Bordeaux 2015: picking favourites

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Ch. d'Issan. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Ch. d’Issan. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Looking beyond the wines that ticked boxes and scored the highest, here we present the wines from Bordeaux 2015 that really set our team’s hearts aflutter, and whose prices we hope will do the same.

Ch. Haut-Bailly, Pessac-Léognan – 17.5/20

The nose here is as seductive as ever. With refined, creamy black cherry and redcurrant fruit and a powerful yet feminine charm, the 2015 is another irresistible Haut-Bailly. There is a silky texture, and a beautifully seductive nose. It is immediately appealing. Serious, grown-up and presentable, it is full of lovely sweet spice. Plump, generous and long on the finish, it is a Claret of great depth and complexity, and unmistakably a wine which shows true faith to its origins in Pessac-Léognan.

Blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux – 17.5/20

Deep ruby to purple, Rauzan-Ségla’s 2015 is a wine of great finesse. It displays tasty raspberry, cherry and forest floor aromas. This is really good Margaux. All the aromatics one would expect from this great commune are held together with wonderful precision. This is really rather stylish, elegant and accessible. It is an engaging dark-fruit based wine, with a significant volume of tannin on the finish. The length is long and fresh, with a lingering coolness. The wine displays a tension, suggesting there is more to come in the future. What a terrific effort this year, the wine is certainly very close to its more illustrious neighbours and should therefore offer tremendous value.

Blend: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc

Ch. les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan – 17.5/20

The new cellar, winery and tasting room is now open at Les Carmes and it really is quite an astounding building. The 2015 is a pretty powerful wine, serious, complex and very interesting indeed. The floral bouquet is very pretty, layered with really ripe raspberries which are ever so attractive. My favourite aspect of the wine has to be the earthy, mineral character though, as well as the brilliant tannic structure. The gravelly soils offer a lovely character and the wine has a sense of place, of terroir. Light in the mouth, the tobacco, sweet black fruits and creamy texture create a wonderful palate, but the savoury characteristics are what I enjoy most about this wine. It is another really promising wine for this up and coming estate.

Blend: 45% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon

Ch. Brane-Cantenac, Margaux – 17/20

This estate is always one of my favourite red Bordeaux and it is beautifully harmonious and quintessentially Margaux in 2015. A Second Growth of real complexity, its attractive nose has a wonderfully floral perfume. The well-integrated tannins and nicely judged acidity combine to produce a benchmark palate. There is real potential here. The racy freshness of the vintage is present and the coolness on the finish is rewarding. Ever so generous, delicious, fresh and juicy.

Blend: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Carménère

Ch. d’Issan, Margaux – 17/20

Displaying a deep plumy, ruby colour, the nose here exhibits a beautiful bouquet of flowers, liquorice, sweet currants and plums. There is lovely purity here, and mouth-watering acidity. With precise character and stunning concentration, the impressive finish lasts and lasts. What a refreshing finish. Really delicious, this is one of the best wines from Margaux in 2015, where quality across the board was high. We have no hesitation in recommending Ch. d’Issan this year. A beautifully harmonious wine, it could be the best Ch. d’Issan we have ever tasted en primeur.

Blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot

Ch. Léoville-Barton. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Ch. Léoville-Barton. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Ch. Pichon Baron, Pauillac – 17.5/20

This wine suggests that Ch. Pichon Baron is really making the most of their great terroir. There is layered complexity on offer here and the weight of fruit is superbly controlled and focused. Layered with terrific creamy notes, this wine lifts, lifts and lifts with each moment it sits on the palate. The generosity of fruit fills the finish and it combines beautifully with the spicy, toasty vanilla. There is some power here, but the structure is so sound, that it is felt but not forceful. The finish is prolonged and effortlessly enjoyable.

Blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

Ch. Giscours, Margaux – 16.5/20

There are generous helpings of blackberries and cream on the palate here and they sit wonderfully alongside the elegant Margaux femininity. Fine tannins, crunchy black fruit and excellent length. The Cabernet Franc provides a tasty, peppery minerality and the Cabernet Sauvignon all the structure and texture, which is typical of this commune. Focused and direct, it is a real pleasure to taste this wine. This is a serious, grown-up Ch. Giscours. I love the precision and character. It is so representative of Margaux.

