Tag Archives: Château d’Yquem

The long & international journey of a wine barrel.

Wherever I am in the world Bordeaux seems to follow me around, usually as bottles.  There is usually a familiar wine on the list. Sometimes on the other side of the world I’ll discover something new from very close to home. But it’s not only bottles and the wine they contain that travel from Bordeaux. Barrels do too.

Barrels are an important part of wine making. Used judiciously, they can add complexity, longevity and power. Used less wisely, they can overpower a wine, masking elegance and subtlety. Barrels add aromas and tannins but also help the wine along its evolution, encouraging a slow and controlled oxygenation of the wine as air seeps in through porous oak. This allows the highly reactive tannins from the wine and the oak to combine, creating larger tannin molecules that seem less abrasive on the palate.

Barrel cellar montrose

Beautiful French oak barrels at Château Montrose

This influence of the barrel upon the wine depends on so many factors. I mention oak above, but it doesn’t have to be, I’ve seen other wood essences used. Acacia is one you will sometimes find in white wine cellars in Bordeaux.

For oak the source of the tree, how slowly it grew, where it grew, (terroir doesn’t only come into play with grapes) and the age of the tree all play a role. The slower the tree grows the tighter the grain will be and the better quality the oak.

An oak tree destined for barrels may be over 200 years old. This raises a few eyebrows at a time when sustainability is a wine buzzword, but be reassured. These French oak forests are owned and tightly managed by the French state, only released for sale by auction, plot by plot, when they are ready to be felled and systematically re-planted. Thanks to Colbert’s 17th century policy of planting oak forests for war ships to fight the English, the French forests are thriving. Ironic then that so much of barrel-aged Bordeaux wine now ends up on the UK market.

Despite increasing worldwide demand, supply remains controlled explaining why these French oak barrels don’t come cheap; anything from €600 to €900 a pop depending on the size and the aging of the oak.

Once felled, how the oak is prepared and aged also influences the flavours it imparts to the wine. French oak is split not sawn. This ensures the grain of the wood is respected so the barrels remain watertight.  It adds to the cost, in labour but also reduces the volume of the tree trunk that can be used for barrel staves. American oak has a less regular grain so planks are sawn meaning more volume can be used, this higher yield and ease of manipulation reduces cost. The flavour profile is different however. Several wine makers have described American oak to me as giving  more coconut than vanilla aromas that are associated with French oak. You will find both in many Bordeaux cellars.

After being split and prepared into staves the wood must be aged, for anything up to three years. Exposed to wind and rain in the unpolluted areas near the forest, inelegant tannins are washed away and transformed by microscopic fungus on the surface of the cut wood.

Barrel staves ageing

Barrel staves ageing at Nadalie in the Medoc

Splitting also means that staves size will differ, assembling the staves to form a barrel is like creating a unique 3D puzzle for each individual barrel. Once the oak is matured barrel making begins. It’s a fascinating process that remains very manual – there is only so much you can mechanise. The key skills of heating the staves, whilst keeping them damp allows for sufficient flexibility to bend them to the rotund shape of a barrel. Then gentle toasting will impart the flavours to the wine; a raw barrel will bring very little to the party. Both these processes rely on the traditional skill and judgement of the barrel maker. It’s impressive to watch, I  highly recommend a visit to a cooperage if you have never seen this. The finished barrels are each a work of art.

Barrel toasts 2

Different degrees of toasting give different flavour profiles.

With so many variables in the process, each having an influence on the final taste profile, most barrels are tailor made to suit a particular wine maker. It’s not unusual to see barrels from several different cooperages in a chateau cellar, each one bringing its own flavour profile.

Barrel toasting

Barrel making – still a manual skill here at Boutes in Bordeaux

In Bordeaux barrels will be used for one to three years on average, depending upon the barrel policy of the wine maker. Their flavour profile changes with age. The newer the barrel, the more pronounced the flavours and the tannins it will impart to the wine. Vineyards producing powerful, often Cabernet driven, wines may use 100% new oak for their first wines. A more traditional Bordeaux approach is one third new, one third one year old and one third two year old barrels, combining new barrels with some already used for previous vintages. A producer making lighter wines may prefer older barrels if they are looking for the gentle evolution resulting from ageing in an oak container rather than a cement or stainless vat.

