The annual “Ten Years On” blind tasting this year was delayed from February because of the pandemic but eventually took place at the beginning of October 2021 – appropriately exactly ten years after the harvest’s last Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked.
Everyone at Farr Vintners is devasted to hear the news of the death of our dear friend Denis Durantou of Chateau L’Eglise Clinet in Pomerol.
The “Southwold Group” has been conducting an annual blind tasting of Bordeaux wines at ten years of age for nearly 30 years. The first one that I attended was of the 1982 vintage, which took place in 1992 over two days in the offices of the original Lay and Wheeler wine merchants in Colchester. I recently learned that a junior member of the L&W team helped organise this tasting, and her name was Jo Purcell. Two years later she left Essex for the bright lights of Hong Kong when she started working for Farr Vintners and opened - all on her own - the first office in Asia of a London wine merchant. She has remained there ever since and Farr Vintners’ strong reputation in the HK wine market is very much down to Jo. She just let me know the news that Richard Wheeler sadly passed away this week.
For over 40 years leading figures of the British wine trade have assembled every January to blind taste their way through all of the top wines of Bordeaux from the latest vintage in a marathon three day tasting. For many years this took place in Southwold in Suffolk, but it has now moved to the modern, purpose-built tasting room of Farr Vintners on the banks of the river Thames in Battersea Reach.
The annual “Ten Years On” tasting has been a fixture in my diary for over a quarter of a century. The first of these marathon blind tastings that I attended was back in 1992 when we tried the still youthful 1982s. I remember being blown away by that vintage’s Mouton Rothschild – a wine that was brilliant even when young and has continued to deliver the goods ever since. The tastings were frequently held at The Mill – home of the great and much missed Bill Baker and sometimes at The White Horse at Chilgrove with our old friend, the incomparable Barry Phillips. More recently they have been hosted by Farr Vintners.
In the last week of January 2019, the “Southwold Group” assembled, once again, to taste the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. This year was the turn of 2015 to come under our blind tasting microscope. This marathon event comprised 264 wines, tasted in 22 flights of 12, by 19 vastly experienced tasters and it took place over 3 days in the Farr Vintners tasting room on the banks of the River Thames in Battersea Reach.
2018 saw further advances for Farr Vintners as increased sales re-enforced the company’s position as the UK’s - and probably the world’s - leading fine wine trader.
Farr Vintners was the first UK merchant to establish a sales office in Hong Hong – over 20 years ago – which has been run ever since by Jo Purcell along with an excellent team of tri-lingual English/Cantonese/Mandarin speakers. When Jo arrived in what was, at the time, a British colony, the import tax on wine was 90% and sales were small. However, we always had customers here who were fanatical wine lovers and a massive breakthrough came when duty was completely scrapped in 2008. This resulted, not surprisingly, in an extraordinary boom in demand for wine which has continued to this day. Hong Kong is now very much the wine hub of Asia and arguably the world’s capital city of fine wine. Wine lovers enjoy wine at lower prices here than anywhere else in the world as there is no sales tax (VAT/GST) as well as zero duty. There is a vibrant restaurant culture with wonderful food and a great passion for the world’s finest wines.
Since the early 1990’s I have been a member of the original “Ten Years On” t.asting group that was founded by the late, great Bill Baker using the reserve bottles from the original Southwold tastings. The first of these tastings that I attended was in 1992 when we looked back at the still youthful but already magnificent 1982’s We tasted further vintages at Barry Phillips’ “White Horse Inn at Chilgrove” and Bill’s “The Mill” at Hallatrow before settling on Farr Vintners as our home ground some years ago. As with the Southwold tasting, we are a group of wine writers – Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin, Steven Spurrier – and wine merchants (including the buyers of most of the major UK wine importers).
The "Southwold Group"
As many of you will know, I have been a member of the “10 Years On” tasting group for many years. This annual blind tasting was established in the 1980’s by the late, great Bill Baker who was one of the British wine trade’s most respected and knowledgeable experts until his untimely death in 2008. Bill had an encyclopaedic wine knowledge and lived an amazing gastronomic life. Before he left us, he had undoubtedly tasted most of the greatest wines ever made and racked up more Michelin starred meals than most people have had hot dinners.
As many of you will know, every year, for well over a quarter of a century, a group of the UK’s leading wine buyers and writers get together for a few days to taste the most recently released vintage from bottle. With the 2013 vintage having been physically released onto the market last year, this was its turn to step forward and show us if the lukewarm reception we gave it when we tasted it en primeur was perhaps a little harsh. You may recall that last year the consensus was that 2012 had turned out to be better than expected and contained many pleasant surprises.
Ever since I first visited Jean-Marie Guffens and Jean Rijckaert, over 20 years ago, I have been a huge fans of Verget’s wines. Farr Vintners has imported every vintage that they have made since 1992 and we are now one of the world’s biggest buyers of these great value, high quality White Burgundies. From their base in the rolling hills of Macon, Verget sources grapes from small independent growers from all over the Burgundy region which are harvested by their own team of pickers at optimum ripeness and then vinified in their state of the art winery in Sologny. Here they have a range of stainless steel tanks, concrete vats, foudres and oak barrels of varying sizes and ages. Jean-Marie Guffens and Julien Desplans make wine like a great chef prepares food, using the winery to full effect as they tweak the “elevage” to suit the character of each individual wine. No two wines are made to exactly the same recipe but all share in common the Verget house style of ripeness, acidity and minerality in perfect balance. Verget’s wines are always bright and vibrant with subtle use of oak and their richness is always balanced by structure and acidity.
I was very privileged to be invited by proprietor Bruno Borie to a magnificent tasting of Ducru Beaucaillou in which every year that he has made was shown - as well as some examples of older vintages of this great 2nd growth Saint Julien. This is a property that has made consistently good wines for decades but under Bruno’s leadership the quality here now often touches that of the First Growths.
Olivier Bernard and I are the same age. I joined Farr Vintners in 1984 as a 24 year old and he arrived at Domaine de Chevalier in 1983 aged just 23 years when his family bought the property from Claude Ricard. I have always liked Olivier as he’s one of the few Bordeaux proprietors who genuinely loves wine and has a huge knowledge of all of the world’s great wines, not just Bordeaux.
