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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

Langorian
Langorian

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).

Location:

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.

Enjoy!

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What is Declassified Bordeaux and why are we being told it is Special? The Key Facts

Over the past few years Declassified Bordeaux Wines have been creeping into the mainstream. Few people know about them and lots of people are put off as ‘declassified’ doesn’t imply the wine will be good quality. The truth, in fact, is the exact opposite.

Chateaux are secretive about their Declassified Wines
Chateaux are secretive about their Declassified Wines

Declassified Wine is haunted by lots of smokescreens and mirrors. The chateaux who produce it don’t want their customers to know about it; the merchants who sell it are handicapped (sometimes legally) by the chateaux’s insistence on anonymity and the wine buying public is totally confused about it. No wonder it attracts a niche market!

I’d like to demystify Declassifed Wines so that we can all benefit. Let me explain . . .

Declassified Wine is a bit of an ambiguous term but in this instance the Declassified Wine I am referring to generally comes from a fairly prestigious Classified Chateau. (Top Bordeaux chateaux are ranked under various Classifications and are known as Grand Cru Classe or Classified Chateau).

Declassified Wine is the surplus wine that has not made it into the branded wines produced by the chateaux.

This wine is not labelled under the chateaux’s brand name(s) as a classified wine (Grand Cru Classe), instead it is labelled under the generic AOC or given a fancy name that has nothing to do with the chateau.

Shhh!  Declassified Wines can be a bargain
Shhh! Declassified Wines can be a bargain

You might not think that Declassified Wines are not up to much and to be honest most people are fairly sceptical when told about this practice. But the keywords to remember here are ‘prestigious chateaux.’

Wines produced by these top chateaux have certain advantages; they benefit from state of the art wine making, the best experts and oenologists, cutting edge technology and immaculately managed vineyards lying on the best terroir. In short these wines are made to the highest standards – they are the aristocrats of the wine world.

Declassified Bordeaux is made by the same team that produce the Classified Chateaux’s flagship wines.

This means that the Declassified Wine is made with the same level of expertise. The wine is also normally made from the same vineyard so it has the same pedigree and provenance.

Decdlassified Wines are made anonymously by the top Grand Cru Classe
Decdlassified Wines are made anonymously by the top Grand Cru Classe

Is Declassified Wine Any Good?

Simply put, it depends. To me, it all boils down to where it comes from. You can bag yourself a Declassified Wine from a top flight estate without the price of a Premier Cru if you are lucky. But therein lies the rub – as the top chateaux don’t want you to know who produced it, Declassified Wines are made anonymously. This means that you will either have to play the part of private detective or trust your wine merchant.

As merchants we do know where the wine comes from but we aren’t allowed to tell you (but we will always give you a few clues if you want to try and find out).

Bordeaux has some grapevines over 100 years old
Bordeaux has some grapevines over 100 years old

Why do Chateaux Declassify?

1. Chateaux are constantly having to replant their vineyards. Think of it as ‘rolling stock’ if you will. It’s part of their general vineyard management but replanting can also occur if a chateau acquires another estate whose vineyards need rejuvenating or if the chateau wants to introduce another grape variety.

  • Grapevines can attain a great age but generally as they grow old their productivity drops off. Whilst some grapevines in Bordeaux are the grand old age of 100 most are between the ages of 10 and 30 years old.

  • Overall the quality of the grapes increases with age but the yield (crop) decreases. This means that in order to keep production levels constant the chateaux have to plant new vines.

As the quality of the grapes on these young vines is not as good as their older siblings the chateaux can not put it into their Grand Vins (flagship wines).

Bordeaux wines are blends of different grapes
Bordeaux wines are blends of different grapes

2. Bordeaux Grand Vins are blends. In prestigious estates, only the best wines made from the best grapes are blended to be sold under the name of the estate for the highest possible price. Vineyards are typically divided into plots of 3 or 4 different grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the most common). Part of the skill of the wine making expert is to create these blends using different vats or barrels of wines made from each separate grape variety. One grape may perform better than the others depending on the growing conditions for that particular year, which means that the winemaker requires less of the others.

The end result is that high quality vats of wines that don’t meet the flavour profile for the vintage are surplus to requirements.

Declassified wines are all about brand protection
Declassified wines are all about brand protection

So what do the chateaux do with the rest? They make a Second Wine. Second quality wine is blended and sold under a second label, generally for about one third of the price of the Grand Vin. Some chateaux also make a Third Wine. A case in point is Premier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Latour in AOC Pauillac; the Grand Vin is Chateau Latour, the Second Wine is Les Forts de Latour and the Third Wine is Pauillac de Chateau Latour.

Once a chateau has filled out its requirements for its Grand Vin and Second Wine any remaining wine would be sold as Declassified Wine anonymously for even lower prices, distributed privately or sold to restaurants.

Why are the chateaux so secretive about their Declassified Wine?

Declassified Wine is all about brand protection and manpulating prices. The chateaux want to protect the prestige of their Grand Vin (and its high price). They simply don’t want to devalue their brand by making less expensive wines available under their chateau name.

 

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Tricks of the Trade – Premier Cru For a Fraction of the Price

We’d all like to drink like Kings but most of the French Premier Crus are so expensive they are far out of reach for most of us. However, savvy wine lovers can steal a trick or two on the chateaux and bag a superb wine for a fraction of the price. I’ll tell you how . . .

Vineyards in the town of Saint Emilion
Vineyards in the town of Saint Emilion

Keeping a beady eye on chateaux purchases may seem overzealous but there is a good reason to watch who is doing the buying and selling. Most of the prestigious Premier Cru chateaux producing Grand Vins have great demand for their wines but no room for expansion. Their production is limited as they can’t enlarge their vineyards to make more wine. Strict AOC rules govern vineyard acreage and the Premier Crus are either boxed in by their neighbours, hemmed in by dwellings or surrounded by land deemed unsuitable by the AOC. Patches of premium land in Bordeaux are astronomically expensive and are difficult to find.

‘Often, the only way a chateaux can increase their acreage is by buying up their neighbours – and if those neighbours are sitting on premium land then they are sitting on a little gold mine.’

Usually the Premier Cru chateaux will devour their latest acquisitions, adding their prime acres to those of the Grand Vin. Very occasionally you’ll spot a small chateau, full of sleeping potential, being purchased by a member of a Premier Cru wine making dynasty as a project. This small chateau will be pumped full of investment; the chateau buildings renovated, vineyards resurrected and the wines brought up to high quality by the same wine making team employed at the Premier Cru. These are the little gold mines to watch out for.

‘La Tour du Pin is a case in point.’

Chateau La Tour du Pin, now part of Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc
Chateau La Tour du Pin, now part of Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc

This little chateaux was a remnant from the great Figeac estate in Saint Emilion. This is premium land, having perfect terroir for great wine production. The Figeac estate dates back to the 2nd century AD and sits over a Roman villa once owned by the Roman Consul Figeacus. Down the centuries the estate fragmented into a patchwork of smaller enterprises. Today, both Chateau Figeac and Cheval Blanc lie on part of the old estate and both are Premier Crus. In 2006 the owners of Cheval Blanc, Bernard Arnault and Albert Frère, bought La Tour du Pin. Investment followed, the Premier Cru wine making team stepped in and the wine took off into the stratosphere.

A bottle of Cheval Blanc can be 10 times the price of La Tour du Pin
A bottle of Cheval Blanc can be 10 times the price of La Tour du Pin

A few vintages later Arnault and Frère did the maths and La Tour du Pin’s fate was sealed. Their little project could never command the astronomic price of Cheval Blanc and business was booming. If La Tour du Pin’s vineyards could be absorbed into those of Cheval Blanc they could up their production of the Grand Vin and make a fortune. And that’s precisely what happened.

‘So, what’s the difference between the wines of Cheval Blanc and La Tour du Pin you may ask? Not a lot.’

They are made by the same wine making experts, on the same land from the same grapes. The only difference is in the price. A bottle of Cheval Blanc can be 10 times the price of La Tour du Pin.

Insider Tip

There is a problem. Bottles of La Tour du Pin are a rarity. This small chateau is now effectively extinct thanks to its Premier Cru neighbour. Not many vintages of La Tour du Pin were produced and what was marketed, was quickly snapped up. I made sure I was one of the merchants who snapped them up. Both the 2006 and 2007 vintages of La Tour du Pin are available at Bordeaux-Undiscovered, both are beautiful wines and both are an absolute bargain.

Beautiful wine at a bargain
Beautiful wine at a bargain

Unusually, Bordeaux-Undiscovered offers La Tour du Pin (and many other fine wines) as single bottles so you have the added advantage of not being tied to purchasing 12 bottles of a specific wine in a case, as you would with other wine merchants. This means that it is easy to make up the cases of your choice that reflect your own personal taste and budget. Our minimum order is a 6 bottle case (mixed wines, or otherwise – your choice). There are no hidden charges either – typically you will see other merchants showing prices for fine wines without duty, VAT and delivery charges. Our prices are inclusive so that you know exactly what you are paying out and have no nasty shocks at the end of the checkout. Nor do we stipulate a minimum spend of £200 as other fine wine merchants do; you can spend as much or as little as you want and delivery is free of charge on purchases over £99.99.

Enjoy!