Blending defines Bordeaux wines and the use of barrels is part of this. Some wine makers will blend their wines before barrel ageing, others after or even during the ageing process. Blending just before bottling allows wine makers to profile the different lots of wine, adapting the choice of barrel to each lot (age of vines, different varietals). Other wine makers prefer to blend before ageing and rack from one barrel to another so the wine benefits from the complexity a range of barrels bring.

Racking

Racking from barrel to barrel, here in the cellars of Chateau Phelan Segur,  increases complexity as well as removing sediment from aging wines.

What happens to the barrels once the wine makers have finally finished with them? I come back to my introduction – they travel. I have seen Bordeaux oak barrels in many places. New ones are exported directly to wine makers from California to South Africa, with French oak holding a premium for many wine makers.

Barrel shipments Boutes

New oak barrels reading for shipping around the world from Boutes in Bordeaux

boutes vbarrels glenelly

A new Boutes oak barrel at Glenelly in South Africa

But used barrels travel too. They may go to other wineries. Rioja, for example, buys a lot of used barrels as much of their wine is aged for many years in older barrels looking to round out the wines through slow oxygenation rather than add powerful tannins.

As wine ages in barrels it soaks into the wood, staining it dark red and leaving a shiny deposit of tartaric crystals. This makes the barrel less porous but it also make the wood very attractive and staves from these older barrels are often up-cycled for decorative items such as bottle holders, and furniture – the limit is your inspiration.

Barrel art 2

Wine and tartrate deposits make used barrel staves decorative.

 

Barrel cellar door Evangile

Barrel staves make a stunning cellar door at Château l’Evangile in Pomerol

If you replace the wine with a more powerful alcohol it acts as a solvent leaching some of the wine colour and flavours as well as the oak flavours and tannins into the alcohol. Whisky is always aged in used barrels, although once you get to Scotland they are referred to as casks. These casks come from all over the world. The thousands of barrels in the ageing warehouses (not cellars) are all shapes, sizes and colours reflecting their origins, be it Spain, Portugal, USA or France, making for a very different impression to the neat and tidy lines of barrels we see in Bordeaux cellars.

Whisky casks 2

Used casks waiting to be prepared and filled with whisky at Glenfiddich.

Those dark, rich aromas and mouth-feel we associate with whisky for example, owe a lot to the previous tenants of the barrel. Whisky needs long cask ageing; straight from the still spirit is white, taking its colour from the barrel. Sherry or bourbon casks are traditionally used, the decline in sherry’s popularity, reducing production has resulted in whisky distillers often financing sherry companies barrel consumption to ensure their supply.

Whisky casks

Whisky casks of different origins in the Edradour warehouse

Spirit producers are getting more adventurous, offering a diverse and growing range of finishes. A finish is when a spirit spends the last few months of its life in a different cask, often a wine barrel. It makes a difference. Compare different finishes and you’ll see a different hue depending upon the barrels used. Unsurprisingly whiskies finished with a Bordeaux or other red wine barrel will have a more ruddy colour than others.

Barrels are expensive new but after three years of wine ageing they are worth less than €100. Even so it helps if you can ensure the supply chain. Handy then that some wineries and whisky distillers belong to the same groups. At the Auchentoshen distillery near Glasgow I saw many Chateau Lagrange barrels used for their Bordeaux finish – unsurprising as drinks group Suntory owns both the winery and the distillery.

There is synergy in other groups too. Glemorangie is owned by LVMH and was one of the first whisky distilleries to introduce a complete range of different finishes including a premium Sauternes finish. No coincidence perhaps that LVMH are also the owners of Château d’Yquem. The residual sweetness of the Sauternes barrels – reminiscent perhaps of those sweet sherry barrels – imparts unique aromas and mouth feel to the whisky. On my last trip to Scotland last year I saw Sauternes barrels from Château Suduiraut used for the Sauternes finish at Tullibardine.

