Monthly Archives: July 2014

Quintus Maximus.

Bordeaux may extend over a large area from right to left bank but it takes more than the 100km drive from Pauillac to Saint Emilion to stop some owners and winemakers spanning both banks.

Several examples spring to mind, The Domaines Baron de Rothschild owns Bordeaux vineyards from Chateau Lafite in Pauillac down south to Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes and across to Chateau l’Evangile in Pomerol. Axa Millesimes follows a similar path of Classified growths from Chateau Pichon Longueville in Pauillac via Chateau Suduiraut in Sauternes and Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol and Chanel is also spread across the Gironde from Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux to Chateau Canon in Saint Emilion, to name but a few.

Now another left back icon has firmly established itself on the right bank. In 2009 Domaine Clarence Dillon purchased classified growth Chateau Tertre Daugay from the de Malet family,  owners of first growth Chateau La Gaffelière in Saint Emilion. As well as being an historical player in Bordeaux, Clarence Dillon wines are moving with the times and this purchase seems to be part of a continued strategy by the group to create a coherent Bordeaux offer.  The family purchased first growth Chateau Haut Brion in 1935 and the neighbouring Chateau La Mission Haut Brion in 1983, both in Pessac. In 2005, under the current management of Prince Robert of Luxembourg, they introduced their Clarendelle branded wine in red, white, rosé and amber (Monbazillac) and then simplified the identity of their Chateau wine brands in 2009. In 2013 they purchased Tertre Daugay’s neighbour; Chateau l’Arrosée, also a Saint Emilion Classififed growth, to make a single and unique estate : Chateau Quintus.

Chateau Quintus dominates the slopes of Saint Emilion

Chateau Quintus dominates the slopes of Saint Emilion

The new name takes it’s inspiration from the roman history of the region; the remains of a roman villa and traces wine making from the era have been found in the area of Chateau La Gaffelière and trenches dug into the limestone at neighbouring Chateau Bellevue, are thought to indicate signs of roman vine plantations.

Limestone trenches at Chateau Bellevue

Limestone trenches at Chateau Bellevue

The Romans named their 5th child Quintus so following on from Haut Brion white and red and La Mission white and red here is their 5th child, the repeated ‘V’ type face is a bit of a give away . The second wine, Dragon de Quintus, refers to the protection offered by the mythical beast, a tenuous reference to the look out tower on this promontory offering protection to the town, which also features on the label. It just so happens that it may also prove popular with the Asian market and it certainly looks great on the label.

The characteristic labels and bottles of Chateau Quintus and Le Dragon de Quintus

The characteristic labels and bottles of Chateau Quintus and Le Dragon de Quintus

Along with the purchase of Chateau L’Arrosée they also inherited the incumbent regisseur; Francois Capdemourlin, whose local knowledge along with the skills of the Clarence Dillon team bodes well for the 28 ha of vines.  With an average age of 30 years the vineyard is planted in the traditional blend of Merlot (66%), Cabernet Franc 26% and Cabernet Sauvignon (8%).

Beautifully packaged

Beautifully packaged

The property enjoys a spectacular position on south-western edge of the limestone plateau that dominates the appellation. It’s a good neighbourhood; this plateau is where most of the 1st growths of Saint Emilion are found. It is a unique position; at 62m above sea level it dominates both the southern and northern facing slopes giving a complex terroir of limestone on the south slopes and a mixture of clay limestone and some gravel on the northern slopes.

The view from the Northern slopes of Quintus over Chateau Canon, Croix Canon, Angelus and Bellevue

The view from the Northern slopes of Quintus over Chateau Canon, Croix Canon, Angelus and Bellevue

Wine making takes place in the circular vat house in a mix of stainless and oak vats and blending, as at the other Dillon properties, takes place prior to barrel ageing in 100% new oak. The first vintage under the new label is 2011 now available on the market in a bottle reminiscent of the Haut Brion bottle, embossed and with sloping shoulders modelled on a 19th century bottle of Haut Brion found in a pirates treasure trove. Guarded by a dragon perhaps?

The 2011 and 2012 vintages bode well for the future.

