Tag Archives: BordeauxWines

May 28th 2020: the en primeur campaign begins haltingly

It is so easy to criticize, to come onto the scene after the fact and tell others what they ought to have done – to be, as the French say, un inspecteur de travaux finis… This is very tempting with the 2019 en primeur campaign, which is navigating in uncharted waters and progressing in a way that is not always easy to understand. However, the corina virus pandemic has necessarily imposed a radical departure from past campaigns, and the powers-that-be in Bordeaux are reacting as well as they can.

There are three main dilemmas facing the 2019 vintage today.

The first involves the barrel tastings of the new vintage. For many years, these have taken place in late March/early April and have been a resounding success, like nothing else in the world of wine. Wine professionals from all over the world routinely attend. The problem this year is that the tastings had to be cancelled in extremis.
Château owners have decided to rebound as best they can. For instance, a mammoth tasting of the 2019s will be held in Bordeaux on the 5th of June for some 450 French négociants, brokers, and journalists. In addition, the Union des Grands Crus will host tastings in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, and Hong Kong (none planned so far in London or New York). The famous châteaux will welcome visiting professionals starting in June, but will be taking every precaution: social distancing, gloved staff, disinfection, groups limited to 8 people, etc.
This response is to be admired, and once again proves the resiliency of the Bordeaux wine trade. However, it is not without its problems and challenges.

The networking that is part and parcel of the en primeur tastings will be sorely missed. Foreign buyers travel to Bordeaux not just to taste hundreds of wines like robots. They also come to learn about the state of the market, as well as to meet producers, merchants, competitors, etc.
There is a technical aspect to this as well. What about wines sent abroad and the conditions under which they are tasted? Samples are refreshed every single day at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux. But what about those in foreign capitals?
As opposed to group tastings organized by the Union des Grands Crus, individual châteaux are also sending a scattering of samples to clients and noted critics. If these arrive very shortly after shipment, there is, of course, no reason they cannot be professionally evaluated. However, the whole point of en primeur tastings is to compare wines! If four châteaux from, let’s say, Saint-Julien send samples, which arrive on different days and are tasted separately, an extremely important frame of reference has been eliminated. Results are biased. And if the four samples are kept back to be tasted together, they will not be in the same condition.
I agree with many of my friends in the wine business that it would have been a better idea to hold the tastings in Bordeaux in September rather than June in light of the many restrictions currently weighing on all events involving groups of people. In fact, it was earnestly hoped in some quarters that the en primeur tastings would “skip a year”, and take place in early 2021 (before bottling), thereby setting a precedent. The advantage here is that the wines would be much further along and therefore a much truer reflection of their ultimate quality.

The argument against this, of course, is that château owners have become used to pocketing payment in the spring following the vintage and that delaying this by months or, worse still, a full year, would constitute a huge handicap. Does this hold water? While many estates have to finance major investments, i.e. repay debts, it must be said that, by and large, the great growths are in a very sound financial situation – in fact, quite a priviliged one considering the plight of modest Bordeaux, in very dire straits indeed.
The second challenge facing the 2019 campaign is timing. If the tastings are being held this summer, when will the wines be marketed? September, before the harvest, seems a logical time, but no one can say for sure, which is understandable in light of the unprecedented circumstances. What is to be feared is a long, drawn-out campaign. Whether it be organizing tastings or putting wines out on the market, the Bordeaux industry has much to gain by joining forces and working together, coherently. Doing things piecemeal would only be harmful.
The third issue is, of course, pricing. We know for a fact that 2019 is a very good vintage. Detractors of Bordeaux mock such statements, and die-hard antagonists predict, for the umpteenth time, that the market will collapse, the bubble will burst, and that the elite wines of Bordeaux will be a thing of the past unless they drastically reduce their prices. We have regularly heard such forecasts through the years… However, the 2019 campaign is well and truly different. The signals from major markets are worrying. Economies around the planet are suffering and the most expensive wines are assuredly luxury i.e. non-essential products.
But let’s not dramatize the situation! If there are no takers for the grands crus at the prices being asked, those prices will come down. It’s as simple as that. President Calvin Coolidge famously said “The business of America is business”. This is true of Bordeaux too, and a realistic response would occur in short order. While it would be humbling to have to go back and bring down prices, the region has seen numerous crises through the centuries and can cope quite well, I am sure.

So, while not exactly sitting on the edge of my seat, I am quite intrigued to see how the campaign will go this year. Care must nevertheless be taken not to misinterpret information and fall prey to fake news. For instance, while such and such a château may “come out” at a given price, that first tranche price may be just to test the water and involve only a small part of production. It could be totally misleading and unrepresentative. By the same token, you may hear, as I have, that the cellars in Bordeaux are bursting at the seams with unsold wine. This, too, must be taken with a grain of salt because the situation varies enormously among hundreds of châteaux. So, no pontification, please.
In any event, few critics’ scores will be trustworthy in my opinion for the reasons outlined above. So the parameters for setting prices may well change. Those rare critics who have travelled to Bordeaux and tasted across the board will undoubtedly have greater influence.

I wrote this text on the 27th of May in the morning and by late afternoon I had received my first offer to buy wines from the 2019 vintage: Arsac, Beaumot, Lannessan, and Tertre Roteboeuf.
When will the big guns come out? Your guess is as good as mine…
2020 is decidedly a very atypical year for Bordeaux – as it is for the rest of the world.

 

Restaurant Lalique: gastronomy in Sauternes

Bordeaux has been a magnet for enterprising foreigners for centuries, and one of the leading lights in recent years is Silvio Denz, a Swiss-German with a finger in many pies.
The former owner of a chain of perfume shops in his native country, he also created several successful perfume brands, took over Glenturret distillery in Scotland with a Swiss partner, invested in vineyards in Spain (Clos Agon in Catalonia) and Italy (Montepeloso in Tuscany), established a leading wine auction house, etc. etc.

In France, he acquired the prestigious firm of Lalique (glass art) – https://www.lalique.com/fr/la-maison-lalique – as well as three wine estates on Bordeaux’s Right Bank: Château Faugères and Péby Faugères in Saint Emilion (crus classés) and Cap de Faugères in the Côtes de Castillon. And as if that were not enough, he also purchased Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, a first growth Sauternes in Bommes dating back to the 17th century… and created a luxury hotel-restaurant there in June 2018, receiving a Michelin star for the latter just six months later!

This was not Mr. Denz’s first venture into the restaurant business. In 2014, he became the owner of Château Hochberg (https://chateauhochberg.com/en/) opposite the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder (Alsace) and, in the same town, he transformed the house of René Lalique into a five-star hotel and restaurant with two Michelin stars: https://villarenelalique.com/en/

The 200 m² cellar at Villa Lalique was designed by the noted Swiss architect Mario Botta. Cases of wine are stored behind large plate glass windows where visitors can view an outstanding collection of 12,000 bottles.

