Category Archives: Education

Women making Sense in Bordeaux

If you think women in the world of the wine world is something new and/or unusual, where have you been in recent years? You might be forgiven for thinking that in such a traditional bastion of wine as Bordeaux, women in the vineyards and cellars might be more unusual that in other regions  – think again. Historically, there have always been influential women on the Bordeaux wine scene, as well as many others working behind the scenes.

Some of Bordeaux’s leading vineyards are still going strong today thanks to the historical role of women. Jean de Bellon was the first owner of Chateau Haut Brion in the 16th century and it’s not only Champagne that has famous widows. As a young widow, Françoise Josephine de Sauvage d’Yquem was thrown into prison twice during the French revolution but she continued to make Château d’Yquem prosper. The Comtesse de Bournazel successfully took over the reigns of the family Chateau de Malle in Sauternes on the death of her husband, before handing it over to her son. Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is named after another Comtesse responsible for its success.

Properties may be handed down from fathers to daughters who continue to grow the family estates. Famously Baroness Philippine Rothschild continued and expanded her father’s work at Mouton Rothschild, Corinne Mentzelopoulos owns and runs Chateau Margaux with her daughter. More recently, Siaska Rothschild took over running Château Lafite from her father Baron Eric, and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal is now in charge of Chateau Angelus alongside her cousin Thierry Grenié,with Emmanuelle Fulchi their cellar master. There is nothing new about feminine power in Bordeaux wine.

Not so long ago it was unusual to see a woman working in the cellars – with an older generation of male wine makers talking about women ‘turning’ the wine – and that is still in living memory. Women are now making the wines as well as owning, running and marketing them. A few that come to mind, and not only in the top growths, are Marjolaine de Cornack at Chateau Marquis d’Alesme, Maylis De Laborderie at Chateau La Lagune, (both working with female owners), Paz Espejo at Château Lanessan and Caroline Artaud at Château Forcas Hostens. Some women are carrying on from the parents in a family vineyard, such as Estelle Roumage at Chateau Lestrille, Armelle Falcy Cruse at Château du Taillan, and I could go on.

I organized my first Women in Wine Tour in Bordeaux back in  2007, so again nothing new here, but these women, and many more, came back on my radar thanks to the recent visit here in Bordeaux of the American association Women for Wine sense (WWS). Created in 1990 by two leading Californian women in wine, Michaela Rodeno and Julie Johnson, WWS aims to increase knowledge about wine through education as a counterweight to the anti-alcohol lobby. Their premise is a better understanding of wine leads to more responsible consumption. The success of this organisation has been phenomenal; they now have a network of 10 chapters and growing throughout the US and a charitable arm that sponsors wine education for women in the industry.

I have run several Bordeaux seminars for WWS members in the US over the last year but this was their first trip to Bordeaux. With Decanter Tours it seemed only natural to concentrate on vineyards with a feminine signature, choosing properties for them to visit that were owned by, managed by or where women made the wine. I’m aware it’s sexist – but it was great fun!

We were spoilt for choice with just three days we only scratched the surface. Following their tour, I wanted to use this post to profile some of the leading women in Bordeaux but as I started looking at the long list I realised that it would take a book rather than a blog post to do them justice, so I’ll just concentrate on the women that offered us such a warm welcome and amazing hospitality during our tour.

Margaux has traditionally been considered the most feminine of all the Medoc appellations, thanks to its signature sumptuousness and velvety tannins, so it seemed like the perfect place to start. Chateau Margaux is known as the most feminine of all the 1st growths by its style as well as being owned and run by Corinne and Alexandra Mentzelopoulos. The harvest had just started when we were there, with a man at the helm; Philippe Bascules splits his wine making between Bordeaux and Napa – and was very excited about explaining  the complementarity of making wines both sides of the Atlantic – he is a very busy man!

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With Philippe Bascaules wine maker at Chateau Margaux above the new Pavillon Blanc cellars.

Further north, Lilian and Melanie Barton Sartorius, another mother and daughter team, are working together. As Lilian takes on more and more responsibility at the family vineyards, Leoville and Langoa Barton, her daughter Melanie, the eighth generation of the Bartons in Bordeaux and the first qualified oenologist of the family, has taken over the wine making at their new vineyard Mauvesin Barton in Moulis, purchased in 2011.

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Lilian and Melanie Barton-Sartorius at Chateau Mauvesin

We also met the latest member of the family, Oona, the Parson Russell terrier puppy, who completely stole the limelight!

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The newest member of the Barton family

Pascale Peyronie welcomed us to her family property Chateau Fonbadet in Pauillac. After working alongside her father for 20 years, she has stepped into his shoes to run the vineyard. Her vines are on some of the best and priciest gravel terroir in Pauillac, smack in the middle of the famous names of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Pichon Baron and Longueville Comtesse. You can imagine that she has received some interesting offers for her vines, but she continues to produce Chateau Fonbadet as an independent Cru Bourgeois rather than succumbing to the temptation of an easier life, although she did exchange three ha of vines with Mouton Rothschild to re-organise the vineyard. When she showed us around, her 92-year-old father was still on hand to meet the ladies and help serve the wine.

Fonbadet barrel

Is it a characteristic for women to work more closely together? We had several examples of collaboration between neighbouring women in wine which make me think that perhaps it is.

Four properties in Margaux owned and/or managed by women have grouped together to welcome visitors into their chateaux. Well aware that chateau visits can be repetitive (vines, cellars, barrels, tasting, repeat), Lise Latrille of Château Prieuré Lichine, Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Marie Laure Lurton of La Tour Bessanand Anne-Francoise Quié of Chateau Rauzan Gassies have grouped together to create a ‘Une Journée Gourmande à Margaux’. These dynamic women explained this project to us over lunch in the beautiful kitchens of Chateau Prieuré Lichine.

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Ladies who lunch at Chateau Prieuré Lichine

Their idea was to create a tour where each visit concentrates on a different part of the wine process.  The tour starts at Château Prieuré-Lichine, with a history of the Medoc while sipping on their white wine (yes there are some rare white wines in the Medoc even though they don’t carry the name). Then at Chateau Rauzan Gassies they explore the importance of terroir, tasting the wines from the three vineyards owned by the Quié family. Lunch at Chateau Kirwanis the opportunity to taste the wines from all four vineyards paired with regional dishes before a visit to Château La Tour Bessan to try your hand at blending, tasting your results alongside local chocolates – there’s a reason this is called a ‘Gourmande’ tour.

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Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, Lise Latrille of Château Prieure Lichine and Marie-Laure Lurton of Château La Tour Bessan.

Margaux gourmande

Women do seem to be very open to developing wine tourism. I was recently asked to cover leading women winners of best of Wine Tourism awards reinforcing this impression. Chatting with Florence Cathiard at Château Smith Haut Lafite, one of the pioneers of wine tourism in the region, it was interesting to compare the European and the American approach to wine tourism. The chateau with its open door policy, new land art exhibition alongside the more traditional visits, as well as the phenomenal success her daughters have had, both with The Sources de Caudalie resort and the Caudalie cosmetics is a case study for successful wine tourism.

