Thursday, 19 April 2012

An early start at Le Chai

On Tuesday morning we got the racking of the Vent de Folie 2010 underway. All my wines are my babies but I have been working with Jean ‘JC’ Charles on the same vineyards for 11 years now, so this wine is like my grown up child! It’s therefore always a special day when the final blend comes together after 15 months’ barrel ageing.

Petit Denis moans like hell though when I make the decision to bring the Vent de Folie out of barrel because I insist on using 300-litre hogs heads; 75 litres bigger and much heavier than the Bordeaux barriques! However, once Denis smells the incredible Roussillon garrigue and black fig aromas from the old-vine Grenache (107 years old!) filling the cellar he forgets (as we both do) the graft required to hand craft this wine and is soon into the cellar groove. (Click here for more detailed info on the incredible Vent de Folie wine).

I leave late morning and do a bit of a JMS (am I becoming French?!) and get down to the Midi to meet Andrée just east of Narbonne in the beautifully named La Clape region. Admittedly I was a bit late because I stopped for lunch … I am becoming French!

When I arrived the weather was warm, the snow on the Pyrenees in the distance could clearly be seen and the Tramontane wind was in full force, but bud burst was well on its way.

The La Clape region, a unique outcrop of limestone, red clay and gravel, sits east of Narbonne along the Mediterranean coast in the Massif de la Clape and was actually an island until the River Aude silted up in the Middle Ages. It is one of the very best areas of the Côteaux du Languedoc and the main varietals are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. La Clape is also one of the only two appellations permitted to produce white wines under the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation. However I am here to taste red and where better than at Château Pech Celeyran in Salles de l’Aude? (Be sure to get the spelling right as there is also Salleles de l’Aude which although has extra ‘l’ and an ‘e’, in the thick Languedoc accent it is pronounced exactly the same way!)

Pech Celeyran is a magnificent 18th Century Languedoc Château owned by Monsieur Saint Exubery.
Question: how do can tell you’re in a Languedoc Château?
Answer: no, not the weather, but when the owner is raking the courtyard gravel himself (and to perfection might I add!)

It’s a great place with some stunning vineyard sites and although it looks traditional, the Saint Exubery new generation aren’t scared of modern ideas. It is here where I source some amazing southern French Pinot Noir.

I had a good look in the vineyard, too. It is very dry and still no rain forecast which will mean 2012 yields will inevitably be low. But on the good side, the hedgerows were full of wild green asparagus and I gathered as much as I could to take back with me to cook up in an omelette with the in-season Bordeaux wild garlic ‘aillet’. This Midi/Bordeaux combo is the food equivalent of the Part du Boucher wine!

The cellar is dominated by huge concrete vats and the walls are so thick they can’t be knocked down so they built smaller stainless steel tanks inside them!

I then left in the direction of Beziers for a quick taste at Domaine Cousergues in Montblanc before heading into Beziers for dinner.

Beziers has a certain charm which can be described in a nice, ‘Marseille old town’ kind of way as ‘rough as hell’, but I love it! Wander down Avenue Paul Riquet (named after engineer who masterminded the mind-blowing construction of the Canal du Midi) and take a beer or, more traditionally, a pastis in the oldest bar in town, the Café La Comedie. Then a bite to eat in the very well priced l’Octopus restaurant for Michelin one star dining, or as I prefer in the La Compagnie des Comptoirs.

The following morning I headed north to the tiny lost village of Neffies high above Beziers in the foothills the Massif Central, where an original roman statue of the head of Emperor Hadrian was found. The soils are made up of schist (slate) and granite and of the many wines I tasted I noticed clearly that the Syrah here has very similar black olive characters, just like Syrah de Folie grown on the schist of Maury. It is a fascinating area with a great deal of good wines being produced and a real gem of a find. Before leaving I bagged a few local wines for home and I will certainly be back for more!

But for now it’s back to Bordeaux where I hear the good news of much-needed rain.

Bottling the Secrets des Etoiles 2010 at Le Chai tomorrow morning …

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Des Voyageurs: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

Yesterday evening we received the terrible news that our much-loved restaurant Des Voyageurs in Castillon had suffered severe, extensive damage by fire. Madame Mimi and Monsieur Marches have been running this incredible restaurant for as long as anyone can remember and I am so glad I have been able to eat here regularly over the last 5 years. The food is fresh, rustic, country French cooking, using produce purchased at the early local markets each day. The menu changes everyday and normally a choice of two or three main dishes will be on offer.

