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 32 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.

How to survive a Wine Tour.

It’s that time of the year again, when the words detox and dry January are popping up more than champagne corks. It’s also when people plan travel for the year ahead and, judging by my inbox, wine tours are on a lot of to-do lists for 2018.

I have already offered advice on how to organise your wine visit to Bordeaux but, given the current concern for our health, it seems appropriate to include a few tips on how our livers and waistlines can survive a week of wine tastings and wine dinners.

The ideas below are taken from my book, The Drinking Woman’s Diet – A liver- friendly lifestyle guide, to be published next month. It is based on my bitter-sweet experience of living and working in the wine and food industry in France for over 20 years.

– Eat breakfast. You might not feel like it after a big wine dinner the night before but a full stomach will slow down the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream: take the eggs and have some yoghurt for those probiotics.

Breakfast – an important start to the wine tour day

– Drink a glass of water before each tasting and before eating. I always keep a stock of bottles with me when touring. Match a glass of wine with a glass of water.

Keep the water to hand

– If your hotel is amongst the vines start the day with a walk through the vines. If you’re staying in Bordeaux, walk along the banks of the Garonne, enjoy some fresh air and work up an appetite for breakfast – see above.

– Take your supplements. Alcohol can be as challenging for your gut flora as for your liver so take some probiotics alongside your milk thistle this may help. Another supplement is Glutathione, known by wine makers for preserving the freshness of white wines – it appears to help preserve the liver too. The science is out as to whether the body can process Glutathione directly; the theory is the body can break down Milk Thistle into Glutathione. I take both if it’s a busy week – better safe than sorry.

– Don’t wear white, you’ll be spitting and red wine stains. Even experienced wine tasters don’t always have great aim. Don’t be shy about it. It’s not considered rude to the wine maker if you don’t drain each glass. They’ll be spitting.

Barrel samples can stain

– And on the subject of stains, teeth can take a pounding, especially when tasting barrel samples. Many people swear by bicarbonate of soda mixed in with toothpaste. Oil pulling with coconut oil or sesame oil is an ancient Ayurveda practise to keep the mouth and gums healthy – takes a bit of getting used to but I find it helps with tannin build-up on my teeth. A glass of champagne at the end of the day is also very effective and much more delicious.

I find a glass of champagne at the end of the day works wonders

– Don’t eat the bread. Trickier than it sounds when you sit down to lunch, starving after a morning of tasting, It may seems impossible to resist the basket of delicious fresh French bread the waiter has just put on the table – but resist you must, if not you’ll never make it through lunch or be too full for the delicious dessert.

I don’t always follow my own advice!

– Clients often comment on the lack of vegetables on offer in French restaurants. The French do eat lots of vegetables. At home a French family meal will start with either salad (crudités) in the summer or soup in the winter. Vegetables will be served with the main course and salad offered with cheese, served before dessert.

Of course the French eat vegetables

Touring the farmers markets will show you the fresh and seasonal variety on offer. So why don’t we see them on more menus? Restaurants showcase ‘noble’ products such as foie-gras, dismissing veggies as homely, sometimes offering only one vegetable as an accompaniment; and it’s often potatoes (there’s a reason they’re known as French fries).

I always try to include ‘greens’ in pre organised menus but if there is no veg proposed with your chosen dish at a restaurant, ask for the potatoes to changed to the vegetable of the day, or some salad, they are usually happy to oblige.

I’ll have salad with that please

– Take a nap on the bus on the way home, I make it a rule not talk over the speaker system after the last tasting of the afternoon. I’ll wake you when we get there.

– Choose a healthy wine tour – yes really. In May I’m teaming up with yoga teacher Martine Bounet for a wine and yoga weekend. I’m always happy for guests to join me for a few morning sun salutations before the day’s tour starts.

Wine and Yoga atf Château Lamothe Bergeron

If all else fails and you haven’t been able to resist the bread and the fries, allow a couple of extra days at the end of your tour and book yourself into detox at the Source de Caudalie Wine spa. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year

Goodbye 2017, you’ve been great company and certainly kept me busy. My strapline states I’m Bordeaux based but open to persuasion. Well I was persuaded this year. I started the tour season with wine in the Rhone and ended with whisky in Scotland – quite a contrast!

