2017 Bordeaux: a first glance


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Bordeaux Vintage report 2017, Max Lalondrelle

With all eyes on Bordeaux as the next en primeur vintage gears up for release, Fine Wine Buying Director and Bordeaux Buyer Max Lalondrelle reports on how things are currently looking for 2017

As a Frenchman living in the U.K now for 24 years, I am used to how much the British love to talk about the weather. And in Bordeaux this year, it is the first thing to mention. There were severe frosts over the entire region on the nights of the 22nd and the 29th April (you might remember, we experienced the same thing in the UK). These were primarily located in the Côtes de Castillon, Côtes de Blaye, St. Emilion and Pomerol. This is on the Right Bank. On the Left, the frosts affected the areas of vineyard situated outside of 1 kilometre from the river.

The good news is that very few of the big estates have been affected, if anything it is the lesser vineyards of these that might have had some damage – those that supply the second or the third wine. This is with the exception of Ch. Angludet in Margaux – a Berry Bros. & Rudd customer favourite. Sadly, this Château, although situated far from the river, had 100% of its crop decimated. We usually open our EP campaign with this Château, often selling out in minutes, but this year we regret to inform, there will be none available.

In Pessac, the vineyards have also been affected, more so than their counterparts in the Medoc and in the northern Medoc with an average loss of 20 percent of crops across the region. In St. Emilion and Pomerol, despite the use of early morning helicopters and other contraptions to shake the cool temperatures the decrease in volume for some estates here has been between 20-40 percent. Fortunately, however, with some of the best vineyards in commanding positions, most of the best estates were able to harvest the majority of their best crops.

Despite all the frost, the rest of the growing season was mostly typical with warm temperatures during the summer. It was a fairly dry and good ripening season with a bit of rain towards the end which didn’t affect the crop. Of the Châteaux that we have tasted so far, what has resulted is a vintage that isn’t going to match the likes of the 2015, or 2016 for most estates, but nevertheless, 2017 is something that we believe will be superior in quality to 2014. You could call it “a super classic” or a “classic ++” vintage. It is a pleasure to note too that 2017 hasn’t succumbed to the usual bad luck of vintages ending in “’7”.

We make no secret of the fact that not everything that we will be selling this year will be exceptional, but it will certainly be good. Yes, we have had some frost, but we also have some good wines. If you have never bought en primeur before, 2017 would be the ideal year for a good practice vintage – one with which to start learning how to build your cellar.

I remember the first time I bought en primeur, it was in 2000. This was my practice year, and then I went big in 2001 and 2002. The 2002 particularly is now showing very well indeed. Then, I bought Ch. Latour 2002 for £68 a bottle – a wine that is now worth over £4,600 a case. Equally I bought Lynch Bages 2002 for £210 a case, now worth £1,100 a dozen. So now, when I am choosing something to drink, I don’t go to my rack to pick up a bottle that cost me £100, I pick up one that cost me £12.50 – but whose quality is often up to ten times the price. It is a self-funding proposition; self-fulfilling.

You might need a little more guidance this year, but there are good wines to be bought, so, for 2017, I would still advise purchase. Our Fine Wine team will be heading to Bordeaux where they will taste most of the wines in situ, allowing a comprehensive assessment of the wines, and an excellent viewpoint on this vintage’s further feeling. As ever we will only be buying and championing wines which have been well made and the best examples of the vintage, thanks to our own history, and our long-standing relationships. We will be happy to discuss any individual queries or questions, singling out the best bottles for investment and wines for drinking soon.

To learn more about the history of Bordeaux en primeur click here, for a guide to how to buy en primeur, click here. to discuss your needs with our Fine Wine team, click here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Old World

Notes from the vineyard: on reflection


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Hampshire snow on the Nyetimber vines

Hampshire snow on the Nyetimber vines

In our final post of the series, Brad Greatrix reflects on the year that has passed, and challenges new for all things happening at Nyetimber

With this post, we’ve come full circle in the winemaking calendar at Nyetimber. My first entry, in April of last year, described the anticipation leading up to budburst for the 2017 growing season. And now, here we are in March 2018 getting ready to bottle wines from that same season. 2017 was a season that was marked with an infamous start – most of the UK and Northern Europe was affected by an air frost on 27th April that substantially reduced yields for a huge tranche of wine regions, the UK included. However, apart from those few hours of cold weather, we ended up with a very good growing season in England. Rain seemed to fall at favourable moments, and there was plenty of heat through the summer and veraison periods. The end result was a delicious crop of balanced, ripe grapes. A well-worn maxim states that it takes great grapes to produce great wine, and the Nyetimber vineyard team certainly handed us a gem of a harvest to work with.

