Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . . .

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Nemanick
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Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . . .

Post by Nemanick » Tue Jun 23, 2015 10:46 am

My wife and I took a week long trip to the Right Bank earlier this month. It was an epic trip to the motherland for someone like me. The trip was for my wife's birthday. She loves the Right Bank generally and Pomerol specifically, so we focused there. Also, the Left Bank Chateaus are actually pretty far from the Right Bank. It is about 45 minutes, so hard to really go back and forth.

I want to start with some thank yous for people who helped me with the trip. First is Jeff Leve. Jeff patiently answered all my dumb questions about a trip to Bordeaux - "Where should I stay? Where should I eat? When should I go? What should I wear?" I am sure Jeff probably won't read this post, since he is so sick of hearing from me, but for others he was a great resource. Second is Neal Martin's magnum opus on Pomerol. I didn't drag that beast with me to Bordeaux, but it was invaluable when planning this trip. Finally is Millesima. For those that don't know, Millesima is one of the largest negociants in Bordeaux. They have a small retail outlet in New York City and I have been buying my Bordeaux from them for a number of years. A quick plug - they are a fantastic place to buy older Bordeaux. They keep a huge warehouse of old Bordeaux in France (over 2.5 million bottles - more on that later), so any bottle you buy is perfect provenance. It is more expensive than an auction, but I have never had a bad bottle (fake or damaged) from them. They also have a bunch of large bottles if that is your thing. Millesima set up all my Chateau visits. There is no way I would have ever gotten this access on my own.

Here is the lineup - La Fleur Petrus, Conseillante, La Violette, Clinet, Vieux Chateau Certan, L'Evangile, L'Eglise Clinet, Valandraud, Angelus, Cheval Blanc, Troplong Mondot, La Gaffeliere and La Mondotte

The obvious question after seeing that list is why no Petrus, Lafleur or Le Pin. Millesima certainly could have got me in all those places, but I wasn't really interested going somewhere I hadn't had the wine and likely never would. Just too expensive for me. The one place I did miss was Trotanoy. There was some confusion on the scheduling there, so that was a bit of a bummer.

A few observations before getting into the visits
1) It ain't like a trip to Napa. For lots of reasons, but main one is just how the selling system is set up. The French cling to the outdated (in my view) three tier selling system - Chateau to Negociant to Retailer to Consumer. The net result of this from a visit perspective is that the Chateaus are more removed from the consumer. In Napa, an owner/winemaker can see a direct line between your visit and a potential customer. Not the same in Bordeaux. Not to say people weren't great. They were, but not the same as Napa.

2) Pomerol is tiny. When we were setting visits, I was worried that Millesima wasn't leaving enough time to travel between visits. Nothing in the core of Pomerol is more than a five minute drive apart. Think about the size of Yountville.

3) Petrus is still King. At every Pomerol property, we would tour the vineyard and they would point out where Petrus was. I think it was a way for people to help establish the quality of there terroir - AKA look how close to Petrus we are. By the end, I could point out Petrus from every angle in Pomerol.

4) Can we get it over with and just reclassify Cheval Blanc into Pomerol? Cheval Blanc's vineyards sit a stones throw from VCC, L'Evangile and Conseillante. Literally, a stones throw - you can take a rock from the edge of Cheval's vineyards toss it over a road and you are in Pomerol. Also, Cheval isn't really that close to the other top Saint Emilion properties - Ausone, Angelus, Troplong Mondot, La Gaffeliere and La Mondotte.

5) Stuff is old in Bordeaux - especially the vines. At VCC, they told us that had some young vines that weren't used in the top bottling. How young? 15 years old! Nothing gets into the top wine unless it is 25 years old. At Cheval Blanc, they showed us the oldest vines on the property. Planted in 1920.

Old Cheval vines

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6) 2011 is not a good vintage. These wines are not good. Period. We had a few of these at places and they were the worst wines of the trip. They funny thing was when people served them to you. They know the wines aren't great, you know the wines aren't great, but never the less they are disappointed that you don't rave about the wine. All I could think was you can certainly serve me any wine you want, but not fair to expect me to like the wine as well.

7) 2012 IS a good vintage. The person at La Fleur Petrus described it as a "divine surprise". The wines turned out much better in bottle than en primeur.

8) Saint Emilion is utterly beautiful. Just a stunning place.

