Tag Archives: cru bourgeois

Château Loudenne – can history repeat itself?

I have always had a soft spot for Château Loudenne. Arriving in Bordeaux in the late eighties I knew very few people, but I was soon introduced to the world of Château Loudenne, then under British ownership. It was party central for Bordeaux Brits and most of the players in the Medoc.

The hospitality was legendary. The dining room was the scene of many a memorable dinner and the amazing vintage kitchen hosted many more. I even remember London based Chef, Albert Roux flying over one August with fresh grouse in his suitcase for a Glorious 12th dinner.

IMG_0916

View to the back of the Château looking donw from the gravel outcrop.

The rooms were always welcoming, and waking to look at that view over the Gironde Estuary was a treat. In those days Château Loudenne was owned by IDV, having been in the portfolio of Gilbeys when they purchased that company.

Gironde from terrace

The view from the terrace of Château Loudenne to the Gironde Estuary

The history of Château Loudenne goes back over 300 years. Built in 1670 in the typical ‘Chartreuse’ style, the traversing rooms ideally suited to the spectacular views over the Gironde Estuary. This beautiful pink chateau is still at the heart of the large vineyard, 132 ha under vines including 12 ha in white. As early as 1880 it was the very first Medoc vineyard to produce a white wine.

Traversing rooms

A view through the Château

Alfred and Walter Gilbey purchased the chateau in 1875 and made it their home as well as the base for their Bordeaux commerce. They were the first negociants to be based in the Medoc, rather than in the Port of Bordeaux, establishing their trade out of the huge Victorian waterfront cellars near the property’s private port. Chateau Loudenne remains the only property in the Medoc to have its own private port.

Loudenne port

The ‘Port’ of Château Loudenne from the water

It became ‘The Pink Château’ at the time of the Gilbeys; it has remained so ever since. The Gilbeys, in true English style, created the stunning landscaped park which has a rare collection of David Austin English roses.

In 1963, their family company changed hands to become IDV, which went on to join the spirits group Diageo. In their move away from wine investments, Diageo sold the chateau in 2000.

After a few years in the hands of owners that sadly didn’t invest either in the wine or the architecture, Moutai purchased Chateau Loudenne in 2013, joined by Camus Cognac as minority shareholders in 2016. They are old friends having worked together as distribution partners for over 10 years. Moutai is the number one Chinese Liquor Company and Camus Cognac the largest family-owned independent Cognac house. Camus took over the management of Chateau Loudenne when it entered into the capital in 2016.

The involvement of the Cognac family is a back to the future moment; monks from the Saintonge region, near Cognac, were the first to plant vines in the village of Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc in the 13th century.

Folly

One of the gravel outcrops with its folly

Château Loudenne is in the Médoc appellation, in the North of the peninsula just beyond the boundary with the Haut Médoc. Here two large Garonnaise gravel outcrops rise above the tide line of the estuary. Victorian brick and stone follies, the function of which is still unknown, crown these outcrops. They were possibly built to store vineyard tools but more likely to make the site easily identified from the water. Or perhaps they are simply follies with no need for justification. The traditional coat of arms of the property show one of these towers with a Wyvern sitting on top.

I remember a party for the Ban des Vendanges in 1992 when a ‘son et lumière’ bought these Wyverns back to life to the amazement of hundreds of guests in dinner evening dress strolling though the vineyard. Heady days.

The new owners have reworked the presentation and marketing using a ‘belle époque’ design for the labels reminiscing about its illustrious past reinforced by strap line ‘I will always remember’. Also playing on the word Rose (pink in French) as a reference to both Chateau and its rose garden in the new stylised rose design on the labels and capsules.

New labels

The new Chateau Loudenne Labels

Rose

and the stylised rose design

The renewal is not solely a marketing operation. They are not simply looking over their shoulder at the past. New vines are being planted with ‘complanting’ in the older vineyards, introducing Petit Verdot to the Cabernet/Merlot blend and Sauvignon Gris to the white blend with the goal of becoming organic in five years,

New planting

A recently replanted plot near the estuary

General Manager, Philippe de Poyferré, plans to modernize the emblematic waterfront cellars, adapting the Victorian vats to handle the plot selection to suit the different vineyard plots. These majestic cellars date from 1876 and were a perfect example of the Gilbey brothers’ drive to modernize the estate during the 19th century. Designed by Bordeaux architect, Ernest Minvielle, they are a classic Médoc-style two-story vat hall, already harnessing gravity to manipulate the harvested grapes and wine.

