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Myth Busting: Sulphites in Wine

Does the warning ‘contains sulphites’ on the label of a bottle of wine cause you to think twice? Such a warning can worry a lot of wine lovers . . . but it’s overkill on the part of bureaucrats. We are doing a little myth busting on scary sulphites – read on to discover if you should be concerned . . .

The message 'contains sulphites' is misleading
The message ‘contains sulphites’ is misleading

The fact is that we are all concerned about what’s in our food and drink nowadays and this is a good thing. However the warning ‘contains sulphites’ that winks out at you on a wine bottle’s label is misleading. It’s a ‘catch-all’ phrase that has gone too far as ALL wines contain miniscule amounts of sulphites, no matter whether they are natural wines, organic or bio dynamic. Tiny amounts of ‘Natural Sulphites’ are always produced as part of the process of fermentation. The message labels carry is not helpful to the consumer as the fuss should be about ‘Added Sulphites’ instead.

Wine contains 10 times less sulphites than a handful of dried apricots
Wine contains 10 times less sulphites than a handful of dried apricots

Let me explain why there is a fuss about sulphites in the first place. Sulphite intolerance reportedly affects less than 1% of the the population but, just as we have to have ‘contains nuts’ warning on foods, the public must be cautioned about wines that contain them. An adverse reaction to sulphites in wine is extremely rare but if you do have an intolerance you must be careful, especially if you are an asthmatic. That said, wine contains 10 times less sulphites than a handful of dried apricots which can contain up to 3000 ppm (parts per million). You’d probably find more sulphites in your pizza than in your glass of wine.

Without Sulphites wines have a very short shelf life
Without sulphites wines have a very short shelf life

Given that the levels of Natural Sulphites in wine are tiny and that 99% of us won’t be affected by them anyway why is popular opinion so distrustful of sulphites in wine? It’s because of Added Sulphites. Wine is perishable and sulphites are preservatives – they have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties. Without sulphites wines generally have a very short shelf life (about 6 months tops). This is why large scale producers add sulphites to their wines and this is why the level of sulphite added to wine has been capped. If you are a large producer making wine in bulk and shipping it across to the UK over long distances you will need to add sulphites to your wine to stop it going off.

In the EU the maximum levels of sulphur dioxide that a wine can contain are 160 ppm for red wine and 210 ppm for white wine.

Smaller and / or artisan producers will wait to see if adding Sulpites is necessary
Smaller and / or artisan producers will wait to see if adding sulphites is necessary

Typically smaller and/or artisan producers creating wines that are meant to age and develop in bottle will wait to see if adding sulphites is necessary. Bordeaux is a great example of this but there are many other quality wine producers across France who follow the same principle. Fermentation alone doesn’t produce enough Natural Sulphites to kill off bacteria so they either add as little as they can or sterilise the wine by running it through a narrow tube contained in a bigger one full of hot water. If you are a bulk wine producer you don’t have the time to watch and wait so you add sulphites as a matter of course. You don’t have the time to express the finest points of each vintage either. Your wines must be consistent so there is less fiddling about with pesky hand picking and hand sorting of grapes (a principle that is highly prized in Bordeaux to ensure healthy grapes, i.e. no rot). Your grapes will be machine harvested and sorted because you know that a good dollop of sulphites will cure all.

Claude Gros
Claude Gros

Claude Gros, the brilliant oenologist behind many excellent wines (including Chateau La Fleur Morange), agrees with me that the message on the label should state ‘No Added Sulphites’ as it tells anxious consumers so much more than the generic ‘Contains Sulphites’. Firstly ‘No Added Sulphites’ lets the wine enthusiast know that the wine only contains Natural Sulphites and hasn’t had any extra added in. Secondly it would infer to those in the know that the wine hasn’t been bulk produced but has been carefully made by a good wine maker who has watched over the process like a hawk.

All the wines I select for Bordeaux-Undiscovered have been made by small producers and have been made to the highest standards. You won’t find any bulk produced wine here.

If you’d like to learn more about additives in wine check out my blog: Why do some wines give us headaches?

