Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tesseron Cognac, a new approach to a classic.

The Tesseron name may be familiar as the name behind two leading Medoc vineyards; Chateau Pontet Canet, 5th Classified Growth of Pauillac, and Chateau Lafon Rochet, 4th Classified Growth in Saint Estephe. What you may not know is that the origins of the family’s interest in the wine business actually started in spirits, in neighbouring Cognac.

Abel Tesseron founded the family Cognac Company in 1905, with vines in both the Grande Champagne (Boneuil) and Petite Champagne (Saint-Surin) regions. It wasn’t until 1960 that his son, Guy Tesseron, diversified into wine purchasing Chateau Lafon Rochet and then Château Pontet Canet in 1975. Château Pontet Canet is now run by Guy’s son and his grand-children: the fourth generation is now carrying on the family tradition.

The Tesseron Cognac Vines

The Tesseron Cognac Vines

They have not forgotten their Cognac origins. For three generations their precious Cognac reserves have been hidden away, unknown except to a few Cognac negociants who would buy them to complement their blends.

Some of the Tesseron Cognac reserves

Some of the Tesseron Cognac reserves

Alfred is no stranger to innovation; he has transformed Château Pontet Canet into a biodynamic vineyard with innovative wine making and ageing, bringing it to a position where it hits way above it’s official status in the 1855 classification as a 5th growth.

Unsurprisingly he has innovated in Cognac too: ten years ago Alfred decided to stop selling their historic spirits to Cognac blenders and to sell them under the Tesseron name as ‘Lots’; blends from their best reserve spirits.

Cognac is just North of the Medoc, and there are many parallels between what they do in Bordeaux and in Cognac, first the notion of blend. At Pontet Canet the grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are blended after fermentation to recreate the final wine for each vintage. In Cognac they use the traditional Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche et Colombard varietals, bucking the trend away from Folle Blanche and Colombard due to their fragility and keeping them for complexity. The notion of blend in Cognac goes further than wine. Not only are they looking at different grape varieties but after distillation and ageing the different spirits are also blended.

The Tesseron stills

The Tesseron stills

But we missed a stage between these blending operations – distillation. The white wines from the grapes are double distilled in small coal heated copper stills (alambiques). These spirits are then aged in ancient oak barrels « Tierçons » for 3 generations (a generation meaning between 20 to 30 years) before being decanted into Bonbonnes; beautiful 20 to 30 litres ‘Dame-Jeanne’ bottles that are then stored in ‘Paradis’, an appropriate name as it is a 12th century crypt that previously belonged to monks.

The Dames Jeanne in the crypt

The Dames Jeanne in the crypt

In Cognac you may not sell spirits as a vintage, a specific year, unless they are 100% from this one vintage and kept in secure conditions that ensures this, protecting against fraud. In Alfred’s opinion this brings no added value, on the contrary, blends from different vintages allow for an increased complexity, especially in the hands of expert blenders. He has decided to sell his spirits as Lots. The first Cognac marketed under the Tesseron name was Lot 90; a blend of Cognacs from 10 to15 years old, this was followed by Lot 76 a blend of one generation, i.e. from 20 to 30 years, then Lot 53 from two generations, and finally Lot 29 from three generations. Their Royal Blend is a blend between the Lot 29 and Lot 53.

The beautiful hand blown bottle for Lot 53.

The beautiful hand blown bottle for Lot 53.

When Cognacs have aged for about 50 years in oak they start to show a very specific nose; buttery aromas of ‘rancio’ (a nutty characteristic associated with old port and sherry wines as well as aged Cognacs). It is at this time the spirits are transferred from barrels to the traditional glass ‘Dame Jeanne’.

Tesseron Extreme

Tesseron Extreme

These beautiful old bottles inspired the creation of the blend l’Extrème with spirits of 80 years old bottled in miniature copies of the traditional bonbonnes.

Melanie Tesseron, one of the Forth Tesseron generation

Melanie Tesseron, one of the fourth Tesseron generation

The innovation doesn’t just stop with the blending, labelling and packaging. This may be a traditional family company with a historic product but that doesn’t mean it only appeals to a traditional clientele. Alfred has dynamic young children and nieces on his team, illustrating that Cognac is no longer uniquely an old man’s drink. This new generation is the perfect face to front this new approach to a very traditional product.

Chateau Coutet Saint Emilion Grand Cru – An environmental history.

 

Chateau Coutet is right at the heart of the historical centre of Saint Emilion, part of the classification from 1955-85, it is surrounded by other classified growths on the south and south-westerly facing limestone slopes and plateau of the appellation.

Château Coutet at the heart of Saint Emilion

Château Coutet at the heart of Saint Emilion

An historical vineyard in so many ways, the preservation of the natural environment that this history has allowed is what earned the property its Great Wine Capitals award for sustainability.

Chateau Coutet has been a family run property since the 14th century and after 400 years of ownership by the David Beaulieu family, four generations now live at the vineyard.

The property has always been organic. It may have been certified organic in 2012 but they have never used herbicides, pesticides or insecticides at the property. The result is that, as well as quality in the vineyards, there is a unique flora and fauna with rare wild tulips (Tulipa Radii Roman and Tulipa Sylvestri) alongside spring orchids and gladioli.
Whatever time of year you visit the property, the family will be happy to share this unique flora with you. Maintaining this biodiversity is one of their priorities, thanks to old oak groves amongst the vines.