Blend: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

Ch. Léoville-Barton, St Julien – 16.5/20

Full-bodied, powerful, and loaded with flavours of forest fruits, plums, cigar box, and vanilla. This is another benchmark wine from the Bartons in 2015. There is a real spicy character to the wine, some charm and lots of finesse. A pleasing sweetness emerges on the finish. Well balanced, the soft tannins are nice and grainy, and pleasingly integrated. Cassis, black cherries, and blackberries dominate. A very tasty St Julien and unquestionably a wine for the cellar.

Blend: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot

Ch. Pavie Macquin, St Emilion – 16.5/20

In recent years this fine estate has performed extremely well and 2015 is no exception. The wine has a great balance of ripe raspberry fruit and soft-grained tannins. It is simply delicious and will be a joy to drink two to three years after the vintage and 10 years thereafter. It shows a silky, seductive nose, with a core of redcurrant fruit. It is certainly one of the more successful wines from St Emilion this year.

Blend: 84% Merlot, 16% Cabernet

Ch. Branaire-Ducru, St Julien – 16.5/20

Patrick Maroteau’s excellent 2015 from this Fourth Growth estate shows a real purity, with great precision and ripe tannins that grip and offer an intense focus. The rich, fresh, spicy nose of damsons and blackberry fruit oozes class. There is precision here, a polish – quite simply harmonious. The wine tastes glorious, just as great wine should taste: crunchy pure and fresh fruit, high acidity, silky ripe tannins and nice balance. This is a triumphant wine, with a typical and classic blend for this great estate, and phenomenal length. It is a wine that the château can be proud of. Really elegant and one of our favourites, it’s a must-buy this year.

Blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc

Browse all the latest releases here and read more on Bordeaux 2015 here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Tasting the HoseMaster’s medicine

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Richard Hemming old school

Following on from yesterday’s post, Richard Hemming MW pens a response to the HoseMaster of Wine – affectionately imitating the satirical writer’s style, which we trust he will find as flattering as receiving 100 points from any of the critics whose ankles he yaps at.

Dear HoseMaster,

I very much enjoyed your piece about homeless critics. It’s a splendid story, though not as splendid as the fourth storey of my Chelsea townhouse, from where I read your piece and laughed so heartily that I jolly nearly choked on my breakfast Sherry. It is quaintly touching that a blogger such as yourself shows concern for the plight of your superiors – it’s a bit like Cantemerle worrying about whether Lafite will be able to increase its 2015 en primeur prices.

Even so, you are right to say that homelessness is a growing problem. Tragically, many of my colleagues no longer own second (or indeed third) homes in the south of France. Mind you, that’s because we all prefer to invest our cash in offshore funds these days. It’s much more efficient than flipping cases of cult Napa Cabernet. It’s like reverse osmosis in Bordeaux: everyone’s doing it but nobody’s admitting it. But so long as we all get rich, who cares?

Of course, it helps that we can spend so little on sustaining ourselves. I’m pleased to report that London still has a thriving scene for vinous freeloaders, with wine dinners and tastings galore. I can happily eat and drink my way non-stop from breakfast on Monday to dinner on Friday at the expense of the wine industry, if you get my gist – my gastroenterologist, that is. The hosts never object to being sent the bills – from Harley Street, naturally. One’s image must be maintained just as carefully as one’s liver.

You’re also quite right that internet has given everyone a voice, which is why the trade is so keen to court the attention of people who actually know what they’re talking about –professionals, in other words. The last thing they want is to be reduced to talking to customers. Or, even worse, satirical bloggers. They still want people with credibility. I’m a Master of Wine, for instance, yet many people still think I’m quite respectable.

