Tuesday 17 July 2018

Weather, Bordeaux and the UGC 2015 Tasting

Right: Olivier Bernard, UGC President

There are few places in the world where vintage matters as much as Bordeaux. Throughout the year winemakers watch the skies carefully for signs of hail or rain. As the grapes ripen they pray for dry, warm weather. Weather conditions translate directly to wine quality. When I tasted the 2013 vintage, many wines were light in colour and lacking in fruit concentration. 2009 was a hedonistic vintage, with ripe tannins and lush fruit. A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to taste the 2015 vintage at the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting at the Conrad Centennial, and met with Olivier Bernard who is the president of the UGC. Olivier expounded on the unique location of Bordeaux, saying, “Bordeaux is situated on the 45th parallel, in the middle of the cold north and warm south. Why Bordeaux is so different than wine made on the 40th or wine made on the 50th parallel is because the difference in weather on the 45th is much bigger than anywhere else in the world.”

Olivier is also the owner of Domaine de Chevalier in the district of Graves. Bordeaux is red wine country, but Domaine de Chevalier is renowned for making one of the most complex, long-lived whites of the region. I was thrilled to be able to taste this wine during the lunch, as Olivier explained how the 45th parallel is suitable for making both red and white wines. “Bordeaux is the line between white and red. North of the 45th the wine is white – Loire, Champagne, and Alsace. South of the 45th the wine is red – South of France, Italy, and Spain. There are exceptions of course.” Because white and red grapes ripen differently a vintage that was poor for red wines may still be a great vintage for whites in Bordeaux – an example was in 2012 where Cabernet Sauvignon struggled to ripen but the dry whites made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon showed a lot of freshness.

Going back to the 2015 vintage, Olivier states that it was a warm year with an ideal summer that helped to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon. “In this vintage you will see lovely maturity and tannins. It was a great vintage, quite easy to do, but after that the choice of the winemaker can be different. Some have done a little bit more extraction, and this is the most importance difference in style you will see in the wine. Some people still like to make big wines – personally I don’t like big wines, I like balance. You need everything in the wine, but nothing too much.” As good as 2015 is, Olivier believes that the next great vintage will be even better as Bordeaux winemakers continue to work on quality. Agreeing, wine journalist and UGC tasting organiser Ch’ng Poh Tiong noted that the investments the Bordelais have put into the vineyard and winery have allowed them to react faster to fluctuating weather conditions.

One category of wine remains out of the limelight, even though it comes from prestigious appellations and is of fantastic quality. Demand for sweet wine has been steadily decreasing, and this was reflected in the tasting with only three producers from Sauternes. “These are difficult times for Sauternes,” commented Comte Philippe de Lur Saluces of Château de Fargues. “But in the long term… In Fargues for example we are expanding the vineyard, and we are planting new plots. That means we have faith in the appellation. I cannot believe that this wine, which is so hugely appreciated, will not meet its rightful success in a short time. What I do not know is where this success will come from.”

With eighty wines to taste in 2 ½ hours, it was scarcely possible to get to all of them. Conversation was brief and perfunctory; the focus was on the wines! I found the quality to be extremely high and for the most part the oak treatment was well-balanced, allowing the fruit to shine through. While it did not seem as homogenous as the 2009 vintage, this is a good thing, as it allowed the difference between the various communes of Bordeaux to show. Even at this early stage, the wines are a pleasure to drink, although the best certainly have the stuffing to improve over the next couple of decades. Many thanks to Ch’ng Poh Tiong for organising this splendid tasting.

Some favourites from the UGC 2015 tasting:

Château Beaumont – This is a very good effort from the château combining understated elegance with ripe, crunchy fruit and gentle oak. As a Cru Bourgeois this wine represents fantastic value.

Château La Lagune – Beautifully ripe and rich with dark blackberry fruit and tobacco overtones. Charming now but built for the long term with fine tannins and a well-articulated, lasting finish.

Château La Tour Carnet – A captivating nose with violet notes. Very approachable with lovely density and complex, savoury fruit and balanced oak.

Château Kirwan – A lovely bacon-fat roundness to this cheerful wine which shows sweet, soft cherry fruit. Fresh and drinking well now.

Château Prieuré-Lichine – Very approachable, a soft, juicy style with a good core of sweet fruit balanced with ripe tannins.

Château Beychevelle
– A more austere style of Bordeaux that shows classic complexity and aristocratic fruit quality. A wine that charms over hours instead of minutes. Savoury and earthy.

Château La Cabanne – A complex and elegant Pomerol with exotic cooking herbs on the nose (sage and rosemary). Fruit is in focus here with excellent depth and balance.

Château Rouget – A delicate, cherry-fruited wine with enticing softness and approachability. Hint of rosemary and cedar on the palate, accentuated by toasty oak. Admirable effort.

Château des Fargues – Sumptuous and bold with notes of honey, apricot, pineapply and barley sugar. Though the flavours are rich the texture maintains a delicate lightness. A wine that will find universal appeal.

Château Guiraud – Denser and richer than the Fargues, this wine has stunning freshness that complements the heady sweetness of the fruit. Pure and intense with a concentrated length.

For photos of the tasting visit Morgun Pathi’s Facebook page.

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