Château Troplong Mondot has produced one of the more divisive wines in Bordeaux over the last quarter of a century. The full-blooded, ripe, inky, high-alcohol and fully-extracted style drew three-digit scores from many critics and scorn from others. With a traditionally British palate, I have found these wines impressive to taste in some vintages, though never something I would drink, or buy, myself; a tasting pour has always been more than enough. There has, however, been a seismic change since 2017, when Aymeric de Gironde was brought in to manage the estate. The results are already impressive, with changes in all aspects promising even more to come.
Nyetimber's Tillington Vineyard produces arguably the greatest wine in England; we have been supporters, and fans, of the wine since the first vintage was cautiously released nearly a decade ago. With the release of the 2014 vintage imminent, Brad Greatrix (who makes the wines alongside his wife Cherie Spriggs) came to Farr Vintners for the first vertical tasting outside the property of the first four vintages of this wine: 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
One of the joys in being part of both the Southwold and Ten Years On tasting groups is the middle night dinner, where members bring special bottles from their own cellars based on a specific theme. This year, the 2012 Ten Years On tasting gave us a great excuse to look at the legendary 1982 vintage forty years on. This was an exciting prospect, particularly for me, as I have had much less exposure to these wines than the more senior members of the group. It is well known that 1982 launched Robert Parker’s career when he hailed the ripe, seductive style as a great vintage. Of course, he was not alone in that view, though there were dissenting voices concerned with the ripeness of fruit and tannin paired with low(er) acidities that could affect the longevity of the vintage.
The annual “Ten Years On” blind tasting returned to its normal schedule after recent delays due to the pandemic. This year we looked at the 2012s, with 2018 Southwold fresh in our minds.
Grower Champagne is now firmly established as a source of great, individual wines that offer something different to the grandes marques that have dominated sales and production in the region for so long. The concept of owning, farming and then making wine is not a stretch in most regions (and, indeed, many of the larger houses in Champagne own at least some vineyards from which they make wine), but the focus on quality of fruit and effort in the vineyard to produce high quality sparkling wine is the essence of these wines. In a recent visit to Egly-Ouriet, it was possible to see just how much work Francis Egly has put into every aspect of his wines, resulting in a recent 100-point score for his magnificent 2008 Millésime. I drank this wine recently in Spain, and it is an absolutely stunning offering, well worth its perfect score with ample richness to match the hallmark ’08 acidic tension. A profound champagne worthy of patience in the cellar.
The Southwold Group has tasted the top wines of Bordeaux from the latest physically available vintage together for over 40 years. This used to take place – as the group’s name suggests – in Southwold in Suffolk, but it has now moved to Farr Vintners where we taste in a purpose-built modern tasting room. As a fairly recent member 2018 is my sixth Southwold, and the ninth vintage that I tasted en primeur.
The following blog was written before the sudden passing of Eloi Dürrbach in November but has been edited following the sad news. Eloi's work and vision made Trevallon one of the great and best-known wines of France, which will rightly continue under his family's stewardship.
William Kelley has achieved a lot in his short career in wine. In 2015, time spent producing wine in California turned to a permanent writing role at Decanter (alongside pieces written for Noble Rot and The Robb Report). By 2018 he was snapped up by The Wine Advocate to focus on Burgundy and Champagne, as well as the California coast. Multiple writing awards and nominations have followed, and there are two embryonic wines being made in Burgundy.
The dinner between the Southwold tasting days is always a highlight of the week, and often the year. After nine hours of tasting young - often highly tannic - red Bordeaux, you might think the last thing needed would be more wine. But, perhaps after a cleansing beer, these dinners can re-invigorate the palate and mind. Every year there is a theme; be it region, vintage, variety or other. This year, the wines took on the concept of the Judgement of Paris tasting, in honour of the late Steven Spurrier. Southwold 2017 is the first vintage without Steven since his passing earlier this year. What better way to toast to his memory than with a comparative tasting of American and French wines, much as he did to send shockwaves through the industry in 1976.
Unlike many in the wine world, the Brajkovich family are not known for over-hyping the quality of their wines at Kumeu River. Despite consistently high praise in critical review for Chardonnays that are – in our opinion – world class, the prices and people behind the wines have remained remarkably modest. And so, when Michael Brajkovich told us that 2020 might be the best vintage he has ever made, we took it very seriously. Could the new vintage possibly top the unquestionably great 2019s?