But seriously, I’m actually on the MW committee which decides whose reputations to make or break. It’s fun. We’re a cross between a secret power-broking society like the Bilderberg Group and a puerile boozing club like the Bilderberg Group. In fact, the reason there are no homeless wine critics (contrary to your supposition) is because we keep our friends close and our enemies closer. We even decide who gets to win the wine writing competitions. Rumour has it that you might be up for a lifetime achievement award this year.

Which just goes to show that none of us in the wine world take ourselves too seriously. Doesn’t it?

Richard Hemming MW is a wine writer, educator and consultant. His articles appear on the pages of JancisRobinson.com, The World of Fine Wine and Noble Rot, among others.

Category: Miscellaneous

The HoseMaster of Wine on our forgotten wine critics

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HoseMaster-whiff-of-wet-dog

While often the butt of jokes, the world of wine isn’t necessarily known for its sense of humour: but the HoseMaster of Wine is rapidly changing this, calling the wine trade’s bluff with his cruelly comic prose. We asked satirical wine writer Ron Washam (AKA the HoseMaster himself) to write this month’s guest post.

They are the forgotten among us. Robbed of their dignity (though one wonders if they had ever possessed any dignity considering their chosen field), forced to live on the streets, supremely unemployable given their lack of any useful skills, we notice their presence as we go about our daily routines, but we look away. In the recent past, we would gaze upon them with schadenfreude. One of them drunkenly stumbles and falls to the pavement, and we have to suppress our satisfaction at their schadenfreudian slip. For years we spoke of their symbolic death. But they never really died, only their profession did. They are not dead, they are homeless and forsaken. Once regarded with awe and reverence, they are now a national disgrace. They are our homeless wine critics.

It would be easy to blame the youngest generation of wine consumers for the problem. After all, it was their generation who turned away from their authority, who shunned their scores and ignored their advice. Or blame the internet if you like. The internet made wine critics obsolete, exposed their limitations and weaknesses. The internet allowed everyone to have a voice, allowed anyone to be a wine critic, allowed everyone a tongue in the wine tasting game. And as we have come to learn all too painfully, in a world where everyone has a tongue, the ones with forked tongues are kings. And what is the internet if not a worldwide web of forked tongues?

A few of the unemployed wine critics were able to find other work. James Suckling, for example, became a carnival barker, a job for which he is uniquely qualified. It isn’t much of a leap from rating Bordeaux en primeur to selling tickets to see Siamese twins and dog boys. Birth defects – I’m a 96 on that! Jancis Robinson is selling refrigerators, and has published the definitive, “Oxford Companion to Magnets”. Jamie Goode was in pretty good shape with his Ph.D., and is now, of course, a waiter.

But most of the once-celebrated wine critics are now spending their evenings huddled around large bonfires of old issues of “Decanter” trying to stay warm. This isn’t easy, as “Decanter” generates so little heat, and, notoriously, sheds very little light. Many have not eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant in weeks, and so are better fed. Metropolitan areas seem to have one on every corner, holding handmade signs written on old wine shipping boxes that read, “Will Trade Points for Spare Change,” or “Watch Me Spit for a Nickel.” And as horrible as it must seem, none have tasted a First Growth in years. Sadly, most are reduced to drinking Pinot Grigio, with which they also shower. It’s nice that it’s unscented.

Life is unspeakably hard for our homeless wine critics. Where once they were wined and dined in the finest restaurants, traveled the world on all-expenses-paid junkets, and tasted the greatest wines on a daily basis, now they search for a warm place to sleep at night, and are forced to make their own foie gras from local pigeons. Once pampered and held in high esteem, they are now wine’s Untouchables. As they say in a great vintage, it was a very long fall.

It’s a sad commentary on the rest of us that we have grown accustomed to the deranged and mentally ill on our streets. That they now have to contend with wine critics seems unspeakably cruel. Life is hard enough on the streets without having to listen to debates about natural wines or how the Jura is underrated. Homelessness has never been so undesirable. With so many homeless wine critics in the mix, drug addiction is at an all-time high; though, on the bright side, only crack over 94 points consistently sells.

