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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Where the bee sips, there sip I. Why you should check out Petit Chateaux.

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the second in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

bee-annicheYou might think that the famous chateaux of the Medoc have cornered the market as the trailblazers of Bordeaux wines but you’d be wrong. Beneath the parade of grand chateaux and their much fanfared labels lies a power-house of energetic smaller producers steadfastly working to create their own masterpieces. These producers don’t often get their wines trumpeted about in the British press; nor do they get flashy write ups about their splendid chateaux.

Tasting-room-anniche
Tasting room at Chateau Anniche

More often than not you’ll find the smaller producers’ wineries are part of an old farmhouse. You may not feel as if you are walking on hallowed ground when you visit one (there are no splendidly furnished rooms or imposing architecture to goggle at) but instead you are very much aware that you’re entering into the beating heart of a workplace. A place buzzing with purpose and vigour. There’s a strange timeless feeling pervading the atmosphere as you realise that these people are following the same path as their grandparents before them. This is a place of wine. And if you have got it right; it’s a place of very good wine indeed.

anniche-sign
Anniche lies at the north end of the Cadillac AOC

Chateau Anniche is such a place. My visit there turned out to be quite a revelation and it’s made a lasting mark on me. We visited Anniche on Day 1 of my trip to Bordeaux and were still acclimatising to the intense heat. Stepping out from the blazing sunshine into the cool sanctuary of the little tasting room we were greeted by Lyndsey and Jean Luc Pion, and their son Pascal, the Maitre de Chai.

anniche-maitre
Pascal Pion – Maitre de Chai

Chateau Anniche is such a place.  The Pion family have been making wines at Anniche since Napoleonic times and made their own wine barrels up until 1914. You can see that beyond the neat, whitewashed winery and ultra modern chai much older buildings sit clustered about. The land here stretches away under blue skies over ranks of vines growing on clay and limestone soil containing siliceous rock (quartz, chalcedony and flint).

anniche-vines
Vineyard at Anniche

Anniche is located in Haux right at the north end of the Cadillac appellation which sits along the right bank of the River Garonne. The Pessac Leognan appellation is directly opposite Haux on the other side of the river. Haux is known for its 12th century romanesque church and was on the ancient route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The wonderful Abbey of La Sauve Majeure, just over a mile up the road from Anniche, was an important monastery and major halt for pilgrims up until the French Revolution.

Haux is a quiet place today though – few vehicles travel the road – and at Anniche the silence was only broken by the drone of bees and grass hoppers in the vineyard.Lyndsey keeps bees and the hives lie on the edge of the acacia wood and along the flowery meadows. Their honey is sold locally either direct from the cellar or via the Tourism Office and markets of Cadillac and Creon. Bees aren’t the only creatures in the vineyards, there are chickens and pigs – as well as visitors such as cattle egrets and roe deer. In 2014 tawny owls took up temporary residence in the chai.

pascal-olaf
Pascal and Olaf

Lyndsey tells me that the family think that the place name ‘Anniche’ is derived from a parcel of vines belonging to the property called ‘la niche’. ‘La niche’ in old French refers to a place where animals were sheltered. On looking up the origins of the word ‘niche’ I had to smile as in the 14th century it meant ‘dog kennel or recess (for a dog)’ and this is rather fitting . . . as Pascal’s loyal companion is Olaf, the wine dog. Olaf is a giant, he is huge! I think he must be a Leonberger – a massive, lion-like, breed of working dog. Lion-like he may be, with his shaggy mane and sandy coat, but he is gentle and pines when Pascal has to leave him. When we trooped into the Pion’s tasting room he stretched his vast body out and bowed a greeting, had a friendly sniff and pat on the head from everyone, and then accompanied us on our tour of the chai and vineyard.

