Tag Archives: Château d’Arche

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

2014.06.28 Dégustation Perchée

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.

Tisanerie_993 © F.Nivelle

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.


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.


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.






Sorted !

After an interminable wait that had every winemaker’s eyes turned to the sky, the harvest is now finished in the Bordeaux vineyard and the red wines are almost all run off into barrels or undergoing Malo in tanks.

Fermentation at Chateau d’Aiguilhe in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Pumping over at Chateau Lynch Bages in Pauillac

Emptying the vats after the running off at Chateau Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan

Mother nature has kept everyone on their toes this year with what has been a challenging vintage (that’s the polite version!)

The first 3 months of 2013 were marked by cold and steady rain. A late spring with a dry April meant bud break was late (mid April) and the return of the cool weather and more rain made the late flowering difficult for Merlot which, although the most precocious Bordeaux red varietal, only started to blossom around June 10th, compared to May 31st in 2012.

The rain between June 17th and June 23rd caused millerandage (development of berries without pips which remain tiny) and coulure (badly fertilized flowers drop without giving any fruit). These phenomena cause a substantial decrease in the potential quantity of the harvest.

Summer finally arrived in July, sun and heat set in and the 330 hours of sunshine in one month equalled the 1991 record. However the summer was marred by thunderstorms and hail. During the night of July 18th hail fell on a very small zone in the Medoc and then again on July 25th and 26 on the entire region.

Uneven developement of the Merlot grapes necesitated a lot of sorting

Despite the summer warmth the development of vegetation remained delayed by 15 days. August was also sunny (42 hours more than average), with temperatures close to the norm, but again marred by thunderstorms with a devastating hailstorm on Friday 2nd of August. 15 000 hectares were hit by the hail, 7000 of which were shattered at 80%, representing 6% of the total Bordeaux vineyard. Concentrated in the Entre-Deux-Mers region this has created a dramatic situation for some producers whose yields are extremely low or non-existent this year.

By the 3rd week of August the Véraison (change of colour of the berries) was underway, leading to a harvest date predicted as 8 to 15 days later than average, based upon the late flowering date.

So at the start of harvest there was cause for concern but as usual with a vintage like this the picture was very varied from region to region. Bordeaux is a big place so the scene is very different depending upon the appellation and the different varietals. Terroir has played a part, better-drained soils with exposure to winds being an advantage in a damp growing season. Merlot has suffered most from the cool, damp spring – being early budding and flowering with a greater sensitivity to the Millerandange and Coulure (see above), the development of many bunches of Merlot has been uneven.

However the grape growers have not contented themselves to simply follow the weather patterns. Their actions throughout the year in preparing for the vintage have had an obvious effect on the quality of the grapes on the vines.

Selection in the field

Careful deleafing and green harvesting has allowed the air to circulate around the bunches of grapes and reduced the incidence of mould on the Merlot in these plots. Interestingly the argument for organic production has also been debated this year. With this humidity, vines are susceptible to mildew and later to bad or grey botrytis. However some plots that have been under organic culture for several years seem to be showing a greater resistance to mould and other diseases that flourish in these conditions. This is a good thing, as, under organic agriculture, the farmers cannot treat their grapes with systemic molecules. They are only allowed to use the Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and lime), which unfortunately washes off with the next rainfall, making for expensive and repetitive treatments. With the vintage approaching, organic treatments are limited to a powdering of talc to soak up some of the excess humidity. There is also the possibility that anti fungal treatments thicken the skins of the grapes meaning they ripen later. Those not using these treatments were at an advantage this year. Ripening was difficult and late, especially for the Cabernets  with not everyone brave enough to wait for fear of more rainstorms and the spread of more rot.

Selection bunch by bunch

September continued to be wet, with an especially heavy storm on 28th bringing 30% of the month’s rain in a few minutes and although temperatures were up slightly (½ degree) creating an almost tropical feel in some areas, and more rot, the average levels of sunshine were down over the month.

Merlot is currently the most widespread grape in Bordeaux (65% in 2012) and it suffered this year; fortunately the Cabernets tell a different story. The late development this year left many fearing that the Cabernet, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, would struggle to ripen. But whereas the Merlot has only a short window of opportunity for harvesting, the Cabernets, thanks to their thicker skin, are sturdier and can wait. Fortunately the sun decided to shine early October giving some warm days and cooler nights – perfect for Cabernet – for those who could wait either because they had nerves of steel or a cooler windier terroir that slowed down the development of that pesky rot.

