Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Chinese buy their 100th château in Bordeaux!

Today’s edition of the Sud-Ouest newspaper reports that the 100th Bordeaux château has been purchased by a Chinese (that includes Hong Kong and Chinese living outside their country of origin). As we all know, the Chinese market has receded, but the country still imports one out of every ten liters produced in Bordeaux, which is to say one hell of a lot of wine…

The Chinese strategy has been to target estates in less showy appellations, particularly the Entre-Deux-Mers region. Furthermore, the attractiveness of the château building and grounds is a major factor in purchases. Only one classified growth is Chinese-owned: Bellefont-Belcier in Saint-Emilion.

Curiously, the Chinese now own a huge chunk of the Fronsac appellation, with châteaux Richelieu, La Rivière, and Plain-Point. In the Médoc, the Chinese flag waves over Loudenne, Barateau, Bernadotte, Preuillac, Andron, and Les Tourelles.

Mr. Naijie Qu from Dalian (northeast China) alone has 23 châteaux, totalling 500 hectares.
That having been said, all Chinese holdings amount to just 1.5% of the total surface area under vine.

There have been a few management problems and other difficulties due to the Chinese ignorance of French labor laws, but the trend continues unabated.

Money talks in Bordeaux, and is worth noting the openness to foreigners as compared to the ruckus caused by the Chinese purchase of the Château de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, where they own next to no vineyards.


2000 Château Clerc Milon

I’m having a whale of a time drinking many of my 2000 Bordeaux. There will always be people telling you to wait another couple of decades, to which I say “Bah, humbug !”. Of course, the very top wines may need that much time. But many, many wines of less exalted lineage are fine just now.
Trust me.



To wit, this 2000 Clerc Milon (40 hectares), a 5th growth from the Mouton Rothschild stable. I’ve always liked Clerc Milon and agree with conventional views that it is one notch above its brother, another 5th growth Pauillac, Ch. d’Armailhac (70 hectares), with which it is inevitably compared. This is reflected in the prices of the respective wines.

I visited the new Clerc Milon cellar last year. It is built in a resolutely modern style on a rise directly overlooking Ch. Lafite Rothschild.
Apparently, a new cellar is also planned for d’Armailhac in the near future.

Back to the wine… 2000 Clerc Milon has a medium-deep colour and a bricking rim, looking slightly older than its age. The wine leaves thick legs on the glass. By the way, there is a common misconception that this is due to glycerine. However, I can remember a tasting tutored by the late Professor Emily Peynaud in which he said that this is incorrect: it is due to alcohol.

The nose is not very pronounced. It is a little dusty with subtle hints of raisins and black fruit jelly.

The wine is more interesting on the palate. It starts our round, then dips, and comes back with an assertive velvety tannic texture. It is warming, a little dry, and has a strong finish that even displays a little alcoholic hotness. The flavors include ethereal cherry-vanilla nuances and even some menthol/eucalyptus notes. The aftertaste is what makes this wine worthwhile. The textured tannin and grip also show that, although it has definitely entering its drinking window, it will stay on its plateau for a long time. In the galaxy of Médoc great growths this wine is middle of the road. But that’s still saying a great deal, and it is unquestionably a good, solid Pauillac.

2007 Clos Dady, 2002 Ch. Troplong Mondot, and 2000 Ch. Siran 




I have been a fan of Clos Dady for a while. This 6-hectare estate in Preignac was recently purchased by the Russian Eli Ragimov. It is currently managed in conjunction with nearby Château d’Arche.As opposed to the red wines of Bordeaux, 2007 is a good year for sweet white wines, and this comes through in 2007 Clos Dady, which I enjoyed with panfried foie gras – a marriage made in heaven…
The color is a rich deep golden yellow with bronze highlights. The nose is very fresh and fruity with quince and (decided) pear aromas, with some waxy nuances. The bouquet seems much more overripe than botrytized.

