Inside Bordeaux: digging below the surface

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Photograph: Joe Woodhouse
Released today, Jane Anson’s book Inside Bordeaux offers new insight on the world’s most famous wine region. Here our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW explains why the guide is an essential companion for any enthusiast

It is 10 years since Berry Bros. & Rudd’s first foray into the world of wine book publishing, with Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy, arguably now established as the seminal book on its subject. What set that book apart was its focus on the immutabilities of Burgundy – its vineyards and geology. For that reason, unlike other books on the region which act as snapshots in time, it is as relevant today as it was when first published.

And today we have the official release of Inside Bordeaux from Berry Bros. & Rudd Press, authored by Jane Anson. Jane’s expertise is well recognised and, rightly, glowingly described elsewhere. For me it is just as important to impress that hers is an independent voice. Although published under the Berry Bros. & Rudd Press banner, there is no commercial angle to this book. Its contents and Jane’s opinions are her own; Berry Bros. & Rudd’s role with Inside Bordeaux – just as it was with Inside Burgundy – was to facilitate the arrival of a landmark book on a subject of critical importance and relevance to the world of wine.

Photograph: Joe Woodhouse

And Inside Bordeaux is especially relevant because it too focuses on what shapes the wines, before overlaying the stories and backgrounds of today’s producers and the region. At the book’s heart is a wealth of new research, accompanied by new maps and illustrations that, for the first time, really manage to capture the essence of Bordeaux from its soils and topography. For those who may believe that Bordeaux’s reputation is based more on brand awareness, here is evidence – previously empirical – that the quality of Bordeaux’s most famous names are clearly tied to geological parameters. Much of this new information is provided by Kees van Leeuwen, now a Professor of Viticulture in Bordeaux, whom I first met at Cheval Blanc in 1994 when he was just embarking on his analysis of that château’s vineyard composition – ground-breaking work (in both senses) at the time. It is his forensic aptitude, blended with Jane’s lucidity of expression, that sets this book apart, and the maps of selected châteaux’s vineyards – which link the planting of grape varieties to different soil types – are a revelation.

Readers will also learn of Bordeaux’s history and heritage, the economics of the region and its En Primeur process, and enjoy the 1,000 or so château profiles, each designed to give a flavour of each property’s personality and potential, rather than dwelling on its history. What I also appreciate is the care and attention given to Bordeaux’s less-lauded regions, where so much remains to be discovered and enjoyed. The work that links less renowned properties to unexpected outcrops of favoured terroirs is intriguing and makes this book as beguiling for the amateur as it is essential for the professional.

Inside Burgundy never leaves my side whenever I am in Burgundy. Despite its impressive bulk of nearly 700 pages, the same will be true of Inside Bordeaux. With this book, Jane has achieved something exceptional that illuminates and breathes life into the region she loves and understands, not just for the present but for the future too.

Inside Bordeaux is out now, available to purchase on bbr.com

Category: Miscellaneous

Bordeaux 2019: the taste test

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The view over Château Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac, Bordeaux. Photograph: Jason Lowe
Following our update on the Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur campaign, our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW explains how, in these unusual times, we will be assessing the wines – and whether or not they’re worth buying

Every year, over a period of a few weeks, we send the largest number of tasters of any wine merchant to Bordeaux to assess the new vintage. We have Masters of Wine, experts and those with many years of experience tasting young Bordeaux in our team, as well as younger members – but everyone’s view is important and all are represented in our final scores and assessments.

We make that investment because the best way to taste and understand each wine is in situ. You need points of comparison, a picture of each commune to emerge, and the opportunity to analyse and ask questions to understand each wine. And you need the person there who knows the wine best, the winemaker, to taste with you so that you can be certain that what you are tasting is properly representative. Young wine is a fragile commodity. The preparation of the sample, exposure to varying temperatures and the age of the sample can all give a misleading impression. Tasting on the spot is the only way to get a true picture of the wine and the vintage, and to be able to make recommendations confidently. Receiving and tasting samples remotely is an unsatisfactory shortcut.

Yet this year, this is the only option we have, so we will collate samples from 50 or so of our most favoured châteaux and make arrangements to taste them securely and socially distanced at our Basingstoke office. All the tasters will arrive independently in their own transport and taste in isolation. There will be a minimum of three bottles of each wine, allowing a number of people to taste the wines over three days, and the results to be subsequently combined. In this way we can, at least, secure a breadth of opinion as we usually do. We will back up these tastings with video conversations with the winemakers where possible and, under the circumstances, this will get us as close as we can to our usual level of analysis.

Some other key châteaux will only make single bottles available, or make bottles available at different times to others. When that is the case, the wine will be tasted and assessed first by me and then, only if possible and separately, by our Bordeaux Buyer and Managing Director of Fine Wine, Max Lalondrelle. Under these circumstances, the note will be assigned specifically to the individual, so that it is clear that the wine has not been tasted by a full panel. To further recognise the situation, we may not assign any scores to the wines this year but, in this way, we will be able to make recommendations with a justifiable level of confidence.

To the burning questions: can you trust our recommendations, and should you buy Bordeaux 2019? In some ways, the answer to both is reputational: of Berry Bros. & Rudd, of each château and of the vintage. If we are not sufficiently confident, we will not compromise 300 years of propriety, but we also have faith in the owners and winemakers with whom we have worked for so many years. For the vintage, all the signs are there to be confident of a fine year; a warm summer, healthy fruit and key moments in the vine cycle passing without incident. The full picture is in our March update. The first wines we have tasted have been glorious.

