Tag Archives: winelover

A sybaritic extravaganza: 71 Haut Brion, 96 La Tâche, 90 Pétrus, and 90 Le Pin

 

My friend Ian, visiting from London, must have thought it was Christmas and that I had been awfully well-behaved, because he brought with him an incredible selection of wines to share.

All were served blind at the same meal (simple, but good: grilled entrecôte steak) and decanted between 2 and 3 hours before serving.

The first was a 1971 Haut Brion, which I mistakenly thought might be a younger wine from Saint Julien. As the evening wore on I saw the error of my ways because the trademark tobacco leaf aromas were there. Haut Brion’s earthy side is well-known, but its expression here was (OK, I’m nitpicking) was not quite as refined as in some other vintages. The tannic texture was also perhaps a little coarser than usual. These niggling comments aside, the wine unquestionably had a monumental aspect, and confirmed that 1971 should in no way be lumped in with a series of lacklustre or downright poor vintages from the early 1970s. This is the quintessential vin de terroir, and definitely more than just alive at half a century. That it should take a back seat to the other wines is no objective reflection of its quality!

Wine number two was immediately identified as a Burgundy by all present. I thought it might be a great Gevrey Chambertin, but no, it was a fabulous DRC, a 1996 La Tâche. The irony here is that Ian had already served this same wine to me at his house a couple of years ago… Anyway, although the color and bouquet were nothing less than impeccable, the wine’s pedigree came through in spades most of all on the marvellous aftertaste, with layer upon layer of subtle fruit, along with a strong mineral component. At age 25 this wine is still going strong and has a long life ahead. At its peak? Probably not. The Italians speak of “vini da meditazione”. Well, this was it, baby. A wonderful, sensual experience I felt very privileged to enjoy.

The third wine had everyone puzzled. It was unquestionably powerful and classy, but brooding, needing for the various – excellent – components to knit. The texture was wonderful and this was obviously a top-notch wine, but I could not place it. I was amazed to learn that it was the 1990 Pétrus. That was because, on the several occasions I have had a mature example of this rare wine, it was more giving and easy to apprehend. More early-maturing too. The answer here, in my opinion, is simply one of age. This is unquestionably a great wine from a benchmark vintage, and in the rarefied category of those requiring decades to fully strut their stuff. The word ‘fully’ is important here, because this was a wonderful experience and a treat.

Last, but not least, the 1990 Le Pin (same vintage) was showing even better than its illustrious neighbour on this occasion. Believe me, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to compare them side by side! Not only is Le Pin expensive, it is also quite rare, with just 2 hectares of vines (La Tâche has 5). I did take Le Pin for a Pomerol because of the truffle nuances on the nose, but got no further than that on the blind tasting. This wine had everything going for it: a bouquet you could nose all night and a palate to die for. While that is not a particularly accurate tasting description, words can hardly do justice to the purity, balance, and intensity of this superb wine. The French say “perfection is not of this world”. That having been said, I’d be hard put to find any shortcoming in this delicious wine. It is at the very tip of the Bordeaux hierarchy, and was a memorable bottle.

This was the sort of evening you do not forget…

 

Battle of the titans: three 2001 first growths

A visit by wineloving friends from England and America was the occasion to open some special bottles, including those served at the meal described below.

The aperitif wine was a 1994 Domaine de Chevalier blanc. While not maderized, this was clearly gently oxidized. It nevertheless was clean and showed hints of lemon, caramel, and vanilla. This old very dry white wine was a good way to set the scene for the meal to follow.

I don’t often do this, but I put out three numbered glasses for each guest (there were six of us) and we compared three red wines at our leisure with the meal (quiche lorraine for a starter, followed by roast chicken with butternut squash and cep risotto).
The wines were served totally blind.

Three of the guests correctly opted for Bordeaux from the 2001 vintage and, which is a pretty impressive seeing as I am well-known for serving oddball wines. There was far less agreement about which wines were from the Right Bank, and which from the Left.

Here are my own notes, rather short because I was cooking and serving dinner, and my wife was away at the time (one man show).

2001 Château Margaux: We had visited the château earlier in the day, tasting the 2010 Pavillon Rouge and 2006 grand vin, so it was a special treat to drink an older version that evening. The wine’s color was about as it should be and the nose was understated, but wonderful with subtle red fruit aromas and tell-tale cedar overtones. This 2001 Margaux was also very nuanced on the palate with a gentle, fresh, and resolved aftertaste. Its slightly retiring personality originally made me think it was not my favorite of the trio, but as I smelled and sipped and thought about the aromatics and taste, I changed my mind, and ended up assigning it a tie for first place. Four out of six people put it as their number one. In my opinion, 2001 Margaux is at its peak which, of course, it will hold for some time.