The 2011 and 2012 vintages bode well for the future.

A Parisian Shangri-La.

Clients on their way to Bordeaux often ask me for recommendations on where to stay in Paris. Well you no longer have to ask.

As of December 2010 the portfolio of Hong Kong based group Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts includes the spectacular Shangri-La, Paris amongst it’s  80 hotels worldwide.

This is no ordinary hotel however; this is a piece of living history. Built in 1896 as the home of French imperial Prince Roland Bonaparte, The Palais Iena, where the hotel has elected residence, is in the chic 16th arondissment and there is no mistaking his imprint in the building.

Welcome to the Shangri-La Paris

Welcome to the Shangri-La Paris

Meticulous and sympathetic renovation by a team of historical experts has maintained a impression of grand intimacy in a series of salons and the guests rooms and suite cleverly keep the traditional feel but with all the modern facilities.

Interesting enough it took 4 year to build the original and 4 years for the Shangri La group to renovate the property. This is not surprising given that the building was classified as a historical monument on the request of the new owners. The original floors, stained glass windows and even marbles mosaics and columns where painstakingly taken apart, catalogued and restored. The renovation uncovered hidden treasures masked by previous renovations including a spectacular glass and steel dome, now over the main restaurant. Even the 16th century stables have been converted to an indoor swimming pool in the spa.

The stunning swimming pool

The stunning swimming pool

If the architectural splendour and spectacular views over the Seine and to the Eiffel Tower aren’t enough to get you there, maybe the gastronomy will. There are 3 restaurants to choose from, 2 of which are Michelin starred.

The Asia meets Paris theme is discreetly underlined in the decoration and atmosphere throughout the hotel but nowhere more so that in the Shang Palace one star Michelin Cantonese inspired restaurant. Chef Frank Xu from Shenzen and his 4 strong team from Hong Kong opened the restaurant in 2011 and received their first star in 2013.

 

The Shang Palace Restaurant

The Shang Palace Restaurant

If you prefer to enjoy the full French experience eat at l’Abeille where Chef Labbée was awarded 2 Michelin stars the same year. The restaurant is named after the bee; the emblem of the imperial family. If it’s too difficult to choose go for the best of both worlds in the more informal Bauhinia restaurant, which offers all day dining on a French-Asian theme under the spectacularly renovated glass dome.

The restored dome above the Bauhinia restaurant

The restored dome above the Bauhinia restaurant

If I have convinced you, try to plan a stay before summer is over to enjoy the terrace on the 1st floor which is open until the 1st week of September, it’s perfect for sunset cocktails overlooking the Eiffel Tower and until the 6th August the 100 m2 panoramic terrace of the Shangri-La Suite on the top, 7th,  floor is open, upon reservation, for an exclusive Krug and Petrossian Caviar Tasting while you enjoy breathtaking views of the city. The high life indeed.

The perfect place for an aperitif.

The perfect place for an aperitif.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Que Syrah Syrah

We don’t grow Syrah in Bordeaux; you’ll know that of course if you’ve travelled here or attended class with me. Bordeaux is all about the blend but the principal grape variety here is Merlot (not Cabernet Sauvignon as many think), which represents about 65% of current planting across the region followed by 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc and 2% of the other varietals (Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere) permitted by the AOC (or AOP) appellations rules.  There is an argument that with climate change (an argument all by itself!) that there may be a place for Syrah here in the future but perhaps not in my tenancy.

However that does not stop an alliance between Bordeaux and this Rhone varietal, a tradition dating back to the 16th century, if a little talked about practice in the 19th century when wine merchants were responsible for the blending and  ageing of wines in Bordeaux. A practice put to a stop by the creation of appellations in 1936 by INAO.

Two famous names from the Medoc have successfully revived the Bordeaux-Syrah tradition.

2004 was the first vintage of classified Haut Medoc property Chateau La Lagune made by Caroline Frey, whose family purchased the estate in 2000. Oenologist Caroline Frey, with her young team, has overseen the renovation of the property first the cellars and then the spectacular chartreuse and has increased the size of the estate and introduced a third label Mademoiselle L, a particular favourite of mine.