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Talking wine tourism with Florence Cathiard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

We had another experience of collaboration with the women of sweet Bordeaux. A picnic lunch in the park of Chateau de Ceronswith Caroline Peyromat and her neighbour Nicola Alison from Chateau du Seuil, was the ideal way to discover the characteristics of the tiny Cerons appellation but also to share their red and white wines from the Graves appellation.

Then on to Sauternes and Barsac for a progressive dinner, the idea was to show just how food friendly the sweet wines of Bordeaux really are. After a visit and tasting at Chateau Yquem with cellar Master Sandrine Garbay, and a look at the new in-chateau boutique, we headed down the hill to the terrace of Château Sigalas Rabaud. Here, with tapas, we tasted the range of wines made by owner wine maker Laure de Lambert including her 100% dry Sémilion (La Semillante) and a Sweet Bordeaux made with no Sulphur le 5 – quite a technical challenge.

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Tasting the semillon juice at Chateau Sigalas Rabaud before fermentation

Then on to Barsac, to first growth Château Climensfor the main course served with three vintages from the property, after discovering where owner wine maker Berenice Lurton dries and prepares the herbs she uses in her biodynamic preparations.

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La Tisanerie at Château Climens in Barsac

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Climens 3 vintages

And of course dessert served at neighbour Château Coutet by Aline Baily, and we all slept soundly on the coach all the way home!

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The chapel at Château Coutet

Coutet with desert

We found this same spirit of cooperation in Pomerol. The neighbours came over to lunch organised by Monique Bailly at the new Ronan by Client winery of Château Client. Hosted by Nathalie Bez, we were joined by Maireille Cazaux Director and wine maker at Chateau La Conseillante and Diana Berrouet Garcia Wine maker at Chateau Petit Village.Tasting their wines side by side, although they are so close, showed just how important the notion of terroir can be even in as small an appellation as Pomerol.

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Tasting with the neighbors in Pomerol

Cellar master Emmanuel Fulchi hosted us at Chateau Angelus, taking us into the vineyard to get to grips with the terroir in their two properties, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Bellevue. Walking amongst the almost ripe grapes, we could understand the subtle differences of terroir up and down the south facing foothills of the limestone slopes of Saint Emilion.

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Emmanuelle Fulchi explains the Saint Emilion terroir at Château Angelus

The tasting was a master class in right bank Merlot. Bellevue is 100% Merlot and Angelus a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Recently returned from a Merlot seminar in the US, Emmanuel shared her surprise at the reputation Merlot suffers from in the States. The tasting firmly dispelled any questions hanging over the great potential of Merlot on the right bank.

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The Women for Wine Sense visit was both an opportunity to shine a light on the women in Bordeaux but also to dispel a few Bordeaux myths. They are planning to return, so it’s back to the drawing board to see which other Bordeaux Women in Wine we can visit on their next trip – we will be spoilt for choice.

 

What makes Champagne great – what makes a great Champagne?

I often get asked what makes a great Bordeaux, so, on a trip to Champagne, with UK Champagne Ambassador 2010 and Champagne specialist Laura Clay, it was my turn to ask the questions. On a lightning trip, Laura shared some amazing places and wines. It would have been longer were it not for the French train strike – but I suppose it’s good to leave thirsty……

Any great wine depends on an intimate mix of terroir and climate, the skill of the wine maker, the will and rigour to select fruit and the nerve to wait and hope for the perfect balance of ripeness and acidity. We looked at all of this.

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In the terroir of Champagne – the chalk walls in the caves of Maison Deutz

The vineyards of Champagne are dominated by rolling limestone hillsides, or more precisely chalk. Visiting the huge underground cellars you can feel this terroir – the damp sticky consistency of the chalk subsoil is there right behind the rows and rows of champagne bottles stocked in the acres of underground cellars.

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The Vines and Rolling Hills of Champagne

An important skill that Bordeaux and Champagne wine makers both need is blending. There are single varietal wines in both the regions, more famously in Champagne with Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay, but blending remains key. Here they have Meunier (apparently nobody here says Pinot Meunier), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to ‘play’ with. These are planted in 320 villages (‘Crus’) over 35 000 ha of vines divided into 280 000 different plots. Each plot is part of a mosaic of unique combinations of climate, soil and topography giving another layer of complexity to the notion of varietal blending as these plots are picked and vinified separately.

Then there is the blend of vintages for Non Vintage Champagne (NV) with the use of reserve wines. The notion of vintage is different in Champagne; around 70% of production is non-vintage, varying from year to year. Any house or producer can declare a vintage if they consider their wines up to par that year. If it is declared vintage, all the wine in the blend must come from that vintage. Non-vintage will be a blend from different years.

And then there is a whole other set of decisions to be made around the secondary fermentation, or prise de mousse, in the bottle. The time spent sur lattes, on the lees, during the second fermentation; this must be at least 15 months for NV and a minimum of three years for vintage. But the winemaker can choose to age for longer before disgorgement making the wine richer and more complex. The style of the liqueur de dosage – added to the bottle after disgorgement – also dictates the style of the Champagne, whether it be Brut, as most are, or anywhere between Zero Dosage to Demi-Sec. There is even a Doux (sweet) style of champagne.

There are choices for the first fermentation too; to undergo malolactic or not and the containers the wine is fermented in. With more and more experimentation at every level of the process, I don’t think there has been a more exciting time to discover the wonderful complexity that is Champagne – even on my short trip; I was wowed by the diversity.

How to navigate this diversity? If you thoughtLa Place de Bordeaux’ system of châteaux, brokers and negociants is complicated take a long look at the Champagne system. Some, but not all houses (Maisons), own vines and some, but not all, growers make their own champagne – choosing to sell some or all of their grapes to the houses. 15 800 growers hold 90% of the vines but the 320 houses sell 70% of the 300 M bottles produced (on average) each year, the remaining third is sold by independent growers and co-ops.

This raises the question of ‘What makes an expensive Champagne?’ Champagne may be smaller in size than Bordeaux but it is up there as far as value is concerned. 4.9 Billion euros turnover for 300 million bottles (Bordeaux turns over 4 Billion Euros for about 600 million bottles)

Perceived value is important. Quality is, of course, part of value but so is market history and consistency. They are very good at marketing in Champagne, brand identity is strong and the notion of consistency of style is of particular importance to the champagne houses and Grand Marques. Their objective is to create a house style that remains the same wherever and whenever you buy it across the globe, especially for the houses that have a large production and international reach. Buying from the many grape growers across the region, from the different terroirs and crus, offers a large palette from which they can blend to ensure this consistency and it’s no mean feat.

They are all pursuing quality but each champagne house seems to have a different approach or philosophy behind the method and the desire to communicate their difference. This might explain why there are so many champagne houses, and why each champagne house attaches such importance to their house style.