Selection berry by berry by hand at Châtheau Olivier in Pessac-Leognan


and by Optical Selection at Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe


There were some beautiful healthy bunches

and some very scary ones

Talking of mould, it may strike fear into the hearts of red producers but sweet white wine producers are delighted. The Noble Rot (Botrytis Cinerea) developed well on the Semillon and Sauvignon grapes in the sweet wine areas. The first tries (selections) gave cause for producers to be cautiously optimistic after their trials of 2012 despite some isolated hail in the village of Illats mid harvest. The later tries where not quite as concentrated but again careful selection and blending will produce some beautiful sweet wines in 2013.

The developement of Botrytis on Semillon at Chateau d’Arche in Sauternes 

Beautiful botrytis at Chateau Sigalas Rabuad in Sauternes

Fermentation starting at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud

The dry whites are also safely in the vats now and although the volume may be lower than a normal year, producers are happy with the quality of their crop.

Beautifully healthy Sauvignon bunches at Chateau Latour Martillac in Pessac-Leognan

What is encouraging is that new technology is at hand to help the wine maker in such a vintage. Having done the best they can to ensure the quality in the field has been, inevitably in such a vintage, a need for strict berry selection prior to fermentation.

Having done the best they can to ensure quality in the field, producers keen to maintain a reputation for quality also employ a strict berry selection, prior to fermentation. Whether in the field, or at the cellar door, new technologies such as selection tables, optical selectors and tribae help this labour intensive process.  It must be heartbreaking to throw berries away but it is the price to be paid when faced with the challenges that such a vintage presents.

What is sure is that 2013 will show lower yields and it will be well worth a visit to the futures tastings in April 2014 to see how the wine makers of Bordeaux have risen to this, their latest challenge.


Get wed with wine

Just back from England I can confirm that the country is indeed awash with wedding fever. However if you want to get away from the royals why not come to Bordeaux. We might not have castles but we have châteaux instead. Some of which will be happy to open their doors to receive newly weds and their guests, not just in elegant reception rooms but many properties now have guest rooms too

The wine bill will also be considerably more affordable ‘sur place’ than in the UK and it is so much more romantic sipping the wines overlooking the vines where they were grown.

To the north of Bordeaux city in the Médoc. Between the estuary and the ocean it is famed for its vineyards and the stunning châteaux, which are perfect examples of the extravagant architecture of the 18th and 19th Century. In the village of Saint Yzan de Médoc on the banks of the Gironde Estuary is Château Loudenne , the ‘Pink Château’ owned by the Lafragette family. As well as the lavish receptions rooms there is a terrace with an amazing view across the water. It also has many guest rooms and can be accessed by boat as well as the road.
However, if it is luxury and gastronomy you are after, head south to Château Cordeillan Bages, which boasts a Relais & Châteaux hotel belonging to the Cazes family of Château Lynch Bages fame. It comes complete with a Michelin 2-star restaurant where young chef Jean-Luc Rocha has recently taken over and is making his name known (see Bordeaux blonde http://bordeauxblonde.wordpress.com/201 … lan-bages/)
If you prefer something more low key, the same winemaking family also owns Château Les Ormes de Pez, which is run as a guest house and you can take over the entire house with its pool for your event.
Château du Taillan has spectacular old cellars and can accommodate over 100 guests within good proximity to the city and the airport. The venue is not far from modern rooms and a spa at the Hotel du Golf (www.hotelgolfdumedoc.com).
Further south towards Bordeaux city in the village of Margaux, the recently renovated Château Marojallia has a terrace overlooking the vines and can accommodate a large group, with extra rooms at the neighbouring hotel.
Similarly Château Giscours has rooms with the option to stay at its sister property, Château du Tertre, which has an open air pool.