View from my hotel room

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9) Restaurants have older Bordeaux at reasonable prices. I think this is just a function of not "marking to market" (as one would say in the finance world). The wines were marked up off the initial purchase price, but not marked up again as secondary prices went up. We had some of the best wines of the trip at meals - 98 L'Evangile, 05 Trotanoy and 08 Montrose - at prices at or below what you would pay at retail today.

05 Trotanoy

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98 L'Evangile

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So I hope this post sparks conversation and questions. More to come.

Jeff

Jeff Leve
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Jeff Leve » Tue Jun 23, 2015 2:06 pm

Great write up! Thanks for post In fact, I'm in the Right Bank now! It's almost midnight so I need to hit the hay. But I want to add a bit, and will add more later. I agree about the disconnect to the consumer. But the negocaint actually keeps prices down. It's quite cheap and effective to distribute wines in this manner, especially with large productions.

Cheval does have good neighbors, Figeac, La Dominique and others. La Conseillante is next to St. Emilion, in fact, they have parcels in St. Emilion.

Glad you liked 2012. I agree, especially in Pomerol and St. Emilion!

What was your favorite wine of the trip, favorite visit and favorite restaurant?

Nemanick
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Nemanick » Tue Jun 23, 2015 2:29 pm

Jeff Leve wrote:Great write up! Thanks for post In fact, I'm in the Right Bank now! It's almost midnight so I need to hit the hay. But I want to add a bit, and will add more later. I agree about the disconnect to the consumer. But the negocaint actually keeps prices down. It's quite cheap and effective to distribute wines in this manner, especially with large productions.

Cheval does have good neighbors, Figeac, La Dominique and others. La Conseillante is next to St. Emilion, in fact, they have parcels in St. Emilion.

Glad you liked 2012. I agree, especially in Pomerol and St. Emilion!

What was your favorite wine of the trip, favorite visit and favorite restaurant?
Saw your Tweet - "Worth a read if you agree or not..." Who wouldn't agree with me??? I take offense to that swipe. :mrgreen:

On the negociants, I was thinking that for the big productions places on the left bank it makes sense, but for some of the tiny production places in Pomerol maybe not. I mean how hard would it be for Denis to sell out L'Eglise Clinet every year on a direct basis. The foreign shipping would be the biggest issue.

Standing by my Cheval comment. Pomerol should just annex Cheval Blanc.

Favorites - I have to keep some suspense for later posts. On restaurants, we went to a bunch of great places - L'Envers du Decor, Les Belles Perdrix, Logis de la Cadene stand out. Les Belles and Logis were our best meals. The funny thing was no one I met there recommended Hostellerie De Plaisance restaurant, so we didn't go.

I know I thanked you above, but thanks again for all your help on planning this trip. Much appreciated. I owe you a dinner or drink next time you are in New York.

Jeff

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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Jeff Leve » Tue Jun 23, 2015 2:45 pm

Nemanick wrote:On the negociants, I was thinking that for the big productions places on the left bank it makes sense, but for some of the tiny production places in Pomerol maybe not. I mean how hard would it be for Denis to sell out L'Eglise Clinet every year on a direct basis. The foreign shipping would be the biggest issue. Jeff
It's not that easy. Denis would need sales force. Plus, he need a shipper. Plus, he has to sell all over the world to expand the brand. Different vintages demand different markets. And with the Negociants, the wine is all over the world to real buyers in hours. Plus, Denis has a lot of other wines that need to be sold. Some negociants also help with those wines as well. Honest, the system saves you money and helps keep the brand in the public eye.

There is a reason 99.9% of the top chateau use negociants. A few have tried and they have returned to the Place de Bordeaux.

Favorites - I have to keep some suspense for later posts. On restaurants, we went to a bunch of great places - L'Envers du Decor, Les Belles Perdrix, Logis de la Cadene stand out. Les Belles and Logis were our best meals. The funny thing was no one I met there recommended Hostellerie De Plaisance restaurant, so we didn't go.

I agree 100% now. That was not always the case. But it is true today.

I know I thanked you above, but thanks again for all your help on planning this trip. Much appreciated. I owe you a dinner or drink next time you are in New York.

It was my pleasure. Perhaps you do not know, but I like the wines and the Bordeaux region. :mrgreen: I enjoy helping others discover the wines and enjoy their time in the region. That is the main reason for the website.

Michael Allen
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Michael Allen » Wed Jun 24, 2015 8:37 am

Than you for the post Jeff. The pictures really make it come alive. Where did you stay and what did cost? A visit to Bordeaux is still on the top of my bucket list.

