Monthly Archives: November 2013

Pre-Christmas round up

As the Christmas lights were turned on all over London this week I feel as if I can now officially talk about the approach of the festive season. Bordeaux will be ready with it’s traditional Christmas market on the Allées de Tourny from 29th November until the 29th December.

Bordeaux’s Christmas market

The Grand Theatre will be showing a performance the Romeo and Juliette ballet from 16th – 31st and if you cross the square to The Grand Hotel you you can admire the ballet and Shakespearian themed decorations around the 4.5 m high Christams tree while sipping a whisky based Romeo or Champagne based Juliette cocktail.

Once you are in the festive spirit head out to the vineyards. If you are in the Entre deux Mers this weekend the spectacular Chateau Camarsac is holding a Christmas Market. Alternatively head North to Margaux for the 3rd edition of Margaux Saveurs with châteaux tastings, a lunch at Chateau Dauzac and events including golf, music, a market and art exhibitions in the 5 villages that make up the Margaux Apellation.

Chateau Camarsac

The festive season is the high spot for consumption of the sweet white wines from Bordeaux, if you missed the Sauternes and Barsac open doors last weekend do not despair, the Loupiac and Foie Gras weekend is on 23/24th November and on the 14/15 December the chateaux of Saint Croix du Mont are opening their cellar doors with the ‘Saveurs Croissés de Noël’ weekend.

December starts with a busy weekend, Le Chai au Quai in Castillon  will be celebrating advent and the festive season, throwing open wide its doors on Saturday 7th from 12-6pm with ‘Au Jardin de la Riviere’ and ‘Au Plaisir Gourmand’ selling their soup and cheeses respectively, there will be music from Chantamicale from 17H00 and of course the wine and wine makers from Le Chai !

View over the Dordogne from Le Chai au Quai

Closer to Bordeaux the propeties of Pessac-Leognan are holding a Portes Ouvertes the same weekend, a great opportunity to stock up with wine or to enjoy the tasting dinner on Saturday evening. Just across the river the ‘Foire au gras’ in Langoiran is the next day, on the 8th. This is a traditional Foie gras market, perfect to accompany the sweet white wines mentioned above. Local producers will also be selling chocolates, cheeses, patisseries and wines in the traditional market place.

I mentionned last year several château that have opened boutiques selling a lot more than just their wines, here’s another one for your Christmas shopping. Château Lestrille in the Entre deux Mers has a wonderful shop selling wines but also local crafts and amusing gift items all based on wine. Further up the road you can visit Terra Safran  where Laurianne Gouyon has taken over the family vineyard, Château Les Prenes in Nerigean, and has planted crocus to produce Saffron as a compliment to their wine production. Her second harvest will be dried and ready for sale around mid December – perfect timing for Christmas.

Saffron strands ready for drying at Terra Safran

Napa, it’s personal ….

Blogs are meant to be personal but I have a feeling this one should probably come with a health warning: ‘DANGER, winelover falls head over heels’. My brief encounter with the Napa has left me a little breathless and greatly inspired. It has provoked an emotional response which I express here, warts and all, in the knowledge that I will return to the hard facts, figures and entirely serious analysis MW-style all too soon.
This therefore, is but a snapshot of visits I made over a desperately short 3 days. Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the people I met during my visits, I have a full notebook of study facts for which I am extremely grateful. The impressions below are snippets of my thoughts as I left the valley and record the visits in the order in which I made them.
I live and work in a very beautiful wine region, on the banks of Bordeaux’s Dordogne river. And although I never take it for granted, often finding myself stopping the car on my way to work to take photos of the vineyards (I have literally 100s of them), you would have thought I would be used to beauty. Napa however, got me; hook, line and sinker. It had me at its ‘WELCOME’ sign.


A total coup de foudre. How could it not. It was entirely irresistible in its autumn majesty.

