Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Bordeaux negociant at the top of their game

In all the excitement over the prestigious châteaux in Bordeaux, the role of the Bordeaux negociant or wine merchant is often overlooked.
The 300 Bordeaux wine merchants sell 70% of the volume of Bordeaux wine with the 8 leading companies representing 57% of this business. Their role covers the range of Bordeaux wines from the top classed growths to custom bottling, negociants account for almost half of the bottling of Bordeaux wines.
Cordier Mestrezat, one of those leading Bordeaux negociant houses, this year celebrates its 125th birthday. Historically Cordier owned such prestigious estates as Château Lafaurie Peraguey, Gruaud Larose, Meyney and Talbot and after a merger Mestrezat the company is returning to its prestige roots with several new top end projects – they should know a thing or two about luxury branding with TAG as one of their shareholders.
To celebrate the anniversary they have launched two new collections: the Club Elite, 12 château bottled wines in a revived bottle style previously associated with Cordier estates, and the Époque collection; 4 château bottled wines selected to represent the diversity of Bordeaux styles: a Saint Estephe, a Saint Emilion grand Cru, a Pessac Leognan and a Medoc.

Another innovation, these wines are presented together in a ‘Four box’ a unique 4-bottled wooden case. Don’t fancy that selection? All is not lost, the Four Box can be made to measure for you including a range of wines starting at €100 up to €25 000 or how about the Golden 4 Box? Four 1st growth Sauternes, including d’Yquem of course.
Not quite luxurious enough for you? Take it a step further they have created 3 unique Louis Vuitton 4 boxes for 4 of the 1st growths from the 2008 vintage.

Just so convenient for travelling!

More close links between Bordeaux and California

Vinexpo seems a way away now a couple of months down the road but a reminder recently arrived on my doorstep.
One of the pleasures of Vinexpo is to be able to taste wines from all over the world and California was well represented for a region whose wines are under represented in the French market place. The Napa Valley Vintners had not just a great stand but also ran a fascinating seminar presenting the results of their research into the reality of climate change in Napa and its effects on winemaking practises. Not that anyone dared say they were climate change deniers but there was definitely an undercurrent that wine style was affected a lot more by agricultural and wine making practise than by any inherent change in the climate. Not dissimilar from what we hear from a lot of producers here in Europe. we have more in common than it would seem.
Yes there is some rising in temperature but nowhere nearly sufficient to explain the rise in sugar levels over the same period, so global warming cannot be blamed for the rise in alcohol levels to such dizzying heights as we are seeing in many regions and not uniquely California.
These high levels of sugar and hence alcohol are explained much more by agricultural decisions, from trellising to planting densities and the all-important picking date. This trend is a response to market demand, despite what some of us more traditional consumers from the old world might think, there is a huge demand for wines with lots of fruit and high alcohol levels in many markets, not least the USA and of course the power points awarded by some critics that can make or break the market for these wines. What producer wouldn’t respond to such market pressure?
Please will the consumers out there that prefer ‘drinkability’ stand up and make themselves heard so producers will respond to their legitimate demands too?

The reason this was brought back to mind was a wonderful surprise from friends at Ponzo vineyard.

Not from Napa but nearby Sonoma, Phil and Barbara Ponzo grow grapes in the beautiful Russian River. They supply several local wine makers for their single vineyard wines; Nickel and Nickle, and Hawley amongst others.
I met them thanks to the dynamic Susan Graf, stylist to all the lady winemakers of Sonoma County. As well as a full time job as a style icon Susan helps run the Healdsburg Food Pantry charity and mutual friends, Jim and Sally Newsome, bid on a wine tour with me and brought along their fellow wine growers the Ponzos to discover how we grow our grapes in Bordeaux in a viticultural ‘compare and contrast’ week.

The Newsomes and the Ponzos at a tasting lunch in the new dining room
at Château Troplong Mondot

After a week of sipping Bordeaux with them the tables have turned, a case of their wines has arrived for me and it’s my turn to taste some of their Sonoma wines – tasting notes to follow when I surface!

A line up of Ponzo single vineyard wines ready for tasting

Rooftop pampering

Bordeaux finally has worldwide class spa, right down town giving Les Sources de Caudalie a run for their money. The Grand Hotel Regent has earned its reputation as THE 5* place to stay in the city since it’s opening in 2007. Ideal for those of you happy to visit the vineyards but preferring to stay at the centre of the UNESCO heritage site.

All that was missing was a spa of the caliber of the hotel – sorted! Jacques Garcia designed Les Bains de Lea in the same emblematic style he has used for the whole building. Over the 6th & 7th floor with the 130m2 terrace overlooking the city, a discreet bar by the roman pool with it’s sliding roof and lounge atmosphere.

