Posted on

How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – The Shrine of Wine: the Chateaux of the Medoc

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

Chateau Margaux

I had no idea when visiting Bordeaux just how extraordinarily wealthy the great chateaux of the Medoc can be. This area is world famous and the revered wines of the Grand Cru Classe are normally well out of reach of most wine lovers pockets. They are collected, traded and coveted by a select band of wine conoisseurs and enthusiasts; often reaching several thousands per case if it is a rare and particularly good vintage. I’m used to seeing photos of the grandiose chateaux but a photo doesn’t really give you any idea of scale. Some of these chateaux are palatial – take premier cru Chateau Margaux for example. It’s magnificent . . . a vast, neo-classical edifice built from the palest of limestones; be-decked with a columned portico over a massive flight of steps at its entrance. It rises from a flat ocean of vines like a great white cruise liner. Incongruous and intimidating it may be but the wines made here are sublime.

Pichon Baron

And it’s not the only one. Carefully placed throughout the immaculate vines other mansions gleam; each the work of some ambitious 19th century architect. There is no uniform style of building; each chateau is a testament to its one-time owner’s status . . . the folly-like pagodas of Cos d’Estournel and the fairy tale towers of Pichon Baron and Pichon Lalande are typical flights of fancy. You don’t really get a sense of size or proximity from photos – the thing that struck me whilst there was how closely packed together some of these chateaux are. The two Pichon chateaux and premier cru Chateau Latour, with its iconic circular tower (once a pigeon house), are a stone’s throw away from each other. It reminded me of a luxurious gated community (minus the residents).

Beautiful, impressive and slightly other-worldly; these are the mausoleums of the Medoc. On this hallowed ground, they hold collections of bottles with vintages dating back down the years in dark cellars akin to bank vaults. You are ushered in and walk in the cool silence with bated breath as your eyes dart here and there spotting vintages from yester year. Some go back over a century. This is a shrine to wine.

Chateau Batailley

The vineyards are remarkably quiet. There is no hustle and bustle. No organised chaos, no people amongst the vines. In fact, the only people I saw at work were a bunch of security guards hovering at the entrance to Chateau Margaux in case a tourist overstepped the mark. I did see a tractor going down the road in Saint Julien. The vineyard tractors here all have high cabs way above the wheels to avoid the vines, which makes them look like something from a Transformers film. Incidentally 94% of the chateaux in the Saint Julien appellation are either Grand Cru Classe (GCC) or GCC connected.

Cos d'EstournelThe Medoc is so very different to the other appellations and the busy petits chateaux I visited there. The villages were quiet too. Compared to the crowded streets of Saint Emilion, Pauillac was dead. With shutters closed against the glaring sun, bathed in dusty heat, it slumbered without a soul in sight. Of course, the Medoc’s villages are smaller than Saint Emilion but there is another huge difference between them. Saint Emilion is a town dedicated to wine; it’s everywhere you look. Shop fronts are full of it, streets are plastered with signs advertising it, restaurants spill out onto squares with people drinking it and vineyards creep into the town’s outskirts as if they are trying to get into it. The Medoc has nothing like this. Villages belonged to great estates in the old days and there are few independent petits chateaux. Those there are get muscled out by the big boys and their land is snapped up to add to the prestigious GCC acres. There is no trickledown effect; the wealth stays at the top and the villages sit subservient to their masters.

Chateau Latour

Every available inch of valuable land here is down to vines. Scattered at the end of vineyard rows sat twinkling patches of cosmos, sown to attract the bees. Any trees in sight were clustered around the chateaux gardens and were mostly the flat topped Landes pines, the odd giant wellingtonia (sequoia) and horse chestnuts with their leaves starting to brown and crinkle in the drought. Tonsured topiary, manicured lawns browning in the sun, banana trees and salmon pink oleanders sit in ordered chateaux gardens behind big walls and stone arched gates.

It’s flat here and it reminded me of our English Fens. The most sought after estates lie on mounds and rises in the ground. These are gravel ridges left behind by the great rivers as they move into the Gironde estuary, It was once a vast salt marsh here and was drained in the 17th century to plant vines. You can still see the vestiges of the marsh – ditches and dykes full of muddy water rich in silt thread through the landscape. Beyond the vineyards, you can see little white egrets bobbing in the fields and greylag geese nibbling the reeds on old flood plains.