Mademoiselle L

Mademoiselle L

As if she didn’t have enough on her hands the family purchased Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné, in 2006. Her constant trips across France managing both properties inspired her to revive the old traditional of adding a little Syrah to a Bordeaux blend to give extra colour, backbone and structure.

Her first blend was created in 2006 under the label DUO. This top end, low production wine is a blend of their iconic Rhone valley vineyard La Chapelle and the first wine of Chateau la Lagune. Since 2010 however Caroline has made a more accessible version, in style, volume as well as price under the label Evidence.

Evidence

Evidence

This new wine is a blend of plots destined for le Moulin de la Lagune, the second wine of the chateau and selected plots of younger Syrah owned by Jaboulet in Hermitage. It therefore includes Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot. The wines are aged separately in 15% new oak for 18 months on opposite sides of France before being blended in the cellars of merchant Jaboulet in the Rhone and sold as a Vin de France.

Chateau Palmer has also produced an aptly named, “Historical XIXth Century Wine”, This blend of about 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet from Château Palmer  to which around 10-15% Syrah from the northern Rhône is added, depending on the vintage, has seen the light in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010. This is also an exclusive release with only about 100-400 cases made, again depending on the vintage. The 2010 has yet to be released. Its origin is also a personal story. In early 2005, the new head of Château Palmer, Thomas Duroux, tasted a Château Palmer 1869 at the home of an American wine collector. Bottles from this period have been found with the added mention “hermitagé” or “ermitagé”, referring to the practice of adding wine from the Northern Rhone for the reasons mentioned above. Hence the idea was born to revive this tradition with a name chosen to reflect the property’s links with the British market.

The Historical 19th Century Wine from Chateau Palmer

The Historical 19th Century Wine from Chateau Palmer

Other Bordeaux producers are also familiar with Syrah, and in many regions Cabernet and Syrah are blended to great effect. I recently tasted the Lafite owned Aussières Rouge, Vin de Pays d’Oc, an elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah produced in their Languedoc property.

 

Aussières Rouge from the Lafite stable

Aussières Rouge from the Lafite stable

It’s a seductive blend and I would be interested to hear if any of you have any other examples to share.

 

 

Right bank or Libournais?

There is so much that is new on the right bank of Bordeaux at the moment that I hardly know where to start. “Right bank “is a misleading name. After all, there are two rivers and an estuary that run through Bordeaux, all of which have a “right bank”. “The Libournais” is a more accurate descriptor as the  appellations to which we refer surround this ancient waterside town.  It was an important centre for wine trading and export with continental Europe in the middle ages, with the Libourne Merchants trading directly, rather than through ‘La Place de Bordeaux’, all thanks to the charter granted to the town in 1224 by the King of England.

Libourne on the Dordogne river

Libourne on the Dordogne river

Despite its ancient history, with vineyards dating back to 56 BC, this region of Bordeaux is a hotbed of innovation and has been since the ‘garage wine movement’ was pioneered by the likes of oenologists and winemakers, Michel Rolland, Jean-Claude Berrouet, Jean-Luc Thunevin, Jonathan Maltus and Denis Durantou in the 90’s.

It is a curious mix of old and new. Saint-Emilion is the first winegrowing area in the world to be listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in the “Cultural Landscapes” category in 1999. These landscapes have succeeded in preserving the traces of their history; the medieval village of Saint-Emilion, Romanesque churches, grottos, windmills and dovecotes, etc.  In 1884 the first French Syndicat Viticole saw the light here and in 1933 the 1st cooperative cellar of the Gironde was established here too.

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

The land of 1000 chateaux from the Steeple of Saint Emilion

Compared to the rest of Bordeaux, the average size of properties here is small; for a total size of 12 000 ha there are less than 2000 properties, so do the math and you’ll see that the average size of 6-8 ha is half that of the Bordeaux average of 15 ha.

This structure of numerous individual wine estates is one of the reasons behind this constant innovation.  Small is beautiful but also perhaps more flexible than larger corporate ownership?  That, and the dominance of Merlot, which lends itself more kindly to experimental wine making than Cabernet.

