Monthly Archives: March 2011

There’s more to these primeurs than meets the eye.

Yes the primeur tastings are all about discovering the new vintage but it’s also an opportunity to discover new wines.
Outside the main drag of the UGC (Union des Grands Cru) tastings there are a multitude of possibilities to discover, not just the new Bordeaux vintage, but wines from all over the world made by or consulted ‘on’ (not sure that’s the right expression but you know what I mean) Bordeaux wine makers and consultants. It’s also a great opportunity for Bordeaux chateaux to slip in their new babies.
This morning I tasted the delicious new wine from the Bonnie stable. The Bonnie family acquired Pessac Leognan Grand Cru Classé Château Malartic Lagravière in 1996, one of only 6 Pessac Léognan properties to be classified for both their red and their white wine. The investment in both the vineyard and the technical facility has now largely paid off in recent vintages, with this property becoming a leader in the appellation. In 2005 they also purchased a lesser-known neighbour, Chateau Gazin Roquencourt, and the 2010 vintage sees the first edition of the white Pessac Léognan from this property.
It is a tribute to the skills and lessons learnt at Malartic Lagravière; 100% Sauvignon it is an elegant and aromatic expression of the dry whites of the appellation – the production is tiny only 10 000 bottles will be offered – you have been warned!

Bleu de Chanel

Luxury is synonymous with Bordeaux, reinforced by the well-known presence of luxury conglomerates LVMH and Pinault owning leading estates, Yquem and Cheval Blanc and Latour respectively. Less well know is that couture and perfume house Chanel owns two leading Bordeaux properties, neatly balanced between left and right bank : Château Rauzan Ségla, deuxième grand cru classé of Margaux and Château Canon, première grand cru classé of Saint Emilion. At first their seems little synergy, unless of course you take into account the commitment to quality which can clearly be seen in the rigorous renovation that has taken place in these properties.
Chanel purchased Château Canon from the Fournier family in 1996 and they have invested a serious budget in renovation, starting with the vineyards (that needed a dramatic replanting programme), the cellars but also the amazing underground quarries on which the château is perched. This has all come beautifully together with the recently completed cellars. If you look closely here is where you can see a Chanel signature – – the decoration of the cellars echos the recently launched aftershave Bleu de Chanel.

It is apparently the colour used for the family’s racehorses – an elegant touch of luxury indeed.

The primeurs are upon us.

With the primeur tastings once again upon us, the focus will of course be on the Classified growths of Bordeaux with the usual mix of praise for the quality (2010 is once again looking like a great vintage) and criticism for the prices and of course painting all of Bordeaux with the same brush forgetting that, as fabulous as these growths are, and as important as their role is for the notoriety of Bordeaux they represent less than 2% of total Bordeaux wine production, in volume.

One of the criticisms made in class this week, and often repeated, of the Bordeaux classification is the fact that the classified growths of the Medoc in 1855 have the right to buy up surrounding land and that this is immediately transformed from basic appellation to classified growth status. This question was raised once again in a class this week.

Effectively in 1855 it was the properties of the Medoc appellations that were classified rather than the terroir. It was a market classification based uniquely on a price hierarchy established by the Bordeaux brokers over a period of 150 years. It was never destined to be a definitive document. This means therefore that the properties keep their classification despite any change in landholdings they may make. Obviously this is often open to criticism, especially in the competitive and much more informed market wines sell in today. However the 1855 classification should be considered as an historical document based on the market evaluation at the time. Now as then, the market is a more accurate reflection of current quality performance – a result of both terroir, wine making skill. Not forgetting marketing – then, as now, it was often the larger landholders, often with great trade connections that established notoriety for their brands in the 18th and 19th century that was reflected in the price of the growths.

However the properties cannot do whatever they like with their landholdings. Firstly the land included in any Grand Cru Classé must come from the same appellation.
The real test of these classifications is brought into question every year during the tastings of the primeurs. The properties do not act in a vacuum but are subject to market pressure following the tastings. This can clearly be seen with some examples of properties that perform well above, and occasionally below, their 1855 status and are judged by the trade, their market price is a reflection of this: For example the ‘Super seconds’ properties deemed as performing above their status. Château Palmer, classified as a 3rd growth in 1855 is systematically sold at a price point right behind the 1st growths, Château Lynch Bages is a 5th growth with a price point of 2nd growths. Another example is Château Lascombes, a 2nd growth of Margaux that underperformed for many years, but sold their wines at a very affordable price point, since they have been taken over in 2001 the market agrees that the wines have dramatically increased in quality and are now at a similar quality level as other second growths, as is reflected by the increased price on the market.

Also interesting to note is that the properties that have increased in size have also increased their production of second and even third wines, Latour is an excellent example of this; Château Latour 1er Grand cru Classé is only produced form the Enclos, the traditional property whereas the Les Forts de Latour and the ‘Pauillac’ of Latour come from land outside the original holding, more recently purchased by the estate. This however this blend of land holdings for the different wines is not an obligation but entirely on the initiative of the producer to self regulate, based on the plot selection of each vintage.