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A Rare Wine Made From A Rare Grape: Gouleyant Loin de l’Oeil Sauvignon

gaillacWine lovers are often keen to discover wines made from rare or long forgotten grapes and are intrigued by their mystery and captivating flavours. Some of the most popular blogs I have written cover these unusual wines and I am really pleased to have discovered an absolute gem which I have brought back to the UK. My search took me inland from Bordeaux east to one of the oldest wine producing regions in France: Gaillac.

mapThe first vines were planted in Gaillac by the Romans long before the birth of Christ. This is one of the earliest centres of wine making in ancient Gaul and the Romans shipped their wines along the River Tarn to Bordeaux and from there on to northern Europe and England. After Rome fell the wines of Gaillac continued to be developed by the Benedictine monks and they have quite a pedigree – King Henry III and Louis XIV both enjoyed Gaillac wines. These wines were not only enjoyed by the French Kings but also by our very own King Henry VIII.

gaillac townIn 1520, King Henry VIII met the King of France, François I, near Calais on the Field of the Cloth of Gold. King François gave him 50 barrels of Gaillac wine as a gift and Henry VIII loved it. As you can imagine this ancient history of wine making has left quite a heritage in Gaillac and there are some very rare grapes grown here that go into making some fabulous wines.

Gouleyant Gaillac White SMALLGouleyant Loin de l’Oeil Sauvignon is one of these little treasures. Loin de l’Oeil is one of the rare grapes of Gaillac, it’s grown nowhere else, and very little is known about its history. Gaillac was famous for its wines long before Bordeaux and it’s thought that Loin d’Oeil was used in Gaillac whites popular in England from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. It’s possible that this traditional grape could be a relic or descendant from Greco-Roman ones once planted there. This grape is a source of pride for the region and is practically unheard of outside France so I am delighted to have tracked down this gorgeous wine.

gaillac grapeLoin de l’Oeil means ‘far from the eye’ (as the grape bunches hang on a long stem far from the branch) and it’s known for its wonderful fragrance. An old local tale says that says that the bunches are far from the eye of the harvester, and some of them get left behind – hence its name. Whichever tale is true this grape makes a lovely wine. If you enjoy Viognier, Gouleyant has a similar style; fuller bodied, lush in character, but with a crisp, refreshing edge due to the Sauvignon Blanc in the blend.

The blend in this rare and extraordinarily delicious Gaillac dry white is 80% Loin de l’Oeil and 20% Sauvignon. It’s very fragrant with lovely depth. It has floral aromas of orange blossom and rose water with layered flavours of baked apple, peach and apricot finished with lemon zest and hints of almond.gaillac river

Gouleyant is a wine to relax with and savour but it pairs beautifully with food. It’s natural pairing is with salt and fresh water fish, bouillabaise, spicy prawns, pasta puttanesca and paella. However it’s also delicious with chicken dishes, pheasant, turkey, warm salads and cheese.

It is a lovely marriage between the two grapes and this original and intriguing blend of Loin de l’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc is made by Georges Vigouroux and his son Bertrand-Gabriel, who are specialists in wines from south west France. Their award winning wines come from estates dating back to the Medieval times which lie on the limestone foothills of the Massif Central. The climate here is warm and the slopes are swept by the hot Mediterranean wind known as the Autan.

There are dozens of pigeonniers (pigpigeoneon houses) dotting the vineyards as up until the 19th century the only fertilizer allowed on the vines was pigeon droppings. Gaillac winemakers have always been strict when it came to maintaining their wines quality and with the backing of the local lords, an early form of quality control was imposed: no wine from elsewhere could be imported into Gaillac so that it would not be adulterated.

Nowadays wines from Gaillac are starting to impress the wine critics once more. The only problem that wine lovers face is that the wines are difficult to get hold of outside France . . . until now! The 2013 vintage is available at £9.49 from Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Enjoy!

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Bordeaux En Primeur 2013 – Day 1 – The Four First Growths on the Left Bank, Chateaux Palmer, Grand Puy Lacoste, Ducru Beaucaillou, Calon Segur, Montrose, Leoville Poyferre

medoc en primeurNot having read too much into the 2013 vintage before arriving in Bordeaux I started with a completely open mind. My conclusions at the end of the day are that it is not a vintage to get excited about. It’s a pleasant vintage producing very drinkable wines that will be drunk early but there is nothing inspiring, so far. Out of the wines I tasted today there are no super stars and thanks to very difficult growing conditions most of the wines lack depth and colour. It was a watery year and this shows. However this is also a vintage where experience, training and terroir are playing a large part, helping to make the best out of what the chateaux have produced. The advances in winemaking technology have bolstered the process enormously and for those who have been able to invest in them, it has paid off.

It’s obvious talking to the winemakers and chateaux owners on the Left Bank that the Merlot has been the problem child. To sum up the essence of the vintage concerning the red wines today: on the good side it is pleasant and on the bad, it’s bland. There is nothing to dislike but there is no wow factor. The whites are quite different. From the 3 that I have tasted so far it could be a very good year indeed for both dry and sweet whites. I am looking forward to tasting more before I can draw a definite conclusion.

EP 13EP 13First Growths Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild

Having tasted the 4 First Growths from the Left Bank: Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild, I came away with some disappointment. They lacked depth and opulence that you would associate with chateaux of this rank. This is characteristic of many of the wines that I tasted.

Chateau Margaux contains no Merlot whatsoever, relying on 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. The Merlot that was harvested will mainly be going into the Third and Fourth wines. The Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux did contain 10% Merlot and as a Second Wine it was pleasant. The wine I did enjoy tasting was the dry white Pavillon Blanc de Chateau Margaux. It was fresh and floral on the nose, crisp and well balanced – but only 1000 cases will be produced.

Chateau Latour was respectable but the highlight for me were the past vintages that they offered at the tasting: Chateau Latour 2004, Les Forts de Latour 2006 and Pauillac 2008. Out of the three I thoroughly enjoyed the Forts de Latour 2006. With a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, I thought it was delightful in every department: good structure, a good nose, good concentration of fruit. It’s drinking beautifully.

Chateau Mouton was a bit of a let down and Chateau Lafite was acceptable. For fear of repeating myself I felt that they lacked something.

EP 13 bChateaux Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse de Lalande

At both chateaux yet again I thought that depth was lacking. Chateau Pichon Baron will only be making 10,000 cases whereas in the 1970s they were making 30,000.

At Pichon Baron I had the chance to taste 2 white wines – a dry and a sweet. Both were very good. S de Suduiraut is a dry white with a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon. It is a pale lemon yellow in colour with summer fruits on the nose – a very floral fragrance. On the palate it has good levels of acidity, nice layers of fruits and its a lively, fresh wine.

suduirautChateau Suduiraut is a sweet Sauternes with a blend of 92% Sauvignon and 8% Semillon. A golden hued wine, it is fresh on the nose with hints of honey and apricot. Well rounded on the palate with flowers accentuated in the mouth.

Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Leoville Las Cases

I thought that Leoville Las Cases wine was pleasant, as was Cos d’Estournel, but it’s not typical of what you’d normally expect from Cos d’Estournel. For me, Cos lacked the signature characteristics it usually has.

Chateau Pontet Canet

As most Bordeaux enthusiasts are aware, Chateau Pontet Canet released early before the tastings at 60 euros. Having tasted it today I personally don’t think it is as good as the 2012 and as far as my palate is concerned I found the 2013 too jammy.

Having experienced a few lows I had better point out a few highs. I felt that Chateaux Palmer, Montrose, Calon Segur, Grand Puy Lacoste, Ducru Beaucaillou and Leoville Poyferre all had something that the others weren’t offering.

palmerChateau Palmer

The Second Wine, Alter Ego de Palmer ,definitely offered something different and the first thing I noticed was that it had real depth of colour – it was a good dark crimson. With a blend of 46% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot, the wine had good fruit on the nose and hints of opulence on the palate; as did the Grand Vin, Chateau Palmer, which was a blend of 49% Merlot and 41% Cabernet Sauvignon. Under difficult growing conditions Chateau Palmer has made a wine that stands out when compared to its peers.

Both Chateau Montrose and Calon Segur also offered more than others.

Chateau Montrose

La Dame de Montrose, the Second Wine of Chateau Montrose, is a blend of 69% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc. As a Second Wine I thought it showed better than the average and Chateau Montrose (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot) showed very well.

Chateau Calon Segur

I tasted Chateau Calon Segur in their new tasting room (which would have had Madame Capburn Gasquetron turning in her grave if she knew how much had been spent on it. It’s beautifully done though!) Both wines at Calon Segur presented well.

The Second Wine, Marquis de Calon (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon) had a reasonable nose which wasn’t overpowering with hints of juicy soft fruit. A nice structure, good tannins and fruits on the palate.

Chateau Calon Segur is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was a nice deep, rich colour with an elegant hint of fruit on the nose. On the palate there was a good level of fruit, good structure and good length.

grand puy lacosteChateau Grand Puy Lacoste

I tasted 3 wines at Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste. Chateau Haut Batailley was fair, however the Second Wine of Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Lacoste Borie, offered a nice depth of fruit and was well rounded. It is a blend o 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

The Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste was very elegant and very feminine with a good nose and nice structure in the mouth. To me, it was a typical Grand Puy Lacoste.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

At Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou I tasted 3 wines: Chateaux Lalande Borie, Croix de Beaucaillou and Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. All 3 were very pleasant.

The Lalande Borie is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. It has a good concentration of colour, a touch of good soft fruit on the nose with nice rounded tannins in the mouth, good structure and hints of spice.

The Croix de Beaucaillou is – in Mr. Borie’s words – the colour of ‘Bishop Red’ (whatever that may well be) but it is a good colour with a nice floral and fruity bouquet, good structure and tannins and a slight hint of jamminess.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and of the 3 wines this gave the best dense red colour. It is elegant on the nose with hints of violets and red berries. In the mouth it is soft and polished with rich red fruits and a hint of spice. A nice wine.

EP 13 cdChateau Leoville Poyferre

The last chateau I visited was Chateau Leoville Poyferre where I tasted 4 wines. With all 4 Mr. Cuvelier and his team have done a very good job in difficult conditions.

Chateau Le Croix, the Second Wine of Chateau Le Crock is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. It has good colour, a good nose and good layers of fruit in the mouth with nice raspberry flavours. It has good length and some depth.

Chateau Moulin Riche (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 17% Petit Verdot) has a good density of colour, a good nose with nice layers of fruit and a good depth of fruit on the palate with hints of spice and elegance. A nice example from the estate.

I had had the opportunity of tasting the Second Wine of Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Pavillon de Poyferre, which has a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. To me this was slightly a notch above the Moulin Riche but it has similar structure and elegance and is a good crimson colour.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc) was a nice deep crimson with rounded tannins, good balance and a nice nose of raspberry and red fruits. It was a very nice wine to end my first day on.

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Taste Our Wines at Stratford Racecourse and Spot a Winner This Saturday

stratford tastingSaturday looks set for a great days racing with the weather turning warm and sunny. Bordeaux-Undiscovered are sponsoring the days racing this Saturday (29th March) at Stratford Racecourse and Nick will also be showing our range of wines including some new great discoveries having their first introduction into the UK market!. So why not come along and taste a few treasures and spot a winner or two this Saturday?

tent 2Stratford Racecourse is one of the country’s leading small summer jumps racecourses and racing takes place regularly between March and October. You can see many top trainers and jockeys there and it has a very friendly atmosphere. The going is said to be good to soft and temperatures will be around 16 – 17ºC on Saturday at the racecourse! This is a big change from this time last year when racing had to be called off due to flooding thanks to waterlogging.

Bookings can be made online as well as over the phone (01789 267949) and by email info@stratfordracecourse.net.

Bordeaux Undiscovered BBC Good Food Show 4The races during the afternoon are:

13:55 bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle

14:30 Bordeaux Undiscovered 1855 Classification Handicap Chase

15:05 Bordeaux Undiscovered For A Good Tipple Selling Hurdle

15:40 Bordeaux Undiscovered Claret Handicap Hurdle

16:15 Great Value Wines From Bordeaux Undiscovered Handicap Chase

16:50 Bu Grand Cru Classes Handicap Hurdle

17:25 La Fleur Morange Mathilde Standard Open NH Flat Race

Runners for each race can be found at

http://www.sportinglife.com/racing/meeting/stratford/29-03-2014/fast-cards

We hope to see you there!

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Breaking News – 2013 Bordeaux En Primeur Campaign Starts Early

pontet canetAstonishingly the 2013 Bordeaux En Primeur Campaign has kicked off early this morning before anyone has had a chance to even taste the wine they are being offered to buy. Chateau Pontet Canet has been released at 60 euros. Surprisingly this is the same price as the 2012. The market was widely expecting to see significantly lower pricing for the 2013. This, quite simply, is a crazy stunt. How can you buy something and recommend it to your customers when you haven’t tasted it?

Usually the chateaux do push forward a sacrifical lamb to release first so the chateaux owners can test the mood of the market. However this is normally after the tastings have been held!

The 2013 has been a difficult year for Bordeaux and there has been controversy about the potential quality of the wine and also about Robert Parker not tasting the vintage till June. Parker’s tardy tasting has literally thrown a cat amongst the pigeons as his scores can make or break the value of a vintage.

The quantity of wine that Bordeaux has been able to produce for 2013 is dramatically down and it may be that Pontet Canet’s early release has this is mind. Watch out for this being used as a marketing ploy and don’t be fooled. It falls apart as in the space of 10 minutes we were offered the initial allocation which was then upped with the offer of being able to acquire larger amounts!

The 2012 Pontet Canet is available for 69 euros and could be a better wine for the money – we don’t know as we haven’t been given the chance to taste the 2013 yet. The 2012 was scored 91 – 94 points by Parker. Do Pontet Canet expect the 2013 to be scored the same? It’s a bit presumptious.

As you can imagine, the mood of the market is not good on hearing this news. Lets hope the message it sends the chateaux owners is actually listened to before Bordeaux 2013 goes down as the year of the Laughable Vintage.

Is this a wine being sold or is it a brand being sold? If they are selling on the reputation of their brand they may have just devalued it.pontet canet