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En Primeur 2015 - Report

Our Intrepid buyer, Xenia Irwin MW, details her thoughts,
experiences and adventures

Xenia Irwin.

Vintage overview and first thoughts...

Although the north has a bit of rain at vintage, those that held fast were making very special wines indeed. Margaux often gets overlooked for being too delicate, but this might be a year where it shines. I tasted several where the purity of fruit and freshness of acidity combined with very fine tannins just left a broad smile.

On the Left Bank the wines are a pleasure to taste and I have come across few that disappoint. They are not wines of immense weight, power or tannins that need chewing through. They have the appearance of being forward and very attractive, but with the acidity to give them some longevity.

Less concentrated and powerful than 2010 but with better finesse and elegance, the 2015 vintage is more like 2005. But it has a real freshness all of its own. Fine boned and elegant, restrained and pure, ripe and fresh... these are all phrases I am using to excess.

The Right Bank is much more powerful with its ripe, occasionally overripe Merlot. Those that tempered it with the fresher Cabernet Franc did much better. Those that balanced power/ripeness and acidity/freshness did very well indeed.

The trip...

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

Château Ducru Beaucaillou

Bruno Borie

Bruno Borie

Day 1

Espresso for breakfast to brace me up. Consult the SatNav, catch up on the most exciting episode of The Archers since the Great Fire, and finally hit the road. All by 8am.

Ducru Beaucaillou in St Julien. I was met by the current owner Bruno Borie – all bluff jollity with splendid ochre trousers that matched the ochre walls.

First taste of the 2015 and... delightfully surprised. There is charm and finesse but with an underlying fine tannin structure and very fresh acids. Lovely chats with the debonairly polite Monsieur Borie about Waitrose, the UK market and then off I went...

Chateau Pichon Lalande

Château Pichon Lalande

...up the road to Pichon Lalande in Pauillac. It’s one of my favourite old haunts having spent a couple of days here years ago drinking Louis Roederer and Château de Pez in the comfort of the Château.

Chateau Pichon Lalande Cellars

Château Pichon Lalande Cellars

Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux

Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux

Ranks of stainless steel cone tanks of great beauty. More beautiful fresh, stylish wines with finesse and elegance. Plenty of complexity of fruit and spice but not powerful, more intense.

Back down the road to Château Belgrave (Haut Medoc) for a huge tasting of wines across all the appellations, an overall view of the vintage as well as black teeth and a numb tongue.

Then on to a far less glamorous location for vinophiles, but very dramatic. The new football stadium in Bordeaux was holding a vast tasting of all the Grand Cru Classe wines.

Finally taste-exhaustion kicked me into touch and I poured myself into downtown Bordeaux for my last appointment of the day. My rather glamorous niece is studying at the university and needed beer and gossip. I just thank the Lord my student days are over as it seemed a tough call finding anywhere that wasn't a burger bar. But the beer was brilliant at the end of a long day and the company was joyous.

Day 2

And it’s all about Saint Estèphe and Pauillac with a splash more of Margaux and St Julien.

First stop Cos D'Estournel in the cold and rain, but showing SO well.

Saint-Estèphe seems much lighter this year. Still robust, but with intensity, not power and concentration. Refined and beautiful with grace and elegance, fresh red fruit and ultra fine tannins. Brilliant.

Nip down the road to Mouton Rothschild where we spend an abnormal amount of time discussing how the French really can't grow grass in the same way as the English (it always looks like AstroTurf). We take the traditional, if ridiculous, trip in a golf cart through a couple of rows of vines to the tasting room. More jolly lovely wines. Well, what do you expect from Mouton?

Back up to Lafite Rothschild and their smart new tasting room stuffed with reams of the English wine trade chatting through the wines like noisy magpies. Some old friends, so always good to catch up, gossip, exchange opinions, laugh at red trousered merchants and get on with some serious tasting.

Next to Château Lafon Rochet for another large tasting. This time the Pauillac Grand Crus and over 20 wines on show. I confirmed some real standouts: Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, Lafon Rochet and Phelan S​egur among others.

French plumbing then came into play - I'm not entirely sure why they thought that 2 loos would be enough for the hordes​ of people streaming through. But a large boggy patch appeared beneath the gravel drive and it was politely suggested that I might use the facilities at my next château... legs crossed and onward.

The lovely Pontet-Canet followed where I managed to mistake my host for an old friend and then in my embarrassment threw wine over his immaculate trousers ​. I turned beetroot while he couldn't have been more polite. Thankfully, the tasting then proceeded perfectly as I could honestly praise his wine to the skies.

Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste

Château Grand Puy Lacoste

Grand Puy Lacoste – another lovely visit to this prettiest of Châteaux . Bigger wine than many of the Pauillacs this year with some power in the ripe fruit, but made with real precision and purity.

Margaux. Always a little formal, but happy to see the largest donkeys (asses?) ever used to plough a vineyard. and their brand new Sir Norman Forster Cellar that is a thing of beauty.

A sad pall was cast over the proceedings following the recent death of Paul Pontallier, but the wines were very fine indeed, both Margaux and Pavillion de Margaux were quite extraordinary, as we were the whites.

Chateau Margaux Cellars

Château Margaux Cellars

Chateau Margaux

Château Margaux

Day 3

A 7.45am start and a 45 minute drive to Saint-Émilion to investigate the Right Bank. What better way to start than the quiet zen-like cellar of Château Ausone? It’s much richer and more powerful than the Left Bank with concentrated, ripe Merlot and fresh balancing Cabernet Franc.

Chateau Ausone

Château Ausone



The stellar journey continued at Angelus with its dramatic bell tower. This was a major tasting and a bit of a bun fight, so I worked through the wines I needed and made good my escape round the corner to Château Couspaude. Here I tasted the other Cru Classes of Saint-Émilion and my impression of a more powerful style with greater concentration was verified.

Saint-Émilion may offer a more classic vintage, but it doesn't seem to have the elegant pure finesse I had come to enjoy from the Left Bank.

Next to Cheval Blanc for the greatest tasting of my trip. Quite out of this world - depth, power, finesse, intensity, concentration, precision... the words do not do it justice. I also had my first look at Château d'Yquem – the epitome of purity. It was simply an overwhelming tasting.

Last stop, Haut-Brion. And this is where my immaculate timing finally unravelled. What should have taken 45 minutes took 1 hour and 45 minutes as the worthy SatNav finally threw a wobbly and stuck to its guns over a route that did not exist and insisted on a 60 km detour when I was within 5 km of the Château.

So I missed my last meeting, but I still found a quick 10 minutes for the delights of the Haut-Brion stable, and believe me, they were a very great way to end this exceptional En Primeur visit.

Xenia Irwin

Xenia Irwin, Master of wine


Chateau Chevel Blanc

Château Chevel Blanc

Chateau d'Yquem

Château d'Yquem

Xenia's trusty(ish) steed and the pristine vineyards of Château Angelus

Xenia's trusty(ish) steed and the pristine vineyards of Château Angelus