Glenfiddich cerons

The Chateau du Seuil Cerons finish limited edition Glenfiddich

It was a sweet Bordeaux finish that first took me to Glenfiddich. I was there to sample a Cerons cask-finished 20-year-old Glenfiddich in barrels of Chateau du Seuil. Glenfiddich continues to innovate; the latest addition to their experimental series is Winter Storm a whisky finished in Canadian ice wine casks. Again that residual sweetness.

winters-bottle-box

Winter Storm from Glenfidich: the love story between whisky and sweet wine barrels crosses the Atlantic.

Why not import the whisky to Bordeaux rather than export the barrels? Upon returning to Bordeaux, I found that this is exactly what Moon Harbour is doing, finishing whisky from Scotland in barrels from Château La Louviere while they wait for the first whisky from their new Bordeaux based still.

Moonharbour range

Moon Harbour – Scotch Whisky aged in Bordeaux – whilst they wait for the first drops from the Bordeaux stills to age.

Whisky is not the only spirit that uses old barrels; Rum enjoys the influences of used barrels too. I have already talked about the joint venture between London wine merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd and Medine in Mauritius. This week, at a rum tasting in Mauritius, I tasted the delicious new Sauternes finish rum at the Chamarel Rhumerie. See what I mean when I say Bordeaux barrels travel?

Chamarel Sauternes

A Sauternes finish for the Chamarel Rhum from Mauritius

And what goes around comes around. The Balvenie Caribbean cask whisky is finished in – you guessed it – rum casks.

Balvenie line up small

The Blavenie line up including the Caribbean Cask

Even after all this there may still be life left in an old cask or barrel; furniture, planters or barbeque fuel perhaps? From fire to fire. The life of a barrel can be a long and winding road.

barrel art glenfiddich small

Old casks have a second life in artwork by a Glenfiddich artist in residence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booze Books for Christmas

There are so many good books about wine, spirits and tasting and Christmas seems as good a time as any to take a look. Here are four recommendations as gift ideas for like-minded wine geeks, beginners or even to add to your own Christmas stocking.

I mentioned Decanter Journalist, Jane Anson’s previous book Bordeaux Legends, in the run up to Christmas a couple of years ago. Well, she has done it again with this beautiful book. She has teamed up with photographer Andy Katz to profile the Bordeaux vineyards known as The Club of Nine.

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

The Club of Nine by Jane Anson and Andy Katz

His photos are spectacular. Even having lived near these properties for almost 30 years, I found the images as surprising as they are breath-taking. You can see more of his beautiful work on this web site.

The Club of Nine is the term used for and by what are considered, by most, to be the nine top properties of the region: The five Red first growths of the 1855 classification; Haut Brion, Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild. (Although technically Mouton only became a 1st growth in 1973.) Then there are the original two First Growths A from Saint Emilion, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone and the neighbouring Chateau Petrus from Pomerol. Although the Pomerol appellation has never ‘benefited’ from a classification, received wisdom and market prices concur that Petrus is the leading light of the appellation. Finally there is Chateau d’Yquem. Yquem was granted the highest accolade of Premier Grand Cru Classé Supérieur in 1855, outranking them all, such were the heady days of the 19th century for the sweet wines of Bordeaux.

This is more than a ‘nickname’ for a group of top terroir wineries, but also a forum where the technical directors of each property regularly meet to discuss and share, technical issues, research and the challenges their properties and the region face.

The question now raised is that, based on these selection criteria of classification, should we talk of a Club of 11? Both Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie were promoted up to Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the last, Saint Emilion Classification. But then again that was in 2012, so let’s not rush things!

