The first week of April 2016 saw House of Townend’s annual trip to Bordeaux, France to taste En Primeur 2015 vintages. Director of Prestige Accounts, Neil Goldie, was accompanied by Managing Director John Townend and Head of Private Sales, Stuart Shenton, and has written his account of their trip. Click here to learn more about En Primeur.
Our first day saw us leave Bordeaux city and travel to the new Stade football stadium for the UGC (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux) tasting; a new event this year bringing together a large number of the top chateaux except the first growths and major seconds. This gives us a unique opportunity to taste and compare wines from most of the major appellations at a single event. Very illuminating! Our first tastings were disappointing as the St. Emilions and Pomerols appeared astringent and tight, overly fresh with acid and with little opulent fruit that we have come to expect from these communes.
Moving onto Margaux the world became a better place – wonderful layers of rich sweet fruit, balanced acids and good levels of cassis, minerality and integrated oak. Our stars of the afternoon were Giscours and Brane Cantenac.
Next on the list was St. Julien. The top wines again showed ripe sweet fruit, more red than black fruits at this stage, but as we always say, the wines that are shown are a snapshot of some barrels and in some years bear little parallel with the actual bottled product! Top wines of St. Julien were the Bartons, this year more Langoa than Leoville. The Leoville Poyferre was a magnificent wine with great brooding quality, as well as Gruaud Larose and Talbot. St. Estephe showed well generally, with Ormes de Pez and Phelan Segur. At this stage we returned to the Pomerols and found them more lush and opulent, though still a little fresh and lacking depth. We resolved to go to another UGC tasting and try them again!
The day continued with a drive through the warm sunshine to Audy, a great negociant on the Right Bank with his office situated by the river itself in Libourne. The youthful Michel showed a number of wines, most notable were a range of good Pomerols at highly competitive prices which showed great fruit and decadence. Lunch was taken at the grand Chateau Laroze, St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe.
In all it was a good days tasting – the view already forming was of a good to great vintage, with Margaux and Saint Julien already showing a style and depth of fruit that hugely appealed!
This was a big day – starting off with UGC St Julien tastings at Gruaud Larose in St. Julien, and the UGC Margaux tasting at Chateau Du Tertre. Again, a unique opportunity to check the state of wines previously tried at the Stade football stadium tasting the day before – wines that stood out were checked again, and scores adjusted accordingly.
Tastings continued with a major event at Chateau Lafon Rochet in the commune of Pauillac and a major tasting of Cru Bourgeois at the interesting Chateau d’Arsac near Margaux. John, Stuart and I split up as there were around 250 wines to taste – each of us taking a particular region and picking our top 6 for the others to taste and later compared notes.
By the late afternoon we were all exhausted. We had each tasted about 150 wines – way more than we would normally taste in a day! A beer in the sunshine outside the hotel, looking out toward the Opera house in the centre of Bordeaux was a much needed tonic for a tough days tasting and taking notes!
Another big day loomed, this time on the Right Bank, starting with a visit to Chateau Fonplegade in St. Emilion, a newly restored chateau owned by the charming American couple Stephen and Denise Adams. The warm stone and immaculate Chais showed large investment in both property and vineyards which are already showing massive steps forward with regard to wine quality. The visit was concluded with a tasting of some of their wines including 2015, 2014 and 2012 vintages. First class winemaking!
We drove to the UGC tastings in Chateau La Couspaude in St. Emilion, and then to Chateau Angelus where we caught up with Pedro Pocas from our Port House, Pocas. Lunch was taken in the tasting room at Chateau La Couspaude with great wines from older vintages served – unfortunately we were driving, but appreciated the chance to see how wines progressed after several years in the bottle.
Highlight of the day was a chance to visit and taste at the great (but expensive!) Cheval Blanc – probably my wine of the year so far.
A shorter day, starting with a drive through rainy Bordeaux suburbs to the magnificent Chateau Haut-Brion the 1er cru classe of the commune, where we tasted all of their wines – 5 reds and 3 whites which were all great.
Moving onto the UGC tasting at Malartic Lagraviere, the commune of Pessac showed well, equally for whites and reds. Top wines for us were Pape Clement, Malartic Lagraviere and La Louviere, though to be fair this commune escaped a lot of the rain in August growing season and thus the fruits were high and the acids and tannins in balance.
The day finished with a visit to the smart Smith Haut-Lafite and a light lunch at their restaurant Rouge – tapas and nice wines and a chance to compare notes!
All in all, we had a great trip tasting some fantastic wines… a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!
Click here to see the list of wines we selected for our Bordeaux 2015 En Primeur range.
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