This rather long, but necessary introduction brings us to Lalique.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, Sauternes has unfortunately lost traction over the past few years. The value of vineyard land has stagnated, sweet wines have lost their allure in many quarters, and the younger generation seems not to know the wine.

However, things are looking up. Many producers are now making wines that are slightly less sweet and full-bodied, while retaining the unique character of their terroir. In addition, seeing as land prices had pretty much hit rock bottom, some major investments have been made in the past several years. Furthermore, the potential for wine tourism is beginning to be exploited because Sauternes is a beautiful region with many impressive châteaux.

Silvio Denz had a vision. Above and beyond making wine worthy of Lafaurie-Peyraguey’s first growth status, he was determined to open a successful luxury hotel-restaurant. It looks as though no expense was spared. The richly-furnished hotel houses 10 rooms and 3 suites. The restaurant’s interior design is also very attractive and the Lalique imprint is everywhere, down to the taps in the washrooms!
The château gift shop sells all the Denz wines in their specially engraved bottles as well as the beautiful glass sculptures for which Lalique is famous. Furthermore, the shop will etch a personal message on bottles if requested.

As befits a premium restaurant, prices are not cheap, but there is a luncheon menu at 65 euros. The seven-course tasting menu with a wine to match each one costs 245 menus. My wife and I enjoyed the “Lalique Premier Cru” menu – see photo – with four wines: the 2015 dry Lafaurie Peyraguey, the 2016 grand vin (Sauternes), the ’99 grand vin, and a rare 2016 cuvée made from all the first growths of Bommes except Clos Haut Peyraguey (i.e. Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Rabaud Promis, Sigalas Rabaud, Latour Blanche, and Rayne Vigneau). The Lafaurie wines showed that the new owner has no need to turn everything upside down to produce great wine because the estate has a long history of this, and never underwent an eclipse.

Lalique created a tempest in a wine glass when they started serving and promoting a Sauternes-based aperitif (mixed drink) they call SweetZ. Traditionalists howled and I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea myself. But I did try it, and found it light and refreshing. If this helps to sell Sauternes, so much the better, but I still prefer my wine on its own…

The food was very elegant and subtle, as well as attractively presented. I have only once before had a meal where only Sauternes was served and, contrary to what you might think, we did not leave the table feeling bloated or that the wines were cloying. In fact, the whole art of Lalique is to match dishes especially with Sauternes, and they succeed brilliantly. It is an uphill battle to convince English speakers that Sauternes is anything other than a dessert wine, but I’m convinced they would be won over with a meal at Lalique :-).

Service was attentive and my wife’s gluten intolerance was handled very professionally. For instance, one dish we both were served had croutons and, when this was pointed out, the waitress informed us that my wife’s were made with gluten-free bread.

 

Desserts are unquestionably a challenge with Sauternes, but Lalique handles this intelligently, avoiding the trap of sweet on sweet, in our case offering fruit and a sauce that offset the sugar.

Before leaving, I enjoyed a coffee in the tastefully-decorated bar (absolutely lovely, one of the nicest I know) with the young head sommelier Adrien Cascio. We took a look at his cellar book together. At 112 pages, it is one of the most comprehensive in France. Many of the wines come from Silvio Denz’s personal cellar. Two particularities here: the in-depth representation of the greatest châteaux, with 20 or 30 vintages each, as well as a collection of the greatest wines of California.

The bottom line is that Lalique is a huge pleasure for the lover of food and wine, and a rare opportunity to see how Sauternes can shine at table.
If, like me, you abhor the idea of drinking and driving, there are two solutions: either staying at the hotel, or else taking the train from Bordeaux to Langon and then a 10-minute taxi ride from the train station to the château.

2017 EN PRIMEUR TASTING: PESSAC-LEOGNAN

PESSAC-LEOGNAN

 

Bouscaut
N: Lots of toasty oak with smoky nuances.
P: Fortunately, the oak is not overwhelming on the palate. Tasty, well-balanced, and typical of its appellation. Lipsmacking bright fruit. Natural with lovely aromatics (redcurrant, etc.). Good to very good.

Carbonnieux
N: Oak dominates the fruit at present, but not by a great deal. Red fruit (candied cherries) and smoky nuances.
P: Medium rich with sweet fruit, going on to show fine acidity. Light on its feet. Also cushioned and velvety. 2017 Carbonnieux reaffirms the improvement of the estate’s red wines (the whites were always good). Good.

Carmes Haut Brion
N: Exuberant cherry fruit aromas, almost Pinot Noir-like. Lovely, sexy, and deep.
P: Wonderful mouthful of wine. Sweet and hedonistic. Despite the considerable softness, the tannin says Bordeaux. Fine flavors, mineral freshness, and just the right amount of oak. Very good.

Chevalier
N: High-quality oak with glossy, impeccable black fruit (blackberry) aromas.
P: Concentrated and pure, with great development on the palate, continuing into a sensual aftertaste showing sweet fruit as well as minerality very typical of Pessac-Léognan. Fine acidity at the core of a delicious softness. Very Good.

de France
N: Liquorice and roasted aromas. Some smoky overtones, as well as interesting violet ones.
P: Quite sweet on the palate with flavors reminiscent of black fruit jam. Seems a little flabby, then weak, then comes back with a perfectly creditable aftertaste. Lots of black fruit here. Typical Pessac-Léognan. Good.

Larrivet Haut Brion
N: Subtle forest fruit aromas along with roast coffee and candied black cherry. Harmonious nose with a strong personality.
P: Great attack bursting with concentrated fruit. Pure, with nice acidity and high-quality tannin. Appetizing. Only flaw is a slight diluteness on the middle palate. Good to very good.

Malartic Lagravière
N: Pure fruit and a perfumed quality I often find in this château. The oak is under control.
P: Sweet, luscious, elegant cherry notes. Classy and neither big, nor dainty. Good to very good.

Olivier
N: Soft and polished, but not tremendously expressive.
P: A little syrupy at first, but then shows marked acidity and good fruit. Sturdy rather than exciting.
Good.

Pape Clément
N: Toasty oak (hardly surprising for this estate), but also sweet fruit to go with it. Multi-faceted.
P: Thick, with resonating tannin. Mercifully, no oak overkill. In fact, the wine’s intrinsic smokiness goes well with it. Great balance. Aristocratic. The tart finish is also somewhat dry. The only thing missing is a little more oomph. Very good.

 

La Tour Martillac
N: Classic cherry aromas. Clear-cut, sweet bouquet of medium intensity.
P: Starts off with a plush, round texture, then reveals sharp, but fresh tannin that will probably even out over time. Attractive red fruit flavors. Good.

Tasting of 2017 Margaux

Boyd Cantenac
N: Fresh and pure with brambly overtones. Subtle.
P: Rich and chocolatey, with high-quality tannin. In a very classic mold. Very good.

Brane Cantenac
N: Strong, toasty oak and roast coffee aromas predominates at this point, somewhat hiding the fruit.
P: A different story on the palate, with a lovely, soft, caressing mouth feel and great purity leading into a long mineral aftertaste. Considerable delicacy and elegance, i.e. very Margauxlike. Great, long, cool aftertaste. Very good.

