A feast fit for a Queen
Emmanuel Cruse and the Château d’Issan team were this month (17th May 2022) joined by 70 leading figures from the UK’s fine wine trade for an evening of celebration at historic Royal landmark, Kensington Palace. Organised by WLPR, the event commemorated the 870th wedding anniversary of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England on 18th May 1152, whose nuptials were celebrated with the wine of Château d’Issan.
Reception in the Sunken Garden: Entering the garden (left), Virginie and Emmanuel Cruse (middle), guests enjoying 2014 Bollinger La Grande Année (right)
This was the third and largest of Château d’Issan’s series of banquets to celebrate the union, following an event at the Houses of Parliament in 2018 and Westminster Abbey in 2015. Emmanuel, his wife, Virginie, and Château d’Issan’s Commercial Director, Augustin Lacaille were delighted to return to London to host friends and associates in a market close to their hearts.
The reception took place in Kensington Palace’s newly-redesigned Sunken Garden (unveiled to the public for the first time in July 2021), where guests were served the 2014 vintage of Bollinger La Grande Année – a champagne to which Queen Elizabeth awarded a Royal Warrant in 1955. Following the call to dinner, guests joined a short private tour of the Palace’s State Apartments, with bespoke tour booklets leading them through its majestic halls. The banquet took place in the King’s Gallery, with Emmanuel situated below a wind-dial, which, hailing from 1694, still shows the direction of the wind to this day. Adorned on the face of the dial is Great Britain, enlarged to match up to its trusty neighbour, France.
The Royal Banquet: The King’s Gallery table set (left), Emmanuel’s speech (middle), guests seated (right)
What is the connection between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Château d’Issan?
In his introductory speech, Emmanuel shared with his esteemed guests the role of Château d’Issan, formerly Lamothe-Cantenac, in consummating the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II – the former being an avid lover of Bordeaux wines. Bordeaux specialist, Jane Anson shared further historical insight into Eleanor of Aquitaine, explaining that “her contribution to England extended beyond her lifetime”, and “she continued to support the wine of Bordeaux” throughout her reign.
The wines: all formats displayed (left), Château d’Issan 2015 (middle), Château d’Issan 2006 in jeroboam (right)
A bespoke menu booklet at each place setting documented Château d’Issan’s rich history, while the white flowers and green foliage adorning the centre of the table took inspiration from the flora and fauna found at the estate – as well as traditional wedding flowers.
Honing in on their union, themes of Bordeaux and Great Britain were integrated into the dinner menu: to start, guests were served Château d’Issan 2015 with a pigeon and bacon ballotine, foie gras ganache, and pear. Jeroboams of Château d’Issan 2010 were served alongside a baked cannon of lamb, confit shoulder, and potato crown. Château d’Issan 2006 was also served in jeroboam format alongside a Franco-British cheese course, comprising Comté, Mimolette, and Stilton. Finally, imperials of Château d’Issan 1995 were poured with a dessert of dark chocolate mousse, coconut sorbet, peanut, and lime.
For further information on WLPR’s tastings and events, please contact the team here.
While this year’s en primeur releases are yet to kick into full gear, the past week has seen key entries from the likes of Berliquet, Pontet-Canet, Palmer, Haut-Batailley, Lafleur, and more. Reporting on a shorter week of releases than usual due to the French bank holiday on Thursday 26th May, we examine the latest 2021s to market.
Released on Tuesday 24th May at £38.15 per bottle, Berliquet achieves its highest-ever combined score from Wine Lister partner critics, Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (Vinous), who both award 91-93 points. While up on the last two years’ release prices, one top UK merchant has informed us that this is understandable at this stage in Berliquet’s progression, especially considering the comparable rise in quality and pricing from its Chanel siblings, Rauzan-Ségla and Canon.
This was followed shortly by Pontet-Canet 2021, which is so far being offered at around £74.17 per bottle. While slightly up on last year’s release price, it still poses as a good-value pick relative to its appellation, especially considering its status as the sixth-highest scoring Pauillac according to WL score (see here).
