The quality of Bordeaux white wines in the last 20 years has improved beyond measure, one of the people responsible for this is Denis Dubourdieu and his team of researchers at the faculty of oenology in Bordeaux whose praises I have sung on previous blog posts and in classes where tastings have many times proved my point.
Their research has confirmed the importance of terroir, agricultural practises but also the role of the wine maker in protecting the grapes and juice from both excess temperature and oxygen.
The influence of the barrel in enhancing complexity and ageing potential has also been a major subject of research especially the role of ‘battonage’ or lees stirring in the barrel, more traditionally thought of as a Burgundian white wine making technique for white wines that keep their freshness and their complexity with age;
Domaine de Chevalier in the heart of the Pessac Leognan appellation in Graves is a typical example of a property who has put all this research to good use making fabulous whites.
Sadly only 5 out of their 40 ha are under white wines (not that the red is to be sneezed at either!) Cellar Master Remy Edange is a passionate man and this passion shows through so clearly in the wines he makes. Totally in tune with the natural environment and allowing the terroir of the property to be fully expressed through sensitive agricultural practise he continues this hands on approach in the wine cellar.
The small white production is handcrafted, batch-by-batch in oak barrels with a tight grain and stirred throughout the vinification and ageing. This year, for the 2011 vintage, he has taken this technical experimentation a step further being the first to use an egg shaped wooden vat created by Taransaud.
Concrete Ovid vats for vinifcation are nothing new, I spotted some being tested out on the 2011 vintage at Chateau Pontet Canet during a recent vintage but as far as Oak is concerned he thinks this is a first.
The Ovid shape enhances the wines convention during fermentation and causes a natural mixing of the lees by a permanent movement along the walls. There is apparently a ‘divine ratio’ of 1.618 manifested in the relationship between the 3 hoops used in the construction of the vat which is reinforced by placing it on a pentagonal base, I have no idea what this means but it sounds terrific!
According to Edange the Ovum is also labour saving, the movement of lees in the wine is sustained much longer in this shape than the classic barrel requiring less frequent stirring.
The results will be ready for tasting next year. I tasted the 2011 from the classic barrel this week and it was already a spectacular wine.