Tag Archives: vavino

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
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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
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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
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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.

 

Bordeaux Carménère – a resuscitated grape variety

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Carménère is a sort of mystery variety in Bordeaux. It is a member of the Cabernet family and at one time was widely planted in the Médoc, then all but disappeared after the phylloxera crisis.  The name comes from the French word “carmin”, meaning “crimson”. You can find various spellings, with accents going every which way or removed altogether, but it is indeed Carménère.

In 1994, there were just 10 hectares of Carménère in all of France. But that changed with the trend to stand out by making more complicated blends in Bordeaux, incorporating Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Gris, etc. That having been said, total plantings are still very small and varietal Carménère wines in Bordeaux are still like hen’s teeth.

Interestingly, the variety is widely grown in Chile, propagated from 19th century cuttings brought from France. There are now 9,000 hecares under vine there.

I bought my cuvée Carménère, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur from Château Recougne at the extraordinary boutique at the Maison de la Quality (Planète Bordeaux), home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur in Beychac-et-Cailhau.

The château belongs to the Milhade family, who also own Château Lyonnat in Lussac Saint-Emilion and Château Boutisse in Saint-Emilion. The name Recougne comes from “terra recognita”, meaning “terres reconnues”, which can be loosely translated by “land recognized (as being good)”.
Recougne is a huge estate (90 hectares) in Galgon, near Fronsac and just 5 km from Pomerol. Their Carménère represents only a tiny part of total production.

2012 is not the greatest vintage in Bordeaux, and I did not know what to expect from this Carménère. But I was pleasantly surprised. The thing that sets the wine most apart from other Bordeaux is its bouquet, with spicy and peppery overtones. The wine was also well-balanced and very drinkable, with dark fruit and liquorice nuances. This is an inexpensive fun wine, not only rare, but worthwhile and a great one to serve blind…

 

 

 

Overview of the 2016 vintage from the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (University of Bordeaux)

As we go into en primeur week, this is the first “official” look at the 2016 vintage now that the wines have begun to age:

Professor Laurence GENY and Doctor Axel MARCHAL
Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenological
in conjunction

V. LAVIGNE-CRUEGE*, E. GUITTARD*, N. DANEDE*, C. BAZ*, L. RIQUIER*, A. BARSACQ* and Ph. PIERI**

*Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, Oenological Research Unit

** Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux
University, UMR 1789 Functional Ecophysiology and Genomics of the Vine, INRA (the French National Institute of Agricultural Research)

 It is always somewhat risky to announce a second great vintage in a row without appearing unduly optimistic. However, 2016 is unquestionably remarkable in Bordeaux, combining quality, quantity, and a very classic

Before looking into the effect of weather conditions on vine physiology and grape composition, let us once again consider the main parameters of a quality vintage in Bordeaux. A successful red wine vintage depends on five essential conditions:

(1) and (2) – Relatively quick flowering and fruit-set during weather that is sufficiently warm and dry to ensure good pollination and predispose towards even ripening,

(3) The gradual onset of water stress thanks to a warm, dry month of July in order to slow down and then put a definitive stop to vine growth no later than the beginning of véraison (colour change),

(4) Full ripening of the various grape varieties thanks to dry and warm (but not excessively so) weather in the months of August and September,

(5) Fine (relatively dry and medium-warm) weather during the harvest making it possible to pick the grapes in each plot at optimum ripeness without running the risk of dilution, rot, or loss of fruity aromas.

An incredibly wet spring was quite worrying for winegrowers at the time (danger of fungal diseases), but later proved to be a godsend. The soil’s water reserves were largely reconstituted, enabling the vines to cope with the exceptionally dry, hot summer. The grapes finished ripening during beautiful, relatively warm weather, with very little rain and cool nights. This unhoped for, simply incredible weather for Bordeaux made it possible to harvest deeply-coloured, aromatic grapes with beautiful acidity.

