I'm telling you, these guys weren't kidding because nothing can prepare you for how crazy Bordeaux can be during en primeur. My mouth has been seared by tannins all week and I got tons more sleep with an infant that gets up every hour than I'm getting here. A belly full of steak, duck and foie gras helps a little bit, but this has been an over-the-top adventure and we've been working at break-neck speeds (speaking of which, what is it about European roads that brings out the racecar driver mentality in our group? Mario Andretti hasn't got anything on our guys behind the wheel!).
Anyhow, despite keeping this hectic pace since we arrived on Saturday, the moment we were truly waiting for finally presented itself on Tuesday - the chance to try nearly 200 wines from the 2008 vintage. The tastings were held in the warehouse space of the highly successful negotiant firm, Joanne. I think that JJ Buckley has got a seriously impressive warehouse and our guys do a great job back there, but this place was like our warehouse on steroids. Five levels high with pallets stacked all the way up, there were rows of wine as far as the eye could see. Cool and dark, it was like stepping into an exquisitely maintained cave and the smell of original wood cases permeated the air.
We were ushered into our own private tasting area enclosed by drapes hanging over the rafters. A clean, white table with glasses and spit buckets lined up were waiting for us. Lest we spill any wine on ourselves, individual aprons were provided with our initials and the Joanne logo emblazoned on the chest. We had a serious task ahead of us, but I could not have asked for more orderly and convenient conditions. Truly a treat.
And so it was that the time had come to dive into tasting. Little carts holding a case of opened half-bottles were wheeled in and we began with a flurry of swirling, smelling, sipping and spitting. Within minutes our teeth and lips were stained purple, heated discussions ensued, and notes were furiously scribbled.
The first few hours passed and with the hurried pace and lack of sleep catching up with me, I immediately caught a second wind when it was announced that the renowned Bordelais winemaker/consultant Stephane Derenoncourt was going to be joining our group. This man has established a great reputation though his work with many chateaux in Bordeaux (Pavie-Macquin, Canon La Gaffeliere, Bienfaisance and La Mondotte to name a few) as well as properties in California and a new endeavour in Virginia.
We had the pleasure to taste through a dozen of 2008 wines that he has contributed to and his insight on the vintage was immeasurable. He went into detail about the cold winter followed by cool and damp conditions throughout the summer. The rain was excessive, to the point that it was going to be very difficult to make any wine, much less ones that were any good. The improved weather in September and October was a godsend to the vintage. Merlot grapes ripened the best, and many wines heavy in this varietal are clearly the standouts. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were more difficult, but for a talent like Derenoncourt high-quality wines easily possible.
Overall, I got the impression that this was going to be a very good vintage and from what I've tasted, especially Stephane's wines, I feel like the quality is there. He mentioned that for the most part, 2008 displays wines with good acidity. Furthermore, vineyards with limestone soils that drained well did better than clay. The Merlot crop was already pretty good because of the weather, but Derenoncourt explained that Merlot (and Cab Franc) love limestone soils. While sandy soils produce grapes that are very aromatic, it's the limestone that really brings everything together - you get lovely elements of dark berries, lavender, violet and spice.
Lunch followed Stephane's visit and we were treated to a delectable plate of amuse bouches and Champagne. If you're going to take a break, you better do it right! We jumped right back in after lunch and plowed our way through every commune's wines. Finishing with white Bordeaux and Sauternes was very nice (I'm such a sucker for these wines) especially after sampling well over 100 reds in an 8 hour period.
I've included notes below on the regions I chose to focus on, but I'm rather encouraged by everything that I've had to taste from 2008. This has really been a once in a lifetime experience, both the day spent at this fantastic tasting and the trip overall.
But I'm going to sleep now because this all starts again in just a few hours!