What style of champagne are you looking for? This may change with occasion, as an aperitif or to accompany a meal (more of which later), to celebrate a special occasion, a gift?   Quality can be technically defined, but style and preference is such a personal choice. Not sure of your preferred style? Taste as much Champagne as you can, from as many producers and houses as you can – purely in the interests of research, you understand! In this spirit here’s some of the conclusions from my recent visit to three houses where I saw three different points of view and a huge variety of styles

Straight off the TGV, AR Lenoble in Damery was our first stop. It is the perfect place to start your Champagne style discovery; their range of wines is both stunning and eclectic. AR Lenoble is 100% family owned and 100% independent and has been since the very beginning, a rare thing in Champagne. They own 18 hectares of vineyards mainly in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly for Chardonnay, in the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil for Pinot Noir, and also in the village of Damery in the Marne Valley where their cellars are.

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The A R Lenoble range

Twenty years ago sister-and-brother Anne and Antoine Malassagne, great-grandchildren of the founder, took over, and they have quietly innovated in the vines, the cellars and the marketing ever since.

Biodiversity and ecological responsibility are buzzwords throughout the wine industry and Champagne is no exception. AR Lenoble was the second House in Champagne to be awarded the “Haute Valeur Environnementale” certification in 2007 (nearly organic). You can see their efforts in the vineyard; encouraging biodiversity through natural habitat with hedgerows, orchards, embankments, trees, low stone walls, and ploughing and grassing between the vines, which also has the advantage of limiting yields. Less is more.

Innovation can be a back to the future moment; the two fresh pairs of eyes took their time to re assess the process from field to bottle and instead of throwing out everything from the past they incorporated the best practices. For example, pressing is still done in three traditional and beautiful Coquard presses.

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The ancient Coquard press at A R Lenoble

The plot-by-plot wine-making takes place in a range of different vessels, some in small 225 litre barrels, others in 5000-litre vats or in stainless steel or enamel-lined tanks. The choice depends on the plot and the vintage, as does the decision to undertake malolactic fermentation, or not.

A peculiarity of AR Lenoble is the attention paid to the ageing of their reserve wines. In 1993, when they took over, the brother and sister team decided to start conserving their reserve wines in 225-litre barrels, using the principle of the perpetual reserve, topping up with each harvest. This is more familiar perhaps as the term Solera used in Sherry. The 5,000-litre casks allow for slower ageing than in barrels, bringing extra freshness to the wines. There are now two reserve wines: one uniquely from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly and the other that is based on Chardonnay from Chouilly blended with Pinot Noir from the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil. They are both aged in a mix of cuves, fûts and foudres, topped up each year with new wines.

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La Reserve Perpetuelle at A R Lenoble

In 2010, innovating again, they took a portion of this ‘reserve perpetuelle’ and placed it in magnums under natural cork. Thus allowing the signature aromatic richness to develop whilst preserving freshness by limiting the oxygen exchange. Freshness is important and Antoine believes it will become even more so with climate change. He sees each harvest coming in with lower acidity levels than they used to have, so the reserve wines now need to add freshness as well as complexity and richness.

The timing for our first ever visit to the house was perfect, they had just released the first non-vintage wines containing these reserve wines aged in the magnums.

Antoine Malassagne made the decision to use these unique reserve wines into his blend following the 2014 harvest. The reserve wine from the Magnums was blended with parts of the ‘reserve perpetuelle’. This was in turn blended, with 60% wines from the 2014 harvest (total reserve wine of 40%). This final blend was then bottled and aged on their lees for three years in their 18th-century chalk cellars in Damery.

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Stairway to heaven – the entrance to the A R Lenoble 18th century caves in Damery

Got that? It took me a while; check out the diagram below – it might help. Still not sure – taste them – all will be come clear. The AR Lenoble Intense “mag14” and AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly “mag14” are now available with the Mag 14 logo clearly visible on the bottle. Jancis Robinson called it unignorable, in a recent article on her site, rating the AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs Chouilly « mag 14 » NV up there with Louis Roederer Cristal Vintage 2008 and Dom Pérignon Vintage 2008.

Mag 14

We will have to return to Damery for the first edition of AR Lenoble Brut Nature Dosage Zéro “mag14” in 2019 and then again in 2020 for the first edition of AR Lenoble Rosé Terroirs Chouilly-Bisseuil “mag14”. Not a hardship.

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The identification of the Mag 14 on the bottle

We were also treated to an amazing tasting of their range. I was stunned by just how diverse the wines were. The showstopper? Hard to choose, Laura loved the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly “Mag14but Les Aventures probably got my vote. Normally I’m a ‘Blanc de noirs’ girl but this 100% Chardonnay, from the Grand Cru Village of Chouilly, was quite extraordinary. A blend of the excellent 2002 and 2006 vintages, it takes its name from the tiny (less than 1/2 ha) plot where the grapes are grown – but it really is an adventure in the glass, if you can find it, try it!

I don’t come to Champagne as often as I would like but when I have been I have been lucky enough to visit Maison Deutz on several occasions. I love their Champagne; part of this love affair was born from the ‘esprit’ of the house. Despite being part of the Roederer Group since 1983, Deutz has kept its family atmosphere. It is rightly proud of its heritage, clearly seen in the beautifully preserved family home in Ay, next to the historic cellars which run for 3kms under chalk vine covered hills.

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Les Glacières, the slopes behind Maison Deutz in Aÿ

The Deutz Brut Classic – is just that – a classic, I love the fact that it is made from one third of each of the varietals, spends three years on the lees (sur lattes) and is never disappointing. Diversity in style across different champagnes may be a part of the joy of discovering Champagne but for a brand the notion of consistency is so very important. Deutz owns 42 hectares of vines out of the 245 hectares they source the wine from – giving them the flexibility across the vintages they need for this consistency.

Another reason why Deutz has remained such a firm favourite is their generous hospitably. The Deutz family home must be an inspiration to work in, it was certainly an inspirational place to taste their wines and enjoy them with lunch.

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One of the beautifully preserved interiors of Maison Deutz

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and the old cellars

Embarrassingly, I had forgotten quite what great food wine champagne is. There is no doubt it is a great aperitif wine, a wonderful after dinner drink and, of course, a celebratory tipple. But a lunch in the spectacular dining room of Deutz put me back on track.

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A taste of Deutz

If you have never had the opportunity to have a meal matched uniquely to champagne, I highly recommend the experience. Champagne styles are diverse, tasting several champagnes side by side, from the same, or from different houses, illustrates this, but a meal served with different champagnes highlights these differences even more and shows just what a versatile wine champagne is.

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The amazing selection of champagne served at Maison Deutz

Deutz have just released a special edition of the NV Rosé that is perfect for summer drinking. This is a blend of the 90% Pinot Noir Grands Crus from the Montagne de Reims with 10% Chardonnay blended with about 8% of red wine made by the cellar master from old vines on the hill of Aÿ. The wine is then aged for three years on its lees. With rosé the appreciation always starts with the colour, with this special edition in particular, thanks to the label and box decorated with pink Japanese Cherry Blossom. It’s a perfect aperitif but try it with salmon, creamy cheese or any red berry dessert – you won’t be disappointed.