Every year, for over a quarter of a century now, a group of wine merchants and writers have got together to taste a Bordeaux vintage as it reached 10 years of age. When I joined the group in the early 1990’s the tastings were held at the home of the late Bill Baker, wine merchant, wine taster and gourmet extraordinaire. The tastings were also held sometimes at The White Horse Inn at Chilgrove where Barry Phillips had built up a legendary wine list. More recently, the tastings have taken place at Farr Vintners and this year was the first time in our wonderful new offices where we have a magnificent tasting room over-looking the River Thames.
Our day on the Right Bank started with an 8.30 am appointment at Le Tertre Roteboeuf. This is always a favourite visit for us. The cellars here are reminiscent of Burgundy with their earth floor and damp walls. Francois Mitjavile is a charming, modest and welcoming host. The wines are pure, delicate and fine. His three wines in 2015, and our taste of Tertre Roteboeuf 2014, showed a perfect balance between ripeness and freshness. By contrast, the next visit was to the opulent marble palace that is Pavie. No expense has been spared at this newly promoted First Growth property that has the feel of a super-luxury five star hotel. The wines served here were all black in colour with alcohol nudging 15 degrees. Some of these could have been spread on our morning toast, such was their concentration. A teeth-staining experience! Next up were Ausone, Angelus, Cheval Blanc and Figeac. There’s no doubt that 2015 is a great vintage in Saint Emilion and Pomerol, something which is particularly evident at Cheval Blanc where they announced that the vintage is so good for them that they will not be making any of their second wine, Petit Cheval, this year. Virtually the whole production of this famous vineyard will go into the grand vin with just a small amount sold off in bulk.
The 12 strong Farr Vintners team are in Bordeaux this week to taste barrel samples of the 2015 vintage. We will be tasting over 300 wines over the next few days from this promising year for the region's red and white wines. With us for this trip, once again, is Master of Wine Derek Smedley who has tasted every vintage en primeur here since 1961. Derek is a human encyclopaedia of Bordeaux wines and vintages and gives our team a unique insight into the process of tasting en primeur.
If it’s January, then it’s Southwold time. Every year, for a quarter of a century now, I’ve headed off to this charming little seaside town (home of the famous Adnams Brewery) to taste through the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. When I started attending this great annual event I was the youngest person there, but certainly that is no longer the case! Sadly, we have lost Richard Peat, Bill Baker and John Avery from our ranks whilst Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and Roy Richards have de-camped to Burgundy. However, our group of twenty tasters still comprises the great and the good of the British wine world with young Masters of Wine Alex Hunt and Matthew Hemming joining senior MW’s David Roberts, Sebastian Payne and Mark Savage. There are representatives of the leading UK fine wine merchants as well as critics Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier.
As most Farr Vintners customers will know, we have been importing and championing the White Burgundies of Jean-Marie Guffens and his negociant house Verget for many years. In fact, it was over 20 years ago now that I first visited his winery in the sleepy village of Sologny and met this eccentric, slightly bonkers - but undoubtedly genius - winemaker. His wines had been brought to our attention initially by some rave views for the amazing 1992 vintage and they really were outstanding (and still are - if you can find them). We bought all that we could from this year and have shipped every vintage produced ever since.
. Last Friday we conducted a fascinating experiment at Farr Vintners when we served, in a blind tasting, the same wine from two different bottles – one with a screwcap and one with a cork. The result was remarkable, with none of the ten tasters spotting that we were actually tasting the same wine! Before we reveal the results here’s a bit of history...
With my son Sam about to leave London to go to University in California, I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to taste our way through some top mature Californian wines served blind alongside their French counterparts.
1990 is a special year for me. Two of my biggest passions, as some of you will know, are football (well, mainly my local team Crystal Palace FC really) and wine (well, mainly French wine really).
I first tasted Kumeu River Chardonnay at The White Horse, Chilgrove in the late 1980's. It was probably the 1987 vintage but could even have been the first ever vintage - 1985. Despite being a young wine merchant with a focus almost exclusively on French wines, I was really impressed by it and decided to track some down. Not long after this, I travelled to New Zealand in January 1990 where I saw Linford Christie win the 100m in the Commonwealth Games. More importantly, as it turned out, I visited the Kumeu River winery where I met Michael Brajkovich (New Zealand's first Master of Wine) for the first time along with his dad, Maté. I saw the vineyard that they were in the process of planting (that was subsequently named "Maté's Vineyard" following Maté's death) and tasted the 1989 vintage Kumeu River Chardonnay from barrel. This was a brilliant Chardonnay then and it remained so for many years afterwards. This is a wine that I subsequently served blind to visiting French winemakers, and other guests, scores of times over the coming years and they invariably guessed it to be a Corton Charlemagne or a Meursault.
Once a year Farr Vintners hosts a comprehensive blind tasting of a mature Bordeaux vintage. This is normally held 10 years after the vintage, but this year we decided to hold off tasting the 2005’s as, in our opinion, the top wines from this magnificent year are not quite ready for drinking. On the contrary, every wine that we have tried recently from 2007 has been drinking well so we decided that the time was ripe for a serious look at these wines, now that they are 8 years old.
For a quarter of a century now I have spent a few days every January in the picturesque seaside town of Southwold with a group of British wine importers and wine writers as we taste through the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released. This year our group included no less than six Masters of Wine and wine writers Steven Spurrier of “Decanter”, Neal Martin of “The Wine Advocate” and Julia Harding of “JancisRobinson.com”. No doubt, their comprehensive reports will appear shortly. The vintage up for review this year was 2011. As usual, the wines were tasted blind in random order within peer-groups with the names of the wines not revealed until after the scores were taken. There were 23 flights this year in what was a marathon event. We started at 9.00 am on the Wednesday and finished at 12 noon on the Friday with close to 300 wines being tasted during the three days. A second bottle was also tasted of any wine that we felt was not performing as it should.
