De Bouärd loses libel case

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23/09/16 – Today’s newspaper (Le Sud-Ouest) reports that Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, co-owner of Château Angélus and other estates on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, has just lost his libel case against Isabelle Saporta, author of “Vino Business” in the Paris criminal court. He had claimed 50,000 euros in damages and 10,000 euros for legal expenses.
http://www.sudouest.fr/2016/09/22/vino-business-hubert-de-bouard-deboute-face-a-la-journaliste-isabelle-saporta-2510217-713.php

De Boüard sued Spaorta for, among other niceties, describing him as a “le petit Machiavel du vin,” “le renard” (the fox), and “un parvenu” (an upstart).

 

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While the judges admitted that the book gave “an extremely negative image” of de Boüard, their considered opinion was that “nothing in the book could be considered libellous “.
I have read Saporta’s book, which makes no pretence of objectivity. It sets out to be an exposé and contains a fair amount of bile. Still, the author’s descriptions of the way the Saint Emilion classification was conducted (in which Angléus was bumped up to the supreme category, and for which de Boüard may have had unfair influence…) and the role of Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol are eye-opening.

Vino Business reminds me of another largely negative book about Bordeaux, William Echikson’s “Noble Rot: a Bordeaux Wine Revolution”, in which the author writes a number of nasty things about Alexandre de Lur Saluces, among other well-known figures.

Feudal Médoc…

 

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As reported in the Sud-Ouest newspaper, Christophe Salin, the manager of Château Lafite Rothschild, got into trouble recently for a speech he gave at a tasting in Montreal a while back.
http://www.sudouest.fr/2016/09/21/mariages-consanguins-la-polemique-enfle-2507722-2530.php
Salin probably figured that he was free to speak his mind 5,000 km from home. However, the speech was filmed and went on the Internet…
What exactly did Salin say?
First in French, then translated into English.

Il y a des années, pour devenir directeur de Lafite ou le maître de chai de Lafite, il suffisait d’être le fils ou le petit-fils du précédent. Mais, malheureusement, génétiquement, ça n’allait jamais en s’arrangeant. Pour une raison bien simple: le Médoc est une presqu’île. Donc il y a beaucoup de mariages consanguins. Au bout de la troisième génération, il y avait les yeux qui se croisaient un peu… J’ai mis fin à cette pratique avec le baron Éric de Rothschild en recrutant des gens de qualité

“Years ago, all it took to become managing director of Lafite or cellar master of Lafite was to be the son or grandson of the previous one. However, unfortunately, that did not work out over time, for a very simple reason: the Médoc is a peninsula, and there was much marrying between blood relatives. By the third generation, there were some cross-eyed children… I ended this practice with Baron Eric de Rothschild by hiring qualified people from outside the region”.

These comments did not sit very well with Pierre Revelle, a municipal councillor in Pauillac – as well as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Lafite cellarmasters, who decried Salin’s “obvious contempt for generations of workers who made Lafite what it is today”. Revelle went on to say “The great 53, 61, 82, 85, 86, 89, and 90 vintages were produced by people without diplomas”.

Salin apologized to Lafite employees and declared to Sud-Ouest, “I am unhappy. I have no excuse to offer. What I meant to say is that the people of the Médoc were specialized in their work and close to the terroir. Honestly, this affair is all very sad to me”.

Without wishing to crucify Monsieur Salin, what this brings home is the feudal, “upstairs/downstairs” side of the Médoc, much more so than on the Right Bank. There are the people who own the grandiose châteaux… and those who work for them, the underlings. Salaries at some world-famous estates are surprisingly low. And, although labor relations are generally cordial and strikes virtually unheard of, there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. You sometimes get the feeling that the 20th century (never mind the 21st!) has bypassed the Médoc…

2016 growing season – curiouser and curiouser…

September 14th

Huge storm last night and – finally – rain.

This has been a very weird year: rotten spring and early summer, than an unusually late long, intense heat wave.

Precipitation has been close to nil for the last month.

http://www.sudouest.fr/2016/09/13/orages-dans-le-sud-ouest-21-000-eclairs-en-trois-heures-2499001-6110.php

View of the Chaban Delmas Bridge

View of the Chaban Delmas Bridge

However, a series of rainy days has been forecast…
Let us hope that these showers are not to heavy…

Merlot should be picked the last week of September and Cabernet the first 2 weeks of October.

The heat wave did cause scorching and intrupted ripening on some terroirs.

 

Dinner at Château d’Yquem on 09/09/16

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The Académie du Vin de Bordeaux kindly invited me to dinner at Château d’Yquem last night (9th of September). I have visited the château on a fair number of occasions, but certainly never enjoyed a meal there, so I was really looking forward to this.
The château has three dining rooms and there were about 60 of us in the largest one.

