Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Tale of the Tasting

Thienpont towered with authority and charisma; Tesseron pushed a well-manicured hand through his silver fox mane; Barton oozed leonine charm as he prowled with intent and Berrouet positively fizzled at the wines on show amongst other things. Bibendum Bordeaux 2005 kicked off with a bang. A really really big bang that will be resounding around the Medoc for some time to come. More like cannon thunder really. Keen tasters put life on hold and came along to anticipate, cogitate and expectorate. One man said it was the best 4 hours of his life...but does that say more about us or him? The Chateaux owners were blown away by the response, especially by the knowledge of the visitors and their broad age range. The other linchpin was the enthusiasm and passion of the Chateaux owners themselves who came along, trusted Bibendum, and put on a stellar show.

And the wines? The wines were very good and it would be impossible to go through and comment on them all here. Perhaps the best thing would be to visit Jamie Goode’s blog and check out his notes. The Juice did manage to get the scoop on those Chateaux we mentioned yesterday who decided not to show the wines to Robert Parker. And it made surprisingly good sense. Not a hint of malice there after all. Gruaud Larose, Chasse Spleen et al know their market – it’s that simple. They produce enough wine to supply their loyal customer bases; they want to remain true to their principles and they want to ensure that the wine stands up on its own. Far more appropriate to bring several great vintages along to a tasting like this than to exist on scores alone. As far as they see it, big points can lead to big heads (and even bigger bouffants) and if you’re not very careful this can lead to lose sight of what you were doing in the first place and who you were doing it for. So is this the future? Well maybe not just yet but it could be a trend for the future. What made this conversation even more thrilling was the mixture of wines (in different glasses mind) that were being enjoyed at the lively Lords Tavern dinner tables. Stonier Pinot next to Feytet Clinet 2001 en magnum…Catena Malbec alongside Chasse Spleen 2003…Laurenz V Gruner Veltliner to start and Suduiraut 2002 to finish…

All in all a very happy day for Bibendum. The sight of dozens of smiling people with black teeth and blue lips walking back up the Wellington Road was worth the admission money on its own.

The final highlight? One exuberant winemaker smiling and declaring his wine was "beautiful…just like you" to a certain member of staff. Amen to that…

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Well, the wait was brief and fairly stress-free, and then suddenly the scores were out and phones were ringing and printers whirring. The Wine Advocate…officially the most faxed document in the whole world (maybe) last Friday evening carried Robert Parker’s scores, and made very interesting reading. There were a lot of big winners, a few surprises and a few mysterious omissions. I won’t trawl through all the scores as you can see most on our website (missing only the very highly-scored, tiny production, jammy concoctions from the right bank like Clos de Sarpe, Plus de la Fleur Bouard, Confession etc. which we won’t be bothering with); but most illuminating were the wines which didn’t get a mention at all. Farr Vintners came out with the mittens off in a pretty fair and unsensational summing up of the big-haired-one’s report, although expect to see the Parker forum buzzing with anti-Limey sentiment in response. Farr resurrected the rumour – that RP had been banned from Gruaud Larose (Bib score 17+), Chasse Spleen (Bib score 16), Ferriere and Haut Bages Liberal after perceived sleights committed to these wines in his 2003 report. Certainly he didn't review them. If true...a tantalising situation indeed and a pretty bold move I say. To lock the door on the world’s most influential wine critic as his Chevy is rolling up the driveway is to say the least, rather brave. Or perhaps they were just on strike like the rest of the country! No, I jest; it is a testament to the confidence in the quality of their wine and respect for the knowledge of their customers and we certainly expect to sell plenty of boxes.

The Juice was also very happy to be there when the fax machine rolled just in time for us to fill Jancis in on the Pavie (RP 98-100, JR 14.5) and Pavie Decesse scores (RP 96-100, JR 14). You will have to watch her website for signs of shock and awe, but bear in mind this is how she described them: Pavie – “…this is a wine on steroids. Where is the gentle refreshment value? Could you lust after a second glass?” and Pavie Decesse - “…this really is like sucking a plank” (both Jancis, While the Bibendum team thought the Pavie was better than recent vintages there was not a lot of enthusiasm for some of the other wines from the stable and the word ‘Zinfandel’ was muttered more than once, and not in a particularly nice way.