The Orangerie dining room at Château du Tertre

Still on the Left Bank, but south of the city, you can explore the Graves and Sauternes areas.
Classified growths Château Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte both offer sumptuous accommodation. Les Sources de Caudalie in the grounds of Smith Haut Lafitte is a fabulous hotel and wine spa with two restaurants including the Michelin starred Grand Vigne. Not only is it a wonderful way for a bride to be pampered in preparation for her big day, but Smith Haut Lafitte has a reception room that can cater for several hundred guests for a sit down wedding breakfast. Caudalie builds packages on request.
Château Pape Clement in Talence, which is the oldest wine estate in Bordeaux, has a restored glasshouse in the garden designed by Gustave Eiffel (whose significant work includes the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty). For a smaller group they offer wine tourism packages including Rolls Royce rides or helicopter flights should the bride or groom wish to arrive in style.
For the French, Sauternes is a celebratory wine served at weddings, christenings and confirmations. Classified growth Château d’Arche has been transformed into a hotel with views overlooking the vines of Château Yquem.
The Côtes region is not far off the motorway north of Bordeaux with hillside vineyards surrounded by beautiful countryside. Visit Château Pitray, a glorious family property built in 1868 with a working vineyard and set in a park. The family will be delighted to show you around the cellars and taste their wines, which are available in the UK though Majestic.
At Château Biac, Youmna and Toni Asseily will welcome you to one of the three self catering cottages on the hillside vineyard with stunning views over the Garonne River where they make both red and sweet white Cadillac wines.

The wonderful view from Chateau Biac
Saint Emilion is probably the most famous wine village in the Bordeaux region and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999 and is ideal as a romantic setting.
The Hostellerie de Plaisance Relais et Château, where Philippe Etchebest‟s cuisine has been awarded two Michelin stars, is in the centre and overlooks the whole village.
There also a few rooms at Château Pavie Decesse, owned by the Perse family, who own other Châteaux making top Saint Emilion wines.
At Château Franc Mayne, a working winery, is a small hotel whose rooms each have opulent and different décor. A natural swimming pool runs down the limestone slopes under which enormous centuries-old quarries are now used for barrel ageing the wines. The terrace overlooks the slopes down towards Pomerol.

The appellations known as the Saint Emilion Satellites are on the other side of the small Barbanne River from Saint Emilion. Puisseguin, Saint Georges, Lussac and Montagne Saint Emilion are on a series of undulating limestone hills that enjoy lovely views with hospitable properties open for tastings and accommodation.
Château de Môle won the 2010 Best of Wine Tourism award. It has idyllic bridal suits with ‘spa rooms’ in this renovated working Château in Puisseguin Saint Emilion. Of the five rooms, three have their own private sauna and jacuzzi in the en suite bathrooms. You can visit the cellars under the Château to learn more about their winemaking.
Château la Dauphine is right on the river-bank of the Dordogne and has a room specifically created to cater for weddings. The proprietors know all the local specialists to help with your day. The lawns with views down to the water are perfect for wedding pictures.

Inspired ? Well even if you not not planning to tie the knot you can always come for the romance without the ceremony !

Discover Bordeaux this summer – lesser known Bordeaux !

Stay in the south of the left bank in the heart of the sweet white wine area. Château d’Arche is a lovely Château hotel and a working vineyard on a hillside next to Yquem. Unsure of which foods to serve with sweet white they will organize a cooking class or food and wine dinner for you and all will be revealed. Contact Nicole Hampton: n.hampson@chateaudarche-sauternes.com

Pessac Leognan
Château Smith Haut Lafitte is the ultimate wine resort. The Château opens for visits and has a fabulous hotel with 2 excellent restaurants in the grounds. It is also home to ‘Les Sources de Caudalie’ the original wine spa. Drink the wine and bath in it!
Contact the owner, Florence Cathiard: f.cathiard@smith-haut-lafitte.com

Cotes Region
Blaye – Chateau La Rose Bellevue, 5 Les Mourriers, 33820 Saint-Palais. Secret garden offering food and wine matching and picnics and in 2008 there were tastings on a boat. 2009 winner of Best of Wine Tourism Awards, service.commercial@chateau-larosebellevue.com www.greatwinecapitals.com

Entre Deux Mers.

Cycle through the vines on the old railroad track that leads from almost down town Bordeaux out into the lovely countryside of this region past Abbeys and Châteaux. Rent a bicycle from Creon http://creonstationvelos.free.fr especially on a Wednesday when the arcaded centre of this old medieval town is taken over by a farmers market where you can stock up for a picnic along the way. Bicycles as of € 15 a day.

Stay in one of the guest apartments at Château de Sours a beautiful working vineyard
Contact Martin Krajewski martin@chateaudesours.com

How to get around
You don’t fancy driving so you can enjoy the tastings – a wise move

See what the Bordeaux tourist office has to offer as arranged wine tours for the day leaving from down town to visit different parts of the region and the vineyards :
www.bordeaux-tourisme.com contact : otb@bordeauxtourisme.com