The 70-year-old deaf chef Yves Marches (a top French boules player in his heyday) is larger than life, shouting and bawling with a smile, cooking everything on the vine fuelled BBQ. Communication though is non-existent and the various mad waitresses would be challenged to deliver each plate to the right person. Luckily, the tireless Madame Mimi runs the front of house, bar, till and generally keeps the ship from sinking. Claudette the waitress once managed to serve nine wrong plates out of nine to us, impressive! But you just eat what you’re given as everything cooked up is superb.

A special mention must go to ‘chip man’ whose daily task is to buy the fresh spuds, peel, wash, change the oil and fry the frites to perfection without uttering a single word. Unless it’s cold outside; then the electricity tariff is raised. Chef then bans the use of the chip fryer, on which a red light comes on and delivers the soul-destroying news of ‘no frites’ to the dining room. The ambiance of the Le Voyageurs is like home and I feel happier nowhere else than sat amongst what feels like the ‘voyageur family’.

It is truly tragic that one of the last of the real bistros in France has disappeared. Not only did it serve wonderful French food, it was a place to meet, to learn, to gossip, to relax, to forget, to laugh. Most importantly, it was a pillar stone for the community where the rich, the poor, the professionals, the old, the mad, the travellers, the locals and the lost could find refuge. Long live Des Voyageurs.

The last Voyageur meal I had was Good Friday and the 13€ menu was:
• Œuf Mimosa avec Thon Mayonnaise and Carotte Râpe et Olives Noirs
• Bavette Steak échalote, salade et Frites
• Selection de Fromages
• Chocolaté Éclair Maison
• Vin rouge de Castillon et Pain
• Café
What was your last meal at Des Voyageurs?

However if asked what would be my ‘last supper’ this is what I would reply:

What would be your last Voyageur meal on earth?
Whatever the Voyageur was serving that day, but I would have my fingers crossed for vegetable soup, duck hearts (and praying that the red light was off), followed by cheese and frangipane for dessert.

What would be the setting for the meal?
Tuesday at Midday seated on the long benches and tables in the ‘back room’ of Des Voyageurs Restaurant in Castillon La Bataille, France.

What would you drink with your meal?
Tuesday’s local wine (tip: Mondays wine is usually left over from last Friday) but as it’s a special occasion; served out of magnums into tumblers, maybe a sneaky Pertuisane 2002 and Calvados to finish.

Would there be music?

No. France 3 news on the TV in the background. Chef wouldn’t be able to hear the music and everyone would be loudly talking and laughing.

Who would be your dining companions?
Mum, Dad, my sister Lindsay and niece Aimee, Libby, Libby’s mum, dad and brother Pete; the Laithwaites Tony, Barbara, Henry, Kaye, Tom, Will; Yves Gelie, JMS, Hartley, Jose, Janet and John, Martin, Lucie and Jessie Crook, best mate Glyn Le Var, Alistair Nesbit, James Macdonald, Petit Denis, Caleb, Todeschini brothers, the ‘back room’ locals, Keith Floyd and Bob Dylan.

Who would prepare the meal?
M. Yves Marches and ‘chipman’

Who would be serving?
The evil bitch and braless Elizabeth, of course.

You only realise and appreciate what you have once its gone, so what would your answers to these questions be?

My heart goes out to Mimi and Yves Marches and the community of Castillon. Will we ever see the ‘Des Voyageurs’ again?

A poem by Delmore Schwartz:
Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn…)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(…that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn…)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn . . .)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(…that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;

Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Last Day of The Primeurs: St.Emilion et Pomerol

The last day of the Primeurs and today was time to concentrate on St.Emilion, Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol, only two appellations but a lot of wine to get through!

I started at the Circle Rive Droite held at Château Grand Barrail which has a bit of everything from the right bank and it’s great for tasting the generic Bordeaux red and white wines.

