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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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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 8 – The success story behind one of our finds: Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the final blog in this series about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose
Chateau Lamothe Vincent Bordeaux Rose

When we started out with Bordeaux-Undiscovered our idea was to bring good wines to the UK that French preferred to keep. So many little chateaux were making beautiful, high quality, wines that were totally unknown over the Channel here in the UK. Snapped up by locals ‘in the know,’ these wines were made by unsung heros following family tradition and innovating when and where they could. You’d often find these chateaux on fabulous terroir, sitting on ancient estates that had been worked generation after generation. With Nick’s insider knowledge of the fine wine market and willingness to track down hidden gems we stood in good stead to begin bringing you a treasure trove of wines kept under the radar.

Lamothe Vincent's range
Lamothe Vincent’s range

Many wine merchants have followed in our path but none go to the lengths we do to promote our discoveries. We have always believed that the story behind the wine is part of its enjoyment and with wine lovers wanting to know more and more about what they are drinking, how it is made and who made it, storytelling is vital. It’s also crucial for the little chateaux – they simply don’t have the money (or time) to tell their own story. Their budgets go towards their vineyards and equipment, not marketing and advertising. You will find that a wine maker is much more interested in making good wine than in selling it.

Chai at Lamothe Vincent
Chai at Lamothe Vincent

Word of mouth is important but when it doesn’t stretch beyond your own backyard you are stuck with a niche market. Getting the word out is our job and it’s one we take on with great pleasure.

My visit to Chateau Lamothe Vincent is a case in point. Nick discovered them in 2007 and we introduced their Bordeaux Rose to the UK. We were the first to bring their wines over here. Once introduced we found that other wine merchants soon caught on and followed our lead. Unlike some of our competitors we have no financial tie up with any chateau – we simply hunt for great wines for our customers and let the story telling do the rest.

Chateau Lamothe Vincent
Chateau Lamothe Vincent

Lamothe Vincent is a small chateau that lies between Montignac and Castelviel in the Lieu Dit of Laurencon. With Saint Emilion to the north and Sauternes to the south Lamothe Vincent sits right at the heart of the Entre Deux Mers. This is a quiet, rural region steeped in antiquity and packed with hidden promise.

Lamothe Vincent Merlot
Lamothe Vincent Merlot

It’s a Bordelaise version of the ‘land that time forgot’.

When we first found Lamothe Vincent no one really believed that good roses and reds could come out of the Entre Deux Mers. As far as the UK was concerned this was traditionally a white wine producing area. However, we speak as we find. We pioneered the introduction of some lovely Clarets and Clairets from this area – and still do. It has since caught on as a tremendous source of good value, quality wines.

Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation
Unusual iron cradles for barrel rotation

Lamothe Vincent is owned by the Vincent family who have been making wine since 1873. It has consistently produced distinctive, award winning wines.

The family’s love of the land lead them to adopt a ‘back to nature’ approach very early on; long before organic and bio dynamic techniques became fashionable bywords in Bordeaux. The Vincents are innovative and constantly quest to perfect their mix of modern and traditional techniques. For a small chateau they are remarkably in tune with keeping up with new developments in the industry whilst maintaining their principles in the vineyard. If you’d like to learn more about Lamothe Vincent check out our blog written in 2007 here.

Jumping forward to 2016 the chateau has pushed ahead on all kinds of fronts. In 2013 the chateau was awarded the HEV Certification of High Environmental Value Farm’ – the highest French ecological recognition. The certificate takes account of the chateau’s biodiversity conservation, management of water resources and waste recycling, low dose organic fertilizers, photovoltaic electricity production etc. New winery buildings are currently under construction.

Lamothe Vincent's vineyard
Lamothe Vincent’s vineyard

The biggest story is its success in the UK. Already making waves back in France with their awards (several Coups de Coeurs in the Hachette Guide and mentions in Le Figaro); since its introduction over here it has been well reviewed by Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Decanter and Wine Enthusiast magazines. The awards have kept on coming and at the end of May they had gathered no less than 27 medals, 15 of which were Gold, for the 2014 vintage alone. Not bad for a back water estate that we discovered all those years ago!