It’s not only Bordeaux that blends –  whisky blending at Glenfiddich

The Rhone tour was mostly familiar territory, with a few new discoveries. The wines from the northern Rhone never fail to thrill and the scenery is so breathtaking.

The view over the Northern Rhone

The tour ended with a few days in Provence staying at the spectacular Villa Lacoste. For me, Château Lacoste is emblematic of the changes we are seeing in wine tourism. The wineries visited, the wines tasted and meeting wine makers remains of course at the heart of the experience, but there is now so much more to wine tourism than simply wine. Château Lacoste, with its spectacular art park and hospitality, is the perfect example of this trend towards a complete and high-end experience.

Breakfast at Villa Lacoste

The marriage of art and culture has inspired me for 2018. In the Spring, I’ll be joining forces with interior designer Abigail Hall on a Bordeaux Wine and Design tour exploring how wine has influenced the history of architecture and design in the city of Bordeaux and its chateaux.

It is now easier than ever to participate in a broader approach to wine tourism thanks to a new initiative known as Wine Paths. I’ve been working with their new web site recommending some of my favourite wine tour experiences. Their objective is to make it easier than ever to plan a complete international wine experience. They have partnered with leaders in wineries, hotels, restaurants and other wine led experiences from most major wine regions. France of course, but also across Europe and the world as far afield as South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. You can book with them directly though the site or hand your experience over to selected local specialists.

Filming with Bordeaux Tutors from the Wine School at the Cité du Vin.

Teaching is at the heart of what I do, at the Bordeaux wine school and around the world. As well my annual coast-to-coast tour of the US, sharing the wines of the Medoc with the American distribution trade, I taught in Hong King again this year and in Switzerland. In Hong Kong and Switzerland, the emphasis was on hotel schools. I love these classes, here is the future of wine service and it looks very promising indeed.

With students from the Culinary Institute in Hong Kong

Next year I’ll be involved in more virtual teaching. Around February my book, Bordeaux Bootcamp, will grow into an online experience thanks to The Napa Valley Wine Academy. They are creating an all-online, interactive course, perfect for anyone who wants to become more Bordeaux confident; I’m excited about reaching a broader audience than I can when I’m on the road. The course will be the perfect preparation for Bordeaux drinking but perhaps for a visit to Bordeaux too.

Bordeaux Bootcamp.

When I was in the USA I managed to finally visit the Fingers Lakes. Yet another region where the landscape is a beautiful as the wines – a theme in many wine regions. I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Karen McNeil. As the keynote speaker at the Women for Wine Sense conference her take on cool climate wines was right on trend. Again and again this year the notion of elegance and freshness seems to be on the lips of wine makers – and drinkers.

The Finger Lakes

Of course I spent some time in Bordeaux too, with many familiar faces coming back to Bordeaux for more. In my suggestions on how to tour, three days is an absolute minimum. This will only want to make you come back for more and include a visit to a lesserknown part of Bordeaux or to another winery. This year I’m looking forward to welcoming some guests back for their third visit – you just can’t get too much of a good thing.

Every year I say I’ll do a bit less but 2018 doesn’t look like it’ll be that year. Touring will start in Champagne this year and I’ll be heading to India – more for yoga than wine, although I have it on good authority that Indian wines are worth seeking out, so watch this blog for my impressions.

Wine and wellness is also a theme I’ll be exploring more throughout the year. After the success of wine and wellness events in 2017, where I met some amazing people, I’m keen to take this further. Winefulness is now officially a thing; meditation skills can increase your tasting skills. Don’t believe me? You can try it with me this spring when I’ll be working with yoga teacher Martine Bounet for a Wine and Yoga weekend where we’ll be visiting top wineries in our yoga kit. On a yoga workshop this year in Mauritius, I meet the inspirational Karine Kleb – who initiated me into the pleasures of a chocolate meditation that’s definitely going to be on the programme.

Yoga in the grounds of Château Lamothe Bergeron

Wine, chocolate, culture and yoga – what is there not to love? Health and Hedonism is going to be a much used hashtag in 2018, at least by me. My latest book, A Drinking Woman’s’ Diet, a liver-friendly lifestyle guide, is now with the publishers and should be available early next year – hopefully in time to give a helping hand to any flagging New Years’ resolutions.

Happy New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas gift ideas for the wine geeks in your world.