My eldest son Ben had the great misfortune to be born in 1992. I don’t think that there has been a worse Bordeaux vintage since his arrival on the planet - and let’s hope that there never is.
How long is a decade? Well, 10 years of course. But an interesting question is "how do you count it"? Nought to nine, or one to ten? It's an important question because, for me, the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux fits in nicely as the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. In my opinion (having tasted wine from just about every vintage of the 20th Century and several from the 19th century) this is the greatest decade in the history of Bordeaux wine.
This month marks my 30th anniversary at Farr Vintners as I joined the company in September 1984.
Last night the owners of Crystal Palace Football Club welcomed our new manager Neil Warnock (back) to the club with a dinner featuring some classic wines from Farr Vintners. It's been a really hectic couple of weeks since the previous manager left, several players have joined the club including England Internationals Wilfried Zaha, Martin Kelly and Andrew Johnson, Scotland midfielder James McArthur, Ireland striker Kevin Doyle and former Norwegian captain Brede Hangeland.  A celebratory glass of wine or two was in order now that we finally have our 2014/2015 squad assembled and our first point on the board after an exciting 3-3 draw at Newcastle United on Saturday.
Farr Vintners is delighted to announce that we have purchased Magnum Fine Wines following Alan Rayne's decision to retire from the wine trade. I have known Alan for nearly 30 years and feel very honoured that he has chosen to entrust Farr Vintners to look after his customers and their wine portfolios in the future. Alan is rightly proud of the business that he has built up and a key part of his decision to pass the company on to Farr Vintners was that he knows that his customers will continue to receive exemplary and professional service.
On the eve of the opening of the bi-annual wine trade fair "Vinexpo" in Hong Kong, Farr Vintners hosted a spectacular Rauzan Segla dinner in the stunning private dining room of the Grand Hyatt hotel, overlooking the bustling harbour. We served ten vintages starting with the 2010 and finishing with the 1986.
Last Saturday I flew into Hong Kong for a very special wine dinner that we had organized for one of Farr Vintners' longest-standing customers and his friends at China Tang restaurant. We are fortunate that Jean-Valmy Nicolas (whose family has owned Chateau La Conseillante since 1871) is now also the 'co-gérant' of Chateau Figeac. Thus we were able to source a fantastic range of vintages direct from the cellars of both Chateaux. We started with two great young vintages - 2010 and 2009 - and travelled back in time to two great mature vintages - 1959 and 1949. Valmy was with us for this special event, as was Hortense Manoncourt whose family has owned Figeac since 1892.
It's not often that I get a chance to combine my two jobs but, as owner of Farr Vintners and co-owner of Crystal Palace Football Club, there are sometimes excuses to mix Football and Wine. The recent fantastic achievement of Crystal Palace FC - finishing in 11th place in the Premier League - was certainly deserving of a special celebration. Then we had further good news when our manager, Tony Pulis, won the Barclay's Premier League Manager of the Season Award. To put this into context, 11th in the top division is the second highest finish in the 109 year history of CPFC and 4 years ago the club was heading for bankruptcy and was one goal away from being relegated to League One (the 3rd division of English football).
2013 is a challenging year for the red wines of Bordeaux but a good year for the dry white wines and an excellent one for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Every year we hold a comprehensive tasting, here at Farr Vintners, of the most recent Bordeaux vintage to reach ten years of age. Having said that, we tasted the 2003s much earlier than normal as we felt that they were maturing so quickly. The report on that tasting can be found here. I suspect that we might give the backwards 2005s another year or two before we re-assess them, but there was no concern about tasting 2004 in 2014 as this is a vintage that has matured at a classic Bordeaux pace and, after 2 years in barrel and 8 years in bottle, the wines are now ready to drink.
Every January since the early 1980s, a group of British wine buyers has escaped to Southwold in Suffolk to spend three days tasting through the most recently released Bordeaux vintage at The Swan Hotel. The 20 tasters include several Masters of Wine, the wine buyers for Britain's leading wine merchants and distinguished wine writers Jancis Robinson MW(jancisrobinson.com and the Financial Times ), Neal Martin (the Wine Advocate) and Steven Spurrier (Decanter Magazine). I joined the group over 20 years ago as the youngest member (at the time) but I'm now one of the "old boys".
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a spectacular wine dinner in a city that I had never visited before. It was certainly worth the journey as we enjoyed outstanding food with some exceptionally rare, and great, wines.
It is now exactly 30 years since Chateau La Mission Haut Brion was purchased by Domaine Clarence Dillon (owners of neighbouring Chateau Haut Brion) from the Woltner family. The Woltners had bought this great Pessac property themselves in 1918.
One of my favourite tastings of the year is the annual "Ten Years On" review of the Bordeaux First Growths. This event has taken place every year since the early 1980's (at least) and used to be held in the Cotswolds home of the late Edmund Penning-Rowsell. His successor as Financial Times wine correspondent, Jancis Robinson, now hosts it at her home in North London in conjunction with Paulo Pong of Altaya Wines in Hong Kong. Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, is that I am invited to take part!
I started my career in the wine trade as the van driver for a small wine shop in London called La Réserve in 1980. 33 years on, I have just enjoyed a fabulous holiday at a luxurious hotel near Saint Tropez which is also called La Réserve. This La Réserve is owned by Michel Reybier, who is also the proprietor of Château Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux. If there’s one thing better than a holiday on the Côte d’Azur it’s a holiday on the Côte d’Azur drinking a different vintage of Cos every day! Here are my tasting notes of a range of vintages of Cos, all of which came to the hotel directly from the cellars of the Château. They were tasted on consecutive nights in late July 2013.
The Durrbach family, friends of Pablo Picasso, purchased Trevallon in 1955 but it was not until 1973 that the first vines were planted. In a region where Grenache and Carignan are the main varieties, Eloi Durrbach chose Syrah (sourced from Chave) and Cabernet Sauvignon (sourced from La Lagune) as he believed that they would best suit his terroir and North-facing vineyard. The resultant wines are rarely above 13% alcohol and much the better for this. Originally there were just 3 hectares, which produced their first fruit in the late 1970’s, producing 600-700 cases per year. One of the first customers was Steven Spurrier, who bought the wines for his “Caves de la Madelaine” wine shop in Paris and Robin Yapp in Wiltshire, England. I first came across, and fell in love with, the wines myself in the early 1980’s when La Reserve (where I worked) stocked the 1979 and 1980 vintages.
