Tag Archives: Château Phelan Segur

The long & international journey of a wine barrel.

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

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

Barrel cellar montrose

Beautiful French oak barrels at Château Montrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrel staves ageing

Barrel staves ageing at Nadalie in the Medoc

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

Barrel toasts 2

Different degrees of toasting give different flavour profiles.

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

Barrel toasting

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

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

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


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

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

Barrel shipments Boutes

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

boutes vbarrels glenelly

A new Boutes oak barrel at Glenelly in South Africa

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

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

Barrel art 2

Wine and tartrate deposits make used barrel staves decorative.


Barrel cellar door Evangile

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

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

Whisky casks 2

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

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

Whisky casks

Whisky casks of different origins in the Edradour warehouse

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

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

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

Glenfiddich cerons

The Chateau du Seuil Cerons finish limited edition Glenfiddich

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


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

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

Moonharbour range

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

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

Chamarel Sauternes

A Sauternes finish for the Chamarel Rhum from Mauritius

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

Balvenie line up small

The Blavenie line up including the Caribbean Cask

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

barrel art glenfiddich small

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















Happy New Year!

This seems like just the right time to take a quick look at where my wine adventures have taken me in 2016 and at plans for 2017. I thought I’d let some photos do the talking, although looking back through the images of the year it has been a challenge to choose just a few to sum up the last 12 months – so here’s a go, by theme.

A year in drinks: as well as wine, there was quite a penchant for cocktails in 2016, my girlfriends responsible for this know who they are!

Comparing the old and the new identities of chateau Quintus in Saint Emilion

Comparing the old and the new identities of Château Quintus in Saint Emilion

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks for the Dordogne at La Maison de l'Amiral

Bordeaux Bubbles on the banks of the Dordogne at La Maison de l’Amiral.

A Medoc Wine line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and good Spirits Harrisburg

A Médoc line up for staff at PLCB Fine Wines and Good Spirits, Harrisburg

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

Tasting the wonderful wines at Eisele in Napa

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

An intimate tasting at Chateau Angelus

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley

Who said the Bordelais always take themselves too seriously? Not the Courselle sisters at Chateau Theuiley.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

A beautiful example of how well Sauternes can age at Chateau Doisy Daëne.

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet - perfect summer drinking

Frosé with Bordeaux Clairet – perfect summer drinking

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka from milk by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

And for something completely different Lactilium Vodka made from milk, by the team at Chateau Gruaud Larose.

A year of food: wine goes with food goes with wine and I have been lucky enough to experience some wonderful meals in some wonderful settings. Some meals have been haute cuisine, others a simple vineyard lunch, even wine dinners in the tropics. All have served as research for my next book ‘The Drinking Woman’s Diet’,  which will be published in 2017, exploring how to stay healthy whilst drinking for a living.

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Anniversary celebrations at Chateau Biac

Sunset Croquet at chateau Phelan segur

Sunset Croquet at Château Phelan Segur

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

Ready for dinner at Château Montrose

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A picnic basket ready for lunch on the terrace at Chateau Petit Village in Pomerol

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

A vineyard lunch at Chateau Guibeau

Putting Bordeaux tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

Putting Bordeaux Tutors to work on practical food and wine pairing during their accreditation.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot that won it's 1st Michelin star in 2016.

An after lunch glass of Chateau Sigalas Ribaud at the Belles Perdrix restaurant at Château Troplong Mondot. They won their 1st Michelin star in 2016.

Lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence in Paris

Enjoying lunch at the Chateau Haut Brion restaurant, Le Clarence, in Paris

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

Informal dining in a formal setting at Chateau Pichon Baron

from healthy

from healthy

A less healthy breakfast

to a less healthy breakfast

Settling for a happy medium

Settling for a happy medium

Healthy can be delicious at Viva Mayr

Healthy can be delicious – much needed detox at Viva Mayr in August.

Post cure retox!

Post cure retox!

A year of teaching: wonderful opportunities to share my experience and knowledge of Bordeaux to the East, the West and of course in Bordeaux, with more successful Accredited Bordeaux Tutor candidates. I continue to learn just as much from their knowledge of other wine regions as I share with them the latest from Bordeaux. It’s been fun doing video tastings too, especially the live tastings with the Cru Bourgeois to the US.

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

The beautiful view over Lake Geneva was a bit of a distraction at Glion Hotel School

Explaining the particularities of Sweet Bordeaux at the Bordeaux Wine School

Explaining the Bordeaux wines at the Bordeaux Wine School

The future of Hong kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The future of Hong Kong wine service with students at the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong.