I began with the Bordeaux whites that were showing very well indeed and I can safely say our Laithwaite Sauvignon 2011 is certainly up at the top. Here are my scores out of 5 and brief notes:

Thieuley aromatic grassy, rich fruit limey acid 4.7
Magrez Frombrauge: peach, limes, lovely balance 4.7
Thieuley Cuvée Francis Courselle: Brioche, ripe melon good acid 4.4
Reynon (Dubourdieu): gun flint, citrus, balance 4.1
Thieuley Clairet: fresh strawberry fruit, lots of flavour 4
Haut Bertiniere Grand Vin: gun flint, vanilla 3.9
Hostens Picant: cheese hint, fatter 3.8
Haut Bertiniere Elegance (Blaye): zesty, fresh simple 3.8
Cote Monpezat: green apple, sample problem?

And the reds:

Reignac: nice wood, cassis 4.5
BalTHVS: good tight, coffee 4.5
Thieuley Francis Courselle: ripe, creamy wood 4.5
Girolate: rich, elegant, good tannin 4.4
Mirambeau: spicy, intense 4.2
Thieuley: fresh fruit and drinkable style 4
De Tastes: good fruit, 4
Penin les Cailloux: concentrated fruit 4
Mont Perat: more fin 3.9
Penin no SO2: lots fruit, strawberry milkshake 3.9
Beaulieu Grande Reserve: black fruits, acid+ 3.8

I made a stop at the always-exciting tasting at Jean-Luc and Muriel Thunevin's house in the heart of St.Emilion. Jean-Luc and Muriel always invite friends from around France, Spain and Italy to present their wines alongside their Bordeaux.

Here are my scores for the very impressive Thunevin range:

Valandraud: amazing nose, lovely tannin balanced acidity 4.9
Clos badon: big rich fruit 4.7
Virginie: great fruit, class 4.7
Valandraud Blanc: leesy nose, phenolic but lots of fruit 4.5
Virginie Valandraud Blanc: good acid and lime: 4.4
Bel Air Ouy: good fruit, nice body and tannins 4.4
3 de Valandraud: quite lean? 3.8

Always nice canapes served in the lovely little garden and plenty of friendly faces of people I know so I stuck around for a glass of Haut Carles 2009 Fronsac and some delicious snacks. Glad to see an old friend from the Midi, Mr Serge Rousse serving up the trays of nibbles! Great ambiance, that’s what counts, ‘grand merci’ to Jean-Luc and Muriel.

After the bite to eat I tasted some of the non Bordelais or ‘etranger’ wines. Very interesting. Here is what I liked:

Domaine Buisson Charles, Meursault 1er Cru’s Les Cras, Goutte d’Or, Bouches Cheres and Charmes
Château Capion Languedoc
Franchetti and Passopisciaro Sicily
Aalto Ribera Del Duero

And a lovely Rueda Verdejo but someone kept talking to me and I forgot to write it down!

Back to right bank wines and I made my way to the UGCB St.Emilion Grand Cru Classe tasting at the impressive Château Soutard. Since Francois Deligneris (a friend and owner of the infamous wine bar ‘L'Envers du Décor’ in St.Emilion) sold the property it has had a lot money ploughed into it and the whole exterior of the Château has been cleaned and a new cellar built.

I found the 2011 St.Emilions an elegant style with good fruit but acidity fairly high, maybe a year that will age well? Here are my scores:

St Emilion Grand Cru Classe
Figeac: blackcurrants, perfumed, elegant, 4.6
Larcis Ducasse: ripe fruit, good weight long 4.6
Clos Dubreuil: concentrated, rich 4.6
Dassault: plum cake, sweet fruit, raisons 4.5
Fourtet: red berry, bramble, nice balance 4.5
La Gaffeliere: plum, ripe palate 4.5
Beausejour Becot: black fruit, tight very cassis, good acid and spice 4.5
La Dominque: perfumed, elegant rich 4.4
Grand Mayne: spicy, mocha, nice tannins 4.4
Canon la Gaffeliere: rich cassis, lovely palate 4.4
Troplong Mondot: riper fruit, weight 4.3
Franc Mayne: cassis, good concentration, fine 4.2
La Couspaude: dense nose, toasty, rich 4.2
Larmande: spicy, nice fruit 4.1
Cap de Mourlin: raisins, fruit driven 4.1
Balestard La Tonnelle: savoury, elegant 4.1
Fleur Cardinal: grilled, cassis, good rich palate 4.1
Bellefont Belcier: rich cassis, good grip 4
Villemaurine: perfumed, elegant 4
Trotteveille: elegant, acid, light 4
Soutard: cassis, classic palate 4
Clos des Jacobin: good wood rich 3.9
Fonplegade; gamey, tight 3.6
La Marzelle: savoury, tannins 3.4
La Tour Pin Figeac: minty, acid+ lacks body 3.2
Pavie Maquin: stewed fruit, acid 3.9