Olaf
Olaf

The Pion’s vines cover an area of 72 hectares (177 acres) and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for their red wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle are grown for their dry and sweet whites. Some of their Semillon vines are 122 years old. Pascal says that in the old days the whole village only ever produced sweet whites. Semi Sweet whites (moelleux) are Pascal’s passion but, as he says, you have to be a little nuts to make them. They are a labour of love; not only is Semillon the last grape to be harvested but it takes an inordinate amount of time to harvest it. Grapes have to be picked in order of ripeness and it can take an awful lot of grapes to make just one golden glass of sweet wine. To give you an idea, it’s said in Sauternes that Chateau d’Yquem produces only one glass of wine per vine.

The Pion’s pure nectar:

Anniche's Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort
Anniche’s Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort

Having tasted Pascal’s sweet white, Chateau Haut Roquefort (made from 100% Semillon), I can well understand his passion. It’s beautiful . . . a dark honied colour, tasting of nectar with a twist of bitter orange. Full of zesty acidity in the mouth, this style of wine is far from sticky or cloying . . . as my companions from the wine trade found out. Moelleux turned out to be one of their highlights and proved to be a real eye opener for some.

anniche-haut-roquefort
Chateau Haut Roquefort

Sweet white Bordeaux has hit the foodie radar recently with all sorts of delicious pairings being suggested, however I can’t wait to try Chateau Haut Roquefort with its namesake – the blue cheese Roquefort. It’s the classic partner for this style of wine. It could be a marriage made in heaven.

anniche-white
Chateau Anniche Blanc

The dry white, Chateau Anniche, is also predominantly Semillon but is blended with Sauvignon Blanc which brings a certain freshness and Muscadelle which adds potent floral aromas. I found it to be very smooth; quite a deep wine with flavours of lychee laced with lemon. I asked Lyndsey if she would send samples so that Nick could taste their range and he was most impressed. The dry white Chateau Anniche’s quality was so good Nick placed it on a par with the dry whites being produced from the Sauternes Grands Crus Classes. Needless to say these fashionable whites carry an expensive price tag; whereas Anniche’s dry white does not.

anniche-rose
Anniche’s Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric

The Pion’s also produce a brilliant Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric. On such a brutally hot day this was certainly the most refreshing wine from their range – a pale salmon pink, delicately tasting of strawberry with melony undertones. As a taster you have to swirl, sip and spit . . . this was one of those wines that made me regret having to do so. We didn’t drink it chilled but it was so balanced and smooth it made me wish I could sit there in the shade and sup the lot.

anniche-lalande-rose
Chateau Lalande Meric

Pascal talked of how Bordeaux Rose has changed over the past few years. Of course the Bordelaise have been making it for centuries but these days the demand is for paler and paler Rose. This is something Nick commented on in January (see What wines to watch out for in 2016 – Are our tastes changing?) and Pascal said that whereas they used to let the Rose soak on the must for 2 – 4 days (to soak up colour and flavour from the grapes) now they only allow 2 – 4 hours. The trick here is to achieve a wine with all the flavour and aroma that make it so attractive whilst keeping it on the must as short a time as possible to achieve the paler colour.

anniche-red
Chateau Anniche Bordeaux Claret

The Reds are Premier Cotes de Bordeaux and were wines I was looking forward to tasting. Nick has already highlighted the fact that you can find good clarets around the Cadillac appellation and Anniche’s Reds have a lovely tannic backbone; tasting of blackberry and prune with mint overtones.

It just goes to show that there is so much more to Bordeaux if you scratch beneath the surface. The wines we see here on supermarket shelves aren’t representative of the Bordeaux the French know and love. We miss out on so many little treasures. I was over the moon that Chateau Anniche was the first winery visit on our trip as it is exactly the place that Nick looks out for: A small producer who tries to associate modernity with tradition, judiciously applying new scientific methods where they can to help mediate with Nature and the elements in order to produce delicious wines in complete harmony with the environment. It was wonderful to experience it for myself first hand and my only regret is that I forgot to buy a jar of their honey!