The latest Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

The latest 2016 Bordeaux Tutor Accreditation at Chateau La Louviere

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Teaching sales team from Southern Wines and Spirits in California.

Medoc masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Medoc Masterclass with Swires Group service team at Upper House Hotel in Hong Kong.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

Wine, Women and clothes: Bordeaux Bootcamp tasting at Susan Graf Ltd.

A year of writing: for those of you who follow this Blog I’ve shared some of the news from Bordeaux and things I’ve learnt and enjoyed on my travels. For those who don’t please join us, or follow me on twitter, instagram or the Insider Tasting Facebook page.

I also contributed to other blogs, including the Great Wine Capitals blog, profiling the Bordeaux Best of Wine Tourism winners but it’s also an opportunity to discover other leaders in wine tourism across the globe – more of which below.

I updated my book Bordeaux Bootcamp, the Insider Tasting guide to getting to grips with  Bordeaux basics, with the latest facts and figures and I’m now working on the final draft of The Drinking Woman’s Diet, reuniting my two passions of Wine and Wellbeing explaining how the two are not mutually exclusive. It will be in print in 2017.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, Second edition is now available on Amazon.

Bordeaux Bootcamp, the second edition is now available on Amazon.

And finally a year of touring: welcoming guests to Bordeaux. With more and more properties opening their doors my guests can now stay in their very own Bordeaux chateau, where I introduce them to the wine makers, movers and shakers, experiencing the Bordeaux vineyard lifestyle for themselves.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the many chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.

Chateau Le Pape, one of the chateaux in Bordeaux you can make your own.


Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

Modern cellars at Chateau Pedesclaux

and at Beau Sejour Becot

and at Beau Sejour Becot

The historical cellars at Chateau de Cerons

historical cellars at Chateau de Cérons

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

A new take on an ancient wine making technique at Château La Maison Blanche

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Time for a tasting at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Francois Despagne gets closer to the terroir at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.

Flowering of the 2016 vintage.



The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier - some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

The Sauvignon blanc at Chateau Olivier – some of the first grapes to be picked in 2016.

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Hand sorting the bunches of 2016 Merlot at Chateau Villemaurine in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted well dating back to the Merovingian period at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion

Some hidden treasures : The vaulted Merovingian well at Chateau Coutet in Saint Emilion


Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret - the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

Alexandre de Bethmann shares another secret – the ice house at Chateau Olivier.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois taking lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

An itimate Cru Bourgeois tasting lunch for Bordeaux tutors at Château Peyrabon.

Next year? More of the same I hope but also some new destinations and different experiences. Already on the itinerary are: tours in the Rhone and Provence, a distillery tour in Scotland, seminars and master classes in Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong and the annual coast-to-coast US Road-show with an appearance at the Women for Wine Sense conference in the Finger Lakes. Lots of opportunities to for you to join me with and new destinations you might like to add to your future wish list?

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux - for your 2017 to do list. Credit Arnaud Bertrande

The new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux – for your 2017 to do list.
Credit: Arnaud Bertrande

I look forward to welcoming those of you coming back to Bordeaux in 2017 and some of you for the first time, or to sharing Bordeaux with you in classrooms or conferences across the globe.

Future projects include corporate and wine and wellness retreats amongst the vines and I’m excited to be working on an International Wine Tourism project sharing some of the best from other leading wine producing countries, more of which to follow.

Wine and Wellness - it's all about the balance!

Wine and Wellness – it’s all about the balance!

Please contact me for more information or stay tuned to the blog, I’ll be sharing my progress.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me this year, if you haven’t please do so in 2017, it will be a busy year with many opportunities for us to meet up, I hope to see you.

Happy New Year!

Bordeaux à table!

Often described as a food wine, Bordeaux wine needs good food to show to its best advantage, food and wine matching has become quite the art. Lucky then that the food and restaurant scene in Bordeaux is thriving with new chefs and well established ones opening new restaurants or taking over established names.

But what of the chateaux themselves? Surely they should be show-casing their wines with food? Many chateaux are happy to organise meals for groups with a little advance notice, some like Chateau Phelan Segur will even welcome you into their kitchens for a cooking class first. But should you wish to dine independently amongst the vines it is also possible.

It’s not new, three very well established Bordeaux examples are Château Lynch Bages in Pauillac, with Chateau Cordeillan Bages, Château Smith Haut Lafitte in the Graves with Les Sources de Caudalie, and Hostellerie de Plaisance in Saint Emilion, owned by Chateau Pavie, all of which take wine hospitality to internationally renowned levels with Michelin stars in their respective hotel restaurants.