Now it’s December, I feel it’s safe to offer some Christmas gift ideas. It is perfect timing for the release of Château Margaux’s 2015 vintage. With its exceptional golden silk-screen print on the bottle instead of the classic label, it’s the perfect festive presentation. A bottle of Château Margaux will always be a superb present for a wine lover but this is the gift that keeps on giving. Even when the wine is drunk – probably not for another 10 years or so – you will want to keep this special bottle. It’s the first (and probably only) time that the chateau will produce such a bottle. This vintage is exceptional not only for the quality but also as it celebrates two hundred years of architecture with the inauguration of the new Norman Foster designed cellars. Perhaps most importantly, it was the last vintage of director Paul Pontallier. A well deserved homage.

Château Margaux 2015 unique bottle.

Château Mouton Rothschild edits a special label for every vintage, and has done since 1945, choosing a new artist for each vintage. This year’s release of the 2015 is no exception – the difference being that this is the first label to be signed by the new generation following the death of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild in 2014. The artist Gerhard Richter has created the piece of art for this year’s release, the original of which will now join the fascinating exhibition of all the original art behind the labels in the museum at the Chateau. The artwork is inspired around the notion of blend – a key of course to making fine Bordeaux.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2015 label.

Something to drink that from? Most regular imbibers have their favourite stemware but you might want to take a look at the new range Baccarat has created with Bruno Quenioux. Called Château Baccarat, the four glasses, sold as a ‘kit’, include a champagne flute, 2 wine glasses and a spirit glass. With the beautifully Baccarat presentation they make a great gift, although you’ll have to buy one for each member of the family or party if you all want to drink together. I do have a wine tour client that always brings his own selection of wine glasses with him when he tours – so that could work too!

The four glass set from Baccarat.

Baccarat also launched a new perfume this year to celebrate the 250 years of the Crystal house. Called Rouge 540 Baccarat and created by perfumier Francis Kurkdjian, it is unsurprisingly presented in a beautiful crystal bottle created by Georges Chevalier. It takes its name not from wine but as a reference to the emblematic packaging and the temperature needed to create the red colour in the crystal – very seasonal.

If classified Bordeaux for a top vintage or the crystal to sip it from aren’t quite in your Christmas gift budget, books about wine make excellent, and easier to ship, gifts for your favourite wine geek. Knowledge increases pleasure is my strapline after all.

No one wants to read a diet book during the festive season so I’ll come back to you in the New Year with details of my next book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’, but I do have a reading recommendation for you: Jane Anson, Contributing Editor and Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter Magazine, is the author of several books I have previously recommended including Bordeaux Legends and The Club of Nine. Her latest book, Wine Revolution, is a brave move away from her usual ‘terroir’ of the top classified growths of Bordeaux into the world of organic, biodynamic and other ‘natural’ wines. You would be mistaken for thinking that it is simply a manifesto for small is beautiful; it is a well-researched look at the natural wine movement from both big and small producers. There are some Bordeaux wines in there but it is an around the world wine trip (including a Welsh sparkling), illustrated by stunning vineyard photography. Some of these wines themselves would make excellent Christmas presents alongside the book.

Wine Revolution

Wine is not normally on children’s Christmas wish list but humour me for a shameless plug for my husband’s book, The Golden Dolphin. Written for our granddaughter, who plays a key role in the story of course, it harks back to a tale he made up about the Dolphin that graced the label of Château Guiraud when we owned it.

The hero of the Golden Dolphin

Instead of offering stuff why not offer a wine experience? Berry Brothers and Rudd is my go-to recommendation for wine events be they gourmet or education but of course I’m going to recommend offering a wine tour for 2018.

I’m involved with two wine tours in early 2018 organised by Decanter Tours that promise to be a little different to a classic tour. The ‘Wine and Design Tour‘ will see me with London interior Abigail Hall interior designer and author of Cushions and Crime, leading a small group around Bordeaux and it’s Chateaux. Abigail will be expounding upon the architectural and design styles of Bordeaux and I’ll be sharing the wines from the properties whose design and architecture both in the chateaux and the cellars we’ll be admiring.