The best white wine terroirs in Bordeaux (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel soils) protected the vines from premature or overly severe water stress. Sauvignon Blanc grapes retained surprising aromatic freshness and acidity on these types of soils. The Sémillon grapes were also very successful: plump and tender.

The dry, hot summer of 2016 was also conducive to the perfect maturity of grapes in Sauternes and Barsac prior to the development of botrytis. This is a vital prerequisite for the quality of sweet white wines. Two short, but significant rainy periods triggered the development of noble rot starting in mid-September. This was followed by a return to an anticyclone propitious to concentrating the grapes. Very spread out in 2016, the harvest began in the latter half of September and finished in early November.

A mild and extremely wet winter, followed by a gloomy spring, caused a delay in vegetative growth.

 Although 2015 ended on a particularly dry, sunny note, the first three months of 2016 had above-average rainfall with accumulated precipitation close to 500 mm compared to the 30-year average of 230 mm.

Despite this grey, wet weather, temperatures were mild. In fact, the winter of 2016 was the most clement since statistics have been kept. No daytime sub-zero temperatures were recorded and there was frost on just five days.

That is why the first signs of vegetative growth (swelling buds) that appeared in late February gave the discomforting impression of extreme precociousness. However, temperatures dropped to the seasonal average starting on the 20th of February and even less in the second ten-day period of March.

Cold temperatures in March and waterlogged soils due to heavy precipitation in the early part of the year delayed bud break, which began the last week in March, one week later than usual, but earlier than 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015 (and later than 2011 and 2014).

Cool temperatures beginning in late February lasted until May. As often happens at that time of year, there were alternating warm and cold periods, with a large diurnal temperature difference that did not facilitate regular vine growth. Despite the rather early bud break, the weather until late May delayed vine growth. Phenological development was also slower than usual. This situation was compounded in some regions by frost on the last three days of April that caused major damage in localised areas.

This meant that, by late May, precocious vegetative growth was no longer the case and phenological maturity was comparable to 2014.

A providential window of fine, dry weather at the beginning of flowering limited coulure

After a gloomy winter and rainy spring, there was some apprehension about flowering. Depending on the type of soil and its water retention capacity, some vines showed normal development, whereas others with a skimpy leaf canopy or on cold clay soil were behind. That explains why coulure (as in 2013) was feared.

Flowering began during rainy weather in the last days of May. However, there was a providential window of dry, warm weather between the 3rd and the 11th of June. Mid-flowering in our reference vineyards took place around the 11th of June, i.e. 8 days later than the 20-year average (Table II). The change in the weather fortunately avoided widespread coulure. The end of flowering in certain late-ripening plots was slightly perturbed by a a final rainy period that caused some millerandage.

Fruit set occurred 8 days later. Bunches were relatively homogeneous and the number of seeds greater than average – the sign of good pollination.

After three days of rain in mid-June, beautiful weather finally set in and proceeded to lasted for quite some time. This definitively changed the nature of the vintage. High temperatures in the last ten days of June enhanced berry development. These grew very quickly, and became “pea size” by the end of the month.

At this stage, the first two prerequisites for a good vintage, i.e. quick even flowering and fruit set, were fulfilled in most plots. Overall maturity was uniform with little coulure.

An exceptionally hot, dry summer leading to lasting water stress

The remarkably fine weather in late June continued into July and August.

A few very hot days around the 15th of June degraded the herbaceous aromas without bringing growth to a halt. Rainfall was infrequent and light, while temperatures were normal and there was slightly more sunshine than usual. (Table I). Due to heavy winter rains, the lack of water stress during vegetative growth accounts for the rather large size of the berries. Bunch closure took place about the 20th of July, as in 2011 and 2015.

The water balance in late July was not conducive to stopping vegetative growth definitively (figure 6) or triggering véraison in a significant way, except on clay-gravel soils. The grapes first began to change colour in the last days of July on terroirs prone to early ripening. However, seeing as vegetative growth had not completely stopped, véraison got off to a slow start. It took until the first week of August for colour change to become noticeably widespread.