Egrets

There are treasures to be found here for the wine hunter. Undoubtedly there are plenty of venerated vintages of the GCC to be gazed at but in my eyes the real treasure lies in the undiscovered. The diamonds in the rough. Easily affordable wines hide behind the premier crus’ backdoors tucked out of sight in the quiet villages and in the nooks and crannies of the Medoc far away from the well-trodden track. It’s a big region with lots to explore. I’ll tell you about them next time I write.

Posted on

How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Finding Treasure: The Black Pearl of Le Lau

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

Chateau Le Lau

Without doubt the highlight of my Bordeaux trip was being able to get to Graves de Vayres at long last. This is a tiny appellation that most Bordeaux enthusiasts outside France simply haven’t heard of. So it wasn’t surprising that no one amongst the wine aficionados travelling with me had a clue about it but this AOC has been on Nick’s radar for some time. I must have seemed a bit over the top to them as this was the one place above all others that I wanted to explore. With good reason, I might add.

mascaret
The Mascaret

It’s an appellation that has always fascinated me, partly because it’s a bit mysterious and enigmatic and partly because of its past. It takes its name from Graves, meaning ‘gravel’ and Vayres – an ancient citadel. Vayres was founded in Roman times on a rocky outcrop overlooking the meeting point of the Rivers Gestas and Dordogne. The Dordogne here is deep and dark; it’s starting to widen and gather pace as it heads towards the sea. It reminds me very much of our River Severn – it even has a similar surge wave caused by the tides to our Severn Bore. The Dordogne’s is called the Mascaret.

River Dordogne at Le Lau

The Emperor Octavius established a garrison here under the command of Varius, who became Vayres’ namesake. Dominating the river, Vayres was of huge strategic importance. The 11th century fortifed chateau was a powerful status symbol and was once owned by the Borgias and by the Kings of France. It’s also Knights Templar country and there was a once great Commandery at Arveyres. Nowadays the beautiful chateau and medieval gardens are classified as an historic monument whereas the Templar Commandery and its ancient wine cellars lie in romantic ruins. It’s difficult to imagine how important this region was in the past as today it’s a peaceful, idyllic, backwater that time seems to have passed by.

Chateau Le Lau frontage on the river

In the mid-nineteenth century, the red and white wines of Graves de Vayres were highly thought of with Cocks and Feret (the classic reference work on Bordeaux wines in the 1800s) quoting ‘Without attempting to rival the Medoc or Saint Emilion, red wines of Graves Vayres are still full of delicacy. The first wines are highly sought after trade for their body and smoothness and can be classified among the best wines of the Right Bank, immediately after the second wines of Pomerol.’ This is very interesting as Merlot is the dominant grape here (as it is, famously, in Pomerol). That Merlot should do so well here is unusual as gravelly soils tend to suit Cabernet Sauvignon better. However Merlot thrives on Graves de Vayres’s sandy gravels and the end result of this is an array of graceful red wines that are delicate, subtle and fine-grained. I thought, over all, that the Graves de Vayres reds I tasted had a feminine elegance about them.

Entrance to Le Lau off the lane
Entrance to Le Lau off the lane

Sweet (Liquoroux) and semi sweet (Moelleux) whites used to be prevalent here but have given way to dry whites. Typically with a slightly higher percentage of Muscadelle in the blend than other appellations, Graves de Vayres dry whites are fresh and vibrant with touches of Muscadelle’s trademark muscat fragrance. They are hard to find though as there are only 30 odd wine makers left in Graves de Vayres and there are only 187 acres planted with white grapes.

Water features surround le Lau

Thanks to the Dordogne, which is very wide here, the appellation enjoys mild temperates and it is also protected by the Tertre de Fronsac on the opposite bank. Graves de Vayres lies directly opposite the Fronsac appellation over the water. On that bank, up stream lies Saint Emilion and downstream sit the Cotes de Bourg and Blaye. Graves de Vayres itself is surrounded by the Premier Cotes appellation with Sainte Foy Bordeaux sitting to the east.