The beautiful Bordeaux architecture explained

If by May your new year’s resolutions are still holding, join yoga teacher Martine Bounet and me for a wine and yoga weekend. Not as incompatible as it sounds – yoga classes held in beautiful chateaux will be followed by a tastings of the wines and you will learn how a little meditation could improve your tastings skills. If you fancy these themes – you can plan a tailor made trip along these lines for a group of friends. Any hen parties in your plans for 2018?

Wine and Yoga – on your wish list for 2018?

Can’t wait until next year? It’s still not too late to squeeze in a pre Christmas trip to Bordeaux. If you do, you can call in at Château Phelan Segur for their Christmas box – a Christmas themed cooking glass in the chateau followed by a tasting and lunch. Perfect to get you into the Bordeaux Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Clearly part of the family.

You’ll know if you follow this blog that I’m a fan of the Barton family: their wines, their philosophy and their history. Château Leoville Barton is usually the answer to the almost impossible to answer question of what my favourite Bordeaux wine is.

The wine heritage of the Barton family is now being handed over to the 8th generation. They have big boots to fill. I previously profiled the latest chapter in the family history where Melanie Barton is now running the show at the recently acquired Château Mauvesin Barton. Her brother Damien is also involved: as well as promoting the Barton family wines across the globe he has created his own range of wines: Initio, with his friend Benjamin Joyeux.

It’s a bold change in the family tradition. Not only are the wines not produced solely by the Bartons, they are not even all Bordeaux, but they are all made by independent wine makers that share a similar family tradition.

Initio Muscat

The range currently includes a Muscat from the Piquemal family in Roussillon, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Entre Deux Mers made by the Dubourg family (another family that have been in wine for 7 generations) and a rose from the Barton vineyards. A Gewürztraminer from Alsace is in the pipeline for early 2018.

Initio Sauvignon

Their motivation in creating this brand was to make wines that were transparently easy for consumers to understand – moving away from traditional wine labels. The grape varieties take centre stage and the whole package is about clarity from the white glass bottles with their glass stoppers to the fun stripy labels giving a nod toward the classic French ‘marnière’ T-shirt.

The Rose from the range

The range has the feel of a group of friends getting together, having fun making and then drinking their wines. And that is exactly what they want you to do.

The wines are currently available in the US, UK and French markets.

 

 

 

 

 

The Finger Lakes – at last.

On my social media strapline I say I’m “Bordeaux-based but open to persuasion”. So far this year I have been to the Rhone, Scotland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, England and across the US. So I’m easy to persuade. Wine regions aren’t always the destination. I’m often teaching rather than exploring but happily sometimes the two collide.

When I was in the US this summer I finally made it to the Finger Lakes and I fell for the charm and beauty of the region. I have been tantalisingly close before; teaching Bordeaux Master classes at the nearby Hospitality Faculty at Cornell, which left me frustrated by a lack of time to discover the vineyards, especially after tasting some of the wines with faculty members.

When you think of New York, wine making might not spring to mind. Wine drinking perhaps, but grape growing? There’s more to New York than New York City. Manhattan may have been the first place in New York State where Dutch immigrants planted grapes for wine in the 1600s, but they didn’t survive and New York wine country is now well established further north.

New York wine country prides itself as having a ‘new world attitude with an old world latitude’. It’s on more or less, the same latitude as Rioja and is the third largest wine-growing region in the US with over 400 wineries.

The history of wine-making here goes back 400 years but it has recently boomed. 35 years ago there were just 31 wineries but 133 have opened since 2011, wine production has increased by 50% since 1985 and tourist visits are up 85% since 2000 with over 5 million visitors each year.

There are five major wine regions: Lake Erie (AVA – American Viticultural area), The Niagara escarpment, (AVA), The Finger Lakes (AVA), Hudson River (AVA) and Long Island (AVA), and a total of 9 AVAs altogether.

It was the Women for Wine Sense organisation (WWS) who brought me here for their Grand Event in July. WWS is an association that brings together women in the wine trade (and quite a few men) with the original aim of encouraging reasonable alcohol consumption. They now offer educational programs, mentoring and networking opportunities to wine enthusiasts and industry professionals across the US.

I have presented Bordeaux wines to the California chapter of WWS over the last few years so it was great to finally meet members from all over the US. We were very generously hosted at wineries across the Finger Lakes, and judging by their hospitality I’m not surprised that visitor numbers are up.

