Category Archives: Lifestyle

A Daily Detox.

I have recently returned from a weeklong detox at the Mayr Clinic in Altausee and I feel amazing. The situation in the Austrian Alps is beautiful, the aerial yoga was great fun, the food delicious and more copious that you might imagine. That might explain why I didn’t lose much weight, that wasn’t really my objective – although I did go down a size.

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The beautiful situation of the Mayr Clinic in Altausee

I was really there to give my liver a rest by abstaining from alcohol for a week. It gave me a virtuous glow but perhaps, more importantly, it proved that you can control your alcohol consumption rather than the other way around.

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Hanging out, aerial yoga at The Mayr Clinic

Working in the booze business, a dry week is not always easy or possible to achieve so here are five things we can do at the start of every day to help our body’s natural detox function.

Drink water! Drink a glass of water at room temperature even before you get out of bed. Aim for two litres of still water throughout the day.

Stretch. You know those cartoons when people wake up and stretch. How many people really do that? If you don’t, you should. You could even go a step further and do a few sun salutations.

Oil pulling is a traditional Ayurveda practise, which claims to increase oral hygiene, reduce gum inflammation, and keep teeth white. Take a small teaspoon of coconut or sesame oil in your mouth. Swish it around for about two minutes or so. It’s called pulling, as you pull the oil backwards and forwards through the mouth. If you can’t bear the taste, add a few drops of peppermint into the bottle. As saliva production slows overnight, swishing oil around the mouth first thing encourages saliva production, which has a cleansing effect, important for reducing bad bacteria and preventing infection around teeth and gums. Emulsified with saliva, it gets in between teeth and reaches part of the mouth that regular brushing doesn’t. Stained teeth are another side effect of wine tasting, so this is a lifesaver for any one tasting young red wines.

Body brushing. The liver is the major detox organ of the body, but the skin also detoxes, mainly through sweat. Body brushing stimulates the circulation of the lymph just under the skin. Your lymph is a parallel circulatory system to blood, moving mainly fats and some waste products, taking its name from the Roman god of water, Lympha. Body brushing helps stimulate this system and gets it started first thing in the morning. It relies on your movement and muscle activity to work—another reason to keep moving and to exercise.

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Lemon, ginger, turmeric and more for the daily detox.

 

Lemon juice in hot water first thing in the morning stimulates digestion and the liver and kick-starts the system. Add a slice of fresh ginger, a pinch of turmeric, and a screw of pepper (pepper and turmeric are absorbed better when consumed together), and you’ll have three major antioxidants that are thought to offer protection against colds and infections. Try to drink this within a half hour of waking and a half hour before eating breakfast. Some of my friends also add apple cider vinegar or have a blend of apple cider vinegar and honey at the start of the day, this has a similar effect and cider vinegar is supposed to be good for your microbiome too.

Five little additions to your daily routine, even when you are on the road (I carry ginger and lemon tea bags!) that can help compensate for some of the less healthy decisions we might make later in the day. It’s the little daily changes that make the biggest difference.

Read more about the daily detox, sun salutations and other liver friendly ideas in The Drinking Woman’s Diet  A Liver friendly Lifestyle Guide. available in paperback as an e book or on Amazon. The perfect stocking filler for the drinking women in your life!

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The Drinking Woman’s Diet.

 

How to drink like a French Woman.

Wine and coffee

Finish the meal with black coffee

There are so many books out there telling us how all French women are slim and beautiful, with chic style, look ten years younger than their age, have perfect children and great sex lives, etc., etc. You name it; the French are better at it than us. It’s enough to make you reach for a drink!

I’ve lived in France for over thirty years so I’m happy to dispel a few of these myths so that we non-French women can dust off our self-esteem.

The French have some great phrases relating to the after-effects of over indulgence, such as “mal aux cheveux” (my hair hurts) and the famous “crise de foie” (a liver crisis). So they obviously don’t have this thing covered either.

Everybody lies about his or her alcohol consumption, but figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the French win at alcohol consumption 12.2 litres per capita, with the United Kingdom at 11.6 and the United States at 9.2. But it’s also about what we drink. In France, over half is consumed as wine, compared to a third in the UK and less than 20% in the US.

The figures also show the divide between men and women. In the United States, men are reported as drinking 13.6 litres per capita per year and women 4.9. In the United Kingdom, it’s 16.5 litres for men and 6.9 for women. The French beat us all at 17.8 litres for each man and 7.1 per woman.

The French do drink differently.

– They consume most of their alcohol as wine and mainly at meal times. Friends rarely meet for drink in France, they drink with food, so they’ll meet you for dinner or lunch. Yes, they are the champions of the “aperitif” but very much as a pre-meal experience—no pre-loading here.

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Wine with food – even as an

Drinking with food rather than on an empty stomach reduces the Blood Alcohol Concentration, and protects the liver. In France, they advise a spoonful of olive oil before drinking, in England, we advise a glass of milk. I prefer full-fat yoghurt, as it helps with probiotics who also suffer from too much alcohol.

– They take their time over meals, chewing well; they eat less and enjoy it more. Chewing warns the stomach what food is heading its way, preparing the digestive process and allowing time for a full sensation to reach the brain from the stomach. This process slows down both food and wine consumption.

– They have both wine and water on the table. Drinking at least one glass of water for every glass of wine helps reduce headaches exacerbated by the dehydration as your body tries to dilute the alcohol. This habit helps. And no ice in that water, iced water inhibits the digestion.

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Wine and water and food

So French women drink their wine with food, but their eating habits are worth a look, too:

– French women do not snack in between meals.

– Croissants are for breakfast, not for a mid-morning top up.

– You don’t see French women walking around town with polystyrene cups of milky coffee. In fact, apart from breakfast, they never put milk in coffee.

– They eat three meals a day.

– They don’t eat on the hoof; they stop for lunch, take their time, eat slowly, and enjoy.

– They don’t eat half a baguette while waiting for the starter to arrive or a bowl of peanuts with the aperitif.

–  They drink lots of water.

– They eat their veg; a French family meal will usually start with either salad (crudités) in the summer or soup in the winter. Vegetables are served with the main course and salad offered with cheese before dessert.

– They finish their meal with a strong (bitter) espresso, which closes the appetite.

You don’t have to come to France to eat and drink like a French woman but when you do, you now know how to fit right in!

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The original of the post was featured on A Balanced Glass and is taken from The Drinking Woman’s Diet, A Liver friendly Lifestyle Guide. available in paperback as an e book or on Amazon. Contact me for  a signed copy as a Christmas gift.

 

 

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

If you think women in the world of the wine world is something new and/or unusual, where have you been in recent years? You might be forgiven for thinking that in such a traditional bastion of wine as Bordeaux, women in the vineyards and cellars might be more unusual that in other regions  – think again. Historically, there have always been influential women on the Bordeaux wine scene, as well as many others working behind the scenes.

Some of Bordeaux’s leading vineyards are still going strong today thanks to the historical role of women. Jean de Bellon was the first owner of Chateau Haut Brion in the 16th century and it’s not only Champagne that has famous widows. As a young widow, Françoise Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem was thrown into prison twice during the French revolution but she continued to make Château d’Yquem prosper. The Comtesse de Bournazel successfully took over the reigns of the family Chateau de Malle in Sauternes on the death of her husband, before handing it over to her son. Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is named after another Comtesse responsible for its success.

Properties may be handed down from fathers to daughters who continue to grow the family estates. Famously Baroness Philippine Rothschild continued and expanded her father’s work at Mouton Rothschild, Corinne Mentzelopoulos owns and runs Chateau Margaux with her daughter. More recently, Siaska Rothschild took over running Château Lafite from her father Baron Eric, and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal is now in charge of Chateau Angelus alongside her cousin Thierry Grenié,with Emmanuelle Fulchi their cellar master. There is nothing new about feminine power in Bordeaux wine.

Not so long ago it was unusual to see a woman working in the cellars – with an older generation of male wine makers talking about women ‘turning’ the wine – and that is still in living memory. Women are now making the wines as well as owning, running and marketing them. A few that come to mind, and not only in the top growths, are Marjolaine de Cornack at Chateau Marquis d’Alesme, Maylis De Laborderie at Chateau La Lagune, (both working with female owners), Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan and Caroline Artaud at Château Forcas Hostens. Some women are carrying on from the parents in a family vineyard, such as Estelle Roumage at Chateau Lestrille, Armelle Falcy Cruse at Château du Taillan, and I could go on.

I organized my first Women in Wine Tour in Bordeaux back in  2007, so again nothing new here, but these women, and many more, came back on my radar thanks to the recent visit here in Bordeaux of the American association Women for Wine sense (WWS). Created in 1990 by two leading Californian women in wine, Michaela Rodeno and Julie Johnson, WWS aims to increase knowledge about wine through education as a counterweight to the anti-alcohol lobby. Their premise is a better understanding of wine leads to more responsible consumption. The success of this organisation has been phenomenal; they now have a network of 10 chapters and growing throughout the US and a charitable arm that sponsors wine education for women in the industry.