My visit took me to Arveyres, the home of the Templar Commandery. The river meanders in huge loops here and envelops the north of the territory so that it is surrounded on 3 sides by water. Turning off the lane we wound down a wooded drive to Chateau Le Lau. This is a chateau which has been owned by the Plomby family since 1988 and it has been run by Sylvie Plomby since 2013. To say Le Lau is jaw droppingly beautiful is an understatement. It was designed by none other than Victor Louis in 1762 (he designed the famous Opera House in Bordeaux). The beauty of the place inspired the cinema and Pierre Gaspard-Huit’s film ‘La Marié Est Trop Belle’ starring Brigitte Bardot was shot here in 1956.

Secluded and shady, Le Lau sits hidden in trees

Le Lau is a delightful country residence with a faded, gentle, charm. Cradled on one side by fern strewn woodland and on the other by the river the whole place seemed to be cut off from the world outside. The watery light of the evening and the green and blue shades beyond the warm limestone walls had a dream like quality and it reminded me of being in the Everglades in Florida. A little white painted chapel sat on a hillock in the gardens and I wished for a time I wasn’t here to taste wine but could explore the potager and the orchards instead . . .

Gravel soils in the vineyard

I did get the chance to walk with Sylvie to her favourite patch of the vineyard. What a stunning location. I’m so used to seeing swathes of vines that stretch out flat to the horizon that Le Lau’s vineyard came as a surprise. It’s on the steep slope of a plateau but it’s surrounded by woodland and – like the chateau – is quite tucked away. The gravels here were so big I asked to take a photo of the stones with her foot besides them to give you an idea of scale. The vineyards span 27 acres and are planted with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is organic and Sylvie converted to bio dynamic growing in 2016. The wine is aged in new barrels of Sessile Oak which give it that fine grained texture. Sylvie’s great cuvee, Le Lau ‘Perle Noire’ (Black Pearl), is supple and smooth with flavours of black cherry, crushed strawberry, mint and vanilla. A really lovely wine made by an ambitious winemaker. Circa £15 a bottle.

Le Lau’s Black Pearl – ‘Le Perle Noire’

Originally Sylvie worked in the fashion industry in both Paris and London but Le Lau’s enchantment inspired her and she studied under the renowned oenologist Denis Dubourdieu to learn her craft. Naturally elegant, refined and self effacing; I think her wines reflect her panache. Her goal is to be in harmony with the nature that surrounds her and to work her vines with love.

We were to dine that evening at the chateau but events became delayed thanks to a power cut. Whilst we were waiting for emergency cables to be strung out to the kitchen from the out buildings we tasted an array of wines from the surrounding Cotes de Bordeaux on the terrace at the front of the chateau. We stood enjoying the wines only a few metres away from the river. The sun was going down and we watched the glassy surface of the water reflecting its rays as we tasted the wines. Having lived near the River Severn I picked up on a noise I recognised and asked Sylvie if the Mascaret was due. She didn’t think so. The Mascaret surges up the river twice a day pushed by the incoming tide. I knew it was coming from the tell tale soft rushing sound and true enough a powerful wave rolled up the river, breaking on each bank as it came. Behind it came a huge rippling effect as if a big cat had shrugged.

The river flows right past Le Lau

The wines that stood out for me were:

Chateau Les Artigaux (Graves de Vayres).
Chateau Puyanche (Cotes de Francs).
Domaine de Bavolier (Cotes de Cadillac).
Chateau des Tourtes (Cotes de Blaye)
Chateau Nardou (Cotes de Francs)
Chateau La Croix Davids (Cotes de Bourg)
Chateau Mont Perat (Premieres Cotes)
Chateau Les Bertrands (Cotes de Blaye)
Chateau Laussac (Cotes de Castillon – NB this is owned by the Robin family who also have Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Rol Valentin and Clos Taillefer in Pomerol).
Chateau Roc des Cambes (Cotes de Bourg – NB this one is owned by the Mitjavile family who own Grand Cru Classe Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion).