Cellars

The victorian cellars from the waterfront

De Poyferré has already reintroduced hand harvesting, sorting tables, and gone back to gravity rather than use pumps.

Cuvier

The 19th century vat room

Chateau Loudenne still produces white wine under the Bordeaux appellation. Fermented and aged in oak with 25 % of Sémillon, unusually high for a dry white from the Medoc, it is reminiscent of a Graves in style and elegance.

The red wines of Chateau Loudenne are Cru Bourgeois, currently a 50:50 Cabernet/Merlot blend and tasting recent vintages the improvement in quality as of 2014 vintage is marked. One to watch with hopefully a future party invite.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Behind every great wine…. there’s another one.

For those in the know, the second wines of top Bordeaux estates have long been considered some of the best value drinking in town.

Rather than a ‘dustbin’ for everything that isn’t good enough to make the grade of the first wine, these wines carry the château name, are part of the brand, and are treated as such. Not only do they profit from the know-how of the same wine-making team but they may be made from parcels and lots kept specifically for these wines, perhaps from younger vines or different terroir, often giving a lighter expression, benefiting from a lighter oak treatment giving easier and earlier drinking wines – more approachable both in style and in price! Their quality continues to grow as many properties are introducing third wines, Le Pauillac de Chateau Latour since 1990, and the Petit Lion de Marquis de Las Cases since 2007, to name but a couple.

Whilst these wines are now on most wine enthusiasts’ radar, it’s worth taking a peek behind these chateau labels, as many of the top properties have other strings to their bows.

In the official figures for 2015, released by the CIVB earliest this year, the number of growers, all Gironde wines combined, was 6,822 (fallen by half in the last 20 years). The total number of wine properties is probably nearer 10 000 however as many of the ‘Growers’ are the fortunate owners of several properties.

Although the other wineries owned by top growths may not be classified, these lesser-known properties will also benefit from the know-how of the top winery teams, the deep(er) pockets of their owners and the marketing push as they are presented alongside their big brothers at tastings. Other advantages include access to newer barrels with a guaranteed provenance, as barrel turnover will be faster in top growths that use a higher percentage of new oak.

Chateau Le Crock

Chateau Le Crock

I was reminded of this when I visited Chateau Le Crock recently. Chateau Le Crock is a magnificent chateau perched high on a gravel outcrop of Saint Estèphe, in between prestigious neighbours Chateau Montrose and Cos d’Estournel. It is a Cru Bourgeois, part of the new classification as well as the original one. The owners, the Cuvelier family, are also owners of Chateau Leoville Poyferre, second growth of Saint Julien, as well as Chateau Moulin Riche. Moulin Riche used to be considered a second wine of the property but now is a stand-alone label, the second wine is Le Pavillon de Leoville Poyferre.

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

Tasting Moulin Riche and Leoville Poyferre

The neighbouring Leovilles also have other properties; Chateau Leoville Barton is also home to Chateau Langoa Barton, (although originally it was the other way round, as the cellars of Langoa welcomed the wines of Leoville back in the 1800s). The Barton family have more recently invested in Moulis, at Chateau Mauvesin Barton, as I mentioned in a previous post. Chateau Leoville Las Cases also has hidden treasures, the Delon family own Chateau Potensac in the north of the Medoc appellation.

The line up of Barton family bottles

The line up of Barton family bottles

This is not a uniquely Saint Julien affair, just next door in Pauillac several top properties have hidden jewels; Chateau Pichon Baron, a second growth of Pauillac, owns Chateau Pibran a neighbouring Pauillac property and, across the road, when Roederer purchased Pichon Comtesse they also bought the lovely Chateau de Pez in Saint Estephe. The Cazes family, as well as owning Lynch Bages, own Chateau les Ormes de Pez in Saint Estephe and the lovely and very affordable Château Villa Bel Air further afield in Graves.