Water stress was accentuated by the absence of rain. The situation was comparable to 2010 midway through véraison. These conditions were conducive to good structure in the cell walls and the accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as facilitating the end of véraison.

A halt to vegetative growth, the 3rd condition for a great red wine vintage, was attained by mid-véraison. Although this occurred slightly later than hoped, colour change was complete enough for a perfect start to ripening.

The month of August featured real summer weather.  It was very hot (5°C more than usual) with a remarkable amount of sunshine (+30% compared to an average year). Fortunately, minimum night-time temperatures were close to the thirty-year average, and even less on some nights. This large diurnal temperature difference guaranteed the potential formation of anthocyanins, while limiting the degradation of aromas and acids in the grapes. The absence of major precipitation caused excessive water stress in some locations, especially in plots of young vines, ones with high yields, and ones with shallow soil.

Much-welcomed showers in early September gave a new boost to ripening

In late August, a few instances of scorching were noticed in vines that had undergone excessive leaf thinning and everyone began to wonder about the danger of inhibited ripening. A heat wave arrived in early September, with average temperatures of 30-32°C. The first 13 days of September were the hottest since 1950, reaching a record 37°C in Sauternes on the 12th of September.

A storm arrived from the Basque Country late in the afternoon of the 13th of September. It rained throughout Bordeaux the following night, with varying intensity depending on the region. A depression lasting three days brought as much as 40 cm of rain in some parts of Bordeaux.

However, the sun returned on the 20th of September and, with it, fine weather that lasted until the end of the harvest.

This rainy period gave a new impetus to ripening. Cabernet Sauvignon and late-ripening Merlot grapes benefited particularly from this.

A sunny mid-September and month of October virtually without any rain completed ripening and made for a leisurely harvest

Once again, the month of September was decisive for the quality of the vintage. October was dry and sunny, with cool nights making it possible to wait serenely for the best time to pick all grape varieties.

The rain in early September gave a boost to maturity, which nevertheless took more time than usual to be reached. The sunshine and relatively cool night-time temperatures were conducive to the unusually large accumulation of phenolic compounds, as well as the preservation of aromas and acidity.

These weather conditions stopped grey rot from developing, except in certain parts of Bordeaux where fairly heavy rain in early September forced winegrowers to pick early.

The rain in early September, followed by a dry, but not excessively hot period, ensured that ripening would start up again – the fourth condition for a great red wine vintage. The month of October was just as sunny, but cooler, enabling the Cabernets to ripen fully. 

Despite the heat in June and July, the 2016 vintage was not particularly early.

The dry white wine harvest began in the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations at the very beginning of September, about one week later than in 2015. After a remarkably dry month of August, the grapes were in perfect condition, without a trace of grey rot. Although they quickly attained sufficient sugar levels, their potential fruitiness, which had stayed in the background for a long time, also came to the fore at the end of ripening. The showers in mid-September did not have a major effect on the grapes, which could be picked without any need to hurry. Yields were very satisfactory, especially for Sauvignon Blanc, where such prolific production had not been seen in years.

The freshly-picked grapes had lower sugar levels than in 2015, but in keeping with the previous 5-year average. Total acidity was slightly lower than in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and similar to 2011 (Table IV). The balance between sugar and acidity gave rise to hopes that 2016 would be a good vintage for white wines, especially those from soils where they are traditionally successful (limestone, clay-limestone, and clay-gravel) and which are conducive to retaining good acidity.

The red wine harvest began with the most early-maturing plots of Merlot in the third week of September, but most grapes were picked in early October, i.e. one week later than usual. Harvesting of the Cabernets and Petit Verdot went on until just after mid-October during sunny weather.

Therefore, the fifth and final prerequisite for a good red wine vintage – fine weather during the harvest – was perfectly fulfilled in 2016.

Ideal conditions for harvesting excellent quality grapes

The red wine grapes in 2016 were characterized by a reasonable degree of potential alcohol and an outstanding phenolic composition.

