Checking in on Bordeaux 2020

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A photograph of vines by Jason Lowe
Photograph: Jason Lowe

The 2020 vintage is in barrel, and En Primeur season is fast approaching. While our team waits to taste the new vintage, we’ve asked some of our Bordelais friends for their insights.

Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan

“It’s a vintage of conviction,” says Guillaume Pouthier, Director at the Pessac-Léognan estate. “We had to adapt all the time. The first part of the season was very humid and then afterwards it was very dry. The hydric restriction was perfect: it created balance in the wines. It’s an amazing vintage, for us it’s like 2016, ’18 and ’19. For ’20, each detail is important. I’m very proud of it, and the team who made it – when you consider the year, to make a wine in ’20 was magic. It’s the wine that I want to make; it’s the wine I want to drink.”

Ch. Brane-Cantenac, Margaux

“It will be a year we shall all remember,” says Henri Lurton, owner-winemaker at the Margaux second growth. “We are proud to have made a wine with a strong personality, one which I particularly like. The grapes reached perfect ripeness, after a humid June and a long spell of drought. The nights were cool. The wine shows that freshness and refined tannins; it’s beautifully balanced.

“Brane was classified as a second growth in 1855 thanks to the exceptional terroir on the fourth gravel terrace. It’s a real treasure to have 30 hectares here. Since the 2019 vintage, 100% of the grand vin has come from this special location. I regrafted old Merlot over to Cabernet Sauvignon, which allowed me to make that change. The wine has gained in strength, character and purity. The 2020 Brane will be a grande bouteille!”

Ch. L’Évangile, Pomerol

“We were the first in Pomerol to harvest,” says Olivier Trégoat, Technical Director at L’Évangile and a number of other properties in the Lafite stable. “We started with young vines on 2nd September and picked all the best terroir the week after that. We wanted to prevent any shrinking or jam flavours, to keep freshness.”

“It’s my first vintage here,” adds Juliette Couderc, L’Évangile’s new Technical Manager. “We wanted to have a blend with tension and good acidity. We have some plots from the plateau with powerful notes: not jammy, more like black fruits and opulence. We blended these with other plots for acidity and vivacity. For purity. I think the word of 2020 is ‘balance’.”

Domaine de l’A, Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux

“For me, ’20 is a beautiful vintage,” says Stéphane Derenoncourt. “The flowering was not exceptional, and the quantity is generally low, but the quality is perfect because the weather was there. Spring was very humid, with a lot of rain. We had a lot of mildew pressure: as in ’19, there was a kind of war in ’20 until June. After that, we had a lot of sun. Because of the water during the spring, we didn’t have hydric stress in summer.

“The harvest was a luxury because we had three weeks during which to pick. There was no stress and no botrytis; it was perfect. It’s a very interesting vintage with beautiful wines. It’s difficult to compare, but it’s a little bit like ’18, though a little less powerful.”

Ch. Berliquet, St Emilion

“We have lower yields here than normal, so we will probably have a little less Berliquet this year,” says winemaker Nicolas Audebert, who also runs nearby Ch. Canon and Ch. Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux. “But it’s fantastic in terms of density and precision. It was ripe, but not too much. We have great intensity of the fruit, but it’s keeping a lot of freshness and vibrancy.

“It’s a great vintage, but it was difficult to reach it. I used to play rugby. When you go on the field and you win by 52-to-three – something like that – yes, it’s a victory. But it was easy. When you just win by one point or two, and you fight for 80 minutes: that’s the real taste of victory. So, ’20 is a year we’ll remember: the year that the team stayed very close, and everybody helped each other to be sure that we will be able to produce the wine we want to produce. It was a very difficult year, but the result is fantastic.”

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Good Ordinary Claret: behind the scenes

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Max Lalondrelle is the Managing Director of Fine Wine at Berry Bros. & Rudd, having previously been our Sales Manager and Bordeaux Buyer. He talks us through 20 years of Good Ordinary Claret.  

What’s your role when it comes tGood Ordinary Claret?  

I started out in Berry Bros. & Rudd as the Bordeaux Buyer, and the region remains very close to my heart. When I started working in the business, Good Ordinary Claret was already there. It was made for us by Borie-Manoux, the same company behind Ch. Batailley, run by the Castèja family.  

Just after I joined as Bordeaux Buyer, we began to challenge the status quo a little, which led us to change suppliers around 20 years ago. We started working with a négociant called Dourthe. We felt that the juice they were providing was an improvement on what we had before, and we haven’t changed since. So, in effect, Good Ordinary Claret has only had two suppliers.  

Can you give us an overview of the Bordeaux region?  

