Monthly Archives: August 2011

An exception to the rule

Bordeaux wines are always blends right? Bordeaux wine makers have a large pallet of red and whites varietals to choose from, more or less 6 of each, not as large as the Rhone perhaps but a lot more leeway than Burgundy.
Yes Bordeaux blends but, of course, there are always the exceptions. Quite a few properties seem to produce 100% Merlot wines now. These wines fit market demand for easy drinking wines. The second wine of Château Petit Village in Pomerol, Le Jardin du Petit Village is one of my favourite Merlots
For the white wines 100% Sauvignon Blanc is not rare either, not surprising perhaps given the vast improvement in aromatic whites (see previous post) a favourite is Château de Rochemorin, surprisingly 100% Sauvignon.
But for the lesser-planted varietals such as Muscadelle, which represents less than 1% of Bordeaux, and counting, a mono-cepage wine is a rarity. This variety produces lovely aromatic wine, however in the Bordeaux climate it tends to be difficult to cultivate with its susceptibility to rot and more often thought of as the floral influence in the great sweet white wines of the region. Only a few passionate wine makers persist, such as Prune and Philippe Armbruster at Chateau Haut Maugarny in the Entre Deux Mers
They took over this small 12 ha domain in 2008 of which only 7ha are currently in production due to investments in re planting. Half of this is under red vines – as you might be picking up their dry white, 100% Muscadelle, is a tiny production of about 3 000 bottles.
Vineyard practises are not dissimilar from the top growths: low yields, hand picking, environmentally friendly. As for the winemaking, after cold maceration, to accentuate the specific aromatic characteristics of the Muscadelle the wine is barrel fermented and aged for 11 months on the lees, still in the oak barrels. The finished product is dominated by floral and muscat aromas with white flowers, a good length and a great mid palate, which makes it a perfect food wine as well as an interesting aperitif – your guests will never guess the origin.

An exception to the rule to look out for.

Martell – all packed up and ready to go.

If you thought the Louis Vuitton/ Cordier-Mestrezat travelling case mentioned in my … new=true]previous post[/url] was the perfect travelling companion for wine and spirits lovers on the move, think again. The Cognac house Martell has gone a step further – and bigger. If ever you were worried about going thirsty on a trip this is the answer to your prayers.

Martel asked Frédéric Pinel to design a creation allowing Martell lovers to rediscover the complete range of Cognac produced by this historic house that going back 300 years. In the signature ‘Martell Blue’ (obviously an important colour for top class wine and spirits see ‘Bleu de Chanel’). This mobile trunk-bar is the largest Pinel & Pinel have ever produced: 2.06m high, 2.20m wide and 0.70m deep with almost a thousand skilled man-hours of work.

The Cognac range presented in this trunk includes, not just the house blends, but also the ‘montres’ – pre-blends prepared in small, cylindrical, 20cl sample bottles – the stepping-stones on the way to a great Cognac.
The subtly lit leather- lined compartments and drawers of the trunk present all the tools you need to understand and discover Cognac: the Exclusive Blends, the crystal glasses and decanters, cocktail gadgets, scented candles and a cigar humidor – what more could you ask for? A small blue leather-bound booklet containing the handwritten tasting notes of Benoît Fil, Martell’s cellar master.

The owners of the trunk can add their own notes on their voyage of discovery,
both geographical and spiritual!

Are Bordeaux whites one of the wine world’s best keep secrets?