You can check out Chateau Lamothe Vincent’s website here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 7 – Focus on a Fourth Growth: Chateau Beychevelle

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the seventh in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

I’d been looking forward to visiting Fourth Growth Chateau Beychevelle in Saint Julien on my trip to Bordeaux and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally arrived.

This chateau is Asia’s darling and thanks to its beautiful buildings and gardens it’s affectionately known as ‘the Versailles of the Medoc’ in Bordeaux.

Chateau Beychevelle
Chateau Beychevelle

Asia’s love affair with Beychevelle began in 1988 when the Japanese group Suntory bought into the estate. Beychevelle received a further boost in 2011 when the French wine & spirits merchants Castel became co-owners with Suntory. Castel are an internationally renowned business with excellent contacts in China. They partnered with Changyu winery back in the 1990s and together they produce their Sino-French premium wines under the Chateau Changyu Castel label.

1982 Label
1982 Label

Beychevelle’s emblem, the single sailed boat with a griffin figurehead, appeals to the Asian markets thanks to its resemblence to a Dragon Boat. If you look very carefully at the emblem on the bottle labels you can see a shift in design starting in 1988 after Suntory bought into Beychevelle. Prior to this date the sail boat depicted looked more like a Viking Longship but after 1988 the boat’s bow and stern became more curved to mimic the Dragon Boat.

2007 Label
2007 Label

The sail boat emblem harks back to Beychevelle’s heritage. The chateau takes its name from the French ‘Baisse-Vaille’ which means ‘lower sails’ as the chateau once belonged to the Admiral of France Jean-Louis Nogaret de la Valette, Duke of Epernon. The ships lowered their sails in homage to him as they sailed past the little port at the bottom of the chateau’s gardens on the River Garonne. The label symbolises this by depicting a ship with sails lowered. Incidentally the Admiral is a distant ancestor of the actress Audrey Hepburn.

Beychevelles' beautiful architecture
Beychevelles’ beautiful architecture

Writing about Castel’s purchase of a 50% stake back in 2011 Nick commented that as Beychevelle is now the jewel in Castel’s crown, and with their contacts in China, he was expecting to see ever greater demand for this lovely Saint Julien 4th Growth. He wasn’t wrong. Beychevelle is booming. It’s price doubled in 2009 thanks to Asian demand for the ‘Dragon Boat wine;’ coupled with 2009 being an exceptional year. The price hasn’t dropped much since and averages at £72 a bottle depending on the vintage.

Whilst at the chateau I was told that all of their wines from the 2015 vintage were sold within 15 minutes of them being released.

The wines were snapped up by the Negotiant Barriere Freres. This isn’t surprising. Barriere Freres are part of the Castel Group and are a formidable arm of their international supply chain with offices in Shanghai.

Trading in Asia has its risks and Beychevelle has had to use anti-counterfeiting technology to avoid fake Beychevelle lookalikes in China. They use a system called Tesa PrioSpot, produced by Beiersdorf – the company behind Nivea – which gives each bottle a unique code that can be traced back. They also fought, and won, a trademark dispute concerning their Grand Bateau boat emblem in China.

Beychevelle's range
Beychevelle’s range


Chateau Beychevelle is one of the most popular Classed Growths in the Medoc but the estate does produce more affordable wines that are easier to acquire:

  • Grand Bateau is the fruit of a collaboration between Barrière Freres and Chateau Beychevelle. This is more affordable than the Grand Vin at circa £11 a bottle and as it is made by the same winemaking team it is a shrewd choice.

  • Chateau Beaumont – Owned by the same group that owns and manages Chateau Beychevelle, the Castel group and Suntory, this is a top tier Haut Medoc. It’s also a stunning chateau in its own right and wines here are circa £13 a bottle.

    Tasting at Beychevelle
    Tasting at Beychevelle
  • Les Brulieres – Beychevelle owns 12 hectares of vines 5 km away from the chateau’s vineyard that fall into the Haut Medoc appellation. Being further from the Gironde estuary, they benefit from a cooler climate. This is an organic vineyard and Les Brulieres’ blend consists of just two grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vinified and aged in a separate winery, it is produced with the same level of care as Chateau Beychevelle and Amiral de Beychevelle (Beychevelle’s Second Wine) but costs around £17 a bottle.

