine a Wine of the Vintage. There are more candidates, not all of them first growths, than usual. But for its combination of power, structure and richness, there is finally one wine that stands out:

96-98 Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac. Very dense, a muscular wine, very concentrated. It has a superb texture of velvet, while still keeping an abundance of dry tannins. There is power here, solid and dense structure, but there are also bright fruits. Vivid, concentrated.

Bordeaux's Case of Greats

Bordeaux's magic circle of sure-fire sellers has shrunk this year. There are now no more than 12 chateaus that can guarantee a sale. It could be the name, the reputation, perhaps even the taste of the wine. As investment, certainly.

Here is the list, which includes the first growths, but also some additions.

96-98 Château Ausone Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. While there is a surprising amount of wood here, the fruit gives a great ripe swathe of blackberry and red plum flavors. The wood spice goes with an impressive weight of fruit, shining through a lovely, perfumed aftertaste.

96-98 Château Cos d'Estournel Saint Estèphe. All the right elements are here. The wine is powerful, but has a wonderful lift of fresh fruit, spiced with wood but never too much. The tannins are sweet, ripe and delicious. It shows both gorgeous fruit and a dense structure.

96-98 Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac. Very dense, a muscular wine, very concentrated. It has a superb texture of velvet, while still keeping an abundance of dry tannins. There is power here, solid and dense structure, but there are also bright fruits. Vivid, concentrated.

96-98 Château d'Yquem Sauternes. Impressively balanced, with the fruit rich, intense with a golden glow. The acidity is as important as the freshness, giving a delicious lift to the core of dry, concentrated botrytis. Obviously a great wine for long-term aging in a great Sauternes year.

95-97 Château Cheval-Blanc Saint Emilion Grand Cru. A wine that goes instantly for juiciness. The mineral perfumes of Cabernet Franc come through only after penetrating the dense Merlot fruit cake flavors. It is a powerful wine, based upon ripe acidity.

95-97 Château Léoville-Barton Saint-Julien. New wood aromas, follow with solid, dark fruits. This is a powerful wine, which shows elegance and structure together and in balance. A beautiful wine for long-term aging.

95-97 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. A muscular wine, with well-defined tannins. The acidity is high, hiding the power and richness of the fruit behind. Then dark tannins come through, with other ripe fruits, finishing with a mineral character.

95-97 Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac. Initially, the wine seems austere, very mineral. It opens slowly, showing fruit that is definitely rich, offering velvet tannins. But there is also an iron hand in that velvet glove, because the structure then comes bursting through.

95-97 Château Pétrus Pomerol. The wine is finely balanced, with an impressive tension between sweet fruit, acidity and tannins. A wonderful waft of perfumed minerality, just ripe fruits, finished with dark tannins. Obviously for long aging.

94-96 Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan. A heavily structured wine, with dark tannins and intensity. Very concentrated, with fruit and spice flavors, a strong element of wood. It is powerful and brooding.

94-96 Château Latour Pauillac. Elegance and fruit are the hallmarks at Latour in 2008. The tannins are present, but subdued. The balance is what is impressive, with tight ripe fruits, nothing over-stated.

94-96 Château Margaux Margaux. A dense wine, but without huge power. It goes for the elegant side of Margaux, soft, beautiful. The black cherry fruits are lively, juicy, with extra fresh acidity. Not big, but definitely elegant.


As futures week drew to a close, it was the Right Bank's day to shine. Here are wines tasted from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

94-96 Château Trotanoy Pomerol. A dense wine, with great intensity of flavor. There are spice, mineral and blackberry flavors over dark plums, and a great depth of complex tannins and wood.-R.V.

93-95 Château Beau-Séjour Bécot Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Mint and eucalyptus aromas are the hallmark of this tensely tannic wine, which relies on finely polished new wood as well as blackcurrant flavors. It is very dry, with a hard edge, but the potential balance is there.-R.V.

93-95 Château Troplong-Mondot Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Definite new wood aromas here, the wine impressively dense, structured. Then there is velvet, caramel wood layer that sneaks in to give a wine that has freshness, but great elegance.-R.V.