The flora amongst the vines of Château Coutet

The wild tulips amongst the vines of Château Coutet

It’s not just flora; the woods and ponds are home to rare tritons, salamanders and fresh water prawns, all of which you may be lucky enough to see as part of the tour when you visit as well as ducks, geese and a rather possessive gander.

Saint Emilion is known for its history and was classified a UNESCO heritage site in 1999, some of the reasons for this can be found at Chateau Coutet.

At the heart of Saint Emilion limestone slopes

On the Saint Emilion limestone slopes

Hidden in the woods at the heart of the estate is a unique Archaeological site: a vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period (5th-8th century). Built over the spring and under a 17th tower, it was discovered 9 years ago, when flooding over the vines and the memories of a grandmother lead to the discovery of the old silted up retention and drainage ditches. It took volunteers four years to clear the area.

The hidden spring

The hidden spring

Close by, crossing the 16ha vineyard, is a Gallo roman road leading from Dordogne waterfront to the town of Saint Emilion; it is still used by walkers and joggers today.

There is more recent history; the chateau has a chapel dating from 1840 consecrated by an envoy of the Pope in 1892.

This history goes deep into the vineyard too, including the varietals. 60% of the vineyard is planted in Merlot most of which is the historical and rare Merlot à queue rouge (red stemmed merlot) maintained thanks to massal selection within the vineyard. Complemented by cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon there is also, more unusually, 7 % of Pressac (the local Malbec). Horses are used to plough the most delicate plots.

Horses plough between the vines

Horses plough between the vines

This long and fascinating history is reflected in the launch of a new cuvee this year, inspired by finding of a bottle of 1750 Château Coutet buried under the mud floor of the cellar under the chateau. The unique bottle was sealed by a glass emery stopper in the shape of a heart – leading to lots of romantic speculation on its origin.

Adrien David was so inspired by the find that he decided to re-edit this bottle thanks to the work of a craftsman 100 miles away, who made wooden moulds of the original bottle. The first wine to be bottled in this unique bottle will be the 2014 vintage. Previously there has only been one wine produced at the vineyard, no second wine, so this cuvee is something new for them; a small production of only 200 bottles, selected from plots of 90 and 70 year old vines, worked using horses rather than tractors and using historical techniques of wooden fermentation vats, selecting by hand, crushing by foot,

The original bottle and wine press in the cellars of Château Coutet

The original bottle and wine press in the cellars of Château Coutet

But they are not just looking to the past; on the contrary they are making this unique chemical free environment available for research, including solar powered weed control. They have made the land available to the agronomy school of Bordeaux that is studying its micro bacteriology.

From horses to solar powered robots, it’s a true marriage of the old and the new.

So if this inspires you to visit, either for the history, the unique biodiversity, or of course the wine, you’re in luck. They are open to the public all year round and have been since 2013. The family offers two visits including one for the fitter and more adventurous guests that covers a walk not just through the vineyards but also the woods including the fauna, flora and the history. Of course, there is a well deserved tasting at the end of the hike.

Come and taste.

Come and taste.

The original of this blog post was featured of the Great Wine Capitals Blog.

 

More Indian Ocean Cusine

I thought a dip in Indian ocean would be a nice way to start 2017! I have already written about the cuisine of Mauritius and more recently. As an island, it is the perfect place to discover fish and seafood, its situation on the spice routes and the rainbow nation with Asian, Indian, South African, European and even Australian influences all add to the diversity of the cuisine here.

Willibald Reinbacher, (Willi to his friends), has been the chef at the Shanti Maurice Hotel since 2010 at about the time we discovered the Ayurveda Spa there. Originally from Austria and now married to a Mauritian, he has made the island his home.

Breakfast at the Shanti Spa

Breakfast at the Shanti Spa

I was already impressed by the way he incorporated the Ayurveda theme of healthy eating into his cuisine, using local ingredients and Indian spices to create dishes that you would never guess were part of a healthy eating programme. He has been sharing this cuisine not only in the restaurants of the hotel but also taking guests to the local markets and inviting them into the hotel herb garden and kitchen.

His skills and familiarity with the regional culture and cuisine, not just of Mauritius but also across the islands of the Indian Ocean, have increased his repertoire. So much so that he has curated his favourite recipes from across the Indian Ocean into a new book: Aquacasia.

Aquacasia, an exploration of Indian Ocean cuisine.

Aquacasia, an exploration of Indian Ocean cuisine.

The ocean theme is at its heart, hence the name. The spectacular photos, especially the underwater ones, are an inspiration. The warm Indian Ocean is teaming with fish, each island having a different variation on the same recipes for their local species. Given that you may have over indulged during the festive season, the recipes based on seafood are healthy. Langoustines with Vanilla and Prawns on Sugarcane Skewers are a couple of my favourites.

A dip in the Indian ocean or in the pages of the book?

A dip in the Indian Ocean or into the pages of the book?

It’s not only seafood though; the wonderful chapter on spices is a showcase for all the Asian influence so present on the island and given that Mauritius is tropical the local fruits and of course Rums are also featured in the desserts chapter.

It is at once a recipe book with easy to follow recipes, a coffee table book with beautiful photos and either an invitation to visit Mauritius or, if you have been lucky enough to visit, a souvenir of your stay.

He doesn’t reveal the secret to his amazing Rum Baba though; you’ll just have to join me at The Shanti for that!

Bon Appétit!

Bon Appétit!