The Southwold Group has tasted the top wines of Bordeaux from the latest physically available vintage together for over 40 years. This used to take place – as the group’s name suggests – in Southwold in Suffolk, but it has now moved to Farr Vintners where we taste in a purpose-built modern tasting room. This is now my seventh Southwold Group tasting, with 2019 my tenth vintage tasted En Primeur (albeit in strange circumstances due to COVID restrictions).
One of the joys in being part of both the Southwold and Ten Years On tasting groups is the middle night dinner, where members bring special bottles from their own cellars based on a specific theme. This year, the 2012 Ten Years On tasting gave us a great excuse to look at the legendary 1982 vintage forty years on. This was an exciting prospect, particularly for me, as I have had much less exposure to these wines than the more senior members of the group. It is well known that 1982 launched Robert Parker’s career when he hailed the ripe, seductive style as a great vintage. Of course, he was not alone in that view, though there were dissenting voices concerned with the ripeness of fruit and tannin paired with low(er) acidities that could affect the longevity of the vintage.
The Southwold Group has tasted the top wines of Bordeaux from the latest physically available vintage together for over 40 years. This used to take place – as the group’s name suggests – in Southwold in Suffolk, but it has now moved to Farr Vintners where we taste in a purpose-built modern tasting room. As a fairly recent member 2018 is my sixth Southwold, and the ninth vintage that I tasted en primeur.
The dinner between the Southwold tasting days is always a highlight of the week, and often the year. After nine hours of tasting young - often highly tannic - red Bordeaux, you might think the last thing needed would be more wine. But, perhaps after a cleansing beer, these dinners can re-invigorate the palate and mind. Every year there is a theme; be it region, vintage, variety or other. This year, the wines took on the concept of the Judgement of Paris tasting, in honour of the late Steven Spurrier. Southwold 2017 is the first vintage without Steven since his passing earlier this year. What better way to toast to his memory than with a comparative tasting of American and French wines, much as he did to send shockwaves through the industry in 1976.
The Southwold Group usually convenes in January; this year was obviously different and we were pleased to finally hold our tasting of the 2017 vintage this week. The panel included no less than six MWs, the buyers of the UK’s leading merchants and Neal Martin of Vinous.com. Our friend Steven Spurrier was much missed.
For over 40 years leading figures of the British wine trade have assembled every January to blind taste their way through all of the top wines of Bordeaux from the latest vintage in a marathon three day tasting. For many years this took place in Southwold in Suffolk, but it has now moved to the modern, purpose-built tasting room of Farr Vintners on the banks of the river Thames in Battersea Reach.
In the last week of January 2019, the “Southwold Group” assembled, once again, to taste the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. This year was the turn of 2015 to come under our blind tasting microscope. This marathon event comprised 264 wines, tasted in 22 flights of 12, by 19 vastly experienced tasters and it took place over 3 days in the Farr Vintners tasting room on the banks of the River Thames in Battersea Reach.
The "Southwold Group"
As many of you will know, every year, for well over a quarter of a century, a group of the UK’s leading wine buyers and writers get together for a few days to taste the most recently released vintage from bottle. With the 2013 vintage having been physically released onto the market last year, this was its turn to step forward and show us if the lukewarm reception we gave it when we tasted it en primeur was perhaps a little harsh. You may recall that last year the consensus was that 2012 had turned out to be better than expected and contained many pleasant surprises.
If it’s January, then it’s Southwold time. Every year, for a quarter of a century now, I’ve headed off to this charming little seaside town (home of the famous Adnams Brewery) to taste through the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. When I started attending this great annual event I was the youngest person there, but certainly that is no longer the case! Sadly, we have lost Richard Peat, Bill Baker and John Avery from our ranks whilst Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and Roy Richards have de-camped to Burgundy. However, our group of twenty tasters still comprises the great and the good of the British wine world with young Masters of Wine Alex Hunt and Matthew Hemming joining senior MW’s David Roberts, Sebastian Payne and Mark Savage. There are representatives of the leading UK fine wine merchants as well as critics Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier.