Le Lau’s beautiful vineyard

With the electricity fixed we moved into a dimly lit dining room with a fire blazing away in the hearth. Relaxed and cosy; we were treated to a fabulous meal. The main course was Sturgeon. A fish I had read about but never eaten. A King’s Fish in the UK (declared to be for royal consumption only by King Edward II), we rarely see them. I knew they were a delicacy and I wasn’t disappointed. Washed down with more than a few glasses of Le Lau the Sturgeon was absolutely delicious. It was a meal, and a wine, I will never forget.

Posted on

How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Above and beyond Saint Emilion – Chateau Tour de Grenet

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

Lussac St Emilion

Above the medieval town of Saint Emilion, about 5 miles away as the crow flies lies Lussac. This little village is the centre of the small wine making region of Lussac Saint Emilion, one of the famous town’s satellite appellations. Wine lovers will have noticed more wines coming into the UK from Lussac Saint Emilion and spotted that they are a good buy when it comes to getting more for your money.

Saint Emilion

Chateaux from this area often pull good vintages out of the bag that don’t cost as anywhere near as much as the Saint Emilion’s down the road.

What’s more a truly good Lussac can upstage your basic Saint Emilion given half a chance. Years ago, it was only the French who knew about the good quality wines available in Lussac but things are changing. Nick was one of the first to bring in Lussacs to our customers and visiting this region was one of the top priorities on my list.

To get a picture of where Lussac sits in relation to Saint Emilion was important to me. I knew it was the most northerly of the satellite appellations but had no idea what the area was like. The town of Saint Emilion is a popular holiday destination; it’s a UNESCO World

A town dedicated to wine

Heritage site and it’s idyllic. It is reminiscent of our Cotswold villages as all the buildings in Saint Emilion are built in a honey coloured limestone. It’s more ochre in colour to that of the Cotswolds but its remarkably similar. Its cobbled streets are terribly steep in places (I have the blisters to prove it); it’s riddled with underground catacombs and heaving with tourists.

This is a town that seems to be totally dedicated to wine – there are little shop windows bristling with bottles everywhere. Stand at the top of the town and you can see a patchwork of green as tiny vineyards crowd into every available space between the buildings. Further beyond they ripple out like a green blanket into the distance. Step outside this area and you start moving into the sticks: the outlying, sparsely populated, hilly slopes that sit far from the madding crowd. This was what I wanted to see and I wasn’t disappointed.

Lussac’s limestone lanes

Lussac is home to about 1300 inhabitants and it’s quite rural. The region rolls up and down on undulating hills and is steeped in antiquity. Lussac’s name comes from deep in the past. It could have derived from the Roman Luccius who established his villa and estate there. The village’s boundaries still mirror the extent of Luccius’ estate. Alternatively, Lussac’s name could even pre-date the Romans. Above the village lies a huge old stone amongst the woodland on the mound of Picampeau. The stone has a mysterious basin carved into it on top it and it’s said that the Gauls held sacrifices here. Lussac could have come from the Gallic term for ‘sacred wood’ which is ‘Lukus.’ Either way, this is ancient turf.

Chateau Tour de Grenet

Radiating out from the village the terrain is dotted with farms and pockets of vines clinging to hillsides. It was hot, scorched and dusty as we pulled off the small, winding road into a gravel strewn yard. Surrounding it were a cluster of what looked to be ancient chais and barns. The glare off the limestone gravel and the blazing sun made me wish I’d brought sunglasses with me and the heat hit you like a brick. I had come to visit Chateau Tour de Grenet, named for the 19th century tower soaring 18 metres high over the vineyards. The tower is actually located on the site of an ancient Roman villa about 1000 metres north of the village.

There are two stories about the tower; one is that it was raised by Pierre Favereau, the owner of the estate (and mayor of Lussac), in 1850 so that he could contemplate his property and observe the work in the vineyards. He was buried at the tower in 1870 and, thanks to local gossip which said he had been interred with his gold snuffbox and his gold-headed cane, the tower was broken into in 1950 by tomb raiders. The other story is that the tower could have played a role as a Chappe Tower – a precursor to the telegraph system. Invented by Claude Chappe in 1794 this system transmitted via 535 towers and it took 9 minutes to send a message from Paris to Lille.

