Category Archives: News

All that’s new in the Wine World

Psst, wanna buy some wine?

Wine buyers 2Want to buy directly from a winery but don’t fancy hopping in the car and driving across Europe? Take a look at Wine Buyers.

Calling in to their London offices the other day, this has to be the youngest wine initiative I have ever seen. If you think the wine business is stuffy, this will change your mind. Serial start-up entrepreneur, Ben Revell, has taken his passion for fine wine, luxury and technology and rolled them into one to create Wine Buyers. After a soft launch in October last year, it has grown and grown to now include over 30,000 different wines from almost 40 countries on the site.

It’s an interesting and original model: A wine club, free to join for clients, with suppliers, be they wineries, chateaux or wine merchants, paying a monthly fee to offer up their wines directly to buyers. It means that smaller properties as well as the well established can access a mainly young clientele looking to discover and learn about wines and have them delivered to their door.

The site is constantly evolving, clever technology allows the Winebuyers site to integrate directly with producer websites for automated real-time stock updates. With an average of eight new suppliers joining a week, it is effectively a virtual shop front for producers and merchants. The site doesn’t mark up prices or charge commission on any item sold, the revenue stream comes from the suppliers referenced on the site happy to increase exposure to their products, with original funding for the start up via CrowdCube.

Being Bordeaux biased, I went straight to this category and they have everything from branded wines, to small producers and great growths and a lovely shop window of sweet Bordeaux, which always works for me. It’s easy to navigate with categories by colour grape varieties and regions and by food pairing.

It’s dynamic and hip, including 734 vegan, 670 vegetarian wines and over 400 UK wines and a growing following on social media. They are interacting with their members through competitions and an regularly updated blog, introducing them to different wine categories.  They believe their members are keen to learn and experiment and help them to do so through recommendations and seasonal tips and suggestions from wine specialists and influencers (those gin baubles?)

This should be fun. I wish them luck.

 

 

 

The Malbec Maestro.

Having established himself as a pioneer of Argentinian Malbec, Hervé Joyaux, Red Winemaker of the Year 2018, has now focused his sights on the origins of Malbec in Cahors.

In the 1990s, Hervé Joyaux moved from Bordeaux to Argentina, taking with him his old world wine expertise and inspiration. After more than 20 years, he has created an internationally recognised range of wines under the Fabre Montmayou and Vinalba labels from both Mendoza and Patagonia. His role as a Malbec pioneer in Argentina was recognised this year when the International Wine Challenge awarded him the title Red Winemaker of the Year for his outstanding work and his championing of Malbec both in Argentina and on the global stage since the early 1990’s.

Malbec is now considered as the emblematic grape of Argentina, but this was not always the case. When Hervé first visited Argentina in 1990, just 10,000 hectares were planted with Malbec. By 2017 this had risen to 41,000 hectares, over a third of Argentina’s planted red grape varieties.

Hervé immediately saw the potential of older plots of Malbec in the Lujan de Coye and Valle de Uco and purchased some of Argentina’s oldest Malbec vineyards here (planted in 1908). He built his first winery, Fabre Montmayou, in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in 1992, surrounded by the very first 15 hectares he purchased. They have now planted more vineyards in the Gualtallary area of the Valley de Uco region and source exclusively old-vine vineyards in the best wine growing areas of Mendoza for Fabre Montmayou.

Fabre Montmayouwas the first winery to launch a high-end Malbec on the American market. Hervé’s wife, Diane, joined the team in 1997 and her passion for wine and her marketing skills have developed sales all over the world, creating a sound reputation for their wines.

Their adventures have taken them to Patagonia, on the southern point region of South America, where their vineyards lie between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in the Alto Valle of the Río Negro area.  At latitude of 39 degrees south, the climate is similar to the Northern Rhône, giving wines with a very complimentary style to Mendoza.

Today, the vineyards of Fabre Montmayou extend over 450 hectares, across Mendoza and Patagonia.

When Hervé and Diane decided to invest back in France, this passion for the expression of Malbec across different terroirs led them back to Cahors, the origin of the Malbec grape. In 2017, They became the new owners of the Vignobles Saint Didier Parnac, Château de Grézels and the Prieuré de Cénac offering them access to the range of some of the best terroir Cahors has to offer.