As opposed to other French regions adversely affected by violent weather, the vintage in Bordeaux was generous. This can be explained by the large number of grapes per cluster as well as their size.  Because water stress manifested itself rather late, the berries were comparable in weight to 2015, but lighter than in 2010. The very low malic acid content – the lowest since 2009, except for 2011 – was due to the hot, dry summer weather.

These meteorological conditions enhanced the degradation of isobutyl-methoxypyrazine. This compound, responsible for “green pepper” aromas in Cabernet, was practically unable to be detected from the very beginning of the ripening.

Alternating cool nights and sunny days in September was conducive to the remarkable accumulation of anthocyanins. Content was higher than in 2015 or 2009, and close to 2011. Extraction took place slowly and varied according to grape variety. Extractability was greater for the Cabernets than for Merlot – proof of excellent maturity in the later-ripening varieties. Colour was deep and the tannin in the seeds was most often ripe and of high quality in 2016.

Due to the lack of rainfall until mid-September, botrytis took its time to appear and so grapes in Sauternes and Barsac were essentially concentrated at first thanks to raisining. However, showers on the 13th and 30th of September triggered the development of noble rot on perfectly ripe grapes, and their concentration was enhanced by the return of fine weather. Picking during the second trie, or pass, constituted the lion’s share of the best part of the harvest, which lasted until early November. The quantity of wine made at several estates reached a record high.

 Good dry white and sweet white wines, and outstanding red ones

The 2016 dry white wines are good. They are fruity and flavoursome, less acidic than the three previous vintages, and well-balanced. The Sémillon wines were especially successful in 2016, adding body and softness to the blend, but without heaviness.

The great wines of Sauternes and Barsac are extremely pure. Very rich and showing candied fruit overtones, they display a style that emphasises power rather than bright aromatics or freshness.

At the beginning of ageing, the 2016 red wines give every indication of being outstanding. They have an amazing colour. They are also fruity, without any herbaceousness, and combine the tannic power of great vintages with a deliciously velvety texture. Their relatively high level of acidity gives them an admirable freshness and tremendous balance, without any hardness. The vintage is unprecedented, more classic than 2009 or 2015, and seems to have very long ageing potential.

 

Book review: “From Yquem to Fargues” by Alexandre de Lur Saluces

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At the age of 82, Alexandre de Lur Saluces has written a book telling us of his trials, tribulations, and joys in the many years he has made world class wine in Sauternes.

d’Yquem à Fargues – l’excellence d’un vin, l’histoire d’une famille” was published by Gallimard in November 2016.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/253-1422515-3899335?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=d%E2%80%99Yquem+%C3%A0+Fargues
Gallimard (one of the largest French publishing houses) only distribute the French version.
However, an English version does indeed exist, and can be ordered directly from the château :
www.chateaudefargues.com/librairie
or
https://www.chateaudefargues.com/en/bookstore/

This relatively short (175 pages), but many-faceted book is a very interesting and entertaining read. There’s even a section on “Sauternes in Literature”. It has a handsome royal blue and gold binding, as well as the crown all wine lovers will recognize from the labels of both Yquem and Fargues.

The book is divided into several parts: a forward by Natacha Polony (a French journalist and essayist of Polish origin), a preface by Marguerite Figeac (a professor of history at Bordeaux University), an introduction and a conclusion by the author, a postface by Jean-Paul Kaufmann (a journalist, writer, and noted lover of Bordeaux wines), and a series of appendices on various technical and historical subjects.

One is struck by Alexandre Lur Saluce’s modesty, candor, grounding in his rural environment and, of course, his deep sense of history. Château de Fargues has been in his family since 1472. He represents the 15th generation and has produced 48 vintages there…

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Château d’Yquem

The Lur-Saluces name will, of course, forever be associated with Château d’Yquem. This came into the family when Louis-Amédée de Lur Saluces married Joséphine de Suavage in 1785. At one time, the Lur Saluces owned some 700 hectares in Sauternes (over a quarter of the combined present-day area of Sauternes and Barsac), including châteaux de Malle, Filhot, and Coutet.
Alexandre de Lur Saluces was in charge of Yquem for 36 years, from 1968 to 2004. The sale of the estate to LVMH involved a long bitter fight, but this is wisely dealt with dispassionately and in summary fashion. That is not the point of the book.