Cantenac Brown
N: Lovely floral aromas along with sweet black fruit nuances.
P: Medium weight, but oh so soft… Great balance. Svelte with fine acidity. Long textured aftertaste. Gives every indication of delivering much at an early age. Very good.

Dauzac
N: Bit dank, closed-in, and lacking focus. Penetrating in an odd way with a noticeable alcoholic presence. Not positive at the present time.
P: Better, with an inky palate and upfront fruit.  Vibrant acidity with a medium-long, slightly dry, and definitely oaky aftertaste. A more commercial style. Good.

Desmirail
N: A little one-dimensional with plenty of oak, although this may well integrate over time. Some blackcurrant, black olive, and mint/eucalyptus aromas.
P: Lively and fruity, but somewhat hard. Better than in recent vintages. Tangy, fresh finish. Watch out for the rest of barrel ageing so as not to overwhelm the wine. Potential sleeper. Good.

Durfort Vivens
N: Menthol aromas overlaying blackcurrant, along with some polished wood overtones.
P: Starts out soft, then goes on to show considerable tannic backbone. Assertive aftertaste with velvety texture. Somewhat old school. Some dryness on the finish. Needs to digest the oak. Good.

 

Ferrière
N: Lovely, well-integrated oak. Ripe, but not overripe, with berry fruit. Slight greenness, but this does not detract. Subtle coffee and blackberry aromas.
P: Refreshing and lively. Pure, but somewhat short. Attractive mineral aftertaste, but lacks personality on the middle palate as well as richness. A light Ferrière. Good.

Giscours
N: Berry fruit (perhaps a little jammy) along with interesting floral (iris, jasmine) nuances.
P: Rich attack going into an oaky roundness with not much going on in between. Margaux characteristics there, but the oak comes across as really overdone at this stage. Needs retasting to form a valid opinion. OK

Issan
N: Muted. Some polished wood aromas.
P: Very soft and velvety. Lively and classic. Lovely vibrant fruit but on the simplistic side. Unquestionable finesse. Good to very good if the bouquet blossoms.

Kirwan
N: The fruit is not overshadowed by the oak, but there is not much there.
P: Medium-heavy mouthfeel but rather diluted on the middle palate. However, the powerful, long aftertaste bringing up the rear saves the day. This is vibrant, velvety, and characterful. Obviously needs time to come together. Somewhat of a liqueur/spirity aspect. Good.

Lascombes
N: Coming out of a dormant period with some original graham cracker, liquorice (zan), and chalky aromas.
P: Starts out rich, fruit-forward, and enveloping… and then drops. Shortish aftertaste. Going on round, then segues into a hard aftertaste. OK.

Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Muted, slightly alcoholic.
P: Lovely and soft, but with a decided tannic presence and good acid backbone as well. Good balance and cool, long aftertaste. An elegant Médoc. Good.

Margaux
N: Softly penetrating inimitable trademark bouquet. Fresh, elegant, crystalline.
P: Striking silky quality going on to show a lovely acid backbone. Not big, but velvety and super long. Not monumental, but excellent.
I also tasted the white wine, Pavillon Blanc, which I normally speaking wouldn’t mention here, but this vintage is nothing short of extraordinary. Extremely poised and aromatic, with a finish that goes on and on. The best white Margaux I’ve ever had (there have been a number of hits and misses…) and one of the best white Bordeaux I’ve been privileged to taste as well. Great success.

Marjolia
N: Closed (at this early stage, of course) with more beeswax and oak than fruit.
P: Fortunately much better on the palate. Ripe fruit, yes, but far too oaky. Good, but nothing special.

Marquis d’Alesme
N: Attractive dark fruit underdeveloped at this time. Some toasty oak.
P: Silky, layered attack, then drops. A natural, fresh wine with well-integrated oak, but short. Good.

Marquis de Terme
N: Lovely blackberry liqueur and blackcurrant aromas. No terribly complex, but seductive. Oak as it should be.
P: A little dilute, and somewhat hollow, but this is a vinous crowd-pleasing sort of Médoc that will be enjoyable young. Good.

Palmer
N: Lovely sophisticated nose of candied red and black fruit
P: Rich, a little spirity, with some tarriness, and develops beautifully on the palate. Tremendously long, seductive finish. Velvety texture. Very good.

Prieuré Lichine
N: Unusual, wild, New World type aromas. Not typical of its origin or seemingly of its grape varieties. Intriguing, almost Grenache-like bouquet!
P: Thickish texture and melts in the mouth. Starts out quite rich and spherical, and then drops, nevertheless going into a good mineral aftertaste. Off the beaten track. Will show well young. Marked oak on the aftertaste should integrate. Good.

Rauzan Gassies
N: Light, attractive, typical Margaux bouquet.
P: Watery, but goes into a decent aftertaste. Better than many other previous vintages. OK

Rauzan Ségla
N: Fine, polished, sweet Médoc nose of blackcurrant. Not overoaked. Haunting. Not pronounced.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satin texture and finishes with an attractive minerality. Quite round for its appellation. Light on its feet with a fine velvety aftertaste. Very good.

du Tertre
N: Off smells. Some stink. Not showing well.
P: Bretty quality carries over to the palate, which also displays loads of oak that overshadows the fruit. This may be just a difficult phase, or a bad sample.

Tasting of 2017 Pomerol

I’ve been later than most in posting my tasting notes for the 2017 primeurs. I’m starting with Pomerol and will continue with the other appellations in short order.

Beauregard
N: Ripe, with a subtle ethereal perfume of violet. Understated and elegant.
P: Classy, melts in the mouth with luscious Merlot fruit, empyreumatic ovvertones, and almond flavours, and then stops fairly short. Light and elegant. Lovely tension with a velvety texture. Not one to stand out in a tasting, but lovely with refined. Vin de gastronomie. Reminds me of La Fleur. Very good.

Bon Pasteur
N: Very natural and pure, but underdeveloped at this time. Some chocolate and tar nuances. Elegant and promising.
P: Somewhat heavy mouthfeel going into a certain hardness, but accompanied by granular tannin. Oaky, but less so than in the past. Floral aromatics come through surprisingly more on the palate than on the nose. Obviously needs age to even out. Shortish aftertaste. Good to very good.

La Cabanne
N: Deep black fruit and fruit jelly. Aromas are quite primary, but potential there to evolve.
P: Round, upfront mouth feel followed by refreshing acidity. Lovely fruit (cherry, blackberry). Voluptuous and somewhat tarry. Quite well made. Very good.

La Clémence
N: Sweet, pure black fruit. Not much depth now, but shows good oak.
P: Lovely, sensual, round, and assertive. Candied fruit flavors and well-integrated oak. Not boring. Promising. Very good.