The top drawer Nuxe products should help compensate for the inevitable over indulgence during your stay !



Vines on vacation

14th July, Bastille Day and it’s time for staff from the Bordeaux château to go on holiday before coming back to prepare for the upcoming harvest.
Touring the vineyards of Bordeaux this week with guests from Hong Kong, there are clear signs of an early harvest on its way. Throughout Bordeaux winemakers are estimating about 3 weeks advance on the usual season and château workers are taking their holidays earlier to be back before the end of August to prepare for a harvest which could start mid September for the reds.
Veraison is clearly on the way in some area see the photos of La Tour and La Mission Haut Brion, which is always ahead of the other vineyards of Bordeaux thanks to its location in the Bordeaux suburbs giving a warmer micro climate.

Veraison at Château Latour this week
Veraison at la Mission Haut Brion this week

An early season does not mean it has all been kindness however. Parts of the plateau of Sauternes were hit by a hailstorm late April.
The Plateau of Margaux was also hit by a hailstorm early June going right through the Rauzan section of the appellation causing considerable damage.
On the Margaux plateau some areas have suffered badly from the very dry and, in particular the very hot, conditions on the last weekend of June have given some of the grapes ‘sun burn’ and in some places, as below where the grapes are exposed to direct sunlight along the edges of plots, grapes have completely desiccated. Showing how important canopy management and leave stripping (or lack of it) is in these atypical vintages.

A touch of sun burn on grapes at Château Haut Bailly
after the hot weekend sun late June

Desiccated grapes on the vines of Château La Mission Haut Brion,
these vines on the edge of the parcel are in the direct sunshine where
they are not shaded by neighbouring vines.

It is a year where the relatively new techniques of optical selection and tribaie will be put to good use;
Rain in the last 24 hours, however light, was a welcome relief .The vine-workers might be looking forward to sun for their holidays as of this weekend but the vines would welcome some water. Looking at the weather forecast the vines might have to wait another few days.
Not all the château close for the holidays, more and more properties throughout the whole of the region remain open to visitors for the summer as wine tourism takes a firm hold in Bordeaux. I would recommend booking ahead however to avoid disappointment.
Happy holidays!

Somewhere to stay in Bordeaux ?

Bordeaux blonde is always on the lookout for new places to stay in and around Bordeaux.
If you prefer to stay self catering to get the real feel of Bordeaux and enjoy the wonderful farmers markets – here’s another idea; a great one bedroom flat in the historic heart of Bordeaux’s ‘golden triangle’
Perfect for a romatic get away ‘à deux’ from 450 euros per week
Contact Françoise at


Haut Culture

There are many parallels with the world of Haute Couture and wine, not least the ownership of some of Bordeaux’s leading properties by the top fashion brands; think LVMH with Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc, François Pinault of Gucci fame with Château Latour and Chanel with Château Rauzan Segla and Canon.
This might also explain the growing success and increasing volumes of the second wines of many properties – not dissimilar from the diffusion lines of some of the top couture houses.
Bordeaux producers have always had the challenge of keeping their traditional and historical appeal without alienating younger consumers? How to maintain a quality image but still explain the content of the bottle via the label? So why not ask designers to lend a hand?
Easy enough if you happen to belong to a Haute Couture group; Chanel is well introduced into the Bordeaux scene. The Wertheimer family, owners of the famous fashion house, purchased Chateau Rauzan Segla, 2nd growth of Margaux in 1994 along with the negociant house Ulysee Cazabon and then Château Canon in 1996. They have just increased their Bordeaux holdings buying the neighbouring property Château Matras with the objective of increasing production of the second wine of the property Clos Canon.
The 2009 Château Rauzan Segla was released onto the market in this year, which also celebrates the 350th birthday of the property. Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel in-house designer has designed the label to celebrate the date. Using more colour than we are used to seeing on the traditional labels it gives a new and modern turn to the 1900’s Château.

Not everyone in Bordeaux has such direct access to in-house designers but that didn’t stop Bruno Borie of Château Ducru Beaucaillou calling in high fashion. He asked Jade Jagger to design a new label for his second wine – La Croix de Beaucaillou which is more ‘bling’ that the Rauzan label – all black and gold. He gave two reasons for the choice – her affinity with bottles having recently re-launched the Shalimar bottle for Guerlain and of course she’s the daughter of a Rolling stone – another ‘Beaucaillou’!