It is a very different challenge to Argentina, the climate, the terroir and the elevation, but it was this diversityof terroir that seduced them.

The challenge was all the more painful due to the inclement weather of 2017 where frosts destroyed a large part of their production. The 2018 now in the cellars is looking great, the dryer climate here meant mildew was less of an issue than in nearby Bordeaux and Bergerac.

The 2016 wines are Hervé’s first expression of Malbec in Cahors, where he was able to work with the specificities each soil gives to the Malbec, creating blends across his range. There is so much more to the notion of blend than simply bringing together different grape varieties. Here the different expressions that the diverse terroirs bring to a single variety are blended to create the wines.

Hervé simplified the soils into three main types for me: Le Cause is a high limestone plateau from the Jurassic period, with steep slopes rising from 250 to 350 metres above sea level (a bit different from Valley de Uco!).

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A valley, where the Lot River has deposited alluvium material as it meandered across the valley floor, surrounds this plateau. Between the two are a series of terraces on the slopes.

For such a successful wine maker Hervé remains very humble, he has worked closely with local wine makers to understand the interaction of the local weather and this diverse terroir so very different to Argentina.

Investment across these three emblematic terroirs of the region allow Hervé to create a range of wines, that are 100% Malbec, each a different expression of their terroir. Château Saint-Didier Parnac is located in the valley, Prieuré de Parnaclocated on the hills of the Cause and Château de Grézels located in both the valley and on the Cause.

Le Prieuré de Cénac

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The vines high up around the Prieuré de Cénac.

Visiting The Prieuré de Cénac, I immediately saw why Diane and Hervé fell in love with it. This is the highest of their vineyards, on a limestone promontory, 300m above sea level, with 360° views over the surrounding vines. It is unique and takes some getting to. Originally a priory where the monks lived, they certainly chose the right place to get away from it all. The wines of Le Prieuré are the flagship wines of Hervé’s Cahors collection.

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The range of wines from Le Prieuré de Cénac

The balance of fresh fruit and power is the signature of all the wines including the Prieuré de Cénac and the second wine la Mission de Picpus.

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The spectacular 11th century cellars under the Prieuré

The beautiful under ground cellar dating from the late 18th century, is a witness to the age of the site as is the Virgin Mary statue in its grotto at the crossroads of the Saint Jacques de Compostella route. This grotto is the inspiration for the name of their top cuvee, La Vierge de Cénac. At once an elegant yet powerful 100% Malbec, it is made from a specific plot where the presence of iron and manganese in the clay topsoil give a mineral freshness to the power of the Malbec.

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The vines of the Chateau de Grézels are around the fortress that gives them their name.

Chateau de Grézels is a medieval fortress high above the Prayssac River that takes it’s name from the Gréze. This old Occitan word describes the eroded pieces of limestone from the Cause plateau that have formed cones of limestone screeat the foot of the slopes. They cover the third terrace and are the deepest and best-drained soils of Cahors. Hervé is very excited by this Gréze as some of the most famous wines in the world come from this type of soil. It gives finesse to Malbec, whereas the clay-sand soils nearer the river give fruit and power. The vineyard surrounding the chateau also has plots ofland in the valley and on the Cause, where the red soils show the presence of iron. Some of these plots are ancient vineyards that were overrun by forest after the phylloxera crisis, and only returned to vines in the 1980s, as part of the on-going renewal of Cahors. When I was there Hervé was putting the finishing touches to the brand new cellar at Grézels fr the 2018 harvest.

The Château Saint-Didier sits in a meander of the River Lot, where the wide valley is covered with vineyards descending gently from the Cause to the river. Here the soil of the first terraceis made up of fertile alluviums, silty sands that give light and fruity wines. Just five meters higher is the second terrace; a limestone subsoil where the pebbles mixed with clay give the wine structure and depth. Higher still, the third terrace is stony and well drained with deeper clay where the fruit ripens easily giving density and definition to the wines.

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Morning mist over the Lot River, behind the cellars of Château Saint Didier.

The wines from Château Saint-Didier are made from a selection of plots across all three terraces. Here it is blending terroir he is blending, not varietals, to gain the elegance and complexity he is looking for.