Robert Parker The annual "Wine Advocate" report by Robert Parker on the latest Bordeaux vintage is always the wine world's most eagerly awaited critical review. We have now had a chance to analyse his take on the 2012's which was published this weekend on www.erobertparker.com. It is a hard-hitting piece this year that not only reveals Mr Parker's favourite wines and appellations of the vintage but also takes no prisoners when discussing the prices at which 2012 Bordeaux needs to be sold in order for this en primeur campaign to be successful.
Today was spent on Bordeaux's right bank as we got to grips with Pomerol and Saint Emilion. 2012 is looking like a re-run of maybe 2001 - or even 1998 - at some properties here.
This morning was a great opportunity to conclude our coverage of the Médoc by attending the "Union des Grands Crus" tastings. First of all we tried the Saint Estèphes, Pauillacs and Saint Juliens at Phélan Ségur and then the Margaux wines at Labégorce.
We started the day with the three great Chateaux of Saint Estèphe - all of which have changed their management since this time last year.
Today was the start of the annual pilgrimage to Bordeaux for the Farr Vintners Sales and Purchasing team. Eleven of us assembled at Gatwick Airport for our flight to Merignac Airport. First stop was Chateau Rauzan Segla where John Kolasa and his team had assembled a huge line-up of samples from across the Bordeaux region for us to taste. There must have been well over 200 samples so it was a great chance for us to get familiar with the vintage.
From today and until the end of March, Farr Vintners will be participating in Wine Relief and raising money for Comic Relief by donating £20 for every case that we sell from a specially selected list of some of our favourite and best value wines. Farr Vintners selling prices will remain unaltered with the £20 donated directly out of our profits. With the generous help of our customers we hope that this will enable us to donate over £100,000 to an exceptional cause.
For my final report on the 2009 red wines of Bordeaux we come to Pauillac. For me, this commune is the heart of Bordeaux and, of course, it contains three First Growths and many other world famous properties.
The commune of Margaux produces wines that tend to exude charm more than power. If you are looking for top class Bordeaux which is elegant and stylish then Margaux is the place for you. There are plenty of classed growth Chateaux in Margaux but it is usually the top three who dominate our tastings and this was the case in the 2009 yet again. Some people might wonder if we really do taste blind but I promise that we do! Three wines scored well above the other 20 that we tasted and guess what they were? – yes Chateaux Margaux, Palmer and Rauzan Ségla.
Today we move to the Graves – or Pessac-Léognan to be precise. This is one of my favourite regions of Bordeaux and one which I see as a half-way point between the left bank and the right bank. If you can’t decide if a wine in a blind tasting is a Pomerol or a Pauillac then this is always a good shout. The wines here are mainly made from an approximate 50:50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot so they tend to be a little less firm than the wines of the Médoc and little less opulent than those of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Not only are they generally well-balanced wines but the best of them have a unique character of tar, flint, wood-smoke and cigar box.
From the plummy opulence of Pomerol we now move to the Cabernet-Sauvignon based wines of Saint Estèphe.
The appellation of Pomerol is one of the smallest in Bordeaux. Within the appellation there are hundreds of tiny properties and even a 1000-case-a-year Château would be regarded as being one of the larger producers. In many respects to me, Pomerol is the “Burgundy of Bordeaux” as the wines are made mainly by small artisan producers and (predominantly) from a single grape variety. They are very different wines, stylistically, from those of the neighbours in Saint Emilion and even further removed from the wines of the Médoc. In very hot vintages, such as 2003, Merlot grapes can suffer from over-ripeness but 2009 is clearly a fantastic vintage for the wines of Pomerol. The wines are rich and intense with aromas of violets and rich black plum fruit.
First up at Southwold 2013 were the 2009 Saint Emilions. And what a lot of them there were! We tasted about 75 wines from this village as well as a few “ringers” from neighbouring appellations. The way that we organise these tastings is to serve the wines blind in flights with 10-12 bottles per flight. They are served, within each flight, in random order, alongside wines of similar value, style and reputation. As my son Ben was not due back at University until the following week, he helped out with the opening, “bagging” and serving of each flight. Ben’s other job was to enter everyone’s score on a spreadsheet. After 20 minutes silent tasting, each participant gives a score out of 20 for each wine (before the wines are discussed or their identities revealed) and then a group average score is calculated. Healthy debate then follows….
Every year in January, for over 30 years, some of the leading figures in the British wine trade have assembled in the sleepy town of Southwold for a comprehensive tasting of the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. In January 2013 it was the turn of the eagerly anticipated 2009’s.
As is traditional at this time of year, we thought that we would let our customers and suppliers know how Farr Vintners has performed during the last 12 months. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your tremendous support and loyalty. We are delighted to report that 2012 was a record-breaking year for us with sales of £166.2 million, 27% up on 2011 (which was our previous best ever year).
This time last year I reported on a blind tasting of the 2001 First Growths. Last week we repeated the exercise with the same 8 wines in the 2002 vintage.
There are a lot of wine writers who write about wine seriously but there are very few serious writers who write about wine. In the UK we have, for example, Andrew Jefford who is a brilliant writer as well as happening to know his stuff when it comes to wine (and beer). In the USA Jay McInerney writes a wine column in the Wall Street Journal and has recently published “The Juice” which is now available in the UK (Bloomsbury, £14.99). McInerney is one of America’s best novelists and his most famous work “Bright Lights, Big City” was cited by Time Magazine as one of the nine generation-defining novels of the twentieth century. By kind permission of the author here is a brief extract from “The Juice” – a book that I would thoroughly recommend to all wine lovers. Stephen Browett
As many of our customers may know, L'Eglise Clinet consistently produces one of Bordeaux's greatest wines. It now regularly matches or beats the scores from independent critics of wines such as Pétrus and Cheval Blanc and its reputation is rapidly catching up Le Pin and Lafleur. With only 1000 to 1500 cases produced per annum the wines here are as rare as they are great. It was therefore an enormous pleasure for Farr Vintners to organise the first ever tasting of Eglise Clinet in Hong Kong with the owner and wine-maker, Denis Durantou.
