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Chateau La Fleur Morange – how an extra was cast as the star

It’s not often a wine steals the show, especially when it started life as an accident . . .

Chateau La Fleur Morange

Chateau La Fleur Morange

If Chateau La Fleur Morange isn’t on your radar yet it ought to be. Jancis Robinson’s article in the Financial Times, ‘One Mighty Smallholder,’ followed up with ‘La Fleur Morange, the Carpenter’s Wine‘ on her website, hit the press at the weekend, putting La Fleur Morange firmly in the spotlights. Bravo, Jancis! Celebrity is a new thing for La Fleur Morange, this is a tiny chateau and a newcomer to boot. However it deserves to be centre stage and rightfully take its place on the red carpet.

Jean Francois Julien and his unique soil

Jean Francois Julien and his unique soil

La Fleur Morange’s rise to fame is a Cinderella story. It starts with Jean Francois Julien, the wine’s creator, in the village of Saint Pey d’Armens in Saint Emilion. Jean Francois’ fell into wine making by accident trying to save his land from development. His answer to the problem was to turn it into a vineyard. His prospects did not look good; for starters he wasn’t a wine maker. He was a cabinet maker who learnt how to make wine by reading from a book. It wasn’t any old book, it was a book by

Jean Francois' barrels - Bordeaux's first gravity fed winery?

Jean Francois’ barrels.  Is this Bordeaux’s first gravity fed winery?

Emile Peynaud, the revolutionary French oenologist and researcher, and it inspired Jean Francois. The odds were stacked against him but in typical fashion he hunkered down and persevered . . . and something magical happened:

    • His vines turned out to be a rareity (they are 100+ years old).

    • His soil turned out to be gold dust (it is unique in Saint Emilion and happens to be the same iron rich clay that produces Chateau Petrus in Pomerol – one of the best wines in the world).

    • He built his own little winery from scratch (his pioneering new techniques and innovations that he applied to his chai have been subsequently adopted by elite chateaux throughout Bordeaux).

      Jean Francois built his own tiny winery

      Jean Francois built his own tiny winery
    • He discovered that he had a new gift – he turned out to be a tremendously talented wine maker.

It’s one thing to make a great wine but it’s another to gain recognition for it. As a newcomer, a trailblazer and a garagiste (a ‘garage wine maker’ – a nick name for small scale entrepreneurial wine makers in Bordeaux) Jean Francois was considered to be small fry by his peers. He had an uphill battle on his hands to get

Jean Francois Julien

Jean Francois Julien

his wine the acceptance it deserved. Once again, something magical happened to enhance La Fleur Morange’s debut on the world stage. The rave reviews and awards started pouring in, and so did the sales:

  • Those who tasted his wines believed in them and sent samples left and right to the world’s best critics. Robert Parker, the American wine critic and world authority on wine, scored his 2000 vintage 93 out of 100. Jean Francois sold his entire crop in 20 minutes. More high scores were to follow for the next vintages – the 2010 got 96+. This made waves in the wine world; La Fleur Morange was beating the big boys with scores on a par to the First Growths and Grand Cru Classes.

    La Fleur Morange was awarded the rank of Grand Cru Classe de Saint Emilion in 2012

    La Fleur Morange was awarded the rank of Grand Cru Classe de Saint Emilion in 2012
  • Jancis Robinson was introduced to La Fleur Morange in an extensive blind tasting of right bank 2005s in 2008 and thought that this mystery wine was either First Growth Ausone or Pavie, two of the four estates now in the rarefied rank two notches above Grand Cru.

  • In 2012 La Fleur Morange won its Oscar – it was awarded the rank of Grand Cru Classe. An amazing achievement, and practically unprecedented.

Mathilde

Mathilde

La Fleur Morange, once the critics choice, has now stepped out into the limelight. It’s a wine that, although dazzling, holds no bars. Sumptuous, opulent and multi dimensional, it’s approachable on every level – as its its maker. Jean Francois is unchanged by success, he remains a dedicated and hard working friend. Production is still tiny, the vineyard still small. Jean Francois has added to his repertoire with a Second Wine, Mathilde. Named after his little daughter, Mathilde is no understudy but a pure Merlot. It’s priced around £19 a bottle. La Fleur Morange averages from £30 – £40 depending on the vintage.

It’s a remarkable story, and one I’ve told many times before. I’ve backed Jean Francois from the beginning and I’ll give La Fleur Morange as many encores as I can. Jean Francois and his wine deserve a standing ovation for pure guts and brilliance.

Featuring the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages

Featuring the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages

If you’d like to try Jean Francois’ wines I have put together a specially priced case (with a discount of nearly £40) of Mathilde featuring the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages – some of my favourite years. The 2009 (92 points) and 2010 (93 points) vintages come from stellar years for Bordeaux and are deeply flavoured velvety wines. The 2008 (92 points) and the 2007 (87 points) have both been dubbed ‘hedonistic’ by Parker.

Enjoy!

More vintages of La Fleur Morange and Mathilde are available at www.interestinwine.co.uk, Bordeaux-Undiscovered’s fine wine branch.

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Bordeaux’s Secret Recipes – The White Blends

They key to Bordeaux’s successful white wines is in the blend. Carefully crafted combinations of grapes can take these white wines up to another level and here’s what to look out for when hunting through what’s on offer . . .

'It's a kind of magic' - blending turns grapes into something amazing
‘It’s a kind of magic’ – blending turns grapes into something amazing

There’s a certain amount of winemaking wizardry that goes into Bordeaux’s white wines. Chateaux here have been perfecting their techniques for centuries and the art of blending is the critical component that lifts these wines above the rest. High flying top white Bordeaux, both Dry and Sweet, rub shoulders with white Burgundies and take their place amongst the world’s most sought after wines.

White wine production is a tradition in Bordeaux and these whites are made by chateaux in every price bracket, meaning you can pick up a high quality white at a sensible price.

Big or small, ALL Bordeaux chateaux blend. The Bordelaise have long understood that to rely on a single grape variety spells disaster. If your one crop of Sauvignon Blanc is decimated by the weather you either go bust or what wine is produced is poor. So, over several hundred years, Bordeaux has learnt to pair up grapes that complement each other; bringing out the best characteristics of each grape, creating a consistent house style for each chateau, capturing the essence of terroir and enhancing the final wine. The results are dazzling: delicious wines that shimmer with flavour.

You may not believe it but once upon a time Bordeaux produced more white wine than red!

Blending is the birth of a wine
Blending is the birth of a wine

Bordeaux produces Dry, Sweet (Liqoroux) and Semi Sweet (Moelleux) white wines and the permitted grape varieties that are allowed in the blends are set in stone; being carefully regulated by the INAO (the governing body of Bordeaux’s AOCs). Not every permitted grape is used in the white blends as chateaux can pick and choose between them. Grapes that are stellar players are selected for their quality, properties and performance in the vineyard. Each chateaux favours their own combination of grapes and blending has evolved into a fine art. Science plays a part too and some in cases blending has moved into the lab.

There are 9 permitted white grape varieties in Bordeaux white wines, the principal ones are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. These are the keystones of various styles that suit a whole range of wine lovers.

Together we become one
Together we become one

The other 6 grapes are used in smaller percentages (usually below 15%). They are Sauvignon Gris (which is becoming more popular for use in blends nowadays), the more rarely used Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc . . . and Ondenc and Mauzac (which are no longer used, although some plantings may be hiding in the rural backwaters). These seldom used grapes are known as ‘accessory grapes’ and hail from Bordeaux’s past. Once widely grown they succumbed to the phylloxera epidemic (1875 – 1892) which destroyed Bordeaux’s vineyards. They were seldom replaced and now represent distant echoes from Bordeaux’s past.

The Main Players

Semillon gives overtones of honey and beeswax
Semillon gives overtones of honey and beeswax

Semillon

Adds rich plush texture, depth, body and longevity to the blend.

Semillion is the primary grape in the blends of Bordeaux’s finest Sweet white wines. It is also used extensively in Dry white blends and is the most planted white grape across Bordeaux. Percentages of Semillion used can vary in the blends, with the highest amounts being used in the AOCs that produce sweet white wines.

Semillon is famous for being susceptible to Noble Rot which shrivels the grapes, concentrating the juices and sugars to create bright Sweet wines of extraordinary quality, complexity and density with the capacity to age for decades. Semillion is native to Bordeaux and has been grown there for over four centuries. Although it’s thought to have originated in Sauternes there is a theory that it actually comes from red wine producing Saint Emilion. The grape was known as Semillon de Saint Emillion in 1736 and ‘Semillion’ could be a corruption of the town’s name.

  • Characteristics – flavours and fragrance of lemon, acacia flower, fig, sweet hay, peach and green apple. When used in Sweet wines Semillon’s flavour profile deepens to complex flavours of hazelnut or almond, tropical and candied fruits. It is known for giving a rounded, beeswax tone to the wine.

