Friday, 17 December 2010

Montagne St.Emilion

Today I was in Montagne St.Emilion, which is called locally a St.Emilion ‘satellite’ – along with St.Georges, Puisseguin and Lussac. The satellites are situated to the north-north east of St.Emilion, and the drive up is really stunning as the view from Montagne looks out over all the other appellations.

However I was here not for the views, but to check on our first Grand Chai Montagne St.Emilion – and 2009 must be the perfect year to start! The vineyards are located on the highest point of Montagne and sit between the two hills that create Montagne. The vineyards are on the border to St.Georges St.Emilion and this area has the reputation for making the richest wines of all the satellites due to the micro climate.

Our 2009 is currently in barrel – all French oak – in an underground secret location! Once inside the cellar I soon got busy with the cellar master tasting every barrel. The wines have developed beautifully and the silky tannins meant we extracted perfectly during the vinification 15 months ago.

I decided the exact blend and that we will make the soutirage (taking wine out of the barrel to vats) first week of January 2011. I also tasted the 2010’s but these wines are still very young and extremely raw; but the good news is that the oak is starting to integrate into the wine, so it will be interesting to taste again in the New Year.

And with Remy’s new menu now up I couldn’t resist to stop by for lunch at Le Comptoir de Genès! It’s great and the menu is full of interesting dishes such as marrow bone, pigeon and deer, so if you’re in the area be sure to make time to stop off for lunch!


Thursday, 16 December 2010

Dans Le Midi

Just had a great trip down to the Midi – and it’s a great time of year as the reds are all showing their true selves, just as I planned back at harvest time.

I met up with Jean-Marc and Becca (Midi buyer) in Narbonne early afternoon and our first stop was to see Hervé and Laurent in Prat de Cest just south of Narbonne city to taste a range of wines from the Cotes Catalans and Roussillon such as the Chante Clair and Domaine Ginestiere. All the wines were showing lovely ripe complex aromas proving the 2010 is another all rounder vintage.

Extremely mild temperatures the following day at 19ºC whilst the north of the country was at 0ºC! We had an appointment at Chateau d'Aussières in the Corbières, owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild of the famous Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac. They have a magnificent project here in the Languedoc and are making some stunning wines, mixing an interesting mix of Midi terroir with Bordeaux winemaking techniques.

The property sits in the Fontfroide valley of the Pays d’Oc near Narbonne, totaling 167ha of vines. The Chateau has a long history of winemaking going way back to the Roman era. In 1999, when the estate was acquired, the vineyards were severely neglected and were all ripped up followed by an extremely precise soil analysis of the entire domaine. Once the complex information was gathered a large detailed map was drawn up and grape varieties were chose to suit each soil type.

The results are amazing, and at only 10 years old the hard work is paying off already by producing extraordinary wines from such young vineyards. We were shown around by Eric Kohler who is responsible for all the Baron's wineries and winemaking projects across the world outside of Bordeaux. We tasted the Corbières Chateau d’Auissières made using traditional Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan and Cinsault followed by the Vin de Pay wines (now called IPG if it wasn't confusing enough already!) made from an interesting blend of Midi and classic Bordeaux varietals.

A few nice eats in Narbonne and Carcassonne with some really good wines along the way. I had scallops with a good Midi Chardonnay, hare with fresh black truffles and tripe which went very well with a big ripe Fitou. I stole a bit of JMS's ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) and a slurp of Pic St Loup red which was heaven (even better as he didn't notice!), and all the homemade deserts including the chocolate mousse, apple cake, fudge tart went well with the stunning 1945 Rivesaltes!

Next day. First I was in Sallèles d’Aude to prepare the 2010 XV President for tomorrow’s bottling. The wine is incredibly fresh bursting with black cherries and a wine makers dream to get this in bottle so early!

Afterwards I continued on to meet winemaker Jeff Carel in Peyriac de Mer – a beautiful village situated on the edge of the old salt lakes, now a nature reserve and full of pink flamingos! Tasted through some 2009 and 2010’s with Jeff at his house and left for Carcassonne to meet my Aussie mate and winemaker Richard Osborne at Domaine Lalande. A quick lunch and tease about the cricket and we were straight back to the tasting room making the final blends of the Madame F white – a beautiful and unusual blend of Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc.