Chateau Tour de Grenet

The property belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Faize in the 16th century and was purchased by the Brunot family in 1970. The Brunots have been involved with wine for several generations. Originally from the Corrèze, Jean-Baptiste Brunot first became interested in wine at the end of the 19th century. He was one of the pioneers of direct sales to the private customers in the North of France, Belgium and Switzerland. In 1900 he took over producing fine wines at Chateau Hermitage de Mazerat in Saint Emilion. Jump forward a generation or two and one line of the family runs Chateau Cantenac whilst the other, headed by Vincent Brunot, is based at Chateau Tour de Grenet.

Tunnels at the chateau

Tour de Grenet’s vineyards cover 26 hectares (64 acres) and lie on one of the highest slopes in the region. Under the ground sit ancient tunnels that were dug to mine the limestone blocks used for building in the villages. The entrance to the tunnels is embedded in a bank of limestone rock that juts out near to the chateau. Remnants of a more glorious past mark it’s mouth with carved finials poking through the over growth above the locked iron gates. Vincent told me that years ago, the tunnels were used to store the wine barrels and bottles; he is currently working on restoring them so that they can once again be used for this purpose.

Dripping spring in the tunnels

Whilst he went to hunt for the key I waited by the gates and a wonderfully icy cool draught poured through them from the darkness – a welcome relief from the heat! Once inside you could see the relics of wine making dotted about in the dimly lit passageways. Above our heads water from an old spring dripped through the rock, carving a hole as it did so and splashed down onto the floor. Any object placed under the spring slowly turns to stone thanks to the high mineral content of the water. It reminded me of Mother Shipton’s Cave in Yorkshire and the Petrifying Well there that does the same thing.

Liquorice laden Lussac

Vincent Brunot

Chateau Tour de Grenet’s wines are circa £13 a bottle and tend to be quite powerful. Dark, deep and intense; they have spicy undertones of oak and, particularly, liquorice. Energetic, keen and perceptive, Vincent has raised the profile of the chateau and it has gathered quite a few awards. I’d expect to see more of Vincent’s wines making their way over the waters to the UK not before long.

Tour de Grenet is not the only chateau Vincent owns – the family purchased another fascinating property in 1978: Chateau Piganeau. This chateau was once owned by the painter, poet and historian Emilien Piganeau (1833 -1911). He was a big personality in the region, being Director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux and he produced numerous paintings and histories of Saint Emilion. This chateau is located near the old port of Saint Emilion near Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens and the Menhir of Pierrefitte.

Menhir of Pierrefitte

This standing stone is the largest in the Gironde and unlike other menhirs, it is carved. Its huge sides are also worn down from centuries of rubbing as Pilgrims touched the stone with their wrists, marking them with chalky dust from the stone, for luck and protection. Locals still gather at the stone for the summer solstice. Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens takes its name from the saint and from the old French Occitan ‘faleyres’ meaning fern. This area was once shady woodland and the ferns that grew here were used to make Medieval wine glasses – fern ash was an important ingredient in the process, along with sand from the river banks.

Chateau Piganeau

Chateau Piganeau sits on very different terroir to Tour de Grenet. Closer to the River Dordogne the microclimate here is warmer and the harvests are very early (similar to Pomerol). The light soils are bands of gravel and sands and they make quite a distinct wine to that of Lussac. Elegant and aromatic; Piganeau reminded me of the flavours of roasted coffee and red currants. It was lighter in style than Tour de Grenet but very polished on the palate. Piganeau is a good example of the difference in price between the well-known Saint Emilion AOC and the prices commanded by its satellites. Piganeau’s wines are circa £17 a bottle – the price tag reflects the fact that these are Saint Emilion AOC rather than Lussac Saint Emilion AOC. However, both wines were equally as good in their own right!

You can check out Vincent’s website at http://www.vignobles-brunot.fr if you’d like to learn more about his wines. He also has two more chateaux which are worth discovering in Lalande de Pomerol and the Entre Deux Mers: Chateaux Le Gravillot and Maledan.

