I was enormously lucky over the past two days to attend two of the sessions from the Masters of Wine Symposium, which has been held in Bordeaux since Thursday. Even my brief visits have shown just what a fantastic event it has been, and I am looking forward to being able to view the videos of all the panel discussions of the www.mwsymposium.com website in two weeks.
Yesterday saw a fascinating discussion on the Asian market (and more accurately the Asian mindset towards wine), of which more later, but this morning was the real standout for me - a wine tasting with Modern Legends of the industry, where Paul Draper of Ridge, Peter Gago of Penfolds, Alvaro Palacios of La Faraona (and of LíErmita in Priorat) and Paul Pontallier of Ch Margaux talked us through specific vintages and had a general discussion about their approach to wine. The enjoyment was further deepened because I had sat with Peter Gago on Christian Seely's table at the fete de la fleur on Friday night, so already knew what an engaging and open speaker he was going to be.
I'm sure that even the room full of highly qualified and extremely experienced MWs were thrilled to see the wines that were lined up:
1995 Ridge Monte Bello, Ridge Vineyards (stunningly rich nose, some gentle black truffles beginning to come through. 'We like to think that we learn something in each vintage that will move us forward just a little'. He said that for this particular wine, they were just getting the balance right of extraction so as not to have to fine later to remove tannins).
2006 La Faraona, Descendientes de J Palacios, Bierzo (plenty of crushed raspberry, pepper and liquorice, from the MencŪa grape, this is young, intense and stole up on me as I kept retasting, gorgeous. 'this vineyard represents for me the summit of what I have been looking for since I came to bordeaux to study wine in 1995, and since I have been back in Spain. Tis represents my happiness.')
2004 Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet, Penfolds, Barossa (possibly the purest expression of cabernet sauvignon that I have ever tasted, I was blown away by this wine. These are cabernet vines planted and continuously farmed since 1880s, one of world's oldest continously producing vineyards. Taken off the skins 2/3 of way thru fermenting.
1996 Chateau Margaux, Margaux (gentle white truffles, still rich and with a firm backbone of fruit, but with tertiary aromas just starting to gather force. 'This is a special year for me because my only daughter was born in this year. We had a rainstorm in August, and i said to my wife sorry it will not be a great vintage, but it in fact was. This year taught me a lot about controlling the ripeness of the grapes.'
The discussion began around what these wines meant to them, and widened out to cover a wider look at their successes and failures through their careers, and how they would like to be remember (Gago's particularly succint 'as someone who didn't make too many mistakes'). Of the many fascinating points that were made, here are a few highlights:
'To make great wine... be passionate about your pursuit of happiness, and expect the unexpected' (Jean Michel Valette MW)
Draper 'I did a degree in philosophy... but you can learn practical winemaking by listening to what a piece of ground is telling you. I grew up on a farm, and loved the idea that something grown from the earth could be transformed with a little help from its friends into this, it just blew me away.'
Palacios 'I hope I will be remembered as a humble winemaker who tried to rescue some grand crus from Spain'
Palacios 'Quality is timeless, all great wines share a link with the eternal'
Gago 'Bad wines might bother you, but they are also a time capsule, there to remind you what can go wrong as well as right'
Pontallier said he believed demanding consumers can push winemakers towards excellence, and said very honestly and bravely I thought that he doesn't entirely regret the prices Bordeaux can reach. 'It has and will allow us to go much further in that eternal search for excellence.'