Tag Archives: winewednesday

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.

The 2016 vintage at Château Montrose

 

 

I was invited to Château Montrose on the 12th of October to see how the new vintage was going. I was glad to accept, because 2016 has been a very unusual year weatherwise and I curious to see what effect this had on the grapes. In fact, the harvest finished today (14th of October).

Château Montrose has 95 hectares of vines (90 in production). The estate is dramatically situated on a rise overlooking the Gironde Estuary. The vines go down the relatively steep slope almost to the river, which unquestionably has a positive influence on the microclimate, helping to avoid extremes of temperature. A soil survey defined Montrose’s gravelly terroir in the “terrace 4” category, not unlike Château Latour’s. Grape varieties are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6 % Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.
A relatively recent estate in Médocain terms, Montrose was nevertheless classified a second growth in the 1855 classification. It belonged to the Charmolüe family from 1896 until 2006, when it was acquired by Martin and Olivier Bouygues, among the wealthiest people in France. Although they live in Paris, the Bouygues come frequently to Saint-Estèphe and are intimately involved with their estate.

The changes in Montrose in the past 10 years have been breathtaking. The 1,000 m² barrel cellar, completed in 2014, is a veritable temple of Bacchus, one of the most classical and beautiful in Bordeaux, which is saying something… All existing buildings were renovated and new ones built. Careful attention was paid to ecological concerns. The château has 3,000 m² of solar panels and draws on geothermal energy from a well dug some 100 meters deep…

 

In this same spirit, experiments are being made with organic viticulture. Fifteen hectares are being farmed in this way and, what’s more, expressly in the part of the vineyard considered to be the most vulnerable to vine diseases. The results are very encouraging and it is hoped that the vineyard will be entirely organic within the next 5 years.
The 2016 harvest started on the 23rd of September. Like elsewhere in Bordeaux this year, the growing season got off to poor start due to a cool, wet spring. Bud burst at Montrose took place around the 4th of April for Merlot, the 11th of that month for the Cabernets, and the 14th for Petit Verdot. Flowering occurred on the same day for Merlot and the Cabernets (the 10th of June) and on the 14th for Petit Verdot.

 

A heat wave in August changed things radically. Véraison took place on the 19th of August for Merlot, the 25th for the Cabernets, and the 29th for Petit Verdot.
Yes, there was some scattered scorching of grapes and vegetative growth was blocked for a time. But an important distinction must be made with 2003. The average highs in August of that year were 32°C, whereas they were 28°C in 2016. The vineyard manager, Mme Patricia Teynac, and the winemaker, M. Vincent Ducup, thought that this would spell high sugar levels. However, this was not the case. For instance, both Merlot and the Cabernets came at 13-13.5° potential alcohol, which is quite reasonable in a good vintage. All in all, this was a slightly early-ripening year.
The average yield was 41 hl/ha.

One of the hallmarks of 2016 is what can only be described as drought conditions. Precipitation from June until the present time has been abnormally low, and may well set a new record.
Montrose’s new (ten years already, even so…) owners have brought about two important changes in the wine. First of all, the selection process has been taken to great lengths. The second wine, La Dame de Montrose, has existed for years. However, a third wine was introduced in 2010, Le Saint-Estèphe de Montrose, and there is even a fourth wine now (!), which is sold in bulk to négociants. The grand vin now accounts for just one quarter to one third of the total crop depending on the vintage.

The second change involves winemaking. Montrose, renowned for its longevity, is now more open in its youth, but without compromising ageing potential. A neat trick, that seems to be working!
Montrose acquired part of Phélan Ségur, a large 21 hectare plot called Fonpetite in 2010. Wine from here has been integrated into the estate started with the 2010 vintage. It is nevertheless important to point out that this parcel was once part of Montrose, so the magical transformation of cru bourgeois land into great growth terroir from one minute to the next is inaccurate.
Be this as it may, much of Fonpetite’s production goes into the second wine.

At a time when 85% of all grapes in Bordeaux are machine harvested, there are 90 pickers at Montrose in 2016. As in years past, all of them come from the village of Pruna, near Seville. Fortunately, the winemaker speaks Spanish!

