Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Vermentino 3 Ways

The 2009 whites are at long last all safely in bottle. I certainly saved the best for last by finishing off the stunning 2009 vintage with my very own special Vermentino Un Vent de Folie.

This is a very special wine – a real winemakers wine – as it combines inspiration, creativity, winemaking skill and sheer graft. I first tasted the exquisite Vermentino grape whilst in northern Corsica last June and after quizzing the local winemakers about vineyard ripeness and winemaking techniques, I decided that I had to make one myself!

However getting grapes out of Corsica is virtually impossible so I started my search for this very special grape in the diverse region of the Languedoc in the south of France. I thought I would never find any but my hard detective work finally paid off and I discovered a superb vineyard in the forgotten hills north of Beziers.

Vermentino is a very difficult grape to work with. Many vineyards are planted on unsuitable soils and severely over cropped meaning the resulting wine often ends up in the vast pool of quaffing white wines of the Languedoc. Although with a good eye for vineyard site, some good detective work, lots of driving, lots of berry tasting, some crop thinning, patience and clever winemaking, I was confident I could pull it off. I had to as this was going to be the white version of my super high quality Un Vent de Folie red; pressure was on!

I started with the slow task of carefully tasting the berries in each vineyard before I finally discovered 3 different vineyard parcels that I believed would give me the base for my from which to work from.

I decided that I was going to treat each vineyard very differently in the cellar and match each with a winemaking technique to bring out the best from each parcel of vines with the vision of blending all three together to make the perfect wine!

The riper and fuller bodied vineyard was given 7 hours skin contact to give some tannin ready for the 300 litre new French oak hogsheads barrels. It was then fermented with wild natural yeast and put through the secondary malo lactic fermentation (where malic acid is converted to lactic acid) to give real richness, spice and mid palate weight.

The second, more acidic and fresher vineyard, was pressed clean, settled, removed from the sediment immediately. It was fermented in a cold temperature controlled stainless steel vat to preserve the zesty fruit and acidity, so it could be what winemakers call the backbone of the final blend.

The third and final vineyard was the most balanced and complex of all. I treated this like the Corsicans but also adding a hint of Burgundian winemaking that I had learnt some years ago. The wine was made in old barrels, so as not to give oak flavour but to preserve the natural fruit, using the unique barrel environment for roundness, balance and ageing potential.

After 6 months of careful patient winemaking and daily barrel tasting I can finally announce that the wine is finished and that’s my ‘Vermentino 3 Ways'!

Libby and I tried the first bottle this weekend and I matched fresh parsley and oregano marinated monkfish wrapped in sage and Parma ham, accompanied with a rocket and caramelised shallot salad. The result? Well, I was secretly rather pleased with myself indeed and Libby rather liked it too!

I hope you will try this wine and find everything I experienced but in a bottle!


Thursday, 25 March 2010

At last my GG is in bottle. This was actually the first vineyards we harvested way back on the 2nd of September 2009!

After spending 6 months in oak barrels at the Chai, the wine has clarified and stabilised perfectly all by itself so no pre-bottling filtration needed and that means this is the purest and most flavour-packed GG so far!

Once the bottling is under way, JMS head to the Entre Deux Mers USV Bottling Plant in Rauzan to check the Laithwaite Sauvignon for bottling next Monday. The winery here is absolutely amazing and super hi-tech which allows the Laithwaite Sauvignon to bottled under the best conditions possible which for a winemaker is, I imagine, sort of like sending your child to the top finishing school or university!

The winery was buzzing with lots of work uniformed top level cellar hands and cellar masters busily transferring wine and preparing them for the bottling. The smells and sounds reminded me of when I used to work in the huge Hardy’s winery back in Australia many years ago!

The French AOC rules and regulations require full analysis of all wines to be taken before bottling which includes quite a long list of things such as the alcohol level, TA (Total Acidity), pH, RS (Residual Sugar), VA (Volatile Acidity), Ntu (turbidity) and CO2 level (simply the amount of natural fizz still in the wine).

The place is very busy so I have to do the analysis myself, this is the other side to being a winemaker as we are all science laboratory-trained to carry out analysis – so it’s not always just driving around in 4x4’s wearing shorts, sunglasses and Blunstone boots!