There’s a lot of history surrounding the properties mentioned above and Bordeaux history is intimately linked with that of England, right back to Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the 12th century. Eleanor is one of the many British, influences mentioned in recently published Empire of Booze a humorous look at the history of booze and the role the British empire has, and continues to, play. Written by wine and spirits journalist, Henry Jeffreys and published through the website unbound, it’s a read that will take you backwards and forwards through time but also from London, to France, Portugal, Spain, Scotland and as far as Australia – a terrific read.

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferies

Empire of Booze by Henry Jefferys

For some lighter reading, perhaps as a gift to those not quite so far down the wine geek road, Jancis Robinson‘s recently published The 24-Hour Wine Expert, is a cracking introduction to the wine world. Covering everything from tasting to serving from geography to varietals and much more. Just enough to get any beginner through the first steps of wine appreciation and perhaps start them on the road to wine ‘geekdom’ – you have been warned.

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

Become a 24-Hour Wine Expert with Jancis Robinson

And for a completely different take, try Jo Malone My Story. It has nothing to do with wine, but interesting for tasters as it is all based around her acute sense of smell, such an important part of tasting. So much so that the very opening pages of the book are scented with her signature scent Pomelo – a Sauvignon Blanc with that perhaps?

A great sense of smell - Jo Malone's Story

A great sense of smell – Jo Malone’s Story 

A Golden Elixir.

Bordeaux is home to several Château owned by luxury Brand Corporations: Chanel Inc. owns classified growths Château Rauzan Segla in Margaux and Château Canon in Saint Emilion, Kering owns Château Latour in Pauillac, and then there is LVMH with a slew of international wine and spirits brands in their portfolio. As well as their flagship Bordeaux wineries Château d’Yquem in Sauternes and Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion, LVMH are heavily invested in Champagne and Cognac.

There are several advantages for a chateau owned by such groups. Apart from the obvious advantage of a parent company with deep pockets, it enables properties to make drastic selections and even not produce at all in tricky vintages ensuring a consistent quality (the last year d’Yquem didn’t produce any of the classified wine at all was as recently as 2012). It also allows for investment in cellars, both technical and aesthetic, and the advantages of belonging to a luxury goods portfolio with the marketing and promotional synergy that that entails.

The elegant new tasting room at Chateau d'Yquem

The elegant new tasting room at Chateau d’Yquem

There has been a less obvious cross marketing initiative within the LVMH stable. Dior and Château d’Yquem, both member of the LVMH luxury stable, have been working closely together on the beauty benefits of Sauternes.

Wine and beauty is nothing new; Caudalie, have been extracting polyphenols from grape pips since the early 90s and the brand is now an international success and the reference in ‘wine spas’ with their ‘Vinotherapie’.

Dior got into the act as early as 2006 creating the l’Or de Vie range using an extract from the sap of the vines of Château d’Yquem as an active ingredient. With the 2013 vintage, they have taken this a step further, adding a serum to the range. This time molecules extracted from the marc left after fermentation of the wine appear to hold magic properties for the skin and have been included alongside other active ingredients in the new l’Or de Vie  ‘La Cure’.

The l'Or de Vie range

The l’Or de Vie range

This magic comes at a price; the serum is presented in elegant golden phials in packs of three for about £ 1200, although this ‘Cure’ is a nine-month supply. Long enough to see a visible difference according to their studies.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master at Chateau d'Yquem.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master at Chateau d’Yquem.

If the lovely cellar master Sandrine Gaby is anything to go by, being exposed to the magic ingredient must work, but I think I’ll stick to taking my Chateau d’Yquem elixir of youth by the glass.

Elixir by the glass

Elixir by the glass

 

How authentic is your bottle?

Between the conviction of infamous wine fraud Rudy Kurniawan and the growing market for wines in Asia where counterfeiting seems to be national sport (and not just in wine), authentication of wine has become more and more important.

A recent contribution to the Jancis Robinson blog was an intriguing insight into an affordable way to verify the authenticity of your wine bottle, based on the ‘bobbles’ and other manufacturer markers along the bottom of the bottle. But many Chateaux in Bordeaux and elsewhere have introduced a more secure and personalised approach.

