Monthly Archives: June 2014

Take a walk on the white side.

The region of Graves, south of the city of Bordeaux, is considered the top terroir for the dry whites of Bordeaux. Here you will find the only classified whites of Bordeaux. The dry whites were classified along with the reds in 1953, revised and completed in 1959. Coming 100 years after the famous 1855 Medoc and Graves classification, it includes 16 properties but for a total of 22 wines (13 red and 9 dry whites – 6 properties do both – do the math!)

Carry on further south to the Sauternes and Barsac appellations and once again you are in classification country. When someone mentions the 1855 classification, we immediately think about the reds but at the time of this classification, the top dog was in a fact a Sauternes; Chateau d’Yquem was classified as the only 1er Cru Classé Supérieur, a step above even the Lafites and Latours of the time – those where the days!

Some of you will know I have a certain bias towards these wines but I feel it’s justified, as there are a total of 27 classified growths in Sauternes and Barsac, of which 10 are first growths.  For an appellation of only 2 200 ha compared to the Medoc (16500 for 60 classified growths), that’s quite an achievement.

Chateau d'Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

Chateau d’Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur

But don’t ignore the dry whites produced in the Southern Graves. Many Sauternes and Barsac properties make delightful dry white wines, either from terroir that is not included in the sweet wine appellation or by choice, enjoying experimenting with the aromatic expression of their sauvignon and semillion before the famous botrytis attacks.

The white wines may only represent a small amount of Bordeaux production (8% for dry white and 3% for sweet) but they probably represent the product sector where some of the most dramatic increases in quality have been seen in Bordeaux in the last 20 years or so. Thanks to research at the faculty of oenology in Bordeaux University and the application of this research in the properties, there is marked difference in the style of the whites produced now compared to 60 years ago when white wine production made up over half of the wine production of the Bordeaux region.

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

The white wine of Chateau Latour Martillac aging on the lees

Temperature control, cleanliness, skin contact, controlled use of SO2 and yeast selection as well as the judicious use of oak and aging on the lees have produced a new generation of crisp dry and elegant oak fermented white wines as well as the fabulous sweet wines including those from lesser known  appellation of Cérons as well as Sauternes and Barsac.

Time for an Apér'oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Time for an Apér’oCérons at Chateau de Cérons

Talking of Cérons, book ahead to experience the ‘Apér’O Cérons’ at Château de Cérons. Following the visit of the château, cellar and vines and a tasting of their 3 wines you can call in at their little grocery store to stock up on local specialities such as foie gras, tapenades, bouchons de Bordeaux, etc. for an ‘apéro-picnic’ under the magnificent magnolias in the park around the château, followed perhaps by a walk along the river or a horse and carriage ride to neighbouring Château Myrat.

The Graves has a big advantage for visitors. As well as the range of wines; red, dry and sweet white, it also offers a range of prices points from Cru Classé to affordable. If you want to learn more about this area and its wines, it has now become much more accessible; the wine producers of the 3 appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes and Barsac have joined together to create an interactive web site to help you discover the region. ‘La Route des Vins de Bordeaux en Graves et Sauternes’  is unique as it has a daily update of properties are open to public for visits and tastings. You can also see which properties are happy for you to just drop in, as well as those that require an appointment.

Chateau Olivier, that dates back to the middle ages

Chateau Olivier dates back to the middle ages

Graves is considered the birthplace of the fine wines of Bordeaux, with some properties dating back to the middle ages. This cultural and historical heritage is also detailed on the website along with details of where to eat, from Michelin stars to local bistros, and where to stay from B & B S to 5-star luxury.

It’s a one-stop shop.You can plan your trip and reserve directly on-line. It also keeps you up to date and what’s happening and other attractions in the region.

Samedi Blanc

Samedi Blanc

This Saturday for example is the ‘Samedi Blanc’ an opportunity to visit 12 white-wine producing properties of the Pessac Leognan appellation in the Northern Graves. They are all open for tastings and visits as well as a giant picnic across several of the properties. You  can just turn up for the tastings but  book on line for the picnics on or by phone : 05 56 00 21 90










DIY Wine.

The standing joke in Bordeaux (and I suspect elsewhere) is that to make a small fortune in wine you have to start with a large fortune. This is told to many an enthusiastic visitor so enamoured with their Bordeaux experience they consider taking the plunge in to wine making and vineyard ownership.
Financial concerns aside (more of which later), if you want to know whether you have what it takes to make great Bordeaux, help is at hand. The Bordeaux Wine School includes a blending class in its curriculum and many properties, such as Château Paloumey, Chateau La Tour Bessan and Château Siaurac, to name but a few, will organise blending workshops where you can get a handle on this, one of the most important elements of creating a Bordeaux wine. Some properties will also let you join in the fun (or hard work) at harvest time, both in the vines and on the sorting table. You may even take home a bottle of your carefully crafted blend to show to friends and family.