You can find Chateau Anniche’s website and they also have a great Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VignoblesPion/

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 8 – The success story behind one of our finds: Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the final blog in this series about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose
Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose

When we started out with Bordeaux-Undiscovered our idea was to bring good wines to the UK that French preferred to keep. So many little chateaux were making beautiful, high quality, wines that were totally unknown over the Channel here in the UK. Snapped up by locals ‘in the know,’ these wines were made by unsung heros following family tradition and innovating when and where they could. You’d often find these chateaux on fabulous terroir, sitting on ancient estates that had been worked generation after generation. With Nick’s insider knowledge of the fine wine market and willingness to track down hidden gems we stood in good stead to begin bringing you a treasure trove of wines kept under the radar.

Lamothe Vincent's range
Lamothe Vincent’s range

Many wine merchants have followed in our path but none go to the lengths we do to promote our discoveries. We have always believed that the story behind the wine is part of its enjoyment and with wine lovers wanting to know more and more about what they are drinking, how it is made and who made it, storytelling is vital. It’s also crucial for the little chateaux – they simply don’t have the money (or time) to tell their own story. Their budgets go towards their vineyards and equipment, not marketing and advertising. You will find that a wine maker is much more interested in making good wine than in selling it.

Chai at Lamothe Vincent
Chai at Lamothe Vincent

Word of mouth is important but when it doesn’t stretch beyond your own backyard you are stuck with a niche market. Getting the word out is our job and it’s one we take on with great pleasure.

My visit to Chateau Lamothe Vincent is a case in point. Nick discovered them in 2007 and we introduced their Bordeaux Rose to the UK. We were the first to bring their wines over here. Once introduced we found that other wine merchants soon caught on and followed our lead. Unlike some of our competitors we have no financial tie up with any chateau – we simply hunt for great wines for our customers and let the story telling do the rest.

Chateau Lamothe Vincent
Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Lamothe Vincent is a small chateau that lies between Montignac and Castelviel in the Lieu Dit of Laurencon. With Saint Emilion to the north and Sauternes to the south Lamothe Vincent sits right at the heart of the Entre Deux Mers. This is a quiet, rural region steeped in antiquity and packed with hidden promise.

Lamothe Vincent Merlot
Lamothe Vincent Merlot

It’s a Bordelaise version of the ‘land that time forgot’.

When we first found Lamothe Vincent no one really believed that good roses and reds could come out of the Entre Deux Mers. As far as the UK was concerned this was traditionally a white wine producing area. However, we speak as we find. We pioneered the introduction of some lovely Clarets and Clairets from this area – and still do. It has since caught on as a tremendous source of good value, quality wines.

Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation
Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation

Lamothe Vincent is owned by the Vincent family who have been making wine since 1873. It has consistently produced distinctive, award winning wines.

The family’s love of the land lead them to adopt a ‘back to nature’ approach very early on; long before organic and bio dynamic techniques became fashionable bywords in Bordeaux. The Vincents are innovative and constantly quest to perfect their mix of modern and traditional techniques. For a small chateau they are remarkably in tune with keeping up with new developments in the industry whilst maintaining their principles in the vineyard. If you’d like to learn more about Lamothe Vincent check out our blog written in 2007 here.

Jumping forward to 2016 the chateau has pushed ahead on all kinds of fronts. In 2013 the chateau was awarded the HEV Certification ofHigh Environmental Value Farm’ – the highest French ecological recognition. The certificate takes account of the chateau’s biodiversity conservation, management of water resources and waste recycling, low dose organic fertilizers, photovoltaic electricity production etc. New winery buildings are currently under construction.

Lamothe Vincent's vineyard
Lamothe Vincent’s vineyard

The biggest story is its success in the UK. Already making waves back in France with their awards (several Coups de Coeurs in the Hachette Guide and mentions in Le Figaro); since its introduction over here it has been well reviewed by Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Decanter and Wine Enthusiast magazines. The awards have kept on coming and at the end of May they had gathered no less than 27 medals, 15 of which were Gold, for the 2014 vintage alone. Not bad for a back water estate that we discovered all those years ago!

