Latour: What’s all the Fuss About?

No, I did not buy this.
Yes, I I did hope to hate it.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it was delicious.

20161108_222923This was my first experience drinking mature first growth Bordeaux. I wasn’t drinking the wine blind, and I hadn’t researched the vintage much beforehand. Sad as it might sound, my main thought in anticipation of drinking the substance within was: will it be worth the money? Now, the economics of wine is a complicated business. Drinking wine is a perception, affected by attention, mood, circumstance, and subjective taste. That in itself means that no wine can be ‘the best’. Add to that the complication of market trading, en primeur interest, advertisement, and everything else that goes into supply and demand economics, and you are left in a confused mess when deciding the relationship between your wine drinking pleasure, and value. The question that I want to consider with you is to whether it is worth splashing out money on first growths simply to ‘try them’ and ‘see what all the fuss is about’.

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So, how much extra cost is demanded by this presumable increase in quality? To put things in perspective, 1985 Latour can be found on the market for £300-800. It is a reasonable vintage that has little more to offer as an investment and is on the trough of its  own value-time curve. To get an idea of how much ‘better’ this wine might be, let us compare it to the £40 village level burgundy that we started with:

Meursault Les Grands Charrons, Bouzerau, 2012

Immediately exotic nose: pineapple, mango, mandarin. Balanced with oak, lemon and some pepper on the palate. Buttery as expected, with good length and mouth-feel. Great acidity, and interesting nuances in the flavour profile (dill came across quite strongly as the wine sat in the glass). 91 Points

Chateau Latour, Pauillac 1985

Not what is had expected; I would have never guessed this was a 30+ yr old wine. Deep red, with no clear orange or brown on the rim. Loads of blackcurrant blackberry cherry fruit still, matured with wet earth, porcini-like umami and some aniseed-like spice. Intense flavour, v pure balanced and long. Still enough tannic grip to carry the wine, and a lovely inky texture. 95 Points.

Latour 1985 is wonderful; no question about that. I was really really trying to criticise it and find things that I didn’t like about it, but there wasn’t anything. I was impressed that the fruit was still carrying and by the essential components of acidity, length and balance. However, it is certainly not worth splashing £800 on if you are paying simply to ‘see what all the fuss is about’. Indeed, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a disparity between how ‘normal’ wines are priced, and how ‘luxury’ wines are priced. The former is based on taste, year and area. The latter is driven mainly by history and critics.

Frederic Engerer, Latour president explains in an interview that the price is ‘a bit frustrating’ and it stems from ‘the market.’ This is fair, true, and I cannot criticise a business for making money that is there to be made. What does make me a little sad however, is that this money is probably not invested into major improvements in quality, and if it is, the wine will rarely be drunk by those who will notice the improvements (if drunk at all!)

Learning point: As Mr Engerer describes, Bordeaux is ‘a magical place’. Go explore it for yourself, before splashing the cash on Latour.

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WOTW: Chateau St Pierre, St Julien, 2011

Chateau St Pierre lies within the Left bank (Bordeaux) appellation of St Julien. Lying sandwiched in between the Pauillac and Margaux appelations, St Julien shares many of the characteristics often associated with its more well known neighbours, including the fragrant Margaux nose and the dense cassis palate of the Pauillac. St Julien is home to a number of classified estates, of which Chateau St Pierre is both the smallest (17 hectares of vines) and probably the least well known of them. Ch. St Pierre was classified as a 4th Growth in the 1855 classification and can trace its roots back to the 17th Century, though as a result of family disputes, the land has been carved up (even for a period existing as two separate vinyards) before being more or less brought back together in the 1980s by the legendary Henri Martin (holding the title of l’Ame du Médoc (The Soul of Medoc)). Due to its relative obscurity, many regard the wines of Ch. St Pierre to be very much undervalued, representing excellent value for money. Typically the wines of Ch. St Pierre consist of 70-75% Cabernet Sauvignion, 15-20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Wines are aged in oak for 18 months.