2001 Château Mouton Rothschild: The color here was deeper and more brilliant than the other two wines. The bouquet was rich and very Pauillac (ripe Cabernet, a touch of cigar box) and the wine was more vigorous and full-bodied than the other two on the palate. However, despite an assertive flavour, it did not have the depth and complexity of the other two. On the plus side, it will probably be the most long-lived of the three wines.

2001 Château Cheval Blanc: The color was not dissimilar to the Margaux, and the nose was wonderful and exotic, with notes of Asian spice and soy sauce (!) to blend with the ethereal fruit. The wine was soft and caressing on the palate. Lovely structure and follow-through. Delicious. It was my immediate favorite of the evening, but changed to a tie for first place as I went back to the Margaux and paid more attention to it.

All of the above wines were in their drinking window. They showed how fine an “Atlantic” vintage can be in Bordeaux, i.e., one in which the region’s naturally humid climate produces quintessentially classic rather than rich wines.

Three days in Jerez de la Frontera

OK.
This is a blog about Bordeaux, but I’m not close-minded. That’s why I also love visiting other wine-producing regions.

Seeing as I had already visited the Port and Madeira wine countries, it was inevitable that I should end up in Jerez de la Frontera one day or another…
That day (in fact, three of them) came in October 2021 and was certainly helped by the fact that there are direct flights from Bordeaux to Seville. Jerez is only an hour away by train.

The first thing my wife Christine and I did upon arriving in Jerez, a city of some 200,000 inhabitants, was to find a nice café and imbibe a fino sherry to get into the spirit of things. Fino is bone dry and very refreshing. With an alcoholic degree between 14.8 and 15.4°, it is hardly any stronger than numerous unfortified table wines. Furthermore, it’s a wine that’s intrinsically light on its feet – the perfect aperitif. Furthermore, it’s a wine that’s intrinsically light on its feet – the perfect aperitif. I guarantee that sipping one while munching salted almonds and outsize Seville olives will make the world seem like a better place…

We settled into our hotel in the old part of Jerez, a city that was ruled by the Moors from 711 to 1231. Their influence is unquestionably there to this day, most obviously in the town’s architecture.

Enjoying the balmy 30° weather, we wended our way to eat dinner at Lù, a Michelin-starred restaurant, appreciating the subtle aroma of orange trees lining the streets. Many of my wineloving friends are wary of tasting menus with matching wines. They prefer to be in control of which wine goes with what food and are especially wary of open bottles. We nevertheless took the plunge and were treated to a dizzying succession of inventive variations of local dishes in the nouvelle cuisine mold. Here is the menu and just some of the wines we enjoyed!

The waiter said that two of the wines would be served blind, a challenge I always enjoy. I took one of them to be a Manzanilla, but my wife wondered if it not might be a Jura wine (made with flor, just like Sherry) instead. Lo and behold, she hit the nail on the head! My mouth dropped open and I discovered yet another reason to think I had married an exceptional woman.

Here are is the menu and some of the wines served with the meal. This was a brilliant opportunity to see how well Sherry goes with food.

 

Our one appointment the next day was at Bodegas Tradición a relatively small, very up-market producer. We were welcomed by Eduardo Davis, whose knowledge of Sherry is nothing short of encylopedic. Thanks to an English grandfather and schooling in the UK, his ability to explain complicated things in the language of Shakespeare was dazzling. I say complicated because the production of Sherry reminds me of Champagne in that there are a great many technical aspects, some of which had puzzled me for years (such as the difference between Amontillado and Palo Cortado), and which Eduardo cleared up efficiently and in a way the layman could understand.