Being so close to Castelnaudary (official home of cassoulet) it was impossible to resist a REAL Castelnaudary cassoulet as there are so many fakes out there. This one though was the real thing and piping hot: good leg of confit duck, authentic Toulouse sausage in a wonderful organic white haricot bean tomato sauce – glass of ripe wild garrigue, 2008 Boutenac-Corbieres was spot on!

The mild temperature didn’t stay around long and the temperature plummeted for the trip back to Bordeaux – and early this morning the Chai was a Christmas card scene!


Monday, 6 December 2010

Mulled Wine The Winemaker’s Way!

Libby and I went to the Marche de Noel (Christmas market) in a freezing and wet St.Emilion on Sunday. The Marché was held inside in the beautiful Sales des Dominicains where we were greeted on the door by a very jolly and red faced man ladling mulled wine or 'vin chaud' into cups and claiming very boisterously that he made the best mulled wine in France because he used his top wine and subtle selected spices.

The idea of Mulled wine on a cold Sunday has always appealed to me but I have never enjoyed one before as they are always too sweet or too much cinnamon or clove – but this happy chap’s mulled wine actually lived up to his claims and tasted great. The merlot character still remained strangely but effectively enhanced by the well chosen spices – which gave me an idea!

On returning home full of festive spirit, out of the bitterly cold rainy weather and original Narnia episodes on the TV I began some experimentation in the kitchen to warm us up before our Sunday roast and since Midi is my favourite area I thought a Mulled Midi wine using my President XV 2009 would be perfect.

Here is my Mulled Midi wine recipe:

1 bottle of XV du President
110g sugar
1 vanilla pod split
1 clove
300ml of water
3/4 juice of 1 lemon
Zest of one lemon (peeled into strips with potato peeler)
1 bay leaf
1-2 juniper berries

Add all bring to boil, infuse for 10 minutes and ladle away!

After my experiments I can actually say that mulled wine makes sense: all the flavours used such as clove, vanilla, cinnamon can be found in oak barrels. Why not try your own version maybe with a Madame F or, if feeling flush, a Petrus?!

Tasted some nice wines over the weekend:
1998 Alsace Grand Cru Riesling from the Siegriest family – lovely with a spicy curried sea bass fillet
2005 Gemma Barolo – matched really well with Spanish baked cod and romesco sauce
Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2009 from Chile – fabulous with the simple Sunday roast chicken and sage stuffing


Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Yesterday Henry, Lee (UK vineyard manager), James and I braved the cold and the terrible Bordeaux traffic to get to the exhibition halls to visit the biggest winemaking show in the world, ‘Vinitech’.

The show is held every two years and exhibits everything from tractors, vineyard posts, vines and corks to cellar products and gadgets – you name it someone has made it. There are designs that are pratical and those bordering on madness!

Henry and Lee went straight to the vineyard hall whilst James and I headed to see the barrel makers we buy the Chai barrels from. It is a fantastic opportunity to taste some experimental wines that have been aged or fermented in a huge range of oak barrel types.

My interest was to taste some northern Rhone white Roussanne and Marsanne the same grape varieties as we have in the Chai to check the competition and steal/learn a few tricks of the trade to help us make wines next year.

The show is also an opportunity for the various manufacturers to show off new ranges and experimental equipment. My favourite was the egg wooded vat which I am sure if Salvador Dali was alive he would love!

After walking the seemingly endless halls of the show we headed into Bordeaux for a bite to eat. I stumbled across a lovely 2006 Pessac-Leognan from Domaine de la Solitude on the wine list for dinner. Pessac-Leognan is a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from the south side of Bordeaux city, and from my point of view a very underrated appellation, but delicious none the less; and yes we make one at the Chai so do try our very own Grand Chai Pessac-Leognan.

This morning was absolutely freezing, and as I stepped out of my house I was startled by a beret-wearing French man and his Jack Russell rummaging around my garden under the oak trees! I suddenly recognized him and quickly remembered the last time I saw him was December last year doing the same thing. He was the local truffle man, sniffing out for rare black truffles which grow only on the oak roots in certain soils and conditions. Fingers crossed, hopefully tonight I will have a couple of truffles to taste!