In Bordeaux, classified wines represent around 5% of all volume production. It’s the head of the train, pulling the rest of Bordeaux behind it. When people think of Bordeaux, they think of Lafite, Latour, Lynch-Bages – the very famous estates. But there are a vast number of properties, some that are unclassified, making their own bottled wines and selling it under their own labels. 

After that, a large proportion of Bordeaux is made up of grape-growers – farmers who sell their juice to different cooperatives or négociants. This means there’s a lot of available juice in Bordeaux which tends to be bottled under thousands of different own-labels around the world. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about Dourthe 

Dourthe have a really strong team in terms of winemakers, blenders and grape-growers. Their growers are 100% contracted to them, in a way which gives Dourthe complete control over the quality of the fruit. They can say to their growers, “We want you to produce X hectolitres per hectare” or “We don’t want you to use these chemicals”. It’s almost the same as owning the vineyard: you’re in full control of production, except someone else officially owns the farm and they’re applying your requirements.  

Dourthe have around 80 of these producers and they also have their own properties, so they can work on assembling the juice in a very consistent way across different vintages using a broad palette of soils and terroirs. In Europe, the vintage has a big impact on the taste of the wine, but when you have access to this patchwork of vineyards, you have stability and you can produce something which is quite homogenous all year round.  

How did you settle on the style of Good Ordinary Claret?  

We are less involved today than we used to be, mainly because our relationship is so firmly established that we know exactly what we want. But in the early days, there was a lot of time spent both on our red and white trying to finalise a style that we wanted our customers to associate with Good Ordinary Claret.  

The style was the most difficult part to nail down. You could go the easy route and have a very oak-oriented product, or you could go for the opposite, very austere with no oak whatsoever. So, we had to find a compromise, something in tune with our brand and that drinkers would associate with Berry Bros. & Rudd.  

The wine is more obvious in style than a classified growth would be, because it has to be more approachable at an earlier drinking stage. But we also wanted it to be firmer than the wines that some of our competitors would have, which tend towards a more mellow and approachable juicy style. We wanted to be a bit more intellectual about it.  

Over the years, we’ve worked with our suppliers to carefully define the style. Now, our relationship is so strong that we trust them to know what we want. Instead of going through 50 samples and trying to blend them into one product, we basically just taste a few of the final products which we think is associated with what we want.  

What would surprise us about Good Ordinary Claret? 

What people don’t know about GOC is that it’s made using a proportion of new oak. If you think that a new oak barrel is around 600 euros, or 400 pounds, then it quite an expensive way to make a wine as modestly priced as GOC. A high proportion of the wine is made using a blend of new oak, two or three-year-old barrels and stainless steel, which is unusual at this price point, but it gives the wine an intellectual edge. That’s basically the difference between a generic Bordeaux blend that you would find anywhere else, and our Berry Bros. & Rudd Bordeaux blend.  

The juice comes mainly from Graves, Castillon and Blaye. These are areas where the topography of the soil is very similar to the great estates of Margaux, Pauillac, St Emilion and St Julien. To me, the terroir here is fantastic – Castillon has one of the greatest terroirs of Bordeaux and it’s still relatively unknown. So, the farmers here have the opportunity to produce wines that are equivalent in style to the classified regions, but at a fraction of the price.  

What does Good Ordinary Claret represent to you?  

I drink GOC, and a lot of the Own Selection range. I think GOC really is the heart of Berry Bros. & Rudd – it’s a great representation of who we are. It demonstrates our strong, historical relationships with our suppliers and the level of quality we’re always striving to deliver. It also represents excellent value and simplicity.  

There’s nothing fancy about GOC. It’s just a lovely Bordeaux wine with a very simple label on it, and we want to keep it that way. We want to communicate that you don’t have to spend thousands of pounds every day; GOC, and the whole Own Selection range, is a great place to start. That’s why we are very proud – am very proud – of Good Ordinary Claret.  

Shop our Good Ordinary Claret here, or delve further back into the history of the wine here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

What to drink: white Burgundy

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Adam Bruntlett, our Senior Buyer, turns his focus onto white Burgundy, eyeing up which vintages drinking well now, and which ones which will take a little longer to reach maturity.

While, for obvious reasons, my travel was substantially limited in 2020, I did manage to make it to Burgundy several times between the lockdowns. I visited Chablis in the middle of July, followed by the Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune in August.

On both occasions, growers were very optimistic about the vintage. During the few weeks of visits I managed to squeeze between lockdowns in Burgundy last autumn, our growers could barely contain their excitement at the potential of their nascent ’20 white wines.

Indeed, while the Pinot Noir crop was even smaller than ’19’s meagre yield, early reports indicate that for Chardonnay, ’20 will be a vintage which gives reasonable volumes of excellent, age worthy wines. Watch this space.

