Category Archives: Château profiles

An unforgettable tour of top-flight châteaux – day four

 

 

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Flags out in honor of visitors

 

 

 

 

Pontet Canet - menu

 

 

Our final day was a wine lover’s dream. We arrived at Château Pontet Canet at 11 am and immediately noticed three flags had been put up in honor of group members hailing from Canada, England, and the US. We took a walk around the vineyards with the English-speaking guide and then tasted four wines (2014, 13, 12, and 11 – but not in that order) with Alfred Tesseron and estate manager Jean-Michel Comme. I actually preferred the 2012, followed by the 2014, the 2011 and the 2013. Then it was time for lunch. And what a lunch it was! Drinking 2003 Dom Pérignon in the château salon was a very good kick-off. Then all 18 of us trooped to the formal dining room where Alfred Tesseron held court, despite feeling somewhat under the weather.

The 2000 Pontet Canet is ready to drink, which is the case with many wines of that vintage despite what you may have heard. The 2003 is a somewhat controversial wine, but it showed very well – not too big, although a little raisiny. Alfred Tesseron says that appearances are deceptive and that it has a long life ahead of it. The 2005 was not quite up to the vintage’s reputation in my opinion.

One of the group members had brought a 1962 Pontet Canet purchased at auction years ago. Alfred Tesseron went into his private cellar and brought out a bottle from the same vintage so we could compare. In fact, the wines were not far apart, and I actually preferred the one that had been trundled many miles and stored less than perfectly.

 

2001 Ducru

 

 

Afterward, we drove to Château Ducru Beaucaillou, where cellarmaster René Lusseau took us around. He is a true product of the Médoc and translating his puns and local references was no easy task. We visited their semi-underground cellar and went on to taste three wines. 2011 Lalande Borie was a little one-dimensional, but good enough. The 2008 La Croix Beaucaillou was showing a little too much oak, and the 2001 Ducru Beaucaillou was at its peak –  which makes me think it is high time to start opening the fine wines in my cellar from that vintage.

 

 

Our next stop was at Lynch Bages. This estate is very much into wine tourism. Not only do they receive visitors easily, including on Sunday (a rare phenomenon in Bordeaux), but the Cazes family has also established a little hamlet nearby with a restaurant (Café Lavinal), baker, butcher, and gift shop. We received a standard tour and then tasted several wines from the Cazes stable, starting with Les Ormes de Pez, Echo de Lynch Bages, and Lynch Bages from the 2014 vintage. Unsurprisingly, Lynch Bages was the star here, with the château’s trademark blackcurrant fruit. We also tasted 2007 Ormes de Pez and Lynch Bages, neither of which left a particularly fine impression.  We finished with the 2014 Blanc de Lynch Bages that displayed a very fresh varietal (Sauvignon Blanc) nose and a considerable amount of oak.

 

 

The last stop of the day, and the end of the tour, was at Château Pichon Longueville. This was a wonderful end to a memorable trip. We were taken around by Nicolas Santier, who did a tremendous job. He is extremely well-informed, speaks excellent English, and has a great sense of humor. He made us feel very much at home – even when we went to dinner in the château, in the lap of luxury…

Prior to dinner, Nicolas took us through a fascinating tasting in one of the best equipped tasting rooms I know. It was also quite appreciable to be able to sit down by this point!
We sampled 2014 Pibran and then 2014, 2010, 2009, and 2008 Pichon Baron. I think Pibran is one of the best value wines in the Médoc and was therefore not surprised to enjoy the 2014. All the Pichons were top-notch, and I was especially taken with the 2008. The others may be intrinsically better, but they need a great deal of time to come together, especially the 2010.