Château Saint-Didier is also where the winemaking currently takes place for Prieuré de Cénac and the wines from the Latis and Calos brands, made in their dedicated cellar there too. The beautiful vaulted cellars of Saint Didier, built in about 1760 offer ideal barrel ageing conditions for the wines.

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The aging cellars of Château Saint didier.

The latest creation of Vignobles Saint Didier is Calos, a local name for the terroir of gravel on the slopes of the plateau. Hervé has selected plots from their vineyards along the terraces that give the best expression to the Malbec – these wines are 100% of the local grape.

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The labels of the Calos range are texture to highlight the importance of the terroir in the blends.

Calos offers a Reserve and Grand Reserve. The Grand reserve is bottled in a Burgundy bottle, emphasising the fact that it is a single varietal not a blend as in neighbouring Bordeaux. There has been a tension between Cahors and Bordeaux since medieval times so this is a cheeky nod towards Bordeaux, where Hervé originally hails from. The same wines are available in some markets under the name Latis, also available as a Reserve and grand reserve

Just as in Argentina and Patagonia where Hervé has a crafted a large range to expresses the diversity of terroir and climate there, his aim is to the same in Cahors. This range of styles and price points from the historic terroirs of the region allows consumers to discover and understand the diversity of the Malbec of Cahors.

His Cahors style of Malbec has finesse and minerality compared to Argentina where the consistent warmth, the cool nights and long growing season give fleshier, softer wines.

The generosity of Hervé Joyaux and his enthusiasm for Malbec, rediscovered in its home territory, shines brightly through these wines.  There is a wind of change in Cahors and once again this red winemaker of the year is at the centre of an exciting wine regeneration.

 

 

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.

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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.

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

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

Wines drunk, friends made, fortunes lost.

I promised a review of  Stevens Spurrier’s book “Wine – A Way of Life”, in a previous post. I was looking forward to wine world gossip and I wasn’t disappointed.  Steven clearly states that the book is not an autobiography but a memoir of his life in wine, and he’s right. The book bounces you about all over the place, following the threads and personalities that have made Steven the wine authority he has become. Those looking for a history of the wine business might find this frustrating but the insights to the people and places, as well as the wines, that have made our wine business what it is today are fascinating.

He is charmingly candid about his adventures, some more successful than others, and about the money spent, lost and occasionally gained. Like a pantomime character, you want to help by shouting ‘look out behind you’ and you see potential disaster looming as he embarks on another brilliant idea – and in hindsight so does he.

For many of his projects he was just too far ahead of his time or just not in the right place at the right time. But goodness me what a lot of places he has been.

His early adventures as an unpaid trainee, going from pillar to post at some of the most prestigious wineries of the world, would make any aspiring cellar rat’s eyes pop today.

But he certainly was in the right place at the right time in 1976 when he organised what has become known as ‘The Judgement of Paris’. Although after the sulks from the French wine trade it might not have felt so at the time.

wine a way of life

Steven spurrier – still dapper after all these years!

Steven is well aware of the privilege of the places he has visited, the people he has met and wines he has tasted and he generously shares them all. Despite the years and the wines he has lost none of his wonder and enthusiasm for the ‘wine game’

He rarely dwells on those who have taken advantage of him, berating himself for a lack of business sense. Steven doesn’t seem to hold any rancour, at least nothing to make him bitter or to change his relaxed and charming demeanour.

I can’t claim that Steven introduced me to wine, but during my ‘formative’ years in Paris, straight out of university, many an evening spent at the Blue Fox (often affectionately known as ‘The Flu Box’ as the evening wore on) certainly did nothing to dissuade me from entering the business. Even now, every time I see Steven, it takes me back to those carefree times. This book will do the same for anyone fortunate to have frequented the critic’s bar and restaurant, shopped at les Caves de la Madeleine or tasted at l’Academie du Vin.

Choose wine for the mood not for the food is one of Stevens many gems, I suggest this Wine-A Way of Life will put you in the mood for a glass from Steven’s latest vinous adventure: Bride Valley.

 

Eco Bordeaux

Bordeaux vineyards, like other agricultural sectors in France, have recently come under harsh criticism for their pesticide and herbicide use. An article in the local Bordeaux paper Le Sud Ouest last week, showed a tractor spraying vines with the headline ‘Pesticide use increased by 12% in two years in France’, implying that vineyards were primarily to blame. It’s worth taking a closer look. These figures show an increase in pesticides of across all agriculture and across the whole of France, and this despite an ‘ecophyto’ plan put into place by the French government in 2008.

