The 2022 Saint Emilion Classification

Recap: wine châteaux in the Médoc and Sauternes regions were classified in 1855, and those in the Graves (even though all in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, estates there remain “Crus Classés de Graves”) in 1953. Saint-Emilion introduced a new type classification in 1955 that broke with tradition in that it was decided from the very outset that it would be revised and updated every ten years.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions… In theory, this seemed like a wonderful idea, with newcomers able to climb the ladder and underachievers removed – as opposed to the other classifications set in stone. However, each new revision turned out to be a wrenching experience with long, drawn-out court cases and all sorts of ups and downs. This did a great disservice to the image of Saint-Emilion and its finest wines. The controversies reached a paroxysm in 2022 when three of the four Premiers Grands Crus Classés A (Ausone, Cheval Blanc, and Angélus) decided to withdraw altogether. There now remain only two in the uppermost tier: Pavie and Figeac – which finally, and deservedly, made it to the tip of the pyramid.

It had unfortunately got to a point where the Saint Emilion classification was openly derided and the situation became very unhealthy, with the criteria and functioning of the whole process heavily criticised (for instance, tasting accounts for only 50% of the final score, terroir just 10%, etc.). The waters are further muddied by the huge confusion that exists in the average consumer’s mind between Grand Cru and Grand Cru Classé. For most people, these terms mean the same thing which, of course, they do not… In other words, the legal appellation for a classified growth is Saint Emilion Grand Cru, exactly the same as for an inexpensive unclassified wine.

And yet… After a great deal of turbulence, the classification has survived, warts and all, and châteaux still strive to belong to it. The amount of paperwork involved with applying is mind boggling, a bureaucratic nightmare that is nevertheless well worth it to those estates fortunate enough to be accepted. In other words, being classified still means something. In practice, it carries greater financial weight in terms of an estate’s land value rather than the market price of its wine.

The Premier Grand Cru Classé category (A + B) now amounts to 14 estates, compared to 18 in 2012 . There are 71 Grands Crus Classés this year, as opposed to 64 in the previous classification. This represents a 10% increase, but is still fewer than the 75 châteaux in the original classification. .Overall, approximately half of candidates for the 2022 classification were not admitted. No estate included in the 2012 classification was demoted.
Those newly admitted GCC include Château Badette, Clos Badon-Thunevin , Château Boutisse, Château La Confession, Château Croix de Labrie, Château Le Croizille, Clos Dubreuil, Château Lassegue, Château Mangot, Château Montlabert, Château Montlisse, Château Rol Valentin, Clos Saint-Julien, Château Tour Baladoz, and Château Tour Saint Christophe. Happily, one château, Château Corbin Michotte, that had been downgraded, was reintegrated.

I am either little or totally unacquainted with several of these wines, and the new classification makes me want to get to know them better.

In a way that leaves Burgundians speechless, estates in Saint Emilion with different statuses have merged while retaining that which is most advantageous. Could you imagine a Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits annexing a Premier Cru and rebaptizing it Grand Cru? Anyway, Pavie has absorbed Pavie-Decesse, Clos Fourtet annexed Les Grandes Murailles, Cheval Blanc added Quinault l’Enclos, etc.

Is the classification system in Saint Emilion back on track? In my opinion, it will never be fully so if the leading estates do not belong. However, none of the wrangling, recrimination, and litigation that were so much a part of the previous two classifications has surfaced so far. Perhaps this is due to the fact that no château included in the 2012 classification was rejected in 2022.

Premiers Grands Crus Classés

Château CANON
Château FIGEAC (A)
Château PAVIE (A)

Grands Crus Classés

Château CORBIN
Château GUADET
Château LA SERRE
Château LAROZE
Château MANGOT
Château RIPEAU

Château Lanessan sold to Australian investors

Château Lanessan, a cru bourgeois in Cussac (AOC Haut-Médoc) has been sold by the Bouteiller family to Treasury Wine Estates AKA Penfolds. Treasury also own Cambon la Pelouse and Belle-Vue, both in Macau and also in the Haut-Médoc appellation.