Château de Fargues

Château de Fargues

What is the point then? In fact, there are several. The book is necessarily autobiographical (for instance, I was unaware that Alexandre was the 8th of 9 children), but also describes the renaissance of Château de Fargues and goes into considerable detail about the making of one of the world’s great wines: Sauternes. That is because Alexandre de Lur Saluces has always been a sterling ambassador for Sauternes as a whole, not just his family estates. He has clearly lost none of his sense of wonder at the transformation by Botrytis cinerea of grapes grown on a unique terroir to produce a wine like no other. And he is very concerned about the appellation’s future. He points out the danger of a proposed TGV high speed train line that would upset the region’s delicate ecosystem, decries the production of dry white wine at the expense of one of the world’s great sweet wines, and criticizes the lack of commercial support from Bordeaux négociants.  He also writes about matching Sauternes and food, a subject that often puzzles wine lovers.

One must admire Alexandre de Lur Saluces’ ability to rebound after leaving Yquem and invest his energy in the renovation and expansion of Château de Fargues, an estate that has gone from strength to strength. This is described in a lively way and illustrated with beautiful photos.

I would recommend this book by one of Bordeaux’s greatest figures to anyone with even a passing interest in Sauternes. It is informative, entertaining, thought-provoking, in easy-to-understand French, and full of anecdotes.

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.
 

 

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.

 

A tasting of 17 wines from the Côtes de Castillon

 

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I was invited to a tasting on the 9th of November by the Castillon Winegrowers Association.

I have a soft spot for Castillon. It’s one of those under-rated Bordeaux appellations that’s a treasure trove of good value wines.

There were about 20 of us at the tasting that started off with a short presentation by Maïwenn Brabant. She outlined some of the appellation’s marketing efforts including one that I found particularly interesting: Castillon winegrowers will go to people’s houses free of charge for groups of at least 10 people to share their wines and talk about them. Winegrowers have even done this in Paris, all at their own expense.
With that kind of motivation and effort, they can help but succeed!

Here are my notes.

IMPORTANT: Please consider the points within the following context. I am a tough grader. For me, acceptable wine is 10/20, 12/20 is OK, 14 is quite good, and 15 on up is special.
Also, obviously, we are talking about wines that cost only a fraction of the grands crus.

 

 

2012 Château Peyrou
Medium deep color. Not very expressive red fruit nose. Round, fruity, and juicy on the palate. Nice to drink at the present time. Uncomplicated and immediately appealing. Very Merlot: soft, with a rubbery finish. Good mid-range Bordeaux.
14/20

2011 Domaine La Tuque Bel-Air
Fine even color. Nose of candied fruit, liquorice, celery, and cocoa. Plush and round on the palate, but with a good tannic backbone. Plenty of black cherry fruit and a medium-long aftertaste. Great value. On retasting, I found a rustic aspect, but this is a good sign to me – that this is a vin de terroir.
15/20

2011 Château Pillebois
Nice color with a deep core. Suave bouquet. The oak overwhelms the fruit, but not in an unacceptably heavy-handed way. The wine has a brawny framework, but a hollow middle palate. Oak ageing dominates the flavor profile, but there is also brambly fruit. Finishes slightly dry.
13/20

 


2012 Château La Brande
Medium-deep color with youthful purple rim. Subtly perfumed nose but ash aromas in the background. Round attack becoming sharpish and appetizing on the palate. An essentially one-dimensional wine that lacks richness. It seems more serious on the aftertaste, but there is also a certain hard, unyielding quality.
13/20