I have run several Bordeaux seminars for WWS members in the US over the last year but this was their first trip to Bordeaux. With Decanter Tours it seemed only natural to concentrate on vineyards with a feminine signature, choosing properties for them to visit that were owned by, managed by or where women made the wine. I’m aware it’s sexist – but it was great fun!

We were spoilt for choice with just three days we only scratched the surface. Following their tour, I wanted to use this post to profile some of the leading women in Bordeaux but as I started looking at the long list I realised that it would take a book rather than a blog post to do them justice, so I’ll just concentrate on the women that offered us such a warm welcome and amazing hospitality during our tour.

Margaux has traditionally been considered the most feminine of all the Medoc appellations, thanks to its signature sumptuousness and velvety tannins, so it seemed like the perfect place to start. Chateau Margaux is known as the most feminine of all the 1st growths by its style as well as being owned and run by Corinne and Alexandra Mentzelopoulos. The harvest had just started when we were there, with a man at the helm; Philippe Bascules splits his wine making between Bordeaux and Napa – and was very excited about explaining  the complementarity of making wines both sides of the Atlantic – he is a very busy man!

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With Philippe Bascaules wine maker at Chateau Margaux above the new Pavillon Blanc cellars.

Further north, Lilian and Melanie Barton Sartorius, another mother and daughter team, are working together. As Lilian takes on more and more responsibility at the family vineyards, Leoville and Langoa Barton, her daughter Melanie, the eighth generation of the Bartons in Bordeaux and the first qualified oenologist of the family, has taken over the wine making at their new vineyard Mauvesin Barton in Moulis, purchased in 2011.

Lilian and Melanie at Mauvesin

Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

We also met the latest member of the family, Oona, the Parson Russell terrier puppy, who completely stole the limelight!

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The newest member of the Barton family

Pascale Peyronie welcomed us to her family property Chateau Fonbadet in Pauillac. After working alongside her father for 20 years, she has stepped into his shoes to run the vineyard. Her vines are on some of the best and priciest gravel terroir in Pauillac, smack in the middle of the famous names of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Pichon Baron and Longueville Comtesse. You can imagine that she has received some interesting offers for her vines, but she continues to produce Chateau Fonbadet as an independent Cru Bourgeois rather than succumbing to the temptation of an easier life, although she did exchange three ha of vines with Mouton Rothschild to re-organise the vineyard. When she showed us around, her 92-year-old father was still on hand to meet the ladies and help serve the wine.

Fonbadet barrel

Is it a characteristic for women to work more closely together? We had several examples of collaboration between neighbouring women in wine which make me think that perhaps it is.

Four properties in Margaux owned and/or managed by women have grouped together to welcome visitors into their chateaux. Well aware that chateau visits can be repetitive (vines, cellars, barrels, tasting, repeat), Lise Latrille of Château Prieuré Lichine, Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Marie Laure Lurton of La Tour Bessanand Anne-Francoise Quié of Chateau Rauzan Gassies have grouped together to create a ‘Une Journée Gourmande à Margaux’. These dynamic women explained this project to us over lunch in the beautiful kitchens of Chateau Prieuré Lichine.

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Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

Their idea was to create a tour where each visit concentrates on a different part of the wine process.  The tour starts at Château Prieuré-Lichine, with a history of the Medoc while sipping on their white wine (yes there are some rare white wines in the Medoc even though they don’t carry the name). Then at Chateau Rauzan Gassies they explore the importance of terroir, tasting the wines from the three vineyards owned by the Quié family. Lunch at Chateau Kirwanis the opportunity to taste the wines from all four vineyards paired with regional dishes before a visit to Château La Tour Bessan to try your hand at blending, tasting your results alongside local chocolates – there’s a reason this is called a ‘Gourmande’ tour.

Margaux gourmand girls

Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Lise Latrille of Château Prieure Lichine and Marie-Laure Lurton of Château La Tour Bessan.

Margaux gourmande

Women do seem to be very open to developing wine tourism. I was recently asked to cover leading women winners of best of Wine Tourism awards reinforcing this impression. Chatting with Florence Cathiard at Château Smith Haut Lafite, one of the pioneers of wine tourism in the region, it was interesting to compare the European and the American approach to wine tourism. The chateau with its open door policy, new land art exhibition alongside the more traditional visits, as well as the phenomenal success her daughters have had, both with The Sources de Caudalie resort and the Caudalie cosmetics is a case study for successful wine tourism.

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Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We had another experience of collaboration with the women of sweet Bordeaux. A picnic lunch in the park of Chateau de Ceronswith Caroline Peyromat and her neighbour Nicola Alison from Chateau du Seuil, was the ideal way to discover the characteristics of the tiny Cerons appellation but also to share their red and white wines from the Graves appellation.

Then on to Sauternes and Barsac for a progressive dinner, the idea was to show just how food friendly the sweet wines of Bordeaux really are. After a visit and tasting at Chateau Yquem with cellar Master Sandrine Garbay, and a look at the new in-chateau boutique, we headed down the hill to the terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud. Here, with tapas, we tasted the range of wines made by owner wine maker Laure de Lambert including her 100% dry Sémilion (La Semillante) and a Sweet Bordeaux made with no Sulphur le 5 – quite a technical challenge.

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Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

Then on to Barsac, to first growth Château Climensfor the main course served with three vintages from the property, after discovering where owner wine maker Berenice Lurton dries and prepares the herbs she uses in her biodynamic preparations.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

Climens sunset

Climens 3 vintages

And of course dessert served at neighbour Château Coutet by Aline Baily, and we all slept soundly on the coach all the way home!

Coutet Chapel

The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

We found this same spirit of cooperation in Pomerol. The neighbours came over to lunch organised by Monique Bailly at the new Ronan by Client winery of Château Client. Hosted by Nathalie Bez, we were joined by Maireille Cazaux Director and wine maker at Chateau La Conseillante and Diana Berrouet Garcia Wine maker at Chateau Petit Village.Tasting their wines side by side, although they are so close, showed just how important the notion of terroir can be even in as small an appellation as Pomerol.

Pomerol bottles

Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

Cellar master Emmanuel Fulchi hosted us at Chateau Angelus, taking us into the vineyard to get to grips with the terroir in their two properties, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Bellevue. Walking amongst the almost ripe grapes, we could understand the subtle differences of terroir up and down the south facing foothills of the limestone slopes of Saint Emilion.

Emmanuelle Fulchi

Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

The tasting was a master class in right bank Merlot. Bellevue is 100% Merlot and Angelus a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Recently returned from a Merlot seminar in the US, Emmanuel shared her surprise at the reputation Merlot suffers from in the States. The tasting firmly dispelled any questions hanging over the great potential of Merlot on the right bank.

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The Women for Wine Sense visit was both an opportunity to shine a light on the women in Bordeaux but also to dispel a few Bordeaux myths. They are planning to return, so it’s back to the drawing board to see which other Bordeaux Women in Wine we can visit on their next trip – we will be spoilt for choice.

 

Wine and dine your way through the Bordeaux vines.

In 2016 I posted about the Chateaux in Bordeaux opening restaurants to better showcase their wines. Given their success, and the increased sophistication of wine tourism in Bordeaux, more properties have since joined the party so here are a few updates of not-to-miss dining opportunities on your next Bordeaux wine tour.

Château Troplong Mondot opened the Les Belles Perdrix restaurant in 2012 when the chateau started offering casual dining for guests staying in their guest rooms. Chef David Charrier was awarded his first Michelin star in 2016. Under new ownership and management since 2017, the cellars and the restaurant are undergoing a complete renovation and will reopen the stunning terrace with some of the best views in the region, in 2021. In the meantime, you can sample Charrier’s cuisine if you book a tour of the vineyards. The sommelière, Celine, will take you on a tour through the vines in their Landrover to finish with a tasting of five wines accompanied by delicious ‘amuses bouches’ created by the chef.

Troplong defender

Rather than create a restaurant at the property,  Chateau Angelus, purchased  Le Logis de La Cadène in 2013, one of Saint Emilion’s oldest restaurants in the heart of the medieval town.  They won a Michelin star in 2017 thanks to the skill of chef Alexandre Baumard. It too, has a wonderful shady terrace for sunny days but a word of warning – wear sensible shoes, as it’s half way down a very steep slope!   You can also sample their cuisine on the go, this June they opened Les Paniers du Logis, a fast food outlet with a difference. All the meals are home-made; from local products and served in reusable glass bocaux (big jam jars), including delicious desserts, pates jams and of course bottles of wine.

Paniers du logis

Sauternes has now joined the party. This year saw the opening of the Lalique Hotel in Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey. Under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz, the hotel opened in June this year – a 400th birthday present to the estate.

Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) runs the restaurant. Given the quality of both the cuisine and the service a Michelin star must surely be on its way. The rooms are beautiful too, so don’t worry about driving home; have that last glass of Sauternes!