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Summer drinking from Maison Deutz

I finished with the big guns, a visit to Ruinart, part of the large LVMH wine and spirits portfolio. The oldest of the Champagne Houses, Ruinart was created in 1729, and is right in the centre of Reims. The cathedral like Crayeres cellars, a Unesco heritage site since 2015, are amazing. See the video here

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The cathedral like cellars under Ruinart

The visit was organised by Laura for the AWE (Association of Wine Educators) so the champagne geeks were out in force and Ruinart rose elegantly to the occasion thanks to Caroline Fiot, the winemaker, who shone as much as her champagne. Caroline was a perfect example of the dynamism of the new generation of wine makers in Champagne, her competence in explaining to an audience thirsty (excuse the pun) for technical details blew us away and put us in our place once or twice!

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Caroline Fiot puts us through our tasting paces at Ruinart

She treated us to a technical tasting of their signature Blanc de Blancs, two non-vintages: one from magnum, and the Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs vintage 2006. Blanc de Blancs is really their signature, with the aromatic freshness Chardonnay coming from about 80% 1er Cru grapes.

The three wines could have been so similar, being all 100% Chardonnay – but no. The NV in bottle was based on 2015 wine with reserve wines from 13 & 14 and the magnum NV was based on 2014 base wine with 12 & 13 reserve wines. The Dom Ruinart 2006 100% Grand Cru vineyards, spends nine years on the lees before being disgorged in March 2016 (the disgorgement date is mentioned on the label). This is the 24th vintage of this wine, the first was produced in 1959, Dom Ruinart is always and only vintage.

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Blanc de Blancs, the Ruinart signature

The notion of freshness was discussed at great length, the same challenge of the ripeness of the grapes raised by Antoine Malassagne at A R Lenoble. The response here is to reduce the percentage of reserve wine in a bid to maintain that all-important freshness, especially as their still wines systematically undergo malolactic fermentation. They choose not to use oak for ageing the reserve wine and use a pneumatic press for the harvest again to maintain that signature freshness. Same problem, different solutions – fascinating.

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It’s not all work and no play at Ruinart

If you want to learn more about champagne, you should, of course, visit – if you can’t, you can learn more at the interactive wine school, Champagne Campus,  created by the Champagne Wine Bureau or ask Laura Clay, Chairman of the AWE, to organise a tutored tasting, she’ll be happy to demonstrate that famous diversity and you may even find your answer to ‘What makes a great Champagne?’

 

Berry Brothers & Rudd – back to the future

I often write about the old and the new. It’s an appropriate theme in Bordeaux where wine makers try to honour tradition whilst embracing the latest technology – a fine line that many chateaux successfully tread.

Vineyards, Bordeaux or elsewhere, are not the only members of the wine trade to straddle different centuries: Berry Brothers and Rudd is a venerable London wine and spirits merchant. It is my go-to address for UK clients and others passing through, looking to improve their wine knowledge, stock their cellars or just have a really good tasting (and often food) experience and there has never been a better time to do so.

Founded in 1698 by ‘The Widow Bourne’, it seems fitting that there is once again a woman at the helm. Lizzy Rudd was named chairman at the end of 2017. Having a woman in the driving seat is not the only sign that they are moving with the times. Berry Brothers (or BBR, as their friends know them) is now a star of the silver screen, playing a major role in the latest Kingsman film, which has certainly engaged a younger generation if the numbers of people taking ‘selfies’ outside the entrance to the shop is anything to go by.

The whole of this historic building, on the corner of Saint James and Pall Mall, is dedicated to sharing the company’s passion for wine: a rabbit warren of interconnecting rooms, offices and private dinning rooms. It is a fitting location; this little corner of London is dedicated to hedonistic pleasures. Just across the road from the new retail store is the new 67 Pall Mall London, first members only wine club. James Fox Cigar shop is just up the road, boots and shoes can be custom made at neighbouring John Lobb or hats at Lock & Co. A little further afield is another of my favourite shops – Ormonde Jane whose perfumed candles are wonderful and good training for sensory perception. If you are gasping for a drink after all this wonderful shopping, the discreet Cocktail bar at Dukes Hotel makes the best Martinis – using BBR gin of course.

BBR has a history of innovation; in 1954 they created No 3, the first wine magazine – back on the shelves as of 2016 and were the first wine retailer to go on line as early as 1994. The Wine Knowledge pages of their site and their blog remain an excellent source of wine and spirits expertise: as is their new downloadable e book.

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Berry Brothers and Rudd – the old

 

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and the new

2017 saw the opening of the new modern retail shop. You can still enter No 3 St James, where the historic scales and Dickensian theme makes it feel as if you are stepping back in time, but it’s the new shop on Pall Mall where you should call in for the latest wine recommendations and advice the company is known for. Here you can choose from over 5,000 wines stored in an underground cellar the size of two football fields. Then there’s their spirits collection, as diverse as Whisky, Mauritian Rum, Kings Ginger and even a new Texas Bourbon – all iconic brands in their own right. Oh, and of course Gin. This month sees the re-launch of the original Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin.

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The new BBR London dry Gin Photo Credit Susie Davis

BBR is not just about selling. Through their exceptional wine school, they are also there to help you learn and discover the wine and spirits world. School here does not mean just sitting behind desks – even if they do have wine glasses rather than inkpots. Learning is interactive and hands-on with events, food and wine lunches, dinners and even Champagne teas.

The opening of the magnificent new Sussex cellars in 2015 has brought these experiences to a greater audience. I finally visited last week and found it incredible that this is sitting underneath such a cornerstone of London tradition. The design, somewhere between a Spanish Bodega and an ancient cellar, allows you to enjoy your pre dinner tasting whilst peering down to the room below where dinner awaits, prepared in their very own, and very busy kitchens, under head Chef Stewart Turner. These new rooms have become such a success that over 1,000 events were held there last year.

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The Sussex Cellar

BBR has six Masters of Wine on their staff, so plenty of wine brains there for the picking; fitting then that they champion the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), are silver Corporate Patrons of the educational organisation and were nominated for WSET Wine Educator of the year thanks to the tireless work of Rebecca Lamont.

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Back to school in the Pickering Cellar

Wine classes take place in the Pickering cellar, named after the smallest square in London, in turn named after the Widow Bourne’s son in law. It was the last place to see a duel in London and was also site of The Texas Legation from 1842-45, although they skipped town without paying the rent. No connection to the duel. The debt was paid in 1986, by a delegation in full Texan regalia, which might explain the inspiration behind one of their latest products, a Texan bourbon called Texas Legation! Another astute link to their rich history.

BBR Smaller Texas Legation Bourbon Whiskey

There’s still a little bit of Texas in the heart of Pall Mall

The Finger Lakes – at last.