The taste goes from round and unctuous into a finish with pronounced acidity. The aftertaste is pleasant, but on the short side.
This is nevertheless a good wine to enjoy at this stage of its development. It is fresh and vital. I am of the opinion that there is a style of Sauternes (like this) that appeals more to the French market, as opposed to the other kind (more botrytized, more concentrated, and oaky) that appeals to foreign markets. At table, even so, this Clos Dady was a treat.



I expected much from the 2002 Ch. Troplong Mondot, a wine that I do not follow regularly, but which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru status in 2006 and confirmed in 2012. Aware that 2002 is not such a wonderful vintage, especially on the Right Bank, I was willing to make allowances. I was nevertheless disappointed with what I tasted. The color is lovely and deep, looking younger than its age. The nose has hints of leather and musk as well as a ferrous, and what I call a soy sauce element. It is ripe and shows candied fruit. Things unfortunately go downhill from there… The wine is simply steamrollered by the oak.
One of the great discussions among Bordeaux lovers is the “classic” versus the “modern” style. I freely admit to belonging more to the former camp. Still, I have an open mind. But when a wine is as overwhelmed as this by barrel ageing, you simply have to admit it. 2002 Troplong Mondot is thus big and a little “hot” on the palate with a hard, dry, oaky aftertaste. It is curiously diluted on the attack, and then goes dumb and tight. The wine showed a little better after a few hours in the decanter, but it is going nowhere. Someone was a just a little too ambitious that year in light of the fruit’s potential.
The last Troplong Mondot I had was a 1990, which was delightful, so I do not mean to paint every vintage with the same brush by any means.
Also, I am anxious to go to the restaurant that recently opened at Troplong Mondot, called Les Belles Perdrix. I’ve heard very good reports…
The Bordeaux rumor mill has been very active with news of a possible takeover of the estate since Christine Valette passed away last year, but these seem to be ungrounded.



I am increasingly finding that mid-range 2000 Bordeaux is ready to drink. So, I decanted a bottle of 2000 Ch. Siran to have with rabbit à la moutarde. I should point out that the mustard ends up being very subtle when blended with the cooking juices and cream, so this did not really skew my evaluation. Anyway, the color of this 2000 Siran is very deep and thick, looking younger than its years. The nose is surprisingly mute. Although pure, it is not very expressive at all. What little I could detect smelled like beetroot. The wine is somewhat better on the palate and reminded me of nothing so much as the way Médoc used to taste when I first arrived in Bordeaux, over 30 years ago. I noted cedar and a touch of blackcurrant, but also unquestionable greenness and bitterness on the finish. I came back to the wine 5 hours after the meal, and it had changed little. The tealike flavors are very reminiscent of old-fashioned Médoc. Above all, this wine would have been much better a few years ago. You’d have to look very hard to find any of the characteristics usually associated with Margaux…

Huge turnout as Bordeaux protests against terrorist attacks

OK, I know this has nothing to do with wine, but the reaction was extraordinary here in Bordeaux.

I remember what it was like when Mitterrand won the presidential election in 1981, and when France won the World Cup in 1998.

But it was nothing like what we saw today.

2000 Ch. Haut-Condissas

I have met Jean Guyon only once, a few years ago when I was invited to dinner at Château Haut-Condissas in Bégadan with a group of wine lovers from
I might add that he correctly identified a wine served blind on that occasion (château and vintage – it was an old Beychevelle).
Jean is very different from your run-of-the-mill château owner. He is plain-spoken and a touch inconoclastic – which suits me just fine. He has got his hands dirty, built an empire of 200 hectares of vines from nothing, and made a great success. His commercial flagship is Château Rollan de By, an excellent AOC Médoc that is competitively priced and critically acclaimed. He also owns Château La Clare, Château Tour Seran, Château Greysac (which he bought from the Agnelli family of Fiat in 2012), etc. in the Médoc.
Total production is approximately 1.3 million bottles.
The cream of all this is Château Haut-Condissas, an AOC Médoc from Bégadan. This ten-hectare vineyard is planted with 60% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc.
Haut-Condissas was a controversial wine in the past among English-speakers because it achieved unexpectedly stellar results at blind tastings held by the Grand Jury Européen, outdistancing several first growths. People criticized the methodology and thought that the wine must necessarily be a flashy “modern” over-oaked Bordeaux that stands out in a tasting, but is not one for the long haul, or for refined palates…

