Tag Archives: Château Smith Haut Lafitte

What to drink in the snow.

We’re snowed in. I’m not complaining, that’s what we came to the mountains for. Over the last 4 days it hasn’t stopped and it’s fabulous. Fortunately the cellar is well stocked. I drove over here from Bordeaux and managed to find room, amongst all the ski kit, for a few bottles. You can take the girl out of Bordeaux……..

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So what do you drink in the snow? Here are 10 suggestions, Bordeaux biased given the supply chain, but not only.

Having a snowdrift by the front door is really useful for cooling wine so we’ll start with some white. If you are wondering how a chilled white wine can be warming, try Sauternes. 2001 is a favourite Sweet Bordeaux vintage and we just happened to have a bottle of Doisy Daene 2001, which is drinking beautifully. These wines really benefit from some bottle age, giving lovely caramelised fruit aromas and the characteristic saffron spice notes that are a signature of botrytis. Dry whites from Bordeaux are also a favourite so I’ll include the lovely Semillante from Sauternes 1st growth Château Sigalas Rabaud, one of the few 100% Semillon from Bordeaux. I haven’t found another yet – but I’m open to suggestions.

Perfect cooling condtions

Perfect cooling conditions

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte also seems an appropriate choice for the mountains; the owners, Florence and Daniel Cathiard, were both national ski champions before buying the property. The white wasn’t included alongside the red when it was classified in 1953 nor in 1959 but it has outshone the red in several vintages. The Sémillon-Sauvignon blend and barrel ageing makes for a white that just gets better with a few years in bottle.

But let’s not ignore the local whites. The Swiss love their white wines and use all sorts of varietals you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. A couple of favourites sampled this week are The Chasselas from The Dutruy Brothers at Domaine de la Treille from vines overlooking Lake Geneva. Thibault Panas, chef sommelier at The Lausanne Beau Rivage Palace, selected this ‘Cuvée Spéciale’. He should know as he manages one of the largest wine cellars in Europe with over 750 000 bottles and 3000 references of which about 250 are Swiss.

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Chasselas chosen by The Beau Rivage Palace

Then chosen for the name (but I didn’t regret it) The Fendant from Charles Bonvin (that’s his real name) called Sans Culottes – no knickers – haven’t got to the bottom (sorry) of the name but I will try and find out. Worked really well with a little locally smoked salmon trout.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Then of course there are red wines – just what you need to warm the soul after a long day in the snow and the perfect match for the hearty cuisine of the mountains. Swiss whites may be the traditional match for the cheese fondues, but I prefer the ‘Chinese Fondue’ a take on beef fondue but cooked in beef broth rather that oil as a lighter alternative. This merits a lovely red. We washed ours down with a Château Beauregard, Pomerol 2011, another example of over-performance in an under rated vintage. The fresh acidity coped with those lovely cream sauces we dunked the beef in – not so light after all. My other local favourite food is Rosti, a type of hash browns covered in different toppings – think potato pizza on steroids. We chose Château Monbrison, Margaux 2015, a lovely wine from a great appellation in a great vintage offering excellent value for money.

Perfect with fondue

Perfect with fondue

Then of course there’s the chocolate. The Swiss are famous for their milk chocolate – all those cows? But they make lovely dark chocolate too. I love red wine with chocolate, a cabernet driven Medoc from a ripe Vintage, Château Pedesclaux, Pauillac 2009 worked really well with warm chocolate cake, but in this cold weather what really works for me is something more fortified; port or whisky. A Taylors late Bottled Vintage 2010 would be a good place to start and whisky is the perfect winter warmer. I enjoyed a lovely glass of Glenfiddich 10 year old at the bar of The Palace hotel on Saturday night – fortifying for the rather slippy ride home (I wasn’t driving – just saying).

Perfect Port

Perfect Port

So the tenth? Well 2 options; either a bit of fizz to compete with the sparkly snow. A glass of champagne cooled in the snow is always a winner. I’m quite taken with the wines of AR Lenoble, a small family champagne house producing wonderful elegant champagnes worthy of a great name. The second option? Cuddling up with a warming tisane. The local farmers collect mountain herbs here all summer, dry them and sell them in the local village shop – not sure quite what’s in there but it tastes delicious and makes you sleep like a baby. I’m hibernating now until the snow stops falling.