Posted on

The great grape comeback . . . why you might be grateful for Gamay

If Gamay isn’t on your radar but you enjoy your Pinot Noir you are missing out – for Pinot is Gamay’s parent and this grape might just be your next big discovery. Both hail from Burgundy and both have a similar light bodied style but unlike Burgundy, good Gamay doesn’t have to cost the earth. Fruitier than Pinot; Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais and, thanks to a huge revival, this once ‘retro’ grape is making a comeback. It’s poised to become a serious contender on the world stage . . .

Gamay's under the spotlights once more
Gamay’s under the spotlights once more

Back into the limelight

Decades ago Gamay found fame with the craze for Beaujolais Nouveau and, like most fads, it was destined to fade away from the spotlight. However, Gamay never quite got to take that final bow and the curtains didn’t drop on its last act. Instead Gamay went on a world tour. Stepping out of the spotlight paid off and the resulting resurgence in interest on developing Gamay’s potential has lead to it finding a new home in the New World wine regions of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (California and Oregon).

Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines
Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines

In the Old World of Gamay’s native France, it has moved once more into the limelight as passionate producers have pushed the grape to new heights with the best wines coming from the Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais AOCs. Beyond Gamay’s stronghold in Beaujolais the grape has now found a second home in the Loire.

Today Gamay is full of possibilities, it’s repertoire is growing with variations on its style being developed constantly in different sets of countries.

Gamay’s spreading popularity has also lead to it being being blended in an ever evolving set of wines from across the world with Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

Gamay grapes
Gamay grapes

Gamay’s lineage

Gamay’s full name is ‘Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc’ and it’s thought to have originated in the village of Gamay, south of Beaune in Burgundy. The local names for the grape are ‘Bourguignon Noir’ (Black Burgundy) and ‘Petit Bourguignon’ (Little Burgundy). Gamay’s parents are the black Burgundian grape Pinot Noir and the white Gouais Blanc. Given Gamay’s deep rooted connections with Burgundy it seems strange that this grape found its home in Beaujolais. The reason behind this is down to its success. Gamay is easier to grow than Pinot Noir as it ripens 2 weeks earlier and it produces a stronger, fruitier wine. Back in the 1360s villagers in Burgundy preferred to plant Gamay over Pinot which lead the Duke of Burgundy to outlaw it in 1395. The Duke preferred his Pinot and that was that. Fortunately Gamay was adopted by Beaujolais . . . and the rest is history.

The difference in styles between New World and Old World Gamay

New World Gamay

Gamay's signature flavour is of cherry
Gamay’s signature flavour is of cherry

It’s a little early to put a definitive style on cool climate Gamay from Canada and New Zealand as Gamay is still making its first appearance there. There’s much expectation (and excitement) about what wines will find favour.

  • Flavour profile: In general the wines have less of an earthy undertone than those from France. They are characterised by a light body, gentle tannins, vibrant red cherry flavours, fresh acidity and intense perfume.

Gamay can express roasted fennel seed / fenugreek notes
Gamay can express hints of roasted fennel seed / fenugreek

Gamay didn’t make its debut in California until the 1990s as Napa wine makers had been mistakenly growing Valdigue instead, believing it to be Gamay.

  • Flavour profile: Grown at higher altitudes Californian Gamay is typically light bodied, lively and aromatic with bright, sweet and sour morello cherry flavours lifted by roasted warm spices (fenugreek and fennel seed).

Australian Gamay is also new on the block thanks to the warmer climate not suiting Gamay (which prefers cooler temperatures). However antipodean wine makers have persisted and Gamay growing has developed.

  • Flavour profile: These wines are light bodied and tend to have deeper fruit flavours than their New World cousins of black cherry, crushed strawberry and violets with juicy acidity.

Old World Gamay

Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony
Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony

Gamay is Beaujolais’ star and the better wines come from the AOCs Beaujolais Villages and Crus Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Villages AOC tend to vinify their wines in a similar method to neighbouring Burgundy. Wine here are aged briefly in oak barrels which gives an intriguing depth and compexity.

  • Flavour profile: Grown on granite Beaujolais Villages trademarks are vivacious fruit driven wines, light bodied, lively and aromatic with notes of morello cherry, violets, strawberry, raspberry, peony and peach. They can possess savoury and earthy undertones with hints of cinnamon, white pepper and smoke.