Flamingo Tree

Flamingo trees, vineyards burning bejewelled – no real fires thank goodness despite the tinderbox dryness, but row after row of incandescent ruby, pumpkin orange, saffron yellow and luminous gold. My jaded jetlagged eyes were irradiated by the glory – no photo could ever have done the colours justice.
I began at Spottswoode, welcomed by Beth Novak Milliken in the early evening dusk, a haven of gentle homeland hospitality. I patted beautiful dogs and watched them chasing squirrels up a tree. I met Aron and Landon, level-headed winemakers, immensely calm in the face of my incessant questions. Their pursuit of balance is evident in everything they said and in the wines themselves. And so fundamentally modest – 100 points recently awarded from Parker was the very last thing I learnt about the 2010 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, not the first. How immensely thoughtful to allow me to discover the wine for myself, enjoy its inherent freshness, velvety tannins stretched taught across it black fruited spice and piquant vanilla core, before letting on that Bob happened to rather like it too!

The following morning saw me framed at Raymond. This is indeed a winery experience like no other.

Raymond Vineyards frames.

Visceral, playful, not exactly shocking, quite, but distracting to old European eyes in its labyrinth of sensual rooms. The herb garden introductory walk is a stroke of genius. I wandered past trapeze-swinging mannequins, space-suited wannabe winemakers, dog kennels for the beloved pooch, red velvet saloon and leopard skin print carpets, barrel libraries and crystal chandeliers, glass in hand tasting immensely seductive, sweet-kernelled 2012 wines  from the St Helena, Rutherford and flagship Generations blend. Well, you try explaining it!! And isn’t that entirely the point; Raymond is all about you, your pleasure, your enjoyment, your fun, just as it is all about Jean-Charles Boisset and his vision. Mutual joie de vivre, mutual gratification, mutual respect.

All that hedonism drove me up the tree-lined avenue to Opus One. Back to Bordeaux? Yes and no. Queenbee-hive like attracting and welcoming swarms of visitors, I was one of at least 50 in the 2 hours I spent there. The experience here is one of supreme elegance, smooth as silk, both opulent and restrained, both grounded and ethereal, and the 2007 and 2010 vintage wines I so enjoyed and respected there, reflect their surroundings perfectly. As David Pearson says, Opus started with no canvas, no estate, no vineyard. It was therefore entirely up to the owners to be free to chase an ideal, it still is, and though now grounded in land and beautiful bricks, there is a feeling that it has arrived exactly where it was heading. How philosophically brilliant, what a feat of grand vision, but no less than to be expected from such men as its founding fathers Robert Mondavi and Baron Philip de Rothschild.

I climbed the mountain to Chappellet as evening fell once again. The view from the vineyards overlooking the lake, drawing the eye to Mount St Helena at sunset is nothing short of soul food.

Chappellet Sunset

There is peace to be found here. This is a place of kindness and beautifully concentrated, layered wines, sweet spice and pure fruit. I love the Chenin Blanc story, planted and made for Molly despite taking up prime valuable Cabernet Sauvignon territory. It embodies the concept of ‘Do it because you love it, create because you can, but whatever you do, do it well, do it beautifully’. I ended the day with the Pritchard’s Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 which was savoury and lightly sweet-spiced, beautifully balanced and so very young and graceful still.

My last day took me to Inglenook. This is a place full of benign ghosts; I found it an overwhelmingly emotional experience. My host, the ultimate ‘raconteur’, Harold, took me on a 3-hour epic journey through time. I was spellbound by the passionate history of land gained, lost and regained, a name misplaced and now reinstated, a quality always inherent yet in need of rediscovery – a haunting tale. There is history here; families honoured, the past treasured. There is an exquisite eye for detail – just look next time at the wording on the cork of Edizione Pennino. There is power here, breath-catching and slightly overwhelming. I imagine that is exactly the feeling I would have if I met its owner, Francis Ford Coppola. The Blancaneaux is a powerful knock-out, Rubicon is a revelation, ‘a wine to talk back to’ as Harold neatly put it, engendering both dialogue and awed silence.

