Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Bordeaux 2006 – showcased in Covent Garden

Every October Bordeaux’s Union des Grands Crus, the 100-odd top chateaux of the region, hire what used to be called the Floral Hall at Covent Garden (now the Paul Hamlyn Hall – wouldn’t just Hamlyn have been enough?) to give a tasting of the latest vintage they are offering in bottle.

A member confided in me the other day that they consider this the most important of all their tastings: the opportunity to share impressions with the greatest gathering of informed palates to be found anywhere. It wasn’t just flattery. 750 professionals of the British wine trade, their traditional and still their best customers, turn up. They are carefully vetted, they come on time and they work hard. They are faced, across the long tables, with the proprietors or at least the managers of all the chateaux. Frank discussions take place about quality and price, about the style and relative merits, the durability and prospects, short term and long term, of the vintage. This is the cockpit for some intense exchanges.

The good news is that 2006 is a lovely vintage for the sort of Bordeaux most people really want, not for investment but for enjoyment. 2005 was so perfect, obviously a great classic for long maturing, that whatever came in its wake was bound to suffer by comparison. But for those who love fresh, brisk claret to help them digest their meals (its first function, surely) 2006 is gong to be pretty much a model. Some of the lighter wines were already tempting to swallow then and there.

I spent a good share of my time tasting the wines of Pessac-Léognan, the best part of the Graves. I needed a refresher: I am helping with a new book on the region. It is the only part of Bordeaux with both red and white wines of top quality, in several cases from the same chateaux. The whites, Sauvignon and Semillon grapes mixed in differing proportions, always make me think how simplistic, however striking, the big-flavoured Sauvignons of the New World tend to be. Why don’t they add the gentle texture and breadth of Semillon too? When they do (as some Kiwis are learning) it can work beautifully.

It sounds too obvious, I always think, to describe the reds of the Graves as gravelly. Too auto-suggestive by half. But texture plays a big part in their special style; a sort of grainy mattness as against the high gloss and brilliance of the Médoc. Merlot is dominant in most of them, but gravel-grown it has a different effect from its Pomerol persona. Mature it can recall warm bricks and honey. Do you want to drink that? With a rib of beef there is nothing better.

2006 is a vintage that lets the terroir show. Pauillac sassy and vital; St Estèphe sharper and more earthy, St Julien smoother with rounded corners … The biggest differences show, of course, between chateaux rather than between communes, but district style gives a framework to help understand what’s going on. I am fond of the rustic edge of the wines of Listrac and Moulis in the middle of the Médoc, just as I am of the yeoman wines of Fronsac. They stand apart from the glossed, bevelled, suave and elegant productions of the famous classed growths, as starred-restaurant cooking with carefully-reduced sauces does from a country meal.

Everyone in the Paul Hamlyn Hall knows the hierarchy, and helps its practitioners define their places in it. Generally, prices reflect differences in quality and style with practised precision. It’s a long game, already centuries old – and fascinating to see it being played at Test Match level.

1 comment:

DENICE said...

Great article, you have illuminated on great thought. BY the way I am a software engineer & moved to California recently. My family loves wine & looking for Wine clubs membership, I heard about Celebration Wine Club , as far as I got to know they are very good & have wide range of wines to suit all tastes and all budgets. So any reaction about them is really appreciated.