Monthly Archives: January 2015

The spirit of Bordeaux

Most wine producing regions have a tradition of producing ‘brandy’, a spirit distilled from wine. Brandy is different from Marc, which most wine regions also produce, this is made from distilling the left-over pomace or solids after winemaking has finished. Brandy consequently tends to be a smoother product.

In Bordeaux most of the leftover solids or pomace from wine making are recovered by the government as a sort of compulsory taxation and are then distilled into industrial or pharmaceutical alcohol with some production of ethanol going for fuel. Pips are removed from which oil is extracted and other extracts include food colourings and antioxidants. Any remaining solids are either incorporated into cattle feed, composted for fertilizer or used for biomass energy production – nothing goes to waste!

Pomace destined for distillation.

Pomace destined for distillation.

The Dutch introduced distillation into Bordeaux in the 17th century. Distillation reduced the volume of liquid for cheaper and easier transportation and possibly also reducing tax that was levied on volume. This encouraged the planting of white grapes for their ‘brandewijn’ hence the name brandy. The neighbouring region of Cognac to the North of course overshadows any spirit production in Bordeaux. At the end of the 19th century distillers in Bordeaux could claim the name Cognac for their product but in the early 20th century they gave up this right preferring to be associated with Bordeaux creating in 1942 an ‘Eau-de-vie d’Aquitaine’

However since 1973 Bordeaux has enjoyed a ‘Brandy’ appellation, ‘fine de Bordeaux’. It was recently granted the IG (Indication Géographique) status. This is a white spirit distilled from wine uniquely vinified in the Bordeaux AOC region from white grapes. But not any white grapes; the blend must include at least 70% Ugni Blanc and Colombard, the remaining 30% can be made up of Merlot Blanc, Mauzac or Ondenc. About 300 ha of these grape varietals are currently planted, mainly in Northern Gironde in the Côtes de Blaye appellation, nearest to the neighbouring Cognac region. As a reminder the surface area of the Bordeaux vineyard is currently about 113000ha of which 11% is under white grapes.

It is here, in the Côtes de Blaye, that the only distillery currently licenced to produce Fine Bordeaux is situated; Les Distilleries Vinicoles du Blayais in Marcillac was built in 1936, the same year that the AOC was created). They currently produce only about 50 000 bottles, most of which is exported to the EU.

The distillation process is the ‘méthode charentaise’ a double distillation in copper pots and Fine de Bordeaux must age for at least one year in oak barrels. This gives an amber colour and a fruity and mellow honey aroma.

Fine Bordeaux was very popular in the 1970’s but declined in the 1980s and had almost disappeared until recently. It is now enjoying a revival thanks mainly to an Englishman in Bordeaux, Simon Thompson.  Having spent time in Cognac, he has developed an affinity for the local spirits and he created his company in 2010 producing a range of spirits that includes four Fines de Bordeaux; a 25 year old, a 30 year old and two vintage Fines a 1979 and a 1986. He also offers a single distilled, barrel aged brandy blended with some Fine de Bordeaux and a vodka.

The Thompson's Spirit range.

The Thompson’s Spirit range.

Surprised by the vodka? You shouldn’t be. The highly successful Grey Goose Vodka brand is blended just up the road in Cognac.  The difference here however is that the Thompson vodka is distilled from wine rather than wheat, as you would expect in Bordeaux. He is also working on a ‘Bordelais gin’. The Bordeaux British link is still alive and well.

Bordeaux – a party wine?

The festive season is behind us and you may be all partied out. Normally everyone is thinking about a detox, dry January right now but perhaps we could party just a little longer.

Bordeaux isn’t always thought of as a party wine. It can suffer from a rather serious image for many reasons; history, a reputation for high prices and grandeur and after all Bordeaux is an important business, worth over 4.2 billion euros per year (2012-13 figures) and employs 55 000 people in the region, directly or indirectly.

But if you think that this stuffy image is all there is to Bordeaux, perhaps you should think again. Bordeaux wines have been partying big time in 2014 and not just in Bordeaux, proof perhaps that they do not all take themselves that seriously after all.

