Monthly Archives: February 2018

We heart Bordeaux.

I’ve already praised Bordeaux as the perfect romantic venue: the scenery, the chateaux, the wine, the food, and the waterways, all grounded in history, leave you spoilt for choice.

As the boom in wine tourism sees more properties opening their doors to visitors, these special spots are now accessible, whether for a tête à tête dinner, a romantic weekend or the perfect spot to pop the question.

As you explore the winding roads through the vines you will come across chateaux, views and villages that will inspire. Here are a few suggestions to make your next Bordeaux wine tour the height of romance.

UNESCO Heritage site, Saint Emilion, has to be one of the most romantic settings in the region; the perfectly preserved medieval village with its tiny lanes and many restaurants is perfect for hand-in-hand strolls. Famed for its red wines, you might not know they also make a sparkling wine here – Cremant de Bordeaux. Every romantic evening needs a little sparkle. Tucked away down a back street discover a hidden gem: the old cloisters of the Cordeliers. The wines are aged in the underground caves here and you can taste the results at a table for two under the tumbled-down old arches in the secluded gardens.

View from the steeple of Saint Emilion

A stone’s throw from Saint Emilion is the small, prestigious appellation of Pomerol. The 18th century Château Beauregard here has a classified garden full of mature trees that can be viewed from the terrace over looking a small lily filled moat. The private salons and dining room are at once elegant and intimate as are the newly renovated bedrooms

The Château Beauregard lilies

Should you wish to whisk your true love away in style why not in the Rolls Royce from Château Prieuré Marquet? They can pick you up and tour you around the vineyards before returning to this elegant chateau to the North of Bordeaux. Once there you can relax in the heated pool and enjoy the spa.

Spring at Château Soutard – Photo TOM FLECHT

Or wow with the ‘French Chateau’ factor, grander properties with gorgeous guest rooms include Chateau Soutard or further afield, the more intimate Chateau la Pape offers 5 beautiful rooms, also in the Graves. One of the rooms under the eves would be the perfect choice for a romantic stay.

Chateau Le Pape,

Setting the scene is important for a successful romantic venue, views over vineyards are usually pretty cool, even more so when there is a backdrop of a great river. The terrace of the magnificent 16th century Château La Rivière in Fronsac over looks the Dordogne. The romantic renaissance architecture offers more than a view, with secluded areas in the garden including a fountain as well as guest rooms for the night.

Château La Riviere

Across the Entre Deux Mers, Château Biac enjoys vertiginous views over the Gironde heading south towards Toulouse. You can even stay in one of their guest cottages to complete your romantic evening.

The view across the Garonne from Château Biac

Dine on the water by joining a Bordeaux River Cruise along the Gironde, Dordogne or Garonne, watching the vines slide by as you enjoy cocktails, a wine tasting or dinner. You could even venture as far as the coast. Less than hour from Bordeaux, at Pyla is Europe’s largest sand dune. The hotel and restaurant La Corniche is perched right at the top with views over the Arcachon Basin. Taste the oysters, fresh from the ocean, with a dry white Bordeaux – we all know the reputation of oysters.

Cruise Bordeaux

Driving back inland stop in the Medoc. Le Château du Tertre in Margaux has beautiful guest rooms. The Orangerie by the pool there has to be one of the most romantic dinning venues in the Medoc.

The orangerie at Château du Tertre

What wine to serve on Saint Valentine’s? Château Calon Segur has the perfect label for the occasion. The Marquis de Segur created the label for this wine in the 18th century. it remains the same to this day. Despite owning the more prestigious Chateau Latour and Chateau Lafite at the time, he said his heart lay with Calon Segur and drew a heart around the name just to prove it.

I hope your Bordeaux romance lasts just as long. Happy Saint Valentine’s day.

A version of this post previously appeared on the Great Wine Capitals blog 

 

Medoc Classifications – Revolution or evolution?

If you follow this blog you’ll know that, despite its long history, nothing in Bordeaux stands still for very long. This includes the classifications.

Sometimes it takes a look back over your shoulder to move forward. You could say this is the case for the current changes in the Medoc Classifications. I’m not talking 1855 – there is life in the Medoc outside of these famous 60 chateaux!

The Cru Bourgeois classification dates back to the 1930s. By this time, the 1855 classification was established as a benchmark for Bordeaux quality. At its creation, it was a ‘snapshot’ of the wine hierarchy, fixed in time on the request from Napoleon III for the Paris Universal Exhibition held that year in Paris. Up to this time, the hierarchy was constantly evolving with Cru Bourgeois jostling for position amongst the top vineyards.