Chateau Cordeillan Bages in Pauilllac

Chateau Cordeillan Bages in Pauilllac

Saint Emilion on the right bank is a particularly popular destination so it’s no surprise that wineries here welcome guests offering food alongside their wines. Château Troplong Mondot opened Les Belles Perdrix in 2013. Starting off as casual dining for guests staying in the chateau guest rooms, it was awarded a its first Michelin star this year and the views from the terrace are some of the best in the region.

The Terrace of les Belles Perdrix at chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion

The Terrace of les Belles Perdrix at chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion

Chateau Angelus, on the other side of the medieval city, decided to go another path. Rather than opening a restaurant at the chateau, they bought the restaurant Le Logis de La Cadene in the heart of the town in 2013, which thanks to the skill of chef Alexandre Baumard, has rapidly gained a excellent reputation.

Delicious and elegant fare at Logis de la Cadene in Saint Emilion

Delicious and elegant fare at Logis de la Cadene in Saint Emilion

So much for fine dining, but for a relaxed lunch with that glass of wine, call in to Château La Dominique on the boundary between Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The chateau joined forces with the Bordeaux Restaurant ‘La Brasserie Bordelaise’ to offer informal fare on the roof of their new Jean Nouvel designed cellar, where the glass red pebbles resembling the open top of a fermenting vat of wine compete for your attention with the views over the famous names of Pomerol. On the foothills of the famous limestone slopes of Saint Emilion, the tiny fairy tale Château de Candale was recently renovated to include a restaurant with a delightful terrace looking across the Dordogne valley.

But if you can’t make it to Bordeaux (although you really should) Bordeaux can come to you.

Previously mentioned, Château Phelan Segur, is owned by the Gardiner family. They are famous for their food and wine hospitality at the beautiful Les Crayeres Hotel and restaurant in Champagne. Having added the Taillevent restaurant in Paris to their portfolio they recreated a bistro version, Les 110 de Taillevent, in both London and in Paris, named after the range of 110 wines offered by the glass, that I have raved about in a previous post.

But the jewel in the crown has to be the restaurant ‘Le Clarence’ opened in Paris at the end of last year by Château Haut Brion.

Le Salon of Le Clarence : all the elegance of Chateau Haut Brion in the heart of Paris.

Le Salon of Le Clarence : all the elegance of Chateau Haut Brion in the heart of Paris.

Chateau Haut Brion is one of the oldest and most respected vineyards in Bordeaux, not surprising then, that when they turned their minds to hospitality they would get it right. Their objective was to re-create in Paris the same chateau atmosphere that visitors enjoy in Bordeaux. Having been fortunate enough to dine at both Château Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, I can vouch that their signature warm and elegant hospitality is perfectly mirrored in their new venture in Paris.

The library dinning room of Le Clarence

The library dinning room of Le Clarence

The ‘Hotel Dillon’ is not a hotel but a ‘town house (‘hotel particulier’ in French), named after the Dillon family who acquired the property in 1935. It is just off the Champs Elysées on avenue Franklin Roosevelt. The 19th century building houses the headquarters of the wine company but also beautiful reception rooms, a bar, the elegant dining room of ‘Le Clarence’ and an underground cellar. The cellar alone is worth a visit, with a vaulted brick ceiling and suitably stocked with not just wines from the family vineyards but other Bordeaux and from further afield.

The cellar, as spectacular as the bottles it contains.

The cellar, as spectacular as the bottles it contains.

The décor is sublime – you are indeed transported to a chateau atmosphere with carefully curated furnishings and art. The food is on a par with the surroundings, seasonal with a twist to traditional dishes. It is the perfect place to show the wines of their vineyards to their best advantage. Once you have tasted this Bordeaux hospitality in Paris, you will inevitably be drawn to come and sample the real thing.






So many wines, so little time.

You can see from the previous post that I’ve just returned from a trip to the wine lands of South Africa where the hospitably was wonderful – more of which later. To get there, I took a circuitous route via London and Hong Kong. I mentioned Hong Kong in a previous blog post but not London. London remains the centre of the international wine trade, a world wine hub. It is old and established and at the same time extraordinarily innovative and modern. You can find just about any type of beverage here, unlike the wine regions I’m usually visiting.

It is not surprising then that the Gardinier family have chosen London as the latest outpost for their food and wine empire.