  • The Second Wine Amiral de Beychevelle – This is more approachable when young which means that you can drink it earlier than the Grand Vin (which takes time to mature and develop in bottle). Circa £27 a bottle.

As you can imagine, since its purchase Beychevelle has benefited from huge investment. The latest redevelopment is a 16 million euro project building a new glass walled winery that makes the winemaking facilities visible from the D2 Route des Chateaux that runs through Medoc. The barrel room is also being renovated and the visitor centre and tasting room are being moved into the 18th century chateau building itself. The left hand side of the chateau is being converted into a 13 room hotel for visitors.

New buildings at Beychevelle
New buildings at Beychevelle

I spent a while with Director Philippe Blanc on the balcony talking about the redevelopment that is taking place. The reasons behind their choice of a glass walled winery was that they did not want to detract from the chateau by trying a newbuild in an 18th century style, so they decided to opt for modernity. They commissioned architect Arnaud Boulain and Atelier BPM to work on the design. The glass opens up the winemaking process to the public and it’s interesting concept. Philippe has compared it to being able to watch a chef prepare a meal; in a like manner the public can watch a wine being made. The vats are already in place and will be used for the 2016 vintage.

We were told Philippe was very keen to progress Bio Dynamics within the chateau and that currently 33% of the production has been converted using this technique with plans on increasing the amount of hectares. Improvements have not just been confined to the chateau’s buildings but have also been implemented in the wine making process – Beychevelle used optical sorting for the first time in 2015 vintage on 33% of the crop and intend to continue with its progression.

Beychevelle's elegant interior
Beychevelle’s elegant interior

After tasting a superb selection of Beycehevelle’s wines we had a fabulous lunch during which Philippe was very keen to hear opinions on his wines that we had with our meal and in particular listened to the younger guests views. Beychevelle’s hospitality was immaculate and an absolute treat.

Chateau Beychevelle’s website can be found here.

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Discovering New Wines in Bordeaux – Insights from the Inside – Part 6 – Why Family Matters! Knowing ‘Who’s Who’ Can Reap Rewards

Paul Smith, our Financial Director, has again had the chance to visit Bordeaux to discover new wines, chateaux and meet its wine makers. This is the sixth in this series of blogs about his trip and his discoveries . . .

Chateau Haut Bergey
Chateau Haut Bergey

Bordeaux has a vast network of connected wine making families; some of whom have histories stretching back centuries. It pays to know who’s who as you can often find wonderful wines from the extended families of renowned wine makers, top chateaux owners and negotiants (Bordeaux wine merchants) at a lesser price than their more well known brethren. A case in point are the Garcin-Cathiards of Chateau Haut Bergey in the small appellation of Pessac Leognan.

Sylviane Garcin-CathiardHaut Bergey was purchased in 1991 by Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard. Sylviane is Daniel Cathiard’s sister and comes from a successful family of retailers. Daniel, a former Olympic ski champion, inherited the family’s small supermarket chain in 1970. Within 20 years, he had transformed it into the tenth largest mass distribution group in France, with 15 hypermarkets and 300 supermarkets. At the same time, he launched and developed a chain of sporting goods shops – Go Sport – in France, Belgium, Spain, and California. His group employed 9,000 people. In 1990, Daniel and his wife Florence sold all their business interests to buy Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. It could be said he was returning to his roots – his grandfather was also a negotiant . . .

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte traces its history back to the 14th century and is now world famous for its fabulous red and white wines thanks to the Cathiards. They have also developed a thriving wine tourism business based at the chateau which offers a luxury hotel, a Michelin star restaurant and a wine therapy institute. Mathilde (Daniel and Florence’s daughter) is responsible for creating the household name Caudalie – a health and beauty treatment and range of products based on the grape seeds left over from the must from making the wines. The Cathiards hard work and phenomenal success with Smith Haut Lafitte have lead to them being in the top 50 of the wealthiest winemakers in France.

Haut Bergey
Haut Bergey

Like Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Bergey was a chateau ripe for rebirth. Haut Bergey also has a long history. It dates back to the 15th century.

In 1700 it was bought by Sir Jean-François de Cresse, a member the Bordeaux parliament. Within 24 months, he had expanded the vineyards to 100 hectares. In 1850 a new chateau was built, featuring the beautiful fairytale towers that rise over its rooftop. But, over the years, parcels of the vineyards were sold off and those remaining lapsed into non production. This all changed when Sylviane spotted the sleeping chateau.

Dining Room at Haut Bergey
Dining Room at Haut Bergey

Why family matters!

With an eye for excellent terroir and chateaux with bags of potential, plus their extensive knowledge of the markets, the Cathiards have a recipe for success.

Not only have both chateaux been brought bang up to date via major investment and modernisation but both have benefited from the introduction of renowned winemaking consultants.

Soils in Haut Bergey's vineyard
Soils in Haut Bergey’s vineyard

When Sylviane purchased Haut Bergey she enlisted the expertise of top oenologists Michel Rolland and Jean Luc Thunevin, followed by Michel Rolland (who also consults for Smith Haut Lafitte).

Both Daniel’s Smith Haut Lafitte and Sylviane’s Haut Bergey lie on superb gravel based soils in Pessac Leognan; a little appellation north of Graves which lies close to the city of Bordeaux.

Home to First Growth Chateau Haut Brion and several top chateaux; Pessac Leognan produces both stunning Red and White Bordeaux. Haut Bergey is located in the village of Leognan and Haut Smith Lafitte lies in neighbouring Martillac.

Paul Garcin at the tasting
Paul Garcin at the tasting

Sylviane has successfully resurrected Haut Bergey and has now passed the reins over to her children, Paul and Helene Garcin. The wines are meticulously made and are considered to be some of the best value priced wines in Pessac Leognan.

Being less well known and missing out on the high profile that Smith Haut Lafitte commands, Haut Bergey’s wines do not command the same price.

Smith Haut Lafitte’s wines average £64 a bottle. However under Sylviane and her family’s care Haut Bergey has performed better than anyone could have expected and is one of the over-achievers in Bordeaux. Circa £19 – £29 a bottle (depending on the vintage) they offer wonderful value for money as the quality is exceptional.

You can find Chatau Haut Bergey’s website here – it’s well worth a look!

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Calling All Golfers! Win a place at the Bridgestone PGA Challenge Tour Pro-Am!

Win_golfHave you ever wanted to play in a Pro-Am Team with a Challenge Tour Pro but never had the opportunity?

Then why not be our guest at The Bridgestone PGA Challenge Tour Pro-Am taking place at Heythrop Park on the 24th Of August?

The day will commence with breakfast followed by 18 holes as a 4-member team which will include a Challenge Tour Professional. You will be presented with a very nice goodie bag, pre dinner drinks, dinner in the evening at the gala presentation dinner, preceded by a trick shot show with Jeremy Dale, and an overnight stay at the magnificent Heythrop Manor Hotel with our compliments.

After a 4-year absence the PGA Challenge Tour has returned to the UK through the efforts of Black Star Golf who manage a number of young professionals including Jimmy Mullins, last year’s Walker Cup team member.

This is a fabulous chance for any keen golfer to have a wonderful day in the company of a professional golfer; play on a hidden Oxfordshire gem, go home with a collection of memorable items, dine with team members and rest your head after what we hope will be a fantastic and memorable day at the wonderful Heythrop Manor Hotel.

Check out the event here:

And venue here:

All you have to do to qualify is:

  • Buy any 12 Bottle Case of wine on our website Cases of wine must be bought on or before Friday August 19th, with the successful entrant being contacted on Saturday the 20th.

  • Hold a recognised Club Handicap of 18 or better,

  • Be available on August 24th,

  • Your name will be entered into a Draw for a place in the Pro-Am.

If you are not a Golfer why not give this wonderful opportunity to a family member or friend?