Also entering the market on Tuesday, Palmer’s 2021 vintage is another stand-out offering from the estate, reminding the Wine Lister team of a Palmer from the 1990s, but with more energy and ripeness. At £237 per bottle, the 2021 opens 1% below the 2020 release price, while volume released is down 30% this year. This, alongside strong critics’ scores and a propitious renovation programme currently underway, should no doubt encourage the success of the latest release.
This week saw releases from Palmer – tasted by the Wine Lister team in the cellar
Released on Wednesday 25th May, Haut-Batailley 2021 is so far being offered at around £39 per bottle (slightly down on the 2020 release price). As with the other Cazes properties, mildew pressure has impacted the yields in 2021, and volume produced is down 10% compared to the 2020. Its sibling in Saint-Estèphe, Les Ormes de Pez 2021 followed suit, and is so far being offered at around £18 per bottle – also fractionally down on last year’s release.
Finishing the week with a bang, Lafleur 2021 was released on Friday 27th May through its UK agent, Justerini & Brooks at £542.33 per bottle. While entering the market 3% and 12% up on the 2020 and 2019 release prices respectively, there is no remaining availability of last year’s release on the market, and the 2019 has more than doubled in price since its release. As the second-best Quality performer of red Bordeaux in 2021 (after Cheval Blanc), and with a history of consistent and impressive price performance post-release, this will be one of the best buys of the campaign for those lucky enough to get their hands on it.
Also released during this period: Sociando-Mallet, Laroque, Alter Ego, Clos du Marquis, and Nénin.
The first Bordeaux 2021 en primeur releases have started to trickle through over the past two weeks, with key entries from Batailley, Carruades de Lafite, Duhart-Milon, Pavie, Cheval Blanc, Léoville Las Cases, Angélus, and the Barton family wines.
Kicking things off on Monday 9th May, Batailley 2021 was released at £27.50 per bottle (flat on the 2020 and 2019 release prices), setting a positive pricing tone in a year where reduced quantities had prompted apprehension. Indeed, the estate’s Managing Director, Frédéric Castèja informed Wine Lister that Batailley saw no mildew in 2021, and yields are therefore at a “normal” 50 hl/ha.
Released on Thursday 12th May at £165 per bottle, Carruades de Lafite 2021 similarly presents a discount on the 2020 and 2019 release prices, while entering the market below current prices of all recent back-vintages. The wine has shown to be one of the best price performers post-release in Wine Lister’s latest Bordeaux Study, with the 2020 already witnessing a 39% price increase over the past year. Carruades’ younger cousin, Duhart-Milon 2021 was also released on Thursday at £56 per bottle.
Another encouraging price move countering the early fears of the trade, Pavie 2021 was released on Wednesday 18th May at £232 per bottle – offering a discount of 3%-13% on all physical vintages back to 2015. Cheval Blanc 2021 was released on Thursday 19th May at a slight premium on the past two years’ release prices, though still below average prices of all back-vintages on the market up until 2014. With a quality that matches recent top vintages (2019, 2018, 2016, 2015), while priced at an average 28% below them, the 2021 has already seen successes. Indeed, one top UK merchant reports having sold “even more than last year”.
Cheval Blanc’s Technical Director, Pierre–Olivier Clouet, taking the Wine Lister team through the 2021s
A similarly successful entry (in the words of another top UK merchant), Léoville Las Cases 2021 was released on Friday 20th May at £162.50 per bottle – a significant 18% down on the 2020 release price. As well as offering the greatest discount from last year’s opening price seen of key releases thus far in the campaign, the 2021 receives a score of 94-96 from both Vinous’ Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin.
Upping the pace this week (on Monday 23rd May), we saw further releases from Angélus and the Barton family. The 2021 is the first vintage of Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton vinified in the Barton family’s new winery, and the last before the passing of the estates’ legendary owner, Anthony Barton. The vintage also marks 200 years of the family’s ownership of Langoa Barton, which will be commemorated with a special-edition label on the 2021, and the release of a limited-edition, multi-vintage case.
Also released during this period: Carillon d’Angélus, La Lagune, Petit Cheval, Cantemerle, L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne, Potensac.