Clinet
N: Tremendously lively and interestingly fruity nose. Slightly confected and almost Burgundian!
P: Plum and cherry flavors. As the French say, “a basket of red fruit”. Nice follow-through on the palate, almost as good as the nose, but weak on the middle palate and a tad thin. Brambly, rubbery and oaky notes on the finish. Good.

Clos l’Eglise
N: Empyreumatic and fresh, but closed.
P: Spreads out beautifully on the palate with bright fruit. A bit hot. Medium-long aftertaste. Borderline too much oak, but this can change with the rest of barrel ageing and afterward. Good to very good.

La Conseillante
N: Floral, subtle, wafting.
P : Clean-cut, rich going into vibrant acidity. Long tangy aftertaste with finish showing rubbery Merlot tannins. Spherical. Velvety/soft with an iron rod for a backbone. Very good.

La Croix de Gay
N: Somewhat confected, roasted aromas along with ethereal fruit. Not very forthcoming.
P: Big, round, and cushioned on the palate with an alcoholic presence and some hard oak. Modern style. Good.

La Croix Saint Georges
N: Not expressive at this time. Some violet overtones.
P: Silky and spherical, with easy-going roundness giving way to tannin of a quality only found in Pomerol. Obvious new oak on the finish, along with marked acidity. Unusual balance, long aftertaste, and here’s hoping that the oak does not get the upper hand in the next year/year and a half. Good.

Fayat
N: Black fruit with oak and an odd cheesy smell.
P: Much better on the palate, but something’s a little off here. More acidity and less roundnessthan other Pomerols tasted alongside. A good wine that needs to age. Shows red fruit, a touch of spice, and lots of oak that may well become well-integrated on the aftertaste. Good – despite the strange nose.

Feytit-Clinet
N: Lovely understated bouquet of blueberry and blackberry. Toasty oak fits well into the profile.
P: Very ripe and rich. Lively, and with great balance. Very much of an up-and-coming estate, as well as good value in an expensive appellation. Fine, well-modulated aftertaste. Pure pleasure. Very good.

La Fleur de Gay
N: Powerful blackberry aromas, with some humus.
P: Relatively heavy mouth feel and then shows more balance than expected. Round and full, yet light on substance. Too much oak on the finish, but does not reach sledgehammer level. Good to very good.

Gazin
N: Lovely lift of sophisticated black fruit jelly and an attractive, less obvious sweetness, then some. Sensual. Glossy.
P: Very round, but not fat. Delicious cherry flavours and a silky texture with a lovely follow-through on the pure, refreshing, very long aftertaste. Velvety tannin. Impeccable. Not big, but flavorsome.  Very good/excellent.

Maillet
N: Bursting with berry fruit. Fresh, with good oak and incense aromas.
P: 1,000% Merlot. Melts in the mouth and shows plenty of volume. Sensual. Rubbery, emyreumatic flavors and a slightly hot aftertaste. Not so long, but the experience is like good sex. Very good.

Petit Village
N: Showing a little dumb at this stage. Fruit in hiding.
P: Starts out very round and rich, almost flabby then, as if skipping the middle palate, segues into fresh, strong acidity. Gummy, persistent tannin, but perhaps too much oak. Definite hardness on the finish that is somewhat at odds with the fruitiness. Textured tannin on the aftertaset. May move up significantly over time. Good.

 

Rouget
N: Lovely, subtle, ethereal nose of blackberry liqueur.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Lovely tension and velvety texture. Will age well. Strong oak presence, but this should incorporate over time, I believe. A wine to follow. Good to very good.

Saint Pierre
N: Blackberry liqueur, fine oak, understated, and showing lovely balance.
P: Elegant on the palate as well. A class act. Merlot tempered with good acidity and moderate use of oak. Some floral overtones. An exciting discovery for me. The Pradel de Lavaux family own 9 Right Bank properties, including half of Ch. Bellevue, across from Angélus (who own the other half). Very good.

Vieux Château Certan
N: Aristocratic fruitiness with some coffee overtones
P: Liquid elegance. Mouthwatering and creamy. Incredible texture. Lipsmackingly good. Lovely fruit bringing up the rear. Aftertaste nothing short of regal. In a week of tasting, I think this is the wine that provided me with the most pleasure, even if others were more “serious” or “classic”. Outstanding.

 

 

The subtleties of the 1855 classification

Most people tend to think of the famous 1855 classification of the Médoc and Sauternes (plus 1 Graves) as set in stone, but there have been important changes along the way. The promotion of Mouton Rothschild to first growth is the most famous, but far from the only one.

Take for instance the recent purchase of Château Lieujean, a 54-hectare cru bourgeois in Saint-Sauveur (AOC Haut-Médoc) by Bernard Magrez. This was sold by the AdVini group (Antoine Moueix, Rigal, Champy, Laroche, Jeanjean, etc.).

Along with several other crus classés, Magrez owns the huge (122 hectares, 560,000 bottles a year) fourth growth La Tour Carnet in Saint-Laurent, the next town over from Saint-Sauveur. Seeing as both Lieujean and La Tour Carnet are in the same Haut-Médoc appellation, there would be no legal impediment whatsoever for La Tour Carnet to simply absorb Lieujean wholesale and incorporate it into the grand vin, in effect rebaptizing it a full-fledged great growth. Magrez has said from the get-go that he intends to use Lieujean’s vineyards to produce La Tour Carnet’s second wine, Les Douves. But one of course wonders: why stop at the second wine?

There is much obfuscation here, as when château managers go through all sorts of Jesuitical explanations as to why their second wine really isn’t a second wine at all, but “something else”… So it goes with vineyards that have been recently acquired. Visitors ask what will become (or has become) of wine made from the new vines, but the answer is rarely specific..

The classification is, to a certain extent, outside the appellation contrôlée system. So long as a grand cru’s vines are within the same appellation, they are entitled to great growth status

Before anyone considers this an indictment of the 1855 classification (what could be more tiresome and futile?), it should be noted that the 21st century reality is quite complex compared to the 19th century one. The terroirs of some classified growth vineyards are radically different from what they were in 1855, but others are virtually identical. It is difficult to generalize. Certain vineyards have grown, others shrunk, and a great many plots have been swapped as well…

 

There are few precise statistics on the great growths, which means that much nonsense is written about them. In the example cited above, one definitely needs to factor in the notion of quality. If La Tour Carnet were to simply label most of Lieujan’s production as their grand vin, not only would they be unsure of finding a commercial outlet for the increased production, but they would also run the risk of lowering their standards, garnering lower scores from critics, and harming the wine’s reputation – in short, be shooting themselves in the foot.

No one lifted an eyebrow when, for example, second growth Château Montrose bought 22 hectares of vines from cru bourgeois Château Phélan Ségur in 2010. What would be unthinkable in Burgundy is considered normal in Bordeaux… In the last analysis, what counts is the quality of the wine, and if this can be maintained or even improved when new vineyard plots are added, who really has the right to complain

What this also goes to show is that far from being a staid place, where everything was defined a couple of centuries ago, things are in constant state of flux in Bordeaux, even among the top estates. Keeping up with the changes is both challenging and fascinating.