We went from the tasting room to the château, where we were immediately served a glass of Jacquesson Champagne (I believe it was the 735, but why in the world do they give their wines numbers instead of names?) and invited to walk around and admire the beautifully decorated rooms and antique furniture. Then it was time for a formal meal in the lovely dining room. The following wines were served: 2012 “S” de Suduiraut (a dry Sauternes), 2004 Pichon Baron, 2003 Pichon Baron, and 1988 Pichon Baron. The white wine was perky and nice, more attractive than serious, and probably best enjoyed young. The 2004 Baron was a little weak on the middle palate, a tad dry, and still youthful. The 2003 once again belied the preconceived notion that the wines of this vintage are top-heavy, overly alcoholic, and flabby. 2003 Pichon was certainly rich, but not outrageously so, and had good acidity. Very pleasant. The 1988 was served blind and correctly guessed by one of the group members who had bought cases of the wine. It was “à point” and a wonderful way to end the series. A silky, aromatic 2005 Suduiraut was served with dessert.

We left the château replete, tired, and extremely happy. Looking back at the floodlit château and its reflecting pond, we were filled with admiration for the majesty of the great wines of Bordeaux, as well as the genius of the Bordelais in linking their wines with magnificent structures such as this.

Pichon by night

La Tour de Bessan, a Margaux worth discovering

 

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It would not be entirely accurate to say that Marie-Laure Lurton belongs to a well-known wine family… In fact, it would be much more apt to say she’s from a virtual dynasty, with huge landholdings throughout Bordeaux (1,300 hectares at 27 estates). However, Marie-Laure is no figurehead daughter looking after marketing and public relations… She’s a hands-on winemaker with a degree in enology and years of experience working at the family châteaux prior to acquiring two of her own. A measure of the woman’s stamina and character is that she was training for the Marathon du Médoc when I met her this summer.

Marie-Laure owns and manages Château La Tour de Bessan in the Margaux appellation and Villegeorge in the Haut-Médoc appellation. She is the mother of three children.

I asked Marie-Laure a question that fascinates lovers of Bordeaux. Since nothing would legally have prevented it (the 1855 classification is not subject to appellation controlée laws, and has not been changed since 1973, when Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second to a first growth), why was La Tour de Bessan not purely and simply integrated into Brane Cantenac or Durfort Vivens, both second growths belonging to the Lurtons – and selling at a much higher price? Her answer was very nuanced and had much to do with agreements made within her family taking existing situations into account. Let it suffice to say that Lucien Lurton acquired La Tour de Bessan in the 1970s and preferred to keep the estate separate.

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I was intrigued to discover La Tour de Bessan because I had rarely had the wine. I was not alone in erroneously thinking of it as a second wine of Brane Cantenac. The vineyards are located in three different communes: Soussans, Arsac, and Cantenac. The eponymous tower in Soussans dates back to the 13th century – predating the one at Château Latour in Pauillac, who therefore did not ask the Lurtons to change the name to just “Tour de Bessan”, as they did to other châteaux called “La Tour something or other”.

La Tour de Bessan was acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1972. Marie-Laure worked with her father from 1984 to 1991. He handed over full winemaking responsibility at La Tour de Bessan in 1992. Marie-Laure was not spoiled for her first vintage since the year was extremely difficult and challenging. She has since acquired precious experience running the estate, and her wine was sold on the Place de Bordeaux to négociants for the first time in 2010 (the 2008 and 2009 vintages).

Entrance
The 30 hectares of vines are planted with 39.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 59.6% Merlot and 1.2% Petit Verdot. The soil consists of Pyrenean gravel and viticultural practices are sustainable, as attested by Terra Vitis certification since 2003. The Cabernet is machine harvested, but the more fragile Merlot is picked by hand. In general, picking is always adapted to the condition and ripeness of the grapes in each plot.

Annual production varies from 60-110,000 bottles of the grand vin and 20-40,000 bottles of the second wine, Page de la Tour de Bessan, depending on the vintage. A third wine is sold in bulk to négociants

 

Marie-Laure has been assisted by Technical Director Emilie Roulié, an agricultural engineer, since 1999. The vineyard manager is a Habib Achenglil.

 

La Tour de Bessan
A new cellar was built in 1999. The first thing you notice about La Tour de Bessan is its tasteful, striking, resolutely contemporary architecture. Made of reinforced concrete, the original building dates from 1934. In its present state, it looks like nothing so much as a modern art museum and cannot be compared to anything else in the Médoc.

La Tour de Bessan was included in the Cru Bourgeois classification in 2003. However, like several other well-known estates, Marie-Laure decided to withdraw after a series of upheavals within the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois, and for practical reasons.