Lannessan is a 350 hectare estate with 85 hectares of vines, a large Tudor-style château dating from 1878, and a Horse Museum.

It is located a stone’s throw from Château Beychevelle (indeed, some plots of Beychevelle adjoining Lanessan in the Haut-Médoc appellation have a special exemption to be incorporated into the Saint-Julien fourth growth).

My own experience is that Lanessan is a sturdy old-fashioned kind of Médoc featuring good value for money. Let us hope that the Australians raise it to another whole level.

The local Sud-Ouest newspaper says that this summer Penfolds came out with a blend of Australian and Médoc wines.
Penfolds puts Australian wine into its first Médoc labels

2000 Château Lascombes

In recent thread on the Bordeaux Wine Enthusiasts forum asked people what they thought were the most overrated great growths. Several people suggested Château Lascombes. This prompted me, in the interest of science, to look at my cellar book to see if I had any. As it so happens, I did. And a bottle of 2000 Lascombes seemed just the ticket. Lascombes is a second growth Margaux that has had many ups and downs, shrinking to just over 20 hectares in the 1950s before it was resuscitated by Alexis Lichine and a group of American investors. It want from them to Bass Charington, the English brewers, then back to an American pension fund before its acquisition in 2011 by MACSF, a French insurance company specialised in medical employees.

Château Lascombes in Margaux

Lacombes now stands at 120 hectares, producing some 300,000 bottles a year, making this one of the largest estates in the Médoc, accounting for 12% of the entire Margaux appellation spread over five communes. Unlike its neighbors, Lascombes has a much larger proportion of Merlot (50%). In her book “Inside Bordeaux”, Jane Anson downgrades Lascombes to third growths status. Without being overly critical, I think that is a fair evaluation, as borne out by the wine I tasted. However, it has to be said that this wine was made before either consultant Michel Rolland or the present manager, Dominique Befve took over. Both of them started in 2001.

2001 Château Lascombes

In all objectivity, 2000 Lascombes, even though from a very good vintage, did not achieve second growth status. The color was quite deep, with bricking pretty much appropriate for a 22 year old wine. The nose was the best part of this wine. However, its combination of graphite, blackcurrant, and humus components was reminiscent of more northerly appellations. The wine seemed still fresh on the palate, but rather dilute, going into grippy granular tannin. It suffered from a basic imbalance and was a little raisiny. The negative factor here was the marked acidity (almost sourness) and bitterness making this more acceptable with food than on its own. The aftertaste showed some candied black fruit.
On the whole, despite the tannic finish, I felt this wine would have been better a few years ago.

I have visited Lascombes several times with Danish wine writer Izak Litwar in recent years and the vintages I tasted with him seem seemed much improved. I will certainly be paying closer attention to Lascombes in the future. I also see that I have a bottle of 2005 and must think about opening it soon.

A trip to discover the wines of Bandol

Though obviously a departure from the subject of Bordeaux, this post does concern another fine French wine region, so I’m hoping you will not mind

The port of Bandol

Here’s the background: a friend with a house in Bandol, a picturesque small port (population 8,500) on the Mediterranean coast 50 km. east of Marseille, invited my wife and me to come and visit last month. Fortunately, my friend also shares a love of good wine (in fact, his family own a vineyard in the Beaujolais) and he kindly offered to help me to get to know the wines of Bandol

Bandol produces roughly 65% rosé, 30% red, and 5% white on 1,500 hectares of vines. The star here is Mourvèdre, a variety found elsewhere in southern France, as well as the Valencia and Jumilla regions of Spain. Of course, complementary grape varieties are also allowed.

There is a Maison du Vin in Bandol, but I regret to say that the people there seemed bored, unhelpful, and not very clued-in. So we just did our own thing and visited five estates.