Finally I arrive home and can’t wait to cook up something to match today’s bottled 2009 GG! On the menu for my wine match is something very seasonal; grilled pilchards, bbq blistered red peppers and a salad of coeur de boeuf tomatoes, basil, radis noir (black radish) and the aillet (fresh garlic shoots).

This flavoursome fresh oily fish grilled on the barbecue with the spicy touch of the radish and fresh garlic is for me perfect to go with GG, bon appetite and cheers!


Monday, 22 March 2010

It was a tough Saturday for us Anglais!

Anne-Marie put on a fantastic evening for the France vs England rugby match at the Comptoir de Genes bar/restaurant in our neighbouring village of St. Genes.

The locals had heard about the evening and that some ‘Anglais’ would be in the bar so I did my best during the day to rally together a team of ex-pats that I knew in the area. It was pretty slim pickings and I even had to drag Australians Janet and John along to make up the numbers as I just knew every single French person from a 5 mile radius would be there.

I was right, everyone was there! I didn’t even know there were that many people living in the village but it was great fun and the ambience was terrific. Although we English had to take quite a bit of stick after we lost, everyone was in good spirits!


Friday, 19 March 2010

Everyone’s In Town

JMS, Abi and our new global director Justin arrived in France yesterday to catch up on the developments of the Chai renovation and to show Justin the range of wines we have been making.

It has been quite a while since I have tasted all the Chai wines together on the same table and seeing all the bottles are standing next to each other (about 45 wines in total) it baffles me how we managed to make them all!

We tasted through all the whites before midday and managed to build up an appetite – the perfect excuse for a ‘Voyageur’ lunch. The Voyageur restaurant has now become a permanent fixture in our mini tour along with the Chai, Château La Clarière and St Emilion when members of our UK team visit us over here in France! Chips were on and the grilled chicken was superb and everyone left satisfied and ready to taste the Chai range of reds. During the afternoon Henry also showed everyone around Château La Clarière and we tasted the 2009 direct from barrel.

A very busy and hard working week ended with a superb BBQ for all the team at La Clarière. JMS performed his famous barrel smashing show and the fire was soon roaring away with oak and red wine aromas filling the air ready for the doorstep thick cote de beouf!


Thursday, 18 March 2010

I had heard and seen on the news about the huge snow fall down in the Midi last week

Driving down on Tuesday in 24 degree sunshine just days before, I couldn’t imagine any snow. That was until I passed through Limoux and even in the heat of today, the sides of the roads were piled with snow.

It was very strange indeed and when I stopped to take a look, the snow was like concrete! I later learned that the snow this time had come from the Mediterranean Sea and not the Pyrenees Mountains as normal and apparently, according to JC’s granddad, the flakes of snow from the sea are much larger, heavier and flatter causing much more compact snow – hence why the snow is still on the sides of the road!

I was driving down to the Midi on a bit of a whirlwind tour to check the 2009s, collect samples for our tasting today in Bordeaux and to oversee the safe transportation of the 2008 President XV from Maury to Narbonne and ensure the wine was put into bottle in perfect condition.

After a long day I went back to Maury to stay the night with my good friends Jean-Charles and Celine Duran and they cooked up a superb Bacalao (salted cod) a la Catalana followed by a superb chocolate fondant with a glass of ice cold rancio Maury!

The next morning I was at the Vignerons of Maury to collect samples of the just finished President XV 2009 to send to the prestigious competitions in the UK and France.

Henry was in town so we had arranged to catch up in the evening back in Bordeaux but before heading back I quickly stopped off in Perpignan to get some real special Catalane Sausage.We cooked them to perfection on some old vines. Every time I smell and taste them, it takes me back to my lunch breaks when I was working in the beautiful vineyards of French Catalonia!


Tuesday, 16 March 2010


A beautiful spring day here in Bordeaux today and Clare and I have a very exciting tasting in the Médoc at the prestigious 2nd growth Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux.

The Chateau is located right next door to Château Margaux, Château Palmer and Château Rauzan-Segla all of which can be seen from the panoramic tasting room windows.

Château Durfort-Vivens has such a magnificent terroir that different parcels (even rows!) are fermented and aged apart right until the final blending some 18 months after the harvest. We are very lucky because today we are to taste 25 of the very best 2009 vineyard parcels from which we can pick and choose to blend together to make our ‘Super Cuvee’!