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The foodie revolution in Sauternes started at the beginning of the year  with the opening of La Chapelle, a restaurant in the beautiful old chapel of Chateau Guiraud. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

Malrome

Just across the Garonne is the Entre deux Mers, sadly overlooked by wine tourists, but the restaurant at Chateau Malromé might just be the thing to get them there. Chateau Malromé is famous for the previous owners; the family of Toulouse Lautrec. The impressive 16th century chateau has been completely renovated by the Huynh family and continues to welcome visitors to discover the home of the artist as well as the wines. The contemporary restaurant Adele by Darroze in partnership with neighboring Langon institution Maison Claude Darroze.  Opened in the chateau earlier this year it has a beautiful terrace off the main courtyard (we do like alfresco dining in Bordeaux!). Managed by Jean-Charles Darroze with Chef Sébastien Piniello the modern setting is perfect for a cuisine that reflects both local and Asian influences of the two families.

From here you can head back towards Bordeaux through the Cadillac region. This area, known for it’s sweet white wines, has vineyards that roll down steep slopes on the right bank of the Garonne River. At the top of one of these slopes look out for La Cabane dans les Vignes; a lovely wooden chalet dominating the most spectacular view of the Garonne valley amongst the organic vines of Chateau Bessan. Sibelle and Mathieu Verdier built this cabane so guests could taste their wines and enjoy the sunset – you can too now. Book ahead on Friday and Saturday evenings to taste their wines alongside tasting plates and enjoy the breath-taking views.

Cabane

Then there is the Medoc. I have previously mentioned Michelin starred Cordeillan Bages and the more relaxed brasserie Café Lavinal in the villages of Bages but if you want a light lunch in a unique setting you should call in to Chateau Marquis d’Alesme in Margaux. This classified growth, right at the heart of the village of Margaux, was purchased by the Perrodo family in 2006 who already owned Chateau Labegorce. Or at least they purchased the vines, the original chateau remaining in the hands of the previous owners. Starting from scratch to build a functional but beautiful winery, again inspired by their dual Chinese and French heritage, they decided to share their passion not just through the cellars and wine but also through a relaxed restaurant. Tucked away in the Hameau of la Folie d’Alesme, light plates of local specialities accompany a by-the-glass and by-the-bottle selection of the property’s wines including a not-to-be-missed chocolate and wine pairing.

Chocolate ar Marquis d'alesme

If you are passing through Bordeaux and can’t make it to the vines (shame on you) the vines can come to you. Chateau Lestrille, a family vineyard in the Entre Deux Mers region, has its own wine bar in the heart of old Bordeaux. The dynamic owner, Estelle Rummage, opened the chateau to tourism years ago and now she has opened the wine bar Un Château en Ville’ to serve and sell her wines to the city dwellers and visitors. She produces a complete range from white and red to rose and also bag in box – there’s plenty to choose from, accompanied by tasting plates from oyster to cold cuts, toasties and cheese plates.

Chtx en ville

If you prefer grand cuisine there is La Grand Maison; the hotel and restaurant that really is a chateau in the city belonging to wine magnate Bernard Magrez. The excellent cuisine of this two Michelin star restaurant is created by Jean-Denis Le Bras under the watchful eye of Pierre Gagnaire.

London friends, if you can’t make it to Bordeaux, Bordeaux can come to you. Clarette opened in the spring of 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. Go for its relaxed, fun atmosphere and stay for the excellent by-the-glass wine list.

Clarette outside

Clarette by night

Another Bordeaux first growth in London is Château Latour. The smart private club; Ten Trinity Square has a Château Latour Discovery Room and dining room allowing punters to taste a unique collection of Chateau Latour by the glass as well as by the bottle, all accompanied by the cuisine of Anne-Sophie Pic who also has her La Dame de Pic  restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in the building.

Thanks to a recent tweet from fellow Bordeaux insider Jane Anson I have just learned there’s another one to add to the list: Boyds Grill and Wine Bar linked with Château Boyd Cantenac in Margaux. More research needs to be done – who’s with me?

 

 

 

 

 

Château Loudenne – can history repeat itself?

I have always had a soft spot for Château Loudenne. Arriving in Bordeaux in the late eighties I knew very few people, but I was soon introduced to the world of Château Loudenne, then under British ownership. It was party central for Bordeaux Brits and most of the players in the Medoc.

The hospitality was legendary. The dining room was the scene of many a memorable dinner and the amazing vintage kitchen hosted many more. I even remember London based Chef, Albert Roux flying over one August with fresh grouse in his suitcase for a Glorious 12th dinner.

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View to the back of the Château looking donw from the gravel outcrop.

The rooms were always welcoming, and waking to look at that view over the Gironde Estuary was a treat. In those days Château Loudenne was owned by IDV, having been in the portfolio of Gilbeys when they purchased that company.

Gironde from terrace

The view from the terrace of Château Loudenne to the Gironde Estuary

The history of Château Loudenne goes back over 300 years. Built in 1670 in the typical ‘Chartreuse’ style, the traversing rooms ideally suited to the spectacular views over the Gironde Estuary. This beautiful pink chateau is still at the heart of the large vineyard, 132 ha under vines including 12 ha in white. As early as 1880 it was the very first Medoc vineyard to produce a white wine.

Traversing rooms

A view through the Château

Alfred and Walter Gilbey purchased the chateau in 1875 and made it their home as well as the base for their Bordeaux commerce. They were the first negociants to be based in the Medoc, rather than in the Port of Bordeaux, establishing their trade out of the huge Victorian waterfront cellars near the property’s private port. Chateau Loudenne remains the only property in the Medoc to have its own private port.

Loudenne port

The ‘Port’ of Château Loudenne from the water

It became ‘The Pink Château’ at the time of the Gilbeys; it has remained so ever since. The Gilbeys, in true English style, created the stunning landscaped park which has a rare collection of David Austin English roses.

In 1963, their family company changed hands to become IDV, which went on to join the spirits group Diageo. In their move away from wine investments, Diageo sold the chateau in 2000.

After a few years in the hands of owners that sadly didn’t invest either in the wine or the architecture, Moutai purchased Chateau Loudenne in 2013, joined by Camus Cognac as minority shareholders in 2016. They are old friends having worked together as distribution partners for over 10 years. Moutai is the number one Chinese Liquor Company and Camus Cognac the largest family-owned independent Cognac house. Camus took over the management of Chateau Loudenne when it entered into the capital in 2016.

The involvement of the Cognac family is a back to the future moment; monks from the Saintonge region, near Cognac, were the first to plant vines in the village of Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc in the 13th century.

Folly

One of the gravel outcrops with its folly

Château Loudenne is in the Médoc appellation, in the North of the peninsula just beyond the boundary with the Haut Médoc. Here two large Garonnaise gravel outcrops rise above the tide line of the estuary. Victorian brick and stone follies, the function of which is still unknown, crown these outcrops. They were possibly built to store vineyard tools but more likely to make the site easily identified from the water. Or perhaps they are simply follies with no need for justification. The traditional coat of arms of the property show one of these towers with a Wyvern sitting on top.

I remember a party for the Ban des Vendanges in 1992 when a ‘son et lumière’ bought these Wyverns back to life to the amazement of hundreds of guests in dinner evening dress strolling though the vineyard. Heady days.

The new owners have reworked the presentation and marketing using a ‘belle époque’ design for the labels reminiscing about its illustrious past reinforced by strap line ‘I will always remember’. Also playing on the word Rose (pink in French) as a reference to both Chateau and its rose garden in the new stylised rose design on the labels and capsules.

New labels

The new Chateau Loudenne Labels

Rose

and the stylised rose design

The renewal is not solely a marketing operation. They are not simply looking over their shoulder at the past. New vines are being planted with ‘complanting’ in the older vineyards, introducing Petit Verdot to the Cabernet/Merlot blend and Sauvignon Gris to the white blend with the goal of becoming organic in five years,

New planting

A recently replanted plot near the estuary

General Manager, Philippe de Poyferré, plans to modernize the emblematic waterfront cellars, adapting the Victorian vats to handle the plot selection to suit the different vineyard plots. These majestic cellars date from 1876 and were a perfect example of the Gilbey brothers’ drive to modernize the estate during the 19th century. Designed by Bordeaux architect, Ernest Minvielle, they are a classic Médoc-style two-story vat hall, already harnessing gravity to manipulate the harvested grapes and wine.

Cellars

The victorian cellars from the waterfront

De Poyferré has already reintroduced hand harvesting, sorting tables, and gone back to gravity rather than use pumps.

Cuvier

The 19th century vat room

Chateau Loudenne still produces white wine under the Bordeaux appellation. Fermented and aged in oak with 25 % of Sémillon, unusually high for a dry white from the Medoc, it is reminiscent of a Graves in style and elegance.

The red wines of Chateau Loudenne are Cru Bourgeois, currently a 50:50 Cabernet/Merlot blend and tasting recent vintages the improvement in quality as of 2014 vintage is marked. One to watch with hopefully a future party invite.