On my social media strapline I say I’m “Bordeaux-based but open to persuasion”. So far this year I have been to the Rhone, Scotland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, England and across the US. So I’m easy to persuade. Wine regions aren’t always the destination. I’m often teaching rather than exploring but happily sometimes the two collide.

When I was in the US this summer I finally made it to the Finger Lakes and I fell for the charm and beauty of the region. I have been tantalisingly close before; teaching Bordeaux Master classes at the nearby Hospitality Faculty at Cornell, which left me frustrated by a lack of time to discover the vineyards, especially after tasting some of the wines with faculty members.

When you think of New York, wine making might not spring to mind. Wine drinking perhaps, but grape growing? There’s more to New York than New York City. Manhattan may have been the first place in New York State where Dutch immigrants planted grapes for wine in the 1600s, but they didn’t survive and New York wine country is now well established further north.

New York wine country prides itself as having a ‘new world attitude with an old world latitude’. It’s on more or less, the same latitude as Rioja and is the third largest wine-growing region in the US with over 400 wineries.

The history of wine-making here goes back 400 years but it has recently boomed. 35 years ago there were just 31 wineries but 133 have opened since 2011, wine production has increased by 50% since 1985 and tourist visits are up 85% since 2000 with over 5 million visitors each year.

There are five major wine regions: Lake Erie (AVA – American Viticultural area), The Niagara escarpment, (AVA), The Finger Lakes (AVA), Hudson River (AVA) and Long Island (AVA), and a total of 9 AVAs altogether.

It was the Women for Wine Sense organisation (WWS) who brought me here for their Grand Event in July. WWS is an association that brings together women in the wine trade (and quite a few men) with the original aim of encouraging reasonable alcohol consumption. They now offer educational programs, mentoring and networking opportunities to wine enthusiasts and industry professionals across the US.

I have presented Bordeaux wines to the California chapter of WWS over the last few years so it was great to finally meet members from all over the US. We were very generously hosted at wineries across the Finger Lakes, and judging by their hospitality I’m not surprised that visitor numbers are up.

Karen MacNeil explains the theory of cool at Ravine Winery

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit yet – here’s a bit of background. This is cool climate wine region, as Karen McNeil so clearly explained to us in her opening address. She sang the praises of the elegance of cool climate wines (including Bordeaux I might add) explaining how great wines often exist on ‘the edge’ and how their ‘slow dance towards ripeness’ bestows elegance. This was the perfect region to express this elegant and easy drinking approach to wine making.

A range of wines from Dr Konstantin Frank – one of the pioneers of the Finger Lakes.

The area is well known for its Rieslings and now its Sparkling wines, I also tasted some excellent Cabernet Francs, Pinot Noirs and other regional varieties such as Catawba, Niagara and the Cornell developed Cayuga (white) and Tramine.

A vertical if the Saperati variety rom the Standing Stone Winery

The region takes it’s name from 11 thin parallel lakes, the four main lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga and other smaller lakes: Conesus and Hemlock Owasco and Skaneateles formed as glaciers retreated leaving the impression of the fingers of a hand – thought by native Indians to be the hand of god.

The region counts for half of New York’s wineries producing about 175 Million bottles from over 9000 acres of vines. There is a concentration of wineries around the Southern half of lake Seneca, which has it’s own AVA.

The limestone escarpment falling down into lake seneca at the Standing Stone Vineyard

Steep hillsides run down to the water’s edge, and these large bodies of water have a temperate effect on the climate protecting the gravel, shale, schist, limestone and clay soils from the extremes of temperature up here. These diverse landscapes, soils and a large choice of varieties give a very wide range of wine styles: white, rosé, red, sweet and dry, still and sparkling.

I mentioned earlier grape varieties developed by Cornell and just as Bordeaux has the faculty of oenology as a centre of excellence in research into vine growing and wine making so the Finger Lakes has Cornell. This and the fact that the 126 wineries of the Finger Lakes work closely together in not only welcoming visitors to the region, but also technically, and in raising the profile of the region and its wines on the international wine scene.

The View across the lake from the Geneva on the Lake Hotel

Sadly I only skimmed the surface, but I recommend a visit. I would suggest staying in or near Geneva on the Lake – it’s a great base. The Geneva on the Lake Hotel has a gorgeous old world feeling with beautiful gardens, pool and view over the lake. If you want something more low-key the tiny New Vines winery has a guesthouse with B & B rooms.

The sculptural gates of Fox Run Winery

As to which wineries to visit, I only managed a few; Ravines with their Ravinous kitchen in a gorgeous old barn should be on your list. They promote farm to table eating sourcing local products and their relaxed down to earth hospitality and collaboration with other local producers is very much a signature of the region. The café and market at Fox Run vineyards has a similar atmosphere as well as an amazing sculpture at the entrance gate.

Vineyard with a view – Standing stone Vineyard

On the other side of the lake the views across the water at Standing Stones Vineyards as well as the range of wines are also worth a trip down the eastern side of the lake. If you have time, drive all around Lake Seneca and call in at the many tempting wineries on the lakeside route.

Tierce, an example of vineyards working together recommendation from the Microclimate wine bar.

Then call in at the Microclimate wine bar for an over view of the wines of the region. At this tiny bar on Linden Street, in the centre of Geneva on the Lake, the owner sommelier Stephanie will serve you Finger Lake wines alongside the same varieties from across the globe giving you a fascinating benchmark. The wines are served with more local cheeses and charcuterie or if you are fed up with wine (?) after a long day tasting – a refreshing local beer.

The sparkling wine from Konstantin Frank – possibly my favourite tipple of the weekend.

I’m planning a trip back so when you do go, please report back with your suggestions to add to my ‘must visit’ list.

 

Getting technical

One of the challenges of being a wine educator is finding all the details about the different wines we share in the classroom. Every audience is different but as I am usually talking to the trade they love hard data.

Despite touring vineyards with groups and students for over twenty years, I still haven’t managed to visit all 7 000 Bordeaux producers, let alone discover all the many second and third wines produced by each property, and then there’s the negociant and cooperative brands. Of course, each vintage is different so it adds more fascinating complexity to the challenge. So many wines, so little time.

When I am in front of a class, be it in Bordeaux, Asia or like this month, in the US, having the technical details of each wine: the blend for that vintage, the oak treatment and even details such as picking dates are useful.

As a consumer, this nitty-gritty might not appear that fascinating, it is more the stories behind the wines; the people, the places and their history that really engages with consumers. The trade enjoys a good story too, but there will always be a few wine geeks in the audience that want to know the minute detail. Questions are often about how the blend changes each year compared to what is planted in the vineyard. After all, blending is one of the signatures of Bordeaux, and the differences from year to year reflect the changing weather of each vintage and how the wine maker has risen to these challenges.

Preparation is everything; I am supposed to be an authority after all! But how to find this information? Thank goodness for the Internet – many chateaux now share these specific details in technical sheets, vintage-by-vintage, on their web sites.

