A punishingly early start from St Emilion on Thursday morning was rewarded: Haut Brion for breakfast. Indeed, a glass of wine at 8am seemed just what we all needed after the genuinely exciting drive through Bordeaux city centre to make the appointment on time. Our driver Arnaud’s local knowledge of the backstreets had the edge on Jamie’s Ways app, and his Ayrton Senna driving style had us quite literally on the edges of our seats. The Haut Brion and La Mission both showed great promise, but the La Mission Blanc stole the show. On to Haut Bailly, which has made possibly the most successful 2nd wine of the vintage in their La Parde, followed by a grand vin of impeccable balance, linear acidity, gravelly tannins and graphite elegance.
Thursday’s one and only UGC tasting was at Carbonnieux, to taste through the reds and whites of Pessac Léognan and Graves. The appellation has variable soils, with higher clay content in certain pockets, and deeper gravels in others. It was clear that some vineyards had suffered somewhat during the hot drought of July and August, with the reds showing some inconsistency. However, there are some tremendous whites, with Chx Latour Martillac, Olivier, Fieuzal and Bouscaut making excellent examples.
As various members of the team peeled off to catch flights back to London, a small contingent continued to Domaine de Chavalier for a glorious lunch in the warm spring sunshine which, fortuitously, has accompanied us all week. The afternoon took us to Smith Haut Lafitte, Pape Clement, and finally Carmes Haut Brion. It was my first visit to this property, whose new cellar rises out of the small tributary that flows through the gardens like an iceberg. The estate stands apart from its appellation for its atypical vinification techniques, which involve whole bunch fermentation, pigeage, and highly reductive winemaking through the continual submersion of the cap. The wine, as a result, is quite unlike any of its cousins at the UGC tasting. It has a sweetness of fruit combined with the floral aroma of iris and violet. It’s very unusual, but in a good way (‘like the Tertre Roteboeuf of Pessac’, David commented at the time).
Friday morning has been spent in Sauternes, with visits to Yquem, Climens, Suduiraut, La Tour Blanche, and Sigalas Rabaud. This final property had stood out at the UGC tasting on Tuesday evening as a particular highlight, so it was with great pleasure that we joined Laure Compeyrot for a simple but delicious lunch on the lawn in front of the château: an experience that will live long in my memory.
What a week! We’ve had a fantastic atmosphere in the group, tried some genuinely exciting wines (the highs of 2016 are truly great), and have learned a great deal about this vast, complex, and diverse region.