You can check out Chateau Lamothe Vincent’s website here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 7 – Focus on a Fourth Growth: Chateau Beychevelle

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the seventh in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

I’d been looking forward to visiting Fourth Growth Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien on my trip to Bordeaux and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally arrived.

This chateau is Asia’s darling and thanks to its beautiful buildings and gardens it’s affectionately known as ‘the Versailles of the Medoc’ in Bordeaux.

Chateau Beychevelle
Chateau Beychevelle

Asia’s love affair with Beychevelle began in 1988 when the Japanese group Suntory bought into the estate. Beychevelle received a further boost in 2011 when the French wine & spirits merchants Castel became co-owners with Suntory. Castel are an internationally renowned business with excellent contacts in China. They partnered with Changyu winery back in the 1990s and together they produce their Sino-French premium wines under the Chateau Changyu Castel label.

1982 Label
1982 Label

Beychevelle’s emblem, the single sailed boat with a griffin figurehead, appeals to the Asian markets thanks to its resemblence to a Dragon Boat. If you look very carefully at the emblem on the bottle labels you can see a shift in design starting in 1988 after Suntory bought into Beychevelle. Prior to this date the sail boat depicted looked more like a Viking Longship but after 1988 the boat’s bow and stern became more curved to mimic the Dragon Boat.

2007 Label
2007 Label

The sail boat emblem harks back to Beychevelle’s heritage. The chateau takes its name from the French ‘Baisse-Vaille’ which means ‘lower sails’ as the chateau once belonged to the Admiral of France Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, Duke of Epernon. The ships lowered their sails in homage to him as they sailed past the little port at the bottom of the chateau’s gardens on the River Garonne. The label symbolises this by depicting a ship with sails lowered. Incidentally the Admiral is a distant ancestor of the actress Audrey Hepburn.

Beychevelles' beautiful architecture
Beychevelles’ beautiful architecture

Writing about Castel’s purchase of a 50% stake back in 2011 Nick commented that as Beychevelle is now the jewel in Castel’s crown, and with their contacts in China, he was expecting to see ever greater demand for this lovely Saint Julien 4th Growth. He wasn’t wrong. Beychevelle is booming. It’s price doubled in 2009 thanks to Asian demand for the ‘Dragon Boat wine;’ coupled with 2009 being an exceptional year. The price hasn’t dropped much since and averages at £72 a bottle depending on the vintage.

Whilst at the chateau I was told that all of their wines from the 2015 vintage were sold within 15 minutes of them being released.

The wines were snapped up by the Negotiant Barriere Freres. This isn’t surprising. Barriere Freres are part of the Castel Group and are a formidable arm of their international supply chain with offices in Shanghai.

Trading in Asia has its risks and Beychevelle has had to use anti-counterfeiting technology to avoid fake Beychevelle lookalikes in China. They use a system called Tesa PrioSpot, produced by Beiersdorf – the company behind Nivea – which gives each bottle a unique code that can be traced back. They also fought, and won, a trademark dispute concerning their Grand Bateau boat emblem in China.

Beychevelle's range
Beychevelle’s range

Tips:

Chateau Beychevelle is one of the most popular Classed Growths in the Medoc but the estate does produce more affordable wines that are easier to acquire:

  • Grand Bateau is the fruit of a collaboration between Barrière Freres and Chateau Beychevelle. This is more affordable than the Grand Vin at circa £11 a bottle and as it is made by the same winemaking team it is a shrewd choice.

  • Chateau Beaumont – Owned by the same group that owns and manages Chateau Beychevelle, the Castel group and Suntory, this is a top tier Haut Medoc. It’s also a stunning chateau in its own right and wines here are circa £13 a bottle.