Like Champagne, Sherry is made from wines largely produced by independent growers. The key is not only sourcing these, but blending and ageing them, using the famous solera system. Bodegas Tradicón may have been founded in 1998 by Mr. Joaquín Rivero, but “Bodega CZ, J.M. Rivero”, the oldest known sherry house, dates back to 1650. The firm focuses on very old sherry that is neither cold-filtered, stabilized, nor clarified. The wines are unsweetened and unsulphured.
We tasted through the entire range, including fino sherries at various stages of ageing, during what turned out to be an intense master class – an unforgettable experience lasting over three hours.
The wines were some of the best we sampled over three days and their positioning in terms of pricing and reputation seemed perfectly justified.
Bodegas Tradición specializes in two categories of sherry, introduced in 2001, that I was unfamiliar with:  VORS, i.e. Very Old Sherry aged for more than 20 years and VORS, or Very Old Rare Sherry aged for at least 30 years. These are the crème de la crème of sherries. There is another reason that a visit to Tradición is unforgettable. They have a marvelous gallery of oil paintings including works by such artists as Murillo, Valequez, Goya,  etc

We spent the afternoon visiting Jerez’s two main tourist attractions, the 17th century Saint Sauveur cathedral and the 12th century Alcazar, built during the Muslim period. By the way, eight towns in Spain are called “de la Frontera” since they stood at the border between Christian and Muslim territories.

That evening we went to another fine (and much more affordable) restaurant called Carbona. Once again we sampled sherry with several courses, and if you have never tried this, you should!

Claret lovers are familiar with Bordeaux bashing in recent years that saw the wines denigrated and castigated for being too expensive (evidencing more than a little of the “fox and the grapes” syndrome with regard to pricing…). Sherry has gone through a period of falling out of fashion as well, but for different reasons. The image was of an old-fashioned wine consumed by vicars and maiden aunts out of tiny cut crystal glasses. Then came the trend for Cream Sherry, that all but obliterated familiarity with other wines from the sherry region, starting with the delicious bone dry varieties. Sales fell off sharply and it is an uphill battle to rehabilitate the wine’s image. The creation of the VOS and VORS categories have helped here. Edouardo Davis of Bodegas Tradición also feels that there is a future for table wines made from the Palomino grape.

Our last day in Jerez was spent visiting two other bodegas.

The first was also the largest producer of all, Gonzalez Byass, founded in 1835 by Manuel Maria Gonzales Angel, who later went into partnership with his English agent, Robert Blake Byass.
Manuel Maria innovated by exporting a light fino sherry that he named Tio Pepe in honor of his uncle. This has since become an international brand sold in 120 countries. Approximately three million bottles of Tio Pepe are shipped every year!
So, Gonzales Byass is a big business. However, if small if beautiful, big certainly doesn’t mean ugly! Like other large firms, Gonzales Byass have a number of wines well worth investigating alongside their flagship product. Furthermore, they are the only house in Jerez to make their own brandy, which is also a huge seller. As if this weren’t enough, they own vineyards in other parts of Spain (Rioja, Castilla la Mancha, Somontano, Rias Baixas, etc.) and wine tourism plays an important role at their Jerez cellars. Thousands of tourists visit every year, many from cruise ships stopping over in nearby Cadiz.

The Gonzales Byass cellars are so vast that visitors are taken around in a small train. My wife and I had the privilege of touring instead in a golf cart driven by Sylvain Vieille-Grosjean, who is half-French and has lived most of his life in Jerez. Sylvain told us all about Gonzales Byass as we zipped through the cathedral-like bodegas at a good clip. It is impossible not to be struck by the sheer scale of things. The traditional La Concha and Apostles cellars are especially noteworthy.
Factoid: the weathervane showing Tio Pepe in his red coat, tilted Spanish hat, and guitar is officially recognized as the world’s largest by Guinness.

We tasted through ten wines with Sylvain, going from the inevitable Tio Pepe through Amontillado, VORS Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, Medium, Cream, VORS Cream, Pedro Ximenez, and VORS  Pedro Ximenez. This extended tasting was an excellent way of becoming familiar with the full range of sherry, and the wines were all very good. It is no reflection whatsoever on their quality if I write that I was not enamoured of the two P.X.s.  Although a fan of many dessert wines (Sauternes, Port, Madeira, etc.), these were simply too sweet for me, with some 400 grams/liter for the VORS version.

Gonzales Byass were the first sherry house to produce a type called En Rama. The story Sylvain told me is that a buyer from the Wine Society in England tasted a “raw”, i.e. unfiltered fino from barrel and asked the firm to bottle it as such. They did so, despite reservations about the wine’s stability, and it was a great success. The style has since been copied by other houses and it is hoped that it will help contribute to sherry’s renaissance.

95% of sherry is made from the Palomino grape (the rest being P.X. and Moscatel) and the wine has traditionally been aged in butts made of American oak. As opposed to table wines, these are not regularly replaced, the interaction sought being quite different from table wines. Used barrels are often sold to Scotch whisky producers to give a special “sherry finish”.