As this en primeur campaign comes to a close, and the world’s fine wine merchants head off to Hong Kong for the biennial Vinexpo wine fair, this seems like a good time to reflect on how it’s gone.
Robert Parker As always with Bordeaux en primeur, the wine world has been waiting with baited breath for the views, tasting notes and (above all) the scores of Robert Parker of “The Wine Advocate” before the campaign can really get under way.
Today was ‘Right Bank day’ and we headed off, bright and early, over the rivers Garonne and Dordogne with the hope of finding some welcoming Merlot flesh on the 2011 bones. Our first stop was the offices of Ets Jean-Pierre Moueix where Christian and his son Edouard greeted us warmly with some breakfast Pomerol.
Today we had to wake up while it was still dark and were tasting wine by 8.30 am. Don’t let anyone tell you that this job is like being on holiday! By 10 am (9 in the morning UK time) we had already tasted nearly 50 wines.
Today we have focussed our attention on the Northern Médoc and in particular the appellations of St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien.
Today the Farr Vintners tasting team assembled at Gatwick Airport for our annual trip to Bordeaux to taste the latest en primeur vintage. This year it's the turn of 2011 and after 2 monumental vintages - 2009 and 2010 - we have the feeling that this is going to be a hard one to get excited about.
Robert Parker The wine world has been waiting for uber-critic Robert Parker to reveal his judgement and scores for the 2009 Bordeaux vintage now that he has tasted all the finished wines from bottle for the first time. To say that he is ecstatic about this vintage would be somewhat of an under-statement! He describes it as “Unquestionably the greatest Bordeaux vintage I have ever tasted.” He praises the classed growths (and gives them enormous scores) but he also declares that the quality is fantastic across the board – at cru bourgeois level and even petit vins and generic Bordeaux. He concludes that 2009 is the finest vintage since 1982 (therefore surpassing 1989, 1990, 2000 and 2005) but believes that the standards of winemaking are much higher than they were in 1982 and that therefore the wines are significantly better. This is, as he says, “1982 but greater”.
Every January for over 20 years I have spent 3 days in Southwold (a charming seaside town in East Anglia) tasting my way through hundreds of newly bottled Bordeaux wines. The “Southwold Group” was actually founded over 30 years ago by a group of wine merchants who wanted to comprehensively taste every single major Bordeaux Château wine produced in the most recently released vintage. The wines are always tasted strictly blind in peer-group flights of 12. This year it was the turn of 2008.
Congratulations to Professor James Shaw who is the winner of this year's Farr Vintners Christmas Quiz with an amazing 48 correct answers. Professor Shaw wins a case of Kumeu River Chardonnay.
In early January 2012 I tutored a wine dinner in Hong Kong consisting of 15 Pauillacs from the great vintages of the last 30 years. 2009 back to 1982.
As is traditional at this time of year, we have taken a moment to reflect on how Farr Vintners has performed during the last 12 months. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our customers and suppliers (and many of you are both!) who have supported us with great loyalty in 2011. We will strive to continue to repay that loyalty in 2012 with competitive prices on our huge stocks of wine, knowledgeable and honest sales and purchasing advice and an efficient accounts, warehousing and delivery service.
Last Friday night, the Farr Vintners Sales and Purchasing teams enjoyed a great night out at Medlar Restaurant in Chelsea. It was a very special evening for us as the dinner was organised to mark the retirement of Jonathan Stephens after 22 years at Farr Vintners.
At the end of October 2011, we held a spectacular tasting at Farr Vintners of all 25 years of Château Angélus made by proprietor/winemaker Hubert de Bouard since he took over the family property, aged 28, in 1985. All the vintages were served in magnums, which we had shipped directly from the cellars of the Château for this event. It was hosted by Hubert himself and attended by such wine luminaries as Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Sebastian Payne MW, Stephen Brook, Steven Spurrier (Decanter Magazine), Neal Martin (eRobertParker.com), Anthony Rose (The Independent), Michael Schuster (the World of Fine Wine) and Joss (not Josh) Fowler of vinolent.net (well worth a look)!
On November 15th 2011 nearly 400 private customers of Farr Vintners packed the Vintners Hall in the City of London to taste over 80 fine wines from our increasingly broad portfolio.
The late Edmund Penning-Rowsell (b1913, d 2002) was a fascinating man. A communist, yet the owner of a great cellar of fine wine. He is regarded as having been one of Britain’s leading wine writers and a great expert on the wines of Bordeaux. He was chairman of The Wine Society from 1964 to 1987 . He was the wine columnist for the Financial Times for 23 years and also wrote regularly for Marxism Today. His books include the seminal “The Wines of Bordeaux” which was first published in 1969.
As Thomas and Ben had spent the month of September picking grapes at Chateau Latour I thought that it would be good to see how they were getting on, get a quick snap-shot of the new vintage and re-taste a few 2010’s from barrel and, even more interesting, taste the finished 2009’s from bottle for the first time. I flew down to Bordeaux during the first week of October.
One of the most exciting discoveries for Farr Vintners this year has been that of Chateau Puech-Haut. We have now sold over 13,000 bottles of their “Cuvée Prestige” 2009 so a visit was well overdue. The property is situated in the foothills of the Cevennes mountains about 40 miles South-West of Chateauneuf du Pape. At the beginning of the 1980’s the land, formerly “garrigue” and olive groves, was purchased by Gerard Bru for whom Puech-Haut is a real labour of love. Indeed, a very long-term labour of love. He planted vines, mainly Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre in a terroir that resembles Chateauneuf with its large stones, known locally as “galets”. Subsequently a small parcel of 60 year old Carignan vines was also purchased. The vines that Bru planted (which are farmed organically) gradually matured, but until 1996 the grapes were sold off each year to the local co-operative. Only then did production finally start under the Chateau’s own label.