A tech sheet always comes in handy

Although it can be quite search to find the web site of some less well known properties, don’t be too harsh in your judgement of these smaller properties. They don’t have the financial resources or the manpower to spend the time and money on glamorous websites – they are busy out there growing the grapes and making the wine! Often an e-mail or a telephone call will see a tech sheet arrive in my inbox.

To learn more about lesser known vineyards, the app Smart Bordeaux – developed by the CIVB (Conseil des Vins de Bordeaux – The Bordeaux Wine Council) is a useful resource. By taking a photo of the label or typing in the name of the property, details will pop up. It is down to the chateau to enter the information though, so some carry more detail than others.

The Smart Bordeaux App

Other useful sites include the Cru Bourgeois site where you can search chateau details by name or by using the flash code on each bottle guaranteeing the authenticity of the Cru Bourgeois designation. The Wines of the Medoc site also collates useful information about each vineyard in the region, including harder to find brands and cooperative wines.

The Cru Bourgeois label can be read as a flash code to learn more about the wines.

Chateau websites are often designed more as a marketing tool for consumers rather than for the trade and geeky somms. More style over substance, although there’s nothing wrong with sharing the dream. Others offer a fascinating insight into the philosophy of the vineyard; Chateau Palmer, for example, manages to balance the dream and reality, it is a pleasure to visit the site even when I’m not looking for some specific piece of information.

The new website of Château Leoville Barton is another example showing there’s no conflict between tradition, history and a modern approach to communication.

Château Brane Cantenac has embraced technology, thanks to food and wine marketing an design specialists Taylor Yandell, with their recent mobile web site. Responding to the demand from itinerant geeks needing to access information on the road, it makes the tech sheets for each of their three wines available with a click, clearly showing those percentages by vintage in an easy to grasp graphical.

Château Brane Cantenac tech sheets – with a visual of the blend.

Bordeaux technology is not just in the vineyards and wine cellars; it’s on the smartphone in your pocket.

 

 

 

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!

Terroir: The science behind the soil.

Terroir when discussing wine can be a controversial subject. Not only does the definition vary from country to country or person to person but opinions as to its influence on the final product and just how that influence happens is also open to debate.

Does the definition include only soil and topography? But then there’s climate and microclimate, and what about the role of man as a grape grower and even as a wine maker – how does that fit into the definition?

Bdx micro climate

Does the definition of terroir include the maritime climate of Bordeaux?

Wine being defined by the place it’s grown may be a European or old-world concept, but things are changing. Although most European wines are still very much about the place, it is the foundation of the appellation system after all, the influence of the wine maker (or consultant wine maker) is playing a larger part. Famous wine makers and consultants now sign off on wines around the world. Interestingly in the ‘new world’, it would seem the opposite is happening. Whereas as once the role of the wine maker and wine-making techniques was paramount, the notion of terroir and its influence seems to be gaining ground (pun intended). Could it be that the new and old wine worlds are reaching a consensus?

Where does the influence of terroir end and wine making begin? The wine cellar in the heart of the terroir at Chateau Feret Lambert in the Entre Deux Mers

Where does the influence of terroir end and wine making begin? The wine cellar in the heart of the terroir at Chateau Feret Lambert in the Entre Deux Mers

In many regions it’s all about the place, Bordeaux very much so, Burgundy even more and on my recent visit to South Africa, Haskell, Jordan and Klein Constantia the identification and isolation of different terroirs was at the forefront of every conversation.

The Terroir wall at Ellerman House Hotel in Cape Town show cases the variety of South african wine terroir.

The Terroir wall at Ellerman House Hotel in Cape Town show cases the variety of South african wine terroir.

With improved techniques such as measuring soil resistivity, satellite technology (and good old fashioned digging of holes), the notion of terroir is becoming more precise. In Bordeaux, recent investment in the cellars has all been about smaller and smaller vats; each vat destined to receive the grapes from a specific plot as a better understanding of terroir leads vineyards to divide their land into smaller and smaller units.

Plot by plot identification at Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux

Plot by plot identification at Chateau Rauzan Segla in Margaux

This has always been the case in Burgundy; here you can stand at certain crossroads and almost touch three or four different appellations. Unlike Bordeaux with our blends, in Burgundy they only really use one red varietal, Pinto Noir, so the personality of different plots has to be down to the place; the terroir. Wander through a Burgundy cellar and the many barrels may each contain wine from a different plot, each one a different appellation. It’s not unusual to see 6 or more different appellations in one cellar, all grown and vinified by the same team.

Not so in Bordeaux. We blend varietals but we also blend terroir, all those row of barrels from the different plots in a Bordeaux cellar will end up being blended together in to one, two or maybe three different wines. So why cultivate and vinifiy each plot of land separately if you are going to end up blending it all together?

Two reasons: As we have a more precise understanding of the terroir it allows for a better choice of grape varieties best suited to each plot, to produce a better wine. But there’s more to choose from than just varietals. It’s also the clone of the varietal and the rootstock. As Bordeaux vines are grafted, the grower has a choice of rootstocks that suit different soils, either limiting or increasing the vigour of the plant. But these choices are only made every sixty or seventy years or so when replanting.

Old vines, well adapted to their terroir?

Old vines, well adapted to their terroir?

The second reason is more about how we treat these plots year on year; how the soils are ploughed and fertilised, how the vines are pruned, trellised and trimmed and the all important harvest date. Ripeness can vary enormously from plot to plot depending on soil composition; clay soils tend to be cooler, gravel soils warmer, sun exposure can also change – it all adds to the terroir puzzle.

How does working the soil influence terroir.

How does working the soil influence terroir?

So coming back to that definition of the term, what of the role of the grower? Does terroir remain the same or has man changed it? In regions like Bordeaux where grapes have been grown since the middle ages one suspects that yes, man fiddling about with the terroir since they first started planting vines has had an effect.

Man has had an influence on terroir in historic vineyards - such as here in Sicily

Man has had an influence on terroir in historic vineyards – such as here in Sicily

A key example is drainage. Water is a key element in terroir: the soils’ ability to retain or drain. While many vineyards of the world are suffering from drought, in Bordeaux’s maritime climate we tend to have too much water. Drainage is a Bordeaux obsession, a lot of time and money is invested in insuring good drainage either natural or giving it a helping hand. The famous draining of the Medoc peninsula by the Dutch in the 17th century gives the site we know today – very different from it’s original ‘terroir’.

Drainage ditches in the grey clay of Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion

Drainage ditches in the blue clay of Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion

Then there is fertilisation, composting, ploughing and chemical treatments; continued over hundred of years surely this too has to affect the sense of place? The return to a more natural and eco friendly approach to vine growing after the excesses of the 70s is perhaps also a desire to return to a more real sense of terroir?