There is an understanding in Bordeaux that prices need to be down on 2018, but the level of decrease will depend on the success of the early releases. In the world in which we currently live, blatant commercialism would be unsavoury and inappropriate – but let’s just say that, in Bordeaux 2019, there will be some very good wines indeed and there is a good chance that prices will be attractive.

Follow the releases as they happen on bbr.com

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Bordeaux 2019: the show must go on

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

As lockdown is lifted in France, it’s become clear that there will be a Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur campaign – with Angludet firing the starting gun. Our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW explains what we expect the unusual campaign to look like, and why we feel that it is crucial

After an extended period of uncertainty, and unless there is a new spike in Coronavirus infections, it now seems clear that there will be a Bordeaux En Primeur campaign this year, with the majority of wines being offered throughout June and into July (as we suggested in our previous update, which also explains why this is Bordeaux’s only window of opportunity).

With good reason, some customers may be asking why they are being encouraged to buy what is seen by many as a luxury product during a period of difficulty and distress for so many people. Indeed, there has been a case put by some UK merchants and journalists that the campaign should be delayed this year, for reasons of sensitivity. But Berry Bros. & Rudd will support this campaign, and we feel it is incumbent upon us to explain our reasoning.

If there is a sense that this is an example of rich château-owners seeking to line their pockets inappropriately during such a worrying period, then it should be remembered that these properties represent only a fraction of the output of Bordeaux. Through Bordeaux’s unique trading structure, the whole region is subtly interlinked. If the big names lose out, so do the small ones. The En Primeur campaign is the annual shop window for the Bordeaux region, and the jobs and livelihoods of many thousands of people are inextricably entwined with the success and reputation of its wines.

Throughout Europe, everyone is now being encouraged to return to work safely to re-float their economies and break us out of this economically crippling limbo of lockdown and furlough. The annual En Primeur campaign is Bordeaux’s route back to the market and, without it, there could be unquantifiable numbers of jobs lost. Bordeaux has to seize this moment, but unless there are merchants (and customers) willing to support it, there will be no sales. It is Berry Bros. & Rudd’s responsibility to do so.

And while it may be thought that the handful of super-rich châteaux have the resources to weather this storm, even that is a generalisation. Many renowned properties have suffered from very low crops in 2017 (due to frost) and ’18 (due to mildew), making the 2019 vintage vital for them. Others have made enormous financial commitments for reinvestment, which similarly means the campaign is crucial.

So Bordeaux needs to sell, for economic and social reasons: but should you buy? Assessing the quality of the 2019 vintage without tasting at the châteaux with the winemakers raises its own challenges. Our next post explains how we plan to address them.

Find out how we’ll be assessing Bordeaux 2019.

Read more about how Bordeaux En Primeur works, and its history, here.

Château Angludet has already released its 2019: find out more about it here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Bringing Bordeaux to life

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The view out across the rooftops of St Emilion. Photograph: Jason Lowe
Ahead of the publication of her new book Inside Bordeaux, we sat down with critic and author Jane Anson to talk terroir, map-making and why there’s much more to the region than the Classed Growths

How long have you been working on Inside Bordeaux?

I’ve been working on it for three years. When I met Chris and Carrie – the publishers – we talked about the need for a book that would turn the received ideas about Bordeaux on their head, and they asked if I was crazy enough to consider writing it. Turns out, I was.

Why did you decide to write a book about the region?

I wanted to ask new questions about Bordeaux, and to look at the region is a new way, because so much is happening here right now – from next-generation winemakers, to the rise in organics and biodynamics, to terroir-led winemaking.

What are you most proud of in the book?

This is the first book about Bordeaux (certainly in the English language) to have such a focus on the terroir of the region – and more importantly to draw clear and useable links between the soils/microclimates and why the wines taste the way they do. We have worked with Kees van Leeuwen (professor of viticulture at Bordeaux Sciences Agro and Bordeaux’s Institute of Wine and Vine Science) and other experts to create 65 entirely new maps, that cover things like the gravel terraces of the Left Bank, and the limestone cliffs of the Right Bank, and tried to explain what these phenomena mean for the wine in the glass and different vintages. The maps are gorgeous as well as useful – gatefolds, with different information set against each other so readers can easily compare complementary information such as terroir and where châteaux are located.

But I’m equally proud of putting the focus on little-known estates as well as on the Classed Growths. Of course the Classified properties are all in the book, but you’ll also find in-depth write-ups of brilliant emerging properties in Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol, the Haut-Médoc and so on. I try not to focus too much on history and more on what is happening at these estates today – who is running them, what is new, why you should care, and what you can expect the wines to taste like. There are over 1,000 châteaux and wines in the book, and every single one I have chosen because I think there is something interesting to say about it.

What do you hope readers will take away from it?

Bordeaux is a region that is so familiar to so many of us, that it can feel at times like we stop seeing it. I hope from this book that readers will re-engage with the region and get excited about all that it offers. I hope, above all, that they will enjoy reading it.

This is a big book, at around 700 pages, but I really hope they feel that it has a voice, and is fun to read (or dip in and out of more realistically!). Sometimes books this size, that are effectively encyclopaedias, can feel dry and sterile, and are often a compilation of different voices, and of information given by châteaux. This is very different – I have written every single word, and every château included has been researched, visited and/or tasted by me. I hope that comes across on the page, and that there is a feeling of this being a conversation with the reader, where we are asking questions together.

Inside Bordeaux is the latest publication from Berry Bros. & Rudd Press. It will be available to purchase from 27th May, priced at £60. Find out more, and register to the be the first to hear when it’s available to purchase, at bbr.com/inside-bordeaux

Category: Miscellaneous