The 2011 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign was destined to struggle. It followed two great vintages in 2009 and 2010 – meaning that most Bordeaux lovers were already over-stocked with superb wines. On top of this, the market was in the middle of a correction from peaks the previous summer, and many châteaux simply did not reduce their prices close to the required level in order to entice buyers for the new vintage. Furthermore, the wines were difficult to taste En Primeur, presenting a tannic and closed profile. As a result, those with too much wine were offered an expensive vintage with mediocre reviews from critics and merchants alike. 2011s were quickly forgotten in favour of the charming, forward and lower-priced 2012s. But now, things are changing.
Jean-Marie Guffens needs little introduction to our customers. The maverick Belgian vigneron has produced outstanding, great value wines for decades through his Domaine Guffens-Heynen and négociant Maison Verget. These wines are now almost exclusively from the Maconnais, from old vines and great sites overlooked by those with tunnel vision for the Côte d’Or. Please see our in-depth profile on Jean-Marie from the definitive vertical of his wines, hosted by Farr Vintners.
Once every so often a tasting redefines the standard by which all future tastings will be judged. This can be due to the organisation, collation of scores or notes, quality of the wines or general tasting atmosphere amongst other things. At a recent vertical of Château Latour, held in the depths of their chai, this was the case in so many ways. We were there to celebrate Stephen Browett’s 60th Birthday, and the Château had kindly arranged for us to taste 20 consecutive vintages blind in magnum under the stewardship of Frédéric Engerer and Jean Garandeau. We would taste the most recent vintages – 1999 to 2018 inclusive – all of which were made since Engerer became the CEO of the estate, and more recently the entire Artemis wine portfolio.
Jean-Marie Guffens left Flanders in 1976 with his wife Maine and headed to Burgundy. Following studies in viticulture and winemaking, they bought a few plots in the Maconnais to make a wine of their own. These vines from Pierreclos are the foundation of Domaine Guffens-Heynen, with Jean-Marie slowly purchasing further plots across the region that champion less lauded vineyards that lie south of the Cote de Beaune.
Stephen Browett first visited Kumeu River Winery - and met winemaker Michael Brajkovich - in January 1990 on a visit to Auckland. He’d been tipped off about a new Chardonnay producer (first vintage 1985) by Barry Phillips who had bought the 1987 for the wine list of the legendary White Horse Inn at Chilgrove. After tasting the 1989 vintage from barrel he placed an order - Farr Vintners has shipped every vintage since then.
With the harvest finished on Monday and the ‘Gerbaude’ festival on the Tuesday, we started working for the château in the fermentation rooms on Wednesday. We were now to learn and be involved in the winemaking process with the grapes picked and sorted; the turning of grape juice into wine!
With the harvest over, last Thursday we made some chateau visits in order to explore the Medoc further. First we went back to Lafon Rochet where Basile gave us a tour of the chateau, letting us taste the juice from the unfermented rosé (for their label Lafon Roset), which was delicious and very easy drinking.
This week we finished the Cabernet Sauvignon and with it the entire harvest at Latour. At 7.30pm on Monday 26th September the last grapes were picked, packed and sent back to the Chateau. After 15 solid days of picking, the team had managed to harvest the entire 2011 crop without a break, and there were exhausted smiles all over the fields. I imagine that not only was this one of the earliest harvest but also one of the quickest.
Last Monday the big Cabernet harvest started, which confirms that the harvest will be over by the end of September. We started by picking the young vines on Monday in weather more unpredictable than an England Rugby World Cup performance. On Tuesday we took on more pickers and carriers for the large number of Cabernet vines inside and outside the “enclos” which were deemed ripe enough to be picked.
Merlot Harvest at Château Latour
Last Sunday Ben and I went to visit Denis Durantou in Pomerol at his home, Château L’Eglise Clinet. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have a great fondness for his wines, due to the skill of wine making, and the freshness that all his wines have. We met Denis outside in the vineyard and we went walking through the vines as he was deciding whether it was time to pick the Merlot. This was a great chance to learn from a Pomerol master. The previous week he had picked the grapes for his ‘Les Cruzelles’ label from the younger vines.
This is the first blog from Farr Vintners’ "Boys in Bordeaux". Thomas Parker is, along with eighteen year old Ben Browett (the eldest son of our Chairman), at Château Latour to take part in the harvest of the 2011 vintage. They left London a week ago and, after a week’s preparation, were due to start picking Merlot grapes today, Monday 12th September. We hope to publish more blogs from Thomas and Ben as the harvest progresses.