Bordeaux: what’s in a name?

This may seem like a rather odd question to ask in a blog about Bordeaux wine. And yet, there is enormous misunderstanding about just what the word actually means…
For a start, Bordeaux is not a little wine town with a famous name like, let’s say, Gevrey-Chambertin or Châteaneuf-du-Pape. It is France’s fifth largest city, a port on the Garonne river with a population of 250,000 and three times that in the metropolitan area.

So, Bordeaux is a major city and also the center of a centuries-old wine trade.

Bordeaux – Place de la Bourse

For the French, Bordeaux is also a color. Larousse describes it as rouge violacé, or purplish-red, although I don’t think that is the best description. I’d plump for maroon… And isn’t it odd that we say “Burgundy” in English for wine-colored (even though there is a slightly different nuance)?

And then, of course, there’s the wine. Thanks to this wine, Bordeaux is the most well-known French city after Paris. The vineyards cover about 115,000 hectares and produce anywhere from 400 million to 800 million bottles of wine a year, depending on the vintage. There are 57 appellations and, according to a conservative estimate, some 6,000 châteaux. This is where the problem arises.

What problem? On certain export markets, especially the English-speaking countries, consumers are only aware of the top wines, meaning essentially the classified growths. When many English and American wine enthusiasts say “Bordeaux”, as often as not what they really mean to say is “great growth” – when those wines account for just 5% of total production! This makes generalizations about Bordeaux frustrating and seriously off the mark.

Bordeaux went through a bad patch starting with the 2005 vintage when the great wines – the tip of the iceberg – increased their prices significantly. The Bordelais were accused of being greedy bastards and it was endlessly predicted that “the bubble would burst”. Which it never did. The irony here is that even though the overwhelming majority of Bordeaux estates did not increase their prices unconscionably, that did not prevent them from being stigmatized and erroneously lumped in with the 5% that did…

Why are the affordable, fruity, early-maturing wines of Bordeaux so little-known on certain markets, especially the US, where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are such popular grape varieties? The answer is complex, and there is plenty of blame to share around… It must be admitted, for a start, that with so many estates there are bound to be hits and misses. It cannot be denied that there are thin, weedy wines at the lower end of the price range. However, there are also many beauties that can hold their head high compared with wines from anywhere else in the world in terms of value for money.

The wine distribution system obviously has its failings too. The weaknesses are on both the Bordeaux end (lack of investments in marketing, promotion, and sales trips) and the importing end. It is maddening that the same journalists who are tickled pink to discover a little gem of a wine from the Luberon or the Jura never seem to make the effort to ferret out such wines in Bordeaux – where there is plenty of scope! One of the reasons for this is that Bordeaux is so big, when wine merchants and critics can devote only so much time to one region… Most of them try to make it to the en primeur tastings in the spring. But, I can tell you from experience that even if you do nothing but taste for a full week you will only have scratched the surface. The sheer size and variety of Bordeaux are impressive, in fact overwhelming. So what do most professionals do? Focus on the great growths…

This equation – Bordeaux = great growths – is particularly prevalent in America. It stems from a time when the crus classes where much more affordable. One also needs to factor in the classification system that categorizes wines into neat slots. Once upon a time, if you more or less memorized the classifications, you were pretty much on your way to understanding Bordeaux. Or rather 5% of Bordeaux…

Of course, the advent of Robert Parker changed all that. He upset the apple cart and (to begin with in any event) noted wines without a pious regard for their hierarchical standing. While the number of non-classified wines Parker reviewed was greater than his predecessors, the choice of wines he chose to review were still very heavily lopsided.

This situation reminds me of two other regions. New Zealand is identified with Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina with Malbec. Since world demand associates each country with that one type of wine, it is not easy to step outside of that paradigm. In the case of New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc is by far the leading grape variety (although Pinot Noir may have made some headway in recent years, it still accounts for just a quarter of Sauvignon Blanc, whose area under vine has grown more than fourfold since 2003, compared with Pinot Noir’s doubling). Malbec’s paramount position in Argentina is a similar story. So, a wine’s reputation is often a question of well-established commercial niches, which are paradoxically both an advantage and a disadvantage. Bordeaux’s image is decidedly double-edged. In some rich countries, it is perceived much more as wine with a grand château on the label to be ceremoniously decanted after long ageing and consumed at a formal candlelight dinner than a fresh, fruity, uncomplicated, affordable wine to have with a sandwich or a steak… And yet, believe me, there are many fine examples in the latter category!

France drinks more Bordeaux than any other country. The French, the Belgians, the Germans, and the Dutch are huge consumers of Bordeaux selling in the 5-15 euro range. China, Bordeaux’s largest export customer, also brings in container-loads of these wines. But they are little-known in my native country, the USA. Bordeaux needs a super-hero to fix this!

Meanwhile, please let us be careful about making any sweeping statements or generalizations about Bordeaux… The wines from a classified growth in the Médoc, a producer in the Côtes de Blaye, a petit château making white wine in the Entre-Deux-Mers, and an estate in Sauternes all represent very different realities, as well as different products at different price points…

When my friends and fellow wine lovers bitch about price increases for the great growths, I’m on the same wavelength. The sticker shock can be alarming. But when people start to extrapolate from this, and badmouth “Bordeaux”, they have lost sight of the very meaning of the word. And, without being a superhero, I come swooping down to the region’s defense ;-).

Let us treat Bordeaux as a complex reality.

 

 

 

From Down Under to the End of the World…

This title calls for an explanation, even though the first half is fairly obvious. Down Under, of course, refers to Australia, which is where Richard and Shelley Serisier come from. Shelley is a biologist and Richard had a successful career in management. However, Richard’s roots are actually in Bordeaux. His great-great-grandfather, Jean-Émile Serisier, emigrated from there to Australia in 1839. He even planted vines in the Dubbo region of New South Wales from which he made wine receiving critical acclaim…
The French word “cerisier” means cherry tree, and so the Serisiers have adopted this as their family emblem.


Undoubtedly encouraged by their family history, the Serisiers fell in love with France and the French way of life, and decided to buy a house there. Fate led them to acquire nothing less than a full-fledged castle close to Libourne in 2004. The Château de Cadillac in Cadillac-en-Fronsadais (not to be confused with the château of the same name 60 km distant in the eponymous town on the Garonne) has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. The Serisiers beautifully renovated the impressive building both inside and out. It now corresponds in every way to one’s mind’s-eye representation of a French château.


The estate included 3-hectares of vines on the plateau leased to the previous owner of the chateau who had retained the rest of the vines. However, Richard, who could easily have settled into a comfortable early retirement, decided that he wanted to take control of and extend this vineyard holding. A man of action, he reasoned that the limestone plateau overlooking the Dordogne had much the same terroir as nearby Saint-Émilion and wanted to make his own wine. He strongly felt that winegrowing here was “a geographical inevitability” and that, surrounded by vines, it was only natural to try his hand at winegrowing.
So, when the former owner of the chateau sold their estate in 2011 to the Chinese, Richard bought the rest of the best parcels on the plateau adjoining the chateau. Taking a very “can do” New World approach, he does not have much truck with Bordeaux hierarchies of appellations and classifications. All his wines are either Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur, and he believes they should stand on their own merits. He sells much of them to the local restaurant trade, where they have done rather well.

