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Bordeaux Wine Tours: Top 5 Least Favorable Times to Visit

Guest Post by Pascale Bernasse of French Wine Explorers, a wine and culinary travel company known for their Bordeaux wine tours.

PastedGraphic-1Bordeaux was recently awarded Best European Destination 2015, and for good reason. Its lively riverfront is bustling with chic cafés, wine bars, and boutiques, and it offers over 1,000 restaurants—5 with Michelin stars—so finding a good meal is never difficult. Its neoclassical limestone architecture is stunning; in fact Paris modeled many of its boulevards and buildings after Bordeaux’s. It is the second largest wine-growing region in the world, home to no less than 10,000 vineyards, and it accommodates hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

With so many vineyards and chateaux to explore, and so much delicious food and wine to sample, visitors need to take note of the ideal times not to travel to Bordeaux, to enjoy all that the region has to offer with as few hiccups and headaches as possible.

Bordeaux Wine Tours: Top 5 Least Favorable Times to Go

  • PastedGraphic-3In April, be on the lookout for Bordeaux’s En Primeur or Future’s Market, which is held around the first week of April. This is when all the chateaux and vineyards make available to wine journalists and wholesale buyers tasting samples of their wines prior to bottling. During this time the better estates, in particular Classified Growths, may not have estate representatives available to lead tours so they will be closed. Other estates offer limited tastings, so a visit during the Future’s Market may leave you wanting more. Also in April, be mindful of when Easter falls. Be aware that the French take the Friday before Easter and the Monday after off.
  • On odd numbered years—in the month of June—Bordeaux holds Vinexpo, where thousands of wine professionals and buyers flock to sample and buy wines from around the world. During this influx accommodations are more expensive and may be difficult to procure, and estates are often closed or offer tours on a limited basis because they send their best representatives to the expo.
  • In July, travelers should consider scheduling their tour of Bordeaux before or after July 14th, as it is Bastille Day—France’s national holiday commemorating the revolution. On this day, it will be virtually impossible to tour any estate or sample its wines since it is likely they’ll be closed to celebrate.
  • PastedGraphic-4Travel during harvest between September and October can be a wonderful time visit Bordeaux. The leaves on the vines are starting to change from bright verdant to autumnal ochre, red, and purple hues. Some visitors can witness, and perhaps participate in, a manual harvest—a practice more chateaux are reverting back to. Yet they are the fortunate few at this time of year, as many estates close their doors to the public to focus on the harvest. So if you want to tour and taste wine in Bordeaux during these months, it is best to book ahead six months to a year to insure your trip is a memorable one.
  • Another September event to avoid if your plan is to savor Bordeaux wines is Le Marathon du Médoc. This is a sometimes raucous half-marathon where its participants run the 26.2 mile course through the picturesque vineyards of Bordeaux. Its course includes 23 wine stops, winding its way through 50 chateaux. So it is needless to say that tastings on that day will be unavailable, and the crowds of people participating in the race and standing on the sidelines may linger in the area for a few days, clogging hotel rooms and vying for tours themselves.

Bordeaux has emerged as not only one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but one that embraces both modernity and cultural heritage alike. A well-timed visit to this nearly 500-year-old city is one that is not likely to be forgotten.

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A Vintage Performance on a Winning Day

Bordeaux-Undiscovered’s Race Day at Stratford Racecourse on 28th March was a great success. Check out the results below!

STR382-9377 Race 6 BTO Presentation 28-03-15We had several winners onboard who won tickets in our Prize Draw for the event. To enter into the Draw they had to answer the following question:

‘What is your favourite wine?’

We had some great answers and it turns out that Claret in all shapes and sizes is still a firm favourite:

  • The Grand Crus Classes were first past the post with a photo finish between the two Saint Emilions Chateaux La Fleur Morange and Pavie.

  • They were closely followed by the Petits Chateaux with newcomers performing well.

  • Malbec was a surprise front runner as an outsider and Sauvignon Blanc came in as a runner up. STR382-9235 Race 3 Presentation 28-03-15

  • There were a few stragglers and Alborino fell at the first hurdle.

Our Prize Winners were invited into the Collecting Ring to present prizes to the winning owner and jockey for one of our races and to judge the ‘Best Turned out’. We also had a lovely mention in trainer Kim Bailey’s Blog on 3rd April as we sent him some bottles of Claret having overheard that he had enviously watched owners and trainers leaving the racecourse clutching cases of wine – wine lovers who are racing fans can read all about it here: http://www.kimbaileyracing.com/baileys-blog/

STR382-9467 Race 7 BTO Presentation 28-03-15The Sunday Racing Post also gave us a mention in their piece ‘Little Jimmy produces vintage performance for Gretton’. Tom Gretton’s eight year old Little Jimmy came in 1st in our Claret Handicap Chase.