Our last visit in Jerez was to Bodegas Emilion Lustau, founded in 1896. Lustau are one of the major players on the sherry scene and much esteemed on export markets.
The cellars are possibly even more cathedrallike than those at Gonzalez Byass and are likewise a major tourist attraction.
We went around various parts of the bodega with Isabel who spoke good English. When I tasted a fino, I said that it was “poised”, a word she hadn’t ever encountered. It’s a bit of an abstract description, agreed, but it seems to sum up the house style (or perhaps focused and balanced…).

 

Lustau are famous for several reasons: their La Ina wines (a major brand taken over from the house of Domecq), their original proprietary bottle, and their almacenista range of about ten wines. This word best translates as “warehouse keeper” and describes small producers of sherry, either from their own vines or those of others, who traditionally have sold on to major houses. Lustau decided to bottle and market their wines individually, and even went so far as to register almacenista as a brand name. These unique wines are especially worth discovering, as is their especialidas range including VORS wines, a vintage sherry, and the unusual East India Sherry (an aged blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez).

Our trip to Andalusia ended with 3 days in Seville, a city I’d love to go back to. A recounting of our time there doesn’t really belong in a wine blog, so here are just a few photos, and I must mention that I enjoyed a flamenco performance there more than I ever would have believed.

Chai Mica, or where to buy Burgundy… in Bordeaux


Chai Mica is a play on words. Chai (a word meaning wine cellar, rather than cave, in the west of France) is pronounced the same way as “chez” and Mica is short for “Michael”, as in Michaël Llodra, who founded the business. I say business because Chez Mica, is more than just a shop. It is also a showroom, tasting venue, and office for a thriving fine wine business.

Michaël, in his early forties, is a former professional tennis player who has long loved fine wine. His associate, Christophe Jacquemin-Sablon, has sales experience with Roederer Champagne and managed Pétrus for 6 years.

Christophe Jacquemin-Sablon & Michaël Llodra

To begin with, their business model was limited to helping winelovers without the time or expertise to build up a cellar, starting with a budget of 10,000 euros. This venture was enhanced by the fact that Burgundy, in particular, is a very difficult wine to purchase, and because Michaël had established close links there, succeeding in obtaining allocations as rare a hen’s teeth from some of the region’s most famous domaines.

But, let’s focus on the shop. Chez Mica is located at 13 rue Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux. This is inside what the Bordelais refer to as the Golden Triangle formed by three streets – Cours Clemenceau, the Allées de Tourny, and Cours de l’Intendance – with the circular Place des Grands Hommes in the middle. This is in the heart of the city, where the chicest boutiques are located.

Featuring wines from some 70 Burgundian domaines, as well as Corsica, Piedmont, the Rhone, and even a few Bordeaux (!) the shop opened six months. As a long time Bordeaux resident, I was totally amazed to discover a place featuring such a fine choice of Burgundy. This is indeed proof that the navel-gazing attitude so prevalent in the past has changed.  And, contrary to popular belief, the Bordelais do not look down their noses at Burgundy – it’s that they simply do not know it.
Until recently, fine Burgundy was difficult to find locally. That has now changed thanks to Chai Mica.

The shop also started a club two years ago prior to the opening of the shop. A membership fee entitles members to take part in ten tasting dinners a year with famous winemakers (Olivier Krug is scheduled in November) as well as a reduction on their purchases. Members are located in France and abroad.

I was particularly struck by the breadth of Chai Mica’s selection of village wines, proving that, if carefully chosen, good Burgundy can still be relatively affordable. The range of premier and grand crus is fascinating and I defy anyone who loves the wines of the Côte d’Or not to at least salivate, if not give into temptation…
Among other domaines, you can find the wines of Bruno Clair, Comtes Lafon, de Montille, Sauzet, Carillon (a member of the family works at the shop), Roulot, Lafarge, Arlaud, Clos de Tart, Dujac, Mugnier, Trapet, Méo-Camuzet, etc.

Chai Mica does not sell over the Internet, so you’ll have to visit the shop to see their wonderful range of wines . Prices are reasonable.

Book review: Les Lawton

“Les Lawton, une Dynastie Bordelaise du Vin” by Alain Blondy
Published by Le Festin.
189 pages. 17 euros. ISBN 978-2-36062-262-7
I was given this book, published in 2020, as a Christmas present and finally found a moment to read it this summer. “Les Lawton” is definitely for the hard-core Bordeauxphile not only because a good grounding in French required, but also a certain knowledge of the inner workings of the wine trade and Bordeaux society.