I first met the family in Bordeaux where they have owned the beautiful, and in my opinion still underrated and undervalued, property Château Phelan Segur since 1985. This elegant château is at the heart of Saint Estèphe, the most northerly of the Medoc ‘Communal’ appellations. The 70ha are spread between classified neighbours such as Chateau Calon Segur, Château Lafon Rochet and Chateau Montrose, to whom they sold some of their vines in 2010.

The beautiful Château Phelan Segur

The beautiful Château Phelan Segur

It missed the 1855 classification and was a ‘Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel’ until 2003 when, under the new rules, the hierarchy within the Cru Bourgeois was eliminated.

One of the 3 brothers, Thierry Gardinier, is at the head of the estate alongside the director Veronique Dausse. As the director of the Alliance des Cru Bourgeois Thierry was pivotal in overseeing its development  to its present form.

Tasting in the orangerie at Chateau Phelan Segur

Tasting in the orangerie at Chateau Phelan Segur

This elegant property has one of the most spectacular views from the plateau of Saint Estèphe across a majestic lawn, the vines and the Gironde Estuary. Upon appointment, you can enjoy the view as well as the wines. They will happily share verticals of recent vintages and their hospitality reaches as far as the family dining room. You can even participate with a cooking class in the kitchen with their in-house chef and then sample your hard work with the wines.

Their al fresco lunches on the lawn at harvest time are some of the best in Bordeaux, where you will rub shoulders with most of the Bordeaux wine trade.

Harvest lunch at Chateau Phelan Segur

Harvest lunch at Chateau Phelan Segur

It comes as no surprise then that the family has a very gastronomic background. Their home base is Champagne where their father, Xavier Gardinier, owned and ran both Lanson and Pommery Champagne houses since the 1970s including Le Domaine Les Crayères. Les Crayères remains in the family, a Relais Château Hotel and Michelin starred restaurant.

In 2011 they purchased the Taillevent group. The Taillevent restaurant opened in Paris in 1946 and is a French gastronomic legend, winning its first Michelin star in 1948, a second in 1954 and a third in 1973.

It is also famous for its wine selection; the cellar holds over 2000 listings of wines and spirits from 16 countries. Trading on this reputation, they opened a wine shop in 1987 ‘Les Caves de Taillevent’, originally as part the restaurant.  From 1994 to 2013, Les Caves de Taillevent also opened in Japan, with five wine shops in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.

In 2012 the Gardiniers renamed the bistro Les 110 de Taillevent, after the 110 wines served there by the glass. From this selection different wines are suggested each day to match the menu. 4 for each dish: starter, main and dessert at 4 different price points. The wines are available by the glass in two sizes (7cl or 12.5) the wines are kept under argon gas system.

110 Taillevent London on Cavendish Square

110 Taillevent London on Cavendish Square

The London 110 de Taillevent Restaurant opened in October this year on Cavendish Square, just as I was passing through London. Serendipity. The by the glass selection is eclectic (and very international), the food delicious and varied and the portion sizes perfect, the atmosphere a happy blend of sophistication and fun (or was that just the girlfriends I was lunching with?) and the staff extremely friendly. The decor is classically elegant and it really is all about the wine, there are bottles everywhere.

I didn't count but that looks like 110 wines at the Taillevent bar

I didn’t count, but that looks like 110 wines at the Taillevent bar.

They open for lunch, diner and breakfast (wine with breakfast? But of course!). Food and wine matching underlies the Gardinier philosophy and the range of wines on offer makes it a perfect venue. They should receive a very warm welcome from London wine and food lovers.

A Table!

A Table!
















Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with Bordeaux.

The Garonne river flowing through the city of Bordeaux may not be dyed green on the 17th March but Bordeaux does have strong historical and contemporary links to the Emerald Isle.

It is yet another example of the openness of Bordeaux to foreign influence thanks to the importance of the port, the largest in France in the 17th century. This was the beginning of a huge Irish influence the remains of which can still be clearly seen today. Many Irish ‘Jacobites’ fled their native land, escaping religious persecution after the Battle of Kinsale, when the Catholic King James II lost to the Protestant King William of Orange.

The term ‘Wild Geese’ was coined to define the flight of these emigrant families in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Many ended up in Bordeaux, as they already had strong ties with the region, being enthusiastic importers of ‘Claret’. Others ended up in the Loire and Cognac, where names such as Hennessy became part of the local landscape. These new arrivals quickly became important players in the wine business, exporting wine and importing Irish meat and dairy.