Among other innovations, Montrose is relying on drones that take infrared photos of the vines. These show different levels of maturity, even within the estate’s 90 separate plots. Montrose has also introduced the dividing of grapes from the premières grappes (bunches on the top of the vine) and deuxièmes grappes (ones from the bottom). The latter are riper and so are fermented separately.

The replanting program, begun in 2006, will take forty years to complete! Montrose is also experimenting with propagating the best vines rather than buying ones from a vine nursery.

Furthermore, Montrose has made an effort over the past 3 years to reduce sufur levels, going from 140 to 100 mg., with an aim to reach just 70 mg.

 


A visit to the vatroom revealed 65 stainless steel vats of varying capacity to keep wines from each plot separate in order to fine tune the final blend.
The ph of the new wine is about 3.5 for both of the main varieties. The anthocyanin content is greater than 2,000 for the Merlot and 3,000 for the Cabernets (measured according to the ApH1 Glories method)
I have a decent backlog of experience tasting young wines from barrel, but it is unfortunately beyond me to taste freshly pressed juice and appraise it. But going on Montrose’s track record, and based on the genuine enthusiasm of the winemaking team, I think something special is in store, and I look forward to tasting 2016 Montrose in March or April of next year.

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.

Bordeaux Clairet – a super rosé well worth discovering

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

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

 


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

A look at the new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

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

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

 


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

 

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

 


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

 

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

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

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

©Anaka - La Cité du Vin (8)

 

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

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

Sometimes, you just want to scream!

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

No, no, and no!
Enough already!

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

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

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

 

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Bourg-sur-Gironde

 

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

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

 

AFFICHE PO 2016

 

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

 

 

Château Tayac

Château Tayac

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

Plaisance

 

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

 

 

Château de la Grave

Château de la Grave

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Tasting notes 2015 primeurs: St. Emilion and Pomerol

SAINT EMILION

 

 

Balestard La Tonnelle
70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: deeper than the sister estate of Cap de Mourlin with blackberry liqueur aromas
P: spherical with more weight and length as well. Lively and mouth-filling. On the simple side but serious and good. Also one for early drinking.

Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse
Merlot%, % Cabernet Franc, and % Cabernet Franc
N: fine dark fruit
P: better on palate. Sweet, round, and silky with fine tension reflecting its terroir. Long, dry, uncompromising finish. Beautiful minerality. Serious. This estate is making a serious comeback.

Cadet Bon
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: simple and forthright – nothing special
P: better on the palate. Full and rich, but not overdone. Fresh, with high-quality tannin. Enjoyable.

 


Canon La Gaffelière

55% Merlot, 38% Cabernet France, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: very fruity and expressive with chocolate overtones
P: even better on the palate. Big and oaky, but with good fruit. Unfocused at this time, but promising.

Cap de Moulin
65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: dusty and plummy, with blackberry jam overtones
P: very supple, almost too much at this early stage. Virtually oily texture. Short aftertaste. Not for long-term ageing.

Clos Fourtet
88% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: deep, inky, and slightly cosmetic. Already showing some secondary and tertiary complexity.
P: silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture, but with good acidity. Built to laste. Very good indeed.

 


La Couspaude

75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: spirity and ethereal, with tertiary aromas of candied fruit, but not exaggeratedly so
P: hint of greenness, but mostly rich and satisfying, despite a certain hotness on the aftertaste and a slightly top-heavy structure.

Dassault
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: attractive, concentrated, sweet berry fruit (blueberry and blackberry)
P: fresh, fruit-juice-like flavor. Fine attack backed up by the structure of Cabernet. Rich, young, seductive, and reminiscent of a Pomerol in this vintage.

La Dominique
85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet France, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: soft, but closed. Few aromas, and these are rather one-dimensional.
P: much better on the palate. A little weak on the middle, but a nice transition from the softness of Merlot to the backbone of Cabernet. Medium weight and length.  Everything in place. This estate is getting better.