  • AOCs – Semillon is grown across all the white wine producing regions of Bordeaux but it is king in Sauternes and Barsac, where it can account for 90% of the blend. One of the famous Sauternes First Growths, Chateau Climens, is 100% Semillon. However these AOCs are increasingly showing a shift to Dry white production and notably First Growth Chateau Sigalas Rabaud began to produce an unusual Dry white 100% Semillon in 2013 named ‘La Semillante’.

Sauvignon Blanc gives strong gooseberry flavours
Sauvignon Blanc gives strong gooseberry flavours

Sauvignon Blanc

Adds juicy acidity, freshness and its unique flavour profile to the blend.

Sauvignon Blanc is the backbone of Bordeaux’s white blends, being found in almost all of them. It dominates the blends of Bordeaux’s Dry whites. Sauvignon Blanc’s birthplace is south west France with both Bordeaux and the Loire laying claim to its point of origin. Bordeaux’s claim is that the grape was mentioned in texts as early as 1710 in AOC Margaux. Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from ‘sauvage’ (‘wild’) and ‘blanc’ (‘white’) meaning ‘Wild White.’ Although it’s a white grape DNA analysis shows that it’s the parent of the famous red grape Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc is Semillon’s perfect partner and you’ll often see blends of 50/50 but percentages used can vary widely with as much as 95% and as little as 10%.

  • Characteristics – hall mark flavours of gooseberry, cut grass and hints of bell pepper accompanied by lime, apple and white peach. When used in Sweet wines Sauvignon Blanc plays a supporting role to Semillon, adding freshness and zest.

  • AOCs – Sauvignon Blanc is grown throughout all the white wine producing areas of Bordeaux. Highest densities tend to be within the Entre Deux Mers, Pessac Leognan and Graves. Well known estates also produce flag ship Dry whites on the Left Bank (notably Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estephe) and a rare few are made on the Right Bank in Saint Emilion.

Muscadelle gives sweet musk and grape flavours
Muscadelle gives sweet musk and grape flavours

Muscadelle

Adds rich aromas, fruitiness and complexity to the blend.

Muscadelle is named after the Muscat grape thanks to its distinctive grapy, floral aromas. It’s very fragrant and bears the hallmarks of the typical musky notes of Muscat but it is actually no relation. DNA analysis shows that one of its parents is the ancient grape Gouais Blanc, the other parent is still a mystery. Muscadelle is thought to have originated in Bergerac, Bordeaux’s easterly neighbour.

  • Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of sweet musk, grape and acacia flowers with notes of angelica and passion fruit. When used in Sweet wines Muscadelle’s aromas deepens to vanilla, raisin and honeysuckle.

  • AOCs – Muscadelle is grown in pockets throughout all the white wine producing areas of Bordeaux. Highest densities tend to be within the Entre Deux Mers, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac.

The Accessory Grapes – The Up and Coming:

sav gris aSauvignon Gris

Adds fruitiness, aromas, subtle richness and acidity to the blend.

Sauvignon Gris (also known as Sauvignon Rose) is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc and has a dusky rose/apricot hue to its grapes. It contains higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc and produces fuller bodied, rounder wines. It’s difficult to pin point when (or where) Sauvignon Gris originated but it’s included in the French book on grape varieties by Viala and Vermorel in 1901 -1910. It’s also been difficult to find as thanks to its low yields it has become quite rare. However, this is changing rapidly as Sauvignon Gris is currently undergoing a revival in Bordeaux with chateaux planting more hectares of the grape and using greater quantities of it (up to 30%) in their white wine blends.

  • Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of red gooseberry, pink grapefruit, honeydew melon and mango with similar herbaceous notes to those of Sauvignon Blanc (hay, cut grass and herbs).

  • AOCS – Sauvignon Gris is still quite unusual in Bordeaux (it only accounts for 2% of the white grape varities of Bordeaux, 332 hectares). It’s gaining popularity and the highest amounts grown can be found in Pessac Leognan where the Grand Crus Classe Chateaux use it in their Dry white blends; notably Chateaux Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Brion and Pape Clement. A few wine wine producing chateaux in the Medoc use it, Chateau Palmer in Margaux in particular. Sauvignon Gris is also used in Saint Emilion on the Right Bank and can be found in some pioneering chateaux across Graves and the Entre Deux Mers. Sauvignon Gris is also used in Sweet white blends in Sainte Foy.

The Accessory Grapes – Rare Remnants

Ugni Blanc gives flavours of lemons
Ugni Blanc gives flavours of lemons

Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)

Adds acidity, body and smoothness to the blend.

Ugni Blanc is widely grown across France and is famous for its use in producing Cognac and Armagnac. It’s low in alcohol but high in acidity and has long been used in Bordeaux white wines for its refreshing juiciness and capcity for enhancing other white grapes in the blend. It’s thought that Ugni Blanc was brought to France from Tuscany, Italy in the 1300s when successive Popes resided at Avignon rather than in Rome. Ugni Blanc’s name comes from the old French Occitan ‘Unia’ which is derived from the Latin name ‘Eugenia’ (meaning ‘noble’ or ‘well born’) but it has lots of synonyms in Bordeaux – ‘Saint Emilion’ being one of them.

  • Characteristics – Ugni Blanc produces a light wine on its own but used together with other grapes it adds finesse to the blends. Flavours and fragrance of lemon, apricot and orange with notes of watermelon and quince.

  • AOCs – Most Ugni Blanc can be found in the Cotes de Blaye and Cots de Bourg.

Colombard gives flavours of fresh green apples
Colombard gives flavours of fresh green apples

Colombard

Adds fresh acidity and aroma to the blend.

Colombard takes its name from the word ‘dove’ in the Saintongeais dialect spoken in it’s native Charente and northern Bordeaux. Whether this refers to the grape’s soft colouring or it’s because Colombard ripens when the pigeons migrate no one knows. Widely planted across France, Colombard’s parents are Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Similar to Ugni Blanc, Colombard is mostly used in the production of Armagnac and Cognac but it is also used in Bordeaux in small quantities for its vibrancy and for the aromatic qualities it gives to the white wine blends.

  • Characteristics – Flavours and fragrance of lemon, tangerine and apple with broom blossom and acacia flowers.

  • AOCs – The highest percentages of Colombard can be found in the Cotes de Blaye and to a lesser extent in the Cotes de Bourg. It also plays a supporting role in blends from the Entre Deux Mers.

Merlot Blanc gives faint flavours of raspberries
Merlot Blanc gives faint flavours of raspberries

Merlot Blanc

Adds body and smoothness to the blend.

Merlot Blanc (sometimes known as White Merlot) is a cross between the red Merlot grape and white Folle Blanche. It’s difficult to discover data on this grape as it’s rare and plantings in Bordeaux have been in steep decline. In the 1950s Merlot Blanc covered 5277 hectares but now it is down to only 176 ha. Old vines are no longer being replanted in Bordeaux, the reason being that the grape produces wines that are fairly neutral and low in alcohol. It is more widely used nowadays in Pineau de Charentes (Liqueur). It’s said that Merlot Blanc was discovered in 1891 by Guinaudie who planted it in the vineyards of his Chateau de Geneau in Virsac (Cotes de Blaye). There are champions of the grape in Bordeaux blends today – Chateau Palmer in Margaux used 5% of Merlot Blanc in their rare white wine created in 2007 and Chateau Taillefer in Saint Emilion use it in their unusual white ‘Le Blanc du Vieux Chateau Taillefer’. Both these wines are testimonies to the chateaux’s history and heritage.

  • Characteristics – Merlot Blanc lacks strong fruit flavours and fragrances, producing light, neutral wine with a faint hint of golden raspberry.

  • AOCs – Small amounts of Merlot Blanc are grown in Graves, Entre Deux Mers, Cotes de Bourg and Haut Benauge.

The Accessory Grapes – Extinct but not forgotten

Ondenc gives flavours of apricots
Ondenc gives flavours of apricots

Ondenc

Adds suppleness and body to the blend.

Ondenc is now very rare in France and is only really found in Gaillac, south west France, where it’s thought to have originated. It’s thought to take its name from the town of Ondes on the River Garonne between Toulouse and Fronton. In the 19th century Ondenc flourished in Bordeaux but was practically wiped out in the phlloxera epidemic. The decline has continued and although a permitted grape variety in white Bordeaux blends Ondenc has been abandoned in Bordeaux. Close to extinction, Ondenc has a few champions in its native Gaillac where fine, lightly aromatic dry whites and concentrated sweet wines are produced from the grape (Domaine Plageoles). It’s also used in the production of Armagnac and Cognac.

  • Characteristics – Delicate flavours and fragrance of apricot, honey and quince with honeysuckle and rose.

  • AOCs – Only a few hectares of Ondenc exist in France and these are rapidly decling. Ondenc seems to have disappeared on the ground in Bordeaux but I suspect there may be one or two Bordealise Petits Chateaux out there with a pocket of old vines somewhere.