Wine lovers know that a majority of châteaux sell their wine through négociants (which can be translated as “shippers”), but are not necessarily aware that courtiers, or brokers form an essential link between the two parties. Although most often overlooked, their role is vital. They make sure that the samples shippers are presented with, and the prices at which they are offered, faithfully correspond to purchase orders.

Three quarters of all purchases by négociants go through the hands of brokers.

In 1739, at the age of 23, Abraham Lawton came from Cork (Ireland) to Bordeaux to establish a négociant firm. However, he soon saw that his true vocation was as a broker. He therefore started a business that exists to this day, having changed its name to Tastet et Lawton in 1830 when his family took on a partner. The Lawtons kept a detailed vintage report as of 1815. This, as well as volume upon volume of transactions, has become an invaluable source for scholars.
The 1835 painting on the book’s cover shows the historic Quai des Chartrons where Tastet et Lawton are located.

The Lawtons were Protestants, as were most of the other Northern Europeans who formed the backbone of the Bordeaux trade. Followers of Luther and Calvin have had a very checkered history in France. Persecution during the wars of religion in the late 16th century and the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre came to an end when Henri IV, himself raised a Protestant before converting to Catholicism, issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 granting Protestants religious freedom. This was unfortunately negated by the Edict’s revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV, but restored in 1787. Since then, they have suffered no discrimination.
n any event, the Lawtons’ steadfast devotion to their faith and country of origin is a leitmotif of their presence in the capital of Aquitaine. The book relates a dizzying succession of marriages with other members of the local Protestant community, many connected with the wine trade.
While hardly a rabid feminist, I could, however, not help but notice that the book focuses almost exclusively on Lawton men: women are confined to their role as wives and mothers, period.
The Lawton men were also involved in activities outside their profession: sports, including the mythical Primrose tennis club, and municipal government.

Seeing as the author is a former professor of history at the Sorbonne (with nearly 20 books to his credit), the book focuses a great deal on French history, particularly the war years. The Lawtons’ involvement is described in great detail, particularly Daniel’s heroism in WWI and during the troubled period of the Occupation. Needless to say, trade, particularly with Nazi Germany, was viewed with great suspicion after the Liberation, and Daniel successfully proved to the new regime that he had acted honorably. This was at a time when several négociants were found guilty of collusion with the enemy and heavily fined.

A well-known episode occurred between the wars, when Daniel Lawton accompanied American millionaire Clarence Dillon during his search for a famous wine estate to purchase in a depressed market. Legend has it that Dillon was interested in buying Cheval Blanc, but due to poor weather, Lawton took him instead to nearby Haut Brion, which Dillon acquired in 1935.

I have been privileged to know two members of the Lawton family. I worked with the ebullient Jean Lawton at the maison De Luze and met Daniel Lawton (son of the aforementioned Daniel) on several occasions. He was a strikingly handsome man who opitimized the genuine class of the Bordelais, as opposed to the more stuffy and snobbish among them. His knowledge of the region’s wines was nothing less than extraordinary.

This direct family line came to an end with Daniel’s death in 2015, and his two nephews took over the brokerage firm of Tastet and Lawton. Another nephew, Pierre Lawton, heads a successful négociant firm, Alias Bordeaux.

I must once again point out that this book is not easy going for the English speaker unfamiliar with French history. But it is worth the effort and full of interesting nuggets.

Th

 

Entre-Deux-Mers soon to be a red wine appellation?

The Entre-Deux-Mers is, of course, not between two seas, but rather two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne. This is the heartland of Bordeaux, rarely visited by tourists, but of considerable historic interest and home to many “nuts and bolts” wines, some of which represent tremendous value for money.

 

The wines entitled to the appellation, created in the 1930s (and which encompasses the Entre-Deux-Mers Haut-Benauge AOC), are exclusively white. This is paradoxical to the extent that the Entre-Deux-Mers also produces most of the ocean of red wine sold under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations.

There are some 1,600 hectares of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle vines, but far more of Merlot and Cabernet.

The local winegrowers association has just voted to ask the INAO (the National Institute of Origin and Quality) to create a red wine appellation for the Entre-Deux-Mers. This is likely to be approved, and wines sold under this name may arrive on the market as early as 2023.