Another Médoc family the Quiés are spread over several left bank appellations. Famous for their 2nd growth in Margaux Rauzan Gassies, they own 5th growth Croizet Bages in Pauillac and Bel Orme in Haut Medoc, another Cru Bourgeois.

It’s not a uniquely left bank phenomenon either. Some brave souls dared to cross over to the dark side. Leoville Las Cazes owns Chateau Nenin in Pomerol, Château Lafite has Chateau L’Evangile in Pomerol and Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes as do Pichon Baron owners Axa Millesimes again with properties in both Sauternes: Chateau Suduiraut and in Pomerol: Chateau Petit Villages.

Right bank properties also have jokers up their sleeves, investing in lesser-known estates and surrounding appellations such as the Saint Emilion Satellites or the Côtes appellations.

The von Nieppergs, owners of Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere in Saint Emilion, also own Clos de l’Oratoire and Chateau Peyraud in the same appellation and have invested both in the Côtes de Castillon buying Chateau d’Aiguilhe where a modern wine cellar makes this one of the leading lights of the appellation. Angelus owners, the de Bouards, have used their Lalande de Pomerol property, La Fleur de Bouard as a testing ground for a lot of experimental wine making that they have since harnessed at Angelus, so the advantages work both ways. They have more freedom to experiment in smaller properties rather than in their flagship vineyards where is it perhaps more risky to test out new techniques.

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

The innovative cellars Chateau La Fleur de Bouard

Francois Despagne, owner wine-maker of the classified growth Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne in Saint Emilion is also using his expertise making Chateau le Chemin in Pomerol and Chateau Ampelia in the Côtes de Castillon. Look out for Chateau la Maison Blanche, owned and made by his brother Nicolas just across the boundary of Saint Emilion in Montagne Saint Emilion; some of the purest expression of terroir in organic and biodynamic production.

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

Somes of the wines from the Francois Despagne stable

These are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for, other owners that are spread across several appellations include the Cathiards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte who have recently invested in Pomerol and Sauternes and Bernard Magrez who has a finger in many Bordeaux appellations.

I’ll stop now before this sounds too much like a shopping list, as these are just a few of many examples well worth looking out for and I haven’t even mentioned investments made in other French wine regions or abroad – another blog post perhaps?

These investments in lesser known estates and appellations by leading wineries brings not just money but know-how and experience, raising the bar of excellence and increasing their reach to the wine enthusiast. If you thought second wines were worth looking for, take it to the next level; it’s worth getting off the beaten track a little and looking behind those top labels to see what other treasures they are hiding.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the future at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

You’ll know by now, even if you only read this blog occasionally, I’m a big fan of Cru Bourgeois. The history, the concept, the rebirth of a classic and the all important value for money represents for me, what Bordeaux does so well, taking the classics and adapting them to the current market.

Many of the individual chateaux in this ‘classification’, have the same philosophy and Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, a Cru Bourgeois in the Haut Médoc appellation, is firmly in this category.

Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, Cru Bourgeois of Haut Médoc

Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, Cru Bourgeois of Haut Médoc

The vines here go back to the Middle Ages but the chateau became famous thanks to its owner Jacques Bergeron who inherited it from his father in the 1800’s. His innovations in all things agronomic after the French revolution included the creation of a style of grafting that still carries his name. The prestige of his name was such that the next owners added it on to the property in the 19th century.

The vines seen from the observation post on the edge of the park.

The vines seen from the observation post on the edge of the park.

Improvements to the property have continued through various owners including the Bordeaux Negociant house Mestrezat, under whose ownership in the 70s and 80s the vines were replanted and the winery modernised. But it is under the current ownership that the property has come resolutely into the 21st century.

Having sold the Vodka brand Grey Goose, Cognacs H. Mounier and Hardy had some spare cash in their pockets and in 2009 they invested in this classic Medoc property, another example of the cliché that if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business start with a large one…..