 

 

 

The Sweet Spot.

The sweet wines of Bordeaux are too often overlooked. They were at the height of their fame and success in the 19th century, whereas now they are too often relegated to a dessert wine after dinner, when everyone is already replete, or as an optional add-on to a Bordeaux wine tour.

The wines have an undeserved reputation for being expensive. They are certainly costly, and difficult, to produce. Low yields, labour intensive, risky harvests, but they are rarely expensive to buy, certainly not compared to many Bordeaux reds. Sweet Bordeaux wines merit a closer look. Do get yourself to Sauternes, it has never been easier or more exciting. Add an extra day (or two) on your next Bordeaux wine tour – it’s nearer than Pauillac and no further than Saint Emilion and every wine tourist finds time to go there.

When I say Sauternes, I really mean Sweet Bordeaux. Did you know there are 15 different appellations in Bordeaux where sweet wines can be made? Some are really tiny and don’t make sweet wine every year. The first person to list them all in the comments below will receive a signed copy of my new book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’.

So what is so exciting? First the wines themselves: wine makers are producing sweet Bordeaux wines that are brighter, lighter and perfectly adapted to so many drinking opportunities, from aperitif, to fish, from roast chicken to blue cheese. Try them with spicy food and there are always the classic matches of foie gras and dessert – but be bold, don’t limit yourselves to the classics. The producers don’t – they will show you the way. The doors of Sauternes chateaux are now thrown wide open for amateurs and enthusiasts alike to sample the wines alongside all sorts of food options.

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Sweet Bordeaux and fish? be more adventurous

The area is beautiful. The rolling hills of the Sauternes plateau, the vines of Barsac along the Garonne and the limestone slopes of Saint Croix du Mont, Cadillac and Loupiac on the right bank are often swathed in the legendary early morning mists, responsible for the noble rot and adding to the romantic atmosphere. In amongst all this there is a wealth of wonderful architecture, witness to the historic and prosperous past of the region and the success of these fine wines.

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The beautiful morning mists of Sauternes

One such gem is Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a 1er Grand Classé (a first growth) in the heart of Sauternes – just down the slope from Château d’Yquem (always the reference).

Dating back to the 13th century, this proud, fortress-like construction has always been an iconic part of the diverse architecture of the appellation. Renovations were under taken by the previous owners but under the new ownership of Sylvio Denz it is really enjoying a renaissance, with the opening in June of the Lalique Hotel as a 400th birthday present to the estate.

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Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, now the home of the Lalique Hotel

Denz is no stranger to wine; he owns a wine auction house in his native Switzerland, vineyards in Spain and Italy and Château Péby Faugères and Château Faugères in Saint Emilion and Château Cap de Faugères in Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux. Lalique is no stranger to wine either. Rene Lalique was from the town of Ay in Champagne, (a Lalique discovery trail opened there this spring). He designed a collection of Yquem carafes and glasses in 1934, and a Barsac collection in 1939.

This is the third Lalique hotel, La Villa René Lalique opened in 2015 (a Relais & Châteaux 5 star hotel and 2 star restaurant) and Château Hochberg in 2016, both in Alsace where the crystal is made.

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Make yourself comfortable at The Lalique Hotel

The decor at The Hotel Lalique in Sauternes is amazing, there is Lalique crystal everywhere; the door handles, the arm rests of chairs and sofas, crystal panels of the signature grape motif inlaid into the furniture, crystal vine leaf light fittings and chandeliers and vases and other objets d’art scattered around the rooms and check out the taps. It’s like a permanent crystal treasure hunt.

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The crystal treasure hunt

A modern extension (glass of course) houses the restaurant; the ceiling is decorated with gold crystal Semillon leaves. More Lalique pieces grace the tables, including perfect replicas of the salt and pepper mills co-created by René Lalique and Peugeot in 1924.

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Some of the beautiful crystal ‘objets-d’arts’ are for sale in the boutique alongside the wines of the property

It takes quite a chef to compete with all this and Jérôme Schilling, the former executive chef of Villa René Lalique, (two Michelin stars) rises to the challenge with a menu that plays with different ways of using Sauternes in preparing the food as well as serving it. In his opinion ‘Sweet wine brings other foods into the realm of haute cuisine’. I’ll drink to that.

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The restaurant with its views over Sauternes

Lalique at Lafaurie Peyraguey is set to be an excellent showcase for Sauternes, if you were waiting for an excuse to get down there this is it.

Sauternes is not a one-stop shop; there are plenty of other things that merit the trip.

When you are sitting at your table in the Lalique restaurant you look straight across the vines to neighbouring Château Sigalas Rabaud, another 1855 1st growth. You can’t miss the bright red parasols on the sunny terrace. I’ve mentioned Sigalas Rabaud before, due to the dynamism of owner-wine maker Laure de Lambert Compeyrot. Since taking over the family property in 2006, she has added two dry white wines to their portfolio, including a 100% dry Sémillon, and a ‘natural’ sweet wine (i.e. without sulphur). Called Le 5 It is a typical example of a move in the region toward brighter, lighter wines. She is just as dynamic in wine tourism, she has opened the doors of the traditional one storey Chartreuse, where you can happily spend an afternoon sipping her wines on the terrace: Sauternes – the perfect siesta wine.

 

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The Terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud

The most spectacular Chartreuse in the sweet wine region of Bordeaux is Château de Cérons, taking its name from the appellation with one of the smallest productions in Bordeaux.

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Chateau de Cerons

Château de Cérons is a listed historic monument, built in the early 17th century on a gravel terrace overlooking the Garonne River.

Xavier and Caroline Perromat, who took over the family estate in 2012, will make you feel at home under the trees in their park overlooking the beautiful 12th century church. Settle in to enjoy a picnic with a by the glass selection of the dry white and red Graves that the property produces, their rosé and of course their flagship sweet Cérons.

If you want a more substantial lunch, Chateau Guiraud back in Sauternes has also recently opened a restaurant, La Chapelle, in the beautiful old chapel in the grounds next to the Château. As well as Château Guiraud by the glass, they have a really good selection of half bottles of Sauternes and Barsac on the wine list, a great way to taste your way across the appellation.

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La Chapelle de Château Guiraud

 

It’s not all about food and wine in Sauternes, you can also just hang out, literally. Château Rayne Vigneau, another 1st growth, sits right at the top of the plateau of Sauternes, considered by many locals to be some of the best terroir in the region. Their hillsides of vines run down from the fairy-tale chateau – still lived in by the previous owner of the vineyard – with views across the Ciron valley.

To get a better viewpoint, don a harness and hoist yourself up a 200-year-old Cedar tree, here you can sip your wine seated at a suspended table high above the vines. Or get up close and personal with the terroir on a horse back tour through the different soils that make up this beautiful region. Returning to the chateau, you can blend wines from the individual grape varieties to create your very own blend of Sauternes.

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Hanging out at Château Rayne Vigneau

Barsac and Sauternes are often said in the same breath. Barsac is one of the five villages that makeup the appellation, but the only one that has the choice to put its name on the wine labels. When you come you really should visit Barsac too. It is lower than the Sauternes plateau, closer to the Garonne, on a soil dominated by limestone with a thin layer of red, iron dominated clay and sand giving wines a lovely freshness – a trend towards which most sweet wine producers are now working. There are two first growths in Barsac: Chateau Climens and Château Coutet. Visit them both.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens. Photo credit @ F. Nivelle

Château Climens is owned and run by Berenice Lurton and she is passionate about Biodynamics. A visit to Climens will allow you to discover the wines but also get an understanding of biodynamics with a visit to her ’tisanerie’, a special plant and herb drying room dedicated to biodynamic preparations. Climens was one of the Bordeaux vineyards that produced no wine at all in 2017 due to the terrible frost early in the season.

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Château Coutet

Nearby Château Coutet is also a must see. It is an impressive 13th century fortress with its own chapel and the cellars are in what used to be the stables of the Lur Saluces family, then owners of Château d’Yquem. The Baly family now owns and runs the property and they offer a warm welcome. What I really enjoyed was a unique way of understanding the aromatic complexity of these wines. With a local jam maker, owner Aline Baly has created a range of grape preserves from the emblematic grapes of the region, one from Sauvignon grapes, one from Muscadelle and one from Sémillon. There is also one made from Sémillon affected by botrytis, which really educates the palate as to how the complexity of these great sweet wines develops. Tasting each of these is a great introduction to how the different elements come together to make these special wines.

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Discover the flavours of Barsac

One day is just not long enough to discover everything there is on offer. It is a good job there is a new hotel here If you wait a while, you will be able to enjoy more Sauternes hospitality at Château d’Arche. This Classified Growth has operated a hotel in the 17th century château since before I arrived in town. Now everything is getting an upgrade. The cellars first, they are investing over three million euros in an eco friendly winery, with a vegetal roof and wooden architecture to blend in with the surrounding area. This will also give them room to welcome visitors with an emphasis on discovering the unique viticulture needed to create a great sweet wine. The hotel will also be renovated with and there are rumours of a high-end spa. A little relaxation after all this activity? Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

The Drinking Woman’s Diet.