Once this (almost) unchanging system was locked down, the 400 odd properties waiting to see if it would evolve further and include them were left frustrated. By the 1930s they decided to create their own Cru Bourgeois Classification.

It would be unfair to reduce the Cru Bourgeois classification to one for also-rans. The term Cru Bourgeois was used way before the 1855 Classification, honouring the origin of many Medoc vineyards established thanks to people of the ‘bourg’ or town of Bordeaux – many of them acting as wine merchants.

Flash code stickers on the neck of the Cru Bourgeois bottles

At its creation there were three levels of quality: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Superieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. Over the years the Cru Bourgeois notion became diluted: being used by other appellations outside of the Medoc, with chateaux changing hands and also being used as a second wine of a classified growth in some cases. By the 1990s, the French authorities asked the classification to get its house in order with a tighter set of rules and regulations. When the Classification was modernised, first in 2003 (over ruled by the courts on concerns about the impartiality of the jury) and finally in 2007, judging criteria included quality, of course, but also vineyard and cellar inspections.

The three tier hierarchy was abolished and properties were either in or out: Cru Bourgeois or not. This continues to be the case. For the moment. Currently, every vineyard has to reapply for the classification with each vintage. With no Saint Juliens currently in the last, September 2017, classification, it included 271 properties from across seven of the eight Medoc appellations. You can see the classification here.

 

The signature for the 2015 vintage Cru Bourgeois Classification

This annual reassessment was one of the reasons the hierarchy was not reintroduced. It was complicated enough to establish the current system.

There is no denying that in a group of almost 300 properties, there will be a variation in quality. Some vineyards have elected not to be part of the classification due to this variation – how can they differentiate themselves in such a large group?

The French public authorities have just approved the process that will allow a return to the historical three-tier hierarchy, which should appear on wine labels as of the 2018 vintage, which will be on the market in 2020.

Over these next five years, this classification will be assessed on the quality of wines judged by a blind tasting of several vintages by a supervised independent jury but will also include respect for the environment by the vineyards, inspections carried out at the properties throughout the classification period, traceability and the authentication of each bottle.

Chateau Lilian Ladouys, Cru Bourgeois de Saint Estèphe and winner of La Coupe des Crus Bourgeois could be up for a promotion?

This three tier classification should be published in 2020 and good for the five years until 2025.

The other historic classification in the Medoc that is on the move is Les Crus Artisans. You may be even less familiar with classification; there are fewer properties involved and they tend to be smaller (between 1 and 5 ha) so not always easy to find on export markets. Artisan means craftsman, and despite this being a historical term used as early as 1868 in the Cocks and Féret, “Bordeaux and Its Wines” the first official Cru Artisan classification dates from 2006.

Unlike the 1855 and the Cru Bourgeois classification, The Cru Artisans, were created with the objective of a regular over haul. 44 properties were classified in 2006 with a planned reclassification every 10 years. They are not exactly on schedule; the new classification will be announced this year.

An artisan winemaker is defined as a producer who is responsible for the entire production process: vineyard work, vinification, aging of the wine, bottling, packaging, and sales. Behind every Cru Artisan there is an owner who is fully involved in the vineyard, in the cellars, and in the salesroom. Currently the classification includes 36 vineyards as since 2006 some owners have retired and others been bought up by larger neighbours.

The announcement of these updates has been met with some cynicism and derision by some commentators in export markets, saying that consumers neither understand nor care about these classifications.

But what about is if this is not only about the consumer? Perhaps the relevance of these classifications needs to be seen through the eyes of the producers. An annual, five-year or even ten-year assessment is an extra incentive for producers to keep their eye on the quality ball. Of course, a producer should always be trying to make the best wine they can, given the vintage conditions, but having an extra motivation of being able to measure themselves against their neighbours in an impartial classification is an impetus to go the extra mile. Never underestimate peer pressure.

Bordeaux bashers assume that all Bordeaux properties are big, financially sound institutions. Well not at this level. These wines are in a very competitive market segment. The classification on the label may mean little or nothing to many consumers, but belonging to a group that runs tastings, invites journalists and other influencers to taste and discover the wines allows these smaller family properties a shop window and that they could not obtain if they were doing it alone. You can’t be in the vineyard, the wine cellar and the market place all at once. Belonging to an association that is flying your flag alongside your peers is a cost effective way for small vineyards to make a name for themselves in a busy market place. All the more so if there is an entry barrier of quality rather than just a membership fee.

The disappearance of many of the Cru Artisans since 2006 underlines the problems that these small, family-run properties are facing, even in some of Bordeaux’s more prestigious appellations. These classifications can have a role to play in helping to keep these small producers in business, raising awareness of their very existence to the trade and consumers alike.

Keep a look out for them.