Monthly Archives: October 2017

Clairet. Claret. Clarette,

The Bordeaux invasion of London – continued

London has always been a Bordeaux friendly wine hub and the Bordelais love London back, always happy to come over and share their wines with Londoners. As early as 1666 Arnaud de Pontac, then owner of Château Haut Brion, sent his son to London to open The Pontac’s Head, a tavern where they served the Chateau wine. He created a trend amongst the smart 17th century London set for ‘The New French Claret’ as compared to the lighter Clairet and established the ‘Graves de Bordeaux’ as their go-to wine well before the Wines of the Medoc dominated the market. This was possibly the first example of direct wine marketing and the first French bar.

The trend continues; I reported on 110 of Taillevant when it opened and Château Latour have recently created a new club in the Four Season at Ten Trinity Square, London, with the wonderful Anne Sophie Pic’s ‘Dame de Pic’ restaurant that I have yet to try but I did recently test-drive another new London venue.

Clarette opened in Spring this year (2017), in a beautiful half timbered Marylebone townhouse, Clarette is the project of a young generation of wine lovers with deep Bordeaux roots: Alexandra Petit, of the Château Margaux family and restaurateur Natsuko Perromat du Marais (the Perromat family are from the Graves) are in partnership with Thibault Pontallier son of the much missed director of Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier.

Clarette by night

The building lends itself to an atmosphere of private dining upstairs with its different nooks and crannies, with an impressive wine display in the private dining room. The large communal table on the ground floor lends a more informal atmosphere. Wines by the glass are served with sharing plates in front of a fireplace. On warmer days the terrace is perfect for people watching.

The wine list is French focused, as you would expect, but not all the bottles are Bordeaux, or even French, with an eclectic by the glass selection starting from around £5.

If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux, Clarette will give you a perfect taster while you wait.




Moon Harbour – A Bordeaux Whisky

After an amazing week sampling some of the best drams Scotland has to offer, imagine my surprise to come back to Bordeaux to find a whisky made right here, on the banks of the Garonne.

The region is no stranger to spirits, Fine de Bordeaux is the local spirit, Cognac is only a 90-minute drive north of Bordeaux and Armagnac is not much further away to the south. You can also find locally produced vodkas and gins – but this is, as far as I’m aware, the first whisky from the city.

Moon Harbour was created in 2014 by Yves Medina and Jean-Philippe Ballanger with invaluable help from Scotsman John McDougall, a master blender and master distiller with experience with such famous names as Springbank, Laphroaig and Balvenie.

The name Moon Harbour comes from the port of Bordeaux, known locally as the Port de la Lune (Moon Harbour) thanks to the crescent moon shape of the river at the heart of the city. Three crescents can be found intertwined on the Bordeaux City coat of arms. It’s an appropriate name given the chosen location for this new distillery.

During the Second World War the Germans built an enormous submarine base feeding to the Garonne River. It is still here, at the heart of the old port of Bordeaux, which is currently undergoing a complete regeneration. You can get a great view of this rather sinister building from the tasting room at the top of the neighbouring Cité du Vin.

The original fuel depot during it’s construction

Hidden away behind the base is a fuel store, never used, as the allies put an end to German U-boat activity before it came into service. When Yves Medina and Jean-Philippe Ballanger were looking for somewhere cool (and cool) to age their whisky it seemed like the perfect place.

The inside of the depot – awaiting the new Moon Harbour casks

The new distillery is in a modern annexe built on the side of the bunker, saving the monumental tunnel shaped interior for ageing of the barrels of Bordeaux Whisky.

The corn (maize) and barley are sourced locally, South of Bordeaux in Saint Jean d’Illac from Antoine Schieber at the Domaine de l’Ombrière. A specialist then malts the barley before it arrives on site for fermentation. After fermentation the left-over cereals, or draff, go to fatten local cattle. Bordeaux water is notoriously hard, thanks to the preponderance of limestone in the subsoil, so the water is purified to soften it before fermentation.

The single distillation takes place in a new copper still, built in Bordeaux by Stupfler. The company has been building stills here since the 1920s, as I mentioned, spirits are no strangers to the region!

Yves Medina inspects some of the first drops of moon Harbour from the Bordeaux still

It is early days; the first drops of whisky are only just running off the new still. It will be three years and a day until any Bordeaux whisky will be available to buy – the legal time needed for the spirit to qualify as whisky. Visitors are welcome though, they can experience the unique history of this corner of Bordeaux through archive photos and venture into the very heart of the bunker – now home to Bordeaux’s very first whisky.

Not wanting to leave visitors frustrated, or thirsty, these entrepreneurial whisky enthusiasts have imported barrels of Scotch whisky that they are finishing here in Bordeaux casks; ex Sauternes barrels and ex red wine barrels from Château La Louviere.

The current Moon Harbour range of whiskies and gin

The two whiskies: Pier 1 finished in the Sauternes barrels and Pier 2, with a peat signature, finished in the red wine barrels, are both available for sale in the boutique and on line.

They also produce a very fragrant, peppery gin using Timut pepper from Nepal amongst the botanicals. Named after Aliénor d‘Aquitaine, which seems appropriate for such a Franco-British product, as she was Queen of both France and England. I think she would approve.