93-95 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Very complete, a wine that shows great freshness as well as impressive density. It has some Cabernet spice, allied to juicy black plum fruit flavors. This is going to age well.-R.V.

93-95 Vieux Château Mazerat Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. From a small property, on one of the best sites in Saint-Emilion, this newly released wine is powerful, dense, compact and has dark tannins as well as an impressive richness. It is full, firm and solid.-R.V.

93-95 Château Valandraud Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Now in the mainstream of top Saint-Emilion wines, the former garage wine is packed with rich, juicy fruit. The acidity is a waft over the firm tannins. There is certainly plenty of new wood, but the opulent fruit balances well.-R.V.

92-94 Château Trottevieille Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A serious, but elegant wine. It has structure, but the fresh black plum and dried fig fruits take first place. Lively acidity gives the wine an extra freshness.-R.V.

92-94 Château Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Very sweet new wood, caramel aromas that give the wine an initial softness. Then acidity and sweet blackberry flavors move in, suggesting that this will be a finely balanced wine once it is bottled.-R.V.

92-94 Château Pavie Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Very dense, with plenty of new wood. The fruit is ripe, but moving towards elegance, ultimately keeping its richness in control. After, the fruit bursts in the mouth.-R.V.

92-94 Château Clinet Pomerol. Firm, but ripe, this very sweet Merlot comes through a core of tense acidity. This is chunky, foursquare, remaining fruity while also tannic.-R.V.

92-94 Château Grand Mayne Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. With smoky, tobacco aromas, this wine slowly reveals its powerful fruits, tense tannins and a dry, very firm structure. Impressive.-R.V.

92-94 Providence Pomerol. A beautiful, ripe wine, closed, but with swathes of fruit, tannins and intense acidity.For the finale there's freshness and a lively aftertaste.-R.V.

92-94 Château Certan de May de Certan Pomerol. It may seem surprisingly light to begin but this wine has depth, richness, hinting at wood straining through the sweet fruit. It is firm, fresh, but properly tannic.-R.V.

92-94 Le Dôme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A beautifully perfumed wine, lively and spicy, with impressive density. It is also fruity, with blackberry juice around the perfumed core. It finishes with a touch of minerality.-R.V.

91-93 Château La Tour Figeac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Elegant style, with pure fruits shining through the tight tannins. A finely balanced wine, ripe but densely dry.-R.V.

91-93 Château La Clotte Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A wine that hangs well together, the spicy wood in balance with the sweet fruit. The acidity is a late extra to this wine, but the tannins give the right promise of aging.-R.V.

91-93 Château La Serre Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Fresh, fruity wine, the tannins dense, but brightened by shafts of vivid acidity. The wine has great blackcurrant and red berry flavors that give it a great aftertaste.-R.V.

91-93 Château Fonroque Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A fine, impressive wine from Alain Moueix. The fruit is spicy, with blackberry flavors that are ripe add a layer of serious structure.-R.V.

91-93 Château La Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. This has super-ripe fruit, but it has been controlled by a dense series of tannin layers. The acidity is in the same sweet character, giving a wine that is both fruity and serious.-R.V.

91-93 Château Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarosse Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. All the elements hang well together. The fruit is sweet, spicy, but the layer of dark tannins is impressive, dusty and goes deep into the wine. The final is firm, but offers a juicy lift. A definite improvement from this property.-R.V.

91-93 Château Gazin Pomerol. A wine for the long-term. It has dark tannins, powerful fruit, with some extraction. The density is the power here, firm, solid and very tough at this stage.-R.V.

91-93 Château Pavie-Macquin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A perfumed, enticing wine, all freshness and sweetness. The tannins offer the structure, but the fruit wraps around, giving final blackcurrant sorbet flavors.-R.V.

91-93 Château Larmande Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A solidly structured wine that shows great swatches of fruit, wrapped around dark tannins. There is a juicy element, some wood as well as a sense of aging.-R.V.