 

I tasted through the 2011, 2012, and 2013 vintages of La Tour de Bessan with Marie-Laure Lurton. Eschewing the clichés often used when referring to wine made by women, I would describe the wines as very traditional in style, similar to the ones I tasted when I first came to Bordeaux in the late 1970s. By that, I mean that they are poised, digestible, on the light side, and with a very lacy texture in each instance. They are on the early-maturing side and what I, as a foreigner, see as in keeping with the French taste in wine – light years away from heavily-extracted oaky ones one finds. There is an ethereal aspect that makes them very drinkable and enjoyable.

La Tour de Bessan is also on the forefront of wine tourism (http://www.marielaurelurton.com/fr/oenotourisme/). The château offers a series of options including tasting wine from each grape variety, making your own blend, and leaving with a bottle of it to take home. Another possibility, “Gourmet Day in Margaux”, includes visits to Prieuré-Lichine and Rauzan Gassies in the morning, lunch at the Savoie restaurant, and tours of Kirwan and (of course) La Tour de Bessan in the afternoon.

 


In addition, Marie-Laure has established a partnership with the Officier de Bouche caterer in Margaux (http://www.lofficier-de-bouche.com/). The chef and owner, Mme Gaëlle Benoiste-Pilloire, is specialized in matching food and wine, and has her own professional kitchen. Participants prepare meals and eat them afterwards with the appropriate wines.

What does the future look like for La Tour de Bessan? Marie-Laure’s children have not, as yet, shown interest in taking over management, but time will tell… There is inevitably a time lag between a château’s renaissance and recognition by the marketplace. Marie-Laure has given herself a decade to turn things around completely and will then see what to do next. In the meantime, I wish her the best of luck, and encourage her to keep up the good work.
 

 

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Yes, it is possible to visit 16 châteaux in Sauternes in one day!

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My friend, Suzanne Mustacich (journalist for the Wine Spectator and author of “The Thir sty Dragon”, a book about the Chinese market for Bordeaux) and I participated in the Portes Ouvertes on the 11th of November 2016.
Fifty-four châteaux opened their cellars to the general public for three days.
I have made some amazing discoveries on such occasions and met some fine people, so I frequently take advantage of the Portes Ouvertes.
A veteran of these “Open Days”, I know from experience that it is always better to go on the first day when there are fewer people.

So, we set off on a public holiday (Armistice Day) and began our visits shortly after 10 am. Our game plan was simple: to taste at a maximum number of châteaux without going on any tours. Why no tours? Simply because these go over much of the same ground and, to be honest, one cellar tends to look a great deal like another one…

Sadly, Sauternes is a wine that has been losing ground of late. The French market is anemic and people rarely serve it now as an aperitif – a traditional practice that always surprises and/or shocks English speakers. That means that Sauternes is currently considered in far too restrictive a way, as a wine to serve with foie gras during the Christmas season…
Furthermore, sweet foods (and drinks) do not have good press at the moment and many Sauternes are perceived as too thick and weighty. The appellation has an ageing consumer base and most producers do not have other types of wines (dry white, red) to fall back on.
The price of vineyard land has plummeted, and many estates are for sale.
Something has to be done, but what? Some estates are producing a lighter style of Sauternes and a cooperative is being created. The average vineyard holding in Sauternes is less than 3 hectares, so this will lead to improved technological capabilities and economies of scale. More controversially, some producers, such as Clos des Lunes, are making just dry white wines and are seeking to create a new appellation such as Coteaux Sauternais for them.

Anyway, here’s the rundown of our day. Obviously, it is not possible to do any sort of in-depth report with so many estates, so please think of this as a sort of road trip.
The Sauternes appellation covers 5 communes: Sauternes, Preignac, Fargues, Bommes and Barsac.
Barsac has its own separate appellation, but can also be sold under the name Sauternes. The choice is up to the producer.

Our first visit was to second growth Filhot, in the commune of Sauternes – a magnificent château in a beautiful setting. We tried their 2013 Zest, a light easy-drinking wine with zippy packaging and an attractive price. This was followed by 2011 Filhot, which made a good impression. I bought a bottle of each.