One of the highlights, for me, of any journey to the South of France is a trip to Beaugravière, conveniently situated a few miles off the autoroute, North of Orange. I was first introduced to this restaurant by François Perrin of Château de Beaucastel over 25 years ago and have been coming back on a regular basis ever since. The 3 bedrooms are, shall we say, "basic". The setting is completely unpretentious and a little noisy – the "route nationale" on one side and a train line on the other. The food is good, classic old school French with lots of truffles, but not fancy. The waiter wears a bow tie but we didn’t feel out of place in jeans and tee shirts.
With the Bordeaux en primeur campaign yet to get under way, we thought that we would make a quick trip to Burgundy this week to visit the exciting, and much talked about, new producer – Domaine d’Eugenie.
Today we headed in a different direction - over the "Entre Deux Mers" and up to Pomerol and Saint Emilion. First stop was the headquarters of Ets Jean-Pierre Moueix where Christian Moueix and his son Edouard greeted us with an all-star Pomerol line-up (and their two Saint Emilions - Magdelaine and Belair Monange). What a cracking tasting this was with the wonderful, plump, yet perfectly balanced Moueix wines. Trotanoy, La Fleur Petrus and Hosanna were all outstanding and Certan de May (not actually made by them but part of their portfolio) is at the same level. The erudite and charming Christian Moueix told us that 2010 was a vintage that needed "under-extraction" not "over-extraction" and that he had gone to great lengths not to exaggerate the vintage's tannins. If only some of the Saint Emilion producers with their 15 degree headbangers had listened to these wise words....
Day three began with a trip back up to Pauillac and a visit to our friends at Lynch Bages. There was a very smoky and exotic Villa Bel-Air on show here and an excellent Ormes de Pez but - wow - what a Lynch Bages! I asked Jean-Charles Cazes for a reference point and he said that it was the best since 1989 and 1990. Daniel Llose - who started making wine at Lynch in 1976 - said that this 2010 was off the charts and that it is the most powerful young wine that he had ever tasted here. When we read James Suckling's review last week we thought that he might have got a little carried away with his score.....well he didn't.
The Farr Vintners team was up at the crack of dawn today for a slow crawl up the back roads of the Médoc to our 9am start at....Lafite. Talk about setting the bar high. We were only starting the day with the world's (well OK, China's) most demanded wine!
The Farr Vintners en primeur tasting team this year is the biggest ever with a diverse range of ages, palates and tasting experience. Our "two wise men" are here again to offer us their wisdom and knowledge. Derek Smedley MW tasted his first en primeur vintage in 1961 and Barry Phillips bought his first case of wine - Lafite 1953 - as an eleven year old schoolboy! Their expertise in tasting raw young cask samples is invaluable to the younger members of our team.
Last week I was in Hong Kong for a very special dinner that we co-hosted with Bruno Borie, the proprietor of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou and “Monsieur Truffle” - Pierre-Jean Pébeyre. Check out Monsieur Truffle at www.pebeyre.com
We were delighted to read this review of Sam Weaver's Churton Wines in "Wandering Palate". It is our firm belief that Sam's Churton Vineyard is the best in Marlborough and as the vines mature (he now makes his wines entirely from his own grapes) the quality just gets better and better:
Just before Christmas 2010 a group of us assembled at Chez Bruce restaurant for a spectacular and unique tasting of forty vintages of Chateau La Conseillante. We were delighted to welcome winemaker Jean-Michel Laporte to snowy London and were also joined by wine critics James Suckling, Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson, Sommeliers Katie Exton and Luke Robertson, writers Julian Barnes and Tony Quinn and Barry Phillips, a wine trade wise man, who came dressed as Father Christmas.
Every year the leading wine buyers of the UK wine trade get together and organise a comprehensive blind tasting of the most recently released Bordeaux vintage. The tasting takes place at The Crown Hotel at Southwold in Suffolk and has been a regular event now for nearly 30 years.
Last week we were delighted to receive our old friend Hubert de Bouard at Farr Vintners for a chat and a tasting of some of his wines. Hubert has been making the wine at Chateau Angelus since the mid 1980's and he has undoubtedly transformed this property from a previous "also-ran" into one of the very top Chateaux of Saint Emilion, and indeed one of the best of the entire Bordeaux region.
First of all, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers and suppliers for their fantastic support in 2010. We are well aware that you all have a choice of where you buy and sell your fine wine and we really appreciate the fact that, for so many people around the world, Farr Vintners is their number one wine source. 2010 has been an amazingly successful year for us (our best ever!) with sales more than doubling from 2009's figure of £83 million to £169 million. This massive total was helped, of course, by record demand during the extraordinary 2009 en primeur campaign (which brought in sales of £62.8 million), our unique "Great British Cellar" sale from a leading UK collector, Asian demand for Lafite and its siblings and our recent hijacking of an enormous parcel of young Bordeaux that was destined for the USA but which was shipped instead to us in the UK and which we are now offering at knock-down prices.
Oliver East and I hopped on the Eurostar to Brussels at the end of last week for another of our annual First Growth dinners with Belgian friends, a group of real super-gastronomes! This time the venue was the great Restaurant Bruneau (www.bruneau.be) and the theme was Chateau Margaux.
Many congratulations to the 2010 Farr Vintners Christmas Quiz Champion, Richard Ross, who got an impressive score of 48/50. Richard beat last year's winner, Kurt Baker, into second place and he has kindly donated his prize to charity. Many thanks to all of you who took part and the best of luck next time!
Tuesday saw the annual Farr Vintners Christmas Tasting at the historic Vintners Hall in London. In attendance were some of the finest names in the wine world, including Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour, Jean-Guillaume Prats of Château Cos d'Estournel, Mélanie Tesseron of Château Pontet-Canet and Emeline Borie of Châteaux Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Haut-Batailley. We were also delighted to show wines from Zind-Humbrecht, Verget/Guffens-Heynen, William Fèvre, Peter Michael, Krug, Dom Pérignon, Nyetimber, Gosset, Beaucastel, and many, many more.