And like the other Jeff, what were your favorite places to visit and which wine makers or chateau owners did you find the most interesting?

Nemanick
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Nemanick » Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:33 am

La Fleur Petrus

So this visit was supposed to be La Fleur Petrus, Trotanoy and Hosanna. All three estates are owned by Christian Moueix. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation and it was just La Fleur Petrus. I really like this wine, but Trotanoy is one of my favorite Pomerols, so I was bummed that I didn't get to get though. Oh well.

I will try to limit the technical talk, since I know that it is boring. I am a total technical wine nerd, but it doesn't make for good reading.

We met with Nathalie Millaire at the new La Fleur Petrus facility. Quick note on new facilities - this is happening all over the Right Bank. Off the top of my head - La Fleur Petrus, Conseillante, La Violette, Clinet, L'Evangile, Angelus and Cheval Blanc - all had new facilities built within the last 5 years. If you are wondering where all that extra money that Bordeaux has been charging you is going, it is right there.

The other thing that strikes you in Pomerol is how small the wineries are. La Fleur Petrus produces about 4,000 cases. Comparable wineries in Napa would be Kapcsandy or Blankiet.

They had a great map that helped you orient yourself in Pomerol.

Image

They don't label it, but on the lower right is where Conseillante, VCC and L'Evangile sit and where so see the road to Saint Emilion - that is where Cheval Blanc is. The top Chateaus are all stacked next to each other.

So a minute on the terroir. Neal and Leve can explain this better than me, but I'll give it a shot.

As you can see on the map, the core of Pomerol sits on this little plateau, but within the plateau itself is a core of the core where the famous blue clay of Pomerol sits. It is technically Smectite clay, but everyone calls it blue clay. So the blue clay sits right where Petrus is and all there vines sit on the blue clay. Other Chateaus have some blue clay - L'Evangile and VCC, but only Petrus has just blue clay. Why is this blue clay so great??? Who knows really??? Lots of theories, but merlot loves it and it produces great wine. Outside of the blue clay most of the rest of the plateau also sits on clays (but not blue clays). There is also terroir as you get close to Cheval Blanc that is gravel and clays - Conseillante, VCC and L'Evangile. Cheval Blanc sits just off the Pomerol plateau on the slopes (slopes is a generous term - really a small rise) where you find the gravel and clay soils.

Anyway, Pomerols taste like Pomerols because of the clay and clay and gravel mixes. Once you are off the plateau, the wines don't taste like that. In my experience, wines from Saint Emilion don't taste like Pomerols even though they sit next to each other geographically (Cheval Blanc the exception).

One more technical point before I get to the wines. You see lots of concrete fermenters in Bordeaux. I asked a couple of winemakers in California about the pros and cons of this. On the pros, it is easier to control the temperatures during fermentations (either with heating elements in the walls of the concrete or just in the middle of the fermenters). On the cons, keeping them clean. Most people use an acid to clean them, though some just use water. La Fleur Petrus use a mix of stainless steel and concrete fermenters.

La Fleur Petrus Concrete Fermenters

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12 La Fleur Petrus - Nathalie referred to the 12s as a "divine surprise" (sounds much nicer in French). The wines didn't show great en primeur, but turned out great in the bottle. I agree. This wine is a baby, but like lots of Pomerol wines very approachable now. A 90/10 split of Merlot and Cabernet Franc this wine is a beauty of the palate. Smooth and full-bodied with tannins around the edges. You can drink it now, but probably better in 5 to 10 years. 95 pts.

On other point, the Pomerol nose. I find it hard to describe what a great Pomerol smells like. Bordeaux dirt, but not like the left bank. Better tasters here could probably describe better. I think of it like the Potter Stewart description of pornography - "I know it when I see it" (replace see with smell).

12 La Fleur Petrus

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One final note. I was so mad that I didn't get to taste Trotanoy I had one with dinner that evening.

05 Trotanoy - A baby at ten. This wine stinks of Pomerol dirt on the nose. Still has some restraint on the palate, but beautiful complexity and a long long finish. This wine is great today, but has a chance to be a star in 10 years. 97 pts. See picture above.