 

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The meal started out with 2014 Y on the terrace. This wine has changed completely from when it was first introduced in 1959. For many years, the grapes were picked after the ones used to make Sauternes. Now they’re picked before. The 2014 (60% Sémillion, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and no Muscadelle) was an ideal aperitif. Whereas Y used to be on the thick side and pretty much like a dry, or mostly dry Sauternes, the new generation Y is crisp, elegant, and seemingly on the light side. This 2014 is so enjoyable now that I wonder how it will change over time or if it actually needs to age. The oak is definitely unobtrusive.

By the way, Pierre Lurton explained that 2016 Y has already been picked and pressed. This year has been really odd weatherwise, with a rotten spring and early summer, but a long-lasting heat wave in September, with temperatures a full 10°C above the seasonal average on certain days. Problems with scorching have been encountered in the red wine vineyards…

 

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The first course (thon mi-cuit, gelée de gazpacho, avocate guacamole au citron vert, sorbet tomate-basilic) was accompanied by white 2012 Ch. Fieuzal. I’ve had a few premoxed bottles from this estate in the past, but when white Fieuzal shows well, it shows very well. It is one of those rare estates in Bordeaux where the white wine has better press than the red, and sells for much more. In any event, in all honesty, the Pessac-Léognac was better in my opinion than the dry Sauternes. It displayed great balance and a wonderful flinty aftertaste. The marked acidity seemed to fit in beautifully with the overall structure, and the oak influence was positive.

The second course (pigeon au foie gras, polenta au chorizo et piquillos, gaufrette safran, mousseline de cerfeuil) was served with two red wines, both of which I quite enjoyed. Incidentally, both were made by women who were present at the meal and who commented each other’s wines for everyone’s benefit.

Château Dassault is a Saint Emilion grand cru classé owned by one of the richest men in France (aerospace, etc.). The 2008 had a sweet, plummy bouquet with good oak and a very rich flavour with a velvety texture. I would only fault the overly obvious presence of alcohol on the finish. This was a strong wine that can use a little more time to show its best.
Château Phélan Ségur in Saint-Estèphe has long been a much-respected cru bourgeois (previously an “exceptionnel”, although this distinction has disappeared). The 2005 was classic claret with a lovely Médoc nose featuring graphite and violet overtones. The texture was silky and the aftertaste was long and assertive. I expected this 2005 to be more forward than it was. It wasn’t terribly closed-in, but clearly has good mid-term ageing potential.

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1955 Yquem was served with dessert (crémeux de citron, pamplemousse mariné au miel et citron vert, sorbet agrumes). The color is hard to describe, and people at my table agreed that the wine looked a little older than its years, with a mahogany and golden hue as well as a faint pinkish tinge. Although unspectacular, the nose was engaging with hints of mandarine orange, orange peel, and spice. However, the wine well and truly strutted its stuff on the palate, which was gorgeous. The texture was caressing, silky, and phenomenally sensual. There were flavors of crème brûlée and caramel as well as a host of citrus and tropical fruits (mango). I also found the unmistakable vanilla component that is a hallmark of Yquem to me – and which I do not attribute to oak. This vintage of Yquem showed good acidity and will of course live for decades to come, but it is as good as it ever will be in my opinion.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday evening…

Bordeaux Clairet – a super rosé well worth discovering

I love light, fruity, colorful rosé wine and drink buckets-full of the stuff in summer.

Yes, my conservative side comes through: to me, rosé means hot weather. Oh, I’ve had rosé in winter, and it looks really pretty alongside, let’s say, a dish of salmon where the colors match.
But that is the exception… Rosé just seems to match the insouciance of summer and, as we all know, it goes with just about any food a dry white or red wine does. Cool and refreshing, it is multi-purpose, easy-going, crowd-pleasing, inexpensive, and the polar opposite of snobbish.

I’m particular about my rosé. For a start, I have a problem with really pale ones with orange tinges – except for Champagne. It’s purely psychological: when I see a Rosé de Provence, it looks like, well, a pale imitation of what rosé should be. I expect such wines to be rather neutral and weak in flavor. In fact, I have the same problem with Burgundy: I have a prejudice against wines that are pale when, in fact, some of them can be simply wonderful on the palate…

 


Clairet de Bordeaux is halfway to being a red wine. The colour is very deep pink or an intense light red, with purple nuances. It really stands out – sometimes to the point where you almost expect it to glow in the dark! Other regions such as Navarra and Rioja in Spain produce such wine (clarete), but they still represent only a small fraction of the world’s rosé.
Is Clairet rosé? The short answer is yes… The only difference is the length of time the wine spends on the skins. However, there is a separate appellation for Bordeaux Clairet as opposed to Bordeaux Rosé. What is the difference? In a word, color. Bordeaux Rosé must have an index less than 1.1 ICM*, whereas Clairet must be between 1.1 and 2.5 ICM.
The word clair in French means “pale”, and the English word claret comes from clairet. The origin of this word goes back to the Middle Ages, when all of Aquitaine was English. At that time, entire fleets of ships sailed up the Garonne to load the new vintage of Bordeaux and take it to English ports. This wine was not as we know it today. It was lighter in colour and meant to be drunk young: the ancestor of present-day Clairet.

Clairet can be made from any of the Bordeaux red wine grape varieties. Ones produced primarily from Cabernet have a little more structure and a little more ageing potential than Merlot-based ones. Be this as it may, Clairet it best consumed within a year or two of the vintage.

 

I went to see M. Frédéric Roger at Planète Bordeaux, home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, to find out more about Clairet. Planète Bordeaux is located in Beychac-et-Caillau on the road to Libourne. I can’t recommend their boutique highly enough. The choice is enormous, and the knowledgeable staff is glad to advise. I came away with six interesting bottles, including a Crémant de Bordeaux and a Bordeaux Carménère (!) for 47 euros. Whoever said Bordeaux is expensive is wrong! As an aside, I learned that Crémant de Bordeaux is really on the up-and-up: sales have doubled in the past 2 years, and one third of this is rosé.

 


Providing tremendous value for money, Clairet de Bordeaux sells in French supermarkets at 4 to 7 euros a bottle. Bordeaux produces six and a half times as much rosé (about 190,000 hl.) as Clairet (27,400 hl.). Although Bordeaux Rosé is riding the wave of increased worldwide demand for pink wine, Clairet sales have stayed largely stable. That is because Clairet is sold mostly regionally and is not a household name… Little is exported. However, this is a wine well worth discovering with definitely more structure and – to me – more flavour than most other rosés on the market. I’ve talked mostly about color in this post, but the wine is also very attractive on the bouquet and palate, with lively red fruit aromas. And it is not wimpish! In a nutshell, this is a rosé for red wine lovers.
I hope you are able to find Clairet where you live and try a bottle to see for yourself.
Bonne dégustation !
* ICM = intensité colorante modifiée – I have found no equivalent term in English. It is the average optic density measured at wavelengths at 420 nm, 520 nm, and 620 nm.

An extensive tasting of 2013 Médoc great growths

The Union des Grands Crus is a great example of what Bordeaux can do when people work together to promote fine wines. Of course, other countries/regions have their promotional associations too, either official or, like the UGC, privately-funded, but few have quite the outreach and international presence as the great growths of Bordeaux…

Going back several years now, the UGC has organized one weekend a year revolving around wines produced by their members: http://ugcb.net/en/les_membres_de_l-union What makes the Weekend des Grands Crus unusual is that events are open to the general public, attracting people from all over the world. Activities include vineyard tours, formal dinners in châteaux, and a golf tournament. But the highlight is the mammoth tasting held on Saturday. A château representative (usually the owner or winemaker) is there to answer questions and serve two vintages: a designated one and a second one from a recent vintage of their choosing.

I attended the tasting at Hangar 14 in Bordeaux on Saturday the 4th of June 2016. The featured vintage was the 2013 and the choice was mind boggling. Having only one tongue, and therefore capable of tasting only so many wines, I decided to focus on one region in one vintage. And that was 2013 Médoc. I sampled 30 of them.

Why in the world did I choose 2013 instead of zeroing in on better-reputed (what I call “politically correct”) years? Simply because I am against received wisdom and have always been one to root for the underdog…
Here are my notes.

Please note that there is little mention of color. That is because most young wines often have a similar deep rich color, so this is not a major factor in differentiating the wines.

IMPORTANT: Please also note that the following scores need to be understood in the context of my personal scoring system. I am a tough grader compared to most people. For a start, I use the 20 point scale and 14/20 is a very good score in my book. 10 is passable, 12 good, and anything above 14 is excellent.

N = nose
P = palate


2013 Château Chasse Spleen, Moulis
Chasse Spleen has taken to putting a strip label with a quote in each vintage. The one in 2013 reads “You will learn to compound happiness out of small increments of mindless pleasure” – Jay Mc Inernay
N: Simple with no trace of greenness. Overtones of ash and red fruit, along with muted cherry-vanilla aromas.
P: Fluid and light. Well-made, with not much grip on the aftertaste. Short, but friendly.
12/20

2013 Château Beaumont, Haut-Médoc
N: Brambly, light, and enticing, with notes of cranberry jelly.
P: Appetizing. Mouthwatering. Good. Tannin under control. A fine example of what the English called luncheon claret: a light flavorsome wine that you can drink at lunch and still work efficiently in the afternoon. I am increasingly impressed with Beaumont.
13.5/20


2013 Château Fourcas-Hosten, Listrac
N: Great purity and lovely black fruit on the nose. The oak is well integrated and a positive part of the bouquet.
P: Light and refreshing with a touch of mintiness and an unusual balance between softness and acidity. Decent grip on the tarry aftertaste. Good for mid-term ageing.
13/20

2013 Château Belgrave, Haut-Médoc
N: Enticing berry aromas with subtle cosmetic aromas and nuances of roast coffee beans.
P: Somewhat hollow and dry. Oak plays too great a role here. A little one-dimensional, but has greater ageing potential than most.
12/20 (but can move up)

2013 Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc
N: Fine, upfront, and seductive with powdery, roasted, and black cherry aromas.
P: Soft, light, feminine. Well-made and refreshing. Good tannin and fine balance. Zippy with grip on the finish.
14.5/20

 


2013 Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc
N: Pure classic, perfumed Médoc nose with fruit jelly overtones. Feminine, but with an odd citrus side.
P: Lacks richness and depth in this vintage. Somewhat hollow and with too much oak. Disappointing for the estate but has greater ageing potential than most.
13/20

2013 Château Ferrière, Margaux
N: Muted spring flower nuances appear after swirling in the glass. Closed, but promising. Needs plenty of aeration.
P: Very soft and with some definite Margaux magic here, going into gravelly minerality. Light, but classy. Will age. Very classic, well-made wine with a lovely, long mineral aftertaste.
14/20

2013 Château du Tertre, Margaux
N: Non-descript and a little green.
P: Much better on the palate, however. A sort of luxury quaffing wine. Pure, but light structure. Unsubstantial, but OK. Saved by the aftertaste that shows at least some personality.
11.5/20

 


2013 Château Monbrison, Margaux
N: Open, simple, and attractive. Intelligent winemaking has freed the sweet, but not very complex fruit without overwhelming or over-extracting it.
P: Honest, straightforward, and refreshing. Nice development on the palate, showing some unexpected authoritativeness on the finish, but the wine’s body isn’t quite up to this.
13.5/20

2013 Château Marquis de Terme, Margaux
N: Forward, raspberry fruit. Seems reminiscent of New World wines with toasty oak.
P: International style. Dry. Unquestionably steamrollered by the oak. Different from others and may be better in time, but I think the estate needs to re-evaluate their barrel ageing in lighter years.
11/20

2013 Château Dauzac, Margaux
N: OK, but not showing much personality at this stage.
P: Chewy and surprisingly assertive with marked acidity. Big wine showing considerable personality on the aftertaste. Dips on the middle palate but vinous and good – albeit not textbook Margaux.
13/20

 


2013 Château Desmirail, Margaux
N: Grassy, and brambly, with berry fruit and chocolate nuances. Subtly perfumed. Good.
P: Silky mouthfeel. A sophisticated lady. Attractively mineral with mid-term ageing potential.
14/20

2013 Château Cantenac Brown, Margaux
N: Caramel and sour cherry aromas.
P: Chewy and big, but there’s something off here, some chemical note…
11/20, but time may change this.

2013 Château Labégorce, Margaux
N: Deep, dark, and mysterious… Very brambly, with gunpowder aromas. Interesting. Wild.
P: Light, but by no means inconsequential. Refreshing. Not linear. Seems to be weak on the aftertaste and then spreads out with interesting flavors. Will age.
14/20

 


2013 Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
N: Vaguely fruity and oaky.
P: Much better on palate, big even. Pleasantly surprising after the bouquet. Rich, satisfying, and has a long aftertaste. May lack spark and imagination, but rather successful and very good for the vintage.
14.5/20

2013 Château Beychevelle, Saint Julien
N: Slick, meaty, and classic.
P: Lovely texture. Really chewy. Powerful and assertive. The real ticket. Good oak, but perhaps a tad over-extracted. Very Cabernet. On the spirity side. Give it 5-7 years more.
14.5/20

2013 Château Branaire Ducru, Saint Julien
N: Band-aid aroma and a marked floral component (iris), but lacks personality.
P: Good acidity and excellent tannic texture. Virile wine with a good aftertaste.
14/20

 


2013 Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac
N: Earth/humus and refined blackberry liqueur aromas.
P: Starts out really soft, then shows a bit green, then displays a gravelly, mineral aftertaste.
13/20

2013 Château Léoville Poyférré, Saint Julien
N: Smoky, with rich berry fruit.
P: Nice attack turns angular. There’s sufficient acidity to age, but not much fruit. Lacks softness and charisma.
13/20

2013 Château Léoville Barton, Saint Julien
N: Pencil shavings, sweet, subtle, and seductive.
P: Lovely caressing mouth feel. Soft, linear development on the palate into a classic profile. Quite oaky, but indications are that this will integrate. A fine effort. One of the stars of the tasting to me.
15.5/20


2013 Château Gruaud Larose, Saint Julien
N: Herbaceous, crushed blackcurrant leaves.
P: Smooth and herbaceous once again with mint overtones. Sharp acidity. Tastes like what it is: a fine wine from a challenging year.
13.5/20

2013 Château Saint Pierre, Saint Julien
N: Toasty oak predominates.
P: Harsh tannin, not showing well, disappointing for a château I generally have a lot of time for.
12/20

2013 Château Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauillac
N: Nose is off. Brett?
P: Hard. Drinkable, but not noteworthy.
10/20

 


2013 Château Lynch Moussas, Pauillac
N: Floral and brambly. Wild flowers. Definite green nuances.
P: Out of balance, but interesting. Melts in the mouth at first, then becomes weak and a little watery, however finishes with a strong and somewhat hard aftertaste.
11/20

2013 Château Batailley, Pauillac
N: Corked
P: Flawed.
Not rated.

2013 Château Lynch Bages, Pauillac
N: Fresh berry fruit. A little herbaceous. Fine, well-integrated oak.
P: Starts out very nice then dips. A little hard on the finish. Not a great Lynch Bages.
13/20

 


2013 Château Pichon Baron, Pauillac
N: Very youthful with good fruit and oak. Candied black fruit and tell-tale Pauillac graphite notes.
P: Wonderful smooth texture with velvety tannin on the aftertaste. Vibrant and juicy. Only the volume is missing, but this is very good.
14.5/20

2013 Château Lafon Rochet, Saint Estèphe
N: Not very pronounced. Oak overlaying black fruit and cough drop nuances.
P: More character on the palate. Lovely cherry flavors. Good structure and a fine aftertaste. Classy wine.
14/20

2013 Château Talbot, Saint-Julien
N: Disappointing. Subtle – but too subtle…
P: Improves on the palate. Starts out with delicious cherry notes then goes into a certain toughness but that should even out with age.
13.5/20

 


2013 Château Lascombes, Margaux
N: First impression is of oak, but berry fruit kicks in thereafter. Seems somewhat one-dimensional at this stage.
P: Tight, uncompromising structure. Expressive and juicy. A little dilute, but saved by an especially good, long aftertaste. Best in 3-5 years.
14/20

The number of châteaux in Bordeaux. Go on, take a guess…

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

…. and the answer is…. 8,944 as just announced by the Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux.

10% of these are produced by cooperative cellars.

Since 1990 a château can sell their wine under one, and just one, other name if they can prove an historical precedent.

As many châteaux as there are, there were 12,650 ten years ago!

This reduced number goes to show a number of economic factors at play.
It also shows that it is kind of reckless to say “Bordeaux is… (fill in the blank)”.
The variety is overwhelming.

A look at the new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

The Bordelais are a bit like Texans. They naturally assume everything is bigger and better in their part of the world… Their département, the Gironde, is the largest in France and their wine the most famous on the planet (bar one: Champagne). However, Bordeaux was closed like an oyster for many years to wine lovers. You needed an introduction to visit the famous châteaux and it was difficult to see much of anything without a car.

This has all changed enormously in recent years, and nothing illustrates this more than the new Cité du Vin. Created by the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilisations – funded by various local government agencies plus the EU (80%), along with private sponsors (20%) – the Cité was inaugurated by François Hollande on the 31st of May 2016 and open to the public the next day.
That makes June a very busy month in Bordeaux, with European Football Cup matches played here and the Bordeaux Wine Festival (http://www.bordeaux-wine-festival.com/) taking place at the end of the month.

 


Designed by the Parisian firm of XTU Architects, the Cité du Vin is housed in a striking modern building on the Garonne River. Its unusual shape has been the butt of cheeky jokes, but it kind of grows on you…
It is easy to go there by tram www.infotbc.com or even on a municipal water taxi www.batcub.fr . Parking facilities have not yet been entirely worked out.
The Cité is located in Bacalan, a part of town long considered “the wrong side of the tracks”, but currently undergoing a major transformation. Buildings are sprouting up everywhere and the nearby new Chaban Delmas lift bridge enables outsize cruise ships to dock a little further upriver, in the heart of the city.
In fact tourism has grown by leaps and bounds since Bordeaux was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

 

Let’s start out with a simple explanation of what in the world the Cité du Vin actually is. Neither a museum nor an amusement park, it is a center with several functions. Most people just passing through Bordeaux will limit their experience to going on the permanent exhibition circuit, an attractive and fun way to learn about the world’s vineyard regions thanks to sophisticated, imaginative, interactive multi-media presentations. Visitors are given a smartphone and headphones and then set out discover the 19 different modules by themselves, at their own pace (there are no guides), and in any order they wish. The scenography was laid out by the English firm of Casson Mann, who also designed that of the Imperial War Museum in London and the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.

 


The total duration of audio-visual presentations is more than 10 hours, but most visits last less than two. Aerial views of some of the world’s most beautiful vineyard regions on enormous screens are spellbinding. In fact, the visual and sound effects everywhere are altogether pretty remarkable.
However, the Cité is not just about screens. The 3,000 metres open to the public also include a battery of marvelously retro “Nez du Vin” type wine aroma sniffers, a honeycomb of various-sized rooms for tastings, a trippy “Imaginarium”, “sensory workshops” for children, etc. I might add that I think children will enjoy the experience as much as their parents – minus the tasting of course!
After the tour, a glass of wine is served at an enormous tasting bar on the 8th floor “belvedere,” an observation deck featuring a circular plate glass window affording a commanding 360° view of Bordeaux.

 

The other parts of the Cité can be visited without buying a ticket. The 7th floor houses a restaurant called, appropriately enough, “Le 7”. Run by the team from the Brasserie Bordelaise, the Terrasse Rouge (Château La Domnique), etc., the restaurant is rather small (seats 70, and another 30 on the terrace). This reflects the fact that the initial project had to be downsized in light of budgetary restrictions.
The first floor contains an auditorium, a number of workshop rooms, a temporary exhibition area, a function room, and a reading room (as opposed to a lending library) with books on wine in many languages.
The Latitude 20 snack bar, wine bar, gift shop, and wine boutique are on the ground floor. The latter has a huge selection from 80 countries! And if you have twelve and a half thousand euros to spare, you can even buy a bottle of 2009 Romanée-Conti…

As much as Bordeaux goes in for navel-gazing, the Cité du Vin is well and truly international. Obviously, Bordeaux is not given short shrift though, and there is a desk to help tourists arrange to see the local wine country. Some 450,000 are expected a year. Cost of admission: 20 euros, including a glass of wine on the top floor. Tickets are best purchased over the Internet http://ticket.laciteduvin.com/en-GB/home where there is a choice of time slots.

A program of special events is in the making, and the Cité du Vin will regularly host wine-related and other conferences as well as a number of exhibitions. The first temporary one (July/August) will highlight the wines of Georgia, the cradle of winegrowing.
So, does the Cité live up to all the hype? I think any wine lover would enjoy it immensely and it has been planned to welcome the whole family. That is the key: making wine interesting and fun to the public at large – people of all ages and origins. This is not a facility targeting wine professionals, nor does it go into the technical aspects of winemaking. The original name was “La Cité des Civilisations du Vin”, and the emphasis is indeed on wine cultures from around the world.

©Anaka - La Cité du Vin (8)

 

The Cité du Vin is not only extremely international, but also unabashedly modern, and puts paid to Bordeaux’s somewhat stuffy image. A visit there is an entertaining, educational experience in a very 21st century sort of way, making use of state-of-the-art technology and giving people the liberty of experiencing things their own way, at their own pace.
It unquestionably adds another stone to the edifice of Bordeaux’s claim to be “The World Wine Capital.”

An exhibition of 19th century French art focusing on lusty women followers of Bacchus

Bacchant

From the Oxford dictionary:
Pronunciation: /ˈbakənt/
noun (plural bacchants or bacchantes /bəˈkantiːz/; feminine bacchante /bəˈkant/ /bəˈkanti/)
A priest, priestess, or follower of Bacchus: the painting shows a bacchante carrying a child
Origin, late 16th century: from French bacchante, from Latin bacchari ‘celebrate the feast of Bacchus’.

Here’s a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maenad

In conjunction with the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, etc. the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux put on an exhibition from February-May 2016 of 19th French art celebrating bacchantes. The main themes were nudes, dancing, eroticism, and exhilaration from drinking wine. Not a bad mix, eh?
And what better place than Bordeaux to host such an exhibition including 130 works? I’m no art critic, but I thought I would simply share some photos I took. I hope you enjoy.

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Portes Ouvertes: visit to 9 châteaux in the Côtes de Bourg

Sometimes, you just want to scream!

Bordeaux is too expensive.
Bordeaux is boring and all tastes the same.
Today’s Bordeaux is over-extracted and over-oaked.
You have to wait too long for Bordeaux to age.
Bordeaux is old hat.
Bordeaux is bourgeois.
There are much more exciting wines elsewhere today….

No, no, and no!
Enough already!

A trip to the Côtes de Bourg disproves all of the above.
It’s true that there are countries where these wines are virtually unable to be found (only 15% of production is exported). This creates a vicious circle: they aren’t imported and distributed because they are not known. And they are not known because they aren’t imported and distributed…
The wine media? It seems somehow more sexy to crow about a Côtes de Lubéron or a Cour-Cheverny or a Jura than a Bordeaux – and that’s just the French wines!
Then there’s this feeling that Bordeaux is a known quantity with not much left to discover, with nothing new happening.
Nonsense!
Oh, journalists do come to Bordeaux in droves alright during en primeur time. And what do they taste? The great growths. Period. Or just about… In their defense, it takes a least a full week of constant tasting to sample most of the famous wines. And then it’s time to go back home.
Far too few critics make the effort to poke around and discover the good affordable wines of Bordeaux.

Yes, it does take poking around, and a lot of trial and error. Admittedly, quality is uneven, but the rewards are well-worth the trouble! The Côtes wines of Bordeaux represent excellent value for money. No doubt about it.

The other Côtes de Bordeaux – Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, and Francs – decided to join forces. They established an association, the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux, and succeeded in creating a new umbrella appellation in 2009. AOC Côtes de Blaye became “Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux”, Côtes de Castillon became “Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux”, and so on.
Bourg decided to go their own way, however, and did not join the others.

 

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Bourg-sur-Gironde

 

The town of Bourg, and center of the appellation, is 35 km. from Bordeaux. Its full name is Bourg-sur-Gironde but here’s a factoid for you: the estuary changed course over the years, and the town is actually on the Dordogne!
The narrow 10 km. corniche road (D660) from Bourg to Villeneuve running between the estuary and a cliff face dotted with troglodyte dwellings is not to be missed. This is lined with lovely houses whose owners pride themselves on their flower gardens – a riot of color this time of year!
Bourg is a charming little town, with its own small port, a citadel, and a great Maison du Vin where they just opened a beautiful modern extension with a lovely large tasting room overlooking the river. There is also an attractive boutique with a dizzying selection of wines. The prices are awfully seductive, and the knowledgeable staff are glad to make suggestions. This is just as well because even a hard-bitten Bordeaux fanatic such as me is pretty much at a loss to recognize most of the labels here.

With a near-Texan sense of exaggeration, this part of Bordeaux is called “la Suisse Girondine”. While hardly Alpine, the vine-covered countryside is indeed very hilly. The Côtes de Bourg have about 4,000 hectares of vineyards. Merlot reigns supreme, but as opposed to all other parts of Bordeaux, Malbec is widely planted, and its share is growing.
Students of Bordeaux all learn that the Cabernet on the Right Bank is Cab Franc. But not so in Bourg: it is far outweighed by Cabernet Sauvignon because of the later-ripening terroir, approximately two weeks after Saint-Emilion.

 

AFFICHE PO 2016

 

I decide to take advantage of the Portes Ouvertes to visit the Côtes de Bourg appellation and their renovated Maison du Vin on the 7th of May. A friend and I stopped in at 9 châteaux and here’s a not-so-brief rundown of our experience.

 

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac

 

We first went to Château Tayac in Saint-Seurin-de-Bourg. Overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and the Garonne at the Bec d’Ambès, this estate has a very long history and an impressive château to prove it. This was built on the site of previous ones in 1827. Tayac is also famous for a rare mutation of Merlot called à queue rouge (with a red stem). Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol has planted cuttings.  We tried two vintages of the red wine (43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot Noir, 25% Merlot à Queue Rouge, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec – planted on 26 hectares). The 2013 was fresh, easy-going, and intelligently made i.e. not over-extracted in that difficult vintage. The 2009 Cuvée Réserve had a lovely, perfumed, uplifting bouquet, but the palate was not quite up to this. Short, but interesting, it was a little rustic. However, there was plenty of grip and this wine may surprise us with age. We also tasted the 2014 white Tayac (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon, and 15% Muscadelle on two hectares). In fact, we tasted several white Côtes de Bourg on our day out, but this may give a wrong impression. These wines account for just a minuscule share of production. Anyway, the 2014 Tayac was very pale with silvery highlights and a nose clearly marked not only by Sauvignon Blanc, but also the high proportion of Muscadelle. The wine was light and thrist-quenching. I left with a couple of bottles at 7.20 € apiece.

 

 

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Our next stop was Château Falfas in Bayon-sur-Gironde (20 hectares of vines – 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec). The 17th century château is a listed historic monument. We were welcomed by the owner, Madame Véronique Cochran. This charming, soft-spoken woman has an enormous and infectious faith in biodynamic winegrowing. We tasted red wines: the 2011 and 2012 regular cuvée as well as the 2008 and 2011 prestige cuvée, “Le Chevalier”. The former cost about 15 euros a bottle. The common thread here was pure black fruit aromatics and a significant oak influence. These are wines to age.

 

After Falfas, we went to Château Puy d’Amour in Tauriac with 12 hectares of vines. Puits means “a well” in English, and puits d’amour is the name of a local patisserie… But the name puy here means a small, flat-topped hill where the grapes grow. The wines were inexpensive, but really nothing special.

Next up was Château Caruel in Bourg with 18 hectares of vines (55% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, and 10% Cabernet Franc). We were welcomed by Thierry Auduteau, a salt-of-the earth kind of guy who served us his 2011 cuvée traditionelle and his prestige cuvée Ballade from the same vintage.  The former was everything one would hope for from an inexpensive Bordeaux (6.20 euros a bottle), with a simple but attractive raspberry nose and a good long finish.  I was very happy to taste this. The latter wine (8.70 euros a bottle) was soft with well-integrated oak. Tremendous value for money. A 2000 Caruel had dried out and was past it. But age-worthiness is not the be-all and end-all of wine quality. For inexpensive mid-range drinking, Caruel is clearly a winner.

 

Plaisance

 

We stopped for lunch at La Plaisance http://www.restaurant-le-plaisance.com/ near the port in Bourg. This bistro-type restaurant claims they offer the widest choice of wines by the glass (3, 6, and 12 cl.) of any restaurant in France. They even serve, gasp, foreign wines: Tuscany, Argentina, California, etc.! The cuisine is basic and enjoyable. In fact, following the example of the local wines, there are no top-flight restaurants in the Bourg region, but there are certainly several good ones such as La Plaisance that won’t break the bank.

 

 

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

 

Our first visit after lunch was to Château de la Grave, also in Bourg. This largish estate has a beautiful 16th century castle restored in the Louis the 13th style in the 19th century. I have always liked their wines and was not disappointed with the ones I tasted. La Grave is the largest producer of white Bourg, with nearly 5 hectares of white wine varieties: 70% Sémillon and 30% Colombard. At 10.50 € a bottle, their 2014 white was not only rare, but good. It had a brilliant pale golden colour and a sweetish, gooseberry, spicy nose with some waxy overtones. The wine was once again spicy on the palate and very attractive. Selling at 8.50 € a bottle, the 2014 red Château de la Grave (37 hectares – 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) featured a vibrant purplish color as well as a vinous and lead pencil bouquet. It was chewy on the palate with good acidity and was not too tannic. A good wine at an unbeatable price in light of its quality. We also tried the 2012 “Cuvée Caractère” which had a fairly bright medium deep colour with a purple rim. The After Eight nose led up to a delicious flavor typical of its appellation, with well-integrated oak (barrels used for 2 previous vintages). Once again, a bargain at 10.50 € a bottle. I ended up buying some top-notch Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé, for under 10 € a bottle.
Château de la Grave also do bed and breakfast. I don’t know the owners, so am not doing anyone a favor by saying that this château is in a dream location and would make a very nice place to stay. Rates are approximately 100 euros a night for a couple, breakfast included.

Next on the itinerary was Château Gravettes-Samonac in Samonac. They have 27 hectares of vines (75% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec). We tasted three wines from the 2012 vintage: the Tradition (5.40 € a bottle), Elégance (6.00 € a bottle), and Prestige (8.00 € a bottle) blends. This is a respected and well-known estate. My notes refer to soft wines that vary little from one cuvée to the next other than the degree of toasty oak. The wines are dependable, if unexciting.

We had better luck at Château Mercier in Saint-Trojan, where we were welcomed by Philippe Chéty, a well-known figure in the appellation. There were 23 wines for tasting going back to 1989 – and that’s just the reds! – so I restricted myself to the 2011 and 2012 vintages. In both instances, I preferred the regular cuvée (respectively 6.90 and 6.70 euros) to the over-oaked prestige cuvée, and came away with a bottle of each. Mercier has 25 hectares of vines, 24 devoted to red wine (45% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec) and 1 to white (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscadelle, and 20% Sémillon). The 2014 white was easy-going, aromatic, and very user friendly. I bought a bottle for 6 € and a 3-liter bag-in-box of the 2015 vintage for 13.15 €. Such good value for money!

 

The next-to-last visit was to Château Haut-Guiraud in Saint-Ciers de Canesse, an estate with 16 hectares of vines (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon). We were greeted by Christophe Bonnet and tasted through three wines. The 2011 Ch. Coufin du Périer is a 100% Merlot aged in 100% new oak. This tiny 1.5 hectare estate is owned by M. Bonnet’s wife. Although non-giving on the nose, it was better on the palate: a simple, fun, sensual wine with a certain amount of character. We then test drove the 2014 Haut-Guiraud (7.00 € a bottle). This had a very suave bouquet and was quite fine on the palate as well, with a good long aftertaste. What’s not to like? In fact, I preferred it to the prestige cuvée, Péché de Roy (or “The King’s Weakness”) at 9.70 € a bottle – which, like many prestige cuvées, is notable more for its increased oakiness than anything else. However, once again, the wine is young and there is a chance that this may become better integrated.

Our final stop was at Château Brulesécaille in Tauriac. This has always been one of the leading estates in Bourg going back centuries, so this was a fitting way to end the day. We sampled the 2014 white wine (100% Sauvignon Blanc – 2 hectares) which had a pale golden color and a rather neutral nose. It was more expressive on the palate, but rather austere, definitely one calling for food. This cost 9 € a bottle. We then compared two red wines (55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec – 28 hectares) from the 2012 vintage. The second wine, named Château La Gravière, costing 8 € a bottle, was a rather old-fashioned sort of Bordeaux, but pleasant enough. The Brulesécaille was more vibrant in every way, with well-integrated oak and a little gumminess/tarriness on the aftertaste. A very good wine at 11 €  a bottle.
For summer drinking, I came away with a few bottles of the pale, fresh, fruity Bordeaux rosé at 6.50 € a bottle. The Rodet-Recapet family of Brulesécaille also own a 2-hectare vineyard in Saint-Emilion, Château Yon Saint Christophe (85% Merlot and 15% Malbec) bordering on the Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion appellation. I found their 2011 to be excellent and was not surprised to see that the 2013 vintage had won a gold medal at the Paris International Agricultural Show.

On the way back home we stopped in the nearby city of Saint-André-de-Cubzac for a cool, non-alcoholic drink at the Café de la Gare https://www.tripadvisor.fr/Restaurant_Review-g1939251-d5808947-Reviews-Cafe_de_la_Gare_1900-Saint_Andre_De_Cubzac_Gironde_Aquitaine.html
This is also a good place to eat and very wine-friendly.