Most bottling lines now include laser engraving with dates and code numbers that allow chateaux to trace their bottles. This offers many advantages; as well as being reassuring for clients, it allows the chateaux traceability in case of quality problems and allows them to trace how their wines got to market.
70% of Bordeaux wine is sold through ‘La Place’, the brokers and negociants. Chateaux do not always know or have contact with the final customer. It is not unusual for Chateaux to work with several different Bordeaux negociant houses, choosing them because of their expertise in particular markets, either geographical or by market sector. They may try and offer semi exclusivities in certain markets and also sometimes qualifying sales with conditions such as not selling to supermarkets.

This is difficult to police in an open market and some markets such as the UK are considered platforms with a lot of the wine being moved on to other markets Asia being a typical destination.
In recent years, undercutting sales prices by some struggling negociants have also perturbed the market,  be damaging to the brand image as well as upsetting other clients who are not happy when their final clients boast about finding certain wines on the market place at process lower than they have paid the property. These traceability tools allow the chateau a greater control and understanding of where their bottles are ending up and how they got there. The wine market is not as nebulous as it used to be.

Classified growths are the most likely to be subject to fraud and counterfeiting and they have perfected techniques with a mix of Q codes, authentication codes and special labels. Most Chateaux have a web page where alphanumeric codes from the label can be entered or Q codes can be scanned.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

The authentication label on the Château Margaux bottle.

Chateau Margaux even has an app for the authentication and  as of 1st January 2013, all bottles leaving the cellar of Chateau Latour have a bubble tag on the bottle with a unique identification.

Latour bubble tags ready to   be added to the bottles.

Latour bubble tags ready to be added to the bottles.

There are also more traditional, non-digital ways of protecting themselves and their customers against fraud. Château d’Yquem uses a unique paper made by the Banque de France bank note suppliers for their labels that are water marked in a way that cannot be copied.

Printing roll for Yquem label paper

Printing roll for Chateau d’Yquem label paper

First growths are not the only properties investing in high tech authentication. Other Chateaux, such as biodynamic producer Chateau Le Puy in the Cotes de Francs, use the same Prooftag bubble system as Chateau Latour mentioned above.

And it’s not just the chateaux; vintner groups, such as the Cru Bourgeois, issue a defined number of bottle stickers complete with hologram at certification with a unique number that can be typed into the web site or the Q code can be scanned with the app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker can be scanned on the smart phone app.

You can now drink younger vintages with confidence. For older vintages however you will still need to rely on a close and trusting relationship with your wine merchant – something always worth cultivating.

Shaking up Sauternes

Is the future of Sauternes feminine? Is the future of Sauternes dry? Is the future of Sauternes fizzy? I thought that last one might get your attention.

Wine tasters often use the adjective feminine or masculine when describing wines; Feminine being used Merlot driven wines as opposed to more ‘masculine’ Cabernet driven wines. Then again, Margaux is often described as the most feminine of the Medoc appellations. Smooth, elegant, approachable are all rather feminine characteristics n’est pas?

Sauternes is also considered a feminine wine as, rather condescendingly perhaps, the sweetness of the wine is traditionally thought to appeal to a feminine palate. The history of Sauternes is feminine too. It was Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, young widow and owner of Chateau d’Yquem who was imprisoned twice during the revolution but managed to keep the Château in the family.

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d'Yquem

Sandrine Garbay, cellar master of Chateau d’Yquem

The feminine tradition continues at Chateau d’Yquem as the current cellar Master is also a woman; Sandrine Garbay. Other top Sauternes properties also have women at their helm; Laure de Lambert Compeyrot is cellar master and co-owner of the smallest Sauternes Classified growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud. In Barsac both Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet have women at their helm. Chateau Coutet names the tiny production of  its top wine, produced only in exceptional years, Cuvée Madame, after Madame Rolland-Guy, owner of the property  from 1922 to 1977.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post in October 2012 that many consider this sweet wine terroir to be just as good for dry whites with many properties producing dry white from their vines. This trend continues as Laure de Lambert Compeyrot has added another dry white wine to her successful Demoiselle de Sigalas; La Semillante is a 100% dry Semillon made with wine maker Jacques Lurton who has become a specialist in producing wonderful aromatic whites (and delightful reds) from terroir all over the world. His Loire wines are worth searching out too.