Karen MacNeil explains the theory of cool at Ravine Winery

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit yet – here’s a bit of background. This is cool climate wine region, as Karen McNeil so clearly explained to us in her opening address. She sang the praises of the elegance of cool climate wines (including Bordeaux I might add) explaining how great wines often exist on ‘the edge’ and how their ‘slow dance towards ripeness’ bestows elegance. This was the perfect region to express this elegant and easy drinking approach to wine making.

A range of wines from Dr Konstantin Frank – one of the pioneers of the Finger Lakes.

The area is well known for its Rieslings and now its Sparkling wines, I also tasted some excellent Cabernet Francs, Pinot Noirs and other regional varieties such as Catawba, Niagara and the Cornell developed Cayuga (white) and Tramine.

A vertical if the Saperati variety rom the Standing Stone Winery

The region takes it’s name from 11 thin parallel lakes, the four main lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga and other smaller lakes: Conesus and Hemlock Owasco and Skaneateles formed as glaciers retreated leaving the impression of the fingers of a hand – thought by native Indians to be the hand of god.

The region counts for half of New York’s wineries producing about 175 Million bottles from over 9000 acres of vines. There is a concentration of wineries around the Southern half of lake Seneca, which has it’s own AVA.

The limestone escarpment falling down into lake seneca at the Standing Stone Vineyard

Steep hillsides run down to the water’s edge, and these large bodies of water have a temperate effect on the climate protecting the gravel, shale, schist, limestone and clay soils from the extremes of temperature up here. These diverse landscapes, soils and a large choice of varieties give a very wide range of wine styles: white, rosé, red, sweet and dry, still and sparkling.

I mentioned earlier grape varieties developed by Cornell and just as Bordeaux has the faculty of oenology as a centre of excellence in research into vine growing and wine making so the Finger Lakes has Cornell. This and the fact that the 126 wineries of the Finger Lakes work closely together in not only welcoming visitors to the region, but also technically, and in raising the profile of the region and its wines on the international wine scene.

The View across the lake from the Geneva on the Lake Hotel

Sadly I only skimmed the surface, but I recommend a visit. I would suggest staying in or near Geneva on the Lake – it’s a great base. The Geneva on the Lake Hotel has a gorgeous old world feeling with beautiful gardens, pool and view over the lake. If you want something more low-key the tiny New Vines winery has a guesthouse with B & B rooms.

The sculptural gates of Fox Run Winery

As to which wineries to visit, I only managed a few; Ravines with their Ravinous kitchen in a gorgeous old barn should be on your list. They promote farm to table eating sourcing local products and their relaxed down to earth hospitality and collaboration with other local producers is very much a signature of the region. The café and market at Fox Run vineyards has a similar atmosphere as well as an amazing sculpture at the entrance gate.

Vineyard with a view – Standing stone Vineyard

On the other side of the lake the views across the water at Standing Stones Vineyards as well as the range of wines are also worth a trip down the eastern side of the lake. If you have time, drive all around Lake Seneca and call in at the many tempting wineries on the lakeside route.

Tierce, an example of vineyards working together recommendation from the Microclimate wine bar.

Then call in at the Microclimate wine bar for an over view of the wines of the region. At this tiny bar on Linden Street, in the centre of Geneva on the Lake, the owner sommelier Stephanie will serve you Finger Lake wines alongside the same varieties from across the globe giving you a fascinating benchmark. The wines are served with more local cheeses and charcuterie or if you are fed up with wine (?) after a long day tasting – a refreshing local beer.

The sparkling wine from Konstantin Frank – possibly my favourite tipple of the weekend.

I’m planning a trip back so when you do go, please report back with your suggestions to add to my ‘must visit’ list.

 

Clairet. Claret. Clarette,

The Bordeaux invasion of London – continued

London has always been a Bordeaux friendly wine hub and the Bordelais love London back, always happy to come over and share their wines with Londoners. As early as 1666 Arnaud de Pontac, then owner of Château Haut Brion, sent his son to London to open The Pontac’s Head, a tavern where they served the Chateau wine. He created a trend amongst the smart 17th century London set for ‘The New French Claret’ as compared to the lighter Clairet and established the ‘Graves de Bordeaux’ as their go-to wine well before the Wines of the Medoc dominated the market. This was possibly the first example of direct wine marketing and the first French bar.