 


Le Dôme

(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: subdued and a little spirit
P:  round, sensual, and with good bite. On a par with Valandraud, but perhaps with a touch more elegance and a better tannic texture. A great success. Reminiscent of a fine Pomerol.

Fonplégade
95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: fresh with attractive plum, cherry, and briar nuances
P: very full and rich with good bite. Good minerality, attractive texture, and good finish. Altogether classic.

La Gaffelière
70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc
N: mostly closed, but with some encouraging subtle aromas
P: big, and develops well on the palate, which shows fine-grained tannin. Seems a little flabby at first, and then goes into a fine finish. Good, well-integrated oak and a very long aftertaste.  Shows this estate’s return to quality.

 

 

Grand Mayne
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: pure, simple, and sweet with toasty oak
P: round Merlot attack then shifts to good structure with textured tannin. Definite alcoholic hotness, but not as massive as some other vintages.

Guadet
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: dark understated fruit, with some alcoholic heat
P: somewhat limp but, even so, better than past vintages. Hollow on the middle palate. Harsh bitterness on the aftertaste. Unbalanced.

Larmande
75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: cranberry, candied fruit, and a faint whiff of oxidation
P: soft, round, and sensual. Something Pomerol-like here. Tangy and mouth-puckering (in a good way). Enjoyable young.

 


Péby Faugères

(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: big, sweet, with beeswax nuances
P: sensual mouthfeel. Melts in the mouth and goes into a lasting aftertaste. Modern in the best sense of the word. Tremendous fruit, but good balance as well. The medium-long aftertaste is a little dry. Watch out for that oak…

Rol Valentin
90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc
N: not very expressive and slightly cosmetic
P: ripe, rich, and chewy with good structure. More acidity than most. A hybrid: half modern, half classic. Sweet crowd-pleasing sort of wine.

Soutard
As for grape varieties, the definitive final blend had not been decided upon.
N: very good fresh, pure blackberry aromas. Lovely ripe fruit.
P: big, rich, and juicy on the palate, but lacks depth and power. Not over-oaked.

 


La Tour Figeac

75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc
N: discreet berry fruit and smoky notes. Understatedly attractive.
P: vivacious and luscious, tangy and refreshing. Will be very pleasurable for (relatively) early drinking.

Troplong Mondot
90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc
N: rich and a little Portlike
P: tremendously rich on the palate. Bordeaux on steroids. Not to my taste. 15.5% alc./vol.

Valandraud
(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: inky, with some camphor notes
G: great balance with fine structure and a long aftertaste. Worthy of its new classification. Very attractive red fruit (raspberry) finish.

 

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Villemaurine
80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc
N: nice, with some vinification aromas that will disappear with age
P: very nice overall impression, the best I’ve ever had from this estate. Lovely balance, tasty, tangy, and develops seamlessly. Elegant, satisfying, and with a long aftertaste. Good tannic texture. An excellent Saint Emilion.

 

POMEROL

 

Before sharing my notes, I would just like to say that this appellation was one of the great successes of the 2015 vintage in my opinion.
Also, I was very pleasantly surprised by the clear progress  made by estates formerly considered “second tier”.

 


Beauregard
75% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: interesting blend of blackberry, almond, and vanilla, along with a minor weedy component
P: My notes read: “slutty”. That outrageous shorthand indicates a wine that just overwhelms with its overt sensuality. This wine is all one would hope for in a Pomerol, and the epitome of successful Merlot. This is definitely a château worth watching (recently taken over by the Cathiards of Smith Haut Lafitte and the Moulin family of Galeries Lafayette).

Le Bon Pasteur
(exact percentage of grape varieties not indicated)
N: deep and a little dusty with fine violet nuances
P: rich, chewy, but with acidity to counterbalance the roundness. Big and juicy with finely textured tannin. Watch out for effect of oak though!

Clinet
75% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: inviting, slightly smoky, and sexy
P: concentrated textbook Pomerol with rubbery tannin. Big, but elegant.

La Création
64% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: oaky and herbaceous. Off.
P: thick, rich, chocolaty with a sharp atftertaste. Short and just too oaky.
Note: I had never previously heard of this 4.5 hectare estate.