Considering the poor sales of basic Bordeaux, one might wonder as to the reasons behind a new appellation for entry level red wines. The purpose is to heighten the recognition of a specific area within Bordeaux and give impetus to sales of both red and white wines – in short to bolster a brand badly in need of it. Growers understandably also want to make a distinction between bargain basement generic Bordeaux and wines from a region with its own unique history and a number of beautiful well-run estates. In short, if wine is about a sense of place, then the Entre-Deux-Mers unquestionably qualifies as its own entity.

This also goes hand in hand with efforts to highlight the Entre-Deux-Mers as a tourist destination with beautiful rolling countryside, medieval fortified towns, and a number of Romanesque churches. Since most wine lovers visiting Bordeaux flock to the same prestigious appellations there is much work to be done to attract them off the beaten track.
The same, of course, can be said for the wines of the Entre-Deux-Mers, snubbed by label drinkers and virtually unavailable on some major export markets.

The creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation in 1987 was a secession and really in no way comparable. Red Entre-Deux-Mers is a step up from the somewhat indeterminate Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations (over half of all Bordeaux wines), and this narrowing down of terroir should only be seen as positive. The commercial challenge is, of course great. But by combining both red and white wines under one banner, I believe that this to be a positive move.

Killer frost in Bordeaux – April 2021

Frost hit the Bordeaux vineyards earlier this month at a crucial time, as it did vineyards throughout France.

This map shows the areas hardest hit. It will, of course, be revised later in the year.

Bud break had already started and, as you can see, losses were catastrophic in certain appellations.

Everything possible was done to fight the cold (smudge pots, giant fans, helicopters, water sprinklers, etc.), but not all winegrowers had the means to do so effectively. Furthermore, at a time when there is increased environmental awareness, there is no ecological form of frost prevention.

The issue of crop insurance is much discussed at present. It costs a small fortune for those who have it and, even there, coverage in case of claims is usually disappointing.
The French government has stepped in, promising millions (in fact, over a billion euros) in relief to farmers all over the country.
When added to the massive Covid debt, this is not exactly good news. And in the same way that a certain number of businesses will not survive the pandemic, the danger is that winegrowers in entry-level appellations may decide to throw in the towel once and for all.

 

2000 Château Cantenac Brown

here are no fewer than 10 third growths in Margaux, and a couple of them are, let’s face it, pretty lacklustre. I have had Cantenac-Brown on any number of occasions and have tended to slot it into the “foursquare” category, i.e. reliable, and unquestionably a worthy reprentative of its appellation and its classification, but not on the exciting side.
The château has changed ownership a number of times in recent years. It belonged to Axa Millésimes from 1987 to 2005 and then to a Syrian-born English businessman, Simon Halab, who sold it in turn to the French Le Lous family a year and a half ago.

I also knew Cantenac Brown because it was the site of international seminars for the Axa insurance company and a venue for any number of corporate and special events with memorable banquets.

Anyway, 2000 is a great vintage in Bordeaux and I am starting to open an increasing number of fine Bordeaux from that year – and finding most of them arriving into their drinking window.


So, to accompany a traditional roast beef Sunday dinner, I decanted 2000 Cantenac Brown three hours before serving. There was only a small amount of fine sediment.

I am pleased to say that the wine outperformed my expectations. It was well and truly delightful. The color was fine and looked younger than its age. The nose was absolutely enthralling, with hints of graphite, truffle, and violet to complement sublime ripe Cabernet Sauvignon aromas. So subtle and so seductive! The wine was suave and velvety on the palate too, with attractive acidity. Only a slight weakness on the follow-through (I’m admittedly nit picking here) keeps this from the very pinnacle of Médoc wines. I certainly need to revise my opinion of Cantenac Brown and apparently the new owners are investing heavily in bringing the estate up to its full potential.
Stay tuned to this station for further developments :-).

Bordeaux at 1.69 euros a bottle…

 

Bordeaux is in a bad way. Oh, I’m not referring to the famous châteaux coveted by wine lovers around the world. I’m talking about the 55% of total production sold under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. This ad in the local Sud-Ouest newspaper on March 10th by the German supermarket group Lidl promotes so-called “award winning” Bordeaux at 1.69 euros a bottle! If you deduct all the fixed costs from beginning to end, what amount can that possibly leave for winegrowers (seeing as it is forbidden to sell under cost price on the retail end)?