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Chateau St Pierre, St Julien 4er Cru, 2011

Bordeaux blend (Cab. Sauv, Merlot, Cab. Franc), Alcohol: 13.5%,
Price: £19.99 Aldi (Nov 2016)

In the glass the wine is a day bright claret with a really intense hue. No signs of browning at the edges or other obvious signs of aging. There was an intense nose of dried currants and spices, which after decanting for a couple of hours opened into more discernible black fruit. The wine has medium acidity and medium tannins, contributing to a really opulent and smooth mouth feel, with complex flavours of dried fruit rolling through to a delightfully long finish of dark chocolate verging even on coffee.

There is something distinctly classy about this wine. The craftsmanship is abundantly evident in the wine and for this price it really represents superb value for money, regardless of the fact that it is a classed Bordeaux wine. It would pair well with the usual suspects for Bordeaux, however I had a distinctly pleasurable time drinking this in front of the fireplace with a few pieces of dark chocolate. As far as Bordeaux wines go, 5 years is young to be drinking, though many believe (and certainly I’m convinced) that 2011 was a vintage to be drinking now, rather than for laying down.

Conclusion: This is good enough to deserve the title of Wine Of The Week.  I’ve picked up several bottles of the stuff, and so should you – if there is any left!

Score: 91/100 (MI)

Massivo! Sicily, Italy.

Tasted blind this left me perplexed. Powerful, fruit driven, well balanced, and great depth. The climate needed to be hot but the winemaker shows restraint. Once I was told it was from Italy a distant memory of Sicily’s famous grape Nero d’Avola stirred. I have only tasted this grape once before now but there is clearly some serious potential here for the astute winemaker. On seeing the modern look bottle I was surprised, as it was something I would not normally have chosen – the moral? Do not judge a wine by its bottle!

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Massivo! Nero d’Avola, Terre Siciliane, Italy, 2015

Intense garnet in the glass with a ruby-pink hue at the rim. Really fruity on the nose, exuberance described on the label is spot on. Slightly sweet with a dark brambley feel. Really crunchy berry fruits especially blackcurrant. Tannin moderate and 14% alcohol is comfortably contained. Oak lends structure and high acidity rounds out the wine.

Conclusions: Bloody delicious. We thought SA red. Bordeaux blend came to mind due to spectacular depth. I will be drinking more Nero d’Avola and reporting back.

Score: 90/100 (DT)

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Savennières: Domaine des Baumard

Savennières is a small white wine appellation in the Anjou-Saumur region of the Loire. As with much of the white wine in the region the grape is Chenin Blanc, and Savennières is one of Chenin’s finest expressions. Whilst Chenin Blanc is renowned for sweet wines in Coteaux du Layon to the south, Savennières produces predominantly dry wines. Savennières is an appellation I rarely see in Britain, with the exception of specialist retailers. This is in part due to the relatively high price, and in part due to the style of the wine itself. Savennières at its best produces powerful, elegant and serious wines, and most require ageing to show at their best.

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Domaine des Baumard, Clos de Saint Yves, Savennières, 2009

Cépage: 100% Chenin Blanc, Alcohol: 13%.
Price: £19.99 from DBM wines.

Domaine des Baumard is a top estate for wines from the Loire, both from  Savennières, and Coteaux du Layon. This wine has 7 years of bottle age but on tasting retained the beauty of youth: taut and tense and with a crystalline purity. Baumard has left this wine unoaked allowing the expression of the terroir to come through unadulterated. The style makes for a serious wine, and one that is rewarding of the investment of time and concentration.

In the glass we have a pale gold appearance and a waxy mouthfeel. The nose and palate bring stone fruit, nuts and peach kernals, with these pretty notes belying the underlying power and concentration. Given the cool climate this has slightly less acidity than I expected, however, with the bone dry presentation, this was sufficient to retain tight focus. There is an incredibly high salinity and minerality, reminding me of the intensity of terroir from the top wines from the Wachau. The finish is excessively long with a savoury richness, evoking aged cheese, or even cured salted meat.

Frankly this wine overpowered the meal it was served with, but made a fine digestif. The following evening the remainder paid great compliment to a board of strong hard cheese. My partner found this somewhat austere in presentation, and I have a suspicion the point may be missed by the mass consumer.  Whilst this could be considered somewhat impenetrable to those new to wine, it oozes quality and class to the initiated.

Conclusion: Serious, composed, and to my palate delightful. Next time you are in the market for a rich and elegant white wine look beyond Burgundy and consider the fruits of Savennières.

Score: 91/100 (DT)