Image CIVB

Bordeaux is red, right? It’s Cabernet isn’t it? It’s so much fun to surprise visitors to Bordeaux with wines they are not expecting. I do not wish to deflect from the glory from some of the great Cabernet-driven wines of the Left Bank but there is often a preconception amongst visitors that Bordeaux is all about Cabernet.
Check out the percentages of current red plantings and you’ll see the error. 63% of Bordeaux planting is currently under Merlot and only 25% under Cabernet Sauvignon. 11% is Cabernet Franc and the remaining 1%, for those if you doing the maths, is Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenère.
Given that, as I type, the first white grapes are now making their way into the cellars this is a great time to look at the white wine production. It’s relatively small, only 11% of Bordeaux vineyard land is planted to white grapes. The dry white wine production, coming in at around 70 million bottles accounts for the lion’s share of this (8% compared to 3% for sweet wines of total Bordeaux vineyards).
This is a dramatic change – only 60 years ago white grapes represented half of Bordeaux planting. So why the change? White grapes were originally planted in the 17th century to supply the Dutch, much of which was destined for distillation. The big production area was the Entre-Deux-Mers, which is still uniquely a dry white wine appellation, despite the fact that the area is now the powerhouse for red Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur production.
In 1956, Bordeaux was hit by a severe frost and this area particularly suffered, obliging farmers to uproot vines destroyed by the cold. Responding to the demand for Bordeaux reds (yes the Bordelais do listen to market forces), farmers replanted with red varietals. This also explains the dominance of Merlot mentioned earlier; the soils of the Entre deux Mers region have a limestone subsoil with varying depths of clay and some patches of gravel but it is really clay that dominates the ‘terroir’ making the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon a risky business if you want your red grapes to ripen – which is the objective after all. With the memory of the frosts, there was a push in the 70’s to plant later-budding Cabernet on these soils as they are more frost-resistant, but this was soon abandoned in favour of the Merlot to meet the demand for the more easy-drinking fruit driven wines which it produces on these soils.
Dry whites may be in a minority in Bordeaux but the incredible rise in the quality of these wines astounds newcomers. As for the reds, most Bordeaux whites are blends. The majority of planting is Semillon; 53% against 38% for Sauvignon Blanc and 6% of Muscadelle and again, for those of you with the calculator handy, 3% of a few lesser-known varietals. It was in the 1990’s that Professor Denis Dubordieu and his team at the Bordeaux Faculty of Oenology first identified the molecular structures that give the characteristic citrus and vegetal aromas responsible for the aromatic complexity of Sauvignon Blanc. Once identified, it was then a matter of experimentation to find out how to increase, enhance and preserve these precious molecules, be it in the field, in the cellar or in the bottle.
It’s easy to recognise the influence this research has had by tasting many of the dry whites of Bordeaux from the Entre-Deux-Mers to the Graves and Pessac-Léognan. This is one of the examples of how research and development at the faculty is quickly shared throughout the Bordeaux wine making community by the actions of the wine consultants, of which Denis Debourdieu is one, as well as the training programmes initiated by the CIVB. The Bordeaux Wine Council co sponsors much of the R & D in Bordeaux to the tune of 1.3 million Euros on both the agricultural and wine making side.
Dry whites are popping up all over. Outside of the classic appellations of Bordeaux Blanc, Entre deux Mers, Graves and Pessac-Léognan, don’t forget the Côtes appellations and even in the sacrosanct land of red – the Medoc. Along side the famous Pavillon Blanc and Aile d’Argent, look out for Les Arums de Lagrange and Caillou Blanc amongst others. These dry white wines are delightful young and those that have enjoyed barrel fermentation and battonage offer lovely ageing potential and, in the main, represent wonderful value for money. More and more Bordeaux Blanc are available in screw caps, such as Château de Sours and Chateau Bauduc from the Entre-Deux-Mers, which seems to be the perfect closure for these wines that are best served young, but also some of the more venerable whites from the Pessac Léognan stable of André Lurton , Château La Louvière and Château Couhins-Lurton, are available in screw cap along side his Château Bonnet.

Perfect summer drinking while the fine weather lasts.

It’s only Rock and Roll but I’ll drink it!

The wine world attracts an eclectic group of people, including it would seem from the world of rock and roll, which makes a change from the more traditional institutional investors we tend to see in Bordeaux. Rock group AC/DC announced this week that have released a range of wines named after their greatest such as Back in Black Shiraz, Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon and You Shook Me All Night long Moscato, with Australian Warburn Estate. One of Australia’s larger producers with over 1000 ha under vine Warburn has a reputation for producing affordable wines, many with a funky twist and original names – Sweet Lips Moscato any one?

A slightly more tame example perhaps is Cliff Richards Vida Nova Wine in the Argave or Madonna who teamed up with her winemaker father at Ciccone Vineyards.

However you don’t have to be in the music business to marry the two passions; Jonathan Maltus has just released a rather more sophisticated blend of wine and rock and roll, with three limited production wines from his Napa Valley venture, World’s End, that all take their names from some of his favourite songs – perhaps from his deep and distant past as a DJ? “If Six Was Nine,” from Jimi Hendrix gave it’s name to the Cabernet Sauvignon “Against The Wind,” from Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band,” is the Cabernet Franc and “Little Sister” is the Merlot.