The ’19s

Chardonnay is renowned for its sturdiness and ability to resist difficult weather conditions, so it’s no surprise that it has succeeded in the sunny vintages of ’20 and ’19. 2019 was a sunny but not excessively hot year, which yielded white wines with plenty of everything; flavour concentration, ripeness, texture and freshness are all present in equal measure, and these are wines which have the charm and fruit to drink well early, but the structure to age well in the medium term too.

The ’18s

Now that they have completed their élevage and had some time in bottle, it is clear that my initial suspicions about ’18 have been confirmed: this is a vintage which has several parallels to ’15, in particular in the way the wines have gained in freshness and precision with time.

They’re wines which are easygoing, but arguably with more classic features than in their infancy. Indeed, when we tasted them immediately after the dense and concentrated ’19s, as was often the case last autumn, the ’18s showed a restraint and subtlety that had not been as evident a year before. Most of them are approachable now, although there is no rush to drink up.

The ’17s

The ’17 vintage is one of the top white Burgundy vintages of recent times, perhaps a smidge behind ’14 for the purists, but arguably more complete and balanced for most tastes. I am resisting temptation for now, but the wonderful balance of this vintage means that to drink a ’17 now would not be a catastrophe, particularly at regional and village level.

The ’16s

On the whole, ’16 is a vintage whose white wines are perhaps evolving less positively than initially expected, and I would certainly recommend taking a look even at the grander wines. It was a complicated season, with frost having a greater effect on the earlier-budding Chardonnay than on Pinot Noir, which resulted in variable levels of ripeness.

The harsh frost has imbued in the wines a sense of fragility, and consequently this does not feel like a vintage which is built for the long haul. A very notable exception is the Mâconnais, where ’16 is arguably a stronger vintage than ’17 in many cases, although there was some hail in certain sectors which means quality is not uniform.     

The ’15s

In contrast, ’15, which was initially somewhat maligned in terms of its white wines, has been a pleasant surprise in its evolution. The wines are certainly a little riper than the classically-styled ’14s, but on the whole, the wines retain a sense of terroir definition. I often find myself plumping for this vintage on a wine list when in Burgundy, as the wines are holding their own and drinking beautifully now, showing no lack of freshness. Top examples can certainly go on for a while yet.

The ’14s

On the other hand, ’14 is mostly a vintage to hang onto, although lesser whites can be enjoyable. The vintage has a trenchant acidity which renders many of the wines a little too austere for many palates, particularly in Chablis. However, there are some exceptions and decanting can also be beneficial to wines which are a little tighter.

The ’13s

For me, ’13 is a vintage to drink up. The harvest was complicated by the arrival of poor weather and an electrical storm which caused the rapid onset of botrytis. The optimum window for harvesting was very small indeed, and wines often tend to fall into two categories depending on which side of this they were picked.

Earlier, and the grapes were often a little underripe, giving wines which lack a little flavour; whereas those which were picked later tend to have some notes of orange and rose petal, along with a slight softness. Both styles are valid and interesting, although I must profess a preference for the latter, which can be interesting when paired with rich or spiced foods. Either way, ’13 is a good vintage to drink now.

The ’12s and ’11s

On the other hand, ’12 has some merit in keeping; while the vintage often produced concentrated grapes with good levels of both ripeness and acidity, there were problems with oidium, rot and lack of acidity, so it’s important to choose carefully and favour quality-conscious growers.

The ’11s should now be drinking well, having probably turned out a little more positively than was initially expected.

White Burgundy: the ’10s and older

At its best, 2010 can be superb for whites wines, with flesh and acidity in equal measure. Chablis, in particular, was very successful, and the wines will continue to drink well for years to come. We are probably in the optimum drinking window for Côte de Beaune whites, which should be enjoyed over the next year or two.

While excellent wines can still be found in vintages older than 2010, it is something of a lottery because of the inherent risks of prematurely oxidised wines – so I would certainly recommend drinking up. Recent adjustments to viticultural practices, winemaking techniques and closures have done much to resolve the issue – the root cause of which is still much-debated.

Explore our range of white Burgundy here.

Category: Burgundy Wine

What to drink: red Burgundy

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An image of the vineyards in Burgundy
Photo credit: Jason Lowe

Adam Bruntlett, our Senior Buyer, casts an eye over a decade of red Burgundy, identifying which vintages are drinking beautifully now and which will benefit from being left alone – for now.

We expect 2020 to be an even smaller vintage for Pinot Noir than the already undersized 2019, so I anticipate very high demand for what will likely be another set of high-quality wines. Therefore, it makes sense to take another look at recent vintages – to identify those that are drinking well and those that have potential to improve.