Here are some of the Bordeaux parties held in 2014. On November the 13th at Industria Superstudio in NYC a Bordeaux Under One Roof party was held for 350 guests with over 200 different Bordeaux wines served. Same again a few days later in Los Angeles, when 200 guests celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the “Sister Cities International” Program, a reciprocal year-long celebration of Bordeaux & Los Angeles as artistic and cultural tourist destinations. Yes, it was about the wine but the hip venues and live music made it very much a party, despite starting with some wine tasting master classes to ensure the party animals knew what they were imbibing.

Bordeaux goes to Hollywood

Bordeaux goes to Hollywood

 

BordeauxLA

and New York

and New York

Bordeaux doesn’t have to travel to party. Along the 18th century facades of the city, 26-29th June saw the biggest ever edition of Bordeaux Fête Le Vin with LA as the guest of honour. Over 500 000 visitors came to the 2km waterfront to taste wine from the region and enjoy the evening light shows, discos and live concerts.

Bordeaux Fete le Vin

Bordeaux Fete le Vin

These parties have been so successful that they have been reproduced in Quebec, Belgium and Hong Kong. The 6th edition of Hong Kong “Wine & Dine” at the end of October saw 180 000 people attend over 4 days where the Bordeaux village dominated the event with 80 Bordelais travelling there to share the love.

Hong Wine and Dine

Hong Wine and Dine

 The Bar à Vin is party central all year round in Bordeaux. Open since 2006 on the ground floor of the CIVB, it served 93000 glasses of wine in 2013 and given the success and the queues to get in every evening I’m sure it will be more in 2014 when they finish the head count. It is also such a successful concept that 100% Bordeaux Wine bars are opening across the globe. In May 2012 the Burdigala Wine Bistro #1 opened in Shanghai’s Jing district. A second, Burdigala #2, opened in Shanghai In October 2014. The New York 100% Bar Bordeaux is in the heart of Manhattan in the Carlton Hotel between Madison and 29th Avenue. The CIVB plans to open ten Bordeaux-focused wine bars throughout the world on a franchise basis, including London, Berlin, Tokyo and Hong Kong – watch this space.

In the meantime London celebrated with Bordeauxlicious 2014, which included tastings and events such as ‘White Out’, an All-White dinner at Skylon, a Silent Disco at Old Bengal Bar and Le Bordeaux Speed Dating night. At Bluebird guests danced to one of three music mixes from DJ Will B, inspired by Bordeaux Red (big, classic, powerful, traditional), White (summertime, poppy, to be discovered) and Rosé (fun, light, full of character). As well as offering refreshment at Zoo Lates, the evening events at London Zoo held every Friday night in June and July where the Bordeaux Jardin Du Vin served a selection of Bordeaux wines.

Bordeaux partied throughout France too. ‘Afterwork’ events aimed at a younger generation of wine drinkers and Bordeaux apero evenings were held in Paris Lille, Lyon and Nantes as well as Belgium and Germany. Bordeaux wines were served by the glass to background music complimented by tasting workshops.

When you think of parties you think of bubbles, well Bordeaux has those too. In case you haven’t heard Bordeaux produces Crément de Bordeaux and the producers launched the party season in November with a Bordeaux Bubble party. It’s nothing new; in and around Saint Emilion they have been putting the limestone caves to good use producing sparkling wine since the 1800s but it is only since 1990 that there as been an Appellation Crément de Bordeaux Controllée. Both white and rosé Crément de Bordeaux are made from the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: about 60% sémillon with sauvignon for the white, and about 70% cabernet and 30% merlot for the rosé. Production is currently heading towards the better part of 3 million bottles, most of which are produced by specialists in the secondary fermentation in bottle. They produce either for their own labels or for châteaux that produce the still wine before handing it over to them for ‘la prise de mousse’.

Bordeaux Bubble Party

Bordeaux Bubble Party

There will be more of the same in 2015, check out the Bordeaux Facebook pages and twitter feeds in your country and, if you can make it, end May sees the Weekend des Grands Crus in Bordeaux. This is the biggest Bordeaux tasting under one roof along with dinners and events in the chateaux throughout the region. This year of course, Vinexpo is in Bordeaux in June with all the associated parties.

So now you know what’s in store for 2015 – perhaps we should take it a little easy in January after all?