2011 Château Pitray (premier vin)
Brilliant, deep red color with attractive purplish overtones. A nose of deep berry fruity. Big and chewy on the palate. Melts in the mouth, seguing into an attractive easy-going juiciness with oak to back it up. A successful modern style.
14/20

2010 Château Moulin de la Clotte, vieilles vignes
Lovely dark color with violet rim. Understated nose of black fruit. Textbook Merlot on the palate. Tremendously round and easy-going, but tends to drop after the attack and dries out somewhat on the finish. Out of balance because of too much oak, but in a commercial style.
12.5/20

2012 Château Bellevue vieilles vignes
Medium-light color with purplish tinges. Bit old fashioned and secretive on the nose. Closed-in, but shows nice ripeness and freshness. Good tension on the palate. Fluid attack, then dips. Thirst-quenching wine, but with proper tannins to give it substance. Weakness on the middle palate detracts, but the tannin gives character. Best with strongly-flavored dishes. Oak ageing makes this conducive to further cellaring.
13.5/20

2012 Ch. De Laussac, Cuvée Sacha
Fine youthful color. Oaky, minty, and reminiscent of New World wines on the nose. Big and round on the palate, but the promise of the (fairly fluid) attack is not sustained thereafter. Fairly confected and oaky. Will appeal to people who like flashy wines, but this does not seem very much like a vin de terroir to me. Dry and grippy on the finish.
12.5/20

2010 Château des Demoiselles
Relatively light in color. Some ash aromas. Sweet but not remarkable or particularly well-focused. Big and mouth filling on the palate. Sensually soft. Very seductive and follows through nicely, neither overdone nor weak. Lovely Merlot fruitiness. As much as the bouquet is on the nondescript side, the wine is surprisingly attractive on the palate. Not serious, but sexy. Good acidity. A Merlot for self-professed Merlot haters.
14/20

2012 Château Bréhat
Bright cherry-red color with purplish rim. Fresh blueberry nose. Sweet and simple. Very easy-going, as well as fat and juicy on the palate. Quite soft with little structure. Some liquorice flavors on the aftertaste. The wine has virtually no tannic structure and is too rough after the soft start.
11.5/20

2011 Château Grand Tuillac
Nice, medium-deep color with a good youthful tone on the rim. Very ripe nose with black fruit and throat lozenge aromas. Sweet and powerful. Starts out quite soft on the palate, then struts its stuff with fine fresh acidity. Not a classis sort of Bordeaux, but definitely moreish and appetizing. Not tiring or topheavy.
14.5/20

2011 Clos Puy Arnaud
Deep, youthful, and not entirely brilliant color. Lovely up-front black cherry nose. Very sweet and enticing. Rich and enveloping on the palate. Develops well. Quite charming and perhaps too facile, but this would unquestionably create a few surprises if included in a blind tasting of Saint-Emilions… The best wine of the tasting.
16/20

2012 Domaine de l’A
Medium-deep color. Creamy, complex, but odd nose with weird and wonderful overtones, including dill! Too simplistic and supple on the palate, going into a hot, dry aftertaste. Overdone. Disappointing in light of good wines I’ve had from this estate in other vintages.
11.5/20

2011 Château Cap de Faugères
Average color in all respects, pretty much what it should be. The nose hesitates between neutral and off-putting. The wine is angular and not altogether pleasant on the palate, which is surprising in light of the estate’s reputation.
11/20

2014 Château du Roc
Good, vital color with purplish rim. Uplifting, fresh, seductive, and classy bouquet that is curiously Pinot-like (!). Starts out round and attractive and then melts into an unpleasant hardness. There is ageing potential there, but the wine at this stage appears over-extracted and unbalanced.
11/20

 

2011 Château Claud-Bellevue
Good medium-deep color. The nose is muted and hard to define, but there are some meaty overtones there. The wine is quite big on the palate and New World in style. Unfortunately it is altogether too obvious, fat, and oaky.
10/20

2014 Ch. Beynat
Medium-light color. The nose is not terribly expressive, but features some interesting spicy notes. The wine goes from soft to harsh, and is a little dilute. There’s definite dryness on the finish, but this wine will taste better in a couple of years.
13/20.