Wine Lister’s real-time, wine-by-wine analysis of this year’s campaign is available in email newsletter form through a Pro+ subscription. For more information on this, please contact us.
Wine Lister’s COO, Chloe Ashton shares her thoughts on this year’s en primeur campaign so far.
The latest Bordeaux en primeur campaign is already underway, with Batailley 2021 opening the stage at the beginning of last week, and Domaines Baron de Rothschild’s Carruades and Duhart-Milon following suit. Cantemerle’s release on Friday 13th rounded out the week, and thus far starting prices have been a relatively pleasant surprise.
What does the trade expect from this year’s campaign?
In Part I of Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux study, we asked key members of the global fine wine trade about their expectations ahead of the 2021 campaign. Of 47 respondents, half expected prices to be somewhat more expensive, or significantly more expensive than 2020 vintage releases, after rumblings on La Place of strong trading over the past few months.
Bordeaux study (p.10): Founding members survey – 2021 release price expectations
After the first physical en primeur week in Bordeaux since the 2018 vintage (our view of the vintage can be found here), the trade will at least have had the chance to work their way through a vintage so complex that tasting was surely a necessity. With such a heterogenous vintage, pricing strategies should logically also be extremely varied, making the potential successes of 2021 sales difficult to predict. Nonetheless, here’s what we know:
- Wine Lister’s annual Bordeaux study reveals that confidence in Bordeaux us up. Respondents increased ratings on last year for three quarters of the wines included in our study – after so many trade members have been reminded of the joys of tasting in situ, both these elements could contribute to campaign positivity and momentum, with merchants backing those properties they historically believe in, and/or were indeed impressed by during en primeur tastings
- 2021 appears to be a vintage that speaks from the soil, so imparting knowledge of the best terroirs to customers should help to create demand for the best-performing wines in general
- Outside of focusing only on the very best, 2021 may be a vintage for pleasant surprises – the fresher, lower-alcohol, and more classical style of wines certainly garner appeal from traditional palates, so any merchant or collector seeking this style of drinking experience in the near to mid future could do well in seeking out some of the better-value wines hailing from this complicated campaign
Wine Lister’s wine-by-wine analysis of this year’s campaign is available in email newsletter form through a Pro+ subscription. For more information on this, please contact us.
Wine Lister’s Founder and CEO, Ella Lister shares her thoughts on Bordeaux’s 2021 vintage.
Bordeaux en primeur tastings: UGCB (left) and CVBG (right)
What can we expect from Bordeaux 2021?
The most complicated vintage since 2013, Bordeaux 2021 had everything thrown at it. The vines suffered a barrage of challenges during the growing season, from frost, then mildew, to a lack of the all-important hydric stress during a cool, cloudy summer. “It was a tiring vintage for us, and psychologically difficult” recalls Juliette Couderc, the new technical director at Château L’Evangile.
Bordeaux had been lucky with six relatively clement vintages in row, and en primeur tasters had been spoiled – especially with the trio of 2018, 2019, and 2020. Tasting more than 350 wines from the 2021 vintage in late April, we were reminded of en primeur tastings of old – the art of seeing through the wood, the hard tannins, the searing acidity, and attempting to form an idea of the wine’s future potential. And potential there is, if much less widespread than in the last three years. Buying decisions will need to be made carefully, and the critics’ views will be more important than in recent vintages blessed with high quality across the board.
Vinegrowing and winemaking have come on even in nine years, with know-how and tools at the disposal of producers that they didn’t necessarily have in 2013. Furthermore, 2021 had a saving grace – an unusually long growing season, beginning with early bud break, around the beginning of April, and ending with harvest dates running well into October, thanks to an Indian summer that finally provided some much-needed sunshine, with the sunniest October since 1991. Pierre-Olivier Clouet, technical director of Château Cheval Blanc, referred to a vintage “slow-cooked at a low temperature” following six years of cooking “on a high heat”.