Lafite (for many of us, the wine of the vintage) and Pichon Lalande did not find favour chez Bob as expected, but don't think that this will mean their prices will drop accordingly. We can live in hope…

Friday, April 21, 2006

Let the games commence...

After promising a bit of background and the odd story about some of the wines we are hoping to feature during this Bordeaux sales campaign, it is with some pleasure that one of the first wines to be released is Chateau Beaumont. I say pleasure because this wine is a great example of the strengths of the vintage - exactly the reason we are excited about Bordeaux 2005. Ripe round fruit, good balance, delicious freshness…and a very reasonable price tag at only £75 per dozen in bond. That's under £9 delivered…pretty good I’d say.

The Mansard-style chateau on the property was built in 1854 by the Bonnin brothers. Then it starts to get really interesting! In 1860, the Comte de Gennes, the great uncle of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Nobel Prize-winner for Physics in 1991, bought the property. He sold it in 1872 to Jean-Victor Herran, Minister for Honduras. Parisian industrialist Joseph Germain succeeded him in 1890 and sunk plenty of investment in, really raising the status of the Chateau. From 1920 to 1986, the estate passed successively from the Della Grazia company of Milan to Lieutenant Colonel Ignacio Andrade, to the former Venezuelan senator Dionisio Ramon Bolivar Carvajal and then to Bernard Soulas, who entirely redeveloped the vineyard and restored the chateau. These days the Societe Grands Millesimes de France are in the driving seat and a very good job they seem to be doing too.

The cepage is usually around 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot and they have 114 hectares under vine. The Chateau (above) is a pretty splendid-looking place as you can see. Perfect for some duck gizzard salad with a spot of lunchtime claret on the lawns. Anyone...?

Have a look at our website for all of the team’s other tasting notes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A country of contrasts

Days 2 & 3
The frenzy starts as massive traffic jams converge on the spaghetti junction of roads that lead into Vinitaly. There are about 144,000 visitors, 4200 producers over the 5 days in 16 pavilions. After slicing through the traffic with a Scottish “take no prisoners” attitude Iain turns a little native when he strategically dumps the car illegally in front of some bins at a spitting distance from the entrance – nice move.

Once through the gate we begin the frantic criss-crossing from pavilion to pavilion, region to region at 45 minute intervals, trying to keep to an impossible schedule. Current producers, partners for new vintages, new producer prospects and rising stars in the Italian wine world are on the agenda in a whirlwind of different styles, approaches, techniques and grape varieties. The noise is intense and the banter endless and to escape outside means to enter a thick cloud of toxic smoke as Italians ‘respect’ their new laws prohibiting smoking in public buildings. These, however, are minimal distractions compared to the thinly clad, long-legged signorinas smiling inanely as they ‘help’ their employers pour to bewitched potential clients.

The day ends with an exchange of who's tasted what, the heroes, the villains, the scoundrels and yes, the signorinas again. Traffic leaving the fair is as intense as upon arrival but the swearing goes up a notch - fantastic to watch but less fun to participate in.

Days 4 & 5
Italy is all about sharp contrasts from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again with no apparent rhyme nor reason. An hour’s drive from the mayhem of Vinitaly is the supreme location of one of Italy’s most selective tasting events - SUMMA - at the Alois Lageder estate in Alto Adige (see picture). Italy’s top producers congregate to show their wines at the Lowengang Estate for 2 days instead of attending Vinitaly – ostensibly a semi-protest against the appalling carnage Vinitaly offers but also a sensible option for those in search of pure quality. The snowy peaks of the dolomites provide the perfect setting in which star producers such as Luciano Sandrone, Bruno Giacosa, Ornellaia, Silvio Jermann, Roberto Anselmi, Feudi di San Gregorio, Aldo Conterno and Montevertine show their latest vintages. Norbert Niederkofler (crazy name - crazy guy!), the local Michelin starred chief, cooks lunch for guests in the remarkable surroundings of this 15th century Hapsburg pad. The Lowengang estate is also a testimony to the huge strides in quality Italy has made in the last decade or so and one cannot help but admire Alois Lageder, spiritual father of Summa.