91-93 Château Belair-Monange Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Belair has been given a new name, after Christian Moueix's grandmother, in honor of its purchase by the Moueix family. The wine is ripe, with its dark tannins and perfumed fruit, lifted by a final smoky character.-R.V.

91-93 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol. Consultant Michel Rolland's family estate has produced a wine that is elegant, balancing richness and sweet fruits. The tannins are spicy, forward, and dense but, overall, this is a well balanced wine.-R.V.

91-93  Chapelle d'Ausone Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. The second wine of Château Ausone is enticingly spicy, with wood aromas and flavors. They balance excellently with fruit and tannins, followed by a dark dryness, which lasts through as the aftertaste.-R.V.

91-93 Le Carré Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A big, friendly, ripe wine, opulent and generous. There is a lovely sweetness here, with a full bodied structure. Big and bold.-R.V.

91-93 Les Asteries Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Tight and taut, the austere tannins offer density, minerality. It is all in the promise here, obviously a wine designed for aging.-R.V.

90-92 Château Laroque Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Firmly balanced, the fruit coming through a dense structure. The acidity fits well with this texture, a brightness that finishes an attractive wine.-R.V.

90-92 Clos des Jacobins Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Great density here, this wine is big and powerful, but all held together by rich fruit. It is concentrated, the dry tannins a part of a richer whole.-R.V.

90-92 Château Fonplégade Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Very jammy fruit, where the sweetness seems to dominate. It is accessible, the tannins open, opulent, with a ripe structure. It works though, as a rich wine.-R.V.

90-92 Château Larcis Ducasse Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Big, ripe fruits, spiced with new wood, this is a big-hearted blackberry wine, with sweet tannins. Potentially generous.-R.V.

90-92 Clos Fourtet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Austere and mineral, this is a tight wine, held by bonds of tannin. The structure is based upon dark plum skins, as well as potentially rich fruit.-R.V.

90-92 Château Canon Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. On the austere side initially. But then ripe fruit comes through, giving this wine potential power. There is a suspicion of super-ripe Merlot, a plump cushion. But the tannins will keep it together.-R.V.

90-92 Château La Cabanne Pomerol. Some austerity, but the depth of the fruit is the hallmark here. Very solid black plums and sweet, juicy tannins. There is some aging potential here.-R.V.

90-92 Château La Croix de Gay Pomerol. Spicy new wood opens a wine that is rather stretched and taut. The opulence of Merlot Pomerol is not there, but it has been replaced by a structured wine. When the wood calms down, this will be serious.-R.V.

90-92 Château Magdelaine Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. As often, Magdelaine is a wine that is on the austere side, emphasizing minerality but not showing much at this stage. The acidity is tight, opening slowly to blackcurrant flavors.-R.V.

90-92 Château Bourgneuf Pomerol. There is attractive spicy wood here, piled with acidity and great blackcurrant characters. The wine is balanced, fresh and fruity.-R.V.

90-92 Château Certan Marzelle Pomerol. Dense, juicy, with good blackcurrant and red berry fruits, and a solid depth of flavor. There is lifting acidity at the end.-R.V.

90-92 Château La Fleur Pétrus Pomerol. A dense, finely structured wine, the tannins offering dark fruit. Initially it seems austere, but then ripe fruit piles in lifting the final taste.-R.V.

90-92 Château Moulin-Saint-Georges Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Structured, tight, this is a mineral style of wine. The blackberry fruit flavors come through with firm tannins and there's a final burst of acidity.-R.V.

90-92 Château Laforge Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Spicy, ripe and concentrated, this works well as a forward, fruity wine. The fruit balances easily with a measure of wood.-R.V.

89-91 Château L'Arrosée Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. This is ripe, smoothly textured, with bright fruits. The tannins are structured but let the fruit speak.-R.V.

89-91 Château Grand Corbin Despagne Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A mineral, austere style of wine, which offers dense tannins in a firm, dry style. It is a big wine, but the edge is taut, tight, on a coil.-R.V.

89-91 Château Beauregard Pomerol. A firmly tannic, ripe, spicy, fruit cake of a wine. The dried fruits are an important element, giving attractive sweetness, while the dense, dry tannins provide a counterpoint.-R.V.