Mauzac gives flavours of baked apples
Mauzac gives flavours of baked apples

Mauzac Blanc

Adds aroma and substance to the blend.

Mauzac is rare in France, surviving mostly in Gaillac (mainly in sweet white production) and Limoux (where it is a traditional component of the sparkling wine Blanquette de Limoux). The old name for Mauzac in Bordeaux was ‘Moissac,’ after its supposed place of origin: the town of Moissac located where the Rivers Garonne and the Tarn meet in the Midi-Pyrenees. Little Mauzac is left in Bordeaux but it was once widely grown – one of its synonyms is ‘Blanc Laffitte’ in the Entre Deux Mers, perhaps First Growth Chateau Lafite had Mauzac plantings many years ago?

  • Characteristics – Distinctive hallmark flavour and fragrance of baked apple with more subtle quince, honey, lemon, gingerbread and yellow plums.

  • AOCs – A tiny percentage of Mauzac is grown in Sainte Foy and the Entre Deux Mers.

Bordeaux whites have a loyal fan base and command much affection. Their quality and craftsmanship sing out from the glass once you’ve tasted one. Little wonder they remain the most popular wines at tastings at the Shows and Events I take them to!

Cheers!

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Bordeaux’s Secret Recipes – The Red Blends

Bordeaux wines are always blended and this is done to achieve the perfect combination of textures and flavours in their famous wines. It’s the secret of Bordeaux’s success . . .

Blending  is like alchemy - it turns grapes into something extraordinary
Blending is like alchemy – it turns grapes into something extraordinary

Unlike most New World wines Bordeaux wines are blends of different grapes carefully assembled to create a flawless wine. Just like the ancient alchemist’s dream of turning base metal into gold, there is a kind of magic when a meticulously designed blend reveals a great wine.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Blending is known as ‘Assemblage’ in Bordeaux and wine makers here have had centuries of practice in putting together combinations of grapes for maximum effect. Each chateau has developed its own style, technique and formula to produce their signature wine. Every grape variety has its own flavour profile and characteristics that will bring specific qualities to the blend. So wine makers make their choices wisely, knowing the blend will be the blueprint for the finished wine.

Together we become one
Together we become one

From a medley of grapes a single elixir is born

Each vintage is different, having its own personality, as the blend changes with each year depending on the growing conditions for the grapes. In this way skilfull Bordealise wine makers can overcome drought and deluge by selecting a higher percentage for the blend of the grape varieties that are resistant to these conditions. It’s a complicated process; the different grapes must complement each other, the chateau’s style must be kept consistent and the blend must be representative of the region. As the blend is the birth of a wine the wine maker needs to be able to predict its evolution as it develops and matures in barrel. Unlike the alchemist there is no crystal ball gazing involved; the wine maker has to rely on experience and exceptional expertise.

United in harmony

A marriage made in heaven

For a blend to be successful the grapes have to be in harmony with each other and marry well. Bordeaux red blends can only be made from 6 permitted grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere. The principal players are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere are also used in much smaller quantities.

The birth of a wine
The birth of a wine

Each of these grape varieties has its own different requirements in order to grow well. Some flourish best on the Left Bank in the Medoc (AOCs Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe, Listrac and Moulis) whilst others are better suited to the Right Bank (AOCs Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac) or in Graves. This means that Bordeaux blends reflect the dominant grape varieties of the region in which they are created in and that wine lovers can choose between their favourite styles depending on their preference for Merlot or Cabernet.

Tip: The same grapes that are used in Bordeaux red blends are also used in Bordeaux Roses and Clairets.

Red Blend Guide

Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong blackcurrant flavour
Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong blackcurrant flavour

Cabernet Sauvignon

In most cases Cabernet Sauvignon is the classic backbone of the blend; being found in practically all of Bordeaux’s red blends. It adds structure, power, high tannins and full flavours. It also gives the wine wonderful aging ability. Cabernet Sauvignon’s affinity for oak means that during barrel aging the finished blend gains the complimentary flavours of vanilla or caramel.

Originating in Bordeaux at some point in the 17th century, Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to the Medoc as it’s primary grape by the viticultural pioneers Baron de Brane (the then owner of First Growth Chateau Mouton) together with Armand d’Armailhacq (of Chateau d’Armailhac, both now in the hands of the Rothschilds). The grape is the offspring of red Cabernet Franc and white Sauvignon Blanc. From its beginnings in Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon’s popularity has grown to make it the most famous grape in the world today.

  • Characteristics – distinctive strong blackcurrant flavour and fragrance; as well as black pepper, plum, mint, blackberry, liquorice and vanilla.

  • AOCs – Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes in the well drained gravels of the Medoc and Graves as well as the Entre Deux Mers but it is grown the length and breadth of Bordeaux. Apart from its homeland in the Medoc, where it can make up as much as 75% of the blend, it’s planted on the Right Bank and makes up a smaller percentage of the blends.

Merlot has a fruity blackberry flavour
Merlot has a fruity blackberry flavour

Merlot

Adds softness, lush texture, fruitiness and richness to the blend. It also gives a higher alcohol content.

One of the primary grapes used in red Bordeaux blends, Merlot is the most planted grape across Bordeaux. Despite the high amount of Merlot in the vineyards it is the second most used grape in the red blends with Cabernet Sauvignon coming top. Percentages of Merlot used can vary in the blends, from as little as 10% to as much as 90%! Merlot’s thought to have originated in Bordeaux and its parents are Cabernet Franc and the newly rediscovered Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. The earliest recorded mention of it dates to a Right Bank wine labelled ‘Merlau’ in 1784. Plantings in the Left Bank were introduced during the mid 1850s by Armand d’Armailhacq.

  • Characteristics – flavours and fragrance of blackberry, plum, black cherry, dark chocolate, anise, blueberry and cedar.

  • AOCs – Merlot is king in Pomerol where it accounts for up to 80% of the blend. One of the most famous Pomerol wines in the world, Chateau Petrus, is almost all Merlot. Saint Emilion wines also have high amounts of Merlot in their blends, using up to 60%. Chateau Bellevue has the highest amount of Merlot here with 98% of its vineyard planted to Merlot. Fronsac has also replaced Malbec with Merlot as its primary grape. Medoc AOCs on the Right Bank and Graves use less Merlot, with Saint Estephe having the highest plantings.

Cabernet Franc has raspberry and pepper flavours
Cabernet Franc has raspberry and pepper flavours

Cabernet Franc

Adds structure, silkiness, fragrance and complexity to the blend. It also gives the wine great ageing ability.

Cabernet Franc is an ancient grape which takes on major importance in Saint Emilion in Bordeaux. Being such an ancient grape its forebears are lost in the mists of time. Cabernet Franc is the parent of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Caremenere. It’s origins are mysterious as the grape is so old and there are romantic notions that it could be the much sought after grape ‘Bidure’ mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Columella in Roman times. Some claim that it is native to Bordeaux itself but studies reveal that it probably originated in the Basque country. Either way by the 1700s Cabernet Franc was growing in Saint Emilion, Fronsac and Pomerol.

  • Characteristics – flavours and fragrance of pepper and dark spices, raspberry, herbs and cut grass, cherry and tobacco.

  • AOCs – Cabernet Franc is grown across Bordeaux but the Right Bank AOCs of Saint Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac are still its heartland as the grape flourishes best there. Saint Emilion is the most renowned for blends with the highest percentage of Cabernet Franc; notably First Growth Chateaux Cheval Blanc vineyards are planted with 58% of the grape and Ausone and Angelus are a 50/50 split between Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Petit Verdot has the aroma of violets
Petit Verdot has the aroma of violets

Petit Verdot

Adds dark colour, body, tannic power and intense fruit to the blend.

Due to Petit Verdot’s rarity (thanks to its late ripening in Bordeaux), powerful flavours and high tannins, only percentages of 5-6% or less are used in blending. Thought to be native to the Medoc in Bordeaux, Petit Verdot can be dated as being grown there in 1736 but recent thinking places its origins further south towards the Pyrenees. Once widely grown in what is now Pessac Leognan; Petit Verdot is the reserve of only certain chateaux nowadays although replanting is being revived across Bordeaux due, in part, to warmer weather conditions.

  • Characteristics – deep flavours and fragrance of violets, blueberry, mocha, aniseed, olives, mulberry, leather and smoke.

  • AOCs – Petit Verdot is still grown in the Medoc, notably at Chateau Palmer (Margaux), Pichon Lalande (Pauillac), Leoville Poyferre (Saint Julien) and La Lagune (Haut Medoc). It’s also grown across Bordeaux, with concentrations in Graves, Entre Deux Mers and the Cotes.

Malbec has a distinctive black plum flavour
Malbec has a distinctive black plum flavour

Malbec

Adds dark rich colour, firm tannins, acidity and complexity to the blend.

