It’s a popular letter in Wine, is the humble #2 in the alphabet. So much so that a wine-orientated friend had a bucks party where all who came had to bring drinks that started with the letter B. He’d prepared himself for loads of Barolo and maybe even a cheeky Batard-Montrachet; But it was the rogues bringing Bundy and Bourbon that really did the damage…
But I digress, sort of.
My Bs this week were brought from the great wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, which bookended a recent weekend (did I mention I like Alliteration as much as I like puns?!). We’ll break this up into two cause this half is a biggun…
The Friday brought with it a whopping showing of 80 wines from the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, put on (and subsidised) by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Bordeaux wines, being mostly built to last 20 years at a minimum, are often stand-offish at a young age; a criticism that could be levelled at the region as a whole. For me, Bordeaux is a little too synonymous with old money. You know the types, cashmere sweaters swung over shoulders whilst taking the bentley for a spin around Kooyong. The wines are great, after sufficient age, and the bordelaise always make sure that the prices are juuuuuust as high as the market will bear; which doesn’t lend itself to understanding the region without dropping a bomb of cash. All the more reason why an opportunity to taste a great cross section of a vintage shouldn’t be passed up.
2008 is generally accepted as a vintage that was close to disaster in the vineyard, but came together fantastically as the wines were made and bottled. Going into the factors that drive the pricing for bordeaux is enough to write a book on but a simple summary is that less hype = lower prices and hence 2008 represents good buying, if you have change after selling your spare Maserati…
Enough of that, let’s talk about the tasting. I’m not going to bore you with my below average tasting notes across the wines, or to bang on about how fantastic the first growths (the creme de la creme, as such) were. No, by far the most interesting part of the tasting was the marked and material differences between how the communes performed. Bordeaux, for the uninitiated, is roughly split into the left and right banks of the Gironde estuary and then a number of communes, all of which have some generally similar practices and characteristics (but generally a totally different expression of terroir to Burgundy). You oft hear wine writers making statements highlighting different communes over the other but this was the first time I’d witnessed just how seismic the differences could be. Of course, this only became obvious about half way through the tasting so I’ll try and capture the ‘hindsight’ in my wrap-up below. And please excuse the descriptors, I’m trying to relate differences more than absolutes
Starting with some quite classically ‘graphite & mineral’ wines from the ‘lesser’ classification of Haut-Medoc (Chateau Camensec my favourite) before moving onto the Pessac-Leognan/Graves section, where the wines were a touch riper but also had a consistent ‘slate-ish’ texture (Malarctic Lagraviere the standout here). It wasn’t until later that I realised just how good these wines were looking, particularly when you consider their ‘pedigree’ next to some of the other communes. Great balance of fruit and oak tannin in this bracket. Next up was the esteemed left bank commune of Margaux, which showed another step up in ripeness and also a step up in the influence of oak tannin, with quite a bit of reduction present throughout the bracket. For what it’s worth, the Dufort-Vivens was looking pretty good.
Before my palate was totally destroyed I then went through the first growths, which I’m not going to discuss except to say that they amplified the impact of moving through the next bracket, the right bank and variable commune of St Emilion. This bracket had the largest number of wines and about half way through was where I had my epiphany about the differences in communes. These wines were, without exception, tough, bitter and showing rough tannins. These Merlot dominant wines really highlighted how the subtle differences between the communes are magnified when it comes to the final product.
It’s fair to say that by this point, after the run of rough tannic monsters from St Emilion, that my palate was starting to tire. And with another Merlot dominant (Pomerol) commune in front of me it was heading towards some sort of man-vs-wine tannin tasting challenge (and to clarify, that is referring to the far-superior Man-vs-Food and NOT Man-vs-wild…). A couple of huge glasses of water and some bread were enough to start the run at a much better, but still eye-wateringly austere bunch of wines. Beauregard, Gazin and Fleur de Gay were looking great with the touch of extra ripeness (and some generally better winemaking) taming (and more specifically balancing) the stiff tannins. A perfect way to highlight why Pomerol is (generally) more highly fancied than St Emilion.
Heading back to the left bank to the big hitting communes of St Julien & Pauillac to finish, with the wines on show being helped again with extra ripeness and some more flashy winemaking – which may simply just be a reflection of the better land harbouring more esteemed estates. Common themes across the St Juliens were a washing of warm, brown spices (cumin, coriander, allspice) and dried herbs. Brainaire-Ducru & Lagrange were looking good, and I found the Talbot a little too over-done with its burst of syrupy fruit at the front of the palate. The Pauillacs had a powerful tar-chocolate-tobacco-dark spice (think cloves, star anise) thing going on and were again a step up in power from the St Juliens. Clerc-Milon, Batailley & Duhart-Milon looking good, although a couple had run out by this stage so I didn’t see the full bracket.
Finally seeing the home straight I settled into the Sauternes bracket, a just reward for the tannic destruction that had been wreaked on my mouth for the past 2.5 hours. Lacking the richness of a great Sauternes year but with s very healthy lick of acidity, the wines were looking poised and razor sharp. Showing lots of melon, grapefruit and green-hay across the bracket, I loved the Nairac’s drive and the Rieussec’s honeysuckle/marzipan combo but really, at this stage the real winner was my teeth and the blissful wash of sugar and acid that they were immersed in.
Whoa, that was involved. Whilst I didn’t mean to make the reading of this blog as much of a marathon as the tasting I guess there’s something poetic about it.
Enough out of me, I’ll return with the Burgundy half of the weekend in a future post.