It’s one of those words, isn’t it. I say it, and am immediately taken from the place I’m standing to somewhere ethereal and swathed in red velvet. Even my mouth puckers beautifully when I pronounce it, turning me into the Australian equivilent of Béatrice Dalle (remember, we’re still in my mind here, so give me some leeway). I love listening to the French say “Bordeaux” – it’s divinely fluid, but with a sexy hiccup over the “r”. It brings with it feelings of wealth, opulence, intensity, class, and style. To me, Bordeaux is not a city anymore, it’s not even a region. It’s only a wine. A red wine so singular that I can taste even when there’s nothing in my mouth. It’s a wine of great significance, because once I got to the stage in my life where I was prepared to spend that much money on a bottle of red, I knew a thing or two about wine, and my own palate.
I managed (with a little jostling and name dropping, admittedly) to angle a position at Dubai’s wine tasting of the year last week – Les Clos showed us a range of Bordeaux reds from low to whoa, in the sumptuous surroundings of the Majlis at Mina al Salam. It was in celebration of the release of the 2012 en primeur Bordeaux range. Generally only their greatest clients get an invite, and so I found myself surrounded by people who have enough disposable income to throw on a dozen or so bottles of some of the most expensive wine on the planet – wine that is not even in bottles, for God’s sake. Wine they will not even get to look at for at least 18 months. Last year, Les Clos actually organized barrel samples of the entire 2011 vintage list. Not to be this one, so here’s a list of what I tasted:
(All wines currently available at Les Clos, and also at Al Hamra, the Cellar – second price)
Chateau Bel Air Lagrave 1989Class: Cru Bourgeois Region: Moulis en Medoc Vintage rating: B Drinking recommendation for the vintage: now Price: 170/190AED Notes: Very aged character with substantial brett*. A little leaf/tomato left when it comes to fruit charactet, but not much else. Those who love a very old wine may enjoy
Highlights of the night.
- The Belair Monange – it was as good as I had hoped it would be. First vintage by Christian Moueix (overseer of Petrus among other wineries)
- The Chateau Canon – Describing it as ‘girly’ and then watching all the men flock to it.
- The Reserve de la Comtesse – Wasn’t expecting it to be so interesting. thinking about what it will be like in three years
- The Les Ormes de Pez – for current drinking, and learning how to pronounce it correctly by a Dutchman, who seemed to be saying (quite loudly), “Lets all masturbate” (No, truly, it is “lezz or mezz der pay”)
- Le Petit Haut Lafitte – the bargain of the night. Incredibly complex for its 150AED price tag.
Bordeaux for dummies if you are just starting out:
Some basics provided below. More available linked here
The region centers around the city of Bordeaux, on the mid-west coast of France. There are several areas, but the big ones to remember are Medoc (Which is the expensive area that includes the four big sub-regions of St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux) and the other big ‘left bank’ region, Graves. Then there are St Emilion and Pomerol, which are further inland. Then there is Sauternes and Barsac, which produce sweet white wines. There are many other sub-regions, all notable, but when people say “Bordeaux”, they are usually referring to the Medoc area. Map here from thewinespot.org
- Reds: Medoc wines are Cabernet blends, with a heavy reliance on Cabernet Sauvignon, but also containing in varying amounts Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.Wines from the inland areas of St Emillion and Pomerol have less emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon, and more on Cabernet Franc for the former, and Merlot for the latter. Graves wines are usually Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant. The rest of the region will use varying ratios of these five grapes, but basically, you’re looking at full bodied dry red. (This is where the word Claret came from)
- Whites: There are dry and sweet whites produced. The most famous are the sweet ones from Sauternes and Barsac, which are predominantly Semillon with lesser amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. To achieve high sugar levels, the grapes are left on the vine past the end of usual harvest until a fungus (Botrytis Cinerea) develops on the grape skins. This takes some of the water out, but leaves the sugar. Dry whites are usually the same blend, with the ratio hanging more towards Sauvignon Blanc (and a little Sauvignon Gris) followed by Semillon and Muscadelle. Graves is the most famous region for its whites, but they are made in many parts of the greater Bordeaux region. Entre-Deux-Mers is where all the cheap ones come from.
- Firstly, check the colour of the wine in the bottle. Black, you’re looking at a rich dry red wine, straw/green, and it’s an aromatic white blend, and golden and it’s a sweet wine. The label will contain the following information:
- Producer/Estate – These are probably the biggest letters on the label and will probably have “Chateau” in the name.
- Region – usually just under the estate.
- Appelation/Sub region – will be under the region if at all.
- Classification – This is not always on the label. If so, it will say something like Grand Cru Classe, or Cru Bourgeois.
If you don’t know your Bordeaux wines, you need to do some research (and/or some tasting) before you shell out the big bucks. The Medoc wines are often classed into things like premier cru, deuxieme cru, (first and second growth) all the way to fifth, and then down to Cru Bourgeois. After that it’s simply AOC wine, or even village wine. Often, this particular classification will not be on the label, and you will be expected to know off the top of your head. First Growth (Premier) is nearly always over $500 a bottle, but there are some cult wines down the ranks that can sometimes get close in price. St Emilion and Pomerol have only Grand Cru Classe, but there are As and Bs. And then of course there is the grape varieties, which will never be on the label. And just to make things more confusing, the wines nearly always different prices, reflecting the quality of the vintage. But just because it was a great vintage and it’s really expensive, it doesn’t mean it’s ready to drink.
- To help you in-store, maybe try some apps like Smart Bordeaux or Bordeaux Wine Bank, which provide some basic information on the wines.
- A good cheat sheet for Bordeaux wines by Quarin – he lists his top 100 brands by quality, based on his tasting notes of the years from 1995 to 2006 here
- Vintage Recommendations – A good standard vintage chart is Robert Parker’s, found here
This is a method of selling wine before it is even in bottle. Currently, Les Clos have a selection available that is priced at least 15% below the expected price at bottle release. Basically, you buy a few liters of wine that is sloshing around in a barrel with everybody else’s. The producer in Bordeaux and your vintner will take your money and play with it until your wine is ready, when it is bottled and delivered to your door. Benefits include a lower price and a guarantee you won’t miss out, even if Robert Parker rates your particular tipple at 99/100 at some stage down the track. The downside is obvious. You spend all that money, and you don’t get to drink it until at least a year or so later. Other risks are minimal. It’s very rare to get swindled with an en primeur deal – just make sure you trust your supplier.
Your guide to 2012:
- Les Clos 2012 list here: http://www.leclos.net/En_Primeur/
- The vintage is up and down, but as always, if you select with care, you should come up with something good. (my pick is the Calon Segur, but I know it and love it, year after year, and hear they had a particularly good one for 2012)
- Decanter’s latest information here: http://www.decanter.com/bordeaux-2012
- Matthew Jukes (http://www.matthewjukes.com/) report is downloadable here
*brett is short for Brettanomyces http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brettanomyces – a character produced by a fungus found naturally occurring on the grapes and in the winery. A little is good – smells range from marzipan and yeast to leather to earth, but a lot ends up covering the delicate flavours of the wine, and leaves you with the smell of sickly sweet Bandaid (synthetic sticking plaster), sweaty saddles and barnyard poop.