Brexit and Bordeaux

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A number of people have asked me for comments on how the recent Brexit vote might affect the traditional strong relationship between the Bordeaux and London based wine trades.

I thought it might be useful to try to put this into context here. Inevitably after such a huge upheaval, there is enormous uncertainty. But a closer look at the situation provides grounds for reassurance.

Inevitably there will be some short term turbulence, chiefly linked to exchange rate volatility, but personally I do not foresee major long term disruption. England and Bordeaux have been trading closely together for many centuries: the British market has a special place in the hearts of Bordeaux producers; and Bordeaux equally has a special place in the hearts of British wine drinkers. That special relationship, which existed for hundreds of years before the European Union, will endure. As an Englishman based in Bordeaux, and a producer of several Bordeaux wines, and equally as an Englishman who fell completely in love with Bordeaux and its wines a long time ago, I feel well placed to say this from both sides of the question. This feeling is reinforced by many conversations I have had both with fellow producers in Bordeaux, and with many fellow English lovers of the wines of the region. I am stating a personal conviction, but also relaying the results of many conversations with people on both sides.

It is also a fact that Bordeaux’s leading export markets are generally outside the EU anyway.

The figures for exports of all Bordeaux wines over the past twelve months show that the UK is fourth in value terms. The other four in the top five: Hong Kong; USA; China; Japan are none of them in the EU. This has not prevented Bordeaux from exporting to them.

If we narrow the analysis and take a look at the top six export markets for premium Bordeaux wines (over 15 euros per bottle ex cellars), it is again worth noting that five of them are not in the EU, and again the UK, in fourth place, is the only EU member. (They are in order of value in Euros: Hong Kong; USA; China; UK; Switzerland; Japan)

There is perhaps a medium term political risk linked to the possibility of tarifs being imposed on imports and exports to and from the UK in an initial heat of political bad temper, but this would both be sad and also would benefit only New World producers who would seize the chance of increasing market share in the UK, and I think and hope that far sighted and rational politicians in Europe will do all they can to avoid such an outcome, which would obviously be negative for Bordeaux and indeed for all European wine producers.

One of the things that I love about Bordeaux is that it is an outward looking, global trading city, that long ago accepted the challenge of travelling the earth in order to promote and sell the wines of its surrounding vineyards. The market for the great wines of Bordeaux is a global one: Great Britain is a vital traditional and at the same time modern market for our wines, with an illustrious history, a dynamic present, and no doubt a glorious future ahead as one of the principal markets where the great wines of Bordeaux are appreciated. It is important that the wine drinkers of the UK should know that they in their turn are thoroughly appreciated by the winemakers of Bordeaux: our wines have been drunk in England for centuries and will be for centuries to come. In spite of any short term difficulties, we have a great past and a great future together.

Château Pichon Baron
Château Pichon Baron

 

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Château Suduiraut

 

Château Petit-Village
Château Petit-Village
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Great Douro Vineyard Run – 1st edition

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Last weekend I was at Quinta do Noval for the very first Great Douro Vineyard Run. This event was organized by the three Port producing companies: Taylor Fladgate; Symington group; and Quinta do Noval. This was a rather strenuous circuit that started and finished in Pinhão, and went through seven great quintas belonging to the three groups: Quinta do Junco; Quinta da Cavadinha; Quinta da Terra Feita; Quinta do Cruzeiro; Quinta do Noval; Quinta do Bomfim; Quinta da Roêda. After a slightly predictably late start, we started with an agonizing ascent to Junco, of at least 500 metres. The core of the Noval team was Dr Ashton Vice, world renowned chiropractor and passionate Port lover; Axel Probst, ex Luftwaffe Pilot, Port expert and author; and myself. Here we are, pictured running up the driveway to Noval, which was at the 13 km mark.

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We were joined by Marine Castel PR manager from AXA Millésimes in Bordeaux, who very kindly ran at our pace for most of the run and then took off like an untired gazelle a few kilometres before the finish; and Christophe Macra, MW and owner of the Apogé caviste in Paris, who also ran untired and hare-like in front of us and behind, taking endless videos and photographs.

It was, as the various photos shown here will attest, a hugely enjoyable event. I find it reassuring to run with people much fitter than me, and this was the case on Sunday, and I was delighted when after a few kilometres it was decided by a referendum that we would stop running and just walk up anything that we collectively defined as a hill. There were several hills. This had the very positive effect that we all arrived eventually at the finish line alive, but also meant that our time was not of the fastest.

Each of the quintas had the usual expected water stations, with orange slices and bananas, but also small shots of Port wines of various styles from each of the houses. It would have been impolite not to have tried them all, so we did that. I have never read any self help guides on how to become a better runner that mention the beneficial effect of Port wine on long hill runs in the hot sun. But this is perhaps because I have never read any self help books on how to become a better runner. If they do not mention it, I cannot help feeling they are missing something.

At Quinta do Noval we had some live music, and Ana Carvalho had baked some chocolate cake for all the runners, which proved very popular.

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Ana Carvalho of Quinta do Noval

Aida Pinto Ramos of Quinta do Noval served over one thousand servings in 3 cl glasses of chilled Noval Black, which was well received. As there were three hundred runners and seven hundred walkers, this either means that everyone had a glass, or that several came back for more, which I believe in fact was the case.

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Aida Pinto Ramos of Quinta do Noval

 

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GDVR (108)

It was a test of will power to leave the terrace of Noval, knowing that we had nine more kilometres to go, but we did. The undulating terrain took us up and down through the quintas of Bomfim and Roeda, and then we were finally there at the finishing line in Pinhão.

Here is a picture of some of the Noval team members proudly displaying their medals.