The results are here:

Bordeaux Undiscovered La Fleur Morange Mathilde Handicap Hurdle

1st Oyster Shell. Jockey: Jake Greenall

STR382-9367 Race 5 Prize Presentation 28-03-15Bordeaux Undiscovered La Fleur Morange Handicap Chase

1st Midnight Lira. Jockey: James Best

Bordeaux Undiscovered Claret Handicap Hurdle

1st Little Jimmy. Jockey: F de Giles

Bordeaux Undiscovered Sommeliers Choice Chase

1st Seymour Legend. Jockey: L Treadwell

Bordeaux Undiscovered Tipsy Selling Hurdle

1st Minister of the Interior. Jockey: R Johnson

Bordeaux Undiscovered Tally Ho Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race

1st Mister Miyagi. Jockey: Harry Skelton

STR382-9138 Race 1 Presentation 28-03-15You can view all the pictures of our Winners at our Gallery on our Competition Page. The photos of the Winners at the Races were taken by the Stratford Racecourse official photographer, Les Hurley.

After such success we’re hoping to run more Competitions and Prize Draws soon. If you’d like to take part please sign up for our Newsletters and we’ll keep you posted! (Newsletter Sign Up can be found at the bottom right of our Home Page here).

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Homing in on the Rhone – Roquemaure, Birthplace of the Cotes

Home to famous names like Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape and Cote Rotie, the Rhone has long been an ancient hub of wine making. Peel back the layers; look a little deeper and you’ll make an amazing discovery: Roquemaure, the birthplace of the Cotes . . .

Roquemaure
Roquemaure Castle

The Rhone Valley is so long that it stretches for almost 150 miles north to south. The wine region begins at the gastronomic paradise of Lyons and ends in the south, west of Marseille, where the River Rhone flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The valley is awash with history and wine; it’s an ancient trade route that merchants have travelled for thousands of years. Amidst the more famous wines there are many hidden gems that glint from within the valley’s reaches; often long forgotten by those outside France.

Exploring earlier this year I came across a real diamond.

Castle of Hers
Castle of Hers

In the Southern Rhone at the end of a narrow limestone ridge that rises abruptly from the flat plain below sits a ruined castle. Its sister, the Castle of Hers, sits on the opposite bank of the River Rhone. When they were built the Rhone was wider at this point than it is today and both castles were on islands within the river. The castle on the crag is known as Roquemaure (‘Rocca Maura’ which means the ‘black rock’ in the old French language of Occitan).

Les Vignerons de Roquemaure
Les Vignerons de Roquemaure

It was here that I discovered a little cooperative making stunning wines that have a history so weighty behind them that I was astonished by what I’d found.

Roquemaure sits on the right bank of the Rhone 6 miles north of Avignon, 5 miles south east of Orange and 2 miles west of Chateauneuf de Pape – ideally placed to become a trade centre. This region has a very old historical roots; a Roman villa and grave yard lie beneath the ground in the outskirts of the castle and it’s thought that Hannibal himself crossed the River Rhone here with his war elephants on his journey from the Iberian peninsula to northern Italy. Wines have been produced in the region since pre-Roman times, and those from the right bank were the favourites of Kings and of the Avignon Popes who ruled the area.

The wine of the Popes
The wine of the Popes

Roquemaure castle dates back to the 1209 at the eve of the Albigensian Crusade. Perched high on its crag Roquemaure was a wealthy wine hub; the castle hosted frequent visits by French Kings, Popes and nobility and its little port on the river bustled with wine exports.

The fame of its wines even reached England; the earliest written mention of viticulture in Roquemaure is by Gervase of Tilbury (Essex) in 1214!

Five hundred years later in 1735 more than 8,000 barrels a year were being shipped from the port.

Cuvee 1737, named for the year that coined the Cotes du Rhone
Rocca Maura Cuvee 1737, named for the year that coined the Cotes du Rhone

Roquemaure – the birthplace of the Cotes du Rhone

The trade in wines caused rivalry between competing French regions – Burgundy in particular tried to protect its reputation against the rise of the Rhone. Bordeaux frequently used Rhone wines (especially Hermitage) to spice up poor Bordelaise vintages. In 1650 a rule was passed to safeguard the quality of of the Rhone wines in order to protect against forgeries:

The term Cotes du Rhone was coined at this time in attempt to guarantee the origin of the wine and this rule forms the basis of today’s nationwide AOC system!

In 1737 King Louis XV decreed that all casks from Roquemaure should be branded with the initials C.D.R. The Cotes du Rhone was born. At first only wines from Roquemaure and neighbouring Lirac, Tavel and Chusclan could bear this mark. Two hundred years later it was expanded to a wider area and made law by the INAO in 1937.

Changing Tides for Roquemaure

2014-10-03 StEtienne-AiguesMortes 086
Today the castles are no longer islands in the Rhone

Some links with Bordeaux and Burgundy remain to this day:

  • The famous negotiant house M. Chapoutier have been producing both Burgundy and Rhone wines for over 200 years.

  • Francois Pinault, owner of Permier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Latour also owns Chateau Grillet in the Rhone.

  • Bernard Magrez, owner of four Bordelaise Premier Crus also produces Rhone wine. Oddly enough the oldest of Magrez’s Premier Crus is Chateau Pape Clement (which celebrated its 700th anniversary in 2006) which was once owned by Pope Clement V – who died at the castle of Roquemaure in 1314!