Bottling of the 2017 wines (including multi-vintage examples) will be taking place over the coming weeks. Although we’re only partway through the winemaking process (counting several years of lees ageing ahead), I’m very encouraged by the blends that we’ve been able to assemble. Despite a short crop, we’ve been able to create all of our wines this year, including those that only are made in particular vintages (Blanc de Blancs and Tillington). For Blanc de Blancs we look for Chardonnay parcels that are balanced and ‘complete’, and both our Hampshire and West Sussex sites offered up great base wines fitting that bill.

Harvest at Nyetimber

Harvest at Nyetimber

Our Tillington single vineyard wine was first bottled after the 2009 harvest after discovering an exceptional parcel of Pinot Noir on that site, and since then we’ve created Tillington in years when the PN is shining. In 2017, right from our first assessment of the base wines, it was clear that we would have to bottle Tillington – the exquisite combination of floral and red fruit aromas, delivered with power and yet a lightness of touch was evident right from the beginning. By coincidence, as we sent the 2017 Tillington to bottle, we’ll be releasing the 2013 Tillington in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in a similar scenario to what I reported last April, we’ve started keeping a closer eye on weather as temperatures start to warm up. A recurring question of late has been whether these recent cold snaps have any impact on the vines, and my reply is that for the most part the cold brings benefits.

First of all, the cold weather will help to synchronise all of the biological processes that are taking place in the vines. And second, the cold will help to delay budburst from arriving too early, thereby lessening the duration of the frost-risk period. After two consecutive frost-affected harvests, I think everyone in the UK will be hoping for a bountiful, or even “normal” harvest this year.

This is my final post for this “Notes from the Vineyard” series for Berry Bros & Rudd, and if you’ve joined me for all twelve articles then I must extend a particular heartfelt thanks. As always, if there are any questions or comments, please do post them below.

To read more about Nyetimber and browse the full range, click here.

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wine,English Wine

Faking it part II: tell-tale signs


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Faking it, how to spot 'tell-tale' signs of fake wine

Following on from last month’s post on wine forgery, Fine Wine Quality and Authentication Manager Philip Moulin gives us his top tips on how to spot the tell-tale signs of “fake wine”

Authentic age

Does it look and feel as old as it says it is? Is there a consistent amount of “wear and tear” to every element? There should be parity in age from the case to the capsule and label. The back label pictured below is standard for high-value wines sold by certain merchants. It looks slightly worn and scuffed from being put in and taken out of a wine rack; however, the label is entirely smooth to the touch and is almost certainly a photocopy of an original.

It’s all in the detail

Did the producer make wine in that vintage? Did the AOC on the label exist then? Is everything right on the label? Is all the information there? Compare a suspect bottle to a known genuine example if possible, to confirm the details on the label are right. If it were real, the label pictured here would read “IMPRIMÉ” not “MPRINÉ”.

A lot of bottle

How much does the bottle weigh? High-quality wines are rarely bottled in cheap glass, and tend to have a heft about them. Are the markings on the bottle right? Does it have, for example, the right marking in the punt? Modern vintages tend to have a lot number etched into the bottle, which will normally match a number on the case itself. Check to see if the etchings are there, and if the case matches the bottle.

Prime printing

Most wine labels use a print press: the shape is literally stamped into the paper and the indentation is filled with ink. The process creates a very clear line. Modern laser-printing is much cheaper, and effectively throws ink at the paper, producing a much less precise effect. You can see the difference between the real (first image below) and fake (the more grainy one beneath, and the number “89” above) examples pictured here.

Liquid lies

Is there too much wine in the bottle? Old wines will and should have lower fill levels, with the wine sitting “in the shoulders” of the bottle. If a 1945 Burgundy is filled right to the top, something is almost certainly awry. For heavier reds with several decades of bottle age, they should throw sediment; this can offer an extra clue.