Mountain tisane

Mountain tisane

 

 

 

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.

Veraison

Veraison

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind every great wine…. there’s another one.

For those in the know, the second wines of top Bordeaux estates have long been considered some of the best value drinking in town.

Rather than a ‘dustbin’ for everything that isn’t good enough to make the grade of the first wine, these wines carry the château name, are part of the brand, and are treated as such. Not only do they profit from the know-how of the same wine-making team but they may be made from parcels and lots kept specifically for these wines, perhaps from younger vines or different terroir, often giving a lighter expression, benefiting from a lighter oak treatment giving easier and earlier drinking wines – more approachable both in style and in price! Their quality continues to grow as many properties are introducing third wines, Le Pauillac de Chateau Latour since 1990, and the Petit Lion de Marquis de Las Cases since 2007, to name but a couple.

Whilst these wines are now on most wine enthusiasts’ radar, it’s worth taking a peek behind these chateau labels, as many of the top properties have other strings to their bows.

In the official figures for 2015, released by the CIVB earliest this year, the number of growers, all Gironde wines combined, was 6,822 (fallen by half in the last 20 years). The total number of wine properties is probably nearer 10 000 however as many of the ‘Growers’ are the fortunate owners of several properties.

Although the other wineries owned by top growths may not be classified, these lesser-known properties will also benefit from the know-how of the top winery teams, the deep(er) pockets of their owners and the marketing push as they are presented alongside their big brothers at tastings. Other advantages include access to newer barrels with a guaranteed provenance, as barrel turnover will be faster in top growths that use a higher percentage of new oak.

Chateau Le Crock

Chateau Le Crock

I was reminded of this when I visited Chateau Le Crock recently. Chateau Le Crock is a magnificent chateau perched high on a gravel outcrop of Saint Estèphe, in between prestigious neighbours Chateau Montrose and Cos d’Estournel. It is a Cru Bourgeois, part of the new classification as well as the original one. The owners, the Cuvelier family, are also owners of Chateau Leoville Poyferre, second growth of Saint Julien, as well as Chateau Moulin Riche. Moulin Riche used to be considered a second wine of the property but now is a stand-alone label, the second wine is Le Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre.

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

The neighbouring Leovilles also have other properties; Chateau Leoville Barton is also home to Chateau Langoa Barton, (although originally it was the other way round, as the cellars of Langoa welcomed the wines of Leoville back in the 1800s). The Barton family have more recently invested in Moulis, at Chateau Mauvesin Barton, as I mentioned in a previous post. Chateau Leoville Las Cases also has hidden treasures, the Delon family own Chateau Potensac in the north of the Medoc appellation.

The line up of Barton family bottles

The line up of Barton family bottles

This is not a uniquely Saint Julien affair, just next door in Pauillac several top properties have hidden jewels; Chateau Pichon Baron, a second growth of Pauillac, owns Chateau Pibran a neighbouring Pauillac property and, across the road, when Roederer purchased Pichon Comtesse they also bought the lovely Chateau de Pez in Saint Estephe. The Cazes family, as well as owning Lynch Bages, own Chateau les Ormes de Pez in Saint Estephe and the lovely and very affordable Château Villa Bel Air further afield in Graves.

Another Médoc family the Quiés are spread over several left bank appellations. Famous for their 2nd growth in Margaux Rauzan Gassies, they own 5th growth Croizet Bages in Pauillac and Bel Orme in Haut Medoc, another Cru Bourgeois.

It’s not a uniquely left bank phenomenon either. Some brave souls dared to cross over to the dark side. Leoville Las Cazes owns Chateau Nenin in Pomerol, Château Lafite has Chateau L’Evangile in Pomerol and Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes as do Pichon Baron owners Axa Millesimes again with properties in both Sauternes: Chateau Suduiraut and in Pomerol: Chateau Petit Villages.

Right bank properties also have jokers up their sleeves, investing in lesser-known estates and surrounding appellations such as the Saint Emilion Satellites or the Côtes appellations.