La Croix de Gay – PHOTO NOT SHOWN
97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc
N: dusty with reticent fruit
P: big, but out of balance and somewhat hot. Ripe, round fruitiness. Will time even this out?

Fleur de Gay
N: biscuity, and both floral and fruity
P: really attractive. Soft, rich, sensual. Very typical of its appellation. A garden of earthly delights. Heavy mouth feel. The ultimate in Pomerol. Sensory overload. Long textured aftertaste.

 


Gazin

95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc
N: more floral (iris) than fruity with some grassy overtones
P: huge and compact, resonating into a beautiful soft, textured aftertaste with delightful minerality. A winner. Gazin is shining these days.

Petit Village
71% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: vaporous and not very expressive at this stage
P: both svelte and rich. Luxurious with a killer aftertaste. Gummy finish with good minerality on the tail end. Excellent.

La Pointe
84% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc
N: concentrated blend of floral and fruit aromas
P: big, mouthfilling, and sensual, but also elegant. Rubbery empyreumatic quality typical of Pomerol. Rich and satisfying.

 

2015 EN PRIMEUR TASTING NOTES: HAUT-MÉDOC, MOULIS, AND LISTRAC

A few remarks:

It is impossible to taste everything, but I did evaluate a great many wines over an intense 4-day period. Seeing as I am reserved about numerical rating, especially for wines at the beginning of barrel ageing, there are no scores.
Also, I have not mentioned color because most young Bordeaux of this caliber has a lovely deep color – not to mention the fact that it is deucedly difficult to describe colors with words!

I have included the proportions of grape varieties in the final blend because this can vary considerably from year to year.

N = nose
P = palate

HAUT-MÉDOC

 

 

Beaumont
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: slick and relatively simple with good fruit.
P: an impression of sweetness. A successful commercial style with a fine finish. A winner, and a wine for claret lovers who are after value for money.

Belgrave
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot
N: inky, cosmetic, and floral. Delicate and slightly smoky.
P: good mouth feel and develops well on the palate. Chewy. A wine of substance. Only reproach is that it is a little short.

Cantemerle
59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot
N: open, generous, sweet, and enticing with a biscuity element.
P: heavy mouthfeel, which is surprising for Cantemerle. Round, rich, and with medium body. Merlot seems to come through more than its proportion in the final blend would suggest, especially on the long aftertaste. One of the best wines.

 

Citran
59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot
N: soft and a little plummy with unexpected citrus peel aromas!
P: A bit odd, with cough lozenge flavors. Shows marked acidity that bodes well for ageing. There’s a little greenness on the long gummy blackberry aftertaste with a textured, velvety, and slightly hard finish. Not a tremendously classy wine, but a good one. Worth looking into if the price is right.

Coufran
85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: not very attractive at this stage, with some mint (reminder: the bouquet at this point is not paramount).
P: a middle-of-the-road wine starting out soft and then showing considerable acidity. Very supple and best enjoyed within the next five years.

La Lagune
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: not terribly expressive, but there is some good fruit accompanied by sweet oaky and blackcurrant notes.
P: wonderful plush mouthfeel, and there’s a good tannic backbone to support everything from beginning to end. Only drawback: the aftertaste is not very long.

La Tour Carnet
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: almost New Word exuberance of black fruit jelly with a cosmetic aspect
P: sweet and big. In fact, a little too big and assertive, but with a nice aftertaste. A successful modern style, but care should be taken with the role of oak in the rest of the ageing process.

 

 

LISTRAC

 

Clarke
70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
N: ripe with candied fruit nuances. Some grassy notes and a little sulfur.
P: juicy and round at first, then rather acidic with plenty of oak (70% new barrels) on the aftertaste. A commercial style and certainly acceptable, but not showing very well. Needs to be retasted later.

Fonréaud
45% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot
N: sweet to the point of being confected with hints of violet and some reduction.
P: silky soft. Very Médoc with fine-grained tannin. Well-balanced within a fairly narrow register. Strong new oak on the finish.