I have finally got my hands on a physical copy of my new book: The Drinking Woman’s Diet. It’s been a long time coming. The idea for this book originally came about at the end of wine tour in Bordeaux. A client, groaning from a week of fabulous food and wine, asked me ‘how do you do this all the time and keep in shape?

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The Drinking Woman’s Diet finally!

 

Well the first answer is I don’t do it all the time, but I do it a lot; I drink wine for a living. I teach wine classes, run tastings and talk at wine dinners for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs around the world. I take people around vineyards and wineries of Bordeaux and, with the objective of keeping an open mind, I constantly sample wines from around the world and taste my way through wine regions.

It’s a wonderful job but, as with many things, there is a downside. The benefits of wine drinking are constantly being lauded in the press but so are the risks. Adding insult to injury, wine goes with food, and tasting dinners are rarely very light affairs. So, as well as keeping an eye on the state of my liver, I try to keep an eye on my waistline.

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All in a days work?

As I chatted with my client and started sharing a few tricks and tips, she suggested I write them down and hand them out before starting the wine tour. So the book started by sharing a few survival tricks and techniques: the lessons I have learnt from French women, from my friends, therapists and other yogis to try and maintain a healthy body in what may initially appear an unhealthy industry.

Not long after this conversation I went for an acupuncture consultation. The acupuncturist said well there’s nothing really wrong with you, except perhaps for your liver; he stuck a couple of needles in between my thumb and forefinger and next to my big toes to help it out. Not long after that, at the Mayr clinic in Austria, the Doctor looked into my eyes, pinched my cheek and said aha – your liver. That was before I had even mentioned that I drink for a living.

This made me think that I should take an even closer look at this drinking habit of mine. As a female baby boomer, I’m right there in the category of drinkers increasing their health risks through their habits. And I’m not alone.

At the recent launch of his book, Wine – A Way of Life, Steven Spurrier was also asked how he managed to stay so trim, despite working in the wine business. His answer: Vanity. Vanity is a great motivator; as a woman and a fairly vain one at that, the effects of excess boozing are seen not just in the liver, but also in your eyes, in your skin, your waistline so I was interested in seeing how I can allay these side effects of my chosen lifestyle and what the motivators are and how to harness them.

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Steven spurrier – still dapper after all these years!

Why The Drinking Woman? Well I’m a woman and I drink! In the book I have tried to speak from my point of view and experience. Researching the various ideas was a lot more time consuming than I anticipated, there is a lot of weird and wonderful theories out there, so I tried to focus on what worked for me.

I have already been asked ‘what about men?’ Men are more than welcome to read along, but women are at a disadvantage when it comes to drinking. The recommended limits for women are lower than for men.

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Dedicated to Drinking Women;

Many of my friends work in the wine industry (and many, many more support it through their drinking habits). I thought I had better start looking at ways to keep my liver happy and healthy while maintaining my love of wine. This includes yoga. I have a passion for yoga and when I recently organised some wine and yoga retreats in Bordeaux the question was raised how can you seriously combine wine and yoga. Aren’t wine drinking and healthy living incompatible? I don’t think so. Mindfulness is a key tenet of yoga, and a big deal right now – I’m all about mindful drinking, enjoying and paying attention to what it is you are enjoying.

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Wine and Yoga at Château Lamothe Bergeron

Over the time it has taken me to research this book it evolved into a compilation of advice from various health, fitness and beauty specialists, medical reviews and books, put together to help fellow wine lovers who are not prepared to give up their habit but not prepared to sacrifice their health either.

The title is a little misleading, but it is a great title. This is not a weight loss diet, but weight loss, if you need it, should be a happy by-product of following the healthy lifestyle tips in the book.

The strap line on my web site is: Knowledge increases pleasure. Knowledge is also power, power to make the right decisions. Deep down you know if your drinking habit is an issue, if it’s affecting your waistline, your health, your performance, and your skin so let’s stop hiding from it and work out how to enjoy a drink and still be on top of our game.

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Eat your greens French style – with truffle oil and walnuts!

I like to stay fit and healthy and I hope to grow old not too disgracefully, but not too carefully either. The book will not give you an excuse to drink to excess but I’m not looking to demonise drink either, after all wine is how I make a living. I hope the book captures a holistic approach to health, including diet but also yoga, sleep and so much more and that The Drinking Woman’s Diet will provide some inspiration on how to enjoy wine without putting your figure, your face, your health or your sanity at too much risk.

You can buy a paperback copy here or the e book on line or please e-mail me if you would like a signed copy. And of course Bordeaux Bootcamp is still available on Amazon if you want to learn more about Bordeaux and it’s wines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes Champagne great – what makes a great Champagne?

I often get asked what makes a great Bordeaux, so, on a trip to Champagne, with UK Champagne Ambassador 2010 and Champagne specialist Laura Clay, it was my turn to ask the questions. On a lightning trip, Laura shared some amazing places and wines. It would have been longer were it not for the French train strike – but I suppose it’s good to leave thirsty……

Any great wine depends on an intimate mix of terroir and climate, the skill of the wine maker, the will and rigour to select fruit and the nerve to wait and hope for the perfect balance of ripeness and acidity. We looked at all of this.

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In the terroir of Champagne – the chalk walls in the caves of Maison Deutz

The vineyards of Champagne are dominated by rolling limestone hillsides, or more precisely chalk. Visiting the huge underground cellars you can feel this terroir – the damp sticky consistency of the chalk subsoil is there right behind the rows and rows of champagne bottles stocked in the acres of underground cellars.

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The Vines and Rolling Hills of Champagne

An important skill that Bordeaux and Champagne wine makers both need is blending. There are single varietal wines in both the regions, more famously in Champagne with Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay, but blending remains key. Here they have Meunier (apparently nobody here says Pinot Meunier), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to ‘play’ with. These are planted in 320 villages (‘Crus’) over 35 000 ha of vines divided into 280 000 different plots. Each plot is part of a mosaic of unique combinations of climate, soil and topography giving another layer of complexity to the notion of varietal blending as these plots are picked and vinified separately.

Then there is the blend of vintages for Non Vintage Champagne (NV) with the use of reserve wines. The notion of vintage is different in Champagne; around 70% of production is non-vintage, varying from year to year. Any house or producer can declare a vintage if they consider their wines up to par that year. If it is declared vintage, all the wine in the blend must come from that vintage. Non-vintage will be a blend from different years.

And then there is a whole other set of decisions to be made around the secondary fermentation, or prise de mousse, in the bottle. The time spent sur lattes, on the lees, during the second fermentation; this must be at least 15 months for NV and a minimum of three years for vintage. But the winemaker can choose to age for longer before disgorgement making the wine richer and more complex. The style of the liqueur de dosage – added to the bottle after disgorgement – also dictates the style of the Champagne, whether it be Brut, as most are, or anywhere between Zero Dosage to Demi-Sec. There is even a Doux (sweet) style of champagne.

There are choices for the first fermentation too; to undergo malolactic or not and the containers the wine is fermented in. With more and more experimentation at every level of the process, I don’t think there has been a more exciting time to discover the wonderful complexity that is Champagne – even on my short trip; I was wowed by the diversity.

How to navigate this diversity? If you thoughtLa Place de Bordeaux’ system of châteaux, brokers and negociants is complicated take a long look at the Champagne system. Some, but not all houses (Maisons), own vines and some, but not all, growers make their own champagne – choosing to sell some or all of their grapes to the houses. 15 800 growers hold 90% of the vines but the 320 houses sell 70% of the 300 M bottles produced (on average) each year, the remaining third is sold by independent growers and co-ops.

This raises the question of ‘What makes an expensive Champagne?’ Champagne may be smaller in size than Bordeaux but it is up there as far as value is concerned. 4.9 Billion euros turnover for 300 million bottles (Bordeaux turns over 4 Billion Euros for about 600 million bottles)

Perceived value is important. Quality is, of course, part of value but so is market history and consistency. They are very good at marketing in Champagne, brand identity is strong and the notion of consistency of style is of particular importance to the champagne houses and Grand Marques. Their objective is to create a house style that remains the same wherever and whenever you buy it across the globe, especially for the houses that have a large production and international reach. Buying from the many grape growers across the region, from the different terroirs and crus, offers a large palette from which they can blend to ensure this consistency and it’s no mean feat.

They are all pursuing quality but each champagne house seems to have a different approach or philosophy behind the method and the desire to communicate their difference. This might explain why there are so many champagne houses, and why each champagne house attaches such importance to their house style.