The trend continues; I reported on 110 of Taillevant when it opened and Château Latour have recently created a new club in the Four Season at Ten Trinity Square, London, with the wonderful Anne Sophie Pic’s ‘Dame de Pic’ restaurant that I have yet to try but I did recently test-drive another new London venue.

Clarette opened in Spring this year (2017), in a beautiful half timbered Marylebone townhouse, Clarette is the project of a young generation of wine lovers with deep Bordeaux roots: Alexandra Petit, of the Château Margaux family and restaurateur Natsuko Perromat du Marais (the Perromat family are from the Graves) are in partnership with Thibault Pontallier son of the much missed director of Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier.

Clarette by night

The building lends itself to an atmosphere of private dining upstairs with its different nooks and crannies, with an impressive wine display in the private dining room. The large communal table on the ground floor lends a more informal atmosphere. Wines by the glass are served with sharing plates in front of a fireplace. On warmer days the terrace is perfect for people watching.

The wine list is French focused, as you would expect, but not all the bottles are Bordeaux, or even French, with an eclectic by the glass selection starting from around £5.

If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux, Clarette will give you a perfect taster while you wait.

 

 

 

Moon Harbour – A Bordeaux Whisky

After an amazing week sampling some of the best drams Scotland has to offer, imagine my surprise to come back to Bordeaux to find a whisky made right here, on the banks of the Garonne.

The region is no stranger to spirits, Fine de Bordeaux is the local spirit, Cognac is only a 90-minute drive north of Bordeaux and Armagnac is not much further away to the south. You can also find locally produced vodkas and gins – but this is, as far as I’m aware, the first whisky from the city.

Moon Harbour was created in 2014 by Yves Medina and Jean-Philippe Ballanger with invaluable help from Scotsman John McDougall, a master blender and master distiller with experience with such famous names as Springbank, Laphroaig and Balvenie.

The name Moon Harbour comes from the port of Bordeaux, known locally as the Port de la Lune (Moon Harbour) thanks to the crescent moon shape of the river at the heart of the city. Three crescents can be found intertwined on the Bordeaux City coat of arms. It’s an appropriate name given the chosen location for this new distillery.

During the Second World War the Germans built an enormous submarine base feeding to the Garonne River. It is still here, at the heart of the old port of Bordeaux, which is currently undergoing a complete regeneration. You can get a great view of this rather sinister building from the tasting room at the top of the neighbouring Cité du Vin.

The original fuel depot during it’s construction

Hidden away behind the base is a fuel store, never used, as the allies put an end to German U-boat activity before it came into service. When Yves Medina and Jean-Philippe Ballanger were looking for somewhere cool (and cool) to age their whisky it seemed like the perfect place.

The inside of the depot – awaiting the new Moon Harbour casks

The new distillery is in a modern annexe built on the side of the bunker, saving the monumental tunnel shaped interior for ageing of the barrels of Bordeaux Whisky.

The corn (maize) and barley are sourced locally, South of Bordeaux in Saint Jean d’Illac from Antoine Schieber at the Domaine de l’Ombrière. A specialist then malts the barley before it arrives on site for fermentation. After fermentation the left-over cereals, or draff, go to fatten local cattle. Bordeaux water is notoriously hard, thanks to the preponderance of limestone in the subsoil, so the water is purified to soften it before fermentation.

The single distillation takes place in a new copper still, built in Bordeaux by Stupfler. The company has been building stills here since the 1920s, as I mentioned, spirits are no strangers to the region!

Yves Medina inspects some of the first drops of moon Harbour from the Bordeaux still

It is early days; the first drops of whisky are only just running off the new still. It will be three years and a day until any Bordeaux whisky will be available to buy – the legal time needed for the spirit to qualify as whisky. Visitors are welcome though, they can experience the unique history of this corner of Bordeaux through archive photos and venture into the very heart of the bunker – now home to Bordeaux’s very first whisky.

Not wanting to leave visitors frustrated, or thirsty, these entrepreneurial whisky enthusiasts have imported barrels of Scotch whisky that they are finishing here in Bordeaux casks; ex Sauternes barrels and ex red wine barrels from Château La Louviere.

The current Moon Harbour range of whiskies and gin

The two whiskies: Pier 1 finished in the Sauternes barrels and Pier 2, with a peat signature, finished in the red wine barrels, are both available for sale in the boutique and on line.