Fourcas Hosten
54% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Cabernet Franc
N: fresh berry fruit and molasses with a little reduction
P: round, upfront, very juicy. Dry tannic finish. On the whole, a crowd-pleasing wine the will be enjoyable young. Not typical of its appellation.

MOULIS

 

Chasse Spleen
% Cabernet Sauvignon, % Merlot, % Cabernet Franc, and % Petit Verdot
N: deep, but suave, promising nose
P: medium-heavy mouthfeel. Marked acidity. Very fruity and slightly dilute. Long aftertaste. Made to last. Stands out from others at this tasting.

Poujeaux
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot
N: rich, chocolaty, floral, and smoky – fascinating.
P:  rich as well on the palate, with a heavy mouth feel. Long. Delicious. Fine effort. Unquestionably of great growth stature. Derencourt and Thienpont are consultants.

 

Next installment: Saint Julien

Prior to posting my notes about 2015 great growths

I took 4 days off from work this month to taste 2015 Bordeaux great growths. This was a fantastic experience and despite living in Bordeaux for many years, I still find it thrilling.

The experience is as much about people as wine: meeting château owners, technical directors, etc., as well as members of the wine trade from all over the world.

The organization of en primeur tastings is quite incredible. Hats off to the Union des Grands Crus for receiving hordes of professionals and even providing everyone with gourmet lunches at famous estates. The system in Bordeaux is well and truly unique in the world of wine. It also creates a lot of jealousy, especially since the price increases at the most famous estates since 2005…

The whole en primeur system is presently being called into question. This is because older wines from fine vintages can often be found at the same or even lower prices than futures. This has left consumers bewildered or even bitter. They ask themselves “What’s the point”? This has led to much naysaying, as well as predictions that “the bubble will burst” and that the great growths will be brought to their knees. Color me sceptical on that count… I have seen this happen only once in my (considerably long) lifetime, in the 1970s. However, I do not think it will occur again now.

For a start, it is well-known that exports to China declined significantly in 2013/14. However, word does not seem to have spread that the 2015 figures were up by 31% in volume and 25% in value. China’s interest in Bordeaux is here to stay. The market has become more mature and the Chinese are buying more intelligently. But they are still buying. Massively. And they remain Bordeaux’s number one export market.
You have only to see the wry smiles on the faces of winegrowers when asked “What vintage does this remind you of?” or “Do you think that this is more of a Left Bank or a Right Bank vintage?”. So many people don’t seem to understand the sheer size and complexity of Bordeaux, and the fact that making generalizations is like walking on eggs. Still, in this age of “Wine for Dummies” pronouncements will be made.  But not by me!
There is an urban myth that samples are doctored to make them more flattering to journalists, critics, and major buyers. In fact, this is not totally false. Several château owners freely admitted that the wines we were tasting were blended to give a better idea of what the wine will be like down the road. And that they were not the actual final blend at the present time. This is only worrying to the extent that one places blind faith in how representative such young wines are, or should be…
In the past, the en primeur tastings were spread over a 3-month period. Now they take place very early and in a short time span. And, as we all know, leading critics give numerical scores at this early date – ones that have a huge effect on the market. One can disagree with the very premises of scoring systems, but they are inevitable. People like to quantify things that cannot be quantified, and be made to feel secure. So be it.
I will be posting my (non-numerical) notes, for what they’re worth, in the near future.
All the best,
Alex

1998 Margaux and 1998 Lafite

Bordeaux may be a provincial city, but it is a tremendously cosmopolitan one, and wine lovers from all over the world always end up here one way or another. Dinner at my house on Saturday included people from several continents. The lingua franca was English.

 

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We started off with a fine Champagne. Francis Boulard has many fans and his Les Rachais is arguably the top of the range. The 100% Chardonnay vines are grown organically and are an average age of 43 years old. Les Rachais is a “brut nature” with zero residual sugar. The wine is aged in barrel, undergoes malolactic fermentation, and is neither fined nor filtered. It is much appreciated and well noted in France. For what it’s worth, I see that it has received a score of 93+ from Parker.
We found the wine bone dry but gracious and ethereal. A great aperitif.

