Time is flying. In a recent email back-and-forth with one of our suppliers in Bordeaux, she exclaimed, “It seems like we’re still dealing with the 2015 campaign; and now, it’s time for the 2016’s! Crazy!” That’s just how it is. Time flies. And because time is fleeting, some things must be done sooner than later, as there are finite windows of time. Wait too long and opportunities may pass. Alas, contrary to that, there are also closed windows which will open sometime in the future. That’s where patience is required. It’s funny, patience and Bordeaux just go together. One of the secrets of patient people is that we are very much aware how time flies, so every day of waiting brings us closer to whatever it is we are waiting for. Like a wine.
Five years ago, I tasted a barrel sample from the 2011 vintage. I liked it a lot. While not from a famous, high-pedigree chateau, the winemaking team is high-pedigree. I liked that too. We bought it. After it arrived, we tried it. While it continued to display the structure and balance which first attracted me, it had shut down and was not expressive. This is not uncommon with red Bordeaux wines. Patience would be required. That was over three years ago. We waited. Patiently. The window is now open on the 2011 Château de Fonbel.
I still remember it well, though visiting Château Ausone is always memorable. Yes, Château Ausone. The Vauthier family who own and make the wine for Ausone also own and make the wine from de Fonbel. The property was acquired by Alain Vauthier in the early 1970’s and it sits just down the hill from Ausone. Alain’s daughter, Pauline manages the property these days. So yes, it was the first appointment after lunch on the Wednesday of En Primeurs, and after tasting the de Fonbel, I was particularly impressed by its herbal/forest floor aromas, not to mention its bright red fruit meets cassis notes, leading me to jot down a particular nod to Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up 20% of the blend. The palate was quite lively with bright acidity balanced by the red fruit, cassis, and sturdy tannins. Balance and expression are two important things to recognize when tasting barrel samples, and this wine displayed both in fine fashion. When the wine arrived, I was excited to taste it because I remembered that barrel sample well. Let’s just say that I was mildly disappointed that it had shut down. I knew all we needed to do was to wait a while and this wine would someday spring to life.
For anyone who purchased the 2011 de Fonbel, from that day forward I strongly recommended that if they were to be opening the wine shortly thereafter, to allow for a couple of hours of decanting. This obviously helped, but the wine still needed time. We opened a bottle just before our Anniversary Sale last fall, and immediately after I opened it, I poured out a glass. Still closed? It seemed so, but I revisited it just 15 minutes later and happily proclaimed it was beginning to fulfill its potential. I opened another bottle last night, and that is why I am writing today. A little air will still enhance the tasting experience, but straight after opening, the 2011 Château de Fonbel is open for business! The nose is complex with bright red cherry fruit with hints of cassis, blackberries and thicket; forest floor and fallen apple tree leaves, and there’s a tar-like note in there too along with the slightest note of cedar. The palate entry is soft and medium bodied, the acid kicking in mid-palate to project the various fruity, herbal, and earthy complexity on to the blank screen of the palate. The finish is carried by the fruit/acid interplay with fine, delicate tannins. It has blossomed into a classic, honest claret which can be drunk now or cellared for at least another decade. In fact, I would love to taste this wine in 2027!
It’s that time of year again. The annual En Primeur tastings will take place in Bordeaux from April 3rd through April 6, and I am proud to represent TWH to taste the 2016 wines from barrel. My schedule is shaping up with appointments and tastings for the majority of my 10 day visit, as I always choose to visit suppliers and taste back vintages in search of values for both our Cru Classé and our petits chateaux sections. I also usually allow room for the serendipitous, and I’ve managed to continue this practice. All in all, I’m excited to taste the new vintage, meet old friends, make new friends, find new back vintage wines, and take part in the city of Bordeaux’s recent renaissance. Who knows which windows will open for me this year? – Peter Zavialoff