Our next stop was at first growth Château Guiraud, also in Sauternes, one of the appellation’s leading producers. While we were not particularly impressed with the 2013 second wine (Le Petit Guiraud), the 2003 grand vin was aromatic, silky, and not as big and fat as one might expect. We had a long chat with Xavier Planty, who is also president of the local winegrowers association. He talked to us about the issues facing Sauternes at the present time as well as Guiraud’s organic winegrowing methods.

 

 

We went on to nearby Château Lafon (commune of Sauternes). While the wines were relatively inexpensive, they did not leave a lasting impression. We went from there to Château Raymond-Lafon (Sauternes) an estate well-known in the US. Although not classified, Raymond-Lafon is frequently considered on a par with the grands crus. We tasted the 1998 and 2009 vintages, starting with the older wine. This was rich, sensual, and long, but perhaps past its best. The 2009 was unsurprisingly more vital. The nose could have been more expressive, but the wine was lovely on the palate with a fine aftertaste.

 

 

Before lunch, we stopped at two premiers crus, both in the commune of Bommes: Sigalas-Rabaud and Rabaud Promis. Once forming a single estate, the wines have a very different flavour profile.

At Sigalas-Rabaud, we tasted the 2014 dry wine, La Demoiselle de Sigalas, as well as the second wine, the 2011 Lieutenant de Sigalas. Both of these were good, if unremarkable. However the 2007 grand vin was very elegant. The owner, Laure de Lambert Compeyrot, seemed pleased when I called her wine “ethereal”. “That’s what we’re aiming for”, she said.
Rabaud-Promis, on the other hand was foursquare, quite rich, and sweet. We tasted their second wine, Raymond-Louis, from 2013, which was rather cloying. The 2010 grand vin once again showed great richness, but had better balance, as well as subtle peach and apricot flavors. I bought a bottle. Just think: a 6 year-old first growth Sauternes from a fine vintage for under 25 euros a bottle. Sauternes can be tremendous value for money, especially when you consider their low yields and how far a bottle goes compared to a dry white or red wine.

Lunch was at the Auberge des Vignes in the heart of the thriving metropolis of Sauternes (population: 762). This traditional small restaurant specializes in meats cooked over vine cuttings. To save time in order to see a maximum number of estates, we had just one dish: entrecôte frites. This was delicious, reasonably priced (18 euros), and served quickly despite the fact that every table was taken.


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We continued our pilgrimage with a stop at first growth Château Rayne Vigneau in Bommes. This was acquired just over a year ago by Franco-American businessman Derek Rémy Smith. We sampled 2010 Madame de Rayne, the second wine, which was a bit simple and syrupy, and then the 2010 grand vin. The latter was much better, with subtle aromas of pineapple, ginger, etc. and a much longer aftertaste.

I have been a follower of Clos Haut-Peyraguey, another first growth in Bommes, for years because it was hugely reliable and not very well-known – and therefore not very expensive. The estate was purchased by Bernard Margrez in 2012 and I have only had the wine once since then. We started off tasting the second wine, 2013 Sypmphonie. This was balanced and soft, but lacked oomph. It reminded me more of a Sainte-Croix-du-Mont or a Loupiac.  We went on to try the 2014 grand vin. This had an interesting tropical fruit bouquet and good acidity on the palate. Unfortunately the sweet, luscious attack retreated into a shortish finish not up to first growth level.

 

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We next had a brief interlude at Domaine de Carbonnieux (Bommes). The wines there were very inexpensive, but unfortunately unworthy of special attention. It was a different story at the next estate, one of my favorite Sauternes, Château Haut Bergeron in Preignac. The Lamothe family have been making delicious wines there for many years. These are also good quite young and the second wine, Château Fontbride is nearly as flavorsome. We tasted the 2013 and 2011 vintages of the grand vin. I came away with 2 bottles of the 2010 and even bought 6 half-bottles of the 2015 en primeur.