What style of champagne are you looking for? This may change with occasion, as an aperitif or to accompany a meal (more of which later), to celebrate a special occasion, a gift?   Quality can be technically defined, but style and preference is such a personal choice. Not sure of your preferred style? Taste as much Champagne as you can, from as many producers and houses as you can – purely in the interests of research, you understand! In this spirit here’s some of the conclusions from my recent visit to three houses where I saw three different points of view and a huge variety of styles

Straight off the TGV, AR Lenoble in Damery was our first stop. It is the perfect place to start your Champagne style discovery; their range of wines is both stunning and eclectic. AR Lenoble is 100% family owned and 100% independent and has been since the very beginning, a rare thing in Champagne. They own 18 hectares of vineyards mainly in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly for Chardonnay, in the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil for Pinot Noir, and also in the village of Damery in the Marne Valley where their cellars are.

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The A R Lenoble range

Twenty years ago sister-and-brother Anne and Antoine Malassagne, great-grandchildren of the founder, took over, and they have quietly innovated in the vines, the cellars and the marketing ever since.

Biodiversity and ecological responsibility are buzzwords throughout the wine industry and Champagne is no exception. AR Lenoble was the second House in Champagne to be awarded the “Haute Valeur Environnementale” certification in 2007 (nearly organic). You can see their efforts in the vineyard; encouraging biodiversity through natural habitat with hedgerows, orchards, embankments, trees, low stone walls, and ploughing and grassing between the vines, which also has the advantage of limiting yields. Less is more.

Innovation can be a back to the future moment; the two fresh pairs of eyes took their time to re assess the process from field to bottle and instead of throwing out everything from the past they incorporated the best practices. For example, pressing is still done in three traditional and beautiful Coquard presses.

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The ancient Coquard press at A R Lenoble

The plot-by-plot wine-making takes place in a range of different vessels, some in small 225 litre barrels, others in 5000-litre vats or in stainless steel or enamel-lined tanks. The choice depends on the plot and the vintage, as does the decision to undertake malolactic fermentation, or not.

A peculiarity of AR Lenoble is the attention paid to the ageing of their reserve wines. In 1993, when they took over, the brother and sister team decided to start conserving their reserve wines in 225-litre barrels, using the principle of the perpetual reserve, topping up with each harvest. This is more familiar perhaps as the term Solera used in Sherry. The 5,000-litre casks allow for slower ageing than in barrels, bringing extra freshness to the wines. There are now two reserve wines: one uniquely from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly and the other that is based on Chardonnay from Chouilly blended with Pinot Noir from the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil. They are both aged in a mix of cuves, fûts and foudres, topped up each year with new wines.

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La Reserve Perpetuelle at A R Lenoble

In 2010, innovating again, they took a portion of this ‘reserve perpetuelle’ and placed it in magnums under natural cork. Thus allowing the signature aromatic richness to develop whilst preserving freshness by limiting the oxygen exchange. Freshness is important and Antoine believes it will become even more so with climate change. He sees each harvest coming in with lower acidity levels than they used to have, so the reserve wines now need to add freshness as well as complexity and richness.

The timing for our first ever visit to the house was perfect, they had just released the first non-vintage wines containing these reserve wines aged in the magnums.

Antoine Malassagne made the decision to use these unique reserve wines into his blend following the 2014 harvest. The reserve wine from the Magnums was blended with parts of the ‘reserve perpetuelle’. This was in turn blended, with 60% wines from the 2014 harvest (total reserve wine of 40%). This final blend was then bottled and aged on their lees for three years in their 18th-century chalk cellars in Damery.

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Stairway to heaven – the entrance to the A R Lenoble 18th century caves in Damery

Got that? It took me a while; check out the diagram below – it might help. Still not sure – taste them – all will be come clear. The AR Lenoble Intense “mag14” and AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly “mag14” are now available with the Mag 14 logo clearly visible on the bottle. Jancis Robinson called it unignorable, in a recent article on her site, rating the AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs Chouilly « mag 14 » NV up there with Louis Roederer Cristal Vintage 2008 and Dom Pérignon Vintage 2008.

Mag 14

We will have to return to Damery for the first edition of AR Lenoble Brut Nature Dosage Zéro “mag14” in 2019 and then again in 2020 for the first edition of AR Lenoble Rosé Terroirs Chouilly-Bisseuil “mag14”. Not a hardship.

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The identification of the Mag 14 on the bottle

We were also treated to an amazing tasting of their range. I was stunned by just how diverse the wines were. The showstopper? Hard to choose, Laura loved the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly “Mag14but Les Aventures probably got my vote. Normally I’m a ‘Blanc de noirs’ girl but this 100% Chardonnay, from the Grand Cru Village of Chouilly, was quite extraordinary. A blend of the excellent 2002 and 2006 vintages, it takes its name from the tiny (less than 1/2 ha) plot where the grapes are grown – but it really is an adventure in the glass, if you can find it, try it!

I don’t come to Champagne as often as I would like but when I have been I have been lucky enough to visit Maison Deutz on several occasions. I love their Champagne; part of this love affair was born from the ‘esprit’ of the house. Despite being part of the Roederer Group since 1983, Deutz has kept its family atmosphere. It is rightly proud of its heritage, clearly seen in the beautifully preserved family home in Ay, next to the historic cellars which run for 3kms under chalk vine covered hills.

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Les Glacières, the slopes behind Maison Deutz in Aÿ

The Deutz Brut Classic – is just that – a classic, I love the fact that it is made from one third of each of the varietals, spends three years on the lees (sur lattes) and is never disappointing. Diversity in style across different champagnes may be a part of the joy of discovering Champagne but for a brand the notion of consistency is so very important. Deutz owns 42 hectares of vines out of the 245 hectares they source the wine from – giving them the flexibility across the vintages they need for this consistency.

Another reason why Deutz has remained such a firm favourite is their generous hospitably. The Deutz family home must be an inspiration to work in, it was certainly an inspirational place to taste their wines and enjoy them with lunch.

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One of the beautifully preserved interiors of Maison Deutz

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and the old cellars

Embarrassingly, I had forgotten quite what great food wine champagne is. There is no doubt it is a great aperitif wine, a wonderful after dinner drink and, of course, a celebratory tipple. But a lunch in the spectacular dining room of Deutz put me back on track.

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A taste of Deutz

If you have never had the opportunity to have a meal matched uniquely to champagne, I highly recommend the experience. Champagne styles are diverse, tasting several champagnes side by side, from the same, or from different houses, illustrates this, but a meal served with different champagnes highlights these differences even more and shows just what a versatile wine champagne is.

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The amazing selection of champagne served at Maison Deutz

Deutz have just released a special edition of the NV Rosé that is perfect for summer drinking. This is a blend of the 90% Pinot Noir Grands Crus from the Montagne de Reims with 10% Chardonnay blended with about 8% of red wine made by the cellar master from old vines on the hill of Aÿ. The wine is then aged for three years on its lees. With rosé the appreciation always starts with the colour, with this special edition in particular, thanks to the label and box decorated with pink Japanese Cherry Blossom. It’s a perfect aperitif but try it with salmon, creamy cheese or any red berry dessert – you won’t be disappointed.

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Summer drinking from Maison Deutz

I finished with the big guns, a visit to Ruinart, part of the large LVMH wine and spirits portfolio. The oldest of the Champagne Houses, Ruinart was created in 1729, and is right in the centre of Reims. The cathedral like Crayeres cellars, a Unesco heritage site since 2015, are amazing. See the video here

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The cathedral like cellars under Ruinart

The visit was organised by Laura for the AWE (Association of Wine Educators) so the champagne geeks were out in force and Ruinart rose elegantly to the occasion thanks to Caroline Fiot, the winemaker, who shone as much as her champagne. Caroline was a perfect example of the dynamism of the new generation of wine makers in Champagne, her competence in explaining to an audience thirsty (excuse the pun) for technical details blew us away and put us in our place once or twice!

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Caroline Fiot puts us through our tasting paces at Ruinart

She treated us to a technical tasting of their signature Blanc de Blancs, two non-vintages: one from magnum, and the Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs vintage 2006. Blanc de Blancs is really their signature, with the aromatic freshness Chardonnay coming from about 80% 1er Cru grapes.

The three wines could have been so similar, being all 100% Chardonnay – but no. The NV in bottle was based on 2015 wine with reserve wines from 13 & 14 and the magnum NV was based on 2014 base wine with 12 & 13 reserve wines. The Dom Ruinart 2006 100% Grand Cru vineyards, spends nine years on the lees before being disgorged in March 2016 (the disgorgement date is mentioned on the label). This is the 24th vintage of this wine, the first was produced in 1959, Dom Ruinart is always and only vintage.

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Blanc de Blancs, the Ruinart signature

The notion of freshness was discussed at great length, the same challenge of the ripeness of the grapes raised by Antoine Malassagne at A R Lenoble. The response here is to reduce the percentage of reserve wine in a bid to maintain that all-important freshness, especially as their still wines systematically undergo malolactic fermentation. They choose not to use oak for ageing the reserve wine and use a pneumatic press for the harvest again to maintain that signature freshness. Same problem, different solutions – fascinating.