As Vinitaly winds down, the Verona piazzas hot up but that is where we must leave it – a testament to flamboyance in the most Italian way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Italian Job

Before we step onto the Bordeaux merry-go-round for good, we shall take a quick break and pop over to Vinitaly 2006, Verona. One of the biggest wine shows in the world, Vinitaly needs a special sort of stamina…

5th April 06.00am, the most beautiful morning London has seen for 6 months which generally speaking does not bode well for the weather we shall find at our destination. We are part of the army about to descend on Verona for Vinitaly, the Italian Wine Fair.

At the Gatwick departure gate, friends, counterparts, distributors, sommeliers, importers, journalists, consultants, restaurateurs and the who’s who of Italian wine in the UK meet in a very awkward impromptu gathering, exchanging brief niceties and snippets of the latest gossip. Then comes the lottery of whose fat elbows get plunged into whose skinny ribs during the 3 hour flight.

Landed – and let the dance begin. 6 degrees celsius and driving rain (it never fails, that fateful warning sign of great weather in London). First stop at Giuseppe Quintarelli, an appointment with the legend himself who is nearly an octogenarian. Quintarelli’s anti commercial policy makes it quite tricky to learn about his wines, and even extends to finding out where his winery is. After many a wrong turn deep in the Valpolicella countryside we come across a driveway called “private road” – must be the one! At the end of the drive way is a normal looking although very large white house with an old man perched on a gate staring at us. All my lira on it being Giuseppe! He then points to a side door and trundles off elsewhere. His assistant beckons us into the house where we commence our formal greetings (lasting over 15 minutes) until finally she invites us through an internal door into a very well disguised winery. Crafty old fox...

Leading us down through the cellars we are invited into a cold tasting room where we taste his sublime range of Bianco Secco Primofiore, and the various Valpolicellas (Classico Superiore, Amarone, Recioto and Rosso del Bepi). The blends are very similar in all these Valpolicella wines –with Corvina, Rondinella, Croatina, Sangiovese, Cabernet (S & F) and even Nebbiolo. Giuseppe appears and disappears in the tasting room at regular intervals -speculation that he is running background checks on us proves untrue.

Then to an exquisite Valpolicella dinner of Risotto all’Amarone (of course) and donkey bits and pieces with another Giuseppe (Nicolis) from quite a different winemaking ethos. Beppe Nicolis believes in absolute quality and tradition but more accessibility in terms of distribution and price than his enigmatic neighbour. Top-notch juice too though.

Peace and quiet reigns...for now. Tomorrow, into the cauldron of Vinitaly proper...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Enchanting Distractions and Star Attractions

The Juice is now going to lurch contentedly away from the team’s adventures in Bordeaux and look forward to the En Primeur campaign itself. A strangely negative and in our opinion, sensationalist, article by Jane MacQuitty in the Times implied that many of the wines are over-extracted. Bibendum doesn’t share this view and would like to make our position clear.

Most agree that it was a near perfect growing season that blessed winemakers with fantastic raw material to work with. The top wines from both sides of the river are phenomenally good. There is nothing new or exciting about this. Even during average years, Le Pin, Petrus, Margaux, Lafite & Co make wines that most of us can only dream of ever tasting. And while we might bang on about these wines, employing a pantechnicon of exuberant verbosity (ouch!) to that end, the truth is that they are very scarce and priced far beyond the normal wallet. So let’s not worry too much about them.