Collectively known as the Beaujolais Crus – these are the 10 top Beaujolais Villages that produce deliciously structured wines:

  • Fleurie

    Beaujolais, Gamay's stronghold
    Beaujolais, Gamay’s stronghold
  • Brouilly

  • Chenas

  • Morgon

  • Chiroubles

  • Julienas

  • Cote de Brouilly

  • Moulin a Vent

  • Saint Amour

  • Regnie

Beaujolais Nouveau!
Beaujolais Nouveau!

Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be drunk young – and it can also be drunk chilled – the French drink it as an aperitif before meals. Each year the Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. Just after midnight on the given day a race begins to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible, generating stunts (balloon, elephant and rickshaw races) and excitable headlines.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not fermented in the usual way – carbonic maceration is used. This means that the grapes are fermented without being crushed. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannin and can be ready inside 6 weeks.

  • Gamay makes a surprise entrance!
    Gamay makes a surprise entrance!

    Flavour profile: Beaujolais Nouveau is very light bodied and has exuberant fruit flavours of black cherry, crushed strawberry, lilac and violets with zesty acidity. Thanks to the carbonic maceration it also has subtle hints of pear drops (boiled sweets) and occasionally bananas.

The Loire produces fine Gamay wines, particularly in the area around Touraine (it’s also used in Anjou to produce Roses).

  • Flavour profile: Gamay wines from the Loire exhibit thirst-quenching freshness with a good depth of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and peach), light body and earthy, lightly spiced tones. The wines have a more herby note with floral aromas of lavender and rose.

There are some promising Gamay wines coming out of the Loire Valley which beg further investigation. Keep an eye out for them as we are increasing our range at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk and hope to bring you some pleasant surprises.

Posted on

Saint or Sinner? How to pick a good Shiraz wine

Australia’s signature grape, Shiraz, holds a secret. It’s an old variety from France and it’s the grape behind the famous Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines in the Rhone. Known as Syrah in France, this prized black grape has hundreds of years of history. Capable of producing beautiful blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre; Shiraz also stands proud as a single variety wine in its own right. Here’s how to pick a Shiraz that suits you from the different styles available across the globe . . .

Shiraz Syrah
Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape

The difference between Shiraz and Syrah

Technically there is no difference between Shiraz and Syrah – they are both the same grape which produces deeply flavoured, full bodied, fruity wines. However styles vary from big, bold and brazen on one side of the spectrum to mellow, fine tuned and rich on the other.

Wine makers using this grape have more than a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to expressing its characteristics and you’ll need to know where the wine comes from to be able to tell what style it is. As a rule of thumb if a wine is labelled as Shiraz it hails from the New World – eg Australia, South Africa, California; if it’s labelled Syrah it’s from the Old World – eg France, Italy, Spain.

The difference in styles between New World Shiraz and Old World Syrah in general is that:

  • New World Shiraz is more powerful than Old World Syrah with intense fruit flavours, a higher alcohol content and firmer tannins.

    grapes
    Shiraz / Syrah grapes
  • Flavour profile: sweet blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, black olives, tar, liquorice, charcoal, dark chocolate, black pepper, cloves. Fruit forward, tannic and intense.

  • Old World Syrah is a slightly lighter style with rich, ripe flavours and softer tannins. Most of these wines age well and are often hailed as being ‘more elegant’ than their New World rivals.

  • Flavour profile: blackberry, dark morello cherry, cassis, smoke, sweet anise, spice, herbs, leather, black pepper, mocha, savoury undertones. Mellow tannins, seductive aromas with a long finish.

If you like big, bold wines with tannin, pick Shiraz. If you like full bodied wines that pack a softer punch, pick Syrah.

Languedoc Roussillon - Shiraz's second home
Languedoc Roussillon – Shiraz’s second home

That’s all well and good when your bottle of wine has either Shiraz or Syrah printed on the front label but France has the added complication of labelling its wines by region rather than grape variety. The wine regions in France that produce both 100% Syrah and Syrah blends are in the south east of the country: the Languedoc Roussillon and the Rhone.

