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 . . .
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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 Cuvée Saint Louis 2011 was awarded a Silver Medal in Paris and is a rich, full bodied Claret.
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.
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.
* Price correct at the time of writing.