This is the first vintage from the Napa and the second release following the single vineyard wines in March that sold out. Maltus is known for his Saint Emilion wines, where his first vintage at Château Teyssier dates from 1994, making a name for himself as one of the first of the ‘garagistes’ with success such as the Cabernet Franc driven ‘Le Dome’. The Saint Emilion is property is now 50ha (10 times the average size in the appellation) and produces a range of 8 wines including the new baby Vieux Château Mazerat. After a time in Barossa with the Colonial brand, Malthus and his wine maker, Neil Whyte, turned their focus to Napa in 2008. marry the best of the new world and the old, the wines are reminiscent of the Garagist style using new French oak vats for vinification and cold maceration.

Get your playlists ready for the tasting –
let me know if you can spot the link between the name and the style.

Champagne in the sun

Christmas and New Year may be the peak of champagne sales but champagne houses are not afraid of getting out in the sun with a couple of fun innovations to keep us drinking our bubbles during the summer months :
Moet et Chandon, although as tradional a house as you can find, are never afraid of innovation and have taken the controversial step of suggesting we put ice in our glass of champagne. Affectionately known as a ‘Swimming pool’ this practice has been frowned upon by many traditional drinkers but Moet have decided to embrace this summer trend by blending a new champagne ‘Moet Imperiale Ice’ in a beautiful white and gold bottle. Distribution is reserved for hip bars and clubs who serve the Moet swimming pool in round Moet logo glasses. It really works – perfect summer lunch and party drink.

If you prefer your champagne chilled in a more traditional way – try the Veuve Cliquot fridge – a cute mini american 50’s style fridge the perfect size for one bottle of brut or rosé (pink fridge for that one if you please) guaranteed to keep your Veuve chilled for a least a couple of hours – that’s one for the beach then.

And talking of Americans in Paris…….

Bordeaux blonde loves Paris in August, the place is empty except for tourists, it’s easy to get a table at most of my favorite restaurants and you can even go to the beach !

A wonderful bolt hole is the Relais Christine, a boutique hotel parts of which date back to the 13th century but protected from the bustle of the left bank in a discrete road and behind a beautiful courtyard. Welcoming and polite staff, a lovely lounge with a honesty bar and friendly but discreet patrons who obviously love the place and concierges that seem to know everything about Paris. If you’re feeling brave, and again quiet August would be a good time, use their tiny soft top smart car or bicycles to discover the city or just relax in the surprising city centre garden.

An American in Paris – well his cars

What better way to spend a rainy summer afternoon in Paris? How about a guided tour of the amazing Ralph Lauren car exhibition at Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs (part of The Louvre). Bob Dover, British car industry doyen, Chairman of the Heritage Motor centre in Gaydon and director of the Jaguar museum in Coventry has driven most of the cars on show and his first hand insights made the tour. If you can drag yourself away from the cars, don’t miss the film about Lauren’s renovation of the Alfa – the perfect mix of fast cars and fashion! Proof that industry and art can come together.


Cru Bourgeois in China and vice versa.

In 2010 32% of Bordeaux wines went to the export markets, up 14% in volume on 2009 that is 235 million bottles for a total turnover of €1.51 Billon (up 17% in value) Increasing quality and quantity – just the message Bordeaux is trying to push.
However the leading markets shifted place a little. The UK lost its dominance with Germany remaining the biggest volume market and unsurprisingly to many, China came in second with an 67% increase in volume for a 121% increase in value and Hong Kong knocked the UK off the top of the value market to second place with 252 million Euros against 227 for the UK.
Asia as a whole purchased 605 million Euros of Bordeaux; 28% of total Bordeaux exports – four times the value of the US market. Hardly surprising therefore to see such a large presence of Asian buyers and commentators at the primeur tastings this spring and again at Vinexpo.
Understandably many producers are looking at the Asian market with great enthusiasm. Belying the idea that the French don’t work in August; The Alliance des Cru Bourgeois with 30 château owners are making their way to China later this month organising tastings and dinners in Shanghai, Canton and Peking to present 90 wines from the official selection of the 2008 vintage.

Tasters at the Cru Bourgeois primeur presentation earlier this year

Just a reminder that 2008 vintage was the first vintage to receive the new annual ‘Reconnaissance de Cru Bourgeois’. Of 290 Châteaux that presented their candidature 243 were given the ‘classification’ in 2010. The selection for the 2009 vintage will be available for tasting in September this year in both Bordeaux and London.

Continuing the theme, earlier this year, Château Laulan Ducos one of the 2008 Cru Bourgeois of the appellation Medoc was purchased by Chinese jeweller Richard Shen whose target market as you can guess, is china.