Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Mouton revival

After 3 years of frustration on the part of visitors to Bordeaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild is once again open to wine enthusaists. It was worth the wait, the wine making cellar has been transformed but so has the cultural part of the Chateau.

Bordeaux architect and winery specialist, Bernard Mazière, has created the spectacular 2 storey gravity-fed cellar allowing the Mouton team to incorporate the latest wine making techniques whilst remaining true to their traditions.

Palettes of hand picked bunches of future Mouton Rothschild are lifted up in crates, almost 16 metres, to the top floor where they are de-stemmed and the grapes are selected both by hand and by optical sorting machine. Once crushed, they are carried in small stainless steel hoppers on rails and tipped into the 44 traditional oak vats. Each vat is a different size and corresponds to a specific plot of land, giving the cellar master a much larger palette of wines to blend in than in the previous cellar.

One of the hoppers above the new vats.

The vats are pretty amazing. At first glance they seem classic but they have a Plexiglas ‘window’ running down each side, so the wine maker can clearly see the fermentation process taking place. They also have built-in radiators to cool and warm the must as needed during the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation and there is a canny trap door in the base to allow the cap to be easily removed for pressing in the five traditional vertical presses.

The Plexiglass window in the side of a new oak vat.

Alongside the oak vats are twenty in stainless steel, used essentially for the bottling. These were christened for the bottling of the 2011 this summer, which will be shipped towards the end of the year once the name of the latest artist to sign the label has been selected.

Mouton has always been at the cutting edge. After taking over the property in 1922, Baron Philippe decided in 1924 that his entire crop would be bottled at the chateau, a dramatic decision then, as it only became mainstream for the top Bordeaux properties in the 1970s. Even today, only about 50% of Bordeaux is Château bottled.

Although the new cellars were only open again to visitors this year, the 2012 vintage was the first to be vinified here. The 2010 and 2011 vintages were made in the recently renovated cellars of neighbouring Chateau Clerc Milon, 5th growth of Pauillac, also owned by the Rothschilds. Mouton wines are not afraid of a little oak. Their power benefits from the ageing in 100% new oak barrels each year. However, to attenuate the influence of the 100% new oak vats used for fermentation in 2012, this percentage was reduced to the 70%. As the vats are used over the next few vintages this percentages will slowly rise back to the classic 100%.

Not everything has changed however. There is still the Baron’s ram head collection at the entrance to the cellars and the barrels are still lined up in the impressive first year ‘Great Barrel Hall’ designed and built by architect Charles Sicilis in 1926. This ‘Grand Chai’ is 100m long and was built to age the wines following the Baron’s decision to Chateau bottle. Holding over a thousand barrels the whole harvest, an equivalent of 300 000 bottles, can be stored on a single level facilitating all the work that needs to be done (topping up, racking, etc.) during the first 6 months. The wine is then transferred to the underground cellars, built in the 30’s, to finish its 18-20 month barrel life. Previously not open to visitors, the private family cellars run along side these cellars,  you can now stroll through and admire this vast collection of wines from the family estates.

But there is more to Chateau Mouton-Rosthchild than wine. Baroness Pauline, the Baron’s second wife, created the Museum of Art in Wine at Mouton in 1962. It now holds over 400 pieces some dating back to ancient Greek and Rome and follows the work of artists who have been inspired by wine through the ages. This museum has always been a highlight of any visit to Mouton but since the renovation, the ‘Painting for the Labels’ exhibition is another reason to visit.

This is a creation of the current Baroness Philippine who has continued the tradition started by her father of commissioning a different contemporary artist for each vintage. Despite turning 80 this year, she still has a finger on the pulse of the art scene, as her annual selection of an artist attests. Dating back to the first chateau bottling in 1923, the idea was not well received and he left the project to one side until 1945 when a commemorative label to mark the end of the war re-launched the idea.

The l’Art et l’Etiquette exhibition

The exhibition, showing the original artworks for the labels of Mouton was a rarely seen, itinerant show that has now found its home.  The fascinating collection, accompanied by the stories behind the artists and the  different art works proposed by the artists for each label is worth a visit all by itself.

More touching is a series of family portraits of the Baron and his first and second wives both who died before him, leaving him widowed until his death in 1988.

Mouton has always been the exception of the 1st growths of Bordeaux in being open to the public, with a team of multilingual guides ready to welcome visitors whether wine enthusiasts or interested in discovering more about the Rothschild myth. For a fee you can experience some of the ‘mystique’, history and of course the wine that is such an integral part of this family. Depending on your level of enthusiasm for wine or for art, you can choose between a visit based on the art and museum exhibition or more concentrated on the wine, with or without a tasting.

This new cellar is a fitting tribute by his daughter to a gentleman who was both a major player in, and a witness to, some of the key changes that have made Bordeaux what it is today. If you are going to come all this way, schedule in a couple of hours to experience his influence through the cellars, the art and the three family wines; Mouton, Armailhac and Clerc Million.