Being somewhat of a doubting Thomas, I wanted to see for myself, of course.
I had bought a bottle of the 2000 Haut-Condissas at Auchan in the Mériadec shopping center in Bordeaux some time back and decided to open it on New Year’s Day 2015. I figured that fourteen years should let most any wine show most of what it has to deliver.



Well, the experience was more positive than I expected.

The color is so deep that I had trouble decanting the wine. The rim is only just starting to brown, making the wine look younger than its age. It also leaves thick sheets on the side of the glass.
The nose shows hints of candied black fruit, cranberry, blackberry jelly, untanned leather, meat, and crushed blackcurrant leaves.
As good as the bouquet is, the wine is even better on the palate, which is chock full of fruit. The tannic texture is coarse-grained, but velvety, and the structure develops effortlessly from spherical into the assertive and penetrating flavour of classic Médoc. The aftertaste is maybe a little short and there’s a certain dryness there, but nothing puts this into the artificial, “manipulated” category. The alcohol content is 13.5% and this comes through in the flavour profile, but does not overwhelm… I would rate the wine 15.5/16 out of 20, keeping in mind that my scores are systematically lower than most other people’s.
I regularly subject my spouse to blind tasting and she thought this 2000 Haut-Condissas was a great growth from Saint-Julien or Pauillac. In fact, I think almost anyone would! The French say of such a complete and richly satisfying wine that it is “à boire et à manger”. It was a fascinating discovery for me, and I am sure that the wine will be even better in years to come…

2010 Clos Floridène (blanc) and 2004 Ch. Durfort Vivens

I enjoyed two Bordeaux wines on Sunday, starting off with 2010 Clos Floridène, a white Graves from Denis Dubourdieu who has a number of claims to fame: Dean of the Institut des Science de la Vigne et du Vin, well-known consultant, owner of several estates in Bordeaux (including the great growth Doisy-Daënes in Barsac), and acknowledged authority on the making of white wines.
So, it was a fairly safe bet that this would not be a dud! In fact, I’ve known Clos Floridène for years, and it is widely considered a model of what white Bordeaux should be.
Clos Floridène has 17 hectares of red vines and 23 of white. It is located in Pujols, a stone’s throw from the Sauternes appellation. The white wine is made from 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Sémillion and 1% Muscadelle.
The color of the 2010 was pale gold with green tinges and the nose was fresh, tart, lemony and showing subtle overtones of honey. The wine was really all that it should be on the palate, with citrus overtones and a dry mineral finish – more akin to a Pessac-Léognan than a Graves blanc, but fortunately with the latter’s price tag, making this very good value for money. This is by no means a great wine, but it is a poster child for disbelievers of what Bordeaux can do with dry white wines!
It is fine to drink now, but will hold for years. Furthermore, the wine was even more aromatic, without a loss of freshness, the next day.
One odd thing. I’m used to encountering citrus overtones in wine, but this is the first time I can remember smelling lime nuances!


The red wine of the day was 2004 Durfort Vivens. I had great hopes here because when I tasted it en primeur alongside other great growths in the Margaux appelation, it seemed one of the top wines. A few other tasters agreed with me. Unfortunately, this promise was not borne out ten years later. The wine’s color was encouraging: a very dark core with only medium bricking, looking younger than its years. The nose was satisfactory as well, with hints of plum, although not very forthcoming. However, the wine fell down on the palate which showed far too much of an acid edge. On the whole, this 2004 Durfort came off as thin and mean, with ungracious tannin on the finish. A big disappointment. I have 2 other bottles, and I’m hoping that this one is not typical.
By the way, the label has changed with the 2007 vintage, if none of you has seen it:!