In the 1850s documents show that Malbec was probably the most planted grape in Bordeaux with around 60% of the vineyards growing this grape. Clarets back then would have contained a large quantity in their blends; for example First Growth Chateau Lafite’s vineyards were dominated by Malbec at this time. Being a grape that likes sun and heat Malbec was practically wiped out in Bordeaux after the severe winter of 1956. Small amounts survived and Malbec has been making a quiet comeback thanks to the spice and colour it gives to blends. Today usage varies with some estates using 5-10% of Malbec in their blends. However some use a lot more (up to 45%!).

  • Characteristics – distinctive strong plum flavour and fragrance; as well as elderberry, damson, spice, black pepper, coffee and tobacco.

  • AOCs – Today the highest proportion of Malbec is in the Cotes de Bourg. It can also be found in the Cotes de Blaye and the Entre Deux Mers. However certain chateaux do have a small amount of Malbec in their vineyards, notably: Chateaux Haut Bailly (Pessac Leognan), Gruaud Larose (Saint Julien) and L’Enclos (Pomerol). In Saint Emilion, where Malbec was once widely grown, First Growth Chateau Cheval Blanc uses a tiny amount in its blend. In recent years, Malbec has been making a quiet comeback thanks to the spice and colour it gives to blends.

Carmenere has the flavour of rich black cherry
Carmenere has the flavour of rich black cherry

Carmenere

Adds dark colour, roundness, richness , fruitiness and body to the blend.

Carmenere is exceptionally rare in France as it was thought to have been wiped out in the Phylloxera plague in 1867. However little pockets of this long lost grape survive in Bordeaux. More recently it was ‘rediscovered’ in Chile during the 1990s where growers had been cultivating it mistakenly thinking it was Merlot. Being so rare, Carmenere is hardly found in Bordeaux blends though some estates are now replanting it.

  • Characteristics – Carmenere has been described as being somewhere between Merlot and the Cabernets as it displays virtues that both have. Flavours and fragrance of black cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry, redcurrant, pepper, cigar box and liquorice.

  • AOCs – Carmenere was once widely grown in Graves and today small pockets of it can be found in old vineyards. It is also being replanted by estates across Bordeaux. Carmenere can be found still in Graves and the Entre Deux Mers and notably in Pessac Leognan (Chateau Haut Bailly), Pauillac (Chateaux Clerc Milon and Mouton Rothschild), Margaux (Chateau Brane Cantenac replanted the grape in 2007) and Saint Emilion (Chateau Valandraud).

Many Bordeaux enthusiasts have a preference for one blend over another, I’d be interested to know what styles you enjoy!

Cheers!


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Bargain Bordeaux and Best Wine Deals – Finding Fantastic Fronsac: Chateau Haut Gaussens

Finding forgotten wine regions that have ancient claims to fame seems to be a popular pursuit at the moment. With good reason. These shadowy places from the past hide prized estates that once produced celebrated wines. Many still do – and thanks to their obscurity they don’t cost a bomb.

Cardinal de Richelieu's chateau still produces wine today in Canon Fronsac.
Cardinal de Richelieu, of Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers fame, owned Chateau Richelieu in Canon Fronsac.

Long lost terrains that were once held in high esteem fall out of fashion but experts are quickly rediscovering why these regions were once great. Fronsac is a perfect example. This region, comprising of the AOCs Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, was once one of Bordeaux’s most respected wine producers. It has an incredible wine making pedigree dating back to Charlemagne (and beyond – there are some who claim that Fronsac was the very first vineyard in Bordeaux). It’s also claimed Fronsac was the first place to discover the concepts of ‘cru and chateau’.

Without doubt Fronsac held a privileged position in the past; the wines were the first ever Bordeaux to appear in a Christie’s catalogue in 1780 and were enjoyed by nobility and royalty alike across Europe. Even the infamous Cardinal de Richelieu owned a Fronsac chateau (which, by the way, still produces wine!).

However times change.

Fronsac and its little sub appellation of Canon Fronsac are strategically placed where the Dordogne and the Isle rivers meet, neighbouring Saint Emilion and Pomerol.
Fronsac and its little sub AOC of Canon Fronsac are strategically placed neighbouring Saint Emilion and Pomerol.

There are lots of reasons why wine regions become eclipsed and with a history of wine making stretching back centuries Fronsac suffered under the French Revolution, the Phylloxera epidemic, the World Wars and from economic decline. A once great entity, Fronsac lay forgotten.

Fronsac’s re-awakening began in 1964 and slowly snow balled over the next decades. Now the producers from this area are benefiting from much interest in their powerful, concentrated and complex, darkly coloured wines.

Thanks to its position on the river trade routes Fronsac was a rich and productive area.
Thanks to its position on the river trade routes Fronsac was a rich and productive area.

Finding Fantastic Fronsac

Good terroir (climate and soil) doesn’t change and wine makers began to revitalise Fronsac’s fortunes in the mid 1980s. This attracted the attention of the Bordelaise mainstream and chateau owners began to buy up vineyards in the area. The Moueix family for example own several properties in Canon Fronsac; they are also world famous for producing Chateau Petrus in Pomerol. Interest grew from further afield too – the Cardinal’s Chateau Richelieu was bought by Hong Kong A&A with an eye to providing for the Chinese market.

Unsurprisingly with all this attention Fronsac has started to attract British buyers and its wines have begun to make inroads on merchants shelves.

Bordeaux-Undiscovered began introducing Fronsac wines back in 2006 with Chateaux Toumalin and Les Tonnelles. Fronsac is still not well known and remains undervalued to the majority of the wine buying public which means that it is a good source of high quality yet affordable wine.

Le Tertre - the hill top site of Charlemagne's fortress
Le Tertre – the hill top site of Charlemagne’s fortress

Fronsac and its little sub appellation of Canon Fronsac are strategically placed where the Dordogne and the Isle rivers meet, neighbouring Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The soils are clayey-limestone, with some sandstone, and like Saint Emilion the area is honeycombed with quarries and man-made caves.

Canon Fronsac sits on higher terrain and gained the name ‘Canon’ thanks to ships using the western flank of the hill (Tertre de Fronsac) as a landmark to fire salvoes into the marshes during the 1600s. The aim of these trials was to test the ballistics and power of the ships’ canons.

Chateau Richelieu
Chateau Richelieu

Thanks to its position on the river trade routes Fronsac was a rich and productive area. Its Gaulish market attracted the Romans who settled there and built a temple on the hill top of le Tertre. Charlemagne, King of the Francs, built a mighty fortress over the temple in 769. This fortress was the most powerful in Western France and Fronsac probably took its name from ‘Fronciacus’ meaning ‘Castle of the Francs’.

Fronsac’s golden age revolved around the charismatic Cardinal who purchased Chateau Richelieu in 1632. Under his influence the popularity of Fronsac’s wines soared – in 1783 the entire output of neighbouring Chateau Canon was reserved for the court of the Dauphin at Versailles. On the crest of this wave the wine makers turned their attention to quality control and the notion of ‘Cru’ (Growth) and subsequently that of ‘Chateau’ (Wine Estate) were born. In other words Fronsac wines had to be made from selected grapes grown in a single year by a specific Fronsac chateau. Before this wines could be made from a variety of vineyards and from different years’ harvests – which meant they were a very mixed bag!

Quality is still paramount in Fronsac today. Fronsac wine producers have to set a high standard in order to get their wines discovered. Therefore, wine lovers in the UK benefit from fantastic Fronsac wines at great value for money.

Chateau Haut Gaussens
Chateau Haut Gaussens

My most recent find from Fronsac is a prime example of a classic Fronsac petit chateau producing high quality wine bearing all the hall marks of this region’s superiority: Chateau Haut Gaussens

Chateau Haut Gaussens lies in the village of Verac which sits high on a limestone plateau at the edge of Fronsac. This was once the seat of the Lords of Fronsac, the Pommiers, who held court here from the 11th century right up until the French Revolution. Chateau de Pommiers still stands in Verac and beneath it lies a Roman villa belonging to Veracus, who gave his name to the village. Swords, javelins, vases and medals were discovered there in 1740 thought to date from the times of Emperor Antonius.

The Lhuillier family
The Lhuillier family

History & Awards:

Typical of Fronsac, Chateau Haut Gaussens is a tiny chateau that has been reborn, not once but twice. First restored in the 19th century, Haut Gaussens was saved by the Lhuillier family during the Second World War in 1941. Stephane Lhuillier, who represents the third generation of this wine making family, took over the reins in 2000. Having undertaken a substantial restructuring of the property, including the winery, wine tasting room and vines, Stephane is now seeing the rise in fortunes of the little chateau with a cluster of awards in France. Newly awarded the Macon Bronze Medal, Haut Gaussens is also a newcomer to the UK, having been recently introduced by Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Chateau Haut Gaussens, 2012 – Bronze Medal
Chateau Haut Gaussens, 2012 – Bronze Medal

If you are a Claret lover and have yet to discover Fronsac, the 2012 vintage from Haut Gaussens is a great wine to try in order to get to know the appellation. Bordeaux-Undiscovered has it at the introductory price of £7.99.