Château la Croizille – The old and the new in Saint Emilion.

The De Schepper family are not new to Bordeaux. They were already established in the liqueur and wine business in Belgium when they purchased their first Bordeaux property, Château la Tour Balaldoz, in Saint Emilion in 1950. This was followed by the purchase of Château Haut Breton Larigaudière, a Cru Bourgeois in Margaux, in 1964. The family history has followed that of Bordeaux, as they first exported wines from their 2 properties in barrel for bottling in Belgium before starting to bottle at the chateaux in 1972.

The entrance to the old limestone quarry at Chateau Tour Baladoz

Their wine portfolio now includes a total of 5 Bordeaux properties and a negociant house De Mour. The most recent acquisition was Château La Croizille in 1996.

Château Croizille can trace its origins to the 1800’s and the purchase was a perfect opportunity for the family as it neighbours Château de La Tour Baladoz. So much so that a visit now includes both of the properties, a fascinating compare and contrast exercise between the very traditional Chateau la Tour Baladoz and the extremely modern Chateau La Croizille.

The view of La Croizille vines from the new tasting room

Since it’s purchase in 1996 work has been concentrated in the vineyard, 5 hectares in a sheltered valley or ‘Combe’ which reaches up to the top of the hill 82 m above sea level planted 70% Merlot  25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 % Cabernet Franc.

The typical Clay-Limestone soil of Saint Emilion.

Late 2012 saw the opening of the spectacular new wine cellar. A project that was subject to some controversy, being built within the UNESCO Heritage site.  2012 was the first vintage made in this gravity fed cellar. Small stainless steel vats and 100% new oak barrels stacked on oxoline frames to facilitate the manipulation for the first years ageing are neatly tucked under the second year cellar and tasting room. The tasting room is suspended above the vineyard with a 180° view across the valley showing perfectly not only how beautiful the rolling hills are in this part of the appellation but also how well they suit vine cultivation with excellent drainage and sun exposure. The design of the new chai is inspired by the clay and limestone terroir so typical of this part of the appellation due East of Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf and Chateau Troplong Mondot.

The first year, new oak barrels on oxoline


As of last October, visitors are welcome to see this view along with the new cellars at Croizille and the more traditional cellars at Baladoz. Perfectly placed between 2 favourite lunch stops, Chateau Troplong Mondot and L’Atelier de Candale, it couldn’t be easier to include in a Saint Emilion itinerary and the latest member of the family to join the team, Hélène de Schepper, will be delighted to welcome visitors to the property.

A tasting room with a view

Here you can see a remarkable contrast between the old and the new in cellar design as well as the wine of course. The packaging, a modern label with the family’s signature, hand wrapped in orange paper, is an indication of their desire to emulate their prestigious neighbours – I wish them luck.


Chez Dupont

Chez Dupont has been a Bordeaux institution for over 25 years, a typical French Brasserie cherished by its regulars. On the rue de Notre Dame, it is strategically placed at the centre of this quartier that is enjoying a renaissance as the latest trendy area of town.

Running parallel to the Quai des Chartrons with it’s upgraded waterfront promenade, it’s trendy Sunday market and the loft style renovations overlooking the brand new bridge, it is also a stone’s throw from the nearby Place du Marché des Chartrons where the renovation of the beautiful metallic market hall dating back to the 1800’s has made this one of the most vibrant squares in Bordeaux for late night wining and dining.

Notre Dame has long been the antique and deco centre of Bordeaux, now the road has been changed, removing all the car parking. It may not great for those trying to park, but it is terrific for the atmosphere with cafes and restaurant tables spilling over on the pavement on warm nights catching the party feeling from the nearby Place.

Dupont has made the most of its location between the two by opening a Bed and Breakfast in a little house across the road. The 4 modern rooms each have an original theme with modern bathrooms, flat screen TVs, iPhone docks and a fridge, kettle and coffee machines, a very reasonable ‘home from home’ starting at 95 euros a night

Une Chambre che Dupont

They have also opened a low-key bistro on the corner available for private parties and the scene of ‘tapas aperos’ on Thursday evenings.

Le Bistro Chez Dupont

And for you foodies, as well as the water front market on Sundays you are a stones throw from the Cours du Verdun and it’s great food shops including another favourite restaurant of mine, Gravelier.

Bon appétit !


The Auld Alliance, a Bordeaux – whisky link at Auchentoshan

 I found it fascinating to compare the similarities and contrasts in wine and whisky making during a visit to Auchentoshan on the outskirts of Glasgow. It was a surprise to see a familiar name in the maturing cellars. I spotted a few casks (they don’t call them barrels here) from Château Lagrange hidden amongst the 20000 bourbon and sherry barrels. This is one of three distilleries and four brands (Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and McClelland’s) owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers part of the Suntory group.  Suntory of course are no strangers to Bordeaux being owners of Chateau Lagrange and shareholders of neighbouring Château Beychevelle in Saint Julien.