However as time marched on the port of Roquemaure silted up as the Rhone changed its course and the wine trade started to fade into obscurity. Of course wines were still produced in the area but the rise of Bordeaux with its great port eclipsed the Rhones and Roquemaure became a back water. In France connoisseurs know where to hunt out these wines but across the Channel their notoriety has been washed away.

Roquemaure Reborn

Roquemaure vineyards
Roquemaure vineyards

In 1922 a group of local wine makers clubbed together to form Rocca Maura, a cooperative based in Roquemaure. Today vintners from nine villages bring their harvests to the cellar and work in common with one goal in mind: to produce good wine of great character. Their vineyards cover some of the best terrain and stretch across the Roquemaure’s lands, Tavel and Lirac. Fanned by the winds of the Mistral and marked by the passage of the River Rhone these lands sit on limestone bedrock and granite outcrops covered with red soil and pebbles. The plots, established by their grandparents and ancestors, are reworked and the wines of Roquemaure have been reborn.

Flavours of Roquemaure
Flavours of Roquemaure

I have brought a sample of my favourites back to the UK; you can try them all as part of a case or individually to suit your personal tastes. Enjoy!

Rocca ‘Cuvee 1737′ Cotes du Rhone 2013 – Silver Medal £7.49

Deliciously deep and elegant Cotes du Rhone. Fine and fruit driven with satiny smooth tannins. Dense flavours of dark morello cherry, raspberry and ripe fig with subtle notes of cloves, vanilla and black pepper. A lingering finish of liquorice. Well balanced and full of finesse.

Rocca Maura Viognier
Rocca Maura Viognier

Les Cepages Viognier, Pays de Gard 2014 £6.49

Dangerously good, fruit driven, aromatic Viognier from the Gard. Sensuous flavours of ripe white peach, lime and poached pears with heady notes of verbena flowers, sweet aniseed and freshly cut hay. Complex, expressive and elegant with an impressively pure and long finish.

Rocca Maura Rose, Pays de Gard 2014 £5.99

Rocca Maura Rose
Rocca Maura Rose

Fine and fragrant Rose from the Pays du Gard. Lithe and lively with refreshing flavours of ripe raspberry, black cherry, cinnamon and sweet anise with a touch of strawberry. Gorgeous heady aromas of lily and wallflower. Svelte, smooth and well balanced.

Rocca Maura White
Rocca Maura White

Rocca Maura Blanc, Pays de Gard 2014 £5.99

Smooth, refreshing, crystalline White from the Gard. Clean flavours of pear, lemon and honeydew melon lifted by notes of apple blossom, almonds and sweet anise. Vivacious and bright this is also layered and expressive in the mouth. A crisp, well balanced white with lovely harmony.

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Saint David’s Day, Bordeaux Wine and the Daffodil

Saint David’s Day falls on 1st March and heralds in the Spring. Saint David is the Patron Saint of Wales so let’s take a look at the Welsh connections to Bordeaux and its wines . . .

Caernarfon
Caernarfon

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for Saint David’s Day for some time. I have a dash of Welsh blood in me. My grandfather, who was taken prisoner after receiving machine gun wounds in both legs at the Somme, came from Tredegar. So Wales is close to my heart. As is Bordeaux.

Wales, past and present, does have connections to Bordeaux; the Welsh settled, traded and fought there. They also enjoyed its wines. The Welsh love of Bordeaux wine goes back many centuries and it was shipped from Bordeaux to the Welsh ports at Chepstow, Milford Haven, Haverford West, Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Newport and Carmarthen from the late 1300s onwards.

Wine was shipped in to the Priories and Abbeys of Wales
Wine was shipped in to the Priories and Abbeys of Wales


Ships often carried about 25 tuns of wine at a time (a medieval tun contains 252 gallons – the equivalent of 1008 bottles). Some vessels carried even more into the Welsh ports arriving in fleets of up to 9 ships, each carrying up to 49 tuns. That’s an awful lot of Claret!

Claret was the drink of choice amongst the Welsh nobility and the religious orders in the priories and monasteries. Welsh bards were commisioned to write poetry for their noble patrons and often spoke of Claret in their verses. Guto’r Glyn (1412 – ca 1493) wrote a famous poem where wine represented the leaders of the French Army. He talks of Clared (Claret), Bwrdiaws (Bordeaux wine) and Gwresogwin (Mulled Claret). Lewis Glyn Cothi’s poetry, written around the same time, is full of the names of the wines his patrons served from France, he even mentions Sant Miliwn (Saint Emilion) wine!

The Battle of Crecy
The Battle of Crecy

Of course the Welsh went to Bordeaux too; some to fight against the French in the Hundred Years War. The soldiers of the Black Prince, Edward III adopted the green and white colours of the leek for their uniform and Welsh archers wore these colours during the Battle of Crecy. Shakespeare mentions the wearing of leeks by Welsh soldiers (and the by the Tudor King) in his play Henry V set around the Battle of Agincourt.

Sadly there are no great Bordelaise chateaux that I know of that bear a Welsh legacy (unlike the Irish and Scottish Chateaux of Bordeaux). There is little history of the Welsh who decided to settle there all those years ago.

Chateau de Seuil bears the red dragon of Wales on its label
Chateau de Seuil bears the red dragon of Wales on its label

Today, however, Chateau du Seuil in Cerons (Graves AOC) proudly sports the red dragon on its label in homage to the land of its Welsh owners, the Watts family, who purchased it in 2001.

It seems the Welsh have dissipated amongst the ports and appellations of Bordeaux; scattered on the wind. One lingering reminder of them though comes about at this time of year. Cetain vineyards are peppered with wild daffodils. Chateau Coutet’s vineyards on the top of the Saint Martin de Mazerat plateau, are one of the rare places in Saint Emilion where these wild daffodils flourish amongst the vines and spinneys of sessile oaks. At Coutet, no weed killer or pesticide has ever been used.

The Tenby Daffodil
The Tenby Daffodil

Both the leek and the daffodil are emblems of Wales, and both are worn on Saint David’s Day. We may see the daffodil worn to honour the occasion more often now thanks to David Lloyd George (the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister) who championed the daffodil over the leek as the symbol of Wales in the early 1900s. Strangely enough daffodils and leeks both share the same Welsh name: Cennin. Daffodils are known as Saint Peter’s Leeks, Cennin Pedr.

Chateau Tertre de Launay Cuvee des Jonquilles
Chateau Tertre de Launay Cuvee des Jonquilles

You won’t find any chateaux bearing the emblem of the leek but there are one or two wines named for the daffodil and some Bordeaux Whites bear the fragrance of this narcissus – our organic white Chateau Rioublanc is a good example. Some chateaux have acknowledged this phenomenon by naming their white wines after the scented flowers – Chateau Tertre de Launay produces Cuvee Jonquilles des Launay, there is also the Cuvee Narcisse from the Entre Deux Mers.

Chateau Rioublanc
Chateau Rioublanc

If any wine lovers out there know of any Welsh connections to Bordealise chateaux I’d like to hear from you.

Happy Saint David’s Day!

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Declassified Bordeaux – Our Signature Wines, The Saints Estephe and Julien

Our Signature Wines highlight the passions and strengths of the wine makers that created them and bear the trademark characteristics of the AOCs that birthed them. Unique in the UK; these wines are exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Flagships of their AOCs - Our Signature Wines
Flagships of their AOCs – Our Signature Wines

Each Signature Wine has been carefully chosen as a beautiful example of the wines produced in these particular AOCs. We selected them as flagships of their regions for those of you who want to discover the different styles great Bordeaux can offer.

AOC Saint Estephe

Saint Estephe is the most northern appellation of the Medoc and is the closest appellation to the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, where the River Garonne begins to join the Atlantic Sea. The AOC is renowned for the beautiful structure and longevity of its wines. Saint Estephe has over 40 Cru Bourgeois and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels but the crown jewels of the appellation are the Second Growths (2ème cru) Chateaux Cos d’Estournel and Montrose and Third Growth (3ème Cru) Calon Segur.

Emblem of the Saint Estephe winemakers
Emblem of the Saint Estephe winemakers

Firm and full of finesse, Saint Estephe’s wines are the amongst the most long lived in Bordeaux.

  • The AOC was known as Saint Esteve de Calonne until the 18th century. Saint Esteve is the old French name for Saint Stephen, the Patron Saint of Stonemasons. In pre Roman times Saint Estephe’s iron ore deposits were quarried and it was a centre of metallurgy and stone working. The Calonnes part of the name comes from ‘Calon’ which were small vessels used to carry goods across the river.

  • Saint Estephe’s nearest neighbour is Pauillac (they are only separated by a stream) and is the least gravelly appellation of the Medoc. Its vineyards lie on layers of pebbles, quartz and small stones on top of clay washed ashore from the Gironde. Deep below lies a bedrock of limestone. This soil drains more slowly and remains cool, delaying ripening. The harvest here is one of the latest in Bordeaux. This terroir gives the wines exceptional backbone and a distinctive finesse.

  • While Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape, Saint Estephe has more planting of Merlot than any other area on the Left Bank. Other grapes grown are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec.

Our Signature Saint Estephe: Les Vignes de Hebe 2011, £15.99*

Les Vignes de Hebe 2011, Saint Estephe
Les Vignes de Hebe 2011, Saint Estephe

Created by one of the influential dynastic wine making merchant families of Bordeaux, Les Vignes de Hebe is made by Grand Vins de Gironde (GVG), owned by the Borie-Manoux and Casteja family. With a number of top flight Grand Cru Classe chateaux throughout Bordeaux under their ownership, including Premier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Trotte Vieille in Saint Emilion and Fifth Growths (5ème Cru) Chateaux Batailley and Lynch Moussas in Pauillac, they have been specialising in producing superb Bordeaux wines for several centuries.

We can not say from which vineyards Les Vignes de Hebe is produced but Casteja owns Chateau Beau Site which neighbours Calon Segur and has recently acquired Chateau Picard via its purchase of the wine merchants Mahler Besse.

Map of the Left Bank AOCs
Map of the Left Bank AOCs

GVG’s range of Les Vignes wines bear the hallmark of their AOCs; representing the essence of their region. Les Vignes de Hebe is named after the Greek goddess of eternal youth and cup bearer to the gods on Mount Olympus. . . a nod to the longevity and pedigree of this wine.

Tasting Notes

Powerful with exceptional backbone and beautiful structure. Concentrated flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), blackberry and black cherry with smoky notes of liquorice, spice and dark chocolate. Velvety and very fragrant.

Saint Julien's coat of arms
Saint Julien’s coat of arms

AOC Saint Julien

Saint Julien is often said to be the quintessential claret, combining all of the Medoc’s best qualities. The AOC has the highest proportion of classified chateaux (Grand cru Classe) of all the regions in Bordeaux – 11 in total. The quality is so good in Saint Julien, that Second Wines from those chateaux are very attractive. It is home to the 5 great Second Growths (2ème crus) Chateaux Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Poyferre, Leoville Barton, Gruard Larose and Leoville Las Cases.

Consistently elegant, Saint Julien’s wines are classic Bordeaux at its best.

  • Saint Julien was once named Saint Julien de Reignac and was a Gallo Roman village. The village of Reignac lies exactly opposite Saint Julien on the other bank of the River Garonne and it seems that these two Roman villages traded together. Saint Julien is the patron saint of travellers, boatmen and innkeepers, hence the adoption of his name for the village.

  • Chateau Beychevelle's label depicting the lowered sails of the galleon
    Chateau Beychevelle’s label depicting the lowered sails of the galleon

    Saint Julien lies on two plateaus between Pauillac and Margaux on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary. It is divided into essentially 2 areas – the riverside estates around the village of Saint Julien and the southern estates around the village of Beychevelle where the area’s Cru Bourgeois are also grouped. Beychevelle takes its name from the Gascon French ‘Baisse-Vaille’ which means ‘lower sails.’ The village of Beychevelle and its chateau were once the fief of the Dukes of Epernon and galleons lowered their sails as they passed by as a sign of allegiance. Chateau Beychevelle’s wine label symbolises this by depicting a ship with sails lowered.

  • The AOC lies on a layer of glacial gravel which sits on a bedrock of limestone. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates Saint Julien and blends of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with around 20% Merlot with a dash of Cabernet Franc are not unusual.

Our Signature Saint Julien: Les Vignes d’Icare 2011, £20.49*

Les Vignes d'Icare, saint Julien
Les Vignes d’Icare, Saint Julien

Les Vignes de Hebe is made by Grand Vins de Gironde (GVG), owned by the Borie-Manoux and Casteja family, one of Bordeaux’s major players. The Borie-Manoux and Casteja family are powerful wine merchants and own several top flight Grand Cru Classe chateaux. Their cousins (the family divided property and businesses in 1942 to avoid punitive inheritance laws) also own Second Growth (2ème cru) Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou in Saint Julien, amongst others.

GVG’s range of Les Vignes wines bear the hallmark of their AOCs; representing the essence of their region. Les Vignes d’Icare is named after the Greek hero Icarus who sought to fly to the sun. It’s a fitting name for a wine born of Saint Julien, an AOC that seeks to attain the pinnacle of excellence.

Tasting Notes

A wine with perfect harmony. Full of finesse with elegant and expressive flavours of mulberry, black currant, rich black cherry and coffee beans. Lifted by notes of cedar wood, anise, graphite and roasted oak. Pure but with hidden power.

* Prices correct at the time of publication

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Declassified Bordeaux – Our Signature Wines, The Pauillac and Pomerol

Our Signature Wines highlight the passions and strengths of the wine makers that created them and bear the trademark characteristics of the AOCs that birthed them. Unique in the UK; these wines are exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Our Signature Wines - Flagships of their AOCs
Our Signature Wines – Flagships of their AOCs

Each Signature Wine has been carefully chosen as a beautiful example of the wines produced in these particular AOCs. We selected them as flagships of their regions for those of you who want to discover the different styles great Bordeaux can offer.

AOC Pauillac

Pauillac is often described as legendary; being the informal wine making capital of the Medoc and famous for having no less than 3 First Growth Chateaux (Premier Crus) out of the 5 in Bordeaux as well as 15 Grand Crus Classes within its boundaries.

Pauillac's coat of arms
Pauillac’s coat of arms

Elegant and polished, Pauillac’s wines are amongst Bordeaux’s most elite.

  • The AOC takes its name from the little town of Pauillac, the site of a Roman villa belonging to Paulliacus. The town has been a thriving commercial harbour on the left bank of the River Gironde since ancient times; Pauillac is one of France’s oldest yachting harbours and the premier port in the estuary.

  • Pauillac is sandwiched between the AOCs Saint Estephe to the north and Saint Julien to the south. The vineyards lie on undulating hills above marshland renowned for its salt marsh lamb. These hills contain heavy gravel which is important to the vine growing as it reflects the sun and allows excellent drainage. The gravel is mixed with sand, limestone and iron; providing just enough nutrients and minerals to give powerful, profound wines with a great concentration of flavours.

    Map of the Left Bank AOCs
    Map of the Left Bank AOCs
  • Pauillac is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, with elements of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Our Signature Pauillac: Pauillac 2011, £20.49*

An insider’s choice, this is a Declassified Wine made to an exceptionally high standard. We are not allowed to tell you which chateau made this wine (see my Blog What is Declassified Bordeaux and why are we being told it is Special? The Key Facts) but we can say that the chateau’s vines are in the south of Pauillac, on top class terroir between Premier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Latour and Second Growth (2ème Cru) Chateaux Pichon Baron and Fifth Growth (5ème Cru) Lynch Bages.

Pauillac 2011
Pauillac 2011

Pauillac 2011 bears the coat of arms of Pauillac on its label. The sailing ship represents the ancient harbour and the name Pauillacus underneath on the banner represents the Roman nobleman who gave his name to the town.

Tasting Notes

Sophisticated and subtle with deep flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), black cherry and ripe raspberry. Notes of cedar, liquorice and spice. Complex, well layered and satiny smooth.

AOC Pomerol

Emblem of the Pomerol winemakers
Emblem of the Pomerol winemakers

Pomerol may be the smallest wine producing area in Bordeaux but it produces some of the most famous (and expensive) wines in the world. Although Pomerol has never had its Chateaux officially ranked in the 1855 Classification (which covers only Medoc wines) it is home to Chateaux Petrus and Le Pin which are unofficially grouped with the Premier Grand Crus (First Growths) of Bordeaux. Despite its history and fine wines Pomerol is something of an anomaly when compared to the other famous communes of Bordeaux, as there are no grand estates within its borders and most of the top wines are made by dynastic wine making families.

Sumptuous and exuberant, Pomerol’s wines are amongst Bordeaux’s most sought after.

  • Map of the Right Bank AOCs
    Map of the Right Bank AOCs

    Pomerol’s name is derived from the Latin word ‘poma’ – used by both Virgil and by Horace, to describe fruits with pips – notably grapes. Pomerol’s wine making tradition was begun by the Romans and was continued by the Knights Hospitallers who offered succour to pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela along St James’ Way. AOC Pomerol’s emblem is taken from the Cross of the Knights Hospitallers and you’ll find a lot of chateaux are named for the cross (‘Croix’) and the church (l’Eglise) in the appellation.

  • This AOC sits on the Right Bank of the River Garonne and lies between Saint Emilion and Fronsac on a slightly rolling plateau. Soil in Pomerol is a unique, outstanding geological phenomenon. The topsoil is made up of gravel that varies in compactness, with layers of clay and sand. The subsoil includes iron oxide, locally called “crasse de fer”. This soil, combined with a special micro-climate, accounts for the personality of Pomerol’s wines.

  • Merlot is King here and thanks to the high percentage of Merlot in their blends Pomerol’s wines are considered the gentlest and least tannic of Bordeaux wines.

Our Signature Pomerol: Les Vignes de Phoebus 2010, £16.99*

Les Vignes de Phoebus, Pomerol, 2010
Les Vignes de Phoebus, Pomerol, 2010

Created by one of the influential dynastic wine making merchant families of Bordeaux, Les Vignes de Phoebus is made by Grand Vins de Gironde (GVG), owned by the Borie-Manoux and Casteja family. With a number of top flight Grand Cru Classe chateaux throughout Bordeaux under their ownership, including Premier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Trotte Vieille in Saint Emilion and Fifth Growths (5ème Cru) Chateaux Batailley and Lynch Moussas in Pauillac, they have been specialising in producing superb Bordeaux wines for several centuries.

We can not say from which vineyards Les Vignes de Phoebus is produced but Casteja own the two Pomerol chateaux Domaine de l’Eglise and Pignon as well as managing La Croix Ducasse. GVG’s range of Les Vignes wines bear the hallmark of their AOCs; representing the essence of their region. Les Vignes de Phoebus is named after the Greek god of the Sun. The vineyard lies in the East of Pomerol and its vines are the first in the appellation to be touched by the rays of the morning sun.

Tasting Notes

Elegant and voluptuous with vibrant dark fruit flavours of blackberry liqueur, mulberry, blueberry and ripe raspberry. Floral notes of violets, sweet anise and cedar. Sensuous, silky smooth and very well balanced.

* Prices correct at the time of publication

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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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The Surprising Success of Semillon, Sauvignon’s Perfect Partner

Following on from Bordeaux Dry Whites being a surprise hit in our best sellers of 2014 I thought it would be good idea to turn the spotlight on Semillon . . . the grape that makes Sauvignon sing.

Semillon grapes
Semillon grapes

Sales of our Bordeaux Dry Whites (Bordeaux Blancs made from the classic blend of Semillon and Sauvignon grapes) have been booming. These lovely, structured wines were once the preserve of well informed wine afficiandos but now more and more people are waking up to their virtues. This style of wine is reaching a wider audience thanks in part to New World Sauvignon Blanc producers who are taking the next step up in developing their wines. Their natural progression has been to experiment with Bordelaise Dry White blends using Semillon as Sauvignon’s perfect partner.

Dry White - Chateau Pape Clement Blanc, Pessac :Leognan AOC
Dry White – Chateau Pape Clement Blanc, Pessac :Leognan AOC

Australia has quickly adopted Semillon to blend with their Sauvignons to recreate the Bordeaux style.

The result has been that Semillon is getting more exposure. Deservedly so. This grape is used in the blend of every white produced by the Bordealise. Prestigious Grand Cru Classe produce aristocratic Dry Whites that can evolve for decades using the Semillon and Sauvignon blend (Chateaux Haut Brion Blanc, Laville Haut Brion Blanc (now La Mission Haut Brion) and Pape Clement Blanc for example). Similar to the following that White Burgundy commands, top flight White Bordeaux has its own loyal supporters.

Chateau Climens, Premier Cru, AOC Barsac - 100% Semillon
Sweet White – Chateau Climens, Premier Cru, AOC Barsac (100% Semillon)

Semillon is also essential in the famous Sweet Whites of Bordeaux’s Sauternes and Barsac. Thanks to this grapes susceptibility to Noble Rot these long lived, nectar like, dessert wines could not be made without it. All the Saturnais use Semillon, some chateaux choosing to use it unblended; Premier Cru (First Growth) Chateau Climens is a case in point.

However you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a good White Bordeaux; there are many excellent Petits Chateaux producing affordable superb Whites.

Chateau Vrai Caillou, Petit Chateau, AOC Bordeaux
Dry White – Chateau Vrai Caillou, Petit Chateau, AOC Bordeaux

Bordeaux White Blends

There are actually several grapes permitted in a White Bordeaux blend: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are the primary grapes. A dash of Muscadelle is occasionally added to the blend by some chateaux. Lesser known varieties such as Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc (Trebbianno), Colombard, Mauzac, Ondenc and Merlot Blanc are also permitted but are very rarely used.

Why do Semillon and Sauvignon marry so well in a blend?

Perhaps this is because they are genetically very close, although Semillon’s parentage is still a bit of a mystery. Young or unripe Semillion grapes have a similar aromatic profile to Sauvignon. Semillon compliments Sauvignon extremely well; it adds weight, structure and density to the wine, taming the acidity of Sauvignon. In France Semillon can express flavours of lemon, honeysuckle or acacia flower, pear, fig, sweet hay or grass, peach and green apple. When used in Sweet Wines Semillon’s flavour profile deepens to complex flavours of hazelnut or almond, tropical and candied fruits. It is known for giving a rounded, honied, waxy tone to the wine.

Dry White - Chateau Mayne Pargade, Petit Chateau, AOC Bordeaux
Dry White – Chateau Mayne Pargade, Petit Chateau, AOC Bordeaux

Wine Styles

1. Dry Whites – Bordeaux Blanc. The most established blend is Semillion and Sauvignon. However a few chateaux produce a rare 100% Semillon Dry White; Sauternes Premier Cru Chateau Siglas Rabaud’s ‘La Semillante de Siglas’ and Chateau Le Puy are two examples.

2. Sweet Whites – Liqoreux (sweet) and Moelleux (semi sweet). Semillion is used to make dessert whites, many of which are 100% Semillion, although Sauvignon and/or Muscadelle can also be used in a blend.

Semillon Key Facts

Grape:
Semillon is a golden skinned grape, sometimes blushed with pink or copper. It is thin skinned and has low acidity.

A Little History:
Semillion was the most widely planted white grape in the world during the 1800s but plantings declined in France after World War II and today a group of Sauternes chateaux have formed a cooperative to preserve their Semillon clones.

Semillion is native to Bordeaux and has been grown there for over four centuries. Although it’s thought to have originated in Sauternes there is a theory that it actually comes from Saint Emilion. The grape was known as Semillon de Saint Emillion in 1736 and ‘Semillion’ could be a corruption of the town’s name. This idea is a little controversial as Saint Emilion is renowned for its red wines today rather than its whites!

Noble Rot
Noble Rot

Noble Rot:
Noble Rot is a little miracle worker. It’s a fungus (botrytis cinerea) that affects grapes. It shrivels the grapes, intensifying their sweetness and concentrating their flavours whilst keeping a high level of acidity. In Bordeaux Noble Rot occurs around the little river Ciron, a tributary of the river Garonne. The AOCs that produce Sweet Whites (Sauternes, Barsac, Cerons etc) lie in the hollow where the two rivers converge. The Ciron has cooler waters than the Garonne and where the two rivers meet mist is produced. The mist descends upon the vineyards, giving the right conditions for the development of Noble Rot.

Making sweet wines from grapes with Noble Rot is labour intensive – grapes have to be hand picked so that only those with Noble Rot are selected and yields can be low. It is said that one grape vine only makes enough juice to make one glass of wine. Although these are dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity.

AOCs producing Sweet Whites
AOCs producing Sweet Whites

AOCs:
Many appellations can produce Dry White Bordeaux under the Bordeaux, Bordeaux Sec, Bordeaux Superieur, Premiers Cotes de Bordaux and Bordeaux Moelleux AOCs but below are a few that specialise in dry white and sweet white production, including some lesser known appellations that are worth tracking down.

Entre Deux Mers – Dry White

Graves – Dry White

Pessac Leognan – Dry White

Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux – Dry White

Cotes de Bourg – Dry White

Sauternes – Mainly Sweet White but increasingly

showing a shift to Dry White production

AOCs producing Dry Whites
AOCs producing Dry Whites

Barsac – Mainly Sweet White but also showing a shift to Dry White production

Sainte Croix du Mont – Sweet White

Loupiac – Sweet White

Cerons – Sweet White

Cadillac – Sweet White

Cotes de Francs – Dry & Sweet White

Graves de Vayres – Dry & Sweet White

Haut Benauge – Dry & Sweet White

Saint Foy – Dry & Sweet White

Saint Macaire – Dry & Sweet White

If you would like to discover Semillon for yourself we stock several Bordeaux Dry Whites from Graves and the Entre Deux Mers as well as Bordeaux Liqoreux and Moelleux from Barsac and Sauternes. Cheers!

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Best Sellers 2014 – The Whites and a Racy Rose

Whites soared in popularity in 2014 with our cool climate, high altitude wines doing well but the big eye opener was the boom in Semillon – Sauvignon blends. Coupled with a racy Rose these were the best sellers of 2014.

Dry White from Sauternes Second Growth Chateau de Malle
Dry White from Sauternes Second Growth Chateau de Malle

For a long time Bordeaux Dry Whites (Bordeaux Blancs made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon grapes) were highly sought out only by those ‘in the know’ but demand has risen thanks to increased awareness. This is partly down to their affordability, good quality and the fact that New World Sauvignon producers duplicating Bordelaise Dry White blends have raised this style’s profile.

Number 1. Our surprise smash hit, M de Malle 2005 £16.99button_sold_out

M de Malle is a top notch, stylish, Dry White that comes from a different class. It’s the Dry White of the celebrated and historic Chateau de Malle, a Sauternes Second Growth (2ème Cru). Chateau de Malle is an exquisite national treasure and has been owned by the same family since 1650. Famous for its sweet Sauternes, de Malle produces this Dry White from its vineyards in Graves. We were the first to introduce it to the UK and the demand for it in 2014 was astonishing.

Chateau de Malle, an early 17th century treasure with magnificent Italian style gardens
Chateau de Malle, an early 17th century treasure with magnificent Italian style gardens

Sadly this fine wine is a rarity as its production never exceeds 7,000 bottles per year and we quickly sold out.

However we do have the equally delicious M de Malle 2012 vintage available.

Andrew Barrow – Spittoon: A touch of class here – from the blossom and wax aroma through to the ‘tinged with the exotic’ palate. A combination of softness, a gentle rounded mouthfeel with a complex wax and citrus burst on the finish. Dry. That citric burst finality comes complete with a hint of herb and a gravelly texture.

Dry White from Petit Chateau Balan Larquette
Dry White from Petit Chateau Balan Larquette

Number 2. Customer favourite at the shows, Ballan Larquette 2013 – Bordeaux Oscar Winner £9.49

Ballan Larquette 2013 simply shone at the Shows and proved to be a winner with the customers at these events. Shows are a fantastic way of allowing wine lovers to try before they buy and once tasted Ballan Larquette is never forgotten. Not unsurprisingly this superb Dry White comes from a multi award winning chateau owned by the indomitable Regis Chaigne.

Ballan Larquette
Ballan Larquette

With 6 generations of wine makers behind him Regis is one of the top flight producers of Petit Chateaux. His small estate, Ballan Larquette, lies across a scattering of hamlets near St Laurent du Bois. He combines centuries of traditional knowhow and respect for the land with cutting edge wine making to produce wines of extraordinary quality. Passionate, driven and consumed by his quest for excellence; Chaigne is one of our favourite winemakers and we are proud to have introduced his wines to the UK.

Richard Mark James – Wine Writing: Chateau Ballan Larquette – intense zesty green fruit, citrus and gooseberry vs oily honeyed rounded texture, quite concentrated with crisp and tasty fruity finish. Lovely dry white.

Rose from Provence by Ravoire et Fils
Rose from Provence by Ravoire et Fils

Number 3. Our high performer from Provence, Les Soleillades Rose 2013 £8.99*

You wouldn’t think that a Rose wine would sell out at Christmas; after all these are wines for the summer time aren’t they? But that’s what happened in December 2014. Luckily we were able to acquire more stocks in the nick of time. Les Soleilades is named for the sun and is produced by Roger and Olivier Ravoire who own Domaine Valdernier in Aix en Provence.

Les Soleillades
Les Soleillades

Les Soleillades is made from Grenache (used in Rioja and the southern Rhone), Syrah (used in the Rhone) and heat loving Cinsault, an ancient grape thought either to have originated in Provence or to have been brought to the area by traders from the East. The beauty of Cinsault is its wonderful perfume, which comes through in Les Soleillades. It’s a fantastic food wine as well as being an enjoyable drink in its own right, which might explain the Christmas rush.

Les Soleillades was a new introduction to our range and it was certainly a successful one. 2014 saw a number of new wines added to our discoveries, from Bordeaux and beyond. We are expanding our range again this year, exploring fresh regions, finding new chateaux and unique wines. If you would like to be kept up to date with our latest arrivals please sign up for our newsletter here.

* Prices correct at the time of publication.