CHATEAU MERCIER: A GO-TO CÔTES WINE

I am a great fan of the excellent affordable wines of Bordeaux. The Côtes de Bordeaux (especially Bourg, Blaye, and Castillon) are a treasure trove of relatively inexpensive wines with the class and distinction Bordeaux is famous for.

Case in point: Château Mercier in Saint-Trojan in the Côtes de Bourg.

 


I have known this estate for years and never been disappointed. The Chéty family have been making wine at Mercier since… 1698! Philippe Chéty, a former mayor of Saint-Trojan and figure in the Côtes de Bourg, handed over management to his children Christophe and Isabelle – the 16th generation – in 1999. I visited Mercier in May during the Côtes de Bourg Portes Ouvertes, at which time they had some twenty different vintages to taste, not to mention the other wines produced by the château (white, rosé, clairet, crémant, etc.).


I wanted to go back at the end of August for two reasons.

 
First of all, I had developed a strong affinity for Mercier’s white Côtes de Bourg – a relative rarity – called “Graines Blanches” and wanted to buy some more. This wine comes in a 3-litre bag-in-box as well as in bottle.
I find bag-in-box wine highly convenient if you just want a glass or two, or if you only need a little wine for cooking. It is rare for good estate wine to be packaged like this, so when three liters of a perfectly good, aromatic, nippy, dry white wine sell for just over 15 euros at the estate, that seemed like a no-brainer! I used the first box up in no time, so picked up two more.

The other reason for returning to Mercier was to find out more about Atmosphère, their new unsulfured wine.


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There is a lot of media attention and a fair deal of controversy about “natural wine”. In fact, the very definition of natural wine is open to discussion… I admit to having a prejudice against such wines because I have had some poor examples, because they seem more like a marketing gimmick than anything else, and because their “naturalness” is considered by some more important than the way they actually taste…

I was nevertheless intrigued that an estate as solid as Mercier should introduce a wine without sulfur (or, more exactly, with zero added sulfur, because there is always some intrinsic sulfur). I therefore bought a bottle in May to try, not expecting very much.

I might add that the natural wine ayatollahs would exclude Mercier’s wine because they use cultured rather than indigenous yeast (go figure…).

Anyway, I am pleased to say that my prejudice was overcome when I tasted Mercier’s 2015 “Atmosphères”. This 100% Merlot is a vibrant purplish red with a pure upfront nose of cassis leaves and black fruit – not deep, but fragrant, as well as simple, but seductive. Although soft and gulpable, the wine shows Bordeaux’s tannic reserve on the aftertaste making what might, at first, seem like a very good nouveau-type wine more serious and traditional. The wine displays lively acidity that is not at odds with the softness, as well as what I can only describe as a tealike flavor.

Bordeaux doesn’t do primeur wines, but Merlot made this way is a delight to drink quite young when it’s user-friendly and uncomplicatedly fruity. Atmosphères costs 10.50 euros a bottle at the estate. While unquestionably a very fun, anytime wine, it is much more than a diversion for bobos and health food nuts. It’s also an authentic Bordeaux that deserves attention.
Obviously, it takes special care to avoid adding sulfur. The trick is to keep the wine away from oxygen as much as possible throughout the winemaking process. Carbon dioxide (including dry ice) and nitrogen play a key role here. Furthermore, Mercier is also innovating by experimenting with Vinification Intégrale®, a patented method of red grape barrel fermentation.

 

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The Chéty family have a total of 50 hectares of vines, half of which comprise Château Mercier, with the rest taken up by Clos Piat and Château La Cottière, also in the Côtes de Bourg. Château Mercier also has a gîte (bed and breakfast) and if you are every in the region, you are sure to receive a warm welcome should you decide to visit.

De Bouärd loses libel case

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

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

 

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

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

Feudal Médoc…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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