Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Little Gem and Right on our Doorstep

Just when you think you know an area like the back of your hand, something pops up out of nowhere to put you back in you place.  It all began when Jean-Marc tasted a sample of really lovely St-Emilion 2011 and asked me to go and check out the property first hand to see if the sample matched the wine in barrel.

All I had to go on was a mobile number of one Monsieur Cazenave in Saint-Genes des Castillon. I called at least five times the first four were answered but all I could hear was a muffled voice swearing in French at “poches!, trop de poches!, pourquoi les portables si petit, c’est la m***e!” However, on the last call Monsieur Cazenave had managed to get his minuscule mobile out of one of his many pockets and was in fine form!

I asked if I could come and visit his cellar to taste his wines which he was very happy about and then proceeded to tell me in the greatest detail (reminiscent of a Fast Show sketch)  “turn left after the rotting log then you’ll see a mushroom, turn right here……” and so on.  We agreed to meet on Monday at nine in the morning but I would have to call 35 minutes before so he could meet me at the cellar.

A bitterly cold Monday soon came and so I called Monsieur Cazenave as agreed. Sure enough, on the fifth call he duly answered but by now I was only 10 minutes away so I had to stop and have a coffee to delay my arrival; the last thing you want to be doing in this situation is be early! 

I spend much of my daily life (and maybe 99% of my lunchtime life) in an around the village of St-Genes and the road I was instructed to take to get to his cellar I had never even seen!  The road winds into some woodland and down into a little valley bordering St-Emilion and Castillon. Fortunately the detailed directions were inch perfect and I soon saw old Monsieur Cazenave jumping up and down waving his arms.  The tiny vineyards plot was frozen solid and reading -5°C on the car dash but after a strong hand shake I was ushered into the tiny warm cellar.

 Monsiuer Cazenave explained to me that he was now in his mid eighties and had studied winemaking at Bordeaux in the 50s under the legendary professor Emile Peynaud.  He has been the cellar master/winemaker for many châteaux including Haut-Sarpe, Yon Figeac, Jean Mouiex and Canon and hasn’t missed a vintage since 1947!

We taste his wines and they are beautifully made, in a charming, old fashioned style. He told me a story of when the great Emile Peynaud held a tasting for his students and made them taste over-ripe, heavy Bordeaux wines whilst cursing them and saying “trop mûrs, ca jamais tenir la route” (“overripe, they will never last”) and on tasting a pure limestone plateau ripe wine shouting “et voila ca c’est un vin de garde!” (“now that’s a wine to lay down”).  From then on M. Cazenave told me he had always made his wines in the true St.Emilion way.

The barrels were as good as the sample and Monsieur Cazenave explained to me that although he loved making the harvest and the wine he didn’t want to bottle too much wine. It was more work to sell and although he looked years from his eighty odd he was keen on slowing down. So I called JMS immediately and we confirmed the purchase of the single vineyard Château Franc Cantenac wine there and then.

We bottled the wine days later and if you want to taste a true St-Emilion wine made by one of the most experienced winemakers still around I strongly recommend Monsieur Cazenave’s 2011 Château Franc Cantenac.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Greased Lightning!

Normally I say “what a week that was” but this time I have to say what a month that was! Needless to say, it’s been a very busy past few weeks.

 It all started way back in October with the brilliant Laithwaite’s show at Vinopolis. As usual the eager customers in the bustling, excited, mile-long queue were raring to go.

And inside it was chock-a-block on Le Chai stand with Le Chai team and I was proud to finally present the new La Voute vintage: the mind-blowing, long-awaited 2011!

After a couple of days in London and a very proud moment catching my niece Aimee (aged only 10yrs) performing in Grease at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket on the Sunday night, we managed a blurry, red-eye flight back to Bordeaux as a week of bottling lay ahead.

As harvest gets longer, so bottling seems to come earlier (no rest for the winemaker anymore!) and the first 2012 white into bottle was the highly aromatic, fresh and zesty, all-new Double Agent Sauvignon Blanc; made at the Chai with James Macdonald of New Zealand’s Hunter’s fame. A little twist of new world winemaking on old world grape growing. You’ve got to try this, perfect with oysters! 

The bottling followed with the 2011 Château du Tertre Bel-Air, a structured Merlot/Cab France from the north of Castillon and the Keep Calm and Carignan 2011. The end of the week arrived and before I knew it I was back on the early Friday BA flight to Gatwick in order to get to Manchester for the Laithwaites tasting where Libby and I would be representing the Chai. 

It’s a lovely place, Manchester, and the most northerly place where I’ve been in the British Isles! Well, I am a Jersey boy and we always head south! We visited the beautiful John Rylands Library, a fascinating place and a must-see if in Manchester, before eating at the superb Australasia restaurant (a couple of sneaky Brew Dog beers, too, at their new bar on Peter street). 

The tasting was held at the historic Old Trafford Lancashire County Cricket Ground in a big room overlooking the sacred Old Trafford pitch. No cricket on today, though, but there was plenty of wine to keep customers busy. I was once-again armed with the 2011 La Voute (becoming a La Voute road show!) which customers thoroughly enjoyed. I also had the pleasure of a couple hours help from ex England cricketer and fast bowling legend Dominic Cork. His preference? The big fast red Vent de Folie 2010!

Back again to Bordeaux and another huge week starting with the biggest winemaking exposition VINITECH taking its biennial home in Bordeaux Lac. A great couple of days visiting, chatting, learning and tasting with all the major manufacturers … from barrel makers to tractor mechanics. The Chai was busy too as we had 55 students from the English winemaking university Plumpton College arriving for an evening’s tasting and talk held by Jean-Marc and I. The students were very enthusiastic and you could see them dreaming of one day being able to work in a winery as beautiful as Le Chai (bit of hard core pruning before that me thinks!).

The end of the week saw Le Chai getting ready for the big Christmas open-doors day on Saturday. We invite the public into our cellars to taste and buy our wines, obviously not without a hot mince pie and my famous Grenache mulled wine, accompanied beautifully by the Castillon Chantamicale Choir.

Mulled Wine recipe:
1 bottle of XVdu 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!

With Le Chai Christmas weekend over it’s an early Sunday night as I had to leave at 6am from Bordeaux to meet Midi buyer Cat Lomax in Montpellier. We’re taking a week’s trip around the Midi to taste everything and I do mean everything!