More accessible and relevant are the wines below those. Many immediately underneath have taken stellar fruit and created fabulous wines with incredible concentration, freshness, depth and structure. This year, many will take the chance to jack their prices up and promote either real or invented scarcity. The wines we are actually most interested in are those that are accessible, affordable and outstandingly good. The point that some commentators have missed is that this vintage is one of the most accessible ever. If ever you wanted to get your foot on the first rung of the Bordeaux ladder then this is the year. There will be some terrific wines in the range of £100-£200 per dozen in bond. Their prices shouldn’t go up too much, especially as many producers have huge amounts to sell so rarity is not an issue. Don’t believe everything you read – extraction, the big bad wolf of the wine world, has not in fact blown everyone’s houses down. Quality is exceptionally good across the board, with ripe fruit flavours where previously there might have been greenness. Tannins aren’t as aggressive as in weaker vintages and acidity is pretty well-judged too.

In short, this really is a vintage for the people. It is a wonderful vintage for those who are new to buying wine en primeur, they can buy almost anything with confidence. Over the next month I will pick out some gems that the Bibendum team tasted recently and give you some background and a heads up on the value players of 2005. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bibendum goes to Bordeaux

Bordeaux Day One

Apart from the fact that the team have had a fantastic time so far, everything that could have possibly gone wrong has. If I had time to cry, I would, but it's hard to stay down for too long with Ben Collins and Willie Lebus around. In a fit of what I thought was efficiency, I typed all my notes straight into the laptop only to find that the power cable supplied doesn't fit into the bloody machine which is now out of batteries so all my copy is safely locked up until I get home.

It breaks my heart to try to remember everything I wrote since Ryanair scrapped our flight 37 hours ago, so I shall save those gems for another day. In the meantime, though, I'll try to give you a picture of what we tasted yesterday, and whether Bordeaux 2005 is worth the hype.

Quite simply, it is. There is real quality across the whole of the Left Bank, and whispers coming from the other side of the river are even stronger. The buzzword is quote seamless unquote and it is almost frightening how 'together' the wines are at this early stage in their life.Debate around the table was no less fierce than usual but there seemed to be a lot of things that the team agreed upon. The commune of Margaux looks extremely strong and Cabernet Sauvignon across the Medoc is exceptional. The chateaux we visited were Ducru Beaucaillou, Pichon Lalande, Cos, Margaux, Pichon Baron, Mouton, Latour and Palmer. All were very impressive while some screamed for our attention. Ducru have produced their best wine "since I was a boy" - John Derrick (hadn't realised JD tasted much Ducru in his Welsh schooldays). Despite the fact that guests are welcomed to the tasting disco by a large painting showing a horse's arse, the wine looks to be a thoroughbred with grace and power in equal measure. It was polished to impress, a characteristic that we found many times during the day. Honourable mention must go to the charming young ladies done up in black suits and riding boots who welcomed us at Ducru, a Bond villain's wet dream.

Pichon Lalande is one of the prettiest places you'll ever visit. Where Ducru painted it large with bright 'modern' brushstrokes, PL is classically French and elegant. The grand vin was singing and both the '04 and '05 show that seamless quality where everything was in perfect balance - although many years from perfect drinking.

Then after quite a ridiculous palaver trying to get into Cos d'Estournel, as a lackey stood there ignoring us and cleaning his nails, we found ourselves in a gorgeous tasting room with some 'proper wines' (©B Collins). The Cos was one of the standout wines of the day, with absolutely everything: power, poise, complexity and huge length. After lunch in a golf club lounge(!) it was off to Margaux where we were treated to a stunning private tasting with Paul Pontallier. You will hear a lot about these wines and it's all true. Pavillon Rouge 05, Margaux 05 and 04 and Pavillon Blanc 05 left the team quite speechless. The platitudes would fill the whole page so I won't bother.