The von Nieppergs, owners of Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere in Saint Emilion, also own Clos de l’Oratoire and Chateau Peyraud in the same appellation and have invested both in the Côtes de Castillon buying Chateau d’Aiguilhe where a modern wine cellar makes this one of the leading lights of the appellation. Angelus owners, the de Bouards, have used their Lalande de Pomerol property, La Fleur de Bouard as a testing ground for a lot of experimental wine making that they have since harnessed at Angelus, so the advantages work both ways. They have more freedom to experiment in smaller properties rather than in their flagship vineyards where is it perhaps more risky to test out new techniques.

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

Francois Despagne, owner wine-maker of the classified growth Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne in Saint Emilion is also using his expertise making Chateau le Chemin in Pomerol and Chateau Ampelia in the Côtes de Castillon. Look out for Chateau la Maison Blanche, owned and made by his brother Nicolas just across the boundary of Saint Emilion in Montagne Saint Emilion; some of the purest expression of terroir in organic and biodynamic production.

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

These are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for, other owners that are spread across several appellations include the Cathiards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte who have recently invested in Pomerol and Sauternes and Bernard Magrez who has a finger in many Bordeaux appellations.

I’ll stop now before this sounds too much like a shopping list, as these are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for and I haven’t even mentioned investments made in other French wine regions or abroad – another blog post perhaps?

These investments in lesser known estates and appellations by leading wineries brings not just money but know-how and experience, raising the bar of excellence and increasing their reach to the wine enthusiast. If you thought second wines were worth looking for, take it to the next level; it’s worth getting off the beaten track a little and looking behind those top labels to see what other treasures they are hiding.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaking up Sauternes

Is the future of Sauternes feminine? Is the future of Sauternes dry? Is the future of Sauternes fizzy? I thought that last one might get your attention.

Wine tasters often use the adjective feminine or masculine when describing wines; Feminine being used Merlot driven wines as opposed to more ‘masculine’ Cabernet driven wines. Then again, Margaux is often described as the most feminine of the Medoc appellations. Smooth, elegant, approachable are all rather feminine characteristics n’est pas?

Sauternes is also considered a feminine wine as, rather condescendingly perhaps, the sweetness of the wine is traditionally thought to appeal to a feminine palate. The history of Sauternes is feminine too. It was Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, young widow and owner of Chateau d’Yquem who was imprisoned twice during the revolution but managed to keep the Château in the family.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d'Yquem

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d’Yquem

The feminine tradition continues at Chateau d’Yquem as the current cellar Master is also a woman; Sandrine Garbay. Other top Sauternes properties also have women at their helm; Laure de Lambert Compeyrot is cellar master and co-owner of the smallest Sauternes Classified growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud. In Barsac both Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet have women at their helm. Chateau Coutet names the tiny production of  its top wine, produced only in exceptional years, Cuvée Madame, after Madame Rolland-Guy, owner of the property  from 1922 to 1977.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post in October 2012 that many consider this sweet wine terroir to be just as good for dry whites with many properties producing dry white from their vines. This trend continues as Laure de Lambert Compeyrot has added another dry white wine to her successful Demoiselle de Sigalas; La Semillante is a 100% dry Semillon made with wine maker Jacques Lurton who has become a specialist in producing wonderful aromatic whites (and delightful reds) from terroir all over the world. His Loire wines are worth searching out too.

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

So what about the sparkling? No one is yet producing sparkling Sauternes to my knowledge.  Florence Cathiard, owner of Pessac Léognan Classified Growth Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte,  has come up with an idea to get Sauternes in the sights of barmen men and mixologists with SO Sauternes®.

The Cathiards, along with the Moulin Family (owners of the Galeries Lafayette department stores) purchased Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Sauternes last year along side Château Beauregard in Pomerol and Chateau Saint Robert in the Graves.

Presenting the new SO Sauternes® in a resolutely modern bottle, the idea is to pair with Perrier creating a cocktail to appeal to a younger generation perhaps not familiar with this venerable wine.  This takes Sauternes away from its dessert wine purgatory and puts in the limelight and in the sights of trendy Parisian mixologists, some of whom have added their own particular twist and cocktail recipe.