St. Emilion Grand Cru
La Garelle: Brett! 1
La Croizille: raisons, over ripe 2
Magrez Frombrauge: nice fruit, fresh and elagant 3.9
Mangot: elegant, fine tannin 4.1
Pressac: rich elegant, balanced palate 4
Frombrauge: elegant, charming 4
Mangot Quintessence: riper dense great palate and spicy 4.2
Mangot Todeschini: tight, grip on palate 4.2
Pas de l'Ane: toasty+, light palate 3.2
Sansonnet: perfumed, acid+ elegant style, good finish 3.8
Clos Dubreuil: closed, dense, mocha 3.9
Petit Figeac: tight, hard 3.3
Boutisse: good barrel and weight 3.8
Grand Destieu: peachy fruit, raisiny 3.7

I made a little detour to Château Fleur de Bouard in Lalande Pomerol for two reasons: to taste Château Angelus also owned by Monsieur De Bouard; and to see the amazing cellar built and designed by Patrick Lejeune, stainless steel cone vats hanging from the ceiling, WOW!

My tasting notes:
Angelus: brooding dark fruit, spice and power, velvet and long 4.9
Carillon de l'Angelus: dense, smoky, earth black fruit, silky elegant long 4.4

Back onto the original route and to beautiful (hence its name) Château Beauregard for the Pomerol tasting.

The top Pomerol wines were just superb and I think the best of the 2011 Bordeaux vintage; Château Petit Village almost perfection, my notes:

Petit Village: elegant ripe classy fruit, great balance 4.9
La Conseillante: blackberry leaf, tight, structure, powerful finish 4.9
Gazin: ripe plum, dense long 4.9
Beauregard: sweet blackcurrants, ripe, elegant velvet 4.8
La Clemence: aromatic+ perfumed, lovely 4.8
Le Bon Pasteur: dense, tar, concentrated 4.7
Clinet: herbal, black fig, nice acid 4.7
La Croix de Gay: spicy, savoury, cassis, big tannins but ripe 4.6
Clos du Clocher: spicy, savoury, tight plum fruit 4.5
La Pointe: ripe plums, tight 4.5
Rouget: white fruits, black plum, structured 4.5
La Gomerie St E: elegant, good fruit 4.4
La Fleur de Gay: savoury, tight, cinnamon 4.3
Clos Beauregard: peach lift, plum 4.3
La Cabanne: creamy cassis, perfumed, fruit but shorter 4.3
Manoir de Gay: cherry liquer, elegant 4.2
Fayat: ripe red fruit, long 4.2
Montiviel: sweet plum, leaner 4

It was a long day and I started dreaming of a cold beer at the Comptoir but on the way home I passed Château La Couspaude where Michel Rolland’s wines were being presented, couldn't resist having a nosey so nipped in for a quick taste. Place was empty apart from one person… Michel Rolland himself! His wines have been added to my tastings but the AOC Bordeaux Fleur Saint Antoine was excellent for a non classe wine.

Bottling 2010 Grand Chai Montagne St.Emilion tomorrow morning and then off to Bergerac’s Cave Sigoules to prepare the all-new 2011 Fontclose AOC Bergerac white.