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

La Sémillante, the new 100% dry Semillon from Chateau Rauzan Siglalas

So what about the sparkling? No one is yet producing sparkling Sauternes to my knowledge.  Florence Cathiard, owner of Pessac Léognan Classified Growth Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte,  has come up with an idea to get Sauternes in the sights of barmen men and mixologists with SO Sauternes®.

The Cathiards, along with the Moulin Family (owners of the Galeries Lafayette department stores) purchased Chateau Bastor Lamontagne in Sauternes last year along side Château Beauregard in Pomerol and Chateau Saint Robert in the Graves.

Presenting the new SO Sauternes® in a resolutely modern bottle, the idea is to pair with Perrier creating a cocktail to appeal to a younger generation perhaps not familiar with this venerable wine.  This takes Sauternes away from its dessert wine purgatory and puts in the limelight and in the sights of trendy Parisian mixologists, some of whom have added their own particular twist and cocktail recipe.

SO Sauternes and Perrier

SO Sauternes and Perrier

Shocking some might say, but other similar initiatives have now become mainstream;. When Cognac launched itself as a mixer there were a few raised eyebrows, now look at its success and the ‘swimming pool’ of adding ice to champagne launched by Moet has also become a staple of trendy beach bars in the summer months.

There is nothing new. One evening many (many) years ago, when my husband Hamilton first started selling Chateau Guiraud in the US, he was in a NYC hotel bar with wine guru Alexis Lichine who had taken him under his wing. Shocked when he saw New Yorkers ordering fine white Burgundy and topping it up with soda water to make spritzers he said so. Alexis, ever the pragmatist, said ‘Hamilton we should be so lucky they are drinking wine at all and not martinis, then years ago they all would be drinking Martinis’ – this was the early 80s after all.

We could say they same of Sauternes – so drink it in whichever way takes your fancy.

Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with Bordeaux.

The Garonne river flowing through the city of Bordeaux may not be dyed green on the 17th March but Bordeaux does have strong historical and contemporary links to the Emerald Isle.

It is yet another example of the openness of Bordeaux to foreign influence thanks to the importance of the port, the largest in France in the 17th century. This was the beginning of a huge Irish influence the remains of which can still be clearly seen today. Many Irish ‘Jacobites’ fled their native land, escaping religious persecution after the Battle of Kinsale, when the Catholic King James II lost to the Protestant King William of Orange.

The term ‘Wild Geese’ was coined to define the flight of these emigrant families in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Many ended up in Bordeaux, as they already had strong ties with the region, being enthusiastic importers of ‘Claret’. Others ended up in the Loire and Cognac, where names such as Hennessy became part of the local landscape. These new arrivals quickly became important players in the wine business, exporting wine and importing Irish meat and dairy.

Their presence on the Quai des Chartrons, the merchant area on the banks of the Garonne, was even mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1770 when he listed names that are still there today such as Barton, Johnston, and Lawton.

Ireland became established as a leading Market for Bordeaux. Records from 1739 show that England imported 1,000 tons of claret, Scotland 2,500 and Ireland a massive 4,000. Ted Murphy, author of The Kingdom of Wine: a Celebration of Ireland’s Winegeese, quotes ‘‘claret was the Guinness of its day.”

The Wine Geese

The Wine Geese

Their influence continues in the Château names that still ring with an Irish accent include 
Château Clarke, Château Phelan-Segur, Château Boyd Cantenac, Château MacCarthy (now the second wine of Haut-Marbuzet), Château Dillon, Château Langoa and Léoville-Barton (still today owned by the Barton family), Château Kirwan, Château Lynch Bages, etc.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur's second wine, is named after the estate's Irish founder.

Frank Phélan, Chateau Phélan Segur’s second wine, is named after the estate’s Irish founder.