Where am I? Saint Julien or Scotland?

Auchentoshan is however unique in being the only Scotch whisky distillery to distill their spirit 3 times, an expensive and time consuming process but worth the wait given the exceptionally smooth whisky produced.

The 3 stills at Auchentoshan

But there is more to Auchentoshan than just one whisky – the range starts with their classic single malt to a 12,18 or 21 year old malt but also including a 3 wood and special editions up to 50 years old that I would be tempted to call vintage as the date of distillation is clearly marked on the label. Then there is the 1999 Bordeaux cask matured that caught my eye – and palate – released especially for Bastille day!

 The influence of the origin of the oak, but also what as gone before becomes very clear during the tasting. We wax lyrical about the origin of oak for barrels in wine aging but here it is not just where the original oak was grown but also what has gone before. The oak here has been used either for Bourbon, sherry or wine. Each alcohol adding some of its flavour to that of the original oak and this is clearly identifiable in the Auchentoshan Travel Retail range. First by the colour and then by the smell and taste the influence of oak ageing is remarkable.

The range of colours reflects the influence of the oak 

 Spring Wood is uniquely aged in small Bourbon oak casks, the fresh citrus and vanilla notes being at the forefront. The Heartwood, Coopers and Sliver oak malts use a mix of Oloroso sherry and Bourbon casks each gaining in nutty, and toasted complexity. The Solera is finished in Pedro Ximenez casks which gives it a spectacularly rich and sweet finish – we pared it with chocolate raisins – delicious as an after dinner drink.

12 year old Auchentoshan with Ginger nut biscuits – better than afternoon tea!

Food and whisky matching is also an art just as for food and wine and not as limited as you might first imagine. The range of aromas and flavours was very surprising until the influence of the oak was demonstrated.

From citrus to vanilla, from tea to honey it was a fascinating discovery and then the question to add or not to add water and the difference this made to the mouth feel and flavours on the palate was equally fascinating. Auchentoshan clearly believe this too as they organise whisky tasting dinners at the distillery- on my list of things to do if anyone wants to join me?

As you already know women in wine is a favourite topic of mine but I will now have to enlarge it to women in whisky. The lovely Rachel Barrie is the ‘Creator of Malts’ at Auchentoshan. Creator rather than Master blender being the preferred term as, although Rachel is indeed a Master blender – this may create some confusion. The notion of blending here is very different to how we define it in Bordeaux. A blend for Scotch whisky means selecting whiskies from various distilleries and hence making a blended whisky. Auchentoshan no longer supplies whiskies to blenders preferring to create all their own single malts in house. However there is a element of what we in Bordeaux would call blending – all those 20 00 casks must be ‘nosed’ and Rachel must select which casks will go into which of the products in the range – which will age for 12, 18, 21 years or more – quite a challenge.
If you fancy something a little different they also are associated with Drambuie, some of their whisky being included in this liqueur that they bottle for them and they also produce delicious cream Liqueur only available a the distillery – that alone is worth a visit.

Bordeaux bargains.

Those of you that have attended class with me know I always underline that Bordeaux wine can be affordable; about 95% of Bordeaux production is inexpensive and ready for drinking. The classified growths only represent about 5% of the volume of production, if about 20% of the value.

Well it is no longer just Bordeaux wine that is a bargain – staying in Bordeaux is too. Visitors to Bordeaux have been increasing since the World Heritage site award in 2007 and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The Bordeaux Tourist Office is going out of its way to make Bordeaux more and more accessible for visitors with their new 2-night/3 day formula.

Beautiful Bordeaux

If you haven’t been to visit yet the 2 night Bordeaux package is the perfect way to introduce yourself to the city and it’s wines. The formula includes 2 nights in a double room with breakfast, a guided tour of the city, a guided tour of vineyards, free access to all the major monuments, a travel pass for public transport, a wine tasting at the Bar à Vin in the Maison de Bordeaux, a 10% discount in a selection of town centre shops and cheap parking – so you can leave your car behind and enjoy the wine. Did I forget anything? Oh yes a free bottle of wine in your room.

There is a slight supplement for a single room but depending on the type of hotel you choose the prices star at €120 for the 2 nights and 3 days and go up to €365 per person for the top hotels – a real bargain.

Hopefully it will whet your appetite to come back and spend some time visiting the vineyards in more depth. You know where to find me!

Souvenirs by Arnaud Faugas

And while you are in the tourist office don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs by local artist Arnaud Faugas he has created a special collection of bags and T shirts for the tourist office the perfect way to remember your stay – along with that bottle of wine.