Most wine drinkers may not know or care what terroir means; they may choose their wine as a function of one or several grape varieties. But those of us who are lucky enough to taste wines from different places, and people, will recognise that the same grape variety can produce many different styles of wine depending upon where it is grown.

In Bordeaux we generalise by saying a right bank Saint Emilion is Merlot driven and a left bank is Cabernet Sauvignon driven. But look closer and we see this benchmark differentiation is not always strictly true. For example in the Medoc, in the Moulis and in Listrac appellations, you will find properties here that have a high percentage of Merlot, but they still taste like a left bank wine, they still have the taste of the place. It’s important that it does, one of the categories looked at when wines are assessed for their appellation certification is indeed typicity, this sense of place.

So you can start to see the importance of understanding terroir. If this has whetted your appetite for the subject I can recommend two books, that I have mentioned in a previous post,  to help you take the idea further.

Charles Frankel is a French, wine-loving geologist. In his book Land and Wine: The French terroir, he paints an fascinating picture of the terroirs of all the leading French wine regions and how they came to be. He tells a story that starts 500 million years ago and, instead of dry science, the subject matter includes not just the rocks but how they got there and how other historical influences give us the vineyards we have today.

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Jamie Goode, is a leading British wine blogger under the name The Wine Anorak, in the latest edition of his book Wine Science, the application of Science in Wine Making he has included a chapter on how soils shape wine as well as the original chapter on terroir.

Wine science by Jamie Goude

Wine science by Jamie Goode

It addresses the question of exactly how terroir influences the taste of the wine in your glass. Or does it? Jamie is first and foremost a scientist and he brings this rigour to the subject of vine growing, wine making and wine tasting. In our more romantic vision of wine we often forget it is a science, he manages to remind us without losing any of the passion he obviously has for wine.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, these books might create a thirst for more, consume with moderation.

Hong Kong or Frong Kong

I’ve just returned from two weeks teaching and tasting in Hong Kong. It’s always a pleasure, such an exciting place to visit. This year what struck me was how French Hong Kong has become. It could be because I spent my time talking about Bordeaux but hearing French being spoken in the street seems to be more commonplace.

According to a recent blog post on the WSJ Hong Kong might be heading that way.

Up to 20,000 French citizens currently live in Hong Kong, a 5% growth rate over the past five years; this is the strongest growth rate among any expatriate population, according to the Hong Kong government. What’s the attraction? Well, the ease of setting up and doing business for a start.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of them seem to working in the wine and food sector, with many opening French restaurants. Yes, the big names are here and this month’s announcement of new Michelin stars for the city included a few French names including Serge et le Phoque, who received their first Michelin star

Other favourites are Upper Modern Bistro managed by Jeremy Evrard and Cocotte  in NoHo central, owned and run by Brice Moldovan. Joël Robuchon is in town with his stars but also cafés and patisseries. French baking seems to be in vogue with the successful French baker, Kaiser,  the place to go for your morning croissants and baguettes. Kaiser opened his first shop in Dec 2012 and now has 4 throughout the city. Agnes B has branched out from couture opening a series of cafes with one in Gough street including a beautiful flower shop, just across the road from the Caudalie shop and spa. Food and wine is a national sport in Hong Kong and France with its gastronomic image is surfing the wave as are Bordeaux wines.

Party time at Hong Kong Wine and Dine

Party time at Hong Kong Wine and Dine

If you needed confirmation about the Hong Kong passion for food and wine, you need look no further than the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival; one of my reasons for visiting. This was the 7th annual edition and Bordeaux has been the leading partner from the start, exporting the ‘Bordeaux Fête le Vin concept as they have done in Quebec.

Almost 150 000 people visited, of whom 2700 came by the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux stand to participate in one of our classes. But Bordeaux wine education in Hong Kong is not limited to one weekend. The Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux currently has 14 accredited Wine educators in Hong Kong alone and 5 accredited schools. In 2014 they taught over 4500 people between them.

The Students from IVE discovering Bordeaux wines.

The Students from IVE discovering Bordeaux wines.

And the future looks bright; there was a party atmosphere at the festival with young people very much the target audience. They are interested in wine, consuming but also understanding. This was confirmed when teaching a series of Bordeaux, Médoc and Graves Master classes at the IVE Hotel school I was impressed with the quality and enthusiasm of students.

Sweet wine and food matching - it doesn't have to be dessert!

Sweet wine and food matching – it doesn’t have to be dessert!

The International Culinary Institue at Pok Fu Lam showed the skills of the future generation with a food and wine matching dinner designed specifically to showcase a range of Sweet Wines of Bordeaux.

The students and staff of the Culinary institute match up with Sweet Bordeaux producers.

The students and staff of the Culinary institute match up with Sweet Bordeaux producers.

 Hong-Kong remains an important market for Bordeaux wines, it is the 7th largest market volume wise  but the 2nd in value (after China and on a par with the UK) with over 11 million bottles shipped there for a value of 214 million euros last year. Even enthusiastic French expats can’t be responsible for all that consumption!

Bordeaux Background.

I love sharing Bordeaux with students both in classes and with visitors to the region so when some of my clients suggested I compile a ‘text’ book to accompany the Bordeaux classes I teach and tours I guide, it seemed like a good idea. A pretty straightforward thing to do and an obvious next step to take. A simple matter of putting down on paper what I cover in class. Think again. Somehow it all seems drastically different in black and white.

When I’m teaching, there is an immediate feedback; this changes depending on whether I’m in Bordeaux, the USA or Hong Kong and on the audience; trade or enthusiastic amateurs. It each case you can sense whether the point you are making is getting across, you can change the tone, lighten up or insist on a point until the light bulb goes on and you see the ‘aha’ moment when all becomes clear. It’s also so much fun surprising people with information they didn’t expect about such a well-established area as Bordeaux and breaking a few myths that surround such an iconic region.

With writing there is no such immediate feedback, so, while I’m passionately scribbling away describing something I love about Bordeaux I’m not really sure my reader is going to be just so impassioned, skip to another chapter or just put the book down and nod off. Also, doubting what’s in my memory, I’m busy checking my facts, and figures and researching more detail, backing up my stories.

It is fascinating; one book leads to an article that leads to a paper that leads to a blog post and 3 hours later I’m still reading totally engrossed and have forgotten what I was looking for in the first place! I seem to be doing a lot more reading than writing but I’m loving every minute of it.

The saying goes if you want to learn, teach. Well I would say if you want to learn, write.

Here are three different books on the subject of wine in general with references to Bordeaux in particular that I have both enjoyed and found useful over the past few weeks.

Starting from the ground up, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Land and wine: The French Terroir by French Scientist Charles Frankel has been available in English for about a year now. It is an overview of all the major wine regions of France and brings to life the geological history and why the soils are they way they are, an introduction as to how this influences the wines and some detailed examples from lesser-known producers in each region.

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

Land and Wine by Charles Frankel

If you are travelling to a wine region anytime soon and are interested in not just the science but the landscape and countryside this is the perfect introduction to understanding why the regions look the way they do.