After tasting through some very young but stunning wines, we finally came to a shortlist and began to blend. A little of this, more of that, too much, too little … this went on for some time until we found the perfect balance that will age beautifully in barrel and emerge in 18 months as a truly great wine.

When working with this quality of wine, the winemaker must skilfully use his tastebuds to judge and predict how the wine will react to the time in barrel and then very importantly, the bottle ageing over the next 5,10,15 and all being well 20 years on! With the characteristic violet Margaux aromas still lingering in our mouths and extremely black stained teeth, we departed the left bank and crossed into the right bank and back to Castillon.

By late afternoon I found myself weaving my way through a very sunny and warm Entre-Deux-Mers to Château Thieuley to check up on our new Bordeaux Clairet. Clariet is a very traditional style of wine here in Bordeaux because it is neither a red nor a rose wine but right in the middle of the two!

The ripe, deeply coloured red grapes are harvested as for red wine but once in the vat, the grapes will only stay for 4-5 days to obtain the deep red colour but not the tannins (red wine being 20 days and rose only 6-12hours).

The ‘Clairet’ is now transferred to a temperature controlled stainless steel vat and fermented very cold as if a white wine. The result is a perfect wine for summer barbeques; I recommend that you snap some up as soon as it is released, definitely one to try!


Friday, 12 March 2010

Happy Birthday Libby!

It was Libby’s birthday yesterday and we celebrated by eating at home with great food and some lovely wines we have kept cellared for quite sometime.

For the first course I cooked hand-dived scallops, pan fried with a cherry tomato and coriander/basil herb salsa, superbly matched with a lovely 2004 Les Hauts de Smith white from Pessac-Leognan. For the main course I made wild rabbit, rosemary and thyme Parma ham parcels, oven roasted with white wine and whole garlic paired with a beautiful Auxey-Duresses 2005.

The Chai seemed strangely ‘almost finished’ today as the windows went in and the ceilings were finished but realistically there is still a way to go! However the upstairs now look really amazing with the great oak beams highlighted against the ceiling and cream local limestone stone work.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Vent de Folie Blanc 2009 was taken out of barrel yesterday

Today it’s the turn of the GG 2009 to be blended and prepared for the bottling in two weeks time.

It’s a big job as most of the barrels are up six high on the barrels stacks so Cellar Master Petit Denis is here to help for the day. The wine is slowly and gently drawn from the barrel with a stainless racking spear until the barrel is empty.

The wine has to be prepared well in advance of the bottling date to ensure that it is clean and stable. Once we have racked off the sediment in barrel the wine is still a little hazy so we have to give it time to settle in the cold stainless steel vats.

The next thing to do is to stabilise the natural proteins that occur in the wine before filtration. If this is not done then, if the wine is slightly warmed – either in transport or just on the kitchen table overnight – the proteins will drop out of solution and cause the wine to appear extremely cloudy.

The proteins are stabilised by adding a very small dose of naturally-occurring earth like bentonite in a slurry form to the wine. Basically, the positive ions of the proteins stick to the negative ions of the bentonite when the slurry is added and mixed in. All the bentonite then gently sinks to the bottom of the vat leaving behind a bright, clear and protein free wine! The wine is now stable and ready for bottling.

The Chai is slowly emptying and now most of the reds have their appellation certificates, I can begin to prepare for their transport to the Chai. My Midi trip however has been cancelled tomorrow due to the huge freak snowfall in Catalonia and the Roussillon, so I have now planned to go next week to finalise all the 09’ Midi reds.


Monday, 8 March 2010

In The Midi

First thing this morning I met up with Andrée at Domaine Lalande in Carcassonne to taste and check the new Marsanne and the Viognier with my good friend and winemaker Antonio.

I have been working with Antonio for 5 years now and today it was our last tasting together as he is moving back to his home country of Portugal. It was quite sad as we have worked on many extremely enjoyable and successful projects together. Antonio also shares a great passion for wine like me so I will miss him immensely but he is staying in the wine trade so we will be sure to cross paths professionally at some point.