A whistlestop visit to Pichon Baron reaffirmed the quality which many of you will get a chance to taste for yourselves on April 26th - including Tourelles 03,04, and 05 which were looking fantastic. Mouton provoked much the biggest debate of the day; the Grand Vin has all the makings of a great wine but it hadn't been 'polished up' like the others and required more imagination to see how it will develop over next 10 years -watch this space. No great leaps of faith were needed at the next stop, though, as Chateau Latour jostled for position at the top of the pile with Margaux. Their Pauillac and Les Forts and Latour itself are massively impressive wines which will doubtless all score very highly with critics. About the only complaint was that the wines were 'too perfect' (Ben & Willie) but how often do you hear that? Final stop was at Palmer where the gutsy Alter Ego and Chateau Palmer confirmed Margaux's premiership status... these are serious beasts tasting remarkably complete already.

Dinner, 'in a lorry park somewhere out in Haringey' at a restaurant whose name loosely translated as Dogs**t, was a raucous affair but TJ was 'asked' to put his recording equipment away, so sadly not much to report there then - except one grand vin from 97 was deemed 'absolutely awful' and 'nul points' by Ben Collins... and then generously offered to the next table to taste.

Day Two in Bordeaux

"I love it when a plan comes together." There was more than a little Hannibal Smith about John Derrrick as we completed our intricate overland trip from Stansted to Bordeaux. He stopped short of pulling out a cigar in the manner of the 'A' Team boss but there is no doubt it was a small miracle we'd made it.

And so to the wine. First stop of the day was Leoville Las Cases where the main wine caused a bit of debate. Incredibly tight and closed, we thought it quite difficult to taste. Despite that, it's definitely all there and is one for the long term and scores reflected its enormous potential. Then off to the Margaux UGC event for the first bout of intensive tasting of a whole appellation in one room. There are some great wines here; Giscours impressed: "Elegant, with lots of structure." Dauzac looks like it will be one of the best value wines of the vintage. Malescot was "quite sexy"; Lascombes was "excellent, not as much oak as previously"; 'd'Angludet will be another great value proposition and is "a bit of an animal." Cantenac-Brown and Brane Cantenac looked good too. The other one to pick out was Marquis de Terme with "great fruit, well integrated."

A short hop took us to the Pauillac, St Julien, St Estephe UGC and the team were blown away by the consistency of quality in the room. Pontet Canet was the star that shone brightest (don't miss them at the Bordeaux Tasting) and many expect this could be their best ever. Lynch Bages was showing very well as was Clerc-Milon: "super, good fruit, concentration and depth." Leoville Poyferre was superb - "moving up a gear into fourth, almost fifth..." Also worth honourable mentions were Lagrange, Beychevelle and Gruaud Larose.Lunch brought some great ideas for new characters for Little Britain, the favourite being "the Burping Old Etonian Wine Merchant."

Then off to Leoville Barton where Anthony Barton held court over a tremendous selection of wines. Both the Leoville and Langoa Barton wines look supreme and some other smaller estates such as Petit Bocq, d'Issan and Caronne St Gemme showed well too. Tongues were tied by the majesty of Lafite. Carruades looked "a very posh second wine indeed" - and the Grand Vin scored 20's across the board. It is spectacular and looked to be the team's favourite wine so far.

Up into St Estephe, a charming area, and great fun was had at Calon Segur, where Madame worked her charm on us until we were putty in her hands. The property is sensational ("look, that wall is a proper piece of kit!"), and the wine no less impressive: "complexity, balance - beautifully made, terrific." Montrose and La Dame are wonderful dark, spiced wines which will go forever. Sociando Mallet (whose name I have always thought would suit a philosopher of Italian / Yorkshire parentage) impressed everyone again and confirmed its place as one of the team's favourite properties and wines. It will offer fantastic value in this vintage. Final stop of this exhausting but inspiring day was at Saint Pierre, a lesser-known estate but one whose 2001 had greatly impressed at lunch. Their 2005 is in the same league and we certainly hope to be able to negotiate an allocation for you in this vintage.

After checking the doors on a few cars, Willie finally found his and we were off, this time to St Emilion and a hotel a thousand times more charming than our digs in Bordeaux. This town is breathtakingly beautiful, a fitting end to a day where the wines also took our collective breath away.