Next up Conseillante and Violette

Jeff Leve
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Jeff Leve » Thu Jun 25, 2015 8:09 am

Nemanick wrote:La Fleur Petrus

So this visit was supposed to be La Fleur Petrus, Trotanoy and Hosanna. All three estates are owned by Christian Moueix. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation and it was just La Fleur Petrus. I really like this wine, but Trotanoy is one of my favorite Pomerols, so I was bummed that I didn't get to get though. Oh well.
Great post! I love your trip!!! But if you recall, I told you, that you would not go to Trotanoy, It is a private home and not open for visits. I know you did not believe me, but as you now know, that is the case.

The other thing that strikes you in Pomerol is how small the wineries are. La Fleur Petrus produces about 4,000 cases. Comparable wineries in Napa would be Kapcsandy or Blankiet.

That is actually a large production for Pomerol. Many estates are closer to 1,000 -2,500 cases.

A minute on the terroir. Neal and Leve can explain this better than me, but I'll give it a shot. As you can see on the map, the core of Pomerol sits on this little plateau, but within the plateau itself is a core of the core where the famous blue clay of Pomerol sits. It is technically Smectite clay, but everyone calls it blue clay. So the blue clay sits right where Petrus is and all there vines sit on the blue clay. Other Chateaus have some blue clay - L'Evangile and VCC, but only Petrus has just blue clay. Why is this blue clay so great??? Who knows really???

You can read details about blue clay and the terroir on my page in Pomerol. http://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/bor ... ux/pomerol

Nemanick
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Nemanick » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:42 am

Jeff Leve wrote:
Nemanick wrote:
Great post! I love your trip!!! But if you recall, I told you, that you would not go to Trotanoy, It is a private home and not open for visits. I know you did not believe me, but as you now know, that is the case.
You said that I wouldn't get to go to La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Trotanoy and La Mondotte. I got two of those four, so pretty good batting average. :mrgreen:

Jeff

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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Jeff Leve » Thu Jun 25, 2015 1:44 pm

Nemanick wrote:
Jeff Leve wrote:
Nemanick wrote:
Great post! I love your trip!!! But if you recall, I told you, that you would not go to Trotanoy, It is a private home and not open for visits. I know you did not believe me, but as you now know, that is the case.
You said that I wouldn't get to go to La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Trotanoy and La Mondotte. I got two of those four, so pretty good batting average. :mrgreen:

Jeff
Which 4 did you go to? My memory is well... not what it used to be :-o

Nemanick
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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Nemanick » Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:04 pm

Jeff Leve wrote: Which 4 did you go to? My memory is well... not what it used to be :-o
La Fleur Petrus and La Mondotte

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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Jeff Leve » Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:16 pm

La Mondotte is a cool, but small visit. I've been before. The best part is in the underground quarries. Did you see them?

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Re: Right Bank trip - VCC, L'Eglise Clinet, Cheval Blanc . .

Post by Nemanick » Wed Jul 01, 2015 9:59 am

Conseillante

Next up we met with Audrey Ducros at La Conseillante. They have a special place in my heart as they were the first Pomerol that I ever tried years ago. A lot has changed over the last few years under the leadership of Jean-Michel Laporte. After he came on board in 03, they replanted approximately 20% of the vineyard and built a state of the art winery. The core of the vineyard is still 34 year old vines. Since they sit on the edge of the plateau, they have a mix of clay and gravel soils. Overall, 80% of the production is Merlot and 20% is Cabernet Franc.

Here is a map they have that allows you to better see the property.

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It is obviously a good neighborhood surrounded by Petrus, L'Evangile, VCC, Cheval Blanc and Beauregard. As you can see, the Cabernet Franc blocks all sit close to Cheval Blanc (except one - not sure why). This is because this is the edge of the plateau and as you come off the plateau you get more gravel than clay which is better for Cabernet Franc.

Fermenters at Conseillante

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We started by tasting the 14 Conseillante.

Man, these wines are YOUNG!!! I have been lucky enough to barrel tasted a bunch, but I don't know if I ever barrel tasted anything this young - 6 or 7 months. You wonder why En Primeur scores can differ so much from final bottle scores? You try judging a wine this young. Tough. That all said. This wine had beautiful nose of iris (Cabernet Franc). Nice acidity and length. Very raw. 95 pts.

Audrey - then pulled out the 09. Nice. Tons of complexity on the nose. Very good structure that will let this age for years and years. Smooth and deep, but probably not starting its prime for another 5 years. 97 pts.

The Wines

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All in all an excellent visit. The only bad news - I heard a rumor that I later confirmed to be true that Jean-Michel is parting ways with La Conseillante. Real bummer. I feel like he has been instrumental to bringing the quality up here. A real loss for the estate.

Jeff

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