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So Tired; Sauternes

Chateau Gruaud-Larose, seen from Branaire-Ducru

Another crisp morning, but this one after a semi-sleepless night and an unwilling awakening. Sleep left me at 01h45 an I struggled to get back under for the next three hours, eventually resorting to reading my book for a while. Whether this was the effect of the gesiers salad I had had for dinner, I know not.

I overslept and was thus late for my meeting at Chateau Margaux and similalry tardy for my next appointment at Chateau Palmer. Both produced excellent tastings; both have made superb wines in the vintage. I was starting to warm to the task in hand.

From Palmer, I headed off to Chateau Marquis de Terme, where the Margaux Union des Grands Crus tasting was being hosted.

Some days, tasting is a struggle and one has to concentrate super-hard - even return to a number of wines for a retaste - to get the full measure of the samples with which one is presented. Not today. My palate felt sharp and I came away thinking that I had assessed the wines very well.

Praise be! There is a great deal to like in the Margaux appellation. This is a tasting I usually approach having crossed myself and made an offering to whatever gods I can think of at that given moment. Such trepidation was unfounded today. The culmination of the tasting was a superb lunch laid on by the chateau. Guests were welcomed with a glass of Philipponnat champagne and the red wines to accompany lunch were the 1985, 1995 and 2005 vintages of the host chateau. I majored (well, had a glass anyway) on the 1985: a mature, cedary claret exhibiting good fruit; claret of the old school, my lunching partner declared it.

From Margaux, I headed off to St Julien and Chateau Branaire-Ducru which, with Beychevelle, forms the southern gateway to the appellation. It is at Branaire that the wines of St Estephe, Pauillac and, less surprisingly, St Julien are being shown this year.

This was something of a mixed bag. For one reason or another (a nice catch-all phrase that means "I don't know why"), the problems of the vintage appear to become exacerbated the futher up the Medoc one travels. Of course, in this day and age wine growers and wine makers can make all the difference and the usual suspects have prevailed. Whilst some wines were under-ripe and swingeingly tannic, acidic and fruitless, others were focussed, highly structured, cool and expressive vins de garde. This latter group will, of course, feature in a forthcoming offer!

I went to Chasse-Spleen, there to taste the Medocs, Haut-Medocs, Moulis (Moulises?), Listracs etc. I was selective. By mid-afternoon, one's belief that one has to have something to say about every single claret of the vintage has waned somewhat. Thus, I am sorry to say, that I cannot tell you about the salient qualities of Chateaux Greysac, Clarke or Fonreaud. I can say that Chasse-Spleen, Poujeaux and La Lagune have all made extremely satisfactory wines from 2008 fruit.

It is something of a conundrum that one wants to avoid tasting the sweet wines of Bordeaux early in the day for fear of smothering one's palate with such quantity of sugar and general schlock that one is unable to taste anything else thereafter. Thus one leaves the Sauternes and Barsacs till last thing and a time when really the last thing one wants is to have high alcohol, super-sweet liquids in one's mouth. Hey ho. The sacrifices a wine merchant has to make.

There are a number of noteworthy wines here. My old favourite Rayne-Vigneau has pulled off a coup, as has Suduiraut. But if these are more expensive than the better 1997 vintage, who will see the point in taking a punt on them. This is a tiny vintage for sweet wines. Some proprietors to whom I spoke divulged that their production had been a mere 6 hectolitres per hectare. When the reds are made from a yield of up to 50, sometimes more, one can start to see the problems faced by dedicated sticky-makers.

I have just dined in my hotel's restaurant and dined extremely well. I am here alone, so rather than sparkling conversation I had to make do with my copy of The Week magazine. I am now off to bed where thoughts of quantititive easing and the idiocy of Gordon Brown will waft me off to the Land of Nod.

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