However for a full-on wine making experience, you will have to make your way to Viniv in Pauillac. Viniv’s state of the art ‘garage’ winery is in the village of Bages, the picturesque hamlet renovated into the only left bank wine ‘destination’ by Jean-Michel Cazes.

The Viniv cellars in Bages

The Viniv cellars in Bages

Viniv will allow you to craft your own wine, from grapes to bottle. You can choose to be as ‘hands on’ as you want in the creation of your wine. But the fun is in the participation and there is a minimum intervention needed, even if it is only consulting with the team to establish the style of wine you want to produce.

First job; select your terroir. Viniv cultivates vines on plots of land from all over Bordeaux so offers a diverse range of wines for you to work with. Bordeaux currently covers 113 400 ha and is divided up into 60 different appellations. Blending grape varieties is one of Bordeaux’s signatures, here however you will be blending appellations. The idea is by offering a selection of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties from across the board of Bordeaux terroir you will have some of the best components of a Bordeaux blend to play with.

A chateau blends wines from their vineyard – here you can choose from further afield; you can blend Cabernet Sauvignon from the left bank, where it grows best on the warmer Gravel soils there, with Merlot from Saint Emilion where it flourishes on the cooler clay and limestone soils. The best of both worlds (or banks).

To qualify for an appellation the grapes for the wine must all come from land within the defined appellation area, as would a chateau blend. Therefore by choosing to blend from these different regions, legally your wine will be labelled Bordeaux, as is almost 50% of the Bordeaux production.  This explains why the wine you will be bottling will not have Pauillac on the label, despite the fact that this is where the wine is made. It’s all about the place where it’s grown – terroir.

So that’s your terroir chosen; now for the wine making. Help is on hand with a team including top Bordeaux wine consultant Eric Boissenot. As discreet as his wines are famous, he is behind 4 of the 5 1st growths of the 1855 classification. Viniv is also perfectly placed for collaboration with Jean-Michel’s technical team at neighbouring Château Lynch Bages.

Together they can advise on the fun stuff; when to pick (you can do that too if you like), how long to macerate the skins on the juice, how many times to pump over, when to run off, the blend, the oak, how new, how long to barrel age, etc. etc.

Is this your wine in the Viniv barrels?

Is this your wine in the Viniv barrels?

You will come to understand first hand just how many tiny decisions along the way help create the personality of a wine and come to understand why, with almost 8000 vineyards, Bordeaux is such a source of diversity in wine style. Yes it’s about the place but it’s also about the wine maker – in this case you!

If all this sounds like too much information, you can take a step back, outline your wine profile and let the team do the work. However you will find that, as technical as it sounds, it really is quite addictive and you will be drawn in. If you think drinking wine is passionate stuff wait until you start making it. You can spy on your wines via webcam if you can’t make it over and receive regular updates from the team on what is going on even if you are not getting your hands dirty! You really should come to the ‘Mash’ up, this will be your ‘en primeur’ when you taste your baby wine from the barrel and those of your fellow wine maker apprentices, who come together from all over the world and all walks of live to share their passion for wine.

And if all this sounds exhausting, the cellars just happen to be a stone’s throw from Chateau Cordeillan Bages, the Michelin starred Relais and Chateau hotel and restaurant – not perhaps the usual accommodation for grape pickers.

The minimum order is of course one 225l Bordeaux barrel, your barrel, that’s 300 bottles. If it sounds like a lot of wine, get some friends in to help but be warned you may need a mediator for the blending – it is surprising just how personal a blend can be.

And then there is the fun bit – the bottling, creating your own label and finally the drinking. As you finally open your first bottle of your very own wine you may well discover you do indeed have talent and your inner wine maker may need a larger canvas to play with. This is where we come back to that small fortune and start looking at the finances.

A line up of some of the viniv labels

A line up of some of the viniv labels

Help is at hand for this too. Alexander Hall who lives with his wife and young family in the Entre-Deux-Mers runs Vineyard Intelligence. His speciality is the search and analysis of current vineyard investment possibilities in the region.

As well as being a licensed real estate professional, he is lawyer by training and a wine expert. With a law degree from Oxford University and investment banking experience with Deutsche Bank and Union Bank of Switzerland, he changed direction and went to work for leading winemakers in both the northern and southern hemispheres; in New Zealand on his family’s estate in Marlborough, with Ivan Sutherland at Dog Point Vineyard and with Ben Glover and his team at Wither Hills. In Bordeaux he has worked with Château Bauduc, Clos Puy Arnaud, a leading biodynamic estate in the Côtes de Castillon, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Premier Grand Cru Classé estate in Saint-Emilion. He is also a tutor at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux and puts all this expertise into advising individuals on the search and acquisition of vineyard estates. Finding a vineyard is one thing, where Alex comes into his own is outlining the complex elements involved in buying and running it, including a technical audit of the properties. This way you will know in precise detail how your large fortune may become a smaller one but also the fun you’ll have on the way.

All this could be yours........

All this could be yours……..