    Tasting at Beychevelle
    Tasting at Beychevelle
  • Les Brulieres – Beychevelle owns 12 hectares of vines 5 km away from the chateau’s vineyard that fall into the Haut Medoc appellation. Being further from the Gironde estuary, they benefit from a cooler climate. This is an organic vineyard and Les Brulieres’ blend consists of just two grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vinified and aged in a separate winery, it is produced with the same level of care as Chateau Beychevelle and Amiral de Beychevelle (Beychevelle’s Second Wine) but costs around £17 a bottle.

  • The Second Wine Amiral de Beychevelle – This is more approachable when young which means that you can drink it earlier than the Grand Vin (which takes time to mature and develop in bottle). Circa £27 a bottle.

As you can imagine, since its purchase Beychevelle has benefited from huge investment. The latest redevelopment is a 16 million euro project building a new glass walled winery that makes the winemaking facilities visible from the D2 Route des Chateaux that runs through Medoc. The barrel room is also being renovated and the visitor centre and tasting room are being moved into the 18th century chateau building itself. The left hand side of the chateau is being converted into a 13 room hotel for visitors.

New buildings at Beychevelle
New buildings at Beychevelle

I spent a while with Director Philippe Blanc on the balcony talking about the redevelopment that is taking place. The reasons behind their choice of a glass walled winery was that they did not want to detract from the chateau by trying a newbuild in an 18th century style, so they decided to opt for modernity. They commissioned architect Arnaud Boulain and Atelier BPM to work on the design. The glass opens up the winemaking process to the public and it’s interesting concept. Philippe has compared it to being able to watch a chef prepare a meal; in a like manner the public can watch a wine being made. The vats are already in place and will be used for the 2016 vintage.

We were told Philippe was very keen to progress Bio Dynamics within the chateau and that currently 33% of the production has been converted using this technique with plans on increasing the amount of hectares. Improvements have not just been confined to the chateau’s buildings but have also been implemented in the wine making process – Beychevelle used optical sorting for the first time in 2015 vintage on 33% of the crop and intend to continue with its progression.

Beychevelle's elegant interior
Beychevelle’s elegant interior

After tasting a superb selection of Beycehevelle’s wines we had a fabulous lunch during which Philippe was very keen to hear opinions on his wines that we had with our meal and in particular listened to the younger guests views. Beychevelle’s hospitality was immaculate and an absolute treat.

Chateau Beychevelle’s website can be found here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 6 – Why Family Matters! Knowing ‘Who’s Who’ Can Reap Rewards

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the sixth in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Haut Bergey
Chateau Haut Bergey

Bordeaux has a vast network of connected wine making families; some of whom have histories stretching back centuries. It pays to know who’s who as you can often find wonderful wines from the extended families of renowned wine makers, top chateaux owners and negotiants (Bordeaux wine merchants) at a lesser price than their more well known brethren. A case in point are the Garcin-Cathiards of Chateau Haut Bergey in the small appellation of Pessac Leognan.

Sylviane Garcin-CathiardHaut Bergey was purchased in 1991 by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard. Sylviane is Daniel Cathiard’s sister and comes from a successful family of retailers. Daniel, a former Olympic ski champion, inherited the family’s small supermarket chain in 1970. Within 20 years, he had transformed it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France, with 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets. At the same time, he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops – Go Sport – in France, Belgium, Spain, and California. His group employed 9,000 people. In 1990, Daniel and his wife Florence sold all their business interests to buy Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. It could be said he was returning to his roots – his grandfather was also a negotiant . . .

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte traces its history back to the 14th century and is now world famous for its fabulous red and white wines thanks to the Cathiards. They have also developed a thriving wine tourism business based at the chateau which offers a luxury hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a wine therapy institute. Mathilde (Daniel and Florence’s daughter) is responsible for creating the household name Caudalie – a health and beauty treatment and range of products based on the grape seeds left over from the must from making the wines. The Cathiards hard work and phenomenal success with Smith Haut Lafitte have lead to them being in the top 50 of the wealthiest winemakers in France.