The 1855 classification is also not the only classification in Bordeaux, don’t forget, Saint Emilion and Graves, it remains however one of the best marketing operations in the history of wine making as these properties remain to this day some of the best known wines in the world, but as with most things in the wine world, memorising the classification is not enough to really understand the quality hierarchy of Bordeaux. If so wine educators like me would be out of a job.

A line up ready for tasting

A sparkling 50th

In 1961 when it opened its doors the Carlton Tower Hotel was a very innovative addition to Knightsbridge as the tallest hotel in London. Now part of the Jumeirah group they are celebrating their 50th birthday in due style with the creation of The ’1961’ exclusive cocktail served in Gilt, Chinoiserie and The Rib Bar only throughout 2011. It has been created by the bar team using 1961 Armagnac, bitters, orange bitters, orange Curacao and topped up with Pommery Champagne. If you prefer your champagne straight you can celebrate in the Gilt bar with the special birthday offer of Pommery at the round number of £50 a bottle. Book an event with them before the end of April and a celebratory glass is on the house.

A lion in the Côtes

When I first visited Chateau Biac a couple of years ago (see blog post) I promised an update as the owners Youmna and Toni Asseily were just starting out on the adventure of their first bottling, the red 2008 and Cadillac 2007.

Bottling the 2008 Red Chateau Biac

I can now report that the château is still in its beautiful position dominating the Garonne river, the Gites are all welcoming guests, their reception room is the perfect place for organising a small group for a tasting (the purpose of my visit) and the 2008 Chateau Biac and B de Biac is in bottle and on the market.
Available in the UK through Uncorked, and award winning Woodwinters  (see blog post ) in Edinburgh at such prestigious address as the Gavroche in London and Globus in Shanghai.

The heraldic lion on the coat of arms reflects Youmna’s Lebanese heritage,
affectionately known in the family as ‘Felix the cat’!

Get wed with wine

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

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

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

The Orangerie dining room at Château du Tertre

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

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

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

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

A Jurassic experience – only a flight away

Last week Bordeaux Blonde tested the new direct flight from Dijon to Bordeaux on her way back from Burgundy. This weekend the same route but for different wines. The wines of the Jura are only an jours’ drive away Dijon. One flight 3 wine regions – brilliant! You could do worse than to Start your discovery of the Jura at the Chateau de Germigney in Port-Lesney on the banks of the Loue. The old ‘Relais de Chasse’ has a spectacular bar in the old cellars and a great regional wine selection offered by the glass by the 2 young sommeliers to accompany the tasting menus. The food is excellent, the chef brilliantly show cases seasonal and regional produce. If you fancy something more low key their Bistro in the village, offers a more relaxed fare – but book, especially et the weekend they have gained a reputation with both locals and the Swiss from across the border.

Learning about wine with food at the cellar door.

Trying to getting a better understanding of the complexities of Burgundy I have been studying Jasper Morris’ new book, it is excellent, however, nothing replaces ‘travaux pratique’ so stopped for lunch yesterday at the ‘Table d’Hôte’ of Domaine Comte Senard in Aloxe-Corton.

25 years ago Comte Senard took the extraordinary decision to plant part of their Monopole Grand Cru Clos des Meix with Chardonnay, thus producing Corton Blanc. Another surprise is the underground cellar, which, although it dates back to the 13th century was only rediscovered by a gardener about 100 years ago. They are planning to transfer all their winemaking, which currently takes place in nearby Beaune, back to these cellars.

We were hosted by their sommelier(e) Emilie, who took the time to carefully explain the particularities of each wine she chose for us from their range of 15 wines. From Regional, through Village to 1er and Grands Crus, you can choose to sample from 4 to 8 wines to accompany their daily menu, a real eye opener to understanding the diversity of styles from the village.

Burgundy glass by glass

If you can only make it to Burgundy for a flying visit (on your way back from skiing perhaps?) call in to the Oiseau des Vignes restaurant at the Hotel Le Cep in the centre of Beaune. They have over 70 wines from the region on offer by the glass. If you don’t know where to start you can confidently ask David, the Sommelier, for a selection to accompany your menu. Not only will he take away the stress of deciding what to choose but should you, per chance, have enjoyed your wine so much that you may not remember his choices the next morning, just ask and he will print out all the details for you to take away as a souvenir.

Spoilt for choice at L’Oiseau des Vignes

A dog’s life

Humour sells, the Brits really get this concept, and here’s a really good example. Building on the success of their Chat-en-oeuf (if you can’t visualise image check the web site!) British based producer, importer and merchant Boutinot have added Longue-dog to their portfolio of wines, and yes it does come from that region. The contemporary label has won several design awards and the wines are made from the traditional local grape varieties; white (Colombard-Chardonnay) rose (Syrah) and red (Grenache-Syrah).

Now you know what to offer your dog lover friends!