Cognac producers know a thing or two about marketing and it’s clear to see here when you visit this beautifully renovated estate. Opened to the public last summer the elegant château, which dates from 1868, has been restored to its former glory, having been more or less abandoned after a fire in the 1950s. It has been cleverly renovated to blend the old with the new included fourguest rooms, a dining room and a conference facility under the eaves.

The dining room at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The dining room at Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The tour is high tech too. The Chateau was awarded the recent ‘Discovery and Innovation’ Best of Wine Tourism award. As you visit the chateau, paintings come to life to tell the history of the Chateau, there’s a wooden cabin/look out post from where you can see the replanting of the vineyard and take in the blend of 58% Merlot grapes, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that make up the 67 hectares, of the vineyard.

The blending light show in the cellars of Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

The blending light show in the cellars of Chateau Lamothe Bergeron

But it’s not all show; serious investment has been made in wine making including appointing Hubert de Bouard, of Château Angelus fame, as their consultant. Visitors are treated to a detailed video explanation of the stages involved in wine making and another more humorous video projected on to the glass panels of the wine cellar of the blending operation showing de Bouard and the director Laurent Mery in action. The visit ends with an underground tasting room, cellar and shop. The difference being the tasting is not limited to just the château’s wine but also an excellent range of the company’s Cognacs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many wines, so little time.

You can see from the previous post that I’ve just returned from a trip to the wine lands of South Africa where the hospitably was wonderful – more of which later. To get there, I took a circuitous route via London and Hong Kong. I mentioned Hong Kong in a previous blog post but not London. London remains the centre of the international wine trade, a world wine hub. It is old and established and at the same time extraordinarily innovative and modern. You can find just about any type of beverage here, unlike the wine regions I’m usually visiting.

It is not surprising then that the Gardinier family have chosen London as the latest outpost for their food and wine empire.

I first met the family in Bordeaux where they have owned the beautiful, and in my opinion still underrated and undervalued, property Château Phelan Segur since 1985. This elegant château is at the heart of Saint Estèphe, the most northerly of the Medoc ‘Communal’ appellations. The 70ha are spread between classified neighbours such as Chateau Calon Segur, Château Lafon Rochet and Chateau Montrose, to whom they sold some of their vines in 2010.

The beautiful Château Phelan Segur

The beautiful Château Phelan Segur

It missed the 1855 classification and was a ‘Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel’ until 2003 when, under the new rules, the hierarchy within the Cru Bourgeois was eliminated.

One of the 3 brothers, Thierry Gardinier, is at the head of the estate alongside the director Veronique Dausse. As the director of the Alliance des Cru Bourgeois Thierry was pivotal in overseeing its development  to its present form.

Tasting in the orangerie at Chateau Phelan Segur

Tasting in the orangerie at Chateau Phelan Segur

This elegant property has one of the most spectacular views from the plateau of Saint Estèphe across a majestic lawn, the vines and the Gironde Estuary. Upon appointment, you can enjoy the view as well as the wines. They will happily share verticals of recent vintages and their hospitality reaches as far as the family dining room. You can even participate with a cooking class in the kitchen with their in-house chef and then sample your hard work with the wines.

Their al fresco lunches on the lawn at harvest time are some of the best in Bordeaux, where you will rub shoulders with most of the Bordeaux wine trade.

Harvest lunch at Chateau Phelan Segur

Harvest lunch at Chateau Phelan Segur

It comes as no surprise then that the family has a very gastronomic background. Their home base is Champagne where their father, Xavier Gardinier, owned and ran both Lanson and Pommery Champagne houses since the 1970s including Le Domaine Les Crayères. Les Crayères remains in the family, a Relais Château Hotel and Michelin starred restaurant.

In 2011 they purchased the Taillevent group. The Taillevent restaurant opened in Paris in 1946 and is a French gastronomic legend, winning its first Michelin star in 1948, a second in 1954 and a third in 1973.

It is also famous for its wine selection; the cellar holds over 2000 listings of wines and spirits from 16 countries. Trading on this reputation, they opened a wine shop in 1987 ‘Les Caves de Taillevent’, originally as part the restaurant.  From 1994 to 2013, Les Caves de Taillevent also opened in Japan, with five wine shops in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.