Haut Bergey
Haut Bergey

Like Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Bergey was a chateau ripe for rebirth. Haut Bergey also has a long history. It dates back to the 15th century.

In 1700 it was bought by Sir Jean-François de Cresse, a member the Bordeaux parliament. Within 24 months, he had expanded the vineyards to 100 hectares. In 1850 a new chateau was built, featuring the beautiful fairytale towers that rise over its rooftop. But, over the years, parcels of the vineyards were sold off and those remaining lapsed into non production. This all changed when Sylviane spotted the sleeping chateau.

Dining Room at Haut Bergey
Dining Room at Haut Bergey

Why family matters!

With an eye for excellent terroir and chateaux with bags of potential, plus their extensive knowledge of the markets, the Cathiards have a recipe for success.

Not only have both chateaux been brought bang up to date via major investment and modernisation but both have benefited from the introduction of renowned winemaking consultants.

Soils in Haut Bergey's vineyard
Soils in Haut Bergey’s vineyard

When Sylviane purchased Haut Bergey she enlisted the expertise of top oenologists Michel Rolland and Jean Luc Thunevin, followed by Michel Rolland (who also consults for Smith Haut Lafitte).

Both Daniel’s Smith Haut Lafitte and Sylviane’s Haut Bergey lie on superb gravel based soils in Pessac Leognan; a little appellation north of Graves which lies close to the city of Bordeaux.

Home to First Growth Chateau Haut Brion and several top chateaux; Pessac Leognan produces both stunning Red and White Bordeaux. Haut Bergey is located in the village of Leognan and Haut Smith Lafitte lies in neighbouring Martillac.

Paul Garcin at the tasting
Paul Garcin at the tasting

Sylviane has successfully resurrected Haut Bergey and has now passed the reins over to her children, Paul and Helene Garcin. The wines are meticulously made and are considered to be some of the best value priced wines in Pessac Leognan.

Being less well known and missing out on the high profile that Smith Haut Lafitte commands, Haut Bergey’s wines do not command the same price.

Smith Haut Lafitte’s wines average £64 a bottle. However under Sylviane and her family’s care Haut Bergey has performed better than anyone could have expected and is one of the over-achievers in Bordeaux. Circa £19 – £29 a bottle (depending on the vintage) they offer wonderful value for money as the quality is exceptional.

You can find Chatau Haut Bergey’s website here – it’s well worth a look!

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 5 – Puisseguin’s Potential: A Hidden Haven for Claret

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the fifth in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Puisseguin Saint Emilion
Puisseguin Saint Emilion

You wouldn’t call visiting Saint Emilion as travelling far off the beaten track; after all this beautiful Romanesque town is an historic UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its great silken wines. However, step off the well worn wine routes and head north east to the rocky headland and you will find the furthest flung of Saint Emilion’s satellite appellations: Puisseguin Saint Emilion. This little appellation is packed with unexplored chateaux and its potential has only recently started to surface. It’s a haven for good value reds.

Saint Emilion Satellite AOCs
Saint Emilion Satellite AOCs

Puisseguin Saint Emilion belongs to a collection of 4 satellite appellations that flank Saint Emilion and neighbours its fellow satellite of Lussac Saint Emilion and the Cotes de Castillon. You may have heard of Lussac – their wines have started to appear throughout the UK as a decent source of more affordable Saint Emilion. Puisseguin is half the size of Lussac and is has the highest elevation in the Saint Emilion region. Standing tall above its peers, Puisseguin takes its name from ‘Puy’ which means ‘mount’ and ‘Seguin’ derived from ‘Sig Win’ meaning ‘Lord of Victory’ – a lieutenant under Charlemagne who settled there around the year 800. Puisseguin’s heritage goes back much further than Charlemagne for it shares Saint Emilion’s ancient Roman roots. That’s not all it shares – it’s soils are the same classic Saint Emilion mix of chalky clay over limestone and the grapes grown are the same classic mix of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Puisseguin
Puisseguin