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Day Three: Bordeaux Primeurs

Today’s 2011 Castillon Primeur tasting was not far away, held at the lovely little Château Ambe Tour Pourret, a stone’s throw from St.Emilion village. It was great to see a devoted tasting in a good setting for the much-deserved Castillon wines. The reason it wasn't in Castillon is because wine tasters get lazy after lots of tasting and don't like travel too far, so like the Sauternes tasting in Margaux yesterday it was a good venue for people to pop in and taste.
(Photo sign and Château Ambe Tour Pourret)

There was a big selection and although I live here, I always come across Châteaux I’ve never heard of … I’m sure Tony would tell you the same! Anyway a good tasting, but not sure about the organic wines being put on a table apart called ‘Les Bio'rdeaux’ and the rest on the ‘Les Traditionnels’ table so I have put them all together in the global tasting. The 2011 tasted good and great to see the top wines clearly standing out including Tony's own Château La Clarière-Laithwaite.

For anyone interested, here are my tasting scores out of five with simple quick notes. Those with a ‘B’ are organic. A few big names missing and would be nice to see them as people like to taste the best for a reference, it often helps winemakers to aim higher. There are a few oddities (possibly dud samples) but generally the scores come in high.

D'Aiguilhe: lovely toasty spicy wood ripe cassis and plums, concentrated balanced 4.7
La Clarière Laithwaite: strong ripe plum, elegant strawberry lift, herbal, tight but balanced good tannins 4.4
Le Pin Belcier: ripe, rich plums, savoury, balanced and ace tannins, long 4.4
Cuvee d'Lisse: deep black fruits, spice concentration good acidity and length 4.3
La Brande: spicy, black fruits, good balance long 4.2
D'aiguilhe Querre: black fruits, good weight and wood, nice tannins 4
Cap de Faugeres: elegant sweet cassis nose, tight palate 4
Roque le Mayne: grilled meat, smoky, good chewy palate 4
Cote Monpezat: grilled black fruit, lots of wood but nice 3.9
Fontbaude: black fruits and spice, good rich palate 3.9 B
Clos Puy Arnaud: elegant ripe cassis and plum 3.9 B
Peyrou: spice, black fruits, tight but rich 3.9 B
Poupille: tarte fraise, raisons, tight, balanced 3.8 B
Claud Bellevue: closed, minty, nice balanced palate 3.8
Aster de Beaulieu: slight reduction, good balance 3.7
Valmy Durbourdieu-Lange: rich nose, chewy palate, 3.7 B
Du Tertre Bel Air: clean fresh cassis, good balance and tannins, long 3.7 B
La Rose Poncet: nice fruit and spice, good palate 3.6
Brisson: green apple, red currents, good concentration 3.6
De Belcier: creamy, ripe plum, weight but short 3.6
Grand Tertre: perfumed, good fruit simple 3.2
La Roche Beaulieu: smoky bacon, tight elegant palate 3.2
Lamartine: concentrated raisons, little short 3
Bel-Air: sweet cherry and strawberry, light, perfumed 3
Fontpeyre Clement: smoky, black fruit, plums, acid a little high. Ok 3 B
Ch Brehat: perfumed, light fruity 2.9
Beynat: perfumed, ok fruit, simple 2.9 B
Ampelia: sweet cassis, fruity mid palate, acid finish 2.8 B
L'Estang: red fruits, light 2.8
Des Demoiselles: good black fruits, lots of tannin (not wood) 2.8
Prieur Saint-Florent: reduced, simple fruit 2.8
Robin: elegant cassis, light 2.7
Oryade: burnt match, light 2.6
Moulin de Clotte: light cassis, dilute 2.4
Canon Montsegur: pressy nose, light 2.3
Clos Vedelago: fresh red fruit, light 2.3
Pitray: light and green 2.2
Ch Terrasson cuvee Prevenche: red fruits, simple, brett on finish? 2
La Fleur Fompeyre: reduced, thin fruit 2.1 B
Cafol: red fruit, acid+ 2 B
Bois Robin: grilled nuts, light, acid+ 2 B
Lescaneaut: animal, acid 2 B
Les Fleurs de Trentin: brett B
Des Rochers: brett, green apple
Identité Ch. La Nauze: ethanol, green apple sample problem?
La Nauze: green apple, chocolate sample problem?
Franc Le Fleur cuvée Mouna: green apple, acid+ sample problem? B
Franc Le Fleur: sample problem? B

Time for a beer! Tomorrow I hit Saint Emilion and Pomerol.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Day Two: Bordeaux Primeurs

Not as sunny today; a bit grey and overcast with a few splatters of rain, but still no sign of the much-needed rain here in Bordeaux. I started the day by heading for the lovely Château Fieuzal in Pessac-Leognan to taste the 2011 white and reds from Graves and Pessac-Leognan.