Inglenook wines

Talking of silence, then there was Bond – oh my, Bond. The line-up here literally left me speechless. The wines floored me in their complexity at first, then had me gabbling at my host Chris, grasping at stilted vocabulary to define, explore, explain, analyse, express. The wines resonate. So yes, this was special for me. Eyrie-like, private, a magical recess of rolling valley vineyards – Melbury, Quella, St Eden, Vecina and Pluribus – eclectic, evocative, powerful characters, profoundly pure expressions of fruit, seamless and timeless tannins. One is gentle, one explosive, one insanely opulent, one utterly charming the other vibrantly headstrong. Gabbling and grasping as I said …
I left the Napa believing that what I had tasted and seen was winemaking reflecting total ownership. Land, climate, soil, water, varietal, all the elements of that hallowed ‘terroir’ word are honoured here, but there are no slaves to it. This is no European stewardship, this is the land of the free. It strikes me that the Napa is doing exactly what it wants to do. I was expecting some emulation, I was expecting to recognise profiles, enjoy the ‘l’hommage a’, compare to elsewhere, but what I experienced was total individuality. What I tasted was intensely personal, owned, defined, motivated by the pursuit of ephemeral old world excellence, but transcending any formula and going well beyond the established benchmarks. And it’s refreshingly, not just about the wines and their owners. It’s about you as well, your personal experience is important. The privilege of visiting and tasting is reciprocated in the Napa. What I know for sure is that the places I visited and the wines I tasted are wines to fall in love with, they are special and the rest of the world needs to know more about them.


Follow Clare on twitter @ClareT_y

Mama loves Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is now home to the 5th Mama Shelter Hotel, after Paris, Marseille, Istanbul and Lyon. It’s an eclectic choice of cities.

The first Mama Shelter saw the light of day in Paris’s unfashionable 20th arondissment in 2008. This funky hotel chain is the brainchild of the Trigano family (who started Club Med), design guru Philippe Stark and Michel Reybier famous for his international chain of top-end hotels and residencies La Reserve, in Geneva, Paris and the South of France. In Bordeaux he’s better known for being the owner of Classified growth Cos d’Estournel in Saint Estephe.

As you’ll know, if you follow this blog Bordeaux’s hotel scene is very dynamic right now, stimulated by the increase in tourism since the 2007 UNESCO heritage award was bestowed on the city.

Mama Shelter Bordeaux made its home in the old ‘Gas Tower’ in the centre of Bordeaux. Built in 1934, it was pretty revolutionary in its time and is a fitting setting for this non-conformist hotel. Along side its 97 rooms over 5 floors, Mama Shelter has a restaurant, a pizzeria, a cocktail and a wine bar and, as of next summer, a roof top bar. Bordeaux does not have many town centre hotels with a large conference capacity.  Mama Shelter has two conference rooms that can host a total of 70 delegates, which along with the large room capacity is rare in down town Bordeaux.

A conference room
photo Francis Amiand

The ‘destroy’ décor of the large restaurant is complimented by everything from hanging musical instruments to children’s rubber rings over the big bar. It has friendly staff, a stage for live music and a show kitchen with a simple but tasty menu designed by Jérôme Banctel from Alain Senderens in Paris.

The Rooftop terrace
photo Francis Amiand

The wine list is an eclectic as the décor with 60 plus wines, a selection of which is always available by the glass, a good choice of Bordeaux, as you would expect, including Cos of course.

The Mama Shelter Restaurant
photo Francis Amiand

The rooms are small and minimalist but comfortable and very high tech with an I-Mac acting as the TV, radio and Internet connection and of course free wi-fi.  The bathrooms feature Mama skin products as a touch of luxury in the bathrooms.

A minimalist room with the signature cartoon mask
Photo Francis Amiand

Rooms start at 49€ a night per person.  At that price you should really come and stay.