There are volunteer groups who try to help our homeless wine critic population. They organize clothing drives, collecting loud sports coats and particularly ugly neckties which are donated to the wine critics to make them feel at ease, able to dress as they did when they were employed. The groups send volunteers to homeless wine critic encampments, or “wine expos” in the vernacular, where the volunteers make sure the wine critics have plenty of free cheese and designer water, as well as name tags and crappy stemware, to make them feel useful and engaged. There are monthly clinics to have their noses checked – where were those when they needed them? But it’s never enough. Being a homeless wine critic is a tough life. Most ascend into madness.

We couldn’t have seen this coming. Most of us believed that wine critics and their scores would always be with us, that they had the sort of job security that suicide bombers only dream about. But it only took one generation to change all of that. It may be a blessing that so many of our important wine critics were already old when homelessness overcame them. There’s a distinct advantage when living on the streets to being anosmic, having your taste be a thing of the past. But we mustn’t forget that wine critics, too, are human beings. Most of them. OK, some of them. We must remember to treat them with respect, and some measure of dignity, as they always treated winemakers and wineries. Most of them. OK, some of them. We owe them that.

Next time you pass a homeless wine critic, don’t look through him. Remember, you are but a few bad choices away from being him. Be generous, be kind, maybe offer him a hand up. Or, better yet, offer him a glass of your Wine of the Weak.

See what Richard Hemming MW had to say to the HoseMaster or read more of Ron Washam’s writing on his blog.

Category: Miscellaneous

A taste of Bordeaux: canelés

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Caneles-moulds-at-Ormes-de-Pez

As the Bordeaux 2015 campaign begins, our Head Chef Stewart Turner offers a classic Bordelais recipe for canelés while Richard Veal suggests appropriate accompaniments.

On the table: These little cakes are as much a part of Bordeaux as its wines, and have been in and out of fashion probably as often.  A cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell, they are bittersweet and fragrant with vanilla and rum. At the Waterside Inn we used to serve them as petits fours and from that first taste I was hooked. They’re fantastic at any time of day.

For this recipe you will need canelé moulds, which are classically copper but you can now find silicon alternatives that work just as well for a fraction of the price. Beeswax is used to line the moulds and is really an integral part of what makes the canelé, although I have seen recipes that just line the moulds with butter. While this is much simpler than hunting down beeswax, I’m sure would have the Bordelais up in arms. The patience of a saint is also a pre-requisite for these little beauties, as the batter really needs to be made two days in advance.

In the glass: This culinary question has an obvious geographic answer, Sauternes. For me the creamy richness of older Sauternes works well with the sweet, crumpety interior.  That’s not to say though, there aren’t other options for those who make canelés a daily habit and perhaps need more variety. Not too far from source, you could also opt for Rivesaltes Blanc. Again, the relatively low acidity and toast of this oxidised wine works well with the sugary crisp crust. Failing those options what about trying some of the leftover rum you used when making them in the first place? (Who doesn’t make their own canelés after all?)

Canelés
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 50g butter
  • 1 vanilla pod –split and scraped
  • 100g plain flour
  • 250g castor sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
  • 50ml dark rum
  • 50g beeswax
  • 50ml vegetable oil

Place the milk, butter, sugar and split vanilla pod in a pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from heat and allow to cool while you deal with the other ingredients.

Whisk the eggs and yolks together really well, sift the flour and add the salt. Strain the milk mixture through a sieve, keeping the vanilla pod. Once cool, combine the eggs and the milk mixture. Whisk in the flour a bit at a time until you have a smooth batter. Sieve into a clean container, add the vanilla pod and the rum, then cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

A couple of hours before you want to cook the canelés , melt the beeswax and oil over a gentle heat. Brush the moulds with the wax and allow to set. Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Give the mixture a good whisk and remove the vanilla pod. Fill the moulds to within 2mm of the top and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn the tray through 180 degrees and drop the oven temperature to 180˚C. Cook for a further 25 minutes, or until dark golden.

Turn out onto a cooling rack but leave in the mould for about 10 minutes, then remove the mould & serve.

Category: Food & Wine