The Year of the Cellar

What will spring 2011 be remembered for in Bordeaux? The exceptional dry and hot weather leading to flowering 3 weeks early, Vinexpo with the Fête de la Fleur at Château Lascombes or the ‘interesting’ primeur campaign – we’re spoilt for choice.
For me it is the year of the new wine cellar.
There is no shortage of candidates from Château Clerc Millon, to Château Soutard. Cos d’Estournel doesn’t count as they led the way a few years ago following in the steps of Pontet Canet. Pavie has yet to come, Mouton should be finished any minute now and there are still cranes hanging over Le Pin and Petrus.
The prize however has to go to Château Cheval Blanc. They certainly got their timing right with the launch of their amazing new cellar just in time for Vinexpo. The ballet of helicopters flying to and from the show everyday for lunch and visits was an example of how no expense was spared to ensure that the great and the good discovered the new jewel in the LVMH crown.

The uniquely shaped vats in the new cellars at Château Cheval Blanc

Cheval Blanc is remarkable in many ways compared to its Saint Emilion neighbours. Along with Château Figeac it lies along the boundary with Pomerol where it enjoys a soil so very different from other Saint Emilion estates being dominated made by sand, gravel and clay sediment from the nearby Isle river rather than the traditional clay and limestone of the other classified growths of Saint Emilion. Hence the unusual dominance of Cabernet Franc in the blend.
The vines are a single vineyard situated all around the château which dates back to 1871 and covers 37 ha, large for Saint Emilion where the average is around 6 ha. Cheval Blanc was Classified as an A (along with Ausone) at the beginning of the Saint Emilion Classification in 1954 and has remained at this level in each subsequent revision (see previous post)
Pierre Lurton was already managing the estate for the previous owners when Bernard Arnaud and Baron Albert Frère acquired the property in 1998. They wisely kept him on and he now also runs Château Yquem for the LVMH group.
Until the launch of these new cellars everything seemed to be in keeping with tradition and history. However behind the apparent tranquillity changes have taken place that perfectly illustrate trends throughout the Bordeaux vineyard, including agricultural practices with a greater respect for the environment and a better understanding the soils (Kees van Leeuwen, terroir expert at Bordeaux university was interpreting the soils of Cheval Blanc long before soil analysis became common practice)
This better understanding of the soils has lead many chateaux to undertake investments in the cellars to increase the number and reduce the size of tanks so that each parcel of land now indentified can be vinifed separately. This allows for a better expression of each parcel of land with a more accurate decision on picking time and wine making techniques from vat to vat. A student recently asked me ‘What’s the point if it’s all going to be blended anyway?’ Blending is after all one of the signatures of Bordeaux. Wine makers will answer that this allows for a much more precise decision of when to pick but perhaps more importantly a more precise choice of which parcels will enter into the first and the second wine, and in more and more cases the third wine (Latour, Leoville Lascazes, Haut Bailly, etc)
At Cheval Blanc the majority of wine making has always taken place in concrete tanks as is traditional on the right bank, and in particular in Pomerol, where most of the top properties continue to use concrete, appreciating the thermal inertia that the thick walls offer and the flexibility that made to measure concrete tanks give (see the recent cellars in Petit Village).
The architect Chrisitan de Portzamparc was given the challenge of the creating something beautiful enough for these men from the luxury and fashion worlds and practical enough to please the cellar master. Giving the impression of being a rolling hill amongst the vines, albeit a white one, the suspended garden on the roof and the use of wood does blend into the surrounding vineyard even though driving past during the construction ‘flying saucer’ was heard from the locals.
52 elegantly shaped concrete vats are housed in this Eco building qualified by the material used for construction, its energy efficieny and waste management. It is a spectacular marriage of past, future and nature.

A few weeks after Vinexpo Cheval Blanc released its price for 2010 futures, up to €750 bottle over €600 last year – someone has to pay for that $ 18.8 million cellar!

The perfect English country house weekend


Tucked away in the Derbyshire Dales a discreet stone’s throw for the magnificent Devinshire family pile of Chatsworth is the perfect English Country House Hotel : Baslow Hall. Looking for all it’s worth like a classic 17th century manor House, Baslow was in fact only built in 1907 recreating gabled wings and stone mullioned windows with leaded panes all set in beautifully mature gardens adding to the period image.

Max and Susan Fischer now run Baslow Hall as a hotel, or rather as a restaurant with rooms as the emphasis is just as much on the excellence of the cuisine as the warmth of the welcome.

Hence it is known as Fischers at Baslow Hall. Local produce including fruit, veg and herbs from the kitchen garden beside the house which is Max Fischer’s passion. Local Sheffield chef Rupert Rowley has run the kitchens since 2003 and has maintained the one star Michelin standard awarded in 1994. All this complimented by a very comprehensive, reasonably priced and I’m happy to say, Bordeaux friendly wine list.

The perfect English country house getaway for our French friends.