The Languedoc Roussillon – Syrah’s second home

  • Syrah has found its second home in the Languedoc Roussillon with the grape thriving in the well drained, rocky soils. Single grape variety wines are produced throughout the region with some lovely 100% Syrahs coming from the vineyards along the Herault river, the Gard and l’Aude.

The Rhone - Syrha's birthplace
The Rhone – Syrha’s birthplace

The Rhone – Syrah’s birthplace

Syrah’s birthplace is in the northern Rhone and Hermitage is famous for it. So much so that Hermitage’s Syrah was added to Bordeaux Clarets in the 18th – 19th centuries to improve the Bordelaise blends. It was done in times when there was a particularly poor vintage (this was also common practice in Burgundy).

  • Hermitage – Primarily 100% Syrah. Officially wines can also made with the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne added to a Syrah based blend. This is no longer common practice and most red Hermitage wines are pure Syrah.

  • Cote Rotie – Many wines are made with 100% Syrah but up to 20% of the white grape Viognier can be added a blended Syrah based wine. This style has a beautiful fragrance.

  • Cornas – 100% Syrah.

Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.
Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.

Syrah blends

We are increasingly seeing New World Syrah blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Sangiovese but its been used in blends in France for centuries. It’s traditionally blended with Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault in France – as well as the white grapes Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane in the Rhone.

Rhone blends using Syrah

  • Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph – Syrah is the dominant grape here with blends being allowed to contain up to 75%. The remainder is made up with 15% of the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne.

  • Chateauneuf du Pape – Grenache & Syrah blends (with lesser amounts of Mourvedre, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir. Small amounts of white grapes can also be added to the red wine blend.)

    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
  • Gigondas – Grenache & Syrah blends (with a minimum of 15% Syrah in the blend).

  • Cotes du Rhone – Most blends here are based on Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Carnignan, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir.

Languedoc Roussillon blends using Syrah

Like the southern Rhone, the Languedoc Roussillon uses Syrah in its blends. Light bodied Grenache is king here but Syrah is next in line, lending power, structure and a hit of front loaded flavour to Grenache based blends.

Fitou – Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Syrah blends.

Corbieres – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan blends.

Minervois – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (60% of the blend) and Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Bourboulenc.

Faugeres – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Saint Chinian – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Costières de Nîmes – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

la poulardiere red small r
La Poulardiere, Cotes de Rhone

Syrah’s lineage

Syrah’s parents are the rare French grapes Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Dureza is a black grape and comes from the Rhone Alpes region. It had practically disappeared but thanks to the discovery that it was the parent of Syrah pioneers in the Rhone have reintroduced it in the Saint Joseph AOC. Mondeuse Blanche is a long forgotten white grape and is also the ancestor of Viognier. It comes from the Savoie region, north of the Rhone.

Syrah or Shiraz – the legend of its name

There are two legends as to how Syrah/Shiraz acquired its names; both tell that the grape hailed from foreign climes, perhaps, thanks to Syrah’s seemingly exotic flavours (one of the local Italian nicknames for the grape is ‘Balsamina’ . . . perhaps a reference to Balsamic vinegar given ithe condiment’s sweet/sour, fruity smoke infused taste?).

The name ‘Syrah’ is supposed to be derived from ancient Syracuse in Sciliy. Syracuse was a powerful city during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC and the grape was thought to have been brought to France either by the ancient Greeks or by the legions of the Roman Emperor Probus some time after AD 280.

The name ‘Shiraz’ comes from the old city of Shiraz in Iran where the legend has the grape originating from. The ancient city produced a well known Shirazi wine and tradition has it that the grape was brought from Shiraz to France by a wandering hermit.

Syrah is the perfect Winter red
Syrah is the perfect Winter red

Warming Wines

With Winter’s cold snap tightening its grip on the UK you’ll see sales of Syrah/Shiraz shoot up – this is a warming wine. It’s big flavours and hearty body are perfect for raising the spirits on cold frosty evenings and for enjoying with rich winter dinners. We have been exploring Syrah’s potential and have some new discoveries coming onboard soon so keep watching www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk for our new arrivals!