The vintage was more challenging for merlot than for cabernet (franc or sauvignon), as the grape variety is more susceptible to mildew. Being an early ripener, merlot also missed out on the best of the Indian summer, whereas much cabernet benefitted from a warm and sunny early October, where vignerons dared to ignore the pessimistic weather forecasts for the weekend of 3rd and 4th October and hadn’t already rushed to pick before the non-existent rain. “The weather forecast was predicting an apocalypse,” recalls Vincent Millet, managing director of Château Calon-Ségur in Saint-Estèphe, but the cabernet grapes weren’t ready, so he waited, “and in the end there was no rain at all, and then a good stint of sunshine”. Further south in Margaux, Alexis Leven-Mentzelopoulos, co-owner of Château Margaux, echoes, “It was out of the question to pick unripe grapes ”.
At Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in Saint-Julien, owner Bruno Borie says the 2021 vintage is an “ode to cabernet sauvignon, which was much more resistant than merlot at every step.” However, cabernet’s upper hand in 2021 does not neatly translate into a left-bank vintage as might be expected. The right bank has its fair share of hits, and, bizarrely, fewer misses.
The watchword in 2021 is heterogeneous, and quality is undoubtedly very patchy in 2021, ranging from the seriously disappointing to the truly exceptional (though we are not in 100-point territory in this vintage). This makes it a hugely interesting en primeur campaign to taste, to sell, and to buy. It is a year where châteaux had a real opportunity to stand out from the pack, usually thanks to outstanding terroir and the application of significant resources – both financial and human. “It was viticulture seven days a week,” explains Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy, estates manager of the Château Mouton-Rothschild stable, who, like many others, underlined the vital importance of the team’s unstinting dedication. It was necessary to adapt tirelessly in the vineyard and in the winery; to accept that the fruit coming in at the end of the season wasn’t that of the three previous vintages, and be willing to throw out tried and tested recipes to make a different kind of wine, suited to the vintage. “We didn’t go looking for density that simply wasn’t there”, underlines Vincent Decup, technical director at Château Montrose in Saint-Estèphe. Down the road at Cos d’Estournel, Dominique Arangoïts points out “it’s an opportunity for wine lovers to really uncover the terroir, because the wines are stripped right back.”
The biggest challenges were to achieve a full enough body and to avoid vegetal (pyrazine) notes, without over-extracting hard, green tannins or being over-reliant on new wood, which the more delicate fruit couldn’t absorb. Many of the more successful properties used gentler extraction techniques than ever, and added a significant proportion of press wine to fill out the mid-palate. Chaptalisation was widely resorted to for the first time since 2013. The 2021 vintage nonetheless offers refreshingly modest alcohol levels – around 13% rather than the 15% or 15.5% which had become ubiquitous in recent years – potentially a key selling point with consumers.
Generalisations are not easy (or wise) in a vintage of such disparity of quality and style, but with few exceptions, the red wines tend to come in a lighter, fresher vein, recalling the classical clarets of the 1980s and 1990s. “It’s a wine style from the 80s, but with ripe grapes,” muses Aymeric de Gironde, president of Château Troplong-Mondot. The fruit is more red than black, with lots of raspberry and even some rhubarb. The vintage is less opulently floral than the last three, and floral notes are more often on a slightly more vegetal spectrum – iris, violet and lily. The worst wines have hollow mid-palates and searing acidity, and often an overdose of oak. The very best are so pure and soothing that you would never imagine the sweat and tears that went into making them. For Olivier Gautrat, maître de chai at Château L’Eglise Clinet, it was “a difficult and exhausting vintage. We’ve been out of the habit of less explosive flavour in the grapes, so we were really scared, but the more we taste, the more we find real charm in the 2021s. ”
The dry whites are pure and fresh, and the best have a sumptuous complexity. The sweet whites are remarkable, but produced in tiny quantities, if at all. For this reason Christian Seely describes Château Suduiraut 2021 as “tragically beautiful”, with yields of less than 1 hl/ha. What the reds, whites, and sweet wines all share is high acidity, which will likely result in long ageing capacity. We look forward to tasting the wines again in bottle in a couple of years to confirm that!
350+ tasting notes will be published (in French) at Le Figaro Vin next week. In the meantime, watch this space for part II of this blog series, with a focus on the Bordeaux market, to be published next week. To track the impending Bordeaux en primeur releases, click here to discover our en primeur page.