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What is Claret?

A customer recently contacted me after receiving his Claret and Cheese Gift Box querying that there was no mention of Claret on any of the bottle labels. The wines were Clarets so why don’t the French label them that? The reason is a simple one. Claret is the British name for Bordeaux Red Wine.

The only time you will see the word Claret on a label is when it has been specifically asked for by a British retailer as the French don’t refer to a Bordeaux Red Wine as Claret. Only the British do!

In the past Claret was much paler than today

The name Claret is derived from the word ‘Clairet’ which is what Bordeaux Reds were called back in the 13th century. We acquired a taste for them when Eleanor of Aquitaine married our Henry Plantagenet and they soon became our nation’s tipple of choice. Over time the British (who couldn’t get their tongue around the word ‘Clairet’) referred to them as Claret . . . which has now become the acceptable generic term for Bordeaux Red Wine.

You might be wondering why Bordeaux Reds were called Clairet way back then. Clairet means ‘clear’ in French and in those days Bordeaux Reds were much paler in colour than they are nowadays. Wine making techniques were fairly rudimentary in the past and wines were made quickly to avoid spoiling. During fermenting the grape skins (which contain the colour and tannins) were left only a short time in contact with the juice. These wines didn’t last long, and were usually drunk VERY quickly.

Over time Claret became darker

Jump forward a few hundred years to the 17th century and Bordeaux Reds started to get darker thanks to improved wine making techniques and barrel ageing. As time progressed Clarets became the deep red that we recognise today!

So, if you spot a Red Wine with AOC Bordeaux anywhere on the label, it’s a Claret!

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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Where the bee sips, there sip I. Why you should check out Petit Chateaux.

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

bee-annicheYou might think that the famous chateaux of the Medoc have cornered the market as the trailblazers of Bordeaux wines but you’d be wrong. Beneath the parade of grand chateaux and their much fanfared labels lies a power-house of energetic smaller producers steadfastly working to create their own masterpieces. These producers don’t often get their wines trumpeted about in the British press; nor do they get flashy write ups about their splendid chateaux.

Tasting-room-anniche
Tasting room at Chateau Anniche

More often than not you’ll find the smaller producers’ wineries are part of an old farmhouse. You may not feel as if you are walking on hallowed ground when you visit one (there are no splendidly furnished rooms or imposing architecture to goggle at) but instead you are very much aware that you’re entering into the beating heart of a workplace. A place buzzing with purpose and vigour. There’s a strange timeless feeling pervading the atmosphere as you realise that these people are following the same path as their grandparents before them. This is a place of wine. And if you have got it right; it’s a place of very good wine indeed.

anniche-sign
Anniche lies at the north end of the Cadillac AOC

Chateau Anniche is such a place. My visit there turned out to be quite a revelation and it’s made a lasting mark on me. We visited Anniche on Day 1 of my trip to Bordeaux and were still acclimatising to the intense heat. Stepping out from the blazing sunshine into the cool sanctuary of the little tasting room we were greeted by Lyndsey and Jean Luc Pion, and their son Pascal, the Maitre de Chai.

anniche-maitre
Pascal Pion – Maitre de Chai

Chateau Anniche is such a place.  The Pion family have been making wines at Anniche since Napoleonic times and made their own wine barrels up until 1914. You can see that beyond the neat, whitewashed winery and ultra modern chai much older buildings sit clustered about. The land here stretches away under blue skies over ranks of vines growing on clay and limestone soil containing siliceous rock (quartz, chalcedony and flint).

anniche-vines
Vineyard at Anniche

Anniche is located in Haux right at the north end of the Cadillac appellation which sits along the right bank of the River Garonne. The Pessac Leognan appellation is directly opposite Haux on the other side of the river. Haux is known for its 12th century romanesque church and was on the ancient route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The wonderful Abbey of La Sauve Majeure, just over a mile up the road from Anniche, was an important monastery and major halt for pilgrims up until the French Revolution.

