But, our own estate wines; Château La Clarière, Château le Bourg and Le Presbytère in 2004 have, without any need of encouragement from me, turned out very fine. Not a powerful as the '03s. But rather more attractive.
The 'fruit' element rings clear as a bell in the '04s. In '03 there was this jam-like taste. Not surprising when maybe a third of all the grapes were dried raisins when harvested.
Mind you, those '03s are notching up the medals and a rate not often seen. Gold medals at competitions in Paris, Macon and Bordeaux in the last weeks.
For the first time too, I got to taste the claret made by my son Henry. He has been very secretive. He went off on his own and bought grapes in '03 and '04. Made wine in large plastic buckets, in a shed. Unusual in Bordeaux.
Henry has always wanted to make wine. Something to do with being dragged round vineyards since birth? His first attempt, age 10, was with a couple of overripe pineapples. There are still traces of it on the cellar ceiling.
But his technique has got much better. His Bordeaux wines really impressed me. OK I am a fond Dad. But other wine companies are showing interest and he's sold some in the USA which can't be bad start for a youngster. Working with some of the best people in both France and Australia, he's learnt well and for three years now has made his own wines.
He did not want to join the family firm, and I have no problem understanding that. He is doing his own thing. However, now, for this coming vintage we have made the momentous decision that he will be making 'Le Presbytere' for me. This is the Cotes de Castillon we make in the ancient wine cellar of our house in Bordeaux. I will still be doing the manual work, (as I always do) but the science and skill of real top notch winemaking has been beyond me for some years now. I always hire a winemaker. Well, next vintage it will be my son. Hope to get him cheap! Have a look at Henry's website. You could even buy some wine off him though as yet he has hardly any to sell.
This is the week in the year when Bordeaux 'receives' the world's wine buyers (''strictement professionnels!''). How it's done fairly well sums up the old Bordeaux way. No so much wine producers selling their wares. More an 'At Home' with Madame La Comtesse.
There's a dress code and poker faces all round. The buyers cannot afford to be seen to be enjoying anything in case the prices get whanged right up and the Grands Bordelais for the most part always look like that.
They will not, at this stage tell you the prices. That's why this is called 'Primeur' . Its got nothing to do with your fruity baby Beaujolais. This is the first look at the vintage with immediately afterwards, a chance to buy ... and pay ... before the wine has got anywhere near the bottle. It'll spend another year in cask, yet. The Bordelais try and guess the general enthusiasm then pitch the price where they think the market is. Then they add a bit. Then they add some more so as they are sure they won't lose face by selling for less than their neighbours.
Mind you it's changing. Everyone is trying to get in on the success of the Greats. Saint Emilion seemed to have a 'Primeurs' tasting going on in every hall, cave and restaurant. I got dragged into a Pizzeria at one point and made to taste! (The proprietor used to work for us and she is a forceful girl.)
I was distracted on this trip. Not just by Emmanuelle. But because I was with two school friends (a retired architect and a retired accountant pretending hard to be strictement wine professionnels). We all came here together last in 1965. We spent the week wondering where 40 years had gone.
'Last of the Summer Grand Cru?' Me, as Compo.
Anyway we kept meeting up with our lot ... Jon and Mark; the 'Fine Wine Service' boys, Aaron, and of course Clare. As she has, for some years now bought all our fine claret and has a palate at the peak of its powers, it is her you should listen to, not me. I'm just a typical po-faced Bordeaux wine producer. But 2004 as I've said, is an excellent vintage! Clare writes...."I think it is true to say that before our extensive tastings last week, we didn't know what to expect from the 2004 vintage from Bordeaux's stellar properties. Uncharacteristically cautious, the Bordelais have been keeping a lid on this vintage, perhaps aware that any superlatives may ring untrue after the exceptional nature and response to last year's atypical 2003 vintage release.
To our delight, what we found during the course of a week's exhaustive tasting and touring of some of the world's greatest winemaking properties, were a certain number of wines that epitomise all that Bordeaux can achieve at its very best; supreme elegance, brilliant purity of expression of terroir, wonderful balance and good ageing potential.
In complete contrast to the 2003 vintage, Bordeaux enjoyed a much cooler and longer ripening period for the 2004s. A little rain throughout the ripening period as well as at harvest time refreshed the grapes and ensured balanced levels of sugar and acidity. After the drought conditions of the 2003, Nature compensated with abundant yields and the châteaux were able to green harvest and select bunches to ensure only the best fruit remained on the vines and were ultimately harvested.
The best wines have exquisite pure-fruited aromas, great concentration of ripe black berry flavours in the mouth, underlying structure provided by silky smooth tannins, and a savoury finish leaving you wanting more; classic Bordeaux in the best possible sense of the word. Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux said that the 2004 reminded him of the purity of the great 1996 vintage with similar density but a slightly softer character. Jean Guillaume Prats of Château Cos d'Estournel compared his fledgling 2004 to 1985, 1986 and 1990 - all historical vintages in their own right.
In our opinion, the appellations on the Left Bank that best represent the classic nature of the vintage are Saint Julien and Pauillac, with Ducru Beaucaillou, Léoville Barton, Talbot, Pontet Canet and Grand Puy Lacoste as shining examples. The appellation of Margaux has also produced some truly beautiful wines Durfort Vivens, Kirwan, Rausan Ségla and Prieuré Lichine steal the show. Other highlights on the left bank include Cos d'Estournel, Montrose and Calon Ségur.
Great value should also be found in the Médoc with the likes of Poujeaux, Cantemerle and La Tour Carnet.
The Right Bank Merlot-dominated wines are led by the wines of Pavie and Ausone, with our top recommendations also including Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin and Clos Fourtet. D'Aiguilhe in Castillon, a firm favourite with us for several vintages, has over-delivered this year. The 2004 vintage Crus Classés are a must for anyone who loves Bordeaux and anyone who has ever considered buying Bordeaux En Primeur. They are true clarets. We are waiting for the release of the prices and are keeping our fingers crossed for reductions. Rest assured that we will provide a full selection of wines that offer both classic quality and good value.