The first was to Château Pibarnon with just over 50 hectares of vines in La Cadière-d’Azur, in a beautiful and rather secluded location. This prestigious estate owned by the Comte de Saint-Victor started out with just 3 in the late 1970s. The vines grow in a gorgeous setting, mainly in an amazing natural amphitheatre – one of the loveliest vineyards I have ever seen.

We tasted several wines.

The 2020 Pibarnon rosé, containing 35% Cinsault, had a medium-pale salmon-pink color. The nose was fruity and fairly subtle. The wine started out relatively rich on the palate, then showing fairly mineral on the aftertaste, with some grip. Definitely a cut above most Provence rosés.

The 2018 Nuances de Saint Victor Bandol rosé (5,000 bottles a year) underwent 12 hours of maceration. It had a similar color, but a more complex and delicate bouquet. There was definitely a step up on the palate, with cherry and cherry stem flavors along with a gummy finish – a truly superior rosé, what the French call “un rosé de gastronomie” as opposed to the cheap, cheerful, and thirst-quenching kind.
When listing the best rosé wines of France, one often cites Tavel, Marsannay, and Rosé des Riceys. Well, a wine like this Bandol definitely belongs in that category too.

2017 Restanques: This local word describes small stone walls behind which vines are planted, often on slopes. This red Bandol from young vines had a medium-deep color with a nose of candied fruit that was a bit muted, but elegant. The wine was rich and noticeably high in alcohol (14.5%) on the palate, but classy, with good overall fruit, as well as dried fruit overtones. A very nice second wine.
They feel at Pibarnon that it will be at its best 8-10 years after the vintage.

2018 Pibarnon rouge: The color here looked older than the previous wine. The nose was elegant, sweet, and tertiary, with understated fruit. The impression of quality carried over to the palate, with great structure and finesse. There was a long aftertaste and although 2018 is not considered a great year, perhaps the toned-down qualities due to less sun is what endeared it to me. My notes say “a winner”, and I bought some to take home with me.

We ended the tasting with the 2020 Restanques. This red Bandol had a deeper color and was a bit rustic on the nose. The wine showed some heat on the palate, but also berry fruit and a velvety texture.

Mirroring the very small production of white wine in the Bandol appellation, Pibarnon makes only a tiny amount of white. They didn’t have any for tasting or sale, but my wife and I were fortunate enough to enjoy the 2020 vintage with bouillabaisse at the mythical Chez Michel restaurant in Marseille.  

Our next stop was at Domaines Bunan – Moulin des Costes in La Cadière-d’Azur

Upon arriving, and hearing that I had come from Bordeaux, the person who welcomed us posed me a riddle: what do Bordeaux and Bandol have in common? I thought about it, scratched my head, and confessed to not knowing the answer, which was: they are only two French communal appellations that don’t actually have any vines in the eponymous commune. Now there’s a real wine trivia question for you!

Bunan is a largish operation, created in 1961 by Paul Bunan, a Pied Noir who, like so many others, had to abandon everything during the Algerian War and move to France. Why Bandol? The story goes that he had read a newspaper article about Marlon Brando’s engagement (eventually broken off) to a girl from there and had formed a romantic image of the place in his mind…

Bunan have three vineyards estates: Moulin des Costes and Château la Rouvière in the Bandol appellation, as well as Bélouvé (meaning “beautiful grape” in Provençal), producing mostly Rosé de Provence. I tasted nine wines chez Bunan and will give an overview rather than a detailed reproduction of my notes. Quality was good, but not compelling. Two red Bandols stood out: the 2018 Château la Rouvière red and the unusual 2019 Moulin des Costes cuvée Charriage. The latter, made from very old Mouvèdre vines, is named after a geological term describing a thrust sheet of rock moved by oregensis, i.e. the folding of the earth’s crust. The wine was intriguing, flavorsome, and super-concentrated, but I felt that it had tipped just that little bit over into the top-heavy category.