In 2012 the Gardiniers renamed the bistro Les 110 de Taillevent, after the 110 wines served there by the glass. From this selection different wines are suggested each day to match the menu. 4 for each dish: starter, main and dessert at 4 different price points. The wines are available by the glass in two sizes (7cl or 12.5) the wines are kept under argon gas system.

110 Taillevent London on Cavendish Square

110 Taillevent London on Cavendish Square

The London 110 de Taillevent Restaurant opened in October this year on Cavendish Square, just as I was passing through London. Serendipity. The by the glass selection is eclectic (and very international), the food delicious and varied and the portion sizes perfect, the atmosphere a happy blend of sophistication and fun (or was that just the girlfriends I was lunching with?) and the staff extremely friendly. The decor is classically elegant and it really is all about the wine, there are bottles everywhere.

I didn't count but that looks like 110 wines at the Taillevent bar

I didn’t count, but that looks like 110 wines at the Taillevent bar.

They open for lunch, diner and breakfast (wine with breakfast? But of course!). Food and wine matching underlies the Gardinier philosophy and the range of wines on offer makes it a perfect venue. They should receive a very warm welcome from London wine and food lovers.

A Table!

A Table!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re Back!

Cru Bourgeois properties can’t rest on their laurels. Every year they have to reapply for the right to use the qualification Cru Bourgeois on their labels.

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

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

The list of successful candidates for the 2013 vintage was just announced. Why now? Well the wines are tasted at the point of being released onto the market place. So they will be heading your way for the end of year festivities.

251 properties make up the new official 2013 selection; you can see the complete list here. They represent about 30% of the surface area and 25% of the production of the Médoc including the appellations Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. That’s about 20 million bottles released onto the markets at home and abroad.

The Cru Bourgeois 2013 Classification Logo

The Cru Bourgeois 2013 Classification Logo

If you need proof that it is not an automatic right check out the figures since the creation of the new quality control introduced in 2010 for the 2008 vintage.

2008 – 243 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc

2009 – 246 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc

2010 – 260 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc

2011 – 256 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc

2012 – 267 Crus Bourgeois du Médoc

The selection is severe and influenced by the general quality of the vintage but numbers are also increasing as the producers see the growing success and reputation of the Cru Bourgeois name and the commercial advantage that sporting the Cru Bourgeois label can bring. A total of 166 million bottles have been released onto the market over the last six years, which gives an impetus to the ‘brand’.

The challenge doesn’t stop at the selection. At its creation in in 1932, the Cru Bourgeois classification had a hierarchy of 3 levels: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. This three-tier system was abandoned in the new organisation but they are now looking at reintroducing a hierarchy within the classification over the next few years. In the meantime, they measure up against each other in an annual blind tasting competition. The ‘Coupe des Cru Bourgeois’ takes place in June each year and selects 12 champions from across the appellations.

The last Coupe took place at Vinexpo in June this year. An international jury of wine professionals tasted their way through all the Cru Bourgeois and amongst the 12 top properties they selected one final winner: Château Lilian Ladouys in Saint-Estèphe.

Chateau Lilian Ladouys, Cru bourgeois de Saint Estèphe and winner of La coupe des Crus Bourgeois.

Chateau Lilian Ladouys, Cru bourgeois de Saint Estèphe and winner of La coupe des Crus Bourgeois.

The organisation behind the classification, The Alliance des Cru Bourgeois, continues to innovate with their promotions too. A few weeks ago, I joined eight of the twelve winners of the Coupe in a live on-line tasting from Château Paveil de Luze in Margaux, directly broadcast to journalists in the US. They tasted the same wines in America while the owners and wine makers tasted with them, explaining the particularities of each one and answering questions over a live twitter feed.

If you can’t come to the Cru Bourgeois, they will come to you – you can see the video of the tasting here.

 

A New York State of Gastronomy.

I don’t normally write about food, I write about wine, in particular Bordeaux and even then I rarely share tasting notes preferring to talk about what is happening and what is changing in Bordeaux, leaving tasting to those with better palates or to allow you to make your own conclusions about wines when you taste them yourself.

 Today I am making an exception as I had an experience that was as exceptional as it was unexpected, and I just have to share it. Those of you who are hungry, turn away now.