2008 Grand Puy Ducasse - Very pure nose, with notes of blackberry, pencil lead and stone. Nice entry, medium body and nice red fruit on the palate. Moderate length and showing a fair amount of grip, at this point the tannins are still a little coarse but once resolved this should develop some elegance. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Lynch Moussas - Showing a relatively developed nose of currant and tobacco this feels like it will be approachable early. Medium body and length. Although there is a pleasing anise aspect on the back palate there is a bit of a green streak in this wine and it finish is a touch bitter and short. 84-86 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Haut Bages Liberal - The nose was rather closed at this time, but spice plum and raspberry jam aromas are present. Decent weight and body, but unquestionably green and tannic with a tart, clipped finish full of gritty tannin. 83-85 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Haut Batailley - A wonderfully bright and fresh nose full of strawberry and raspberry aromas. This is very clean, showing great fruit purity, balance and good body. An adequate amount of tannin rounds out this pleasing Pauillac. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 d'Armailhac - Lightly perfumed nose with elements of clove, cinnamon and cherry. Cherry and currant flavors play out on the palate but a green aspect and aggressive tannins detract from the fruit. 85-87 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Clerc Milon - A remarkably developed nose with big and bold aromas of cherry, cassis and graphite. A nice dose of minerality and dust on the palate plays well with the fruit. Finishes with a firm grip and beautiful length. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Grand Puy Lacoste - The nose is driven by minerals, clearly some graphite and lead mixing with notes of red berries, cherry and tobacco. Smooth and sweet entry with nice balance and just the right amount of tannin on the lingering finish. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Le Petit Mouton - Showing an almost Rhone-like nose with an interesting combination of game and blackberry aromas. Medium weight, with juicy red fruit and a bit of vanilla and spice on the finish, though it ends rather abruptly. 86-88 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Pichon Lalande - Attractive aromas that blend notes of mint and rosemary with bold red fruits. This is extremely big, full and round on the palate but there is definitely a balance as well. A nice surprise, however the tannins will certainly need to resolve themselves a bit before this really starts to show its potential. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Pichon Baron - Concentrated color, with a complex and deep nose of blackberry and oak notes. This is rather big and massive on the palate, yet there's a degree of grace as well. Unfortunately, the tannins are slightly astringent and this takes away from some of the better aspects of this wine. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Les Forts de Latour - 66.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.5% Merlot, 2% P.V.; 47% of the vintage was used to produce this wine. A rich and classic nose of cedar, cigar, raspberry and a touch of pepper. A decidedly chalky, earthy element on the palate, this finishes a bit on the rough side as the tannins have considerable bite. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Pontet Canet - This reveals great purity and freshness from the start. The aromas are exceptionally clean with notes of blackberry, earth and rocks. Bold and lush on the palate this has a modern feel in contrast to other wines from the region. Very enjoyable overall with decent grip and a lengthy finish. 90-92 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
Overall impressions of this vintage for the region: The wines of Pauillac in 2008 are for the most part very classic and traditionally styled. Though harvests for all of Bordeaux were much later than usual, the weather in Pauillac seems to have produced grapes that were neither under nor over ripe and this translates in the sampled wines.
ST. EMILION GRAND CRU CLASSE
2008 Tertre Daugay - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). This chateau is under the same ownership as La Gaffeliere. A big and bold nose with deep, black fruit aromas as well as lighter floral notes. A soft, smooth entry with a touch of spice on the front palate this wine has very good acidity. Overall, quite balanced and structured with a moderate finish. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Clos de l'Oratoire - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). The vineyard is planted on a north facing hill which does not receive that much sun exposure. However the sand and clay soil retains heat and the slope has great drainage - advantageous conditions for the grapes. This unique site produces wines with exceptional aromatics. This has a very perfumed nose with delicate lavender and rose aromas as well as a subtle note of smoke. Light to medium body with a nice pleasing finish, it's an understated wine that does not win you over by being overtly forward, it's just simple, gentle and graceful. 86-88 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Clos St. Martin - Cloves and light berry notes are present on the nose. Rather ripe and big, there is a nice mineral component, chocolate and spice notes, with low acidity and light tannins. Finishes with a pleasing note of caramel. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 La Gaffeliere - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). The nose reveals aromas of sweet tea and berries. This has a nice, graceful entry, medium body and finishes with big, round tannins. A good mix of tobacco and red fruit in this classy and masculine wine. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Beausejour Becot - A bright nose with wild berry aromas that mingle with notes of anise and mint. Really good body here and a palate full of rich fruit and brambles. The tannins are well integrated. A balanced effort with good length. Quite simply a complete wine. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Clos Fourtet - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt - this is the first vintage with him consulting). 80% Merlot, remainder a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Wildflowers, rose and mineral aromas. Showing well today with a smooth entry, juicy (almost opulent) fruit and tannins that are quite resolved. Good effort! 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Pavie Macquin - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). From a 15ha vineyard, while small in relation to many areas of the Left Bank, for St. Emilion this is quite large (according to Derenoncourt, the average size of many vineyards in St. Emilion is around 5ha, giving it a feel of 'Burgundy in Bordeaux'.) This is rich and pure right off the bat with full aromas of blackberry, cherry and chocolate. This follows on the palate where it displays great balance and length. Espresso and anise notes come in on the back palate and linger on the beautiful finish. 91-93 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Canon La Gaffeliere - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). Starts out with a complex and gorgeous nose of ripe dark fruit, racy minerality, and flowers. This has some serious weight and a great core of fruit. Exceptional length here, chocolate crème notes find their way into the finish and integrated tannins round this wine out. Awesome! 91-93 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Figeac - This begins with attractive blackberry and black cherry aromas. However, it's rather tight on the palate, showing tart fruit and rough tannins. I was hoping for more based on the nose, so I'm hoping this will find more balance with time. 84-86 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Larcis Ducasse - (Tasted with Stephane Derenoncourt). Located very close to Pavie, Dernoncourt explained that this property may have the best terroir in St. Emilion. An exceptional nose with great complexity - enchanting notes of fresh blackberry, cherry, flowers, and chocolate just spill from the glass. Very clean and showing great purity the dark fruit flavors are deep and rich. The tannins are very well integrated. A beautiful wine that will be immediately pleasurable and will hopefully get better with age. 93-95 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Troplong Mondot - There are elements mint and eucalyptus in addition to cherries on the nose. Rather soft and thin on the palate tart berry flavors and a hint of anise, the tannins are overpowering and the finish is brief. 84-86 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Angelus - The nose reveals some complexity with aromas of strawberry, earth and tar. The entry is soft and smooth and there's an attractive depth to the flavors, but the tannins are a tad coarse at this time. Could be very good with just a little more time. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
Overall impressions of this vintage for the region: St. Emilion, as with other Right Bank regions, seems to have faired much better than the majority of the Left Bank. Less rain here than in the Medoc was beneficial to these predominantly Merlot based wines and this varietal ripened very well in the last month before harvest. The result seems to be smooth, lush wines that are going to be very approachable and display great purity of fruit. Easily one of top (if not the best) region in Bordeaux for 2008.
2008 De Myrat - Light gold in color. This has a beautiful nose of apricot, pineapple and orange marmalade. Quite concentrated flavors of citrus fruit and moderate length. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Doisy-Vedrines - Light apple and citrus fruit come through on the slightly subdued nose. However, this gets better and builds on the palate with rich, creamy flavors of citrus and orchard fruit balanced by good acidity. Culminates in a fantastic and persistent finish. 90-92 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Doisy Daene - Apricot, pear and tangerine aromas are complimented by a touch of honey. There's an element of minerality on the palate that offsets the richness of fruit. Good length as well. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Coutet - A big punch of pineapple and peach aromas lead the way on this fruit forward Sauternes. Abundant citrus fruit on the palate but a little flabby overall and a tad hot on the finish. 86-87 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Guiraud - This has a pretty nose of peach, citrus and tropical fruit with a touch of honey. Mango, pineapple and crème flavors are balanced but not overly complex and the finish is moderate. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 Suduiraut - Very unique, this has a great nose with complex aromas of tropical fruit that meld well with pear and floral notes. Great balance between the weight and acidity, there is a pronounced honey flavor rounding out the fruit on the palate. A very complete wine and a real pleasure. 92-94 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines
2008 De Fargues - A bright nose featuring notes of oranges, pear and white flowers. Nice and rich flavors of honey, citrus, pineapple and crème brulee are precise and acidity balances the viscosity of the wine. 88-90 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines