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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 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.

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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 and hope to bring you some pleasant surprises.

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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.

    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?).

Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone
Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone

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 for our new arrivals!

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The Many Shades of Grey – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio: How to spot a marvel from a monster

Pinot Grigio; aka ‘the Grey Pinot,’ has many faces. Curiously coloured with a myriad of shades, this little French grape adopted by Italy holds surprising potential. Originally a mutation, it has its beginnings in myth for this grape is both a Chimaera and a Chameleon capable of producing a variety of different styles of wine. Discovering the Pinot you prefer can be a minefield – here’s how to spot a marvel from a monster . . .

The Chimaera, a creature of many parts
The Chimaera, a creature of many parts

The Chimaera

Pinot Grigio is the same grape as the French grape Pinot Gris. It’s thought to have originated in Burgundy and it is a naturally occurring chimaera; a genetic mutation of the red grape Pinot Noir that occurred centuries ago. (The genetic term is derived from the Chimaera of Greek mythology, a fire breathing monster that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.)

Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour
Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour

Pinot Gris must have come as quite a shock to those ancient wine makers. The leaves of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are so similar that you can’t tell the difference between the two grape vines . . . until the bunches of grapes begin to ripen and take on colour. Unlike the dark purple of Pinot Noir, the grapes of Pinot Gris are bathed in grey.

The Chameleon

Although Pinot Gris takes the name ‘Gris’ thanks to the soft grey tone of its grapes; like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour variations. It’s gentle grey tones can range from dusty violet hues to soft bronzed tones of pink.

Dusky violet Pinot Gris
Dusky violet Pinot Gris

It also has a bewildering variety of regional names in France. It was known as Pinot Beurot in the Middle Ages; a reference to the grape’s colour being similar to that of the homespun habits worn by the Cistercian monks. You’ll also find this grape called Gris Cordelier after the Franciscan monks known as Cordeliers. The monks were responsible for pioneering the spread of Pinot Gris beyond the borders of France in the 1300s.

Outside France it’s known as Pinot Grigio (Grey Pinot) in Italy, Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) in Germany and Szurkebarat (Grey Monk) in Hungary.

Marvel or Monster?

Bronzed pink Pinot Gris
Bronzed pink Pinot Gris

It’s not surprising that Pinot Gris is known both as a marvel and a monster. It’s Italian namesake, Pinot Grigio, has enjoyed meteoric success; sales have rocketed and over half of the UK’s wine drinkers are said to quaff it. The problem with new found fame is that a lot of Italian Pinot Grigio has become mass produced and is lacking the delicate, mild, citrus crispness that endeared it to British wine lovers in the first place.

Bad Pinot Grigio can be insipid and bland.

However this grape’s true merit is the different styles of wine that it is capable of producing.

Wine made from Pinot Gris
Wine made from Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not only multifaceted but in the right hands its its multidimensional. It can produce a whole array of white wines from bone dry and light bodied right through to full bodied and deliriously sweet.

Low in acidity and high in sugars, Pinot Gris flourishes in cool climates. Germany and Alsace (northern France) produce both semi sweet (Moelleux) and sweet, late harvest (Vendages Tardives) Pinot Gris with spicy, nectar-like, intense flavours.

Generally French Pinot Gris tends to be more complex and more full bodied than Italian Pinot Grigio. Flavours tend to be deeper too – typically of pear, stone fruit and sweet spices.

In the Loire, Pinot Gris is used to produce Malvoisie Coteaux d’Ancenis, a subtly sweet fruity and floral style. There is one exception in the region – Christophe Rethore makes a dry Pinot Gris with only 2.5 grams of residual sugar. The result is a startlingly good dry Pinot Gris that I highly recommend.

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014 £6.99

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire
Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire

Domaine Rethore Davy’s Pinot Gris is grown on steep south facing slopes (10% gradient) which are divided between quartz and schist. These soils were specifically chosen to bring out the best characteristics of this expressive grape variety. Here, on the Mauges plateau, crossed by the valleys of the River Evre, the Pinot Gris makes a striking wine. Le Chapitre combines all the refreshing qualities of Pinot Gris in perfect harmony. The grapes are harvested in September when the grapes are nearly over ripe but before Noble Rot sets in. At this pivotal point, Domaine Rethore Davy captures the lush flavour of Pinot Gris with its twinkling acidity to produce its award winning wine.

Tasting Notes:

Soft, smoky Pinot Gris from the Loire Valley. Crisp, fresh and mouth watering. Gently spiced flavours of ripe pear, white peach and lychee with a touch of lemon and ginger. Pleasantly intense aromas and very nicely balanced with floral overtones. Generous with a lingering freshness.

100% Pinot Gris. 12.5% abv. 75cl.

Mists on the Mauges
Mists on the Mauges

Food & Wine Pairing:

Pinot Gris is the perfect wine to sit and relax with on its own but Le Chapitre also pairs well with food. It’s lovely with seafood such as crab spring rolls or chilli prawns, smoked salmon or gravlax, squid or grilled fish – try it with stuffed sardines. Le Chapitre is good with chicken or turkey, pulled pork, salamis, ham and pates, salads, soups and lightly spiced Asian cuisine.


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Shortcuts to Super Sparkling Wines – Don’t Pass Over Regional Specialities

It’s about time that sparkling wines broke out of the box; all too often we miss out on wonderful regional specialities as they don’t get to reach our shores. Champagne, glorious though it may be, is only one region in France that produces sparkling wine. There are over 20 others that we simply just don’t get to hear about and one in particular is a pretty well kept secret . . .

Bordeaux's speciality:  Cremant de Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s speciality: Cremant de Bordeaux

If you are looking for a shortcut to a source of super sparklers that won’t break the bank you’ll be surprised that Bordeaux has more than a few under wraps. We all know that Bordeaux is a premium source of high quality wine and has top class and talented wine makers at every turn. But what is not common knowledge is that Bordeaux has a long tradition of making its own sparkling wine.

Bordeaux’s sparkling wine is made by wine makers equally as talented as those who produce their excellent reds. It’s made exactly the same way as Champagne and it has its own niche following inside France – it’s exclusively used at official functions by decree of the Mayor in preference to Champagne.

To be honest you don’t get to see much of it in the UK as it’s consumed by French wine lovers before we get much of a look in.

saint emilion cremant
Cremant from Saint Emilion

Bordeaux’s speciality is the sparkling wine Cremant de Bordeaux. There are only 7 French Cremant AOCs that are permitted to make this style of sparkler, namely Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Jura, Limoux and Loire. Cremants (named for the French word meaning ‘creamy’ which refers to the frothy mousse of bubbles) are an excellent alternative to Champagne and each region has its own style. Each style is dictated by the region’s native grapes, terroir and wine making techniques. Cremant de Bordeaux is softer and more gentle than crisp, zesty Cremant d’Alsace.

The French adore their fizz, but they are leaving Champagne in favor of other sparkling wines – Cremants now account for half of sparkling wine sales in France.

Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892
Clos des Cordeliers has been producing Cremant since 1892

The production of sparkling wines in Bordeaux is far from prolific but Cremant de Bordeaux has its roots in the 19th century. Saint Emilion has been making Cremants in the ancient cloisters, Clos des Cordeliers, since 1892 and Sauternes & Barsac were experimenting with sparkling wines as far back as the 1870s. The AOC Cremant de Bordeaux was created in 1990 and today you’ll find specialist small producers making Cremants as well as a few prestigious names – Jean Luc Thunevin of Premier Cru Chateau Valandraud is a Cremant producer.

Prices are very reasonable, partly thanks to Cremant being eclipsed by Bordeaux’s world famous reds and partly thanks to Cremant de Bordeaux being undiscovered outside France.

Highly Recommended

Cremant de Bordeaux – Jean Baptiste Audy £8.99


This is a recent discovery and it is produced by the most renowned producer of Cremants de Bordeaux for Jean Baptiste Audy (we can’t tell you who, as it’s a secret).


The producers are located in the heart of the Entre Deux Mers, near Langoiran, on the banks of the Garonne river. The Cremant is made in underground caves deep in the natural limestone galleries along the Garonne which are ideally suited for the process thanks to their high humidity.

Langoiran is a small town that spirals up a crag over the River Garonne, opposite Graves AOC. High on the crag sits the 13th century fortress Chateau de Langorian. In its heyday Langorian’s ancient dock catered for important river traffic and locally built barges used to carry stone quarried from the hillside and barrels of wine up the river.

Langorian by the river
Langorian by the river

This Cremant is made in exactly the same way as Champagne (using the Methode Champenoise); grapes are hand picked into small baskets and fermented in stainless steel vats, the second fermentation is done the following year in bottle, riddling is also done by hand as is disgorgement and the final product is then aged for several months more. The grapes used are the same grapes that go into classic Bordeaux white wines: Semillon and Muscadelle and are from vineyards on chalky limestone soils. This grape combination characterises this Cremant de Bordeaux with the hallmarks of subtle complexity married with a fine fragrance and lovely body.

Cremant de Bordeaux Brut - Jean Baptiste Audy
Cremant de Bordeaux Brut – Jean Baptiste Audy

Tasting Notes:

Deliciously fresh and frothy with a delicate mousse of bubbles. A Bordelaise speciality made the same exacting way as Champagne with flavours of lime, pear and quince underpinned by subtle hints of white cherry blossom, crushed walnuts and caramel. Very aromatic and well balanced. A nice long frothy finish.

70% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 12% abv. 75Cl

Food Pairing:

The ideal temperature to enjoy it is chilled between 5 – 7°C. Perfect for enjoying as an aperitif, Cremant de Bordeaux is also great with desserts (raspberry trifle in particular!), appetizers, smoked salmon, prawns, chicken and turkey.