Richard could not call his wine Château de Cadillac because there is a Bordeaux sweet wine appellation of the same name. So, he chose that of the vineyard plot poetically designated Champ du Bout du Monde, or “the End of the World”, on the land register. He did not attach the word “château”.

The first vintage of Le Bout du Monde was in 2012. In 2013, Richard also bought another closeby vineyard estate, Château Meillac, in Saint-Romain-la-Virvée. This provided a much-needed and since-renovated winemaking facility centred around an 18th century windmill. Total area under vine now stands at 15 hectares which includes 5 hectares of new plantings. Average annual production amounts to 40-45,000 bottles a year. Le Bout du Monde accounts for 70% and Château Meillac 30%. A prestige cuvée, Château Montrevel, was first made in 2014 (2,500-3,000 bottles a year). This comes from the best part of the vineyard and undergoes vinification intégrale.


I sampled the full range of wines, which made a very good impression. Meillac is the entry level wine, easy-drinking and early-maturing. Le Bout du Monde is more serious and has already garnered several medals. Last, but not least, Château Montrevel has benefited from its vinification intégrale winemaking and mercifully avoids the trap of too much oak on the palate. It is a fine wine that would stump just about anybody tasting it blind. The proximity with Fronsac and especially Saint-Émilion is patent.
Richard Serisier has his sights set on the long term. By any standard, creating and marketing a new brand from the Bordeaux appellation is a difficult task, and even more challenging for a foreigner. However, Richard is following his star… Even such a serious setback as the horrendous frost damage this year (75% of the crop was lost) has not deterred him or Stéphane Renié, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the estate. The best wines so far have been made from 100% Merlot, but that will soon change when the new plantings of Cabernet Franc and Malbec vines come into production. The vines are grown sustainably.
Richard and Shelley Serisier belong to a long line of enthusiastic entrepreneurs from abroad who have contributed so much to Bordeaux wine. I have little doubt that their efforts will pay off, and their wines are well worth discovering.

Tasting of 25 great Médocs from the 2014 vintage

 

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For the past several years, I have been invited by the Union des Grands Crus to take part in a mammoth tasting organized during the Weekend des Grands Crus. This is always a wonderful experience and the 2017 tasting on the 20th of May was no exception.

Open to the general public, the UGC Weekend includes wine country tours, dinners in famous châteaux, a golf tournament and the monster tasting on Saturday with some participating 116 châteaux. The tasting takes place in the city of Bordeaux in a single huge room in a former warehouse, H 14, overlooking the Garonne, not far from the new Cité du Vin. Every UGC member is asked to show two wines: one from the same vintage (the 2014 this year) and another of their choosing. Most estates are represented by their owner or general manager, so this is a rare opportunity to meet the people who actually make the wine and talk with them. The tasting lasts from 10 am to 5 pm. Snacks are available as well as a sit-down lunch accompanied by older wines.

The tasting is well attended by wine lovers from all over the world.

The choice of wines is so great that I usually decide to focus on one region in one vintage.
This year’s choice was 2014 Médoc.

Here are my notes.

Saint-Estèphe
==========

2014 Château Cos Labory
C: Lovely, bright, medium-deep color.
N: Open, fruity, and plummy with graphite overtones. Expressive, subtle, and more elegant than usual for this château.
P: Unfortunately unbalanced because hollow on the middle palate. Starts out fluid and free-flowing, and then turns hard. The aftertaste is rough, and this is a shame after such a fine bouquet.

2014 Château Lafon Rochet
C: A little dull, but good enough with a thin purplish rim.
N: Lovely marriage of fruit and oak. Pretty rather than deep, although there is an attractive uplift. Nevertheless hides its light under a bushel.
P: Round and soft on the attack, then segues seamlessly in a fine structured aftertaste. More elegant than powerful. Medium-light in body with blueberry and blackberry flavors, as well as a tannic finish that indicates the wine is for mid-term drinking.

2014 Château Les Ormes de Pez
C: Relatively dense with a medium-deep purplish rim.
N: Fresh, upfront, and seemingly unoaked fruit with ethereal graphite aromas and cherry nuances in the background.
P: Somewhat lightweight for a Saint Estèphe. A good cru bourgeois not pretending to be otherwise. Relatively short aftertaste.

2014 Château de Pez

C: Medium dark core with a vibrant purplish rim.
N: Underwhelming blackberry aromas. Sweet but not very expressive.
P: A thirst-quenching, tangy sort of Médoc with fresh acidity. Light for a Saint-Estèphe. Shortish aftertaste, but with decent, slightly rubbery tannin on the finish.

2014 Château Phélan Ségur
C: Medium-deep, luminous purplish-red.
N: Underdeveloped (more understated or lacking in expressiveness?) at this time with black cherry and sweet cosmetic/perfumed aromas.
P: A little dilute, but well-constructed. The tannin on the finish makes this a serious wine, but one best enjoyed on the young side. Fresh and well-made, but not a heavy hitter.

SAINT JULIEN
===========

2014 Château Beychevelle
C: Medium-deep with a youthful rim.
N: Lovely. Ultra-classic fresh nose of super Médoc. Blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and earth. Subtle and perfumed.
P: Rich, soft, and mouthfilling on the attack followed by a flawless development towards a long fresh aftertaste. Fruit and tannin are very much in balance accompanied by that extra something that can only come from a fine terroir. Medium-bodied and truly elegant, this is not a huge wine, but one that will please claret lovers.

2014 Château Branaire Ducru
C: Medium and not particularly brilliant with a thinnish purple rim.
N: Too indeterminate at this stage. Some graphite there, but the bouquet is not quite up to grand cru level even though it is quite fresh.
P: Better on the palate. Tight and brambly, delicious and appetizing. Lovely texture with a classic, long, velvety afteraste. Well-made. A sleeper. The bouquet may not be expressive, but let us hope this comes around in time.

2014 Château Gloria
C: Attractive deep colour with a fairly watery rim.
N: A sweet, fresh, immediately rich and satisfying nose with hints of graphite, kirsch, and toasty oak.
P: Full-bodied, round, and with tannin that melts in the mouth. Penetrating, and then drops off somewhat before picking up again on the tannic aftertaste showing candied fruit and coffee overtones. A compromise between a classic and a crowd-pleasing commercial style. Open and attractive.

2014 Château Gruaud-Larose
C: Medium-dark with a wide purplish rim.
N: Showing sour cherry and berry fruit aromas, but underdeveloped at this time. There is a spirity quality here (blackberry liqueur).
P: Mouthfilling with sweet fruit, but there is some hollowness on the middle palate and dryness on the finish (too much oak?). Long aftertaste, but the oak is intrusive. A little top-heavy and clunky in this vintage, but I hope I will be able to revise my opinion down the road.