 

We went from Haut Bergeron to Château Laville, also in Preignac. We enjoyed the 2011, but this estate also makes ones of the most weird and wonderful wines in Bordeaux, a late-harvest botrtyized blend of Riesling and Gewurtztraminer grown in the Sauternes appellation! I had picked up a few bottles last year and was anxious to come back for more. There can be no better wine for blind tastings. Who could ever guess its origin? Of course, it is sold as “vin de France” instead of Sautenes, but it’s a very fun and fascinating wine.

Stepping back in time, we went to Château d’Armajan des Ormes, located practically in the center of Preignac. The imposing and ancient château was largely rebuilt in the late 17th century. It belongs to the Perromat family, who also have large vineyard holdings elsewhere in Bordeaux. We compared the 2013 second wine (Ch. Le Juge) and the grand vin from the same year. These were old-fashioned in style and not especially noteworthy.

The next visit was to Château d’Anna in Barsac, a tiny 2-hectare estate with a correspondingly tiny cellar located. When I say tiny, the room where the barrels are kept and bottles stored must be all of 16 square meters! The wine is made by Xavier Dauba, cellarmaster at the Grand Enclos du Château de Cérons. 2011 Ch. d’Anna had a noticeably amber, coppery color and a rich ripe bouquet. The wine melts in the mouth with a strong botrytis character. An interesting, rare wine somewhat on the heavy side.

Resembling Château d’Armajan des Ormes architecturally, Château de Myrat in Barsac is an impressive structure. Second growth Myrat belongs to the venerable De Pontac family, who once owned Haut-Brion. We had a chat with Xavier de Pontac and admired his collection of pheasants and peacocks. We also tasted three vintages of his wine: 2012, 2010, and 2001. These were very Barsac in style: not as heavy as many of the Sauternes and with marked minerality on the finish. The 2010 featured fresh cutting acidity and the 2001 was interesting, but too old.

We then drove to second growth Doisy-Daënes, also in Barsac. This is the fief of the Dubourdieu family. Denis Dubourdieu, Dean of the Faculty of Enology and one of the great figures in Bordeaux, passed away this year and is greatly missed. The family’s complete range of wines was on show, but we focused on the Barsacs, enjoying the 2013 Doisy-Daëne (a good wine from a challenging year) and the surprisingly successful and youthful 1991 (Robert Parker gives one of his all-time low vintage ratings for 91 Sauternes: 70/100). The latter had a bouquet of crème brûlée and was also reminiscent of a Tokaj. It had a lovely long finish.

Our sixteenth (!) and last stop was just across the road at Château Gravas. I can hardly be objective here because I have known Florence and Michel Bernard for a couple of decades. This last visit was more of a social one, with a tasting of the light, but attractive 2013. The Bernards have a long tradition of welcoming visitors and they were thronged. There was a joyous atmosphere and this was a great way to end a busy, but fun and enlightening day.

 

PORTES OUVERTES: VISIT TO 10 CHATEAUX IN SAINT-EMILION

I am a great fan of Portes Ouvertes in Bordeaux.

These “Open Days” occur when winegrowers in a given appellation welcome visitors to their château for a tour and tasting.

Open to the general public, these are wonderful occasions to discover all sorts of wines. They always take place over a weekend, and I have a strategy for making the most of them. First of all, I always go on the first day, Saturday, because there are far fewer people and it is much easier to talk with the winegrower. Second, while most people zero in on the famous estates with expensive wine, I go out of my way to visit the smaller, lesser-known ones to try to find the mouton à cinq pattes – an expression meaning “rare bird” – i.e. wonderful, under-appreciated, under-priced gems.
The 2016 Portes Ouvertes included 70 châteaux in Saint-Emilion and 11 in Lussac and Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion. That’s obviously more than you can shake a stick at, let alone visit in one day…
So, I contented myself with a modest 10.
I went visiting with young two American friends studying wine estate management in Bordeaux.

There are three English translations for grand cru: great growth, classified growth, or classed growth (in order of preferred usage). However, I do not translate these names in Saint-Emilion. Why? Because the classification in Saint-Emilion is a huge mess. For a start, only very clued-in people know that there is a difference between grand cru and grand cru classé, and most take them to mean the same thing… It seems as though every other château is a “grand cru” in Saint-Emilion, and the winegrower’s association is unable to say how many there actually are in the appellation! Furthermore, the last 3 official classifications have been shrouded in controversy. Lengthy court battles with numerous appeals and plenty of melodrama have cheapened the classification’s very raison d’être – as has the role of some of the appellation’s movers and shakers who were more or less judge and jury in their wine’s improved status… I’m thinking here in particular of Angélus and Pavie, which many Bordeaux lovers do not think deserve to have been bumped up.


The first visit of the day was Château Coutet, a 12.5 hectare estate (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet France, and 7% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon) that obviously has nothing to do with the famous wine of Barsac. We were welcomed by M. Alain Beaulieu-David, whose family has owned the château for generations. I had never had the wine, so was very interested to try it. We sampled three vintages. The 2008 had noticeable bricking and a restrained, simple, cherry bouquet. The wine was thirst-quenching on the palate, but lacking in balance. The 2013 was better, with fresh rose petal and Pinot-like aromas. It proved to be a light pleasurable quaffer on the palate. The 2012 had an upfront, fruit-forward nose. It, too, was light in body and probably best enjoyed young. I saw it as the type of wine to appeal to the French market, as opposed to the full-bodied rich wines favored by English-speakers.
We then went to Château Roylland (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc), a 5-hectare estate belonging to Martine and Jean-Bernard Chambard, who bought it from the Adams, an American family who own Ch. Fonplégade, a cru classé. Roylland is located a stone’s throw from Angélus. The small cellars are impeccably kept. We tried two wines. The 2011 had a nose of beeswax, oak, and ripe fruit. It was thinner than expected on the palate and modern, but not to excess – New World meets Old. Nice textured finish. The 2009 had an understated, briary nose. It was better on the palate with good minerality, but considerable dryness on the finish, leading me to think it was overoaked.
We then went on to Château Cantenac (80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon), which is located on the main road from Libourne to Saint-Emilion. This 15 hectare estate features an attractive 19th century château and a small range of wines from Saint Emilion as well as a Lussac Saint Emilion and a Médoc. I have enjoyed Cantenac on past occasions and always considered the wine good value for money. The 2012 Cantenac we tasted was no exception. The perfumed, cherry nose was a little dusty. It was big, straightforward, and quite open on the palate with toasty oak. This will be fun to drink in just 3 years. A fair deal at 15.50 euros a bottle.

 


The next stop was at a château I had never even heard of before: La Grâce Fonrazade. This 5-hectare estate was very much in the background for years, but that is in the process of changing. The new owners have seriously renovated the place and built a beautiful new tasting-function room. We sampled three wines. The 2011 Perverso (the estate’s 2nd wine) with an Italian-style label is so-named because the owners felt that you had to be pretty perverse and more than a little masochistic to embark on such an undertaking as they did! The wine initially made a very good impression on me, but on re-tasting there was simply too much oak on the palate. That is a pity because the taste profile featured many other attractive aspects. The 2011 grand vin had deep, subtle fruit on the nose. I was expecting an onslaught of oak, but this was not the case, except for some roast coffee aromas. However, sadly, oak did dominate the palate that otherwise had a silky texture and many good points.
The final wine was an oddball: a 2013 barrel-aged pure Sauvignon Gris. This was not only a rarity, but also happened to taste very good. Blind, I might have taken it for an Alsace. I bought three bottles. There is also a bit too much oak here too as well, but I think that will tone down over time. Also, many poor red wine vintages are good ones for dry white wines. This was the case in 2013.

Lunch was at a great bistro-type restaurant, Le Comptoir de Genès http://www.comptoirdegenes.fr/.   This is in Saint-Genès-de-Castillon, quite close to Saint-Emilion. The restaurant belongs to Tony Lathwaithe, the Englishman who started an extremely successful wine firm that has turnover of 350 million pounds annually, just in the UK.
The restaurant serves hearty, simple food and you will probably find the world’s greatest collection of Côtes de Castillon wines there (they don’t sell any other kind), which you can buy either retail or have with your meal for a modest mark-up.

