Stéphane Derenoncourt, 48, almost killed me this morning. It would have been death by pleasure. I did survive, 52 wines later.
I am not a fan of tasting hundreds of wines a day. In fact, I can't physically do it, and I don't think it is fair to the wines being tasted. I tip my hat to the so-called tasting supermen who run through a few hundred barrel samples a day and feel that they can do the wines justice. Not me. I don't even like tasting more than 50, like I did today.
I blind-tasted a range of the wines that Derenoncourt consults for and I am so impressed with what he is doing. He has been making wine in Bordeaux for about two decades, and he makes wine all over the world, even in Napa. But he is the master here in Bordeaux.
I love the way his wines focus on pure fruit—"the caviar," as he calls the grapes as they wait to be crushed at the winery at harvest. It is all about maintaining the quality and integrity of the grapes, and not tarting them up with lots of wood and overextraction.
The debate on overextraction continues with 2009. I found numerous wines that were slightly overextracted with slightly bitter and dry tannins and loads of new oak. But I find that pretty normal for this stage in the evolution of young Bordeaux. It's called prise de bois, or taking the wood. It has always been like that as long as I have been tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux, for the past three decades.
"I am not worried about overextracted wines," said Michel Rolland, the high priest of wine consultants in Bordeaux, who makes wine in just about every major wine region in the world. "The vintage is so great that the wines will lose this chewy and extracted character in the long run. It's hard to do anything to mess this vintage up … it's the greatest of my career. It's like the new 1982, but better."
Derenoncourt is not convinced. He is really worried. "I am extremely concerned with the extraction in my wines," he said last night during dinner with some of his friends. "I really went for making the wines with plenty of fruit and balance at the finish. I didn't want too much extraction or wood."
And so he did. His masterpiece is the Château Pavie-Macquin from St.-Emilion. It was one of the best from the appellation. Tasting it was like looking at Mont Blanc this winter on a clear day, its summit layered with bright white snow. The Pavie-Macquin had such clarity, such brillance. Some of his other brilliant wines were Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux), Lucia (a little-known St.-Emilion) and Les Carmes-Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan). But there were many other potentially outstanding wines that were from even lesser-known appellations that will sell for 20 bucks or so when they come out. Just check out the new 2009 Bordeaux notes I posted today.
I woke this morning in horror of the wet and windy weather. I am very sensitive to low-pressure systems and I was sure that the wines were not going to taste right. I saw the respected French wine writer and professor Michel Bettane yesterday and he went on and on about the hazards of tasting during a changing weather system. He was preaching to the converted.
Anyway, there was no problem with Derenoncourt's wines today. The beauty in compelling clarity of fruit can outdo any weather system in my humble opinion.