Being in Saint Emilion’s backyard had the effect of dampening Puisseguin’s prospects for many years; its chateaux remained under-developed and lagged behind the times leading to its wines being labelled as ‘rustic’. Things have changed and thanks to rapid modernisation and adoption of contemporary wine making techniques Puisseguin’s wine scene has evolved. Today Puisseguin is packed with possibilities – and in the right hands it can produce wines that are just as good as those across the border. We still have a lot of catching up to do here in the UK and Puisseguin has yet to register on our radar.

Chateau Haut Saint Clair
Chateau Haut Saint Clair

Progress in Puisseguin is not stopping and it’s a pity that we don’t see more of their wines making it over the channel.

One of the Puisseseguin chateaux whose wines are bubbling up to the surface is Chateau Haut Saint Clair. This is a very small family run chateau owned by Yannick and Andrea Le Menn. The chateau sits on a steep hillside which is great for drainage; especially as at the time of my visit there had been a bad bout of rain. The slopes exposure to sun soon dries up any rainfall and the sunshine beats down on the vines. The family’s vineyards are full of Merlot and Cabernets – their Cabernet Franc comes from 50+ year old vines.

Haut Saint Clair vineyards
Haut Saint Clair vineyards

Haut Saint Clair was purchased in 1962 by Yannick’s parents and is a great example of how Puisseguin chateaux have stepped up to the challenge of modernisation. Initially Haut Saint Clair’s grapes were sent to the Puisseguin co-operative to be made into wine. But the family had an eye for the future and Yannick was sent to study viticulture and oenology; learning the intricacies of the profession in Burgundy. He began renovating the chateau in 1978 with major restoration works to transform the old buildings into wine storehouses for barrels and vats. France’s best wines are bottled on the chateau’s premises and Yannick installed a bottling system in 1996 to ensure he kept complete control over his wines.

Haut Saint Clair barrels
Haut Saint Clair barrels

Yannick uses the best precision wine making techniques and has a particular interest in barrel ageing which he considers to be an art. He works with 3 different coopers! The oak used comes from the centre of France and Yannick prefers oak barrels with ‘medium toast’. (Toasting is the charring of the inside of the barrel using fire. Barrel toasting can be ‘light’, ‘medium’ or ‘heavy’. The heavier the toast the more oaky, smoky nuances you get in the wine. A wine maker will choose a toast best suited to the style of wine he wishes to produce). Yannick feels that a medium toast will not distort his wine or overpower its identity but adds a touch of complexity.

Chateau Haut Saint Clair claret
Chateau Haut Saint Clair claret

There is no sign of Yannick’s bubble bursting. Both Yannick’s sons are forging ahead with new vision. One works with LVMH’s Champagne House Veuve Cliquot and the other is at Inseec Bordeaux after gaining a BTS degree in wine production. Both sons help their father with his wines and are constantly suggesting innovations and new concepts to trial. The pooling of combined wisdom across the wine industry is priceless and with the Le Menn’s specialist knowledge spanning from Burgundy and Bordeaux to Claret and Champagne there will be holding them back.

The Haut Saint Clair range
The Haut Saint Clair range

The Le Menns’ produce a lovely Rose, Le Rose de Saint Clair and three reds:

  • The Grand Vin Chateau Haut Saint Clair (circa £9 a bottle – and an absolute bargain for the quality on offer). Rich, powerful and very aromatic. A ‘vin de garde’ meaning ‘wine for keeping’. A wine which will significantly improve if left to mature in your cellar.

  • The Second Wine: Moulin Saint Clair – Finely tuned and spicy. A ‘vin de garde.’

  • Vieux Vigneau (Cotes de Bordeaux AOC) – Made from old Merlot vines on Castillon land. Full flavoured with intense ripe raspberry fruit. A ‘vin de garde.’

You can find their website here.