My next visit was to Domaine Tempier in Le Castellet, a 60-hectare estate with an excellent international reputation. The vineyards grow on 4 different, but very distinct terroirs in the immediate vicinity. The estate is located not far from the town of Bandol. I tasted two wines there. The 2021 rosé was very pale and had a noncommittal nose. It seemed almost sweet on the palate at first, then showed fruit and acidity. Although enjoyable, this was nothing to write home about. The 2017 rouge Cuvée Classique (75% Mourvèdre, 14% Grenache, 9% Cinsault, and 2% Carignan) was a different story. It had a good deep color and an appealing bouquet of dark fruit. The wine was soft on the palate with delicious berry and kirsch flavors. The alcohol may have come on a little too strong, but this was unquestionably an engaging wine and some bottles have gone into my cellar. When you consider the price of many fine French wines these days, the cost was really very reasonable.
Domaine Tempier is named after Léonie Tempier (the great-grandmother of the legendary Lucie Peyraud). The 2017 vintage is dedicated to “Lulu” Peyraud in honor of her 100th birthday. She died three years later. The boat on the label was designed by Lucie’s father, and represents wine being shipped from the port of Bandol.
Tempier also produce three named vineyard wines (La Tourtine, Casbassaou, La Migoua) that I would have loved to taste, but that was not possible during my visit. Should I see any of these in a store, I would be sure to snap them up.
Domaine Tempier has a very loyal following in America thanks to author Richard Olney (“Lulu’s Provençal Table”), restauratrice Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and importer/writer Kermit Lynch.

I was a bit sceptical prior to our next visit, the maison Ott in La Londe-les-Maures. I had tasted the wines on several occasions since they seem to be well-distributed in restaurants throughout France. I have always found them sound, but vastly overpriced.
Ott belong to the Louis Roederer Champagne empire that includes Delas in the Rhone Valley and Château Pichon Comtesse in the Médoc. The Ott winery is in a lovely setting and the buildings remind me of a Provençal version of a Bordeaux wine château. They are geared-up to wine tourism and kitted out with a very nice tasting room.
Ott have their own vineyards, but are mainly négociants. Their wines are sold in a proprietary bottle. Almost all their wines are AOC Côtes de Provence. Eighty percent of production is rosé, 15% white, and 5% red. I might add that Ott are on to a good thing: it’s very much of a bull market for rosé wines in general and Rosé de Provence in particular.
I tasted through three of their rosé wines and one white, all from Ott’s own vines.  Two of the rosés were grand crus. It is not well-known that a classification of Provence wines (18 estates) was made in 1955. I was really struck by how incredibly pale these rosés were. The sophisticated 2021 Château de Selle had a pure mineral nose, but was a little too skinny for me.  Clos Mireille from the same vintage had a somewhat smoky bouquet. It was fuller on the palate and quite fresh, but without as much character as the previous wine, even if showed greater length. The 2021 Château Romassin (non-classified) was the teeny-weeniest bit darker with salmon-colored tinges. The bouquet was exotic, but also had some soapy aromas. It was good, but unremarkable on the palate.
The 2020 Clos Mireille white wine (grown on silty soil close to the sea, with a microclimate featuring morning mist) consists of 67% Sémillon and 33% Rolle.  The wine had a pale green color and a rather rustic bouquet. It was, however, more attractive on the palate with lemony overtones and an interesting balance between piercing acidity and intrinsic richness.
A look at the price list told me that I would not be buying any of the wines. But before leaving, the woman running the tasting room told me that they had a special offer. My ears pricked up… They were selling a small lot of half bottles of their 2013 red Bandol at a knock-down price. We asked if we could taste a sample. The wine presented considerable bricking as well as a rich, seductive, mature bouquet. It was round, rich, chocolatey, ferrous, and long on the palate. My friend and I split a case at 7 euros per half bottle. So not all Ott wines are expensive!