Chateau Haut Gaussens, 2012 – Bronze Medal £7.99*

Tasting Notes:

Supple, sensuous, fuller bodied Claret with lovely balance. Aromatic and generous. Rich flavours of ripe blackberry, truffle, damson and dried fig melting into sweeter tones of liquorice, clove, roasted hazelnut and red currant jelly. Soft, mellow tannins and a good finish.

Grapes grow up to the door at Haut Gaussens
Grapes grow up to the door at Haut Gaussens

Food Pairing:

Haut Gaussens is a formidable match for beef and steak, roasted, barbecued or pan fried. It also pairs beautifully with game such as venison, duck, pigeon, pheasant and wild boar sausages. Being heavier than most Clarets it is great with richly flavoured dishes, garlicky pates and terrines, nutty or fruit infused cheese and hearty vegetarian fare (especially nut cutlets).

Enjoy!

*Price correct at the time of writing.

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Celebrating Sauvignon

Sauvignon sits sublime in all its glory. Number one in the popularity stakes, it is the nation’s favourite grape when it comes to white wines. Bright and beguiling, fresh and flavoursome; this grape is behind some of the world’s greatest white wines. Let’s see why it’s so celebrated . . .

Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from 'sauvage' ('wild') and 'blanc' ('white') meaning 'Wild White'
Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from ‘sauvage’ (‘wild’) and ‘blanc’ (‘white’) meaning ‘Wild White’

There are an amazing assembly of Sauvignon’s available nowadays; lively and pure as single variety wines, 100% Sauvignons dazzle with their summery cut grass and gooseberry flavours. Blended; they take on a different dimension, reaching new heights.

Stellar Sauvignons are the world class blends of Bordeaux’s Grand Cru Graves, Pessac Leognan and Sauternes.

Chateau Haut Brion Blanc
Chateau Haut Brion Blanc

Great as the blended whites of Grand Cru Chateaux Haut Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte and d’Yquem may be, small scale Bordelaise wine makers turn out super Sauvignons too. Bordeaux has always blended its grapes for maximum effect and here Sauvignon is mixed with Semillon and Muscadelle. Further afield in France wine makers create glorious combinations, matching Sauvignon with Viognier, Gros Manseng, Colombard, Chardonnay or even the uncommon Loin de l’Oeil. Far from their Bordeaux brethren, Sauvignons are being married with Chenin Blanc in South Africa, Gewurztraminer in California and Verdejo in Spain as wine makers continue to push the boundaries of this versatile grape.

Wherever you look, there is a Sauvignon to suit you.

As you can imagine styles vary immensely but they do fall into 3 categories:

Loire Valley Sauvignon - Les Hauts Lieux
Loire Valley Sauvignon – Les Hauts Lieux

Wine Style

The Sauvignon Blanc grape produces mainly dry white wines but it’s also used to make sweet and semi sweet whites in Sauternes, Bordeaux. It’s hall marks are flavours of gooseberry, grass and bell pepper; freshness and juicy acidity. There are 3 distinct styles of Sauvignon Blanc wines which depend on whereabouts it is grown in the world:

Style 1: Loire Style – Sleek, lively and graceful wines. Fermented in steel or concrete vats they are unoaked and express delicate flavours. These Sauvignons are bright, refreshing wines that are less fruity than New Zealand Style Sauvignons. Flavours tend to be of green apples, green gooseberry, grapefruit, freshly cut grass and subtle green bell pepper. Loire Sauvignons are renowned for their flinty minerality (the scent of fresh wet stone). Well known Loire wines are smoky Poully Fume, Sancerre and Touraine.

Bordeaux Blend - Chateau Rioublanc 50% Sauvignon, 50% Semillon
Bordeaux Blend – Chateau Rioublanc 50% Sauvignon, 50% Semillon

Style 2: Bordeaux Style – Smooth, rounded wines with shimmering complexity. Blended (with Semillon, Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris) and aged in oak barrels they have more floral aromas and are deeper and rounder than Loire Style Sauvignons. Flavours tend to be deeper and are of red gooseberry, lime, white peach, grass and vanilla (from the oak barrels). Great, age worthy Bordeaux Style Sauvignons are made by the top Grand Cru Classe chateaux and are much pricier than their peers.

  • Sweet and Semi Sweet Whites – There are around 10 or so AOCs in Bordeaux that make sweet (dessert or ‘liquoroux’) and semi sweet (moelleux) white wines. The AOCs Sauternes and Barsac are the better known. Sauvignon Blanc is combined with Semillon and/or Muscadelle to make wines with a beautiful balance between sweetness and zesty acidity. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey. First class wines have an incredible ability to age (100+ years) and continue to develop in bottle for decades.

Marlborough is the prime Sauvignon region in New Zealand
Marlborough is the prime Sauvignon region in New Zealand

Style 3: New Zealand Style – Vibrant, polished and racy wines with zingy acidity and intense tropical fruit. These Sauvignons are pungently aromatic and are at the opposite end of the spectrum to Loire Sauvignons. The flavours of New Zealand Sauvignons are lush and exuberant, showing cape gooseberry, nectarine, jalapeno pepper, passionfruit and pineapple. Most are steel tank fermented but wine makers have started to experiment with oak barrelling to produce more complexity.

Location:

1005 Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Fleur de Luze
1005 Sauvignon in Bordeaux, Fleur de Luze

Sauvignon Blanc originated in France and both Bordeaux and the Loire lay claim to its birthplace. There’s a constant argument as to which region is its true home – Bordeaux’s claim is that the grape was mentioned in texts as early as 1710 in Margaux. The Loire’s claim is a little more tenuous as they say that Rabelais mentioned the grape in 1534 under one of its ancient synonyms, ‘fiers’. Either way, the grape definitely comes from S W France!

From Bordeaux and the Loire Sauvignon Blanc globe trotted around the world and it is grown in New Zealand, Australia, California, Chile and South Africa. The first cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc were brought to California in the 1880s and were taken from the Sauternes vineyards of Premier Cru Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux. It was introduced more recently to New Zealand in the 1970s.

Grape:

Sauvignon, food friendly and refreshing
Sauvignon, food friendly and refreshing

Sauvignon Blanc takes its name from ‘sauvage’ (‘wild’) and ‘blanc’ (‘white’) meaning ‘Wild White’, perhaps because it was once a naturally occurring wild vine rather than a cultivated one.

DNA analysis shows that despite being a white grape Sauvignon Blanc is surprisingly the parent of a famous red grape: Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to a pairing with Cabernet Franc.

Sauvignon Blanc’s ancestry is a bit of a mystery but evidence points towards one of its parents being the ancient French grape Savagnin Blanc. Savagnin is native to Jura in eastern France. If this is correct then Sauvignon Blanc is a sibling of Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.

Sauvignon Gris is a pink berried mutation of Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Gris is a pink berried mutation of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Gris (also known as Sauvignon Rose) is a mutation of Sauvignon Blanc and has a dusky pink/apricot hue to its grapes. It contains higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc and produces richer wines with melon and mango flavours. Sauvignon Gris is currently undergoing a revival in Graves and Pessac Leognan in Bordeaux with chateaux using it in their white wine blends (see Sauvignon Gris – A New Star for Bordeaux Chateaux?).

Terroir: Climate and Soils:

Sauvignon Blanc is late to bud and early to ripen. It enjoys a cooler climate as it doesn’t like the heat. However it does like a lot of sunlight; so in the hot New World regions of South Africa, Australia and California it flourishes in cooler pockets or in higher mountain altitudes (as in Chile). Maritime or continental climates (such as Bordeaux, the Loire and New Zealand) suit Sauvignon Blanc well as it can ripen more slowly here, allowing the grape time to develop a balance between its acidity and sugar levels.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes
Sauvignon Blanc grapes

As a rule of thumb the colder the climate the more acidic Sauvignon Blanc wines become, mainly due to the grapes being unable to reach full ripeness. On the other hand if the climate is too hot then the wines become dull and flat.

The vines grow in a variety of soils across the world which, along with the wine makers techniques and climate of the region, can affect its style and flavour. The chalky limestone of the Loire imparts a mineral taste to the wine and in New Zealand the clays are said to deepen Sauvignon’s fruit flavours.

My Recommended Sauvignon:

Gouleyant Loin de L’Oeil Sauvignon 2013

Gaillac Blend - Gouleyant - 20% Sauvignon, 80% Loin de l@Oeil
Gaillac Blend – Gouleyant – 20% Sauvignon, 80% Loin de l’Oeil

An original and intriguing blend of the rare Loin de l’Oeil grape and Sauvignon Blanc, made by specialists Georges Vigouroux and his son Bertrand-Gabriel.