The whites were of very good quality and highly aromatic with beautiful balance, good acidity and I think some lovely ageing potential. The reds were more inconsistent, but of a generally high standard and the reputed Châteaux all coming out on top. Please see my very brief tasting comments and scores out of 5:

Graves White
Chantegrive: super aromatic 4.5
Rahoul: good palate, zesty 3.5
Ferrande: very rich, little too creamy 3

Pessac Leognan White
Pape Clement: gun flint, lovely finesse 4.8
Malartic-Lagraviere: very good, its all there 4.6
Chevalier: very aromatic, lots of fruit and acidity 4.5
Smith Haut Lafitte: grassy, limey good weight acid balance 4.5
Latour-Martillac: fab nose, great palate, long 4.4
Carbonnieux: peachy with more acid 4
Fieuzal: good, aromatic 4
Olivier: tight, nettles 4
Bouscaut buttery, good weight 3.8
La Louviere: grassy, zesty, long 3.8
Larrivet Haut Brion: big, richer, lots of body 3.5
Pique Caillou: high acid. Ok 3.8
Haut Bergey: lemony, nice acid, shorter 3

Graves Red
Chantigrive: smoky bacon, Twiglets 3.5

Pessac-Leognan Red
Haut Bailly: perfumed, elegant, rich nice tannins and wood 4.8
Pape Clement: rich, raisons and chocolate, long finish 4.5
Smith Haut Lafitte: delicate, savoury 4.5
Les Carmes Haut Brion: rich, lots of black fruit 4
La Louviere: chewy, smoky 4.2
Fieuzal: elegant all round 4.2
Latour Martillac: savoury, high acid, wood 4
Domaine de Chevalier: concentrated 4
Carbonnieux: lovely fruit, less weight 3.9
Malartic Lagraviere: perfumed nice tannin 3.8
Pique Caillou: red fruit, rich, some acid 3.8
Olivier: meaty 3.5
Larrivet Haut Brion: high pH? But big and rich 3.5
Bouscaut: acid+ tight 3.5

After a wonderful lunch of salmon tartare, succulent chicken breast wrapped around fresh fois gras accompanied perfectly by 2009 white and red les Abeilles de Fieuzal I headed north to Margaux. First stop was Château Kirwan for dessert and a first taste of the 2011 Sauternes.

I was in two minds here and I either loved or not so loved the wines, but what I liked got highly rated, see below:

Rayne Vigneau: honeyed, lovely balance 4.9
Rieussec: delicious, superb 4.9
Doisy Daene: lemon curd and beautifully balanced 4.8
La Tour Blanche: rich and fresh 4.5
Guiraud: lovely but heavier 4.5
D'Arche: finer style, nice acid 4
Suduiraut: good botrytis but shorter 3.7
Lamothe: good nose and better acid 3.5
Ch de Fargues: good marmalade with citrus, full acid low 3.4
Nairac: lemony, rich but simple. 3
Filhot: little reduced, good acidity, simple fruit 2.8

With the palate refreshed the next visit was a couple miles up the road to Château Marquis de Terme for the Margaux tasting. The tasting room was fabulous and led onto the purple lit barrel cellar!

The Margaux wines scored highly and I really liked the consistency and palate weight. Here are my scores:

Kirwan: big ripe 4.5
Rauzan Segla: perfumed orange peach, weight and grip 4.4
Marquis de Terme: perfumed rich, elegant 4.2
Du Tertre: tight, rich elegant 4.2
Prieurie Lichine: fab nose, tight palate good wood 4
Malescot Saint-Exupery: more tannin but good 4
Lascombes: nice wood, vanilla 4
Desmirail: perfumed, elegant 4
Brane-Cantenac: lovely violet and sweet cassis, violets lighter body 4
Giscours: lighter 3.8
Cantenac Brown: cassis, wood 3.7
Angludet: stinky, cassis 3.7
Rauzan Gassies: good nose lighter mid palate 3.7

With blackened teeth I continued a further 20km’s north to the amazing Château Lagrange in Saint Julien for the Pauillac, Saint Estephe and Saint Julien tasting. It was another incredible entrance with endless perfectly stacked barrels greeting you on the way in.