They also produce a very fragrant, peppery gin using Timut pepper from Nepal amongst the botanicals. Named after Aliénor d‘Aquitaine, which seems appropriate for such a Franco-British product, as she was Queen of both France and England. I think she would approve.

 

 

 

Château Soutard – At your service

Château Soutard, Classified Growth of Saint Emilion, has undergone a complete renovation and renewal since its acquisition by French Insurance company l’AG2R La Mondiale in 2006. L’AG2R were no strangers to wine, or to Saint Emilion, as they already owned and managed Château Larmande Grand Cru Classé and Château Grand Faurie La Rose Saint Emilion Grand Cru near by. In 2009 they added neighbouring Château Cadet-Piola to their collection, now fully integrated into Soutard as of the 2012 classification. Château Larmande and Grand Cru Grand Faurie La Rose maintain their independence, each being made in their own wine cellars. The total holdings add up to 60ha of which Château Soutard represents half at 30 ha.

The Beautiful Château Soutard, Grand Cru Classé of Saint Emilion
Photo Credit Tom Fletch

Two Best of Bordeaux Wine Tourism awards have justly compensated the dedication of the new team in bringing Château Soutard back to the elegance, deserving of its classified status. The first, in 2012, was for the architecture – hardly surprising given the beautiful gravity fed cellars created by architect Fabien Pédelaborde. As well as being an efficient working cellar, it is a showcase for both the history of the property and the unique limestone terroir of the plateau of Saint Emilion on which the vineyard is situated.

Their latest award was for Wine Tourism Services, highlighting how they have put this newly renovated facility to excellent use, opening it up to visitors in so many ways.

The view from the guest rooms in the château. Photo Credit Tom Fletch

In addition to the cellars, they have now transformed the 18th century Chateau at the very heart of the estate, offering a complete range of wine tourism from accommodation in the four suites of the Chateau to seminars and weddings in the cellars and intimate cooking classes. This is in addition to the 3 guest rooms they already had in Château Grande Faurie Larose.

They offer walk-in tours, no reservation needed (11 am and 4pm in French, 2pm in English), as well as private tours by reservation with a Corvin on hand to taste older vintages by the glass from the private cellars of the Château.

You can take a more relaxed and informal approach to discovering Château Soutard. Being so close to the centre of Saint Emilion, many people call in just to visit the boutique. It’s worth a visit; the chic French country theme includes an eclectic range of wine related gifts for all ages (the crossbow that fires corks is a particular favourite) including their own porcelain collection. Shoppers often stay on for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheeses on the terrace in front of the château, or take a picnic hamper to enjoy in the parkland surrounding the château.

Lunch at the Château

If, after that glass of wine, the short walk back to town is too much, they rent out bicycles to discover the vineyard and surrounding area or you can walk it off with one of the especially designed walking tours through the vines.

These tours are specifically designed for wine enthusiasts who want to learn more about the vineyard. The cellars may be impressive, and many visitors will stop there, but what happens in the vineyard is what really determines the quality of the grapes and therefore the quality of the wines. The tour explains the agriculture behind the grapes and the annual calendar that dictates the many tasks throughout the year necessary to ensure a quality crop. Visitors also learn about the grape varietals, the influence of the climate and how the vineyard manager monitors it with their own weather station and how he uses this information in his viticultural decisions. Inspired to learn more? Careful what you wish for, you can even participate in the harvest and work in the cellar if you fancy getting your hands dirty.

There is a nature trail specifically designed for children too, they love to discover the biodiversity of the site; the other flora and fauna found in the vineyard including a good bug guide – known in-house as the ”who eats whom” tour. The children’s guide includes an illustrated map with drawings to colour in, the same pictures that they can find at information points throughout the vineyard, keeping them busy while their parents visit the cellars and taste the wine.

All these services add up to over 18 000 guests across the three vineyards, from business seminars to romantic weddings and gastronomic dinners to children’s trails; anything is possible at Château Soutard.

The cellars at Château Soutard – technical and practical. Photo Credit C. Goussard

It’s no secret that Château Soutard is focussing its quality efforts on the next classification with a clear ambition to become one of the 1er Grand Crus Classés of Saint Emilion. If they are as successful in their objective as they are at wine tourism – this is one to watch.

 

The original of this article was posted on the Great Wine capitals Blog.