Tasting Notes:

Unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc with Loin de l’Oeil, an ancient speciality from Gaillac in SW France. A marriage made in heaven with an incredibly rare partner. Very fragrant with lovely depth. Floral aromas of orange blossom and rose water with layered flavours of baked apple, peach and apricot finished with lemon zest and hints of almond.

Food and Wine Pairing:

Gouleyant pairs beautifully with salt and fresh water fish, bouillabaise, spicy prawns, pasta puttanesca and paella. It’s also delicious with chicken dishes, pheasant, turkey, warm salads and cheese.

Having read about the origins and the adaptability of this popular grape why not try for yourself how versatile the sauvignon grape is by buying our Sauvignon Blancs Case currently on offer at £79.99. Alternatively search on our website for other wines containing the UK’s most popular white grape? Taste the difference and surprise yourself with the value and quality drinking this grape offers.

Enjoy!

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Bordeaux’s Super Superieurs

Bordeaux Superieurs are a good tip for wine hunters searching for wines a notch above the norm. Although production is limited these wines pack more punches than regular Bordeaux and tend to be deeper flavoured, rounder and more complex . . .

bellevue favereau pellegrue banner
An extremely good Bordeaux Superieur, Chateau Bellevue Favereau is superb value for money. Produced by the Galineau family in Pellegrue – an ancient Bastide which takes its name from the Cranes that gather there on their migration.

Their name gives it away: Bordeaux Superieurs are simply ‘Superior Bordeaux’ – wine made to strict rules that define its quality. They offer super value for money and are a wonderful source of affordable Bordeaux that ticks all the right boxes.

What is a Bordeaux Superieur?

Bordeaux Superieur is a regional appellation (AOC). This means that they are governed by demanding regulations and that in order to qualify as a Bordeaux Superieur the wine must meet exacting criteria. Samples are judged by an inspection board and, subject to meeting the standards, wines that meet the mark are granted the label Bordeaux Superieur.

Chateau Peynaud Bordeaux Superieur 2010 £7.99 - Chateau Peynaud is an outstanding Bordeaux Superieur and is starting to be recognised as one of the most reliable wines in the Bordeaux Superieur appellation, being greatly in demand because of its price/quality ratio.
Chateau Peynaud Bordeaux Superieur 2010 £7.99 – an outstanding Bordeaux Superieur and is starting to be recognised as one of the most reliable wines in the Bordeaux Superieur AOC, being greatly in demand because of its price/quality ratio.

Bordeaux Superieurs have a particular style that the inspection board look for; Reds must be characterised by their harmony, elegance, rich aromas and good balance, and be able to age well. Whites must be distinguished by their zesty freshness, fruity and floral aromas and smoothness. High quality is paramount and as you can imagine the selection process is rigorous. The end result are super wines with a great reputation; their merits stand out above the crowd.

Bordeaux Superieur Key Facts

1. Only 2 French AOCs have a ‘Superieur’ classification: Bordeaux and Beaujolais. Bordeaux Superieurs can be both Red or dry White wines:

  • Red – Bordeaux Superieur Rouge

  • Dry White – Bordeaux Superieur Blanc

  • Semi Sweet – Bordeaux Superieur Blanc Moelleux

  • Sweet – Graves Superieur

'Y' from Sauternes Premier Cru Chateau d'Yquem is a dry White Bordeaux Superieur
‘Y’ from Sauternes Premier Cru Chateau d’Yquem is a dry White Bordeaux Superieur

2. Bordeaux Superieurs can be produced across the length of Bordeaux but only about a quarter of the Bordeaux vineyard area actually makes them.

3. Like regular Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superieurs are blends and are made from combinations of the same grapes. Permitted grapes are:

  • Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (also Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere which are used to a lesser extent).

  • Whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris (also Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc and Mauzac which are very rarely used).

4. Bordeaux Superieurs are usually made from older vines in specially selected single plots planted at a greater density than regular Bordeaux:

  • Superieurs must be from plots planted with at least 4500 vines per hectare. This means the vines are stronger and healthier with deep root systems.

  • Chateau Vrai Caillou Bordeaux Superieur 2012 £9.99 - Vrai Caillou is an old estate that has been producing charismatic and polished wines for over a century. Since 1863, Chateau Vrai Caillou has been owned by the Pommier family and its wines were noted in the famed Bordeaux wine directory Cocks & Féret. The estate is a little treasure chest, producing excellent Petit Chateaux claret from its fantastic terroir. Vrai Caillou lies in Soussac atop the slopes of the Butte de Launay, one of the highest points in the region.
    Chateau Vrai Caillou Bordeaux Superieur 2012 £9.99 – an old estate in Soussac, owned by the Pommier family, that produces charismatic and polished Bordeaux Superieur.

    The maximum yield of grapes at harvest must be 10% lower than that of regular Bordeaux (less than 50 hl/ha). With less grapes to nurture on each vine the plant can pump more nutrients into its bunches creating richer, better grapes.

  • The grapes must be riper than grapes for regular Bordeaux too. Riper grapes result in a higher sugar levels which convert into higher alcohol levels and Bordeaux Superieur is 0.5% higher in abv than your usual Bordeaux. The maximum is 13.5% abv for Reds and 15% for Whites.

5. The wines are usually aged in oak 3 – 4 years and regulations state that they must be aged for at least 12 months.

Regularly award winning, Chateau Roc de Levraut, is made by Remi and Roger Ballarin, on terroir originally owned by the 12th Century Benedictine Abbey de la Sauve Maujeure. Roc de Levraut translates as the ‘Chateau of the Hare’s Rock’ and sits in the lieu dit of Levraut. The area is sparsely populated and hamlets sit in a sea of vines. The buildings date back to the 17th century but Romans grew vines here before the monks and remnants of their villas can be seen as parch marks in the fields. The Ballarins are the third generation of wine makers at this little estate and their grandfather used oxen to clear the soil of its characteristic boulders. Today the Ballarins use sustainable agriculture alongside modern oenology, respecting both the land and the grapes. Their Bordeaux Superieur has attracted the attention of renowned wine critics, Jancis Robinson MW, Natalie McClean and we are proud to have introduced it to the UK.
Chateau Roc de Levraut, Bordeaux Superieur 2011, Bronze Medal £9.49 – Produced by the Ballarins, whose wines have attracted the attention of renowned wine critics, Jancis Robinson and Natalie McClean. We are proud to have introduced it to the UK.

6. Bordeaux Superieur is estate bottled ie, it is bottled at the chateau where it was produced. This is not a requirement for regular Bordeaux.

Therefore you get more for your money with a Superieur than you do from a basic Bordeaux . . . why not taste the difference?

 

Enjoy!

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Bargain Bordeaux and Best Wine Deals – Lifting the lid on Lussac: Chateau Les Combes

Bargain hunters can be met with a confusing array of wines when trying to pick out a hidden gem in Bordeaux for a good price. Knowing your AOCs helps; here’s why Lussac can be a steal . . .

Saint Emilion satellite AOCs
Saint Emilion satellite AOCs

With Bordeaux wines hitting the headlines and prices escalating far and above the norm it’s not often we see bargain Bordeaux here in the UK. However with over 30 years experience in the Bordeaux wine industry I know full well that you don’t have to break the bank to drink good Bordeaux. Think beyond the box and start looking outside the recognised regions and you will discover great wines from Bordeaux’s hidden corners!

Lifting the lid on Lussac

Lussac, or Lussac Saint Emilion to give this little wine region its full title, is one of the satellite AOCs that sits to the north east of famous Saint Emilion. Lussac is the most northerly. It has an ancient past and, like Saint Emilion, has Roman roots. Unlike Saint Emilion, it’s not well known and it’s wines are not over priced.

What’s more, being dotted with country estates it can also boast some stunning chateaux.

Rolling countryside of Lussac
Rolling countryside of Lussac

Lussac sits west of the Cotes de Francs and to the south lies Montagane Saint Emilion with the Lavie stream acting as a border between the two. The landscape is slightly higher here than Saint Emilion’s and has more rolling hills. It’s soils are a mix of gravels and sands over clay or limestone bedrock.

The AOC is home to numerous historical monuments and takes the name Lussac from the Gallo-Roman Lucius who kept an estate there. His villa and lands encompassed the village and he is credited with being the first to have planted vines there. Archaeologists have unearthed pruning knives and amphoras in the parish dating from this era. In the 11th century the Cistercian monks settled at Lussac and at one point in time the entire AOC was dedicated to producing wine for religious purposes.

Thanks to being on the outskirts of Saint Emilion, Lussac’s wines were for a long time considered to be its country cousins. However as Saint Emilion steadily priced itself into the stratosphere Lussac’s old family estates and co-operatives quietly improved. At enterprising chateaux the younger generations of wine makers were sent away to study oenology and gain experience in the New World, notably Australia and California.