The “gold medal” in question is from two French journalists who, in my opinion, should be ashamed of themselves. Their ratings are widely reputed to be based on payments received… In addition, the same ad was run in France’s largest circulation newspaper, Le Monde, showing that the wine in question must be available throughout the country. Putting aside the notion of quality for a moment, how can a blend of such gigantic proportions be considered homogeneous enough to earn a medal?

The rock bottom sales price and misleading medal do an injustice to Bordeaux.

A statistic I recently saw floored me: some 10% of an average crop of Bordeaux wine – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of hectolitres – were distilled last year to make biofuel, paid for by EU and French government subsidies.
Something is very wrong here.

Beaujolais was in a similarly bad predicament not so long ago, with terrible press. But they picked themselves up by the bootstraps and things are better there now.

The French have always been wary of free markets, especially in areas as politically sensitive as agriculture. And city dwellers, who make up most of the population, have a nostalgic, protective attitude towards farmers and winegrowers. It has therefore been expedient for successive governments to avoid the root problem and placate the wine industry. Of course, this cannot go on forever because the situation is clearly unsustainable.

The causes of this sad state of affairs are multiple, but playing the blame game gets no one anywhere. I hope the powers-that-be react intelligently and effectively to find a way to bring supply and demand closer together. No one says that this will be easy, but the present impasse can only last for so long… There is much at stake, but particularly the future of entire swathes of the Bordeaux region’s agricultural land and the families who earn their livelihood from it. The name Bordeaux can bring to mind images of impressive châteaux and self-satisfied négociants, but the truth is that most of the wines are made at modest estates run by hardworking men and women who barely earn a living wage. And their children are increasingly disinclined to take over the family estate…

There are many, many fine examples of entry level Bordeaux. It is therefore heartbreaking to see the whole category rejected by so many opinion leaders, buyers, and consumers. The Bordeaux establishment must face up to the fact that there are simply too many sub-standard wines out there – and do something about it. While timid efforts have been made in the past, these need to be seriously stepped up. Likewise, marketing and promotional budgets should be significantly increased. Alas, there are no quick fixes here… On the commercial end, brand building and the promotion of quality wines from petits châteaux, cooperatives, and négociants needs to be encouraged by every possible means – and thin, weedy wines refused the right to be called Bordeaux.

Of course, there is no easy answer to a problem with such deep roots. I champion Bordeaux at all levels and sincerely hope that things will improve. The potential to do so is unquestionably there.

2005 Château Chasse Spleen

I haven’t opened a 2005 in a while, but figured yesterday was the day for my bottle of 2005 Chasse Spleen to accompany a nice roast of beef.
This cru bourgeois (previously in the “exceptionnel” category, and now voluntarily outside the classification) is often considered an honorary great growth and frequently cited as the best wine of the low-profile Moulis appellation. Incidentally, Moulis is the second smallest appellation in Bordeaux, after Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion, with 630 hectares of vines.

I’ve had mostly good experiences with Chasse Spleen, although I’m not a fan of their white wine.

For what it’s worth, there’s a quotation from Lamartine’s “Le Lac” on the strip label for the 2005 vintage: “O temps ! Suspends ton vol, et vous, heures propices, Suspendez votre cours !”
Translation: ” Oh Time! Pause in your flight, and you, happy hours, stop your race.
Chasse Spleen’s odd name is said to have come from a comment from Lord Byron who, visiting, said that the wine “dispelled the spleen”. The French verb “chasser” means to drive out or chase away.

THe château belongs to the Merlaut famiy, and is presently managed by granddaughter Céline Villars. The château building is beautiful and welcomes visitors.

Decanted two hours before the meal, this 2005 proved to be a fine example of what the château can do. The color showed the wine’s age, but seemed more youthful on the nose (hints of graphite and violet) and, especially, the palate. There was a delightful sort of double whammy here, staring off with a rich, voluptuous flavor, then going into an austere and frankly tannic aftertaste that made it particularly appetizing with red meat. This pronounced, but not unrelenting, tannin seems to be the hallmark of Chasse Spleen.

The notion of peak is hard to pin down and, of course, the question of personal preferences comes into play… While I believe this wine will improve with age, I also feel it shouldn’t be kept too long because by the time the tannin further softens, the fruit will become more subdued. In the trade-off, I’d say 2005 Chasse Spleen should be ideal in 2025.

This wine was a joy to drink and it is always nice to see that the estates you considered stalwarts have maintained their standing.