Consumers are rightly concerned about residues in the final product and the negative effective on the environment, but wine makers, vineyard workers and the populations surrounding the vineyards are also worried about the more immediate effects of the treatments themselves.

In the spring of 2018 Allan Sichel, the President of the CIVB, (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux Wine Council) underlined the importance of sustainable development in the vineyards and outlined how Bordeaux was rising to the challenge.

Bordeaux suffers from a particularly damp climate thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. This means that diseases such as mildew and odium are rife. Organic treatment of these diseases is particularly difficult as they are washed away by rain and must be reapplied after each downpour, a task made even more difficult on heavy clay soils when they are wet.

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Misty mornings may be great for Sauternes but also encourage Mildew and other fungal diseases

Although only 8% of the Bordeaux vineyard currently adheres to an organic certification, many more use organic methods, eschewing certification allowing them to treat with non-organic methods in dire weather conditions. Others feel that the higher levels of Bordeaux Mixture which contains Copper, a heavy metal allowed in organic production, goes against their philosophy. There is no easy answer, especially given the diversity of soil types over such a large region.

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Vineyard spraying is under closer control

There is a plethora of other environmental friendly certifications in France (and Europe), which makes tracking the progress towards eco-friendly practises tricky. According to the CIVB, 60% of vineyards in Gironde were cultivated in ‘an environmentally sensitive way’ in 2017 (this includes organic, biodynamic, integrated and sustainable agriculture) up 5% compared to 2016.

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Trees and hedgerows in the vines encourage biodiversity

Despite their good intentions the CIVB cannot force the hand of producers; they are an independent bunch, but it can encourage them. So what is it doing?

The CIVB invests about €1.2 M pa into research on reducing chemical use, including researching disease resistant strains of grape varieties, treatments that stimulate the natural vine defences and obtaining a more intimate understanding of vine disease to avoid blanket treatments.

Alongside the French Government they are pressuring Agrochemical firms to develop alternative solutions to CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction) products, updating their professional website with alternatives as they become available

The CIVB’s most successful project has been the Système de Management Environnemental (SME) (environmental management system) Since 2010, 773 companies (vineyards, negociants and cooperatives – including 98 crus classés) have signed up to this collective process of transition from traditional to an environmentally friendly certification, be it organic, biodynamic or sustainable agriculture.

Gironde is top of the class in France with the High Environmental Value (HEV) certification, 223 of the 841 certified French producers were in the Gironde at the beginning of this year.

The 1SO 14001 certification has increased dramatically from just 32 in 2014 to 200 in 2017. A total 6675ha of vines are certified organic with another 1335ha under conversion (it takes 3 years) and almost 1 000 ha are now in bio dynamics. Other sustainable certifications such as Terravitis, Area, RSE, etc. cover about 20 000 ha.

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Weather stations in the vineyards give accurate data helping to decide when and what to spray – reducing chemical input

To protect neighbouring communities, the CIVB has created a tool allowing winegrowers to better visualise their plots close to sensitive zones (schools, hospitals, care homes), asking winegrowers with plots near these sites not to make treatments during the week to avoid exposing children in schools for example. This goes a step further than the 2016 local government decree outlining measures to protect such sites.

In 2016 the CIVB set an objective of a severe reduction of pesticide use. Has there been any change? Contrary to the national figures cited between 2014 and 2016 sales of CMR pesticides in the Gironde region were down 50% and herbicides sales fell by 35%. (Source DRAAF Nouvelle Aquitaine). On the other hand sales of organic products for use in vineyards represented 35% of the tonnage of total sales of vineyard supplies in 2016.

A bigger deal is the recent vote by wine appellation bodies Organismes de Défense et de Gestion (ODG) representing over 80% of the Bordeaux vineyard, to change the specifications to qualify for appellation status to include environmental measures. This includes a ban on weed killers, the requirement for winegrowers to know and measure their Treatment Frequency Index (TFI), a key indicator in the use of pesticides, and, thanks to the introduction of resistant varietals, decreasing the use of pesticides (maximum 5% of the surface area). This must now be approved by the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité) and will require a change in European Community regulations. Non-adherence will then result in the loss of appellation status and wine being sold as Wine Without Geographical Indication (VSIG). The Margaux ODG is investing heavily in research and encouraging biodiversity through a campaign of hedgerow planting.