A social wine


Enaleni’s Dream is a social wine in so many ways. A collaboration between specialist UK wine importer Enotria and Tesco, the varietals for the 2 wines (one white, one red) from the Enaleni Community in South Africa’s Stellenbosch Vineyards were decided upon at a social media tasting event organised by the global social media agency We Are Social.

Once the wines were chosen, fans of Tesco’s Facebook page were asked to submit designs for the label in an online competition. Rebecca Boamah, from Buckinghamshire, won the competition to design this lovely label, which is glossy, textured and colourful, you can pick out the African animals such as a giraffe and a rhino in the bunch of grapes that adorn the bottles.


But this is more than just crowd sourcing a wine and its label, this is a social project in the more traditional use of the word.

The Enaleni community  is a South Africa black empowerment project, and up until now they have only been able to sell their grapes to other winemakers. This campaign has allowed them to get their bottles onto the shelves in the UK without using a third party producer. The objective is to create a sustainable revenue stream, with funds going to families and to initiatives in education and healthcare as well as providing a sustainable long-term business structure.


Rebecca’s prize was a trip to South Africa to oversee the wine in production and meet the community; the families and workers of the Enaleni farm in South Africa who will benefit from the sales.

Although right now I’m closer to SA than Bordeaux, I haven’t tasted the wines myself  but Laura Clay, wine educator and blogger at Bywine tasted the Shiraz and describes the wine as

« everyday very easy drinking wine with a screwcap closure, naturally. It is not full-bodied, with gentle tannins so can easily be drunk on its own. It’s plummy with a sort of light nutmeg and clove spice. On the palate it’s light to medium bodied, cherry-flavoured with a hint of mild black pepper on the finish. Simple but with a slight dark chocolate note on the finish to give just a modicum of complexity. Great for a party wine as it’s a friendly crowd-pleaser. »

The Chardonnay and Shiraz wines have been on Tesco shelves and website since October for £7.99 a bottle so now you can party and drink up with a clear conscience knowing your wine spend is going to a good cause.



Sorted !

After an interminable wait that had every winemaker’s eyes turned to the sky, the harvest is now finished in the Bordeaux vineyard and the red wines are almost all run off into barrels or undergoing Malo in tanks.

Fermentation at Chateau d’Aiguilhe in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Pumping over at Chateau Lynch Bages in Pauillac

Emptying the vats after the running off at Chateau Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan

Mother nature has kept everyone on their toes this year with what has been a challenging vintage (that’s the polite version!)

The first 3 months of 2013 were marked by cold and steady rain. A late spring with a dry April meant bud break was late (mid April) and the return of the cool weather and more rain made the late flowering difficult for Merlot which, although the most precocious Bordeaux red varietal, only started to blossom around June 10th, compared to May 31st in 2012.

The rain between June 17th and June 23rd caused millerandage (development of berries without pips which remain tiny) and coulure (badly fertilized flowers drop without giving any fruit). These phenomena cause a substantial decrease in the potential quantity of the harvest.

Summer finally arrived in July, sun and heat set in and the 330 hours of sunshine in one month equalled the 1991 record. However the summer was marred by thunderstorms and hail. During the night of July 18th hail fell on a very small zone in the Medoc and then again on July 25th and 26 on the entire region.

Uneven developement of the Merlot grapes necesitated a lot of sorting

Despite the summer warmth the development of vegetation remained delayed by 15 days. August was also sunny (42 hours more than average), with temperatures close to the norm, but again marred by thunderstorms with a devastating hailstorm on Friday 2nd of August. 15 000 hectares were hit by the hail, 7000 of which were shattered at 80%, representing 6% of the total Bordeaux vineyard. Concentrated in the Entre-Deux-Mers region this has created a dramatic situation for some producers whose yields are extremely low or non-existent this year.

By the 3rd week of August the Véraison (change of colour of the berries) was underway, leading to a harvest date predicted as 8 to 15 days later than average, based upon the late flowering date.