For a quarter of a century now I have spent a few days every January in the picturesque seaside town of Southwold with a group of British wine importers and wine writers as we taste through the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released. This year our group included no less than six Masters of Wine and wine writers Steven Spurrier of “Decanter”, Neal Martin of “The Wine Advocate” and Julia Harding of “JancisRobinson.com”. No doubt, their comprehensive reports will appear shortly. The vintage up for review this year was 2011. As usual, the wines were tasted blind in random order within peer-groups with the names of the wines not revealed until after the scores were taken. There were 23 flights this year in what was a marathon event. We started at 9.00 am on the Wednesday and finished at 12 noon on the Friday with close to 300 wines being tasted during the three days. A second bottle was also tasted of any wine that we felt was not performing as it should.
Every January since the early 1980s, a group of British wine buyers has escaped to Southwold in Suffolk to spend three days tasting through the most recently released Bordeaux vintage at The Swan Hotel. The 20 tasters include several Masters of Wine, the wine buyers for Britain's leading wine merchants and distinguished wine writers Jancis Robinson MW(jancisrobinson.com and the Financial Times ), Neal Martin (the Wine Advocate) and Steven Spurrier (Decanter Magazine). I joined the group over 20 years ago as the youngest member (at the time) but I'm now one of the "old boys".
For my final report on the 2009 red wines of Bordeaux we come to Pauillac. For me, this commune is the heart of Bordeaux and, of course, it contains three First Growths and many other world famous properties.
The commune of Margaux produces wines that tend to exude charm more than power. If you are looking for top class Bordeaux which is elegant and stylish then Margaux is the place for you. There are plenty of classed growth Chateaux in Margaux but it is usually the top three who dominate our tastings and this was the case in the 2009 yet again. Some people might wonder if we really do taste blind but I promise that we do! Three wines scored well above the other 20 that we tasted and guess what they were? – yes Chateaux Margaux, Palmer and Rauzan Ségla.
Today we move to the Graves – or Pessac-Léognan to be precise. This is one of my favourite regions of Bordeaux and one which I see as a half-way point between the left bank and the right bank. If you can’t decide if a wine in a blind tasting is a Pomerol or a Pauillac then this is always a good shout. The wines here are mainly made from an approximate 50:50 blend of Cabernet and Merlot so they tend to be a little less firm than the wines of the Médoc and little less opulent than those of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Not only are they generally well-balanced wines but the best of them have a unique character of tar, flint, wood-smoke and cigar box.
From the plummy opulence of Pomerol we now move to the Cabernet-Sauvignon based wines of Saint Estèphe.
The appellation of Pomerol is one of the smallest in Bordeaux. Within the appellation there are hundreds of tiny properties and even a 1000-case-a-year Château would be regarded as being one of the larger producers. In many respects to me, Pomerol is the “Burgundy of Bordeaux” as the wines are made mainly by small artisan producers and (predominantly) from a single grape variety. They are very different wines, stylistically, from those of the neighbours in Saint Emilion and even further removed from the wines of the Médoc. In very hot vintages, such as 2003, Merlot grapes can suffer from over-ripeness but 2009 is clearly a fantastic vintage for the wines of Pomerol. The wines are rich and intense with aromas of violets and rich black plum fruit.
First up at Southwold 2013 were the 2009 Saint Emilions. And what a lot of them there were! We tasted about 75 wines from this village as well as a few “ringers” from neighbouring appellations. The way that we organise these tastings is to serve the wines blind in flights with 10-12 bottles per flight. They are served, within each flight, in random order, alongside wines of similar value, style and reputation. As my son Ben was not due back at University until the following week, he helped out with the opening, “bagging” and serving of each flight. Ben’s other job was to enter everyone’s score on a spreadsheet. After 20 minutes silent tasting, each participant gives a score out of 20 for each wine (before the wines are discussed or their identities revealed) and then a group average score is calculated. Healthy debate then follows….
Every year in January, for over 30 years, some of the leading figures in the British wine trade have assembled in the sleepy town of Southwold for a comprehensive tasting of the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. In January 2013 it was the turn of the eagerly anticipated 2009’s.
Every January for over 20 years I have spent 3 days in Southwold (a charming seaside town in East Anglia) tasting my way through hundreds of newly bottled Bordeaux wines. The “Southwold Group” was actually founded over 30 years ago by a group of wine merchants who wanted to comprehensively taste every single major Bordeaux Château wine produced in the most recently released vintage. The wines are always tasted strictly blind in peer-group flights of 12. This year it was the turn of 2008.
Every year the leading wine buyers of the UK wine trade get together and organise a comprehensive blind tasting of the most recently released Bordeaux vintage. The tasting takes place at The Crown Hotel at Southwold in Suffolk and has been a regular event now for nearly 30 years.