The Libournais is also perhaps more ‘democratic’ than the left bank. Driving around the Medoc, the wealth seems to stop at the Chateau gates with vast tracts of vine and not much else in between except rather dreary villages (Bages being the exception that proves the rule). In the Libournais, cellars and chateaux are all side-by-side surrounded by their ‘gardens’ of vines, it is known as the land of 1000 chateaux.

Out of the 10 appellations only Saint Emilion ‘enjoys’ a classification. This came into being in 1954, almost 100 years after the Medoc/Graves/Sauternes classification of 1855. I’m on dangerous ground here, but it could also be considered more democratic being up for grabs every 10 years (or so). The last classification, in 2012, was a revision of the previous controversial 2006 edition, and no less controversial if you listen to a few disgruntled producers and certain sensationalist journalists. Despite this they are now the holders of a classification including 82 classified growths of which 18 are first growths and 4 are As with two new A’s  (Chateaux Angelus and Pavie) added to Cheval Blanc and Ausone, for the very first time since the classifications creation.

So what is new? As elsewhere at the top end of Bordeaux, there is a rash of new and beautiful cellars. They are easy to spot here, as the properties are all much closer together. Promotional opportunities perhaps, but also a desire to incorporate the new technology in a more efficient way and also open their doors to visitors.

Cement tanks have always been traditional on the right bank, their thick walls being resistant to rapid temperature change, and smaller family estates couldn’t afford to destroy them when the trend towards stainless steel started in the 70s so they remained and are now the height of fashion again, see the new cellars at Cheval Blanc.

With an increased understanding of the soils on the properties leading to more precise plot by plot management, it is not unusual to see vat size reduced or the older, larger vats replaced by smaller ones and even to see a mix of oak, cement and stainless in a single cellar allowing the wine maker even more flexibility. I must admit a certain affection for these older ‘art deco’ tanks that are now being spruced up again.

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

The old cement tanks at Chateau Petrus pre renovation

Cheval Blanc is not the only one to reinvent concrete. Family owned Château La Conseillante in Pomerol has created a super efficient oval cellar of 22 brand new elegant concrete vats for the 12 ha property, allowing for precision vinification for Chateau La Conseillante and the second wine Duo de Conseillante. The cellar is an elegant illustration of the style of their wine underlined with their purple signature.

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

The elegant new vat cellar at Chateau La Conseillante

A close up showing the attention to detail

A close up showing the attention to detail

Visiting Saint Emilion can be a religious experience. In the 8th century, the hermit Emilion stopped off on his pilgrimage from Brittany to Santiago de Compostela and  sheltered in a cave in the rock, the remains of which can still be seen near the 8th century monolithical church (Europe’s largest). There then followed a Benedictine monastery a century later reinforcing the religious importance of the town.

The religious theme can be seen in the names of many properties, l’Eglise Clinet, La Dominique, l’Evangile, Prieuré, Angelus, Saint Georges, etc. and the influence is clear in some cellars, such as Croix Canon recently brought to life by Chanel.

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

A religious experience in the cellars of Croix Canon

Chanel purchased first growth Chateau Canon in 1996, two years after their purchase of Chateau Rauzan Segla 2nd growth of Margaux, in 2011 they purchased the neighbouring classified growth, Chateau Matras. Wary of the influence of the INRA (the body governing wine appellations and classifications) and the effect it could have on their classification they were prepared not to include the new land into Chateau Canon. However they were given the right to include 1ha12 of old Cabernet Franc vines into Chateau Canon.  With the 2011 vintage they changed the name of Matras to Croix Canon, now the second wine of the property replacing Clos Canon. As these new hectares join the younger Canon plots to make the second wine Clos can no longer be used as the new plots are not within the (beautifully restored) walls that surround Chateau Canon.

