Did Reignac Reign Superior?

by Chuck Hayward

Did Reignac Reign Superior?

Post by Chuck Hayward | November 19th, 2010

With the 2010 harvest just completed in Bordeaux, chateau and estate owners are back on the road introducing themselves to new clients/ markets and revisiting those who have supported their wines in the past. Yet the nature of how Bordeaux is sold means the Bordelais do not visit here as often as winemakers from other countries. Some six to nine months after the harvest, many chateaux sell their wines to negociants, who then sell it to US importers. At that point, the chateau no longer owns the wine, so the responsibilities for promotion and education have been left to the importers or the Bordeaux trade association by default.

Yves Vatelot (c) talks with JJ Buckley employees Jeff Loo (l) & Farley Walker (r)

Today, however, most of the traditional Bordeaux importers are no longer participating in the market.  Now that retailers are going directly to the negociants in France, some chateau owners realize that it will be up to them to reacquaint loyal followers of past vintages while introducing their wines to new customers. Following JJ Buckley's visit to the en primeur tastings last spring, the staff wanted to ensure our customers had the opportunity to meet important winemakers and owners in Bordeaux. And we could think of no better way to start than with Yves Vatelot of Chateau Reignac, one of the most charismatic owners we encountered during our visit.

Margaux, Reignac, Latour & Haut Brion

A couple weeks ago at the Campton Place Hotel, Yves presided over a blind tasting where we tasted his 2006 estate release against three First Growth releases from the same vintage. A chance to taste Chateau Margaux, Latour and Haut Brion filled the reservation list pretty quickly. Before we set about sampling the four wines, Yves gave the audience some background about the property. The estate shares soils that are similar to both St. Emilion and Graves, which makes sense as it lies equidistant between the Left and Right Banks. As for the cepage, it is traditionally 75% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon.

This was not the first time that Reignac has been placed in the company of more prestigious Bordeaux estates. Five times Reignac has been part of blind tasting where 80 Bordeaux estates, including highly ranked properties from the Left and Right Bank, are assessed and ranked by an international panel of critics. As Yves observed, "the idea is not to determine a winner or loser but to know that Reignac can rank with the best." That point has been confirmed in those tastings where Reignac has been ranked between 5th and 27th.

At our event, the structured nature of the 2006 harvest was evident among the four wines which showed a firm and compact flavor profile. These tightly wound wines took a little time, but they came around with breadth and softness. A show of hands marked the Latour and Haut Brion as top picks. The Reignac came in third, followed by a few scattered votes for the Margaux—my own favorite for its softness and approachability. The hands-down winner for many, though, was the superb 2005 Reignac, which we also tasted, as it demonstrated the superior qualities of the 2005 vintage. Broad and complex, this wine pleased all the senses (and the budget conscious, at only $25.99) and will continue to reward for another five to eight years.

Yves Vatelot discusses Reignac with JJB customer Alan Rath

Before Yves left, we had a chance to taste some Reignac barrel samples from the acclaimed 2009 vintage. It will be years before we will see them, but even in their youth these wines showed excellent concentration and lush textures. The conversation then turned to the 2010s, which were just harvested. Yves thought the year showed great potential and declared, "this will be a rare and excellent vintage. Excellent years back-to-back have only occurred a few times: 1928 and 1929, 1961 and 1962. It looks very promising."

Will it be the same for 2009 and 2010? We'll find out next spring when the JJ Buckley staff returns to Bordeaux.