Andrée and I then headed into the fantastic wine country of the Minervois and the village of Le Rieux where we tasted through a set of fabulous 2009 reds; I have never had so many 5 out of 5s on my tasting notes! Be sure to look out for the new Minervois when it is released, I'll be sure to remind you! Next stop was my first time at the legendary Cellier Lauran Cabaret.

We tasted some excellent Caladoc which is vine crossing of Grenache/Malbec and Marselen, a Grenache/Cabernet crossing. All very exciting but the pioneer was actually Mr Tony Laithwaite! It was this very same winery where Tony and JMS first sourced the groundbreaking Garage Red to make in Bordeaux and here's me doing the same thing for the Chai many years later!

I spent so much time tasting and being intrigued with the beautiful wines from here I did a very un-French thing and forgot about leaving time for lunch! Much to Andrée’s disappointment she was now following me (and hungry) heading towards our meeting in my wine home of Maury for a meeting with Thierry Cazach.

I arrived at the Maury about five minutes before Andrée and I was just wondering where she had got to. Sure enough, in true Andrée style, she arrived with a picnic! Ham, cheese, baguettes, butter and a bar of chocolate. We ate it in the sunshine, almond trees in bloom in the Tramontane wind, it always amazes me how such simple things are so enjoyable!

In the next tasting we checked the President XV 09' and Syrah de Folie but what I was really eager for was the Maury Vin Doux Naturel (fortified wines) that we had made. We tasted through all the styles and residual sugar levels and it’s absolutely amazing that's all I can say!

Andrée left for home in Beziers whist I stopped at the jolly JC's for a tasting of the Vent de Folie 09'. The more JC and I learn, the better this wine gets – I am already looking forward to 2010!


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Off to the Midi, but work to do first!

With the bottling of the 2009 JMS yesterday and Le Grand Chai Bordeaux Blanc bottling underway this morning, I can finally leave for the Midi to check on all my other wines.

The builders have been busy and the new Dordogne Chai floor is almost in place!

So with bottling done and happy-ish builders, I make a break for the Midi!

I arrived late evening to the beautiful city of Carcassonne shrouded in a fine mist and looking rather eerie, walking the deserted cobbled streets towards the un-appetisingly named 'Brasserire de Donjon' felt strangely medieval!

At the restaurant I chose simple and it was good with a delightful wine from the Minervois La Liviniere AOC.

Busy day tomorrow, Andree and I actually visiting and tasting through Carcassonne, Limoux, Corbieres and Roussillon, hopefully finishing in Perpignan at a reasonable hour!



Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A horrendous storm blew through our village and into the City of Bordeaux on Saturday leaving a trail of destruction and no electricity on Sunday

However I was relieved to see everything calm and back to warm spring weather this morning for the 2009 Laithwaite Sauvignon bottling.

Once again the 2009 proves to yet again to be an all rounder of a vintage with this stunning crisp Sauvignon showing perfect balance in elegance and ripeness on both the nose and palate. You just have to get your nose in this!

We had lunch today with our new cork supplier. The cork debate never ceases and is a very technical and important subject, due to this being the closure that will ultimately preserve or not preserve your livelihood forever! I have an appreciation for both screw caps and different corks if used on the correct styles of wine.

We all prefer a natural cork but my problem, and many others agree, is the number of corked wines that occur with natural corks. It can be up to 5% or more of all wine bottled which is a hell of a lot when you are making small volume handcrafted wines as we are here at the Chai.

We feel strongly that certain wines need to be closed with cork so that the wine is allowed breath ever so slightly to enhance and evolve the wine so it is at its best for the consumer.

Today though I had a rather different tasting as JMS and I blind-tasted through some identical, high-quality older wines corked with both top grade cork and the new, so-called DIAM cork on the same day. Needless to say I found all the mysterious DIAM corked wines tasted better and fresher. The DIAM cork is on the left in the photograph.

The solution to all our problems has been found! And it comes from the DIAM cork, a natural real cork with a 100% guarantee to be free of off taints and odours. The DIAM cork starts out it life as whole natural cork but it is chopped up, treated with a chemical free, super-critical CO2 process and put back together again.

The end result is not quite as aesthetical as a normal ‘whole’ cork but if I was a customer I would be very pleased with the DIAM guarantee indeed! Look out for the discreet DIAM logo on the cork as proof!

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