Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sauternes No 5

Chanel might own two vineyards in Bordeaux, Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Château Canon in Saint Emilion, but it is in Sauternes that you can find a wine called No 5. Those following me will know that Sauternes was my first love in Bordeaux – in so many ways. These Sweet Bordeaux wines may have an international reputation for excellence but that doesn’t mean they are always an easy sell. Why not? One reason is an image of being wines reserved for ‘special occasions’, as being expensive, and of not knowing exactly when and with what to serve them. Producers are trying very hard to make this easier for consumers.

No 5 from Château Sigalas Rabaud

No 5 from Château Sigalas Rabaud

I’ve written about Laure de Lambert before, since taking over the family vineyard Château Sigalas Rabaud just over ten years ago, she has become a poster child for innovation in the appellation, it would see she is gaining momentum!
When she took over the property in 2006 this First growth of the 1855 Classification produced two wines, the ‘Grand vin’ Château Sigalas Rabaud and a second wine ‘Le Lieutenant de Sigalas’ AOC Sauternes – so far so classic.

On trend, she then introduced a dry white wine Le Demoiselle de Sigalas, a Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc blend, since the terroir of Sauternes has become renowned for the quality of its dry whites. La Semillante was introduced to the range in 2013, having the unique signature of 100% dry Semillon and, although a small production, has already gained a reputation for its elegance.

Behind the scenes, Laure continued to experiment with sweet white production, looking to perfect the quality, year on year, but also to respond to a demand for an ‘easier drinking’ sweet Bordeaux.

The question she asked herself was how to make a ‘natural sweet wine’. Natural? To ensure the right balance between alcohol and sweetness wine makers typically introduce sulphur to arrest fermentation when they feel enough natural sugar in the must has been transformed through fermentation into alcohol, leaving the residual sugar that gives the characteristic botrytised sweetness to the wines. The use of sulphur also protects the wine against oxidation and ensures that there is no refermentation of the residual sugar.

A natural wine (i.e. without sulphur) means this fermentation will stop naturally, when it find its own equilibrium rather than being dictated by the wine maker. This means that the selection of a precise ripeness (sugar levels) of the berries is all-important. The wine still requires protection against oxygen to preserve the elegant fruit and flower aromas from the berries and the fresh acidity, which is such a perfect foil for the sweetness, but without the use of sulphur.

To pull this off, vigilance is needed from grape picking, during fermentation and right up to the point of bottling. Investment in cooling equipment insures this signature freshness is preserved and it is reinforced by a very slight sparkle. It’s taken Laure and her team a lot of time, trials and errors, and a lot of friends over for tastings, to create a wine they are happy with. The 2016 vintage sees the launch of the fifth wine produced by the family, what better name than No 5, especially as I find that Laure has more than a passing resemblance to Audrey Tatou in the film Coco.

At 12.5% alcohol it is below the level of a classic Sauternes and with just 60g of residual sugar per litre (about half the sugar levels of the grand vin) it is labelled under the Bordeaux Supérieur Appellation rather than Sauternes: light, bright, sweet and affordable. The perfect tipple for happy hour.



The Art of Bitter.

As research for my upcoming book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’, I’ve just finished reading Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavour’ by Jennifer McLagan.

I’m loving the research; one book or article leads to another and it gets more and more fascinating. Bitterness is interesting; the role it plays in stimulating the liver and helping digestion as well as adding complexity to the palate in food and in drink. Despite what my instagram feed might lead you to believe my exploration of bitterness is not limited just to tasting different aperitifs.

Bitter by Jennifer McLagan

Bitter by Jennifer McLagan

The book is amazing in several ways; first the intriguing subject matter, second the photos and, last but not least, the recipes. But it’s more than a recipe book. McLagan also talks about the history of taste and how the basic tongue model that I taught years ago for 4 basic tastes (sweet, acid, salty and bitter) is now out-dated, although she does agree that bitterness still hits us at the back of throat.

With her charming understated humour and personal anecdotes, the book is full of little nuggets of information such as how the herb rocket was considered an aphrodisiac and how children have more taste buds and are more sensitive to bitter as even a small amount of bitter poison can harm. She bemoans the fact that commercially grown fruit and veg aren’t as bitter as they used to be (yellow grapefruit for example). She also warns us not be too masochistic, bitterness can still be poison in excess.

Bitter chocolate one of the mouth watering photos from the book.

Bitter chocolate one of the mouth watering photos from the book.

As well as the history and philosophy of taste she looks at different ingredients and offers some really cool, often surprising recipes, tobacco panna cota anyone?

Of particular interest for wine tasters, she looks at different types of bitterness and how the boundary between bitter and harsh can be tricky – is it a taste or a sensation? Interesting for an analysis of tannins too. For those of us who struggle to interpret elusive aromas in wines: she shares the reassuring fact that the area in our brain where odour is detected is not well connected to our verbal centre – so now you know.

I’m not really a beer drinker, more of a wine and gin sipper, but amongst the bitter drinks she includes in her round up, she claims that a glass of bitter lager has more anti oxidants than in a glass of red wine or a cup of green tea and she extols the anti bacterial properties of hops. So when a new ‘bitter’ arrived on my desk it caught my attention, a chance to broaden my horizons, specially accompanied by the tag line ‘The Art of Lager’, as McLagan also mentions the importance of visual in tasting.

Lager and art? Well brewing like winemaking can be considered an art, but Paolozzi Lager is named after Eduardo Paolozzi, a Scottish artist from Italian parents, hence the rather un Scottish name. He believed in ‘Sublime in the Everyday’ creating art from the ordinary and is regarded by many as the ‘Father of Pop Art’.

A monumental drink

A monumental drink

Brewed by Scottish, English and Canadians at the family-owned Edinburgh Beer Factory, the lager is now being launched in London for the opening of the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition for the artist. Paolozzi is better known in London than in his hometown of Edinburgh. His massive artworks are to be found in the Tottenham Court Road Underground, the British Library, the new Design Museum in Kensington, Euston station, Pimlico station, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Kew Gardens, as well as smaller artworks at The Ivy and Le Caprice restaurants. I hope they serve the lager there too, would be fun to sip it and look at his work.


The brewers claim the lager is not too bitter, but it is bitter enough for me to be perfectly refreshing. Perhaps I’m one of the ‘supertasters’ McLagan mentions – more research needs to be done!

Sipping the beer may not be speeding up my reading but I’m so taken with Mclagen’s writing I’ve just ordered her previous book ‘Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient‘ – another descriptor that we see in wine. Goodness knows when my book will get finished at this rate – delaying tactics or just an inquisitive mind?