 

Next stop was ten-hectare Château Valandraud (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet France, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Carménère, 2% Malbec, and 1% unidentified…), , one of Saint-Emilion’s great success stories. Of course, whenever you succeed, there are always people ready to criticize you… Jean-Luc Thunevin has had his fair share of jealousy and criticism, which prompted him to release a generic Saint-Emilion called “Bad Boy” – which regularly sells out! Valandraud, universally considered a “garage wine”, is a sort of rags-to-riches story, leapfrogging the classification hierarchy to go directly from nothing to the Premier Grand Cru Classé (B) category.
We started off with the 2014 white (yes) Virginie de Valandraud (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillion, and 10% Sauvignon Gris), on sale for 29 euros a bottle. This was very pale with a fresh waxy, grassy nose. It had good acidity, well-integrated oak, and was better than expected. Then it was on to the red wines. We tried 2012 Esprit de Valandraud, 2011 Virginie de Valandraud (35 euros at the cellar door), and 2011 Valandraud (190 euros). All of these wines were strongly marked by barrel-ageing, especially the grand vin. This has a very fine lovely dark color and an ethereal cherry brandy nose with only a subtle touch of oak. The oak was, however, much more pronounced on the palate, where the wine showed chewy, velvety, and quite tannic. It definitely needs time to come together. Worth 190 euros? Not to this consumer.

Close by, also in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, is Château de Pressac with 36 hectares of vines (72% Merlot, 14% Cabernet France, and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon), one of the lucky wines to be promoted a grand cru classé. Pressac is your mind’s-eye wine château, perched atop a bluff overlooking a sea of vines. The treaty ending the Hundred Years’ War was signed here and parts of the structure date from the 13th century. The alternative name for Malbec – Pressac – also comes from this estate. We tasted the 2007 and 2009 vintages. We were disappointed with the former, but more indulgent with the latter. This had a good upfront black cherry bouquet and a little muskiness. It was fresh, round, and gummy/tarry on the palate, as well as a little hot on the finish. However, as much as I liked the aftertaste, the lead-up was wanting.

Château Fleur Cardinale, with 24 hectares of vines (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvigon), is located just down the hill from Pressac and in the same commune. There is a very good feel about the place. The vines all grow around the cellars in a single block and the cellars are very modern and tasteful. This estate was taken over by a family that made a fortune in Limoges porcelain. Dominique and Florence Decoster are young and clearly motivated. We tasted just one of their wines, the 2012. This had a lovely bright color as well as sour cherry, vanilla, and oak (but not too much) overtones on the nose. This is surprising considering that the wine is aged entirely in new barrels. The bouquet could have been more expressive, but the wine is still young. There is a lovely tang of terroir on the palate and the wine melts in the mouth. It shows good backbone and though very long is slightly dry on the finish, which features floral as well as fruity notes. Despite a few reservations, this was lovely and probably stands out as the best wine we tasted all day. It was on sale at 35 euros at the cellar door and I wish now I had picked up a bottle…

 

 


We next went to 2.2-hectare Clos de la Madeline (Merlot 76%, Cabernet-Franc 24%), the second smallest cru classé in Saint Emilion. This is not easy to find, and is close to Bélair-Monange, La Gaffelière, and Canon. I’ve very much liked the wine the few times I’ve had it. We were served the 2013, which had a good deep color and a nice ethereal/spirity nose with some roasted and toasty notes. The wine was round and soft on the palate, but showed good backbone and structure. Maybe a little austere, but definitely interesting and unquestionably a very successful 2013.

Then it was onto Grand Corbin (70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon), a 29-hectare estate belonging to an insurance firm for public works companies who also own Ch. Cantemerle in the Médoc. I had never been to Grand Corbin before and rarely had their wine. The 2010 left a very good impression. The color was medium-deep with a thinnish rim. The nose revealed various nuances of mint, leather, plummy ripe Merlot fruit, and black fruit jelly. Rather old-fashioned in style, the wine was chewy and chunky on the palate with some tarry overtones. It was not tremendously long, but proved to be a fine vin de terroir with good acidity. Too young, but very promising. A nice discovery.