The renovated walls around the vines of chateau Canon that gave the name to Clos Canon

The renovated walls around the vines of chateau Canon that gave the name to Clos Canon

Chanel know about renovation, having already renovated the cellar, underground caves and walls of Canon they are now working on the Chateau itself – more of which next year.  The cellars of Matras were within a badly run down 12 century chapel, now renovated to more than its former beauty to showcase the vat room and barrel cellar surrounded by a gallery, complete with pulpit. The tasting room has a spectacular stain glass window with a camellia at its heart as a subtle reference to Coco Chanel. They have even rebuilt the bell tower and if you have a head for heights, you can climb the wooden ladder to the top to see views across the vines and admire the new bell made by the foundry that made the bells for Notre Dame de Paris.

The stunned glass window designed by director John Kolasa

The stained glass window designed by director John Kolasa

Talking of bells, the Croix Canon cellar is just next door to Chateau Angelus. Angelus made the headlines with the 2012 classification, being one of two properties along with Chateau Pavie to break the glass ceiling of the A classification taking the total from 2, at which it had remained since its inception in 1954, to the grand total of 4. To celebrate, their 2012 vintage will be sold in bottles embossed with a golden label.

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

The new 2012 and the classic Angelus labels

The property has also just opened its brand new cellars. The wine making and ageing cellars themselves have not changed that much but the building including the bell tower has. The new entrance hall is a spectacular wood and stone renaissance structure topped with the bell tower, which will peal out your national anthem for you as you pass through the portals.

The new entrance at Chateau Angelus with bells on!

The new entrance at Chateau Angelus with bells on!          Photo Manfred Wagner

The renovations however are more than just a PR opportunity. They have enabled the integration of new wine making techniques, the signature of experimental co-owner and winemaker, de Bouard. In 1986 Angelus was the first property in St Emilion to use a sorting machine, and his La Fleur de Bouard, in neighbouring Lalande de Pomerol, has a spectacular cellar of suspended inverted vats that could be considered a testing ground for these techniques.

The new inverted vats at Angelus Photo Manfred Wagner

The new inverted vats at Angelus
Photo Manfred Wagner

He has introduced two of these vats, one in oak and another in stainless, into the new cellars at Angelus alongside the classic cement, stainless and oak vats already in place. He has also reduced the temperature of the 1st year barrel cellar to 10°C enabling a more efficient precipitation of lees and a slower, longer 12 months aging on the lees. The lower temperature also reduces the inherent risk of brett and the use of sulphites and gives a more elegant uptake of oak allowing for a longer, 2 year aging in barrels.

If all this talk of new cellars has worked up an appetite, help is on hand. After Chateau Troplong Mondot and Chateau Candale. Chateau La Dominique, Saint Emilion cru Classé on the border of Pomerol, has also opened a restaurant.  Construction tycoon, Clement Fayat, owner of Chateau Pichon Clement in Haut Medoc, has commissioned a spectacular new cellar designed by French architect Jean Nouvel inspired by the work of British artist Anish Kapoor. The artist’s fascination for red is perfect for Saint Emilion. The red plastic surfaces on the curved walls of the winery reflect the vines and the sky. The building is topped by an enormous ‘Terrasse Rouge’ the floor of which is covered with red glass pebbles, designed to look like the top of an open fermenting vat full of grapes.  Here you can sit admiring the view over neighbouring vineyards and watch the chefs busy at the grill, preparing your steak and other regional specialities.

La Terrasse Rouge

La Terrasse Rouge

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

Did you miss me?

The touring season has started again and it’s great to see so many wine enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, here visiting Bordeaux.  As my feet aren’t touching the ground neither is my pen touching the paper (or fingers the keyboard!)
I’m sure you’re missing me!

A new place to taste?

A new place to taste?

However whilst spending my days in and around the vineyards of Bordeaux I’m seeing more and more new things to share with you.

 

New vats

New vats

New cellars

New cellars

 

Very new cellars

Very new cellars

Old cellars

Old cellars

From technical innovations, beautiful new cellars, new places to eat, taste, and stay, new wines to try, new marketing initiatives to share and apps to play with.

Not so typical Bordeaux

Not so typical Bordeaux

 

New wine alongside old favorites

New wines alongside old favorites

Hang on I’ll be right with you!