Other Châteaux may not sound very Irish but have strong Irish connections in their past include such leading lights as Château Margaux, Château Yquem, Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande, Château Pape-Clément and Château Haut-Brion.

Chateau Langoa Barton

Chateau Langoa Barton

So you have plenty of choice of Bordeaux with which to raise a glass to Saint Patrick on the 17th.

Slainte.

 

Golf and wine

Golf and fine wine have a couple of things in common, golf courses always seem to be in wonderful countryside – as do vineyards and many a golfer is partial to a nice glass of wine! Bordeaux has several world-class golf courses, all of which offer a day off from the tough routine of Château visits and wine tastings when you are touring the vineyards.

Le Golf du Pian in the south of the Medoc, is one of the most famous, and in 2010 was rated the third best golf course in France by the Rolex Guide and has a recently opened a 79 room hotel and spa between their two 18 hole courses. Nearby, tucked in behind Château Margaux on the banks of the Garonne, is Le Golf du Margaux and nearer the city the Golf Bordelais is the oldest golf club in the area.

Further afield towards Bergerac, not far from Saint Emilion, there is the beautiful Château des Vigiers with 2 18 hole courses around the beautiful Château known locally as the ‘Petit Versailles’ which is also a working vineyard.

However if you would like a unique wine and golf experience come to Sauternes for the weekend of 8-9th September when the whole of the appellations will be turned into a golf course.

Chateau d’Yquem, site of one of the holes of the weekend

Open for players at all levels a golf course will be set up at each of the eleven châteaux participating in the event. The 2 day programme will take players to each chateau and includes an opportunity to taste the top wines from the appellation including a gala dinner in the grounds of Chateau d’Yquem. Sign up at www.golfetgrandscrus.com

 

Wine, dine and cycle

One of the many, classic questions I have from guests on wine tours is ‘How do you do this for a living and stay slim?’ Well here’s a really easy answer – sadly not mine.
Adam Ruck, knows a thing or two about food, being restaurant critic for Which and AA. He is also passionate about France and has distilled his experience of cycling around of France into a web site ‘France on Two Wheels http://www.france2wheels.com/ and more fully his new book, just published by Short Books
The book is a terrific guide to the culture, history, food ,B & B’s and other French delights including the Bordeaux region ,with a special mention for Château d’Yquem
So eat and drink with a clear conscience but just keep cycling !

Haut Culture

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

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

And we’re off!

The lovely misty morning here remind us that it’s that time of year again – just in case you has forgotten! Mist as of mid to late August is of course just what is needed in the south west of Bordeaux for the sweet white wines but it is also a good sign for the red. This means cooler nights helping to preserve the aromatic complexity of the red and white and phenolic complexity in the red berries.

White grape harvesting has started across Bordeaux. Château Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion are always some of the first to start, as being surrounded by Bordeaux suburbs they have a warmer urban microclimate.
Other properties started last week. Château d’Yquem started the first selection of Sauvignon Blanc for Y d’Yquem and nearer to me here in the Entre Deux Mers Château de Sours started handpicking their young Sauvignon plantations on the 1st September.
Despite a damp June, the growing season has been very dry with rainfall about 20% below an average year, however temperatures and sunshine have been above average. There is an excess of water stress for younger plants that do not have a well-developed root system yet. It’s all about terroir again : soils with cooler limestone subsoils such as Saint Emilion, Fronsac and Cotes will experience less hydric stress than clay, sandy or gravel soils. However lighter soils with a good subsoil, such as in the Medoc, have vines with deep roots which will enable them to find water from the subsoils even dry conditions.

May and June also had a lot of temperature variation leading to some uneven fruit development – so that will mean eagle eyed sorting (or optical sorting for those with the budgets).

The dry conditions also have another advantage : lovely ripe berries – very little mildew, so no need for much spraying and the grapes should be coming in beautifully healthy.

A little light rain would not go amiss for the reds in particular – it’s forecast for Tuesday – fingers crossed.