February 13th 2018
The “Two Years On” tasting of Bordeaux, commonly known as the Southwold Tasting, owes its origins to the journalist Clive Coates MW and the former chairman of Adnams Brewery, Simon Loftus. Simon hosted the first event at his home in Southwold in 1982. The concept was simple: review the Bordeaux vintage that was bottled two years previously and three years after their primeur release. The wines would be tasted blind in flights. The inaugural tasting was a modest affair, with just 30 wines, amongst them all the first growths plus some other highly sought-after estates from the right and left banks. Today it has grown to encompass some 20 professionals, consisting of leading UK journalists and importers. We rely on the help of two négociant friends from Bordeaux, Bill Blatch and Hamish Wakes Walker, who collect the 250 samples kindly donated by the Châteaux for us to taste blind over the course of two days. It is a unique event and the only one of its kind around the world.
This year it was 2014’s turn to be sniffed, swilled, dissected, and complimented or not, as the case may be. In my report at primeur time, my comments were that whilst some of the best wines tended to come from the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, it was more importantly a vintage where terroir and location were crucial, and showed itself to be a vintage where the origins of the great Bordeaux hierarchy was clearly on display.
It is almost three years since we tasted the wines en primeur and, on re-tasting, we discovered that our initial thoughts in terms of style, quality, value and favourite wines were fully endorsed. In reality, at such an early stage in a wine’s development, the charm of the primeur puppy fat having gone, but before the wine has reached its pomp of maturity, this is never the easiest of blind tastings. It was clear though that for the best wines this was Bordeaux’s strongest vintage since the great 2010. Slightly less easy on the palate than 2012, but with a greater poise, brightness and direction. Some tasters were tempted to compare it to the vibrant 1996 vintage, which is showing so very well today. It did also highlight that this was not a vintage to purchase across the board. The less well positioned vineyards seemed to struggle to achieve optimum ripeness as a result of the cooler summer conditions. In the Médoc I was delighted that estates such as La Lagune and Lanessan showed a natural poise; in a similar way to Denis Durantou’s little properties of La Chenade and Les Cruzelles in Lalande-de-Pomerol which both showed lovely promise at affordable prices.
On the right bank, whilst it was slightly less obvious at primeur time, over the course of the two days, our impression was that St Emilion had outperformed Pomerol. Only time will tell if this remains the case. Two favourites of ours during the primeurs showed real distinction again: Ch Canon and Ch Figeac. But as I mentioned at release time, I felt some tasters might underestimate Vieux Château Certan’s sheer class due to its elegance and refinement, and again, I felt this was the case during the Southwold blind tasting. For me it was an absolute joy and a must-keep wine in any cellar.
Whilst the famed appellations and estates of the Médoc made up the core of the list in the top 20 based on our combined scores, it shouldn’t be ignored that wines 3 – 9 came from Pessac-Léognan (La Mission in 3rd place, and Haut Brion); Pomerol (Petrus and Le Pin); and St Emilion (Angelus, Ausone and Cheval Blanc). The two stand-out wines were Mouton-Rothschild (1st place) followed by Latour (not released en primeur).
Following this distinct band of great names Ch Léoville Barton in St Julien came in 10th place. Léoville Barton has always been a favourite of ours at Goedhuis. Today this estate is run by three generations of Bartons: Anthony, his daughter Lilian, and grandchildren Damien and Mélanie. They got everything right in 2014. It is a truly joyous wine that will give pleasure at dinner tables round the world for many years to come.
In short, the best Cabernet vineyards did extremely well. In St Estèphe I loved Montrose, which was deep and intense whilst maintaining finesse. Calon was also excellent as was Phélan Ségur, always a star performer at this tasting.
Pauillac had many highlights but the must mention wines are Pichon Lalande, and Xavier Borie’s superb Grand Puy Lacoste and fine value Haut Batailley. However the outright winner was Lynch Bages – a superlative wine this year.
St Julien showed what a remarkably consistent appellation it is. Léoville Las Cases a wine that I scored equal to the Barton and showed enormous potential and breeding. The Ducru- Beaucaillou was exquisite, polished and beautifully giving.
Finally, on the left bank, the wines of Margaux. These can be a little overlooked at this tasting. This year the top four were Palmer, Rauzan Ségla, Brane Cantenac and Issan, which absolutely shone, sitting well alongside the very best of the vintage. (Sadly, the Ch Margaux was corked).
South of Bordeaux city in Pessac-Léognan, I found the red wines more interesting than the whites. I particularly loved Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly, whilst not forgetting the bolder but classy nature of both Smith Haut Lafitte and Pape Clément. Heading south still further we arrive at the Sauternes. The Château owners rate their 2014s very highly, but my impressions of two years ago that this “was a vintage not necessarily of complexity but one which will give huge pleasure to lovers of sweet late-picked wines” remain the same. Whether due to palate fatigue at the end of two long days, or their style, again the 2014 sweet wines appeared no more than that: they are lovely wines but greatness does not await them.
To conclude, this was a fascinating tasting. The 2014 vintage was released at a time when exchange rates were favourable for the UK and Châteaux owners had priced their wines very favourably after three weaker primeur campaigns. For those who bought en primeur, today they look excellent buys. Even today prices still look sensible and will offer some fine drinking not many years henceforth.
Vieux Château Certan Pomerol
Charming aromas of plums and damsons, with a hint of herbaceous Cabernet Franc. This is a wine with harmony and gentle charm. The natural generosity of fruit is balanced with lovely elegance. Very long and very refined.
Ch Haut Batailley 5ème Cru Pauillac
Radiant purple colour. This has a very exuberant nose of wild bramble fruits with a touch of vanilla pod. In the palate it has a superb degree of intensity. Vibrant and fresh, with a structured Pauillac tannic core. A wine punching considerably above its classification.
Ch Pichon Lalande 2ème Cru Pauillac
A real show stopper, with striking plum pudding aromas. A wine which balances the natural grace of Pichon Lalande with the inherent power of Pauillac. Full and mouthcoating, this will need time in bottle, but is a truly superb wine.
Ch Ducru Beaucaillou 2ème Cru St Julien
A glorious example of St Julien and the benefits of its warmer vineyards that sit alongside the Gironde Estuary. Beautifully scented, with hints of violets and summer pudding fruits. In the palate this is generous, with rich fruit and a fine silky tannic structure. A beautifully textured wine, with subtle freshness and great length. A real joy.
Ch La Lagune 3ème Cru Haut-Médoc
A very composed wine, not a powerhouse. It shows classy Cabernet Sauvignon drive, with freshness and restraint. A wine which will be approachable relatively early, and will be very rewarding.
Ch Lanessan Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc
A wine which showed the benefit of its location close to St Julien. It has an appealing fresh herbal red fruit aroma. It offers everything that Ch Lanessan does so well: true Médoc character, with a drive of fresh Cabernet energy. The tannins provide substance and length, aided by a gentle sweetness of fruit on the finish.
Ch Montrose 2ème Cru St Estèphe
A very polished wine, with hints of cedarwood, coffee bean and spice on the nose. In the palate the initial attack is one of power and intensity, and then the richness of the fruit takes hold to reveal a wine of subtlety underneath. Beautifully integrated and very long.
Ch Mouton Rothschild 1er Cru Pauillac
Blackcurrants and cassis on the nose. This wine shows what separates a first growth from the rest. It is so layered with hints of spice, dark berry fruits and truffles. A generous wine that retains poise and restraint. It has both power and grace. I wanted to keep on tasting this wine and can’t wait to drink it properly when fully mature! Deservedly the top wine of the 2 days.