Lussac's coat of arms
Lussac’s coat of arms

Thanks to their new ambitions and aspirations the younger generation of wine makers have breathed new life into Lussac and its wines are attracting attention again.

Lussac’s wines have moved on from their robust and rustic roots to give a more modern feel. The wines are generally elegant and well structured, in the Saint Emilion style: refined, velvety and generous, powerful and complex. They have luscious and intense notes of strawberry, raspberry and cherry with accents of leather, plums and spices. Top performing Bordeaux wine merchants (negotiants) have opened up shop there – J P Moueix of iconic Chateau Petrus is an example. Some famous wine making dynasties also have a foot in Lussac – Andre Lurton’s Chateau de Barbe Blanche and Bernard Magrez’s Chateau La Croix de ‘Espereance are located there and chateaux owners are also employing prestigious consultants from Saint Emilion Premier Crus to oversee their wine making (Hubert de Brouard from Chateau Angelus consults for Chateau Lyonnat).

Lussac
Lussac

This influx of renowned wine makers coupled with the fresh vigour of the younger generation has lead to a resurgence in interest in Lussac’s wines. The revival has lead to Lussac’s wines appearing once more in the UK. However they are wines that usually come from the more prestigious stables accompanied by a price tag to match.

Looking a little deeper into the treasure chest can reap dividends and I can heartily recommend a superb Lussac that is great value for money: Chateau Les Combes.

The small estate of Chateau Les Combes lies in the hamlet of Saint Médard de Guizières in Lussac and was once owned by the Cistercian Abbey de Faize. The vineyards sit in the heart of a triangle of land bordered by the Cotes de Francs, Cotes de Castillon and Coutras. This was a battle field centuries ago, several times over. The last battle was that of Coutras in 1587, when King Henry IV fought to unify France.

The Borderie Family
The Borderie Family

History & Awards:

The Borderie family bought Les Combes for their son Frederic in 2005 from the family of the founder of the local co-operative. The ancient vineyard was a sleeping beauty; unspoilt with plenty of potential. The soils at Les Combes are a mix of clay and limestone and the vines are over 100 years old. The family’s wine producing history goes back centuries and they also own Chateau Vielle Dynastie in Lalande de Pomerol. The family were one of the few who continued to produce wine and shelter locals during the German occupation in World War II.

Frederic Borderie
Frederic Borderie

Frederic is a prime example of Lussac’s younger producers; he is talented, enterprising and innovative. After years of studying oenology and gaining experience in the Loire, Rhone, Australia and California’s Napa Valley, Frederic settled down to make wine at Les Combes. He has been successful with his wines receiving both national and international awards and gathering interest in the French press.

Hot Tip:

The talented younger generation has lead to a resurgence in interest in Lussac's wines.
The talented younger generation has lead to a resurgence in interest in Lussac’s wines.

Frederic is as proud of his much acclaimed wines as he is of his family’s heritage. He uses a cold maceration of 5 days at 8°C to make his Cuvée Saint Louis Bordeaux Superieur. This Cuvée is made from grapes on vines that are over 100 years old. Cold maceration means that grapes are soaked for several days before fermentation to optimise extraction. The benefits are better colour, more complex aromas and flavours and softer tannins.

Cold maceration has become a very popular technique in the industry within recent years and is said to have originated in Burgundy with their Pinot Noirs. However Frederic maintains that it actually stems from an ancient Saint Emilion technique. Cuvée Saint Louis Bordeaux Superieur is aged for 14 months in barrels of French oak (50% new oak). Frederic uses the best traditional techniques in harmony with modern technology to produce his wines. Interviewed by the French newspaper Le Point, Frederic explains:

‘When one has a good red meat, you do not need sauce. When the wine is pure, you don’t need anything artificial.’

Chateau Les Combes 'Cuvee Saint Louis' Bordeaux Superieur 2011 – Silver Medal
Chateau Les Combes ‘Cuvee Saint Louis’ Bordeaux Superieur 2011 – Silver Medal

Chateau Les Combes ‘Cuvee Saint Louis’ Bordeaux Superieur 2011 – Silver Medal £7.99*

Chateau Les Combes Cuvée Saint Louis 2011 was awarded a Silver Medal in Paris and is a rich, full bodied Claret.

Tasting Notes:

Luscious flavours of blueberry, truffle and juicy blackcurrant with smoky notes of leather, caramel and sandalwood. Supple and balanced with velvet tannins and a complex nose. Well structured and generous with a black fruit and liquorice finish.

Food Pairing:

Cuvée Saint Louis is superb with lamb, beef, and venison but also marries well with duck, pigeon and pheasant. It is great with highly flavoured dishes using cheese or salty bacon, chicken or pork in rich herby sauces and mushroom based recipes.

Enjoy!

* Price correct at the time of writing.

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The Question of Cuvées – What are they and are they any good?

Look through the rows of bottles available to buy nowadays and you’ll come across a few with ‘Cuvée’ on their labels. Not many people know what a ‘Cuvee’ is or why we should keep our eyes peeled for them . . .

Cuvée is a French word that basically means 'special blend'
Cuvée is a French word that basically means ‘special blend’

Cuvée is a French word that basically means ‘special blend’ and although it originated in France you’ll see it applied to wine labels from all over the world. The word Cuvée is derived from the word ‘cuve’ meaning ‘vat’ and dates back to 1825 when French wine makers started to put special emphasis on their quality blends. Cuvées tend to be distinctive house-style blends made to finely crafted recipes that generally denote a wine of superior quality; one that is better than the wine maker’s regular production.

Sadly the term Cuvée is not regulated. If it was controlled, countries outside France would probably not be permitted to use it. Some producers will put Cuvée on their wines labels to dupe the consumer into thinking that the bottle contents are a notch above the rest. However the majority of producers stake their reputations on their Cuvées which are of real quality and reflect true craftsmanship.

Cuvées tend to be distinctive house-style blends made to finely crafted recipes.
Cuvées tend to be distinctive house-style blends made to finely crafted recipes.

 

When selecting a Cuvée it’s useful to bear in mind who produced it and where it comes from. You’re most likely to see the word Cuvée on a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine but it is also widely used to label reds and, less commonly, still whites. If the Cuvée is a red or white wine and comes from a chateau or estate that you recognise you can be assured that it is no ‘ordinary’ wine.

If in doubt, check the small print on the label. A lot of good Cuvées have been recognised with awards and medals.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux wines are blends so usually when you see the word Cuvée on the label you know that the wine maker has singled this wine out as exceptional to the norm.

Cedric Boulin of Chateau de Cappes
Cedric Boulin of Chateau de Cappes

Bordeaux Cuvées are often named after the wine maker, the founder of the chateau or a famous person eg:

  • Chateau de Cappes ‘Cuvée Cedric’ is named after the young, up and coming wine maker who is the son of the founder, Patrick Boulin. Cedric studied oenology at Chateau La Tour Blanche in Sauternes and gained experience in the King Valley, Australia. ‘Cuvée Cedric’ is his first special blend and merited a Gold Medal.

    Chateau Les Combes Bordeaux Superieur 'Cuvée Saint Louis'
    Chateau Les Combes Bordeaux Superieur ‘Cuvée Saint Louis’
  • Chateau Les Combes Bordeaux Superieur ‘Cuvée Saint Louis’ is named for King Louis IX of France who reigned from 1226 until his death. He was canonised in 1297 and is the only French monarch to be declared a saint. He is the patron saint of distillers. Made by the Borderie family, Cuvée Saint Louis was awarded a Silver Medal for the 2011 vintage.

Chateau Perrot 'Cuvée Prestige'
Chateau Perrot ‘Cuvée Prestige’

Bordeaux producers also name their choice blends ‘Prestige Cuvées’ eg:

  • Chateau Perrot ‘Cuvée Prestige’ is so named to highlight its superior quality which goes above and beyond their Bordeaux blend. The chateau is owned by the Chavaux family and ‘Cuvée Prestige’ is aptly named as it gained a Gold Medal for the 2010 vintage.

Cuvées are sometimes named ‘Cuvée Vielles Vignes’ after the old vines they were made from.

Old vines in Bordeaux can live to over 100 years old and with age they produce smaller grapes and yield less clusters. Smaller grapes mean a higher ratio of skin to juice which results in deep, intense wines of great quality.

Chateaux owners in Bordeaux are not the only producers of wine, Bordelaise wine merchants (negotiants) make wines as well.

'Cuvée' de Jean Baptiste Audy
‘Cuvée’ de Jean Baptiste Audy

You’ll often find a negotiant produces a Cuvée as a house speciality eg:

‘Cuvée’ de Jean Baptiste Audy is made by the negotiant House of Audy (established in 1906) and is named after its founder, Jean Baptiste. Cuvée is an old style Claret made with a little Syrah in the blend (as was common in 1855) and hails from Audy’s flagship estate Chateau du Courlat in Lussac Saint Emilion.