Day Three in Bordeaux

"Go on...take him Alex." With cavalier driving and a little encouragement from the front seat, the team set off in high spirits for a day of tasting around the beautiful vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol. The chill in the air did nothing to dampen enthusiasm and how could it when we were on our way to Cheval Blanc for a post-breakfast treat of the highest order. Brilliantly looked after by the genial Pierre Lurton and his winemaker Olivier Berrouet, we marveled at the elegance and style of both the Petit Cheval - "exotic nose as usual, very classy and luxurious" and the the Cheval Blanc - "enchanting nose with a thousand different nuances, oak totally integrated, super-fine tannins and a long finish". The surroundings were quite special as well and BC managed to take some pretty smart photos.

Vieux Chateau Certan was a super follow-up - "This wine is sensational surely - wonderful rich nose, silky round tannins". We tasted with Alexandre Thienpont in the spotless barrel room and had great fun about it. The wine is definitely one of the favourites of Bibendum staff and customers alike so we weren't surprised by the quality but the tasting of the "second wine", Les Gravettes 2004 introduced us to a wine we had never seen before and which absolutely blew us away. "This is a stonking second wine; very good, no cloying sweetness around here."

"When I say I don't like Merlot..." Our visit to Le Pin was a bit like that of Lafite and Margaux - i.e. if I had to explain the wine in full I could surely go on for pages. The salient points are that owner Jacques Thienpont, a very smart man, has an extremely smart bicycle - "is that the Bentley of the bicycle world?"; the wine is beyond sensational; and there are are only a very few barrels of it in the cellar of the very unimposing Le Pin property. Jacques even knocked on a few to show that they weren't all even full.

There's no doubt that Chateau Pavie is impressive to look at from the outside and also has the smartest barrel room I have ever seen, but there was more than a little discussion in the tasting room about the wines. Some of the lesser wines didn't impress but the team was very impressed with the grand vin. Some had expected not to like it all that much having had experience of previous vintages but were happy to report that the wine is very good this year, with less extraction, ripe fruit and a long and complex finish.Before the day descended into a whirl of UGC tastings, we managed to squeeze in visits to Clos l'Eglise and L'Eglise Clinet and we were very happy we did too! At Clos l'Eglise we were guided through a very interesting suite of wines by the very talented Helene. The Barde-Haut and Clos l'Eglise looked very good and next door the L'Eglise Clinet wines displayed marvellous freshness and clean fruit, gradually getting more and more complex and intense as we went through Denis' wines.

Back onto the road and "nous sommes morts" from the front seat as a local driver tried to run us into a ditch. With the cool head and hands of a seasoned pro, Alex avoided any trouble and we sped to the Pomerol UGC tasting where we were treated to some lovely rich, fiull-bodied wines from this tiny appellation. La Conseillante was the stand-out, L'Evangile and La Pointe weren't far behind.After a quick lunch we threw ourselves back into it at the larger St. Emilion UGC tasting where our beautiful Bibendum branded clipboards had the competition on their knees with envy (Ha!). Fantastic standard of wines across the room as we had expected and though quantities on offer will be very small, there's no doubt we will try to secure as much of it as we can. Angelus was superb: "it's a monster black fruit bomb. Terrific fruit flavours, beautifully made too. I only hope it's not too much" thought Ben Collins. Troplong Mondot looked excellent, as did Pavie Macquin (both at our tasting coming up) and Larcis Ducasse, Canon le Gaffeliere, Grand Mayne, and Figeac were also wonderful.