British Wine Writer Jamie Goode also mentions Terroir in the new revised version of his book: Wine Science: The Application of Science in Wine. Although he is a scientist by training he makes the subject very accessible and covers everything including vines, agriculture, wine making and the very important wine tasting and the pleasure we derive from wine to name but a few of the subjects that he shines a light on.

Wine Science by Jamie Goode

Wine Science by Jamie Goode

Finally, an irreverent but never the less insightful and rather challenging analysis of the latest research into wine and health; The Good News about Booze by science writer Tony Edwards.  Unsurprisingly perhaps to people reading this, red wine comes out tops as far as health benefits are concerned. What is more surprising is the impression left by this analysis that the news of these benefits is perhaps being hushed up by political correctness.

And now for the The Good News!

And now for the The Good News!

Re reading this post I see that all three book recommendations above are vey science based – onto the philosophy next perhaps?

 

An AOC or not?

The recent declassification of Chateau Pontet Canet’s second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet, from Appellation Pauillac to Vin de France seems like an opportune moment to take another look at the AOC (appellations d’Origine Contrôlée) or AOP (Appellation d’origine Protegée – the new European name)  and the laws that govern these Bordeaux (and other) appellations.

Les Hauts de Pontet

Les Hauts de Pontet

There is a quality hierarchy to wines in France. At the top of the legal pyramid are the AOC wines – we currently have 60 in Bordeaux (or 62 depending how you define them – more of which in a later post).

There is an implied hierarchy within these appellations. There are regional appellations such as Bordeaux which can cover all 113 000 ha of the region and then more geographically specific appellations each of which has its own set of rules including geographical area, yields, permitted varietals, agricultural and wine making techniques to name but a few.

Then comes the Vin de Pays or Country wines. Bordeaux or rather La Gironde, the geographical region where Bordeaux is situated, didn’t enjoy a Vin de Pays up until recently. In 2006 winemakers from the Charentes, Charentes Maritime, Gironde, Dordogne and part of the Lot et Garonne banded together to create a new Vin de Pays or IGP (Indication Geographique protégé) d’Atlantique (Vin de pays de l’Atlantique). This only represents about 28000 hl of wine (compared to an average of 5.5 million hl in Bordeaux). The vast majority of this Vin de Pays, about 28 000, comes from 60 or so properties in the Gironde region.

Then there are the Vin de France (no longer called vin de table since 2009) or Vins sans indication géographique (VSIG), made throughout France with no obligation to mention a geographical origin and looser laws on varietals, yields, etc.

2008 saw a major change (some would say upheaval) as to how the appellations rules are administered. It’s not simple but then it wouldn’t be.

Appellations officially saw the light of day in 1936. It wasn’t pulled out of thin air but was based on existing production regions that had found their identity over hundreds of years of production. The idea of an AOC is that it at once offers a guarantee of quality and style to consumers but also protection from imitations to producers. The quality control started in 1974.

The management of these AOC (or Ps) is undertaken by an ODG (Organisme de Défense et de Gestion) for each appellation under the auspices of INAO (Institut National d’Appellations Origines – a government body reporting to the Ministry of agriculture).

One of the big differences with the change in 2008 is that the organisation that looks after and promotes the various appellations is no longer the same one that controls the quality and awards the certification. An independent quality control organisation (in the case of Pauillac; Qualisud) now undertakes this quality control role at the behest of the ODG.

It makes sense and seems more equitable to have these two operations under the responsibility of two different organisations. These two replace what used to be the wine ‘Syndicats’ who previously operated both activities.

This control includes both chemical analysis (alcohol and acidty levels amongst other criteria) and blind tasting by 5 volunteer industry professionals. These criteria include visual, olfactive (nose) and gustatives (tasting) and that of typicity. Which is where the second wine of Chateau Pontet Canet, mentioned above, failed to pass muster. Official reaction seems to lay this at the door of a change in wine making techniques at the chateau which enjoys biodynamic production. As of 2012, 35% of the wine was aged in concrete amphorae, which may have had a considerable effect on the flavour of the wine compared to its oak aged neighbours.

Could it be the amphora?

Could it be the amphora?

Outside of this official tasting, quality control include random checks that take place in the cellars and vineyards throughout the year.

The other big change is when this analysis and tasting takes place. Previously to 2008, samples were taken from cellars during aging. This gave the wine makers the time to go back to base if they failed the certification as the blends were not finished and wine was still in tanks. This happened early enough in the wine’s life so left it open to change should the wines not pass muster.

Now this certification tasting takes place at the point of bottling, which makes more sense for consumers as we can be sure that what is tested is the final blend and that this is the precise blend in the bottle. Previously a blend could be made from component parts all of which would have been certified. This also explains why Pontet Canet’s Hauts de Pontet 2012 has only recently been refused the certification as the wines would be ready for bottling and shipping after 12-18 months in barrel (or amphorae) and after the summer heat just in time for the pre Christmas rush.

In the previous system there may have been room for the wine to be declassified to a Bordeaux but now, with the new system, there is nowhere else to go as the legislation controlling the classification does not allow for a declassification into the regional appellation Haut Medoc or even Bordeaux.

But the time when the wine is assessed is not the only thing that changed with this reorganisation in 2008. The emphasis for quality control has fallen more heavily on the wine makers who now have a responsibility to test and record all the wine making processes from the field to the bottle and to make these results available to the quality control organisations for examination at any time during the winemaking process. The fraud police can come into a Chateau or winery at any time and require them to provide this information.

Measuring density during fermentation at Chateau Fleur de Bouard

Measuring density during fermentation at Chateau Fleur de Bouard

Record keeping is not longer just a practical wine making tool but must now be kept for inspection.

Record keeping is not longer just a practical wine making tool but must now be kept for inspection.

More emphasis is now on in house quality control from labs such as  this one to Chateau La Lagune

More emphasis is now on in house quality control from labs such as this one to Chateau La Lagune

Appellations are not written in tablets of stone either. The system may have started in the 30’s but new appellations are coming to the fore regularly. The appellation Crémant de Bordeaux (sparkling wine) only saw the light of day in 1990 and one of the most recent changes is the creation of a Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. This appellation represents 12% of the total Bordeaux wine-growing area and includes about 1 500 winegrowers that produce 85.5 million bottles of mainly (97%) red wine for a turnover of €368 million in 2013.

The AOC Côtes de Bordeaux was officially formed on 31st October 2009 and regrouped  what were previously 4 different appellations: Premières Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs and Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. These appellations are now all known as AOC Côtes de Bordeaux, whose name and logo you will find on the label.

The Côtes de Bordeaux Appellation

The Côtes de Bordeaux Appellation

This is hopefully easier for consumers to understand but also gives a better marketing clout to the group and allows negociants to buy and blend wine from these different appellations without them losing their regional identity to the AOC Bordeaux. Regional identity is important; producers can still, should they wish, add the name of their local region. So you may also see Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux or Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux on the label. So much for simplicity.