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It’s not all work and no play at Ruinart

If you want to learn more about champagne, you should, of course, visit – if you can’t, you can learn more at the interactive wine school, Champagne Campus,  created by the Champagne Wine Bureau or ask Laura Clay, Chairman of the AWE, to organise a tutored tasting, she’ll be happy to demonstrate that famous diversity and you may even find your answer to ‘What makes a great Champagne?’

 

Wine and Design – a new look at Bordeaux.

Occasionally I’m asked if I get bored with what I do for a living, after all, I have been sharing Bordeaux for over 20 years through wine tours and teaching. Well no, with over 8000 Chateaux to choose from and a new vintage every year, monotony is not on the cards. Sometimes, something brings a completely new perspective on Bordeaux, even after all these years. The Wine and Design tour did just that. Viewing familiar properties through another person’s eyes is fascinating.

It’s not news that Bordeaux has spectacular wine cellars; I have mentioned some in previous blogs, (Mouton, Pedesclaux, Marquis d’Alesme, Cheval Blanc) but on this Wine and Design Tour, thanks to Interior designer Abigail Hall, design and architecture took centre stage, with the wine almost an added bonus. Be reassured it wasn’t a dry tour!
Abigail’s passion for design and architecture is not a surprise; it’s what she does for a living. Designing happiness is her strapline and judging by her sunny disposition, she must be pretty good at it.

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Abigail Hall takes a close look at the design of Bordeaux doors.

The objective of the tour was to illustrate how, since the 17th century, architecture of both the city and chateaux has been used as a showcase for the wealth and the wines of the region. Bordeaux and its vineyards have been around since Roman times. Although only the Palais Gallien amphitheatre, from the third century, still remains in the city, la rue Sainte Catherine, supposedly the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, follows the path of an old Roman road from North to South. There are still some Roman remains in the vines though, mostly in Saint Emilion.

Medieval architectural, built during the wave of prosperity following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet and the resulting English thirst for ‘Claret’, is more abundant. The Cathédrale Saint-André, where Eleanor married her first husband Louis VII in 1137, and two medieval gates built under the English ‘occupation’ managed to escape the 17th century redevelopment of the city. In the Graves wine region there are some fabulous examples of medieval architecture. Graves is considered the cradle of fine wine making and many noble families had hunting lodges here in the Middle ages. Château Olivier is probably one of the most outstanding examples that is still a working vineyard.

Serious wealth arrived in the 17th century; Bordeaux was France’s largest port, and exhibited this prosperity for all to see by building the beautiful waterfront of Bordeaux. Bordeaux remains one of Europe’s largest 18th century architectural centres, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its heart, the beautiful place de la Bourse, built in 1755 by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, is reflected in Le Miroir d’Eau, the largest reflecting pool in the world, built in 2006. A marriage of old and new that we would see repeated in the chateaux and wineries.

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La Place de La Bourse

Wine bought wealth but wealth also bought wine and ‘new money’ created architectural gems throughout the region used as showcases for the families, their wealth, their power and their wines.
Designing showcases is one thing but wine cellars must be also functional places of work. Wine making really remains very traditional in Bordeaux, these new cellars may be made of ultra modern glass and steel but the basic functions of selecting, preserving, fermenting and ageing remain largely the same. There is even a trend towards more traditional methods such as gravity feed, eschewing pumps.

As soils are more precisely sampled and understood, smaller and more precise plots within vineyards are leading to precision viticulture. Smaller plots mean more and smaller vats in cellars, allowing this more precise expression of ‘terroir’ to be carried from field to cellar, to barrel and to bottle.
The challenge is for these cellars to showcase the wine as they open up to visits and wine tourism but also to marry this design to functionality. To keep up to date with the latest technology, without losing their historical soul.

Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien, known as the Versailles of the Medoc, is a perfect example. It is built in the classic Chartreuse style of Bordeaux architecture: a single story building with an ‘enfilade’ of rooms that go from the front to the back of the building, with towers at each end. Rebuilt in 1757 along the banks of the Gironde estuary, its gardens run down to the water.  When it was built, it was a representation of wealth and status of the Marquis de Brassier, over-looking the estuary which brought in the wealth and carried away the wines.

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The Spectacular interior decoration of the Salons at Chateau Beychevelle

Under the current owners, Grands Millésimes de France, part of the Castel and Suntory groups, the beautiful Chateau has undergone considered restoration to the bedrooms and bathrooms to make them as deluxe as the chateau is grand. The central salons have a programme of restoration with some fully restored and others still presenting the restoration work done in the twentieth century. Guests can now dine and sleep in this 17th century decor. It is the perfect base for the ‘Wine and Design’ Tour.

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The Wine and Design team overlooking the gardens of Château Beychevelle running down to the Garonne Estuary.

Once you leave the Chateau you are immediately transported into the 21st century: the brand new cellars innovative in both design and technology. Allowing design, technical wine making and a low carbon footprint to come together in the glass and metal winery – a stunning juxtaposition of old and ultra modern.

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The spectacular new cellars of Château Beychevelle

Another striking Medoc example of the old and the new is Chateau Pedesclaux, a little further north in Pauillac. Here the two are much more intimately woven. Glass is the perfect medium for a showcase and at Pedesclaux it is the Château that is encased. Instead of building a classic extension the owners, Jacky and Françoise Lorenzetti, built a glass case around the chateau incorporating the dovecote into the new tasting room. The neighbouring cellar is also modern: stainless steel, temperature control and gravity-fed technology over four stories, discretely half-hidden into the side of the gravel outcrop the chateau sits upon.

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The glass tasting room of Château Pedesclaux including the dovecote and spectacular Murano chandeliers

Sometimes you can’t always work with the old, the Perrodo family were presented with such a challenge They are now well established in the Medoc, already owners of Chateau Labegorce, they purchased Château Marquis d’Alesme in 2006. Or at least the vines of this prestigious classified growth, next to chateau Margaux, the original chateau remains in the hands of the previous owners.

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There are dragons in Margaux – attention to detail at Château Marquis d’Alesme

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The oriental theme continues inside – the moon door entrance to the barrel cellars.

They had to start effectively from scratch to build a winery. And what a winery: functional but also beautiful, it is inspired by their dual Chinese and French heritage: a Zen cellar to make, age and share the wine from the estate.

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The new Château Marquis d’Alesme – a zen attitude in the heart of Margaux

They share their passion not just through the cellars and wine but also through the sensory gardens and small restaurant. Wine and design bring together two different cultures through a shared passion.

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The elegant design at château Marquis d’Alesme insides the sensory gardens

Closer to Bordeaux, in fact almost downtown, Chateau les Carmes Haut Brion is another, if very different, example of starting from scratch. The previous owner is still living in the original chateau so the new owner, Pichet, commissioned Philippe Stark to create a very original new cellar for this 33 ha vineyard (6 ha around the cellars and 27 ha near Martillac for Le C des Carmes). The cellar resembles a ship sailing on water with the wine making cellar on top and the barrel underneath and a terrace and tasting room above it all.

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The spectacular Stark cellars at Château les Carmes Haut Brion

 

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And the contemporary dining room above the cellars at Château Les Carmes Haut Brion

We were not only interested in the cellars, Abigail is an interior designer after all, so what happens in the chateau is as important, if not more important to her. After all these ‘homes’ are often used to welcome clients and prestigious guests to share the wines made from the surrounding vines. Abigail walked us through The Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design in a neoclassical townhouse built in 1779. It is dedicated to the classic Bordeaux interior design of the period; Abigail identified for us, the key styles of the period that we would find again in the wines properties.

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Enter into 18th century Bordeaux at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design

Chateau de Cerons is one such treasure; hidden away in Cerons, the smallest of the Bordeaux appellations, known for it’s elegant sweet white wines. Since 2012, Caroline and Xavier Peyromat are bringing this family property back to life. A listed historical monument, built in the early 17th century in the classic Bordeaux chartreuse style (mentioned above), it is a bijou of 18th century architecture.

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Chateau de Cerons

The original interiors have remained intact over the years and we found the same plaster reliefs on the walls and fireplaces here that we saw in the museum in Bordeaux. But this is no museum.

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The original decorative details in Château de Cerons

The chateau is at the heart of a vineyard producing a range of red and dry white Graves as well as the sweet Cerons and is also the family home. A family that generously shared their unique piece of history, opening their doors to us we discovered the chateau, vines and cellars as well as having a picnic in the park accompanied with wines from the property of course.

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a picnic in the grounds of Château de Cerons

So bored of touring Bordeaux? Never. There is always something new to see and something new to learn.

The long & international journey of a wine barrel.

Wherever I am in the world Bordeaux seems to follow me around, usually as bottles.  There is usually a familiar wine on the list. Sometimes on the other side of the world I’ll discover something new from very close to home. But it’s not only bottles and the wine they contain that travel from Bordeaux. Barrels do too.