Feytet Clinet provided the penultimate stop and the 2005 and 2004 impressed in equal measure. It happened to be the latest in an unbroken line of 2004s that the team had tasted which were looking fabulous. The difference between now and the last time they were tasted was palpable and you could see that the chateaux saw the business sense in showing off this vintage again. They are still very well priced in the market and no doubt will provide some great deals in the coming months. Last but certainly not least was a trip up the windy roads to Chateau Ausone which provided one of the undoubted wines of the vintages. Just as exciting were the other wines the Chateau was showing and we will be trying to get our hands on any of them that we can. Chateau Simard will be a great value wine, as will the Fonbel. Moulin ST. George showed undoubted pedigree, as did the Chapelle d'Ausone: "Incredibly elegant, wonderful style. Big wine yet silky and facile" And finally to Ausone itself which everyone rated at the top of the scoring scale - "Black and Blueberry nose, coffee, spicy. Balanced, silky luxury. The wine is sensational. 45+ second creamy blackcurrant finish. The wood so in check. Elegant+." By this point in the afternoon the team was starting to giggle at the smallest thing (strange moaning Japanese man, extremely loud slurping, red trousers and the biggest toilet roll anyone had ever seen) so we called it a day and retreated for a beer.

Day Four in Bordeaux

Anxious not to break the habit of the week we decided against getting a full nights sleep and were up at the crack of dawn to head off to the Medoc tasting. We had missed it two days previously as our schedule slipped in the afternoon so we made the trip back from St. Emilion. In a normal vintage this might not have happened but it was clear by now that this was not a normal vintage and the word on the street was the quality and expected value of these wines was excellent so we’d have kicked ourselves if we missed out.

“I love this trucker’s café!” We stopped for an unexpectedly jolly breakfast at a roadside establishment which turned out to be about the most hospitable place we ate all week. They had quite an incredible collection of different cigarettes and truckers’ caps and an owner who knew a thing or two about wine. He picked us from 40 yards at any rate…was it that obvious?...of course it was.

The tasting was a remarkably uncrowded affair – you could even pour your own wines. Then we realised it hadn’t actually started yet and we were half an hour early. It was doubly exciting tasting wines for which we knew we could get a good allocation and so it proved that this was the strongest Medoc tasting that the team had ever seen. Cantemerle, Beaumont, Poujeaux, Lamarque and La Lagune scored much higher than normal so look out for these wines when they are released. In general they showed rich, ripe fruit, minimal extraction and massive potential for the future. We hope and pray that they don’t get carried away with themselves when it comes to releasing prices.

After losing Uncle briefly in the car park, we were off back to the Moueix offices in Libourne. Unable by now to get money from any bank machines (were they on strike too?) we had to scrape together remaining cents and Euros in order to find some more coffee. TJ would like to pay tribute to the part played by caffeine on our trip. Far from dulling our palate, it proved to be the only way we could stay alert and objective after our 84th wine of the day. Like the Arsenal back four of the Nineties, the Moueix team was in a perfect line to greet us and usher us into the showroom containing among other things, Latour a Pomerol, Lafleur Petrus, Certan de May and Petrus itself. Occasional disappointments in the middle but some of the lesser wines were excellent and then the top end was supreme. Petrus is a brooding monster at the moment, sitting back, biding its time, before it unleashes fire and brimstone on the unsuspecting (or so one taster’s notes went!).

After a beautiful cross-country drive things got a bit sticky at the Barsac and Sauternes tasting. With quality across the board it looks like both the major and the minor producers really went to town this year. The Graves tasting wasn’t a tough as usual with riper fruit and tannins making the job much easier for some tired tastebuds. Then after getting lost in Talence and Pessac trying to find Haut Brion (now a traditional annual event) we found ourselves sat down in a very fine tasting salon with quite the most grand umbrella stand any of us had ever seen in one corner and an imperious-looking Clarence Dillon gazing down on us from the wall. Fabulous wines with high scores for Haut Brion, La Mission, La Tour and Bahans Haut Brion. It was fitting that we finished our trip off with a visit to Yquem. Luckily for us John knew the way as tourists have stolen all the signs, and they refuse to keep replacing them! The Yquem 05 is absolutely heroic and they think it will go close to 2001.

On the way back to the airport we called in to some of John’s friends for dinner before rolling the Ryanair dice again. Our Welsh hosts served up shepherds pie with peas and carrots and the team nearly cried with gratitude. Vegetables…sweet, sweet vegetables…we thought we’d lost you forever…