 Mid-way through the hectic schedule of a 2 week US lecture tour on behave of the Wines of Medoc, I had a spare day earmarked for shopping in NYC. As everyone knows, shopping builds up an appetite and wandering back down Madison Avenue, on the look out for a likely place to stop for lunch, I just happened to find myself in front of the Carlyle Hotel.

 A light bulb went on and I remembered a wine tour 4 years ago when Chef Mark Richardson with his sister and brother-in-law toured Bordeaux with me. I had missed catching up with Mark once before when he was Executive Chef at the Four Seasons in San Francisco. Just as I planned to taste his fare, he upped and left for the Carlyle. Would I catch him this time?  Luck was with me; I popped in hoping to get a table for lunch and I got so much more.

 I was welcomed like a long lost friend, ushered to a table amongst the busy lunchtime crowd. The ‘feutré’ atmosphere of the restaurant is reminiscent of a elegant front room decorated with bookshelves and a fireplace, the English theme reinforced by a lot of British accents – the influence perhaps of the recent royal guests?

Mark worked his magic creating a spectacular lunch experience, he said likes to play so I handed myself over to his considerable skill.  What a treat. Proving that even in the centre of NYC you can source local ingredients, Chef Mark served up a menu with New York, Asian and European influences.

Local heirloom tomatoes and burrata,

Local heirloom tomatoes and burrata,

The menu started with a work of art; local heirloom tomatoes and burrata, beautifully fresh and perfectly seasoned with sourdough crisps. This was followed by Hamachi (yellow tail) tartar served with an Asian vinaigrette, topped with avocado and crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. The contrasting textures and flavours were perfect in both dishes.

Hamachi Tartar

Hamachi Tartar

 The Ricotta gnocchi that followed, served in brown butter and lemon, the citrus notes complemented by a few arugula (roquette) leaves, were cooked to perfection, creamy in the middle. When I asked how they remained so creamy with out having the doughy taste of undercooked pasta, he remarked that they were mainly just ricotta with hardly any flour.

New Jersey Scallops with bacon vinaigrette.

New Jersey Scallops with bacon vinaigrette.

 Then New Jersey scallops, impeccably cooked, served with confit aubergine slices, plums and bacon vinaigrette – a perfect paring with red wine – see below.

New York Strip-loin with deep fried green tomatoes.

New York Strip-loin with deep fried green tomatoes.

The finale was the New York strip just seared, meltingly tender over deep fried green tomatoes – a nod to his Kentucky origins.

 And the wines? They have an impressive and varied selection by the glass, American and international, but I have to admit I stayed with the French – I’m heading west on the next leg so Californian wines will come.

I couldn’t resist the Sancerre called French Blonde and a glass of Chateau Reysson Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc 2010. It is the Medoc that sent me over here, after all.

 The whole experience was remarkable and I was lucky, not just in finding Mark but in finding him just in time. After a year as Executive chef at the Carlyle, he is heading to pastures new, returning to his family in Kentucky to start a new venture.

New York’s loss, Kentucky’s gain!

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.

Discovering the Medoc with the Cru Bourgeois

September saw exciting news for Medoc fans; not only did the Cru Bourgeois release the news of the new classification of the 2012 vintage, with 267 properties classified, they also confirmed their interest in re-establishing a quality hierarchy that was at the origin of the classification in 1932.

The Cru Bourgeois are a great window on the Medoc. I have just returned from several weeks in the US and used a range of Cru Bourgeois on several occasions to introduce the terroirs that make up this region of Bordeaux. They also encompass the history and the diversity of the region and are examples of the increase in quality and consistency that have characterised Bordeaux wines over recent vintages.

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

Presenting the Cru Bourgeois to students at Chaplin School of Hospitality in Florida

So what are the Cru Bourgeois exactly? As with most things in Bordeaux, to understand how we got here it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the history behind the story.