So at the start of harvest there was cause for concern but as usual with a vintage like this the picture was very varied from region to region. Bordeaux is a big place so the scene is very different depending upon the appellation and the different varietals. Terroir has played a part, better-drained soils with exposure to winds being an advantage in a damp growing season. Merlot has suffered most from the cool, damp spring – being early budding and flowering with a greater sensitivity to the Millerandange and Coulure (see above), the development of many bunches of Merlot has been uneven.

However the grape growers have not contented themselves to simply follow the weather patterns. Their actions throughout the year in preparing for the vintage have had an obvious effect on the quality of the grapes on the vines.

Selection in the field

Careful deleafing and green harvesting has allowed the air to circulate around the bunches of grapes and reduced the incidence of mould on the Merlot in these plots. Interestingly the argument for organic production has also been debated this year. With this humidity, vines are susceptible to mildew and later to bad or grey botrytis. However some plots that have been under organic culture for several years seem to be showing a greater resistance to mould and other diseases that flourish in these conditions. This is a good thing, as, under organic agriculture, the farmers cannot treat their grapes with systemic molecules. They are only allowed to use the Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and lime), which unfortunately washes off with the next rainfall, making for expensive and repetitive treatments. With the vintage approaching, organic treatments are limited to a powdering of talc to soak up some of the excess humidity. There is also the possibility that anti fungal treatments thicken the skins of the grapes meaning they ripen later. Those not using these treatments were at an advantage this year. Ripening was difficult and late, especially for the Cabernets  with not everyone brave enough to wait for fear of more rainstorms and the spread of more rot.

Selection bunch by bunch

September continued to be wet, with an especially heavy storm on 28th bringing 30% of the month’s rain in a few minutes and although temperatures were up slightly (½ degree) creating an almost tropical feel in some areas, and more rot, the average levels of sunshine were down over the month.

Merlot is currently the most widespread grape in Bordeaux (65% in 2012) and it suffered this year; fortunately the Cabernets tell a different story. The late development this year left many fearing that the Cabernet, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, would struggle to ripen. But whereas the Merlot has only a short window of opportunity for harvesting, the Cabernets, thanks to their thicker skin, are sturdier and can wait. Fortunately the sun decided to shine early October giving some warm days and cooler nights – perfect for Cabernet – for those who could wait either because they had nerves of steel or a cooler windier terroir that slowed down the development of that pesky rot.

Selection berry by berry by hand at Châtheau Olivier in Pessac-Leognan


and by Optical Selection at Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe


There were some beautiful healthy bunches

and some very scary ones

Talking of mould, it may strike fear into the hearts of red producers but sweet white wine producers are delighted. The Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea) developed well on the Semillon and Sauvignon grapes in the sweet wine areas. The first tries (selections) gave cause for producers to be cautiously optimistic after their trials of 2012 despite some isolated hail in the village of Illats mid harvest. The later tries where not quite as concentrated but again careful selection and blending will produce some beautiful sweet wines in 2013.

The developement of Botrytis on Semillon at Chateau d’Arche in Sauternes 

Beautiful botrytis at Chateau Sigalas Rabuad in Sauternes

Fermentation starting at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

The dry whites are also safely in the vats now and although the volume may be lower than a normal year, producers are happy with the quality of their crop.

Beautifully healthy Sauvignon bunches at Chateau Latour Martillac in Pessac-Leognan

What is encouraging is that new technology is at hand to help the wine maker in such a vintage. Having done the best they can to ensure the quality in the field has been, inevitably in such a vintage, a need for strict berry selection prior to fermentation.

Having done the best they can to ensure quality in the field, producers keen to maintain a reputation for quality also employ a strict berry selection, prior to fermentation. Whether in the field, or at the cellar door, new technologies such as selection tables, optical selectors and tribae help this labour intensive process.  It must be heartbreaking to throw berries away but it is the price to be paid when faced with the challenges that such a vintage presents.

What is sure is that 2013 will show lower yields and it will be well worth a visit to the futures tastings in April 2014 to see how the wine makers of Bordeaux have risen to this, their latest challenge.