Our next and last visit was to Château Pradeaux – a decided change of pace. An old-fashioned no-frills estate owned by the Portalis family since the early 18th century, Pradeaux was far-removed from the slickness of Ott… (Jean-Marie-Etienne Portalis helped to write the French civil code and to negotiate a concordat with the Catholic Church during Napoleon’s reign).
We were welcomed by the bearded, intense Cyrille Portalis. It is always a good sign when the winemaker shows you his vines before anything else. These comprise 22 hectares in a single block around the château in the western part of the Bandol appellation.
We tasted 4 wines. The 2021 Bandol rosé had a deeper color than any other rosé tasted during my trip (and was quite impressive after Ott!). The nose was forthright and old school. The wine was full-bodied, going into a delicious minerality and a lip-smacking finish. There were nuances of citrus fruit and red fruit. Very good. The 2020 rosé was unfortunately not up to the same standard.
Then it was on to the red wines. The 2017 Le Lys Bandol was made from young wines and partly destemmed. Blended with a little Cinsault and Grenache, and aged in foudres for about 2 years, this wine reflected its limestone terroir with puckery tannin (what I call tea tannin). Yummy.
The last wine was the 2017 Château Pradeaux red Bandol. It had quite a deep color and a nose of cherry liqueur. It was rich and round on the palate, big, strapping, and seemed relatively high in alcohol. This did not show so well now, but this is the type of wine to forget about for a long time and enjoy discovering years down the road.
I will never forget tasting (indeed, drinking!) these vins de terroir around an old upturned barrel with Cyrille and his father at the end of a sunny Provençal afternoon. This was the real thing, a French wine farm without the hype and spin.

My trip to the region ended with a morning in the charming port town of Cassis, 30 km. east of Bandol. Cassis (one does not pronounce the final “s”) has a population of 7,000 and some 200 hectares of vines: 71% white, 27 rosé, and 2% red. I went there on market day, revelling in all the colors and smells once would expect to find in Provence. We enjoyed a glass of white Cassis in a café overlooking the marina and with a view of the huge 8th century Château de Cassis (now transformed into a luxury hotel) atop an abrupt cliff.
While I did not have the time to visit any producers, I did poke my nose into a wine shop and, taking the owner’s advice, bought a bottle of 2021 Domaine du Bagnol Cuvée Caganis, made from Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Pascal Blanc, Bourboulenc, and Grenache Blanc (mass selection). I look forward to drinking this with friends. And the person who guesses it blind is entitled to an all-expenses-paid stay at the Château de Cassis!

A sybaritic extravaganza: 71 Haut Brion, 96 La Tâche, 90 Pétrus, and 90 Le Pin

My friend Ian, visiting from London, must have thought it was Christmas and that I had been awfully well-behaved, because he brought with him an incredible selection of wines to share.

All were served blind at the same meal (simple, but good: grilled entrecôte steak) and decanted between 2 and 3 hours before serving.

The first was a 1971 Haut Brion, which I mistakenly thought might be a younger wine from Saint Julien. As the evening wore on I saw the error of my ways because the trademark tobacco leaf aromas were there. Haut Brion’s earthy side is well-known, but its expression here was (OK, I’m nitpicking) was not quite as refined as in some other vintages. The tannic texture was also perhaps a little coarser than usual. These niggling comments aside, the wine unquestionably had a monumental aspect, and confirmed that 1971 should in no way be lumped in with a series of lacklustre or downright poor vintages from the early 1970s. This is the quintessential vin de terroir, and definitely more than just alive at half a century. That it should take a back seat to the other wines is no objective reflection of its quality!

Wine number two was immediately identified as a Burgundy by all present. I thought it might be a great Gevrey Chambertin, but no, it was a fabulous DRC, a 1996 La Tâche. The irony here is that Ian had already served this same wine to me at his house a couple of years ago… Anyway, although the color and bouquet were nothing less than impeccable, the wine’s pedigree came through in spades most of all on the marvellous aftertaste, with layer upon layer of subtle fruit, along with a strong mineral component. At age 25 this wine is still going strong and has a long life ahead. At its peak? Probably not. The Italians speak of “vini da meditazione”. Well, this was it, baby. A wonderful, sensual experience I felt very privileged to enjoy.