Their presence on the Quai des Chartrons, the merchant area on the banks of the Garonne, was even mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1770 when he listed names that are still there today such as Barton, Johnston, and Lawton.

Ireland became established as a leading Market for Bordeaux. Records from 1739 show that England imported 1,000 tons of claret, Scotland 2,500 and Ireland a massive 4,000. Ted Murphy, author of The Kingdom of Wine: a Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese, quotes ‘‘claret was the Guinness of its day.”

The Wine Geese

The Wine Geese

Their influence continues in the Château names that still ring with an Irish accent include 
Château Clarke, Château Phelan-Segur, Château Boyd Cantenac, Château MacCarthy (now the second wine of Haut-Marbuzet), Château Dillon, Château Langoa and Léoville-Barton (still today owned by the Barton family), Château Kirwan, Château Lynch Bages, etc.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur's second wine, is named after the estate's Irish founder.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur’s second wine, is named after the estate’s Irish founder.

Other Châteaux may not sound very Irish but have strong Irish connections in their past include such leading lights as Château Margaux, Château Yquem, Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande, Château Pape-Clément and Château Haut-Brion.

Chateau Langoa Barton

Chateau Langoa Barton

So you have plenty of choice of Bordeaux with which to raise a glass to Saint Patrick on the 17th.



Inspiration for your 2014 visit to Bordeaux.

 If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux this year, here are a few ideas I’ll be suggesting to visitors.  

Stay somewhere (very) different. I’m constantly suggesting lovely places to stay in and around Bordeaux on this blog but this year why not stay somewhere (very) different? I previously have posted about staying in tree houses and vats but if that is not cutting edge enough for you, try staying at Chateau La Romaningue in a bubble or even in a gypsy caravan.

Learn to cuisine like a chateau chef. More and more Chateaux are happy to open not just their cellar doors but also their kitchens where you can learn the secrets of Bordelais cuisine and food and wine matches at the source.  Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estèphe, Chateau Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien  and Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol all offer cooking classes and workshops followed by lunch to sample your success with a glass or two of the chateau wine. Lunch or dinner at Chateau La Lagune in their sumptuous kitchen is an opportunity to see Chef Catherine Negre at work. Check out some of the recipes here to whet your appetite or start practicing at home.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

Shop ‘til you drop. More and more Chateaux have great shops, selling  not just wine and vinous paraphernalia but other cool gifts. In the Entre deux Mers, call in at Chateau Lestrille in Saint Germain du Puch to see owner Estelle Roumage’s eclectic selection of gifts and French specialities.

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Just down the road in Grezillac at Chateau Ferret Lambert, Valerie Lambert has created a wonderful space showing various collectables and renovated French country furniture and bric à brac.

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

You if like you can even stay for lunch, dinner or even overnight in one of her guest rooms. Chateau Biac is opening its new tasting room this year on a unique oriental theme as befits the Lebanese owner Youmna Asseily.

Get off the beaten track. Have you noticed that a lot of the above recommendations are in the Entre deux Mers? That leads me to my next suggestion. Yes the classified growths of the Medoc, Saint Emilion and Graves will always be on visitors wish lists but try and find the time to visit the lesser known appellations of Bordeaux: the Saint Emilion Satellites, the Côtes and the Entre deux Mers. Here you will find the smaller family owned properties where the owners and wine makers will be on hand, often with bed and breakfast and table d’hôtes to add to the welcome.

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

Be a culture vulture. Bordeaux has some great museums and art galleries. If contemporary art is your thing, do not to miss the amazing Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez  created by the Chateau owner in the centre of Bordeaux. Many chateaux use the summer months to not just show their wines to visitors but also to show-case up and coming artists. Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Palmer, Chateau d’Arsac, Chateau Paloumey, La Tour Bessan and Lynch Bages are some of the properties that welcome artists to their cellars each year.

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

Learn how Bordeaux works. There’s more to Bordeaux than just the Chateaux,. To understand how the wine gets to Market, visit a negociant. Cordier, and Millesima both offer great visits to discover how the ‘Place de Bordeaux’ works and on the banks of the Dordogne, a visit to Le Chai au Quai can show you a hands on wine making experience.

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

See you there soon.


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.


2011 With tender loving care

The last days of the red 2011 harvest are finally here with the Cabernets coming into the cellars, this fabulous Indian summer we are experiencing with afternoon temperatures up to an unseasonal 30° has allowed winemakers to wait and wait for perfect ripeness on the cabs. A welcome respite after a rather chaotic year – as far as the climate is concerned.