SO Sauternes and Perrier

SO Sauternes and Perrier

Shocking some might say, but other similar initiatives have now become mainstream;. When Cognac launched itself as a mixer there were a few raised eyebrows, now look at its success and the ‘swimming pool’ of adding ice to champagne launched by Moet has also become a staple of trendy beach bars in the summer months.

There is nothing new. One evening many (many) years ago, when my husband Hamilton first started selling Chateau Guiraud in the US, he was in a NYC hotel bar with wine guru Alexis Lichine who had taken him under his wing. Shocked when he saw New Yorkers ordering fine white Burgundy and topping it up with soda water to make spritzers he said so. Alexis, ever the pragmatist, said ‘Hamilton we should be so lucky they are drinking wine at all and not martinis, then years ago they all would be drinking Martinis’ – this was the early 80s after all.

We could say they same of Sauternes – so drink it in whichever way takes your fancy.

To Bio or not to bio?

And it is a question. Organic vine growing is increasing all over France and in Bordeaux in particular; Aquitaine is the third largest region of organic vines right behind Languedoc and Provence. In 2012 organic production in the region increased by 3% compared to 2011 with 735 organic wine producers cultivating 9752 ha and with another 4276 ha in conversion (a three year period). Most of these are in Bordeaux, and of these most are on the right bank.

But not everyone is convinced that this organic trend is a good thing. One of the issues raised is copper residue. Producing organic wines is particularly difficult in Bordeaux due to the humid oceanic climate and the fungal diseases (mildew and odium) that thrive in these conditions. Copper sulphate and lime (known as Bouilli Bordelais or Bordeaux mixture) is the traditional method for treating these diseases and is permitted in organic agriculture. It’s great for roses too.

Although the amounts of copper permitted for use in organic agriculture are less than in traditional agriculture, (4kg/ha/year of metal copper compared to 6kg averaged over five years for traditional agriculture), some argue that, as other options for treating are limited in organic production, it encourages use of more rather than less copper. The rain also washes this mixture off the vines, so re-application rates are high in a rainy year. More sophisticated synthetic treatments absorbed by the vine can continue to combat the problem despite the rain but are not permitted under an organic regime.

However several organic growers have mentioned to me that after several seasons using organic and especially biodynamic methods, they see the plant defending itself better against these diseases as the vines develop their own natural resistance the result being the need for less treatment.

Intensive use of copper has toxic effects on soils especially in light sandy soils. Formerly, doses of 30kg/ha/year were not uncommon, so this new regulation is a huge improvement. Organic producers of course agree that it would be better to stop using this heavy metal completely and research is under way to use other organic fungicides like sulphur or potassium bicarbonate, plant extracts and clay.

One of the issues in a region like Bordeaux, along with the humid oceanic climate is of course mono-culture (vines represent 50% of the agricultural area of the Gironde). The concentration of vines in the region leads to the rapid spread of diseases such mildew, odium, phyloxera and new problems such as Esca. Now the Asian Drosophila are also raising concerns amongst growers. Prevention is always better than cure and part of the ecological and organic movement is to increase biodiversity to combat this, which is a type of poly-culture in itself. You can see this in Bordeaux for example with the planting of wild flowers, in land lying fallow in between planting as well as elsewhere in the vineyards and the creation of hedgerows.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The importance of Biodiversity in the vineyard.

The notion of biodiversity is also about preserving the genetic diversity of the vines. Although only 6 red and a few more white grape varieties are currently permitted in the production of the AOC wines of Bordeaux, it was not always thus. Over the years, the range of varieties and of clones of vines planted has reduced. Through massal selection of vines from existing plots for grafting onto rootstocks for new plantings, many properties can maintain their unique vine profile, hence increasing both their complexity and their specificity. This technique pioneered by properties such as Château Haut Brion and is now more and more common for properties working closely with the specialised local vine nurseries. Some properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte have their own nurseries; theirs is safe from any genetic contamination on the “La Lande” island on the Garonne River. Château Guiraud created a vine conservatory in 2001, housing a collection of hundreds of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc vines from different vineyards that are used for research on massal selection. From this stock they produce 40,000 vines each year used by themselves and other Bordeaux vineyards.