Barrels are an important part of wine making. Used judiciously, they can add complexity, longevity and power. Used less wisely, they can overpower a wine, masking elegance and subtlety. Barrels add aromas and tannins but also help the wine along its evolution, encouraging a slow and controlled oxygenation of the wine as air seeps in through porous oak. This allows the highly reactive tannins from the wine and the oak to combine, creating larger tannin molecules that seem less abrasive on the palate.

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Beautiful French oak barrels at Château Montrose

This influence of the barrel upon the wine depends on so many factors. I mention oak above, but it doesn’t have to be, I’ve seen other wood essences used. Acacia is one you will sometimes find in white wine cellars in Bordeaux.

For oak the source of the tree, how slowly it grew, where it grew, (terroir doesn’t only come into play with grapes) and the age of the tree all play a role. The slower the tree grows the tighter the grain will be and the better quality the oak.

An oak tree destined for barrels may be over 200 years old. This raises a few eyebrows at a time when sustainability is a wine buzzword, but be reassured. These French oak forests are owned and tightly managed by the French state, only released for sale by auction, plot by plot, when they are ready to be felled and systematically re-planted. Thanks to Colbert’s 17th century policy of planting oak forests for war ships to fight the English, the French forests are thriving. Ironic then that so much of barrel-aged Bordeaux wine now ends up on the UK market.

Despite increasing worldwide demand, supply remains controlled explaining why these French oak barrels don’t come cheap; anything from €600 to €900 a pop depending on the size and the aging of the oak.

Once felled, how the oak is prepared and aged also influences the flavours it imparts to the wine. French oak is split not sawn. This ensures the grain of the wood is respected so the barrels remain watertight.  It adds to the cost, in labour but also reduces the volume of the tree trunk that can be used for barrel staves. American oak has a less regular grain so planks are sawn meaning more volume can be used, this higher yield and ease of manipulation reduces cost. The flavour profile is different however. Several wine makers have described American oak to me as giving  more coconut than vanilla aromas that are associated with French oak. You will find both in many Bordeaux cellars.

After being split and prepared into staves the wood must be aged, for anything up to three years. Exposed to wind and rain in the unpolluted areas near the forest, inelegant tannins are washed away and transformed by microscopic fungus on the surface of the cut wood.

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Barrel staves ageing at Nadalie in the Medoc

Splitting also means that staves size will differ, assembling the staves to form a barrel is like creating a unique 3D puzzle for each individual barrel. Once the oak is matured barrel making begins. It’s a fascinating process that remains very manual – there is only so much you can mechanise. The key skills of heating the staves, whilst keeping them damp allows for sufficient flexibility to bend them to the rotund shape of a barrel. Then gentle toasting will impart the flavours to the wine; a raw barrel will bring very little to the party. Both these processes rely on the traditional skill and judgement of the barrel maker. It’s impressive to watch, I  highly recommend a visit to a cooperage if you have never seen this. The finished barrels are each a work of art.

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Different degrees of toasting give different flavour profiles.

With so many variables in the process, each having an influence on the final taste profile, most barrels are tailor made to suit a particular wine maker. It’s not unusual to see barrels from several different cooperages in a chateau cellar, each one bringing its own flavour profile.

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Barrel making – still a manual skill here at Boutes in Bordeaux

In Bordeaux barrels will be used for one to three years on average, depending upon the barrel policy of the wine maker. Their flavour profile changes with age. The newer the barrel, the more pronounced the flavours and the tannins it will impart to the wine. Vineyards producing powerful, often Cabernet driven, wines may use 100% new oak for their first wines. A more traditional Bordeaux approach is one third new, one third one year old and one third two year old barrels, combining new barrels with some already used for previous vintages. A producer making lighter wines may prefer older barrels if they are looking for the gentle evolution resulting from ageing in an oak container rather than a cement or stainless vat.

Blending defines Bordeaux wines and the use of barrels is part of this. Some wine makers will blend their wines before barrel ageing, others after or even during the ageing process. Blending just before bottling allows wine makers to profile the different lots of wine, adapting the choice of barrel to each lot (age of vines, different varietals). Other wine makers prefer to blend before ageing and rack from one barrel to another so the wine benefits from the complexity a range of barrels bring.

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Racking from barrel to barrel, here in the cellars of Chateau Phelan Segur,  increases complexity as well as removing sediment from aging wines.

What happens to the barrels once the wine makers have finally finished with them? I come back to my introduction – they travel. I have seen Bordeaux oak barrels in many places. New ones are exported directly to wine makers from California to South Africa, with French oak holding a premium for many wine makers.

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New oak barrels reading for shipping around the world from Boutes in Bordeaux

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A new Boutes oak barrel at Glenelly in South Africa

But used barrels travel too. They may go to other wineries. Rioja, for example, buys a lot of used barrels as much of their wine is aged for many years in older barrels looking to round out the wines through slow oxygenation rather than add powerful tannins.

As wine ages in barrels it soaks into the wood, staining it dark red and leaving a shiny deposit of tartaric crystals. This makes the barrel less porous but it also make the wood very attractive and staves from these older barrels are often up-cycled for decorative items such as bottle holders, and furniture – the limit is your inspiration.

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Wine and tartrate deposits make used barrel staves decorative.

 

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Barrel staves make a stunning cellar door at Château l’Evangile in Pomerol

If you replace the wine with a more powerful alcohol it acts as a solvent leaching some of the wine colour and flavours as well as the oak flavours and tannins into the alcohol. Whisky is always aged in used barrels, although once you get to Scotland they are referred to as casks. These casks come from all over the world. The thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses (not cellars) are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we see in Bordeaux cellars.

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Used casks waiting to be prepared and filled with whisky at Glenfiddich.

Those dark, rich aromas and mouth-feel we associate with whisky for example, owe a lot to the previous tenants of the barrel. Whisky needs long cask ageing; straight from the still spirit is white, taking its colour from the barrel. Sherry or bourbon casks are traditionally used, the decline in sherry’s popularity, reducing production has resulted in whisky distillers often financing sherry companies barrel consumption to ensure their supply.

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Whisky casks of different origins in the Edradour warehouse

Spirit producers are getting more adventurous, offering a diverse and growing range of finishes. A finish is when a spirit spends the last few months of its life in a different cask, often a wine barrel. It makes a difference. Compare different finishes and you’ll see a different hue depending upon the barrels used. Unsurprisingly whiskies finished with a Bordeaux or other red wine barrel will have a more ruddy colour than others.

Barrels are expensive new but after three years of wine ageing they are worth less than €100. Even so it helps if you can ensure the supply chain. Handy then that some wineries and whisky distillers belong to the same groups. At the Auchentoshen distillery near Glasgow I saw many Chateau Lagrange barrels used for their Bordeaux finish – unsurprising as drinks group Suntory owns both the winery and the distillery.

There is synergy in other groups too. Glemorangie is owned by LVMH and was one of the first whisky distilleries to introduce a complete range of different finishes including a premium Sauternes finish. No coincidence perhaps that LVMH are also the owners of Château d’Yquem. The residual sweetness of the Sauternes barrels – reminiscent perhaps of those sweet sherry barrels – imparts unique aromas and mouth feel to the whisky. On my last trip to Scotland last year I saw Sauternes barrels from Château Suduiraut used for the Sauternes finish at Tullibardine.

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The Chateau du Seuil Cerons finish limited edition Glenfiddich

It was a sweet Bordeaux finish that first took me to Glenfiddich. I was there to sample a Cerons cask-finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich in barrels of Chateau du Seuil. Glenfiddich continues to innovate; the latest addition to their experimental series is Winter Storm a whisky finished in Canadian ice wine casks. Again that residual sweetness.

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Winter Storm from Glenfidich: the love story between whisky and sweet wine barrels crosses the Atlantic.

Why not import the whisky to Bordeaux rather than export the barrels? Upon returning to Bordeaux, I found that this is exactly what Moon Harbour is doing, finishing whisky from Scotland in barrels from Château La Louviere while they wait for the first whisky from their new Bordeaux based still.

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Moon Harbour – Scotch Whisky aged in Bordeaux – whilst they wait for the first drops from the Bordeaux stills to age.

Whisky is not the only spirit that uses old barrels; Rum enjoys the influences of used barrels too. I have already talked about the joint venture between London wine merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd and Medine in Mauritius. This week, at a rum tasting in Mauritius, I tasted the delicious new Sauternes finish rum at the Chamarel Rhumerie. See what I mean when I say Bordeaux barrels travel?

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A Sauternes finish for the Chamarel Rhum from Mauritius

And what goes around comes around. The Balvenie Caribbean cask whisky is finished in – you guessed it – rum casks.

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The Blavenie line up including the Caribbean Cask

Even after all this there may still be life left in an old cask or barrel; furniture, planters or barbeque fuel perhaps? From fire to fire. The life of a barrel can be a long and winding road.

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Old casks have a second life in artwork by a Glenfiddich artist in residence.