It’s important to note also that a combination of warmer growing seasons and changing winemaking styles in Burgundy have made red wines, in particular, more accessible when young – something which mirrors consumers’ evolving tastes. Many recent vintages, particularly for regional and village wines, are therefore approachable earlier than would have been the case even 15 years ago.

The ’19s

Starting with ’19, this is an excellent vintage with quality in evidence across the board; this was evidenced by enormous demand for the wines in our recent En Primeur offer. They are concentrated and fresh, with good levels of ripeness but without losing the characteristic energy and vibrancy of Burgundian Pinot Noir. While there is certainly no rush to drink these wines, and indeed very few have shipped yet, anyone who has enjoyed our ’19 Bourgogne Côte d’Or will be aware that wines at regional level are charming and approachable.

The ’18s

Often my ’19 barrel tastings were followed by a selection of ’18s, to give an idea of the previous vintage in bottle and also show the contrast in styles. The overall impression was that ’18 is a vintage with more muscular tannins and a touch more ripeness. These are certainly wines which will require more patience than ’19; I feel they are already entering a period of dormancy, so I would recommend they be left well alone.

The ’17s

The ’17 vintage, on the other hand, is an absolute pleasure and shows few signs of closing down. It is perhaps my favourite vintage of the past decade and one which I am pleased to have bought quite extensively. The wines are graceful and elegant with all the elements in perfect balance, which makes even the most prestigious wines approachable. The sheer effortlessness and harmony of these wines suggests to me that they will also age gracefully for many years to come. It is certainly a vintage that’s worth another look.

The ’16s and ’15s

I believe that ’16 and ’15 are a pair of excellent vintages which are sure to be long-lived, although both have good levels of ripeness and may well be enjoyed now alongside food to soften some of the tannins. Personally I am leaving all of my wines from these vintages but colleagues are beginning to approach their cases of Bourgogne-level wines with pleasing results.

The ’14s

The ’14 vintage is another favourite of mine; a vintage with crunchy, bright red fruit, they’re the perfect wines to enjoy with food. They’re perhaps a little less elegant than the ’17s, with slightly more angular features thanks to the brighter acidity. At the lower end of the ladder they are approachable, but the purity and energy of these wines means there should be no rush to tackle them yet.

The ’13s

’13 is perhaps the last of the old-fashioned Burgundy vintages; a cool year in which the red grapes were picked in October in miserable conditions, which necessitated a careful selection of grapes in both vineyard and winery. Consequently, quality-focused growers made small volumes of high-quality wines. Stylistically, they are quite high in acidity with firm tannins, so they will need patience, although the potential is there for this to become an outstanding old-school Burgundy vintage.

The ’12s

In contrast, ’12 is a much more showy, glamorous vintage. The concentration of the vintage gives the wines plenty of appeal, but more pleasure would be gained by waiting, particularly for the grander examples.

The ’11s

The ’11 vintage is hard to pin down, thanks to its unusual profile; at once quite generous and a little herbaceous, the wines have generally turned out a little better than anticipated and are now entering a good window for drinking. In many cases, the slightly green, leafy notes which drew parallels to ’04 have now blown off, and these are pleasant wines in quite a classic style.

The ’10s

The ’10 vintage is generally accepted to be one of the top vintages at the beginning of a very high-quality decade. It is often discussed in the same breath as ’05, although the wines certainly have sweeter tannins compared to the densely-structured ’05s. As a consequence, the ’10s are more approachable in most cases than ’05s, although more enjoyment might well be had by waiting a little longer.

The ’09s and ’08s

Similarly, ’09’s generosity and richness makes the wines rather charming now, although they may well revert to something more classic with more time in the cellar. ’08 was renowned for its forthright acid profile; the wines were very austere in their youth, but this has harmonised somewhat over the past decade and most of the wines are in a good place now.

Red Burgundy: ’00 – ’07

With the exception of ’05, I would be tackling the remaining vintages this side of the millennium as they all feel more or less ready. As discussed above, ’05 itself is a vintage with an abundance of tannin which renders most of its wines impenetrable at present, although regional and village wines are opening up.

What is certainly clear is that Burgundy lovers have been very fortunate to have experienced the past decade of wonderful vintages. In many ways we are living in a golden age where the climate ensures ripe grapes at all levels and winemaking has never been so consistently good across the region. What is perceived as a weak vintage nowadays would have been rather good in the 1980s, something that offers reassurance and confidence to consumers and particularly those entering the confusing world of Burgundy for the first time.

Explore our selection of red Burgundy here.

Category: Burgundy Wine