It is undeniable that the 1855 classification of Médoc, Graves and Sauternes, represents one of the best marketing coups the wine world has ever seen, even if at the time it wasn’t intentional. Was the Cru Bourgeois Classification created in its shadow? It’s unfair perhaps to think of it of a club for those who didn’t make it in 1855, but it certainly represented, at the time of its creation in 1932, a group of châteaux that may have considered that if that classification had not been written in tablets of stone in 1855, they may well have been included had it evolved further. The 60 Medoc properties included in the 1855 classification out of a total of 1500 represent 22% of the surface area of the Medoc vineyards.  (Haut Brion in the Graves and 27 properties in Sauternes and Barsac were also included). For more information about the 1885 classification, I highly recommend consulting Dewey Markham’s seminal tome 1855.

The Cru Bourgeois were officially classified for the first time in 1932, however it has deeper historical roots. It may seem strange to Anglo-Saxons to use the term Bourgeois, perhaps not always considered a compliment? It is however a traditional term that dates back to the Middle Ages. Historically it applied to influential families of Bordeaux rather than the aristocracy, who benefited from exoneration of charges on their land acquisitions; consequently, they purchased the best pieces of land that became available in the Medoc in the 17th century when the peninsula was drained by the Dutch. This right was granted by the French King to keep the Bordelais on his side against their historical allies (or occupiers depending upon how you look at it), the English.

In 1824 a treatise by  Franck identified about 300 Crus Bourgeois in the Médoc pre-dating the 1855 classification. In 1932 Bordeaux’s wine merchants with the Chamber of Commerce officially recognised 444 Crus Bourgeois at three levels of quality : Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.  In the 60’s a Union des Cru Bourgeois was formed.

The attempt to bring the classification up to date in 2003 with just 247 chateau was challenged and written off, so the new more democratic system came into being as of the 2008 vintage.

So how does it work now? There are 2 steps to becoming a Cru Bourgeois. Even to be considered the wine must already be declared as AOC from one of the 8 Medoc appellations (Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac or Saint Estephe). The first step is then compliance with quality criteria on the basis of approved specifications, followed by the second step, a blind tasting by professional tasters of all the wines between March and July following bottling.

2010 saw the publication of the first Official Selection for the 2008 vintage (243 Crus Bourgeois). The wines are tasted when bottled and brought to market. In 2011, the 2009 Official Selection represented 246 Crus Bourgeois, the 2010 Official Selection 260 Crus Bourgeois the 2011 Official Selection 256 Crus Bourgeois and the last 2012 official selection 267.

It’s not just about being classified. The Cru Bourgeois procedure approves the quality of only a given volume of wine and provides a guarantee of this quality for the consumer. The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 2012 are easily identifiable at point of sale, each bottle is authenticated with a sticker with a unique, random number and a ‘Flash code’ – a direct link to a dedicated space for each château on the new website.

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The Cru Bourgeois Flash Sticker

The latest classification announced this September is the fifth since the re-oganisation of the system and shows an increase in châteaux that pass the acid test of blind tasting by an independently sourced panel. This all adds up to a total of 146 million bottles released onto the market over five years, of which the quality has been guaranteed. This general increase is in both the numbers and quality of participants but also an increase in reputation of the ‘brand’.

The lack of a hierarchy within this new system means there has been reluctance by some of the previously Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels to participate. It will be interesting to see if the new stated desire to recreate several quality levels will bring them back into the fold. I hope they do, the Cru Bourgeois are a force to be reckoned with. Last month’s classification of the 2012 vintage covers 4 100 hectares of vines and represents about 30% of the Medoc’s production, that’s 29 million bottles.

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

A Cru Bourgeois line up in the US

How would I sum up the Cru Bourgeois and their classification? Durability with an annual challenge perhaps or, as I found on my tour of the US, a highly accessible and reassuring way to discover the wines of the Medoc. They are accessible in style and, perhaps even more importantly, accessible in price. Showing these wines to the trade and students never failed to ellicit the delighted reaction that wines from the Medoc could be both affordable, available and delicious. Go look for that sticker.

The sticker to look for

The sticker to look for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

The entrance to the old limestone quarry at Chateau Tour Baladoz

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

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

The view of La Croizille vines from the new tasting room

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

The typical Clay-Limestone soil of Saint Emilion.

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

The first year, new oak barrels on oxoline

 

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

A tasting room with a view

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