The hot and dry spring resulted in an early flowering with right from the get go producers predicting a 2 or 3 week advance on the average and fears for a drought. However July was cooler and wetter, not great for tourists – but a lifesaver for the grapes as it slowed things down. The cooler nights in August helped with maintaining acidity and complexity.

However the weird climate did take its toll. Some vines were affected by the early spring drought, which held back development and created problems with ‘vascular connections’ that may not have reformed, preventing some the berries developing fully when the weather turned cooler and damper in July.

To add insult to injury there was periodic hail storms throughout the year, April hail hit Sauternes, Margaux was hit in June, especially on the Rauzan plateau and the hail hot again, dramatically, on the 1st September the around us here in the Entre deux Mers and violently in Saint Estephe causing considerable damage on the plateau around Cos d’Estournel

Consequently 2011 is turning out to be quite a challenging year for both vine growers the wine makers, especially after 08/09/10 trilogy where some (modest?) winemakers claimed the wine made itself!

Canopy management to control lack of water and then to allow air to circulate preventing botrytis as the more humid weather arrived was extremely important.

In recent years many properties have been introducing sophisticated machines to help the selection process and with a year like this where ripe, under ripe, dry and even hail bruised grapes can be seen on the same bunch they will really get their money’s worth.
Chateau Lagrange, the largest classified growth of Saint Julien has installed an Optical Scanner that can select grapes from the conveyor at a record speed of 72 kms per hour 2.5m/second! Which results in 9 tonnes per hour being sorted instead of 3 by hand – and a lot less fatigue. Mattieu Bordes, the technical director, has another new toy for this vintage too, an oscillating vertical destemmer to ensure only the grapes make it into the selector.

Selected grapes fall from the optical selector at Château Gruaud Larose

Mattieu Bordes admires the new vertical destemmer

Château Figeac, first growth in Saint Emilion, was also using an optical selector this year, after a test in 2010, but at a purchase price as around 150 000 euros new decided to test it out by renting first, director Eric d’Aramon concluded that it is still early days for these machines and renting ensures it comes with a technician in case there are teething problems. These machines are also highly electronic and storing them unused for eleven–and-a-half months of the year in a damp cellar is not a risk he is prepared to take.

The berries are photographed by the stemmer at Château Phelan Segur to allow selection

It’s not only the top classified growths that have invested, Château Phelan Segur, who welcomed guests at their harvest table during the picking, also use the same technology as do many others. Some however have chosen the ‘trie baie’ system (The Vignobles André Lurton properties for example) using must with different densities to select quality grapes, and yet others such as Château Grand Corbin Despagne an airflow system whereas others rely on a dedicated team in the field and in the cellars to separate the wheat from the chaff – rendezvous in April to taste the results of these different methods ‘en primeur’.

All that time saved allows for a longer lunch break – harvest lunch in front of the magnificent
Château Phelan Segur

Come join the harvest

The Bordeaux harvest is under way, the dry whites are in and the reds are starting with the more precocious merlot. It is possible to join in the fun of the harvest in Bordeaux, even if you’re not feeling up to all the backbreaking work. For several years ‘Les Medocaines’ a group of 4 women wine makers have organised harvest days at their properties; Château Paloumey and du Taillan in the Haut Medoc, Château La Tour de Bessan in Margaux and Château Loudenne in Médoc .
Just sign up at the Bordeaux tourist office for one of their scheduled days and you will be whisked away to pick and sort in the morning and, after joining the harvesters for lunch, it’s off to learning how to make and blend the wine in the afternoon.

Grape selection at Château Paloumey

If you are happier observing from a safe distance but still want the atmosphere, from the 10-12 September Château Gruaud Larose, classified growth of Saint Julien, is also offering the possibility to join in the fun with their Harvest workshop days. These include a tasting of the different grape varieties during a visit of the property, a harvest lunch alongside the pickers and a tasting of the fermenting must in the afternoon. Along with the lunch at wine, that’s a start to finish tasting experience.
Or you can just turn up for a harvest lunch along side the real workers. Chateau Troplong Mondot, first growth of Saint Emilion, offers a wonderful harvest menu in the dining room next to the cellars along with 4 different wines from the property, as does Château Phelan Segur in Saint Estephe. Squeezed between top classified growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose this family vineyard has one of the post spectacular locations overlooking the Gironde Estuary.

If you can’t decide and want someone to organise all the details for you, Decanter Tours is offering personalised Harvest tours to suit your mood. Book now before it’s all over.