Last week we headed off to the Rhône Valley to see if the 2009 wines were shaping up to be as good as the talk that surrounds them. We were not let down.
Off to Paris for the weekend to attend the 30th anniversary of Willi's Wine Bar. We wander the streets of the 1er arrondissement on Saturday morning and thoughts turn to lunch. I sense that my wife is thinking of somewhere chic on the Champs Elysées or the Boulevard Saint Germain, but I have another destination in mind - ten stops away on metro route 13, deep in the Parisian suburbs. This is the equivalent of staying in Mayfair and deciding to have lunch in Croydon. What was I thinking of? Well, quite simply, while Sophie was trying on handbags in the Rue Saint Honoré , my one-track mind was thinking only of Coche-Dury. Homer Simpson dreams of doughnuts, I dream of Coche.
2003 Bordeaux was the theme as 16 of us sat down at 9.30 am last Friday to blind taste our way through the 100 top wines of the Medoc and Graves. Apart from assembling a comprehensive "who's who" of the left bank wines of Bordeaux, we had also put together an all-star tasting panel that included Jancis Robinson, James Suckling, Neal Martin and the vastly experienced Barry Phillips and Derek Smedley MW.
As a rule Farr Vintners sells wines that we know well from famous producers with famous vineyards in famous wine regions. Just now and again, something comes along from off the beaten track that really takes us by surprise...
A new feature at Crystal Palace this season will be the presentation of a bottle of Champagne to the Man of the Match courtesy of our friends at Moet et Chandon. The first bottle was presented on September 14th 2010 to James Vaughan (who had just joined the club on loan from Everton). James scored a brilliant hat-trick on his home debut at Selhurst Park, against Portsmouth. This was the first hat trick by a player making his debut at Selhurst Park since Peter Simpson in September 1929 against Norwich. Football was different in those days and Mr Simpson was probably lucky to celebrate with a bottle of brown ale.
The Crystal Palace Suite Last night was that great annual event - getting the dinner jacket out of the cupboard. With bow ties tied, George, Henry and I headed off to the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane for the International Wine Challenge's 2010 awards dinner. Before the dinner itself in the ballroom, the Merchant Awards were presented in the Crystal Palace Suite overlooking Hyde Park. With a name like Crystal Palace, it just had to be a lucky night!
With the August sun being seen for a few seconds recently, between cloud and rain, I thought that I would experiment with some blind white wine tastings.
Last Saturday saw the start of the Football League season and the first match for Crystal Palace under the new ownership of CPFC 2010 - a consortium of 4 people drawn together in a joint effort to save this famous football club (established in 1905) from extinction.
With the 2009 en primeur campaign winding down and our top ten biggest selling wines of the vintage now published, I decided to dash to Bordeaux to re-taste some our most successful 2009's and see how they have developed. I always think we taste them too early on in March/April and with an extra 4 months in barrel it would be fascinating to see how they have developed from our first, hurried look when we tasted nearly 300 wines in four days.
Where have all the blogs gone? Those who regularly read the Farr Vintners blogs might very well have been asking that question. With nothing published for the last six weeks you could assume that we've been putting our feet up but - far from it - June and July 2010 have been the two busiest months in the history of Farr Vintners! And the simple reason for that has been the extraordinary phenomenon that is 2009 Bordeaux.
OK, a confession, it was actually 25 years ago. In fact it was almost exactly 25 years ago. On June 26th 1985 Farr Vintners sold a bottle of Lafite 1811 for £12,000 in an auction at the Café Royal in London, beating the world record price of £8500 per bottle. It was quite a big story at the time and was featured on the ITN national news.
There are three questions that we are asked more than any others about 2009 Bordeaux. They are about quality, prices and allocations.
A week ago we released the Farr Vintners Vintage Report and Tasting Notes for 2009 Bordeaux. Such is the huge interest in this potentially great vintage that the immediate result was that our web site crashed because of the biggest number of "hits" that we ever experienced in one day. We have now upgraded the site both with extra power and also with additional tasting notes. Customers are invited to register their interest by placing "pre-orders" and "wish-lists".
The Farr Vintners formation tasting team headed en masse to Bordeaux last week to taste the 2009 vintage. The London sales and purchasing department was joined by Jo and Jessica who arrived overnight from Hong Kong, Barry Phillips (our guru and mentor from Chilgrove) and photographer Colin whose work will shortly be illustrating our web site.
Last week Tom, Oliver and I spent a day in Burgundy visiting our most important supplier there, Jean-Marie Guffens. Jean-Marie was once described (by Robert Parker no less) as being "the world's greatest Chardonnay wine-maker" and a visit to his Verget cellars is always one of the highlights of our year.
We have today learnt that one of France's most famous white wines will be changing its name from the 2009 vintage. Laville Haut Brion is possibly the world's finest and most famous dry white wine that is made primarily from the Semillon grape variety (the blend in 2008 was 79% Semillon, 21% Sauvignon Blanc). It's certainly the world's most expensive dry Semillon with a release price en primeur last year of £2600 per dozen. Haut Brion Blanc is, by the way, a 50:50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
With the Chinese New Year approaching, the hugely successful Farr Vintners Asia office in Hong Kong currently has strong demand from mainland China for all vintages of Château Lafite. With prices having risen dramatically in the past couple of years, now may well prove to be a very good time to sell any stocks of Lafite that you might be holding. What is for sure is that current Lafite prices are now too heady for almost all European and US buyers and it would appear that nearly every case of Lafite on the world market is heading for China.
The very first vintage of Kumeu River Chardonnay that I tasted was the 1987 and I was so impressed with it that we placed our first ex cellars order soon after. Farr Vintners has imported every vintage produced since then. It's a wine that I have served blind countless times and even people who have fallen for it before still identify it as White Burgundy. My first visit to Kumeu was in January 1990 and 20 years on - almost to the day - here I am again, heading out of Auckland to see New Zealand's King of Chardonnay - Michael Brajkovich MW.