We proceeded to Ch. La Rose Côtes Rol with 10 hectares of vines (65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon). We tasted through the 2012 and 2009 vintages, plus the 2009 prestige cuvee called Ultime Atome. My notes are very critical, so the less said the better. However, the owners had invited friends from Burgundy, Sancerre, and Cognac and I fell prey to their wares. How to resist excellent red and white Sancerre from Domaine Pierre Martin, both at 10 euros a bottle? There was a wonderful atmosphere at the château, with singing and accordion playing, and it would have been nice to stay on, but we had to get back to Bordeaux for dinner, and there is always the issue of drinking and driving…

The end of the road was La Tour du Pin Figeac, an estate with 11 hectares of vines (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc). There used to be two châteaux with the exact same name. The Moueix family sold theirs to Cheval Blanc, who renamed it just “La Tour du Pin” for several years. After much testing years, part of this will be incorporated into Cheval Blanc, but the rest will be used to make, wait for it, white wine. Yup, there will be the Blanc de Cheval Blanc. Who’d have thunk?
Anyway back to the remaining La Tour du Pin Figeac, this has been owned for generations by the Giraud-Belivier family. We tried their 2012 and the 2004. The former had a dark, purplish color. The nose was very typical of Saint Emilion with plum and prune aromas. It seemed old-fashioned and there was a slight whiff of oxidation. The terroir came through on the palate with a chewy, grippy mouth feel and some tough tannin. The wine did not seem quite up to cru classé level unless it improves with age, but I’m sceptical. The 2004 had a fuzzy rim and looked quit old. It had a funky (bretty?), leathery nose. The wine was musky and mineral on the fairly dry palate.

Château Turcaud, Entre-Deux-Mers

There are two special reasons why I have a soft spot for Château Turcaud. The first is that Turcaud is the subject of the very first château profile on my new blog in September 2014.

The other, and more important, is that I have long enjoyed Turcaud’s white wines, which I see as the epitome of solid, dependable, good-value Bordeaux blanc. So, it was a treat to visit the estate in July 2014 with a friend who makes wine in Valais, Switzerland.

We were warmly welcomed by Stéphane and Isabelle Le May, and Isabelle’s father, Maurice Robert who created the estate in 1973.

The 50 hectares of vineyards are located in the commune of La Sauve Majeure in the Entre Deux Mers region, about 30 k from Bordeaux. I might add that the town’s abbey has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – http://la-sauve-majeure.monuments-nationaux.fr/fr/
Furthermore, the Maison des Vins de L’Entre-Deux-Mers is also located in La Sauve http://www.entredeuxmers.com/gastronomie/viticulteurs/maison-des-vins-de-lentre-deux-mers.html

This is in the heart of the “other” Bordeaux that produces affordable, delicious, everyday wines, some of which are very good indeed. However, the region is rarely visited by tourists – despite the beautiful rolling countryside and noteworthy historic monuments –  http://www.entredeuxmers.com/patrimoine/abbayes-et-moulins.html

 

 

(Click to enlarge photos)

The Turcaud Entre-Deux-Mers is made from 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 38% Sémillon, and 2% Muscadelle. The grapes undergo skin contact and are fermented and aged on the lees. I tasted the 2013 and 2012 and was particularly taken with the former, and was not really surprised to see that it had won a gold medal at the Paris Agricultural Show. This is all that Bordeaux Blanc should be but, alas, is all too rarely… Without meaning to detract from the wine’s quality, I can safely say that this is a vibrant, fruity, upfront quaffing wine to drink in its youth. An uncomplicated, thirst-quenching, pure pleasure of a wine. Price: at the estate : 5.4 euros.

The prestige cuvée is called La Cuvée Majeure. It consists of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sémillon from the more gravelly part of the vineyard.  This is a more serious, ageworthy wine.

Although Turcaud produces twice as much white wine as red, I was smitten with the 2012 Cuvée Majeure rouge, a definite cut above the regular red wine. This Bordeaux Supérieur is made from 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. This very round, attractive wine with seemingly low acidity has good tannin, and medium-term ageing potential. At 8.50 euros a bottle (cellar door price) you cannot go wrong. This is just the sort of wine to enjoy young, decant a couple of hours before the meal, and enjoy immensely. You might even try serving it blind to your wineloving friends and see what they think…