2014 Château Lagrange
C: Medium-deep with a watery purplish rim.
N: Expressive bouquet of primary fruit and toasty oak. Simple and forthright, with some graphite.
P: Starts out solid, going on to reveal fine-grained tannin. A natural, undoctored kind of Médoc with some dry oak on the finish. Not the red fruit flavors I would have hoped for. Tangy, medium-long aftertaste with good grip. The type of wine that is good young or old. Good value.

2014 Château Langoa Barton
C: Fine, youthful, and vibrant, including the rim.
N: Very typical of the Saint-Julien appellation with some graphite. Good, but not great.
P: Creamy, rich, and mouthfilling. Very long, tangy aftertaste with fresh acidty and red fruit flavors, especially strawberry. Needs loads of time. Promising, but not showing especially well at this time.

2014 Château Léoville Barton
C: Deep core, but also a very youthful color on the rim.
N: Subtle bouquet of candied cherries with some truffle overtones and a fascinating unpindownable floral element. Class rather than power with toasty oak bringing up the rear, but very much in harmony.
P: Sweet without being sweet… Tremendous black fruit and candied cherry flavors. Unfolds beautifully on the palate into a fine aftertaste consistent with everything the precedes. A long, long finish with bright fruit. Could perhaps use a touch more richness and volume, but this is a very fine wine indeed.

2014 Château Léoville Poyferré
C: Very deep and not totally clear. Thin rim showing different shades.
N: Concentrated bouquet of blackcurrant and throat lozenge. A little spirity.
P: Sweet and soft on entry, dips somewhat, and then comes back with significant, but not overdone oak. Fresh with a medium-heavy mouth feel. Some dryness on the finish. Very good, but not excellent. Reliable. The first vintage sold in a bottle embossed with the château emblem.

2014 Château Saint-Pierre
C: Comparable to the sister château, Gloria, tasted just before, perhaps looking a little more dull.
N: Fresh, subtle, and floral, with some candied black fruit and truffle nuances. Very interesting.
P: Starts out sweet and with the chunkiness I associate with Saint-Julien. Joyous, exuberant fruit that goes just a little too quickly into a dry aftertaste. The oak needs to blend more with the fruit.

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2014 Château Talbot

C: Lovely dark colour, much deeper than the other wines.
N: Classic sweet Cabernet Sauvignon nose with graphite and cedar overtones. Seductive and full of character, but oh-so-unlike most New World Cabs…
P: Mouthfilling, seems rather chunky and then thins out some. Controlled tannin on the aftertaste. Lovely finish with oak playing the role it should. Lacks some richness and depth, but very well-made.

PAUILLAC
========

2014 Château d’Armailhac
C: Vigorous and deep with a bright purple rim. Brilliant, very good.
N: Forest floor and a definite greenness to accompany the traditional hallmarks of Pauillac. A certain herbaceousness needs to integrate better with age and/or aeration before serving.
P: A chunky quality, but without the elegance to back it up. Definite cedar and graphite aromatics, but unfocused at this time. Medium-heavy mouthfeel then dilute, then showing slightly clumsy tannin. Needs re-evaluation at a later date…

2014 Château Batailley
C: Not totally limpid. Medium-deep core.
N: Toasty oak dominates at this point and the nose smells more like coffee than wine… However, black fruit nuances are lurking.
P: Hard oakiness overlaying good back fruit, but this oak is just too much, and I do not see how time can overcome the imbalance. Dry finish.

2014 Château Clerc Milon
C: Deep, with purplish tones throughout.
N: Toasty oak, but in tune with the red fruit aromas, along with black cherry and truffle notes, as well as a touch of eucalyptus. Not celestial, but very good. Understated.
P: Silky smooth texture if a touch watery, going into a taste I can only define as Pinotlike minus the tannin! Mineral, and not very long, but a “digestible” wine that will be good young. Tangy acidity plays a major role here. A different profile from what I am used to, but Clerc Milon is still on a roll…

2014 Château Croizet Bages
C: Light and not very clear or appealing.
N: Soft and simple.
P: Smooth, light, and not much there. Rough tannin on the aftertaste. Off notes. I keep trying with Croizet Bages, waiting for the estate to be turned around, but that time is still in the future.

2014 Château Grand Puy Ducasse
C: Medium in every respect, with a purplish rim.
N: Rather rustic with hints of pencil shavings as well as odd and unexpected tropical fruit aromas!
P: Smooth, short, and simple. Dilute and ends with dry, bitter tannin. Not a winner.

2014 Château Haut Bages Libéral
C: Somewhat dusky.
N: Barnyard aromas.
P: A little better, but the bretty quality overshadows the rest.

2014 Château Lynch Bages
C: Very dark, much more so than the other wines.
N: Fine, subtle oak with trademark black fruit (cassis) and graphite aromas. Overtones of blackstrap molasses and coffee, but the aromatic profile is still largely closed at present.
P: A touch green, and acidity coats the teeth. This is a good Lynch Bages that will age well.

2014 Château Lynch Moussas
C: Medium intensity with a watery purplish rim.
N: Not much fruit. Toasty oak and caramel overtones.
P: Starts out sweet, then becomes hot and oaky with granular tannin on the finish. Out of balance. More fruit and less oak needed. There is also a slight greenness on the finish.

2014 Château Pichon Baron
C: Very dark color, one of the best of the tasting. The rim is red rather than purplish.
N: Roasted aromas (coffee) and reticent black fruit. Pure and fresh.
P: A big wine with medium-heavy mouth feel. Luscious and ticks all the right boxes for Pauillac. Smooth and requires medium-term ageing. Spreads out beautifully on the palate. The tannin less virile than in many other vintages of this wine. Wonderful.

2014 Château Pichon Comtesse
C: Medium-deep with a purple rim.
N: Candied red fruit. Sweet, but not yet complex at this stage. Surprisingly, a little rustic and not showing particularly well at this time.
P: Better on the palate, which shows marked fresh acidity and a blackcurrant flavor. Seems a little harsh and needs to age. Should be revisited at a later date to re-evaluate.

 

A foray into the Côtes de Bourg / May 2017 (11 châteaux)

PO-2017[1]
I often refer to “Portes Ouvertes” on my blog. Taking place over a two or three-day weekend, these “Open Cellars” operations are marvelous opportunities to discover some of Bordeaux’s lesser-known appellations and estates – and to add to the cellar :-).

Most of the Côtes regions in Bordeaux (Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon, Francs, and Sainte-Foy) joined forces to promote their wine in 2009, and changed the name of their appellation at that time. Castillon thus became “Côtes-de-Bordeaux-Castillon”, Blaye became “Blaye-Côtes de Bordeaux”, and so forth.

However, the Côtes de Bourg decided to remain apart.