The wines were as expected leaner although I was very impressed with some of the top end wines considering the hail problems of 2011.


Beychevelle: rich, velvet 4.8
Guraud Larose: cassis, sweet fruit finer 4.4
Batailley: richer cassis nice wood 4.1
Branaire Ducru: elegant, soft 4
Lagrange: tighter, elegant, more acid 4
Leoville Barton: chocolate orange, lean 3.9
Langoa Barton: good, lighter 3.8
Clerc Milon: perfumed, tight elegant 3.8
Gloria: lean, 3.7
Talbot: Pencil shavings thin 3.4

Lynch Bages: perfume and fruit, body, big wine 4.5
Pichon Longueville: savoury, cassis, herbs, good weight 4.5
Grand Puy Ducasse: rich cassis, grippy, good weight 4.2
Pichon Comptesse: herbal, rich, tight 4.1
Croizet Bages: perfumed chocolate concentration 4
Grand Puy Lacoste: tight, good length 4
D'Armailhac: savoury, plum 3.9

Pez: rich big good structure 4.3
Ormes de Pez: perfumed, elegant cassis fruit, tight palate 4.2
Lafon Rochet: rich, good weight 4
Clos Labory: graphite, alcohol? Wood+ 3.9
Phelan Segur: closed, lighter 3.6

A long but enjoyable day and with the Bordeaux ‘bouchon’ (the insane evening traffic jam) playing on my mind I left for home, just escaping the traffic I arrived home and inspired by the very good Château Chantegrive 2011 I slipped a 2010 into the fridge for tonight’s dinner! Tomorrow I am staying local and tasting my home wines of Castillon.

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Monday, 2 April 2012

Bordeaux Primeur Week

This week sees the annual tastings of the previous year’s wine kick off in Bordeaux. The week is devoted to the first-glimpse tastings of the 2011 vintage from all the Bordeaux wine regions. Wine professionals from the world over attend tastings held by associations and individual chateaux, the evenings are also full of organised dinners. It’s going to be a busy week.

My morning kicked off at our Le Chai in Castillon where today we are racking and blending the 2010 Syrah de Folie ready for bottling in 10 days’ time. Once things were under way I left operations in the safe hands of cellar master Petit Denis and headed for Saint Emilion.

Twitter had been buzzing all morning with the news of wine journalists, winemakers and wine buyers arriving in Bordeaux for the week’s events. My plan is to start in the Saint Emilion satellites and then over the next four days make my way tasting through Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol, Saint-Emilion itself, Pomerol, Castillon, Sauternes, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux, Pessac-Léognan, Graves and up into the Médoc for Margaux, Listrac, Moulis, Pauillac, St.Julien and St.Estèphe.

Today I started at the Salle des Dominicans in the heat of Saint-Emilion Village and tasted firstly through Montagne, Saint-Georges, Lussac and Puisseguin.

The wines were very variable with a real mixed bag of wine quality. In general Montagne was good but with a noticeable acidity, Saint-Georges seemed riper, Pusseguin perfumed but acidic and Lussac much softer tannins.

I moved onto Fronsac and the big names of Châteaux Fontenil (Michel Rolland), La Dauphine and Haut Carles were my favourite of the day; all rich and balanced. But a new discovery for me was Olivier Decelle’s Chateau Haut Ballet which was tasting lovely. Canon-Fronsac seemed less quality but I feel quite a few were let down by poor sample preparation, always a problem when showing wines so early in the ageing process.

The cold morning had developed into a warm and sunny day and the start of bud burst could be clearly seen in the vineyards. People better get them canes tied down quick! Buds are so easy to knock off bending the canes down to the fruiting wire. It’s an early bud burst and the forecast for more cold weather means we are not out of the woods yet. Fingers crossed for no last-minute frosts.

In the afternoon I tasted Lalande de Pomerol which was very good indeed, good concentration with supple palates. It was great to see Bertrand Massonie – our Grand Chai Lalande de Pomerol source – turning out a lovely Château Perron and top cuvee La Fleur.

Tomorrow I am heading to the Medoc to see how their 2011s have turned out.

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