Vine clones ready for planting

Vine clones ready for planting

There has been an organic wine label in Europe since August 2012 with a corresponding logo. This Europe-wide label includes regulations for cellar management and winemaking as well as grape growing. Previously in existence wines had to be labelled as wine from organic grapes rather than organic wines – a subtle difference but an important one for purists. This new label obviously only allows the use of organic grapes but also limits the use of wine making additives (including S02) and sets the permitted organic wine practices.

The new European organic wine logo

The new European organic wine logo

Producers also have the option to use the AB (Agriculture Biologique) logo, which covers all organic agricultural production. This is not to be confused with natural wines for which, as yet, there is no legal European definition but which implies one produced using organic (or biodynamic) principles with a minimum of technological intervention.

Chateau de Seuil in the Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

Chateau de Seuil in Graves uses both the AB and the new Organic Wine logos on their label

However, not all organic wines producers use the logo. It is not obligatory. Some producers choose to be organic as a part of their philosophy but prefer not to mention it on the label. Too much information on the label? Managing expectations? Or perhaps they just feel that their brand and what it represents speaks for itself.

Many producers feel that the certification either does not go far enough or perhaps too far, in the damp climate of Bordeaux where the threat of mildew and odium are never far away, a slip up or a need for treatment in a tricky vintage (2013 springs to mind), means you are back to the drawing board for another three years.

Organic is not just for classified growths, on the contrary it is very much a grass roots movement (no pun intended) as the majority of properties certified as organic are not classified. There are a few notable exceptions, which brings welcome attention to the trend such as Chateau Pontet Canet in Pauillac was certified organic in 2010 and Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes in 2011. Chateau Fonroque in Saint Emilion has been certified biodynamic since 2005 and neighbouring Chateau Fonplégade is organically since 2013, the owners also have a organically certified vineyard in Napa to name a few.

And it is not just organic; sustainable agriculture and biodynamics are also part of the Bordeaux eco-mix and there are certifications for both.

Sustainable agriculture is a vague term open to many interpretations but is a notion that has a powerful impact on consumers. There is a Terra Vitis certification in France that committed growers can adhere to. Pheromone traps and sexual confusion in the vineyard, ploughing, modelling of diseases and close measurement of climate that allow a much reduced and more targeted use of agrichemicals are all techniques associated with sustainable agricultural methods.

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Pheremone wires on vines at Chateau Sigalas Raubaud in Sauternes

Biodynamic viticulture takes organic culture a step further, often characterised by the process of burying cow horns full of manure or using the cycles of the moon there’s unsurprisingly a lot more to it than that. Practitioners consider the vineyard as a complete organism in itself and only use biodynamic treatments on the vines, mainly home made herbal concoctions, self-sufficiency being a key part of both organic and biodynamic principles. Biodynamic certification is subject to European regulations by the independent organisation Demeter and also Biodyvin the international union of biodynamic wine makers, the wine sector leads the biodynamic sector in France; in 2012 more than half of the 450 certified biodynamic French farms were vineyards.

Constant experimentation is a signature of Bordeaux wine making, both in the vines and in the cellars, and nowhere more so than in the sustainable/organic/biodynamic sector. Few properties would launch into a new method of culture or wine making without experimenting first.  For example 3ha of the 78ha that make up Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande are currently farmed organically and 3ha are biodynamic. Chateau Margaux is also experimenting and Chateau Latour has also been switching to biodynamic methods as can be illustrated by the horses often seen ploughing the vineyards.

Chateau Smith-Haut Lafitte has instigated it’s own Bio Precision approach, aiming to match the innovative viticulture and vinification techniques respect of the environment, promoting bio diversity through hedge plantation, use of natural grass, production of organic compost, horse ploughing, etc. They carry this through into the new ‘stealth’ wine cellar mentioned in a previous post. So there is clearly no conflict between organic and high tech.

Experimentation is the cellars too. Château Pontet Canet has been certified organic since 2010. They started in 2004 with 30ha and were so convinced they went 100% as of 2005, although with weather conditions in 2007 they were obliged to spray so it back to the drawing board until 2010. They then experimented in the cellars introducing a few concrete eggs or ‘amphorae’ in 2010. As of 2012 they now use 35% amphora for aging the wines alongside 50% oak barrels and the remaining 15% in one-year old oak. These amphorae bring the notion of terroir right into the cellar; the concrete is mixed with gravel stones for the Cabernet and with limestone for the Merlot along with the yellow clay from the vineyard.