Foie gras and toast usually means Sauternes in Bordeaux, but I figured a full, rich white Burgundy from a very ripe year should also marry very well.
I might add that trade professionals in Bordeaux freely acknowledge that the great white wines of Burgundy are among the best in the world.

 

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Bâtard-Montrachet is a grand cru with about 12 hectares of vines (Le Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet each have 8 hectares, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montachet has 3.7 hectares, and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet has 1.6 hectares).
Leflaive is by far the largest owner of vines in Bâtard-Montrachet (a quarter of the vineyard) and the domaine has a stellar reputation.
Jasper Morris in his book “Inside Burgundy” writes that Bâtard reflects “weight and power rather than vibrancy and elegance”.
After this lengthy explanation I’m sad to report that despite the reputation of the vineyard and the producer, this was not a memorable wine. It was not prematurely oxidized or corked, just blah, neutral and flabby. When you consider the price, this is very disappointing.
It must be due to the vintage.

 

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Fortunately, Ian and Maureen had contributed a rare white 99 Château Pape Clément which saved the day. This was pretty much the polar opposite of the Bâtard: light gold in color, with a zippy nose and vibrant acidity to match the richness. People often think of Bernard Magrez’s wines as being a little overdone. This was not at all the case here. The wine shone and went well with the foie gras. It also has years of life ahead of it.
The main course was milk-fed lamb, accompanied by 3 red wines.

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The first one was a fun, rather than a serious wine: a 100% varietal Carménère from the Côtes de Castillon that I mentioned in an earlier post about a visit to that appellation.
Carménère is genetically related to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. This variety was extremely widespread in Bordeaux in the 19th century, but when the vines were grafted they produced less and were also much more subject to coulure. So, Carménère all but disappeared in Bordeaux. However, it is making a modest comeback in the Libourne region.
Our 2012 Carménère came from Château Lapeyronie the Côtes de Castillon. The wine was a little sharp, but it’s always fun to taste oddball wines like this, as well as instructive to get a handle on varietal character. This Lapeyronie was great as an introductory wine, but no one is expected to take it seriously in the Bordeaux hierarchy.

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Received wisdom is that 1998 Right Bank wines are wonderful and that Left Banks ones are much less so… Parker’s vintage chart gives the former a full ten points higher! Less damning, Jancis Robinson, notes “Very good on the Right Bank but a less starry performance in the Médoc, whose 1998s are a bit stolid, means that these wines, and their equally successful counterparts in Graves have tended to be overlooked”.
Féret says that “the 1998 red wines are balanced, powerful, and generous” but that “Merlot-based wines are better than Cabernet-based ones”.
Well, Lafite and Margaux are poster children for Cabernet: 70% for the former and 75% for the latter. What would their 1998s taste like 18 years down the line?

The wines were served blind. Margaux was fairly evolved with earthy, musky aromas and mostly resolved tannins. There was some dryness on the finish. Lafite was clearly the more enjoyable of the two. In color, bouquet, and flavour it was pure and zippy, with much life ahead of it. A joy.
The tasting notes are a little skimpy, but you know how it is when you are the host…

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As for the last wine, I wrote in a blog post last year: “Ch. Laville in Preignac (AOC Sauternes) produces a late harvest Riesling-Gewurtztraminer blend! Of course, this is not entitled to the appellation, but not only is it very rare – dare I say, a unicorn wine? – but also quite delectable, with the zippiness and spiciness of its two main components. It will be an excellent one to serve blind one day when I am feeling particularly sadistic…”
Well, friends, that day had arrived, and the wine was indeed served blind at the end of the meal.
Of course, hell would freeze over before anyone nailed this! But everyone loved it. There were candied fruit flavors of apricot and other white fruits and somehow it seemed more like a late harvest than a botrytized wine. But above and beyond it’s oddball quality, the wine was also very tasty.

 

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We ended the meal with a glass of Crème de Cassis from Mouton Rothschild. This seemed not very alcoholic (16-18°) and everyone enjoyed the sweet concentrated flavors.