89-91 Château Nenin Pomerol. This is dense but sweet, the fruit jammy and spicy. There is a core of dry tannins at the end, with acidity appearing only at the end.-R.V.

89-91 Château La Grave à Pomerol Pomerol. The fruit here is restrained, almost austere, while the tannins are dark and dry. Only finally does some juiciness appear. A wine that will need aging.-R.V.

89-91 Château Latour à Pomerol Pomerol. Austere, with a dry core that offers dense tannins, and a very dry mineral character.-R.V.

89-91 Château Fombrauge Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Spicy, initially this wine seems to have too much wood. But in the end, the dense fruit tannins come through to dominate, giving a bright final character.-R.V.

89-91 Gracia Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Black colored wine. The harvest here finished in November, and the extra richness shows in the smooth, extracted caramel structure. But the delicious plum juice flavors are seductive.-R.V.

89-91 Château Tour du Pin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Formerly belonging to the Moueix family, this wine is now in the hands of Cheval Blanc. It is a densely structured wine, with rich fruit and smooth and opulent in character. There is a great fresh juiciness to finish.-R.V.

88-90 Château La Pointe Pomerol. Very sweet fruit, deliciously approachable. Chocolate and ripe black fruit. The layer of tannin is important to keep all this opulence together.-R.V.

88-90 Château Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol. A wine in tension. The fruit is tight, for a Pomerol surprisingly taut. It comes with a waft of blackberry fruits which add freshness.-R.V.

88-90 Château Hosanna Pomerol. Opting for softness, this wine has a jelly character, blackberry fruits, and a long, lingering juicy aftertaste.-R.V.

88-90 Château Rolland-Maillet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A rounded, soft wine, all sweet fruit and spice, the acidity lively, but then dense, dusty and concentrated. Juicy fruit finish well.-R.V.

88-90 Château Fontenil Fronsac. Perfumed, light, hinting at minerality, the wine has a smooth veneer over the dusty tannins. The final effect is rich and polished.-R.V.

88-90 Château La Dominique Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Spicy, with well extracted tannins and spicy wood. The fruit is fresh though, packed with attractive blackcurrant flavors.-R.V.

87-89 Château Haut-Sarpe Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Minty aromas give lifted smooth fruit, with an edge of caramel toast. That sweetness seems to cut through the fruit, leaving the fresh acidity behind.-R.V.

87-89 Château Franc Mayne Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Ripe fruit certainly, but over a structure which is much more mineral and dark. Maybe without the power of some of the year's wines, but it will show well in a more delicate style.-R.V.

87-89 Château Bertineau Saint-Vincent Lalande de Pomerol. With its lovely fresh fruit, gentle tannins, spice and acidity, this is an easy, open, gentle wine. The fruit is ripe and floral.-R.V.

87-89 Château Teyssier Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. A structured wine, with ripe fruits, a great juicy character, along with black cherry fruits. It is a satisfying wine, big, ripe and fruity.-R.V.

86-88 Château La Couspaude Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. High spice wood, dark tannins, solid texture,but dense sweetness. The aftertaste is ripe, with freshness.-R.V.

85-87 Château Cap de Mourlin Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Over-jammy wine, the fruit super-ripe. It seems highly extracted, with a southern spice to it. Out of character.-R.V.

85-87 Château Berliquet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. With ripe, unfocussed fruit, simple blackberry jelly flavor, this wine lacks the structure and the acidity.-R.V.

85-87 Château Plince Pomerol. The new wood is too heavy here, cutting right through the fruit. It leaves a wine that's way too dry.-R.V.

84-86 Château Puy Blanquet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. With its gentle tannins and juicy fruit, this is on the fresh side, the jelly and blackcurrant flavors a hint.-R.V.

Also Read:

Bordeaux En Primeur Day 1: Sauternes

Bordeaux En Primeur Day 2: Margaux


Bordeaux En Primeur Day 3: Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe

Bordeaux En Primeur Day 4: Graves and Pessac-Léognan

 

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