I always leave too much time to to get to St Emilion and this morning was no different. I found myself on the town's outskirts with half-an-hour to kill before my appointment at Chateau Ausone, thus I gave a left hand down and turned into the gateway of the cluster of buildings that make up Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere where, every year, Count Stefan von Niepperg permits the visiting taster to sample a range of his wines.
I was on the hop and tasted briskly. Chateaux Cap de Faugeres, Faugeres and Peby Faugeres? followed a welcome look at the dry wine of the Sauternes property Chateau Guiraud, again very good indeed this vintage. The Faugeres team were very good, although the Faugeres itself was pretty swingeingly tannic in its youth.
Then, moving on, I took in a couple of new Niepperg wines before promoting myself to the top table laden with the Niepperg stable's top thoroughbreds: Clos Marsalette, Aiguilhe, Clos de l'Oratoire, Canon La Gaffeliere itself and the mighty La Mondotte. These I admire very much this year. They seem to have an extra slice of seriousness about them: more restraint, better freshness, less (in modern parlance) bling.
Up to Ausone. Why to I always insist on driving up to this property, pointing the car up the impossibly steep single track road, meeting descending vehicles and the ensuing complicated manoevering the likely outcome? I would be better off to leave the car below and utilise shanks's pony.
In any event, wines here are now made by Alain Vautier's charming daughter and I find them pretty ravishing. On mademoiselle's watch, they have become increasingly elegant. Ausone and its second wine Chapelle are sheer class in '11.
From Ausone, to Vieux Chateau Certan. Staggeringly beautiful wine here. Cabernet Franc was a resounding success, thus Alexandre Thienpont upped the propertion of this grape in the final blend. Boy, is this super-fine.
Girding whatever strength I could, I headed for the UGC St Emilion tasting that, this vintage, took place at Chateau Soutard. This event is always hard graft and so it was today. The level of tannins in some of the wines adheres to one's palate and can cloud one's judgement of the next sample. Regular nibbles on a piece of baguette are required to mop up this purple detritus. Still, I think I came away with a fair idea of where the quality lies. Frustratingly, there are proprietors in this appellation who pick too late and still one finds flat wines that'll only ever be flat and dried out.
The Pomerol UGC at Beauregard followed (stars: Conseillante; Gazin; Clinet; La Pointe; Beauregard itself), then a side-trip to Chateau Canon, now refusing to show at the UGC. This is no great hardship, as the property is easy to get to and absolutely beautiful. The wine in '11 is a luminous stunner.
From there, I headed back down town to the tastinbg of Jean-Luc Thunevin, a man who consults at a great many properties in the Libournais and beyond. I reallly went to taste the 2010 Meursault of Buisson-Charles, an estate from which we buy each vintage and, happily takes a table at this tasting. The 2010s are absolutely fabulous and we still have a few cases remaining. Ask if interested.
And last of all, but far from least, Cheval-Blanc. A new St Emilion chateau has been acquired: Quinault l'Enclos. We tasted this first, moving on to La Tour du Pin, Petit Cheval and the grand vin. Engaging, wonderful elegance is the style this year. This was a very beautiful set of wines.
Finally, into an ante-room and there, resplendent in its golden livery, a sample of 2011 Chateau d'Yquem. It's fascinating to see the changes in style that each vintage bring to this wine and this year, we have a super-sweet example (more than 140 grams per litre of residual sugar), yet a wine that is all its parts - botrytis, minerality and that fruit - are uber-clean and clearly stated. To sip 2011 Yquem is to ingest sunlight. How can one avoid moments of happiness in such a situation?
Off to dinner now, and tomorrow I will rise and drive east once more, stopping at Chateau Teyssier in St Emilion on my way to Bergerac airport and the flight to Southampton. I am looking forward to hearing about the excitement experienced here when Robert Parker's vastly elevated recent scores for their 2009 vintage were announced. Maybe they'll hvae a few back vintages open for sampling!