Sam Weaver is a man who has done what many of us would love to do, but would never dare. He left his 9 to 5 job in London, set off to the other side of the world with his young family, and learnt how to make wine. His labour of love is only now just coming to full fruition after 20 years of planning and hard work.
If you live in London and plan to visit a winery then the longest journey possible is to the Bannockburn region in Central Otago in New Zealand's South Island. This is the Southern-most vineyard region in the world and the next stop below here is Antartica.
Whilst no one got full marks in our Christmas Quiz, our congratulations and a Jeroboam of Bollinger must go to Kurt Baker who won with a remarkable 49/50, which we think you’ll agree is a pretty impressive score for such a tough quiz.
With the extraordinary surge of interest in (and prices of) Chateau Lafite Rothschild it seemed appropriate to arrange a comprehensive tasting of recent vintages. Oliver East and I travelled to Belgium last week where a "bring a bottle" tasting was organised featuring all the important vintages from 2006 back to 1982 and three older years. The same group of people tasted a similar range of Haut Brion last year, Cheval Blanc two years ago and Latour three years ago.
There was a review on www.decanter.com last week of the new Galvin brothers restaurant, "La Chapelle", in Spitalfields. Not suprisingly, it lists Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle on the wine list. They apparently offer the rather mediocre 1994 vintage at a staggering £360 per bottle (plus service charge). This is a wine that is available retail at about £40.
Customers often ask us how we choose the wines that Farr Vintners sells. To a certain extent the choice is simple as our number one goal is to offer great and famous wines to our customers at the best possible prices. Consequently, when a case of Petrus, Latour or Richebourg is offered to us it's not a question of "if" we want it but only a question of deciding on the price at which we think we can sell it, and then taking a small margin for Farr Vintners. As most of you know, we sell wines on a flat 10% commission for those not in a hurry for payment or buy outright at around a 20% margin if the vendor is looking for a cash sale. Most classic wines have a market price and we always try to find a good balance where both supplier and customer are happy with the deal.
Last night we held a tasting at the historic Vintners' Hall in the City of London for some of our private customers. The event was a huge success with over 350 people attending and 82 wines on tasting, ranging from Churton's 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc back to a 1937 Vin Doux Naturel from Maury in South West France.
Last week I was very privileged to be asked onto the 3 man tasting panel of "The World of Fine Wine" magazine. The subject matter was one of my favourites - 2005 Bordeaux and, as you can imagine, like most people reading this, I didn't have to be asked twice. My fellow panelists were the wine writer Stephen Brook (author of "The Complete Bordeaux" and numerous other wine and travel books) and wine educator and super-taster Michael Schuster.
Today the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux rolled into town to show their 2007's for the first time since this controversial vintage was bottled.
Off to our favourite local restaurant for lunch with George and three visitors from France. Ransome's Dock has been Battersea's best restaurant since it opened in the early 1990's. Martin and Vanessa Lam serve delicious "Modern British" food and boast a brilliant international wine list (current AA restaurant wine list of the year). It's held many a Farr Vintners tasting over the years and was also where I met my wife - but that's another story. Ingredients are carefully sourced here from small independent farmers and fishermen and perfectly cooked with no fancy frills. This is a proper restaurant serving proper food, un-poncy and un-trendy and highly recommended by the Farr Vintners team.
On Friday October 9th Farr Vintners held a comprehensive tasting of the 2002 Red Bordeaux vintage. We showed the wines of the 120 leading Chateaux which were served blind in 10 flights of 12. Our panel of experts included Jancis Robinson MW, Derek Smedley MW, Steven Spurrier of Decanter Magazine and Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate. We also had 2 winemakers with us, 4 Bordeaux "negociants" - led by the hugely experienced France Chauvin - and UK wine trade gurus Roy Richards and Barry Phillips.
We recently took part in a fabulous tasting of 33 vintages of Lynch Bages, including every single wine produced from 2006 to 1980 and then a few older bottles. These were tasted at Cordeillan Bages, just a few hundred metres down the road, with members of the Cazes family, their wine-making team and a few friends from Bordeaux.
Contrasting wine-making styles, personalities and cellar conditions were brought home to me on a recent visit to the Rhône valley.
Those who follow the fine wine market will probably have noticed the remarkable recent rise in price of Carruades de Lafite, the second wine of the famous First Growth. The meteoric price increases have resulted in an extraordinary situation where some vintages are now changing hands for more money than First Growths themselves. Farr Vintners recently sold the 2004 vintage (our rating 15/20) for a higher price than we currently sell Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion or Cheval Blanc. The 2000 vintage is now selling for over ten times the price at which we sold it to our customers en primeur in June 2001.
It's early evening in mid September. It should have been a balmy evening as we wandered down the Uxbridge Road from Shepherd's Bush Green but it wasn't. It was absolutely tipping down with rain. Real rain of the cats and dogs variety. Being a Crystal Palace supporter means visits to some far flung football grounds in all corners of Britain and some fairly dodgy pubs - I don't suppose that many Farr Vintners customers have been to Burnley, Port Vale or even Millwall. Anyway September 15th was QPR away and a rare London Derby so that's why we were getting soaked in W12.
Oliver East and I recently jumped aboard the Eurostar to Brussels on our way to one of the world's greatest restaurants. Hof Van Cleve turned out to be nowhere near Brussels and in fact pretty much slap-bang in the middle of nowhere at all. However, it was well worth the journey as the food was absolutely amazing. Hof Van Cleve is the proud holder of 3 michelin stars (only 1 other restaurant in Belgium has 3 stars) and ranked 26 in the world's 100 best restaurants.
Mondragon is not a holiday destination. This little French town is situated south of Montélimar (world capital of nougat) and east of the famous Gorges de l'Ardèche through which I would thoroughly recommend a down-river "escapade" by kayak.
Last night Henry Matson and I put on our black ties and headed for The Grosvenor House in Park Lane for the annual IWC Wine Awards. As I don't actually own a black tie, this involved borrowing Tom Hudson's bow tie which only took about 15 minutes of origami-like folding and manipulating to get into a vaguely recognisable shape.