The third wine had everyone puzzled. It was unquestionably powerful and classy, but brooding, needing for the various – excellent – components to knit. The texture was wonderful and this was obviously a top-notch wine, but I could not place it. I was amazed to learn that it was the 1990 Pétrus. That was because, on the several occasions I have had a mature example of this rare wine, it was more giving and easy to apprehend. More early-maturing too. The answer here, in my opinion, is simply one of age. This is unquestionably a great wine from a benchmark vintage, and in the rarefied category of those requiring decades to fully strut their stuff. The word ‘fully’ is important here, because this was a wonderful experience and a treat.

Last, but not least, the 1990 Le Pin (same vintage) was showing even better than its illustrious neighbour on this occasion. Believe me, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to compare them side by side! Not only is Le Pin expensive, it is also quite rare, with just 2 hectares of vines (La Tâche has 5). I did take Le Pin for a Pomerol because of the truffle nuances on the nose, but got no further than that on the blind tasting. This wine had everything going for it: a bouquet you could nose all night and a palate to die for. While that is not a particularly accurate tasting description, words can hardly do justice to the purity, balance, and intensity of this superb wine. The French say “perfection is not of this world”. That having been said, I’d be hard put to find any shortcoming in this delicious wine. It is at the very tip of the Bordeaux hierarchy, and was a memorable bottle.

This was the sort of evening you do not forget…

Battle of the titans: three 2001 first growths

A visit by wineloving friends from England and America was the occasion to open some special bottles, including those served at the meal described below.

The aperitif wine was a 1994 Domaine de Chevalier blanc. While not maderized, this was clearly gently oxidized. It nevertheless was clean and showed hints of lemon, caramel, and vanilla. This old very dry white wine was a good way to set the scene for the meal to follow.

I don’t often do this, but I put out three numbered glasses for each guest (there were six of us) and we compared three red wines at our leisure with the meal (quiche lorraine for a starter, followed by roast chicken with butternut squash and cep risotto).
The wines were served totally blind.

Three of the guests correctly opted for Bordeaux from the 2001 vintage and, which is a pretty impressive seeing as I am well-known for serving oddball wines. There was far less agreement about which wines were from the Right Bank, and which from the Left.

Here are my own notes, rather short because I was cooking and serving dinner, and my wife was away at the time (one man show).

2001 Château Margaux: We had visited the château earlier in the day, tasting the 2010 Pavillon Rouge and 2006 grand vin, so it was a special treat to drink an older version that evening. The wine’s color was about as it should be and the nose was understated, but wonderful with subtle red fruit aromas and tell-tale cedar overtones. This 2001 Margaux was also very nuanced on the palate with a gentle, fresh, and resolved aftertaste. Its slightly retiring personality originally made me think it was not my favorite of the trio, but as I smelled and sipped and thought about the aromatics and taste, I changed my mind, and ended up assigning it a tie for first place. Four out of six people put it as their number one. In my opinion, 2001 Margaux is at its peak which, of course, it will hold for some time.

2001 Château Mouton Rothschild: The color here was deeper and more brilliant than the other two wines. The bouquet was rich and very Pauillac (ripe Cabernet, a touch of cigar box) and the wine was more vigorous and full-bodied than the other two on the palate. However, despite an assertive flavour, it did not have the depth and complexity of the other two. On the plus side, it will probably be the most long-lived of the three wines.

2001 Château Cheval Blanc: The color was not dissimilar to the Margaux, and the nose was wonderful and exotic, with notes of Asian spice and soy sauce (!) to blend with the ethereal fruit. The wine was soft and caressing on the palate. Lovely structure and follow-through. Delicious. It was my immediate favorite of the evening, but changed to a tie for first place as I went back to the Margaux and paid more attention to it.