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

The amphorae in the cellars of Chateau Pontet Canet

As I mentioned above the right bank has the greatest concentration of organic properties and it is an area that has been a hot bed of innovation in wine making technology as well as agricultural methods since the late 1980’s.

It reminds me of how when the ‘garage wine’ movement first started in the right bank with a lot of more established producers showing disdain for the ideas but now later harvest dates, cold soaks and selection tables are common place throughout Bordeaux – we are seeing a similar thing with organic agricultural techniques, more and more producers are reducing chemical loads, ploughing, using lighter tractors, growing green crops between plantings and using pheromones in their vines to control the vine moths through sexual confusion. This last practice is also open to some criticism as again not everyone is convinced that having large concentrations of insect pheromones in the air is necessarily a good thing.

Some properties may not be certified or searching certification but the theories and methods introduced by the certification are taking a hold and the results can be clearly seen as you drive around the vineyards. Non certified properties use many of the sustainable, organic and biodynamic principles such as Chateau Clinet in Pomerol, where owner wine marker Ronan Laborde talks of gentle farming methods and uses the biodynamic practice of tying the vines rather than trimming. This works perfectly on the vines that, as of 2004, they raised by 10-15 cm to obtain a larger leaf area to favour the ripening of the grapes. A programme that took 2 years to complete.

'Living' soil at Chateau Clinet

‘Living’ soil at Chateau Clinet

It’s now common to see more ploughing going on between vines to control weeds but also to aerate and bring the soil back to life. This is done more and more by horses. Chateau may either have their own horses such as at Chateau Latour, Chateau Pontet Canet or Chateau Troplong Mondot or by using specialist companies that provide the horse drawn ploughing services. Chateau Cheval Blanc uses such a service and yes, when I was there, it was a white horse pulling the plough.

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Ploughing at Chateau Pontet Canet

Francois Despagne, owner of Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne, classified growth of Saint Emilion, is one of the most passionate viticulturalists I know in Bordeaux and is certified sustainable by Terravitis and had several experimental plots on the vineyard under organic before converting and becoming organic and is now experimenting with bio dynamics. His brother, Nicolas, owner of Chateau la Maison Blanche up the road in Montagne Saint Emilion, is a passionate advocate of biodynamics.

Bending the vines rather than strumming them - a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Bending the vines rather than strumming them – a practice once limited to biodynamics is now seen more often in Bordeaux vineyards

Certification is an expensive and complicated process and not all growers have the money or the manpower necessary to implement it, even if they agree with the philosophy. The CIVB (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux wine council) has devised a way to help such properties. The System de Management Environmental (SME) is a process whereby the cost of a consultant and the certification process is shared between the CIVB and a group of wine makers or chateaux. The members also appreciate this collective initiative as an opportunity to exchange notes and share problems they encounter along the way. Currently 141 wine producers have reached the ISO 14001 environmental certification through this system and another 300 are currently engaged in the process, including wine merchants and cooperatives as well at chateaux, altogether totalling 12 500 ha of Bordeaux vines.

There are other interprofessional schemes; Bordeaux was the first vineyard to have a collective Carbon footprint project for the « Bordeaux Wine Climate plan 2020 » launched in 2010 with the objective of 20% less green house effect, 20% energy savings, 20% renewable energy, 20% water savings by 2020 in line with the European objective of cutting its emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, The Bordeaux objective is -40 000 t.eq C by this date. It was 203 000 t.eq C in 2010. On-line Carbon foot print calculator is freely available for the Bordeaux wine community so they can measure and adapt their carbon footprint accordingly.

So where does this leave us? In 2012 over 40 400 ha of farmland were certified organic in France with another 24 351 in conversion (a 3 year programme). This is about 8% of French vines but also 6% of French organic agriculture – so wines are well ahead of the trend and the prognosis for 2013 was over 51 000ha.