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It was a great day, and a wonderful first edition of an event that I hope will become a long term annual occurrence that should attract wine lovers from all over the world. The Marathon du Médoc, in which we actively participate at Pichon Baron, has already showed that the association can be made in a very positive way between an active sporting life and the regular moderate consumption of wine. I found the Douro half marathon an equally life affirming experience and strongly recommend it next year to anyone to whom the idea appeals.

To know more:
– check Quinta do Noval’s Facebook page to discover more photos of the run
– watch Miss Vicky Wine’s video about the ambiance at Quinta do Noval’s stop
– visit the website of Great Douro Vineyard Run

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New look for Disznókő Dry Furmint

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We have just released the 2015 dry Furmint from Disznókő, in an entirely new presentation.

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As you can see, the bottle takes its form from that of the classic, smaller, Tokaji Aszú bottle, reinforcing clearly the message that our dry Furmint is from the great region of Tokaj, and in fact in our case from the vineyard of Disznókő itself. The label has also been much improved, and it is the first time that we have used glass stoppers, as a more elegant alternative to screw cap. I like this new presentation very much, as it has a quality and style that are harmonious with the wine.

There has been considerable development of the dry whites of Tokaj in recent years, and there are some excellent dry wines now being produced from the region, of varying styles. Our wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks, and sees no oak, our aim being to preserve the freshness and minerality that are natural to the furmint grape. It is a wonderful accompaniment to seafood, and a wine that is capable of astonishing people in a blind tasting.

Of course, the primary focus of all our efforts at Disznókő is on the production of the great rich Aszú wines, but we are very proud of our dry Furmint and I invite you to discover it.

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Pichon Baron: an important tasting in Barcelona

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An important tasting was held at the Cave Vila Viniteca in Barcelona in June 2015, attended by the owner of the cave Joaquim Vilà and his team and four of the key tasters from La Revue du vin de France. The results have just been published in the issue 600 of the magazine (April 2016)*. Joaquim Vilà brought together (buying the wines on the Place de Bordeaux) the wines of the Premiers Crus of Bordeaux and seven other properties, mostly Seconds Crus they considered to be challengers.

The vintages tasted were 1989, 1996, 2001 and 2010.
The châteaux were: Ducru-Beaucaillou, Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Léoville Las Cases, Margaux, La Mission Haut-Brion, Montrose, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer, Pichon Baron, Pichon Comtesse de Lalande.

The wines were tasted blind by the panel. I quote from Roberto Petronio’s summary of the results for La Revue du vin de France:
“The most serious of the outsiders to the Premiers Crus is incontestably Pichon Baron. It has to be said that since its purchase by AXA Millésimes in 1987 the property has been transformed and its terroir expresses itself fully in a style that is unanimously recognized.” (…)
“Pichon Baron’s nobility raises it to the highest possible level.” (…)
“This is the most serious challenger to the Premiers Crus. To find it in this position is only an half surprise, given that we have been able to appreciate the extraordinary quality of the wines made here for the last two decades.”

Tasting scores for all the vintages were collated to create an order. The result of this was that Pichon Baron finished in fourth place, behind three of the Premiers Crus, but ahead of two other Premiers, and ahead of all the other challengers. Château Pichon Baron 2010 actually finished ahead of all the other 2010s.

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To emerge ahead of all the Premiers Crus and all the other distinguished challengers was particularly satisfying for this vintage, which was very important to us at Pichon as we consider it to be a particularly pure expression of the Pichon Baron style, the result of many years study of what our finest terroirs can give.

This is obviously encouraging for us at Pichon Baron. As the tasting showed, Pichon has been making great wines again since AXA Millésimes acquired the property in 1987. But the success of the 2010 is particularly striking, as it is confirmation of the potential for greatness of the grand terroir at the heart of our property.

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Since 2000 we have pursued a strategy of extremely strict selection at Pichon Baron, reducing the average quantity of Grand Vin produced by half, with the aim of making Pichon as great as it can possibly be. The basis of our strategy is the fact that at the heart of Pichon’s vineyard lies the great plateau of deep gravelly soils, overlooking the vineyards of Latour on the other side of the road in Pauillac, and Léoville Las Cases just opposite in St Julien. This area of undulating ground of deep beds of gravel has a claim to be considered the greatest terroir in the world for the cabernet-sauvignon grape.

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By reducing the amount of Grand Vin we make, concentrating our blend on wines produced from this great parcel of land, we have aimed to make a wine of quality equal to the best anywhere. We have always known that this was a long term project, and that it might take decades before the change in quality at Pichon Baron was fully recognized. But in recent years people have begun to notice what we have been doing, and a tasting event such as this is an encouraging consecration of our efforts.

One swallow does not make a summer. One successful tasting does not conclusively prove anything. But I trust and hope that there will be others with similar results in years to come.  One of the wonderful things about running a great estate such as Pichon Baron is that the story is never over. When one vintage has safely been harvested, we start to work on the next one. We may take pleasure in the judgement on our wine of people who appreciate these things, but we always know that next year will bring new challenges, new opportunities to try to go even further. We have a clear idea of what we are trying to do at this great property, and we will continue on this path, encouraged along the way by recognition such as that of this remarkable tasting in Barcelona.

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* For more information on this tasting: http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2016/03/tasting-ranks-chateau-margaux-first-among-equals

Images credits: @Château Pichon Baron, deepix, P.A.T, Vinexia

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Tasting Château Pichon Baron 2015 with Jean-René Matignon (VIDEO)

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I found that Pichon Baron was very true to itself in 2015: grand, powerful and profound, a great Pichon in the classical style. I think of it as a synthesis of the 2005 and 2009 wines, with the freshness, depth, and tannic structure of the 2005, together with something of the seductive ripeness of the 2009.

Here is Jean-René Matignon with his impressions of the wine and the vintage.

If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here

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