My day began at the Maison du Vin in Bourg-sur-Gironde. The factoid here is that Bourg is not actually on the Gironde! The course of the river changed over the centuries, and it is now on the Dordogne. Anyway, the Maison du Vin (http://www.cotes-de-bourg.com/les-cotes-de-bourg/la-maison-des-vins/) is extremely well geared up for wine tourism with a beautiful modern tasting room overlooking the river and a huge boutique. The advantage of wines from Bourg, of course, is their price.  I visited eleven châteaux in the Côtes de Bourg, and not one wine was over 20 euros a bottle.

Bourg-vu-du-port-bis.-@OT-Bourg-700x380

The port of Bourg-sur-Gironde

Here is a list of the 11 estates I visited in alphabetical order with brief comments:

Château Brulesécaille: This was my last visit of the day. Historically, Brulesécaille is one of the leading estates in Bourg. While I found their 2015 white pedestrian, I very much enjoyed their fruity, delicate 2015 rosé and bought a couple of bottles. The 2014 red was as dependable as always. The Rodet family also own an estate in Saint-Emilion, Ch. Yon Saint-Christophe, which suffered terribly from the frost this year. The damage in the Côtes de Bourg seemed to be much less catastrophic, probably due to the tempering influence of the neighboring estuary.

Château Conilh Haut Libarde: I met the father and son at this small estate on a rise and tasted their regular cuvée from 2012 and their Cuvée Excellence in 2012 and 2014. The latter were especially good and screamingly good value for money. I also tried wine from a sister château located on a different terroir, Ch. Font-Guilhem, that was not quite as impressive.

Château Eyquem: Located a stone’s throw from Château Tayac, and also affording a beautiful view over the estuary, Eyquem is named after the famous philosopher Michel de Montaigne, whose family name was Eyquem. I was warmly welcomed in an attractive, spacious, and modern tasting room by Xavier Carreau, who is at the head of some 140 hectares of vineyards in Bourg and Blaye. The tasting started off with 2016 Ch. Barbé, a white wine from Blaye which was technologically impeccable and attractively priced, but did not seem much like a vin de terroir. 2014 Eyquem was in a tasty up-front commercial style and very good at its price point. Vignobles Bayle-Carreau also own Ch. Landereau, from a different part of the appellation, which was a more serious wine.

Château Fougas: This is one wine from Bourg I know is well-distributed in the US.  Robert Parker’s benediction is surely not for nothing here… The Bechet family vineyard is certified both organic and biodynamic. I tasted through 3 of their wines: the 2104 regular cuvée which was decent enough, followed by the well-known Maldoror which had a shortish aftertaste, but was otherwise a good middle-of-the-road wine. The top of the line, also from 2014, was the Forces de Vie cuvée. This was rich and interesting, if a bit dry. It punches above its weight. The 2012 vintage of the same was unfortunately much less good, with decided bretty aromas.

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave: This was my first stop of the day. The attractive 16th century château (renovated in the early 19th century) offers a commanding view of the surrounding vine-covered countryside. For what it’s worth, they also have guest rooms. I have enjoyed the château’s white wine for a long time and the 2015 vintage did not let me down. I bought 3 bottles. The reds were unfortunately not as good. We sampled the regular 2015, the 2014 Cuvée Caractère, and the 2014 Cuvée Nectar. The Caractère was the best of the three, but nothing special. And there was a certain dryness on the finish with all of them.

Château Gros Moulin: This château is located just outside the town of Bourg. Owner Jacques Eymas poured us several wines. His 2012 Lys du Moulin, a white Bourg, was fresh but lacking the personality and his rosé (sold as Vin de France rather Bordeaux because the tasting panel found it was not typical enough…) which was, in effect, a bit unusual, but gulpable and with a mineral finish – perhaps more interesting than good. The 2014 red Gros Moulin was characterful and assertive, if a bit rustic. The Eymas family also produce two special cuvées: Per Vitem Ad Vitam (Latin for par la vigne, pour la vie) is a very serious and interesting wine, and I came away with a bottle. I found the next wine, Heritage 1757, to be big and juicy, but perhaps a little too dry due to the oak. Stéphane Derenoncourt is winemaking consultant for Gros Moulin and his positive influence clearly comes through here.

Château Haut-Macô: This was the second estate I ever featured on my blog and I have been following it for years. The cellar is quite modern and the wine represents unbeatable value for money. I tasted the 2014 regular cuvée, which was good enough, but the not-much-more-expensive Cuvée Jean-Bernard was much better. Everyman’s fine Bordeaux J.

Château de l’Hurbe : I went here for lunch, but did not visit the cellars or have a tasting as such. I nevertheless enjoyed two of the wines over a leisurely lunch with the owner, Marc Bousseau on a trestle table in the vat room along with about 30 other people: the 2015 dry white wine and the 2012 red, sold under the name Château Sirac. If not memorable, both of these were good. I was not altogether convinced by their  small production (700 bottles) cuvée prestige.

Château Mercier: I have posted a profile of this tried-and-true Côtes de Bourg on my blog. Mercier is evidently well-considered in the region, because the place was mobbed for lunch. I did not taste here because I already know the wine and have several vintages in my cellar. I did, however, buy their excellent bag-in-box white wine. Three of them, in fact. At under 14 euros per three-liter box of delicious estate-bottled wine, how can you go wrong? I find this format especially useful for anytime wine and cooking wine.
Mercier was showing, wait for it, some 21 vintages of their red wine. My palate was a bit jaded at that point, so I begged off.  Mercier also produce a very interesting wine without sulfur called Atmosphères.

Château Nodoz: Nodoz is a well-known traditional estate. I found that their 2015 white was lacklustre, whereas the red from the same vintage was simple, soft, round, fruity, and delicious. Wine from the sister estate, 2015 Château Galau, was barrel-aged, but I actually preferred the unoaked version of Nodoz. 2015 Château le Nègre (a name that might not go over very well in some countries…) was overly tannic, i.e. was not very refined, whereas the barrel-aged version of 2015 Nodoz was well-integrated with a silky texture and a long aftertaste. A fine bottle.

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac: One of Bordeaux’s huge advantages is to have wine estates with impressive buildings. Tayac is one such estate, with an attractive château overlooking the Bec d’Ambès, that the pointy tongue of land where the Dordogne and the Garonne meet to form the Gironde. I was taken with the 2015 white wine in terms of value for money and also tasted the 2014 Rubis du Prince Noir, the 2014 Cuvée Réservée, and the 2014 Cuvée Prestige. All were good, solid, old-fashioned wines. I went on to sample the 2010, 2009, and 2000 Prestige bottlings. The shared profile was of fairly grippy, long-maturing wines.

Some of my “Anglo-Saxon” friends wail that Bordeaux has become too expensive. They should go to the Côtes de Bourg! Of course, not all the wines are worthy of special interest, but when you find a good one, the prices are ridiculously inexpensive. In fact, I think such wines can hold their own in terms of value for money with ones from anywhere else in the world.

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