Tête de Cuvée in Sauternes is the ‘cream of the crop’

The sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac will sometimes name their wines made from their best grapes ‘Tête de Cuvée’ (tête meaning ‘head’, or in this instance ‘the top or the best”). Chateau Suduiraut ‘Creme de Tête Cuvée Madame’ is a superb example.

Rhone

Rhone producers follow the same patterns in naming their Cuvées as those in Bordeaux but it’s worth remembering that some producers name a Cuvée after an historical event.

Rocca Maura 'Cuvée 1737'
Rocca Maura ‘Cuvée 1737′
  • Rocca Maura ‘Cuvée 1737′ from the Cotes du Rhone is a great example. This award winning Cuvée hails from Les Vignerons de Roquemaure in the heart of the southern Rhone Valley. These ancient vineyards gave birth to the term ‘Cotes du Rhone’ in 1737. Roquemaure, with its historic castle and port, was their commercial cradle. A royal decree specified that no wine or harvested grapes could be brought into Roquemaure from outside the area and the letters CDR (Cotes du Rhone) were branded by hot iron into the Roquemaure wine barrels to mark their quality. Les Vignerons de Roquemaure, named their Cuvée ‘1737’ as it represents the quintessence of the Cotes du Rhone and honours this auspicious year.

Champagne

In Champagne the word Cuvée has been widened to mean a special blend.  But as most champagnes are a blend, all champagnes are Cuvées!
In Champagne the word Cuvée has been widened to mean a special blend. But as most champagnes are a blend, all champagnes are Cuvées!

In Champagne the word Cuvée is used in two different ways:

Cuvée in Champagne can mean a particular blend that the champagne maker has created or the first juice that comes from the pressing of the grapes.

La Cuvée – similar to Extra Virgin Olive Oil, this is only made from the juice extracted from the gentle first pressing of the grapes. This is considered to be the finest and best quality. Champagne grapes are pressed in batches of 4000kg known as a ‘marc’. A maximum of 2,666 litres can be extracted by 3 separate pressings:

  • 1. La Cuvée – 2,050 litres (most top end Champagne Houses only use La Cuvée)

  • 2. La Taille (the tail end, which is closer to the bitter pips and stems) – 410 litres

  • 3. La deuxieme taille (the last drops) – 206 litres

Prestige Cuvée commonly refers to a vintage champagne, carefully blended from the best parcels of grapes, that sells for a premium.
Prestige Cuvée commonly refers to a vintage champagne, carefully blended from the best parcels of grapes, that sells for a premium.

Champagne Cuvées – in Champagne the word Cuvée has been widened to mean a special blend. But as most champagnes are a blend, all champagnes are Cuvées! Just because a champagne has Cuvée on the label it doesn’t mean that it is higher quality than normal.

Prestige Cuvée, Speciale Cuvée – these Cuvées can be something special. Cristal (created in 1878 for Czar Alexander II of Russia) from the Champagne House of Roederer and Dom Perignon (created in 1921) from Moet et Chandon, are both Prestige Cuvées.

Prestige Cuvée commonly refers to a vintage champagne, carefully blended from the best parcels of grapes, that sells for a premium. However as the term isn’t regulated you may find that a champagne labelled Prestige Cuvée isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

Remember; if in doubt, check it out!

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Win Tickets: AeroExpo UK, 29 – 31 May 2015, at Sywell Aerodrome

ENTER HERE
ENTER HERE

Bordeaux-Undiscovered will be showing our wines at AeroExpo UK 2015 this year and we have 10 Day Tickets to give away as prizes. It promises to be a fantastic event so why not enter our Draw and see if you are a winner?

To enter our Prize Draw simply answer the following question:

‘Which plane won the Battle of Britain?’

Email your answer to enquiries@bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk.

Good Luck!

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Bargain Bordeaux and Best Wine Deals – Chateau Perrot

Bargain Bordeaux can give you a lot of bang for your buck. Bordeaux-Undiscovered specialise in tracking down wonderful wines from this stellar region to offer you the best wine deals. Our latest discovery is Chateau Perrot . . .

Regions renowned for their white wines also grow red grapes for small production Clarets
Regions renowned for their white wines also grow red grapes for small production Clarets

The Bordeaux that is readily available in the UK tends to be either from the more expensive, premium, end of the scale or from cheaper producers who can guarantee large volumes of wine. This means that the majority of small producers who make great Bordeaux wines simply don’t get discovered, despite their wines being much feted in France. Hunting these wines down means that Bordeaux-Undiscovered can offer high quality wines at easily affordable prices.

The white wine AOC Entre Deux Mers (meaning 'Between Two Rivers' is also home to Red Bordeaux
The white wine AOC Entre Deux Mers (meaning ‘Between Two Rivers’ is also home to Red Bordeaux

Bringing small production Bordeaux to the UK benefits the producers as the wines gain the recognition they deserve thanks to their high standard and benefits the consumer as they represent amazing value for money.

Exploring the Entre Deux Mers for red Bordeaux has been unfashionable; after all this is an area renowned for its whites. UK merchants tend to source red wines from French negotiants (wine merchants) in more prominent and easily recognisable areas. However for those prepared to do the leg work this region between the two rivers has lots to offer.

The whole region has a fascinating history and its ancient estates have wine making pedigrees that stretch back centuries. These lands, once owned by Kings, Popes and nobility, produced wines for the court and the church long before the Medoc with its famous Bordeaux reds was even thought of. The terrain here is fertile and green; full of gently rolling uplands cut by numerous rivers and peppered with Medieval forts and bastides, chateaux, mills and monasteries.

More importantly, this terrain makes great red wine and it is packed with hidden promise.

It’s a good hunting ground for Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Gold Medal - Chateau Perrot 'Cuvee Prestige' 2010
Gold Medal – Chateau Perrot ‘Cuvee Prestige’ 2010

Unknown in the UK but awarded Gold in France: Chateau Perrot

We discovered Chateau Perrot near Castelmoron d’Albret, the smallest village in France. This is a classic small producer (Petit Chateaux) making award winning wines which have never been seen in the UK before.

Location:

The ‘Cuvee Prestige’ is a gold medal winner and deservedly so. This little chateau is a real discovery and we are pleased to be able to introduce it to wine lovers over here. Perrot is owned by the Chavaux family and its vineyards lie about a mile away from the 10th century fortified village of Castelmoron which sits on the rocky escarpment high above. The vines sit on crumbly limestone soils and are surrounded by sunflowers to attract the bees.

Castelmoron d'Albret
Castelmoron d’Albret

History & Awards:

The Chavaux’s have been wine makers for several generations spanning the centuries and Perrot sits on an old site. Bernard and Christine Chavaux grow 4 acres of red grapes (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) and 17 of white (Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc).

Their red wines have been attracting awards in France since 2003 from both Bordeaux itself and Paris.

Similar to another of our popular Petits Chateaux (Trois Tours), Chateau Perrot’s land was once owned by Jeanne d’Albret (1528 – 1572), Queen of Navarre and the mother of King Henry IV. She stayed at Castelmoron several times and held a small court there. There is no doubt the Queen enjoyed the local wines, they were served at all the local noble manors.

plantation4 (Copier)
The Perrot Vineyard

The vineyard is a patchwork of ancient plots, each given its own name which is recognised on the cadastral plan. This means that the plots were established long ago in time and were important enough to be named by the local government. This was done in the past in order to collect taxes from the vineyard owner, each plot being allocated a specific duty. Perrot is the name of the largest plot and gave its name to the Peit Chateau.

Hot Tip:

Making wine from separate plots is a policy followed by todays top chateaux as it allows the wine maker to blend only the best from each terrain. It’s not a modern invention but has become best practice – Petit Chateaux were following this policy for centuries.

Chateau Perrot ‘Cuvee Prestige’ 2010 – Gold Medal £6.99*

Chateau Perrot
Chateau Perrot

Tasting Notes:

Chateau Perrot produces a small amount of Claret and we have selected their ‘Cuvee Prestige’ to bring to the UK. This Cuvee is a special blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from superior quality grapes from the Perrot parcel.

Chateau Perrot ‘Cuvee Prestige’ comes from the 2010 vintage – a glorious year for Bordeaux.

We are offering Cuvee Prestige at an introductory price of £6.99 which is superb value for money.

‘Supple and fruity Claret with a powerful, spicy nose and lingering aromas freshly crushed black fruits. Flavours of black cherry, cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and mocha with notes of ripe dark plum, vanilla and toasty oak; coupled with a long fruity finish. Velvety smooth with good depth.’

Christine Chavaux
Christine Chavaux

Food Pairing:

Being an exceptionally made Claret, Cuvee Prestige is great with food; try it with roast duck, chicken, guinea fowl or lamb, rabbit and game pies. It’s a good match for strong hard cheeses as well as bean dishes with smoked ham or chorizo.

Enjoy!


* Price correct at the time of writing.