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Wildflower planting in the vineyard is good for the birds and the bees as well as the tourists

As if to remind us that Bordeaux weather doesn’t help, 2017 was a particularly painful year for many producers with the historically damaging frost in April. Several vineyards lost most or all of their production. Total volumes were 39% lower than 2016, the lowest since 1991, another frosted vintage. 2018 also saw hail damage in spring and summer across several appellations in particular Bourg, Blaye, the Southern Medoc and Sauternes, followed by a severe attack of mildew. Producers can do little about these climatic crises, although recent changes will now allow the use of hail nets. At least with Mildew, odium and other pests and diseases there are options, albeit expensive with the necessity for multiple treatments this year.

Travelling through the vineyards there is a more obvious demonstration of this change in philosophy. More hedges and trees are being planted and more cover crops between vines, all encouraging bio diversity as well as controlling vine vigour. Touring Bordeaux you will see fields of wildflowers planted where plots are left fallow between planting as well as the occasional horse drawn plough. There is a better understanding of terroir, leading to plot-by-plot cultivation and precision viticulture.

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A horse drawn plough near the Gironde estuary at château Latour

Progress may be slow but it is in the right direction. The continued research into alternative treatments and resistant grapes, alongside a willingness of more informed producers to change, holds some of the answers to a more environmental approach to both vine growing and wine making.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

What’s New in Bordeaux Wine Retail?

Bordeaux is enjoying its success as a city break destination with visitor numbers skyrocketing. Its reputation as a gastronomic centre is also well established as witnessed by more Michelin stars this year. The sleeping beauty that was Bordeaux no longer slumbers but is wide awake and partying, joined by Parisian visitors now only two hours away on the high speed LGV train.

Wine makers are not slow to make the most of the vibrant city scene as a showcase for their wines. Not everyone who visits Bordeaux makes it out to the vineyards – although they really should, as it is now so easy.

Affordable Bordeaux are invited to the party. Chateau Lestrille, a family vineyard in the Entre Deux Mers region, now has it’s own wine bar in the heart of old Bordeaux. The dynamic owner, Estelle Roumage, 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.

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Un Château en Ville

There is no shortage of great wine shops in Bordeaux and with so much competition and the fact that most of them are owned by wine merchants – prices are usually pretty competitive. If you have left your wine buying until the last minute – don’t despair. Wine Merchant Briau can help. They opened the ‘Pavilion des Vins du Bordeaux’ last year in the newly renovated train station built for the arrival of the new high speed LGV train from Paris. This is the second shop of the Wine Merchant under the management of Pierre-Antoine Borie. Son of owners Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste in Pauillac, Borie knows his way around Bordeaux wine and this large modern shop offers a range from €3 to €800, and there is always white, rose and champagne on ice for that last minute purchase. They are open from 10 ’til 8pm including Sundays and bank holidays to welcome the estimated 20 million passengers a year that are expected through the new  station.

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The Pavillons des Vins de Bordeaux at the Gare Saint Jean

As it’s all about getting closer to the consumer, three innovative wine enthusiasts have a plan to get even closer this summer. They met at a wine tasting club in 2015 and pondered how to help consumers navigate the wide range of wines that can leave the uninitiated stumped. Their solution was to create the first crowd-funded wine shop in Bordeaux, Les Trois Pinardiers, offering a tight selection of just 50 wines that changes every three months.

The small ships that transported the wine from port to port along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers inspired their name. Fitting, as transport is another of their innovations: punters can order wine from their phone with the promise of a delivery in the city in under 30 minutes, with local food specialities and fresh bread too.

This year they will be getting even closer to their customers, launching the first Bordeaux wine truck. Food trucks are nothing new to Bordeaux, but Les Trois Pinardiers have adapted a Citroen H from the 70s into a mobile wine bar. It will hit the road in June.

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The Trois pinardiers’ Wine Truck

It’s never been easier to enjoy great wine, in Bordeaux at affordable, even without any forward planning.