Being ecologically responsible might give wine makers a nice warm feeling, but what is the motivation? With the majority of vineyards in Bordeaux being family owned, ecology is taken very seriously as chateau owners often consider themselves caretakers rather than owners, with a responsibility to hand down a healthy vineyard to future generations. Is there a price premium? In certain markets there is but it also gives access to new markets and helps differentiate products in what is a very competitive market, especially in mid-range priced wines. Does the organic or biodynamic product taste better? Well the jury still seems to be out although research shows there seems to be a higher concentration of some tannins as well as having an effect on alcohol levels. However, to produce both organic and biodynamic wines, requires attention to detail and this is clearly one way to ensure great quality.

But what about the market? Wine only accounts for 10% of sales of organic food in France but it’s on the increase; 15% a year from a turnover of 413 M € in 2012, a third of which is sold directly from estates – so better margins for producers. Market data provided by Agence Bio in 2011 gave the revenue from organic wines as 360 million Euros at 4 per cent of all wine sold in the country. This was a higher share of organic than for the total food market, where organic food sales constitute just 2.3 per cent.

The recent publication of 3rd edition of Le Guide des Vins en Biodynamie, by Bordeaux publisher Editions Feret, is perhaps a good indication of increased interest.

What does the future hold? European organic wine certification remains a work in progress with an update expected in August 2015. The various private certification standards are seen as a base for further evolution of pan-European standards looking at themes such as: biodiversity in grape production, soil fertility and soil life, alternative approaches to pests and diseases, sustainability of grape production, wine processing and storage, quality and source of organic wine ingredients, of yeasts quality both including wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, limitations on additives including a possible total of sulphites, further limitations on processing techniques, limitations on tools and equipment, etc, etc.

In 2011 8% of French vineyards were organic (61 000 ha) compared to about 6% of the EU as a whole (interestingly enough the UK showed the highest percentage at over 16% – but I know it’s a tiny surface area compared to France) it is notable that the organic vineyards have exhibited far higher growth rates than the overall organic farmland.

In a global context, Europe is by far the largest player when it comes to organic vineyards: Europe’s 260,000 hectares of organic vineyards constitute 89 per cent of the total area under organic vines worldwide and represent 3.7 per cent of all vineyards. Major producers outside Europe are the United States (almost 12,000 hectares in 2008) and Chile (4,600 hectares).

As mentioned above, just like all wine makers organic wine makers love to experiment and the organic wine movement seems to be particularly good at participatory R & D, in both the field and wine cellars. Subjects such as lowering copper input are being looked at in this way and they are also working with other agricultural products where copper use is an issue see http://www.co-free.eu

Everyone benefits; wine is a relatively prosperous agricultural sector –not everywhere (that includes parts of Bordeaux) and it is also a competitive and dynamic sector and research into issues of organic wine benefit other agricultural products too. I think this is where the future lies, along with more closely aligned legislation with export markets so different organic producers from around the world can sell as organic in their various export markets.

The 2015 review of the organic wine certification is around the corner – it needs that time lapse to have a couple of vintages under our belts especially in Bordeaux when wines are often bottled between 24 and 30 months after harvest – exciting times ahead for gentil farmers.

 

International cuisine with a cause

Fine food and wine is a great way for cultures to come together, even better if it’s in a good cause.

Les Sources de Caudalie will host a 4 star dinner on 11th December, that is four one star chefs sharing their talents, to raise money for Japan. Bordeaux has its fair share of Michelin stars now, one of whom, Nicolas Masse, of la Grand Vigne at Les Sources de Caudalie, will welcome Keisuke Matsushima the inspiration behind this event, who holds a Michelin star for his restaurants in both Tokyo and Nice, and his neighbours Pascal Nibaudeau from Le Pressoir d’Argent in Bordeaux and Christophe Giradot from La Table de Montesquieu in the neighbouring village of La Brede. Together on the 11th December they will offer a food and wine dinner where the proceeds will benefit the victims of the Japanese tsunami.

Each chef will produce a course combining the best of France and Japan accompanied by wines from Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, of course, but also Laurent Perrier and Château Gazin. Book now to avoid disapointment.

La Grande Vigne Restaurant

Discover Bordeaux this summer – lesser known Bordeaux !

Sauternes
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