Bordeaux 2009: Day Three in full

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April 2nd 2010

The third day of UGC week has been designated Right Bank day. I view this with some trepidation. My taste naturally inclines to the Left Bank and, in a vintage such as this where early-ripening Merlot has tended to massive ripeness and huge alcohol levels, this may be a pretty heavy day’s tasting.

It is a good forty-five minutes from Bordeaux to Libourne in the morning rush hour. I have not properly registered the ETD. After a panicky text from Robin I am showered, dressed and ready to go with my breakfast croissant stuffed in my handbag for later consumption. Another dismal day of driving rain. We make it to Evangile just a couple of minutes late under a truly black thunder cloud.

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A very pretty chateau with a classy tasting area amid their temperature controlled vats. Painted two elegant shades of dark grey this is a model of taste without ostentation. The wine is a bombshell, voluptuous but poised. A very promising start to the day.

Next stop Le Pin. My first vsit to this incomparable Bordeaux legend. Jacques Thienpont has moved out of the basement of the ramshackle farmhouse which has been the home of this icon for so many years. He has built a new chai which is simplicity personified. This is one of the only places where we tasted from barrel – no designer tasting room for Le Pin. It is all about the wine. And what a wine – a real dream, incredibly pretty and feminine, a sublime silky texture and unbelieveable layers and length. In the top three.

Robin and Jacques Thienpont at Le Pin
Robin and Jacques Thienpont at Le Pin

Then another Thienpont family stop at Vieux Chateau Certan. I should probably admit my bias at this point. Tasting VCC 2005 in the cellar with Alexandre Thienpont four years ago was something of an epiphany for me. The man is modesty personified and a complete genius. In my opinion he has done it again. A beautiful wine – Audrey Hepburn to Evangile’s Angelina Jolie.

Two more stops – Denis Durantou at Eglise Clinet and then Feytit Clinet which is easy to miss as it is simply a barn tacked onto the end of the winemaker’s house – and then the Pomerol UGC at Ch Gazin. A lot more freshness and elegance than expected. Beauregard performed well, Clinet was a little Parkerish for my taste but an impressive wine nonetheless and certain to please lots of tasters, Petit Village another hit with La Conseillante coming out as my favourite.

At Cheval Blanc Pierre Lurton decribed the vintage as “superbe”. Their tasting pavilion is elegance personified and their three wines were all very pure and the embodiment of balance. A real delight. We were fortunate to be taken to another tasting area inside the chateau for Ch d’Yquem. This has been described as a “great” vintage in Sauternes and who am I to argue. There was a running joke about wines good enough to “crache a l’interieur” and this made the grade. There were empty spittoons in that room. There is no doubt that you will pay handsomely for what you get but this is a killer d’Yquem.

The waiting room at Cheval Blanc
The waiting room at Cheval Blanc

A quick stop in St Emilion to buy macaroons at Matthieu Moulierac to eat over the Easter weekend,

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an excellent lunch at La Cadene and then straght on to Ausone. A very successful year for Alain Vauthier across all his wines. At the affordable end of the scale Fonbel is a beautifully made wine while the Chapelle and the Ausone itslf are stunning.

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A complete contrast at the next stop – Gerard Perse at Pavie is one of the most controversial producers in Bordeaux. Parker almost invariably loves his wines, while other equally respected wine writers struggle to make sense of them. I am with the others – for me these were such tannic monsters it is hard to see where they are going to end up and how they will ever be in balance. Having said that I was fortunate enough to have Pavie 2000 just before Christmas and it was quite delicious so maybe it is a wait and see.

A slightly hectic trip up a one way street, up the hairpin bends of Pavie Macquin’s implausibly precipitous drive and we are greeted warmly by the charming Nicolas Thienpont. Another excellent tasting – Poujeaux, Beausejour, Larcis-Ducasse and Pavie Macquin all standing out.

Next stop was the hilltop home and almost Burgundian cellar of Francois Mitjaville at Tertre-Rotebeouf. The country around St Emilion is much prettier than the Medoc and Francois’ home is a charming spot. He is an amazing character. Passionate, eloquent and intense – his wines are voluptuous yet graceful and deeply seductive. His 2009 has an unbelieveable 15.6% alcohol but such is the balance that there is not even a sensation of heat on the palate. He makes tiny amounts and we have to fight for an allocation but these are unique and rather thrilling wines.

Three more stops are the St Emilion UGC at Beausejour Becot, and then the office of two negociants on the quai in Libourne itself, Moueix and Audy. My relative inexperience is starting to show through and palate fatigue is setting in. Fortunately our two wine buyers are still completely in the groove and taking copious notes. From my rather scanty notes the wines which stood out at the UGC were La Tour Figeac, Figeac and Canon. There was lovely class across all of the Moueix wines, while at Audy Chateaux Charmail and Bonalgue were both punching well above their weight.

The relentless pace was kept up with only ten minutes at the hotel to scrub the worst of the inky tannins off our teeth and gums before jumping in a cab across town to Verretigo. A spectacular new restaurant with a brilliant wine list featuring not just the local wines but an impressive range of Alsace, Loire Burgundy, Rhone, Italian too. We were ready to abandon Cabernet and Merlot in favour of Burgundy. Delicious food too – a very perfect piece of foie gras to start and a comically large cote de boeuf for two which could have happily fed the entire table.

We left the hardcore in the restaurant to indulge in another bottle or two and rolled back to the hotel around 1am muttering darkly about salad and mineral water for weeks to come.