The art of ultra-violet

Many high-value wines will use various types of holograms in the fabric of their label and capsule, which will only show up under ultra-violet light. They are hard to replicate cheaply, so shining an ultra-violet light on a wine can offer a quick guide as to the authenticity of the bottle in question.

To read the previous post on “faking it” click here.

Category: Miscellaneous

A lesson in philosophy: André Ostertag


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For wines golden in colour, backed by similarly illuminating words of wisdom, we sent Sophie McLean to an André Ostertag masterclass, to find out what makes him, his wines, and his Grand Cru Muenchberg vineyard site tick

What strikes me most about André Ostertag is his “joined-up way of thinking”. Forgive the cliché, but this is not in a heavily marketed “blue-chip” kind of way. It is his winding, more explorative demeanour which seems to wrap up real feeling within his wines’ style. It’s clear he thinks before he speaks. He annunciates every syllable as he treads carefully through thought and language – the one spoken today, not his mother’s own.

“We have a New World story” says André, as he introduces his wines to the room. Ostertag comes from Alsace, a place where his family has been making wine for nearly sixty years. For a winery that he calls “youthful”, in an area so full of winemaking history, he says the most exciting prospect of starting a blank canvas winery here is “being able to write your own story”.

We are here to taste through the wines of his Grand Cru Muenchberg site. One whose fruit provides the bounty for many of his single vineyard wines. The vines here are set up high on the break lines of Alsace – an area rich in geological variety. Two that prevail in the parcel that Ostertag has are red sandstone, a material that has the “texture of human skin”; something that is soft, and “gives” upon a touch. And volcanic soil, which André deems austere: the “fire of the earth”, and that when made on its own produces something “strong but not seductive.” When these two elements combine, the resultant characteristics are purity and density. “Two words you must understand [to understand] our wine.”

The land up and around Muenchberg is cooled by altitude and protected by the surrounding forests, thus ensuring the preservation of detail in the wines’ aromatics. Over a space of 17 hectares, three exposures exist, meaning they each get sunshine at different times of the day. Aspect, altitude and the fact that these are old vines of over 70 years old means there is a depth and long finish exhibited. “Vines are like humans” says André. “We work better as we get older, but we also work less.” The first wines from Muenchberg were produced in 1982, two years after André’s first ever vintage.

André rhapsodises over this piece of bucolic Alsace for its purity. Its lack of pollution. A place he says where there “is no road, no telephone lines, no electricity.” It is protected from the ocean – where “a strong feeling of energies” converge – by mountains in the west. And yet for all the love he now feels towards this place, he used to hate coming here as a child due to its great inaccessibility.

The Muenchberg vineyard originally belonged to his mother, a story he tells, with the surprising revelation that he once “hated wine, and the idea of doing the same job as my father.” Originally Ostertag went to Strasbourg to study mathematics, where he received the lowest of the low in marks. “It was time to change tack,” he states. The universe, it seems, brought him back to wine.

“You dream a lot,” he says, ever wistfully. What, then, are his dreams? “To make wines with emotion inside. It’s not just about taste.” To do this he says you must have the right site, and the right “vibration” with a place. You need to create a feeling. “Whatever you feel when you make wine – love, hate, rage – this comes through on the palate.”

He describes “Le sens de toucher” as imperative within his winemaking. “The old courtiers judged wine through touch – through ‘mouth-touch’,” he says, “[Like this] you communicate deeply with the wines.” Throughout this special tasting of Muenchberg Riesling, and A360P Pinot Gris across multiple vintages the dominant impression, although all unique in individual terroir over grape influenced style, is one of assertive elegance. And a power that is clean.

On a technical basis, and unusually perhaps in this region of northeastern France, André has not been afraid of using malolactic fermentation – something his father told him would make him a “bad winemaker.” André’s son Artúr, also in the room and now prepped to take over the helm after spending time in New Zealand, has his own specific ideas too – hoping one-day to use concrete eggs in his “next-generation” wines.

Artúr is equally philosophical in thought. “If you have aspiration, but you don’t have good energy you will not achieve anything. If you have aspiration and you feel good in yourself, that is when you will achieve.” André agrees: “[Wine is] a reflection of the soil, and of your own soul.” From verbal emotion externalised, to what we taste in the glass, today, never has a truer word been spoken.

To browse the range, click here.

Category: Miscellaneous,Old World