Haux is a quiet place today though – few vehicles travel the road – and at Anniche the silence was only broken by the drone of bees and grass hoppers in the vineyard.Lyndsey keeps bees and the hives lie on the edge of the acacia wood and along the flowery meadows. Their honey is sold locally either direct from the cellar or via the Tourism Office and markets of Cadillac and Creon. Bees aren’t the only creatures in the vineyards, there are chickens and pigs – as well as visitors such as cattle egrets and roe deer. In 2014 tawny owls took up temporary residence in the chai.

pascal-olaf
Pascal and Olaf

Lyndsey tells me that the family think that the place name ‘Anniche’ is derived from a parcel of vines belonging to the property called ‘la niche’. ‘La niche’ in old French refers to a place where animals were sheltered. On looking up the origins of the word ‘niche’ I had to smile as in the 14th century it meant ‘dog kennel or recess (for a dog)’ and this is rather fitting . . . as Pascal’s loyal companion is Olaf, the wine dog. Olaf is a giant, he is huge! I think he must be a Leonberger – a massive, lion-like, breed of working dog. Lion-like he may be, with his shaggy mane and sandy coat, but he is gentle and pines when Pascal has to leave him. When we trooped into the Pion’s tasting room he stretched his vast body out and bowed a greeting, had a friendly sniff and pat on the head from everyone, and then accompanied us on our tour of the chai and vineyard.

Olaf
Olaf

The Pion’s vines cover an area of 72 hectares (177 acres) and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for their red wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle are grown for their dry and sweet whites. Some of their Semillon vines are 122 years old. Pascal says that in the old days the whole village only ever produced sweet whites. Semi Sweet whites (moelleux) are Pascal’s passion but, as he says, you have to be a little nuts to make them. They are a labour of love; not only is Semillon the last grape to be harvested but it takes an inordinate amount of time to harvest it. Grapes have to be picked in order of ripeness and it can take an awful lot of grapes to make just one golden glass of sweet wine. To give you an idea, it’s said in Sauternes that Chateau d’Yquem produces only one glass of wine per vine.

The Pion’s pure nectar:

Anniche's Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort
Anniche’s Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort

Having tasted Pascal’s sweet white, Chateau Haut Roquefort (made from 100% Semillon), I can well understand his passion. It’s beautiful . . . a dark honied colour, tasting of nectar with a twist of bitter orange. Full of zesty acidity in the mouth, this style of wine is far from sticky or cloying . . . as my companions from the wine trade found out. Moelleux turned out to be one of their highlights and proved to be a real eye opener for some.

anniche-haut-roquefort
Chateau Haut Roquefort

Sweet white Bordeaux has hit the foodie radar recently with all sorts of delicious pairings being suggested, however I can’t wait to try Chateau Haut Roquefort with its namesake – the blue cheese Roquefort. It’s the classic partner for this style of wine. It could be a marriage made in heaven.

anniche-white
Chateau Anniche Blanc

The dry white, Chateau Anniche, is also predominantly Semillon but is blended with Sauvignon Blanc which brings a certain freshness and Muscadelle which adds potent floral aromas. I found it to be very smooth; quite a deep wine with flavours of lychee laced with lemon. I asked Lyndsey if she would send samples so that Nick could taste their range and he was most impressed. The dry white Chateau Anniche’s quality was so good Nick placed it on a par with the dry whites being produced from the Sauternes Grands Crus Classes. Needless to say these fashionable whites carry an expensive price tag; whereas Anniche’s dry white does not.

anniche-rose
Anniche’s Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric

The Pion’s also produce a brilliant Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric. On such a brutally hot day this was certainly the most refreshing wine from their range – a pale salmon pink, delicately tasting of strawberry with melony undertones. As a taster you have to swirl, sip and spit . . . this was one of those wines that made me regret having to do so. We didn’t drink it chilled but it was so balanced and smooth it made me wish I could sit there in the shade and sup the lot.

anniche-lalande-rose
Chateau Lalande Meric

Pascal talked of how Bordeaux Rose has changed over the past few years. Of course the Bordelaise have been making it for centuries but these days the demand is for paler and paler Rose. This is something Nick commented on in January (see What wines to watch out for in 2016 – Are our tastes changing?) and Pascal said that whereas they used to let the Rose soak on the must for 2 – 4 days (to soak up colour and flavour from the grapes) now they only allow 2 – 4 hours. The trick here is to achieve a wine with all the flavour and aroma that make it so attractive whilst keeping it on the must as short a time as possible to achieve the paler colour.

anniche-red
Chateau Anniche Bordeaux Claret

The Reds are Premier Cotes de Bordeaux and were wines I was looking forward to tasting. Nick has already highlighted the fact that you can find good clarets around the Cadillac appellation and Anniche’s Reds have a lovely tannic backbone; tasting of blackberry and prune with mint overtones.

It just goes to show that there is so much more to Bordeaux if you scratch beneath the surface. The wines we see here on supermarket shelves aren’t representative of the Bordeaux the French know and love. We miss out on so many little treasures. I was over the moon that Chateau Anniche was the first winery visit on our trip as it is exactly the place that Nick looks out for: A small producer who tries to associate modernity with tradition, judiciously applying new scientific methods where they can to help mediate with Nature and the elements in order to produce delicious wines in complete harmony with the environment. It was wonderful to experience it for myself first hand and my only regret is that I forgot to buy a jar of their honey!

You can find Chateau Anniche’s website and they also have a great Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VignoblesPion/

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How to get the best out of Bordeaux – Part 1: Beginning a voyage of discoveries

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

Limestone in Lussac reflecting the sun's glare
Limestone in Lussac reflecting the sun’s glare

Nothing beats being in Bordeaux and I went at the beginning of September, just when the grape harvest was looming and Bordeaux was brimming with possibilites. It was hot (34°) and dry, with the land baking under deep blue skies. The chance to see this extraordinary wine making region in action was too valuable to miss as it was an excellent opportunity to identify new areas of interest. Exquisite cuisine, beautiful countryside and fascinating company came as an added bonus. The itinerary had caught our attention as it covered a couple of corners in Bordeaux that Nick had earmarked for investigation. So (armed with a sensible pair of shoes, a notebook and a list as long as your arm) I set off on a voyage of exploration.

Hotel Le Normandie, Bordeaux
Hotel Le Normandie, Bordeaux

Our group was made up of an interesting mix of professionals, with varying knowledge of Bordeaux wines, including Naked Wines, The Wine Society, Virgin Wines, Laithwaites, Asda and Goedhuis. We were guided by Alexander Hall, an old acquaintance of Nick’s, who runs Vineyard Intelligence and also teaches at the Bordeaux Wine School. Alex has lived in Bordeaux since 2004 and has a wealth of experience gained from working on his family’s estate in Marlborough, New Zealand as well as with several estates in Bordeaux. The trip was impeccably organised by Katherine Parsons of Summit SP (the promotion agency for Bordeaux Wine), and Marie-Christine Cronenberger of the CIVB (Bordeaux Wine Council).

Steep street in Saint Emilion
Steep street in Saint Emilion

Bordeaux just breathes wine, there is evidence of it everywhere you look. The trip was intense, involving early starts and late nights jam packed with chateaux visits. Thankfully we travelled in an air conditioned minibus. I think I was the oldest person there and if not, after 3 days of nonstop wine worshipping, I certainly felt it. But it was so worth it.

You get to see the wines in context; where they are born, deep in the lap of the land. We were whisked up twisty roads on hillsides dusted with vineyards and we travelled across the seas of vines that radiate out from the stately chateaux of the Medoc. We saw snapshots of Bordeaux that brochures can not give you; from sleepy hamlets snoozing in the sun to shady alleys in the city quietly oozing history. Beneath the serenity, behind closed doors, the wine industry was busy bustling.

Vines under scorching sunshine
Vines under scorching sunshine

We were whirled into a wonderland that gave us access to an amazing amount of wine tasting. At the end of it I didn’t know whether I could face another sip – I don’t know how Nick manages to taste his way through the hundreds of wines offered at Bordeaux’s En Primeur tastings every year!

I came back to the UK armed with a lot of useful tips on how to get the best out of Bordeaux for your money that I can share with you on Nick’s Blog – so watch out for the next instalment. I found some eye opening wines, unexpected gems in obscure appellations and some truly inspiring wine makers. I also came back with blisters on my feet but that’s the price you pay for getting over excited in Saint Emilion . . .

Itinerary

This is an abridged version of our itinerary so you can see what I will be covering in the next few blogs.

Narrow Bordeaux street
Narrow Bordeaux street

Day 1

Bordeaux Wine course at the Bordeaux Wine School

Lunch at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant Brasserie Le Bordeaux (Theme Bordeaux Dry White Wine) with Estelle Roumage of Chateau Lestrille, Agnes Bousseau of Chateau de l’Hurbe and Camille Alby of (meet with Agnès Bousseau) and Camille Alby of negociant Passion des Terroirs (Lucien Lurton & Fils).

Visit and tasting at Chateau Anniche (AOC Bordeaux Superieur, Rose, Liquoreux, White).

Visit, tasting and dinner at Chateau des Fougeres, Clos de Montesquieu (AOC Graves). Tasting: AOC Graves and Pessac Leognan (Red and White).

Day 2

Walking tour of the city of Bordeaux.

Visit, tasting and lunch at Chateau Laroze (AOC Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe). Tasting: AOC Saint Emilion and Saint Emilion satellite AOCs (Reds).

Visit and tasting at Chateau Tour de Grenet (AOCs Lussac Saint Emilion, Lalande de Pomerol, Saint Emilion, Bordeaux Superieur). (Reds).

Walking tour of Saint Emilion.

Visit, tasting and dinner at Chateau le Lau (AOC Graves de Vayres). Tasting: AOC Cotes de Bordeaux: AOCs Graves de Vayres, Castillon, Blaye, Bourg, Francs, Premieres Cotes. (Reds and Whites)

Day 3

Visit, tasting and lunch at Fifth Growth Grand Cru Classe Chateau Batailley (AOC Pauillac). Tasting: AOC Medoc: Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe, Haut Medoc, Medoc, Listrac, Moulis, Crus Bourgeois. (Reds).

Visit and tasting at Chateau La Peyre (AOC Saint-Estephe – Cru Artisan). (Reds).

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‘A’ rated security for our customers

How secure do you feel when shopping for wine online? As Christmas approaches and with more and more people ordering online it’s definitely a question we should be asking ourselves.

With Bordeaux-Undiscovered you can be assured we take security to the highest level to keep you safe. As an independent online wine merchant we have been trading online for well over a decade and have been at the forefront of many innovations. Our customers’ security has always been of paramount importance to us. We are delighted to let you know that our site’s security has achieved an ‘A’ rated status.

SSL_securityWhat does it mean for you?

When you are browsing Bordeaux-Undiscovered take a peek at the browser bar at the top of your screen. It will show you our website address: https://www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk/. The ‘https://’ is the important bit, it shows you that you are visiting a secure site. Most big companies online have ‘https://’ . . . for example if you bank online you will see it as a prefix to your bank’s website address. Our ‘https://’ lets you know your details and transactions are safe. It’s an industry wide protocol but surprisingly a lot of online wine merchants and other shopping websites don’t have it.

chanceIf a merchants website you are visiting has a prefix of just ‘http://’, then their website is not secure. Other companies rely on their payment gateway to provide the secure connection and leave their web pages unsafe. Given that you have to input your home address, phone number and date of birth to register for an account before you reach the payment gateway this is leaving you wide open to a threat should the website be hacked. You will see that each and every page on Bordeaux-Undiscovered is covered by ‘https://’ so that your personal details are protected!

ssl_3The padlock

We won’t bore you with techno babble but basically to gain ‘https://’ a website must have an SSL Certificate (SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer). SSL certificates are issued by a Certificate Authority (CA). You will also see a little padlock next to our website address. If you click on the padlock you will see that our website is certified secure by the CA Comodo and that our connection to you is encrypted. This means that if somebody intercepts the communication between you and the website the data can not be seen in a readable format – all the interceptor would see is gibberish.

You can even view our certificate if you so wish by clicking on the link to open it.

ssl_4Our ‘A’ rated status

This is something the online industry may not want you to know but you can check the security rating of any website you visit by using this free tool https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/. Type the domain name into the tool and it will analyse how secure the website is – this can take a while so be patient. You can try this with our website and you’ll see that we have an ‘A’ rating.

Ratings run from from ‘A – F’, with ‘F’ scoring less than 20/100 for security. The lower the score the more likely it is that the website in question has issues, is insecure and is vulnerable to attack.

  • A = a score of more than 80

  • B = a score of more than 65

  • C = a score of more than 50

  • D = a score of more than 35

  • E = a score of more than 20

  • F = a score of less than 20

  • If a website is rated ‘T’ it means that they have ignored security issues and are not to be trusted.

healthSo why doesn’t everyone have an SSL Certificate? Firstly, there is a cost involved in acquiring the necessary certificate. And it turns out that whilst it is easy to purchase an SSL Certificate, it’s not an easy job to configure your website and server correctly to achieve a high security rating.

To ensure that our SSL provides the necessary security, we engaged the developers Outerbridge who worked with us to properly configure our website and server. Their expertise gained us our ‘A’ status security. This included making use of the very latest security protocols and ciphers, but just as importantly, they removed any old insecure protocols which are now considered outdated and/or vulnerable.

They also managed to apply all these security checks without slowing down the speed of the website, so that our customers benefit from a fast, and more significantly, a secure ordering and checkout process.

Of course, technology is always evolving, which is why it is a good practice to keep an eye on what happens in the world of security. Outerbridge also promptly apply updates as and when they become available so that our customers can visit our site any time with the full knowledge that they will always be protected.

So, as you can see, we not only put every effort into finding you ‘A’ rated wines but place the same amount of effort into ‘A’ rated security; giving our customers the comfort and knowledge that we are doing all we can to ensure every visit they make to our site is safe!

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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?