All of the above wines were in their drinking window. They showed how fine an “Atlantic” vintage can be in Bordeaux, i.e., one in which the region’s naturally humid climate produces quintessentially classic rather than rich wines.

Three days in Jerez de la Frontera

This is a blog about Bordeaux, but I’m not close-minded. That’s why I also love visiting other wine-producing regions.

Seeing as I had already visited the Port and Madeira wine countries, it was inevitable that I should end up in Jerez de la Frontera one day or another…
That day (in fact, three of them) came in October 2021 and was certainly helped by the fact that there are direct flights from Bordeaux to Seville. Jerez is only an hour away by train.

The first thing my wife Christine and I did upon arriving in Jerez, a city of some 200,000 inhabitants, was to find a nice café and imbibe a fino sherry to get into the spirit of things. Fino is bone dry and very refreshing. With an alcoholic degree between 14.8 and 15.4°, it is hardly any stronger than numerous unfortified table wines. Furthermore, it’s a wine that’s intrinsically light on its feet – the perfect aperitif. Furthermore, it’s a wine that’s intrinsically light on its feet – the perfect aperitif. I guarantee that sipping one while munching salted almonds and outsize Seville olives will make the world seem like a better place…

We settled into our hotel in the old part of Jerez, a city that was ruled by the Moors from 711 to 1231. Their influence is unquestionably there to this day, most obviously in the town’s architecture.

Enjoying the balmy 30° weather, we wended our way to eat dinner at Lù, a Michelin-starred restaurant, appreciating the subtle aroma of orange trees lining the streets. Many of my wineloving friends are wary of tasting menus with matching wines. They prefer to be in control of which wine goes with what food and are especially wary of open bottles. We nevertheless took the plunge and were treated to a dizzying succession of inventive variations of local dishes in the nouvelle cuisine mold. Here is the menu and just some of the wines we enjoyed!

The waiter said that two of the wines would be served blind, a challenge I always enjoy. I took one of them to be a Manzanilla, but my wife wondered if it not might be a Jura wine (made with flor, just like Sherry) instead. Lo and behold, she hit the nail on the head! My mouth dropped open and I discovered yet another reason to think I had married an exceptional woman.

Here are is the menu and some of the wines served with the meal. This was a brilliant opportunity to see how well Sherry goes with food.


Our one appointment the next day was at Bodegas Tradición a relatively small, very up-market producer. We were welcomed by Eduardo Davis, whose knowledge of Sherry is nothing short of encylopedic. Thanks to an English grandfather and schooling in the UK, his ability to explain complicated things in the language of Shakespeare was dazzling. I say complicated because the production of Sherry reminds me of Champagne in that there are a great many technical aspects, some of which had puzzled me for years (such as the difference between Amontillado and Palo Cortado), and which Eduardo cleared up efficiently and in a way the layman could understand.

Like Champagne, Sherry is made from wines largely produced by independent growers. The key is not only sourcing these, but blending and ageing them, using the famous solera system. Bodegas Tradicón may have been founded in 1998 by Mr. Joaquín Rivero, but “Bodega CZ, J.M. Rivero”, the oldest known sherry house, dates back to 1650. The firm focuses on very old sherry that is neither cold-filtered, stabilized, nor clarified. The wines are unsweetened and unsulphured.
We tasted through the entire range, including fino sherries at various stages of ageing, during what turned out to be an intense master class – an unforgettable experience lasting over three hours.
The wines were some of the best we sampled over three days and their positioning in terms of pricing and reputation seemed perfectly justified.
Bodegas Tradición specializes in two categories of sherry, introduced in 2001, that I was unfamiliar with:  VORS, i.e. Very Old Sherry aged for more than 20 years and VORS, or Very Old Rare Sherry aged for at least 30 years. These are the crème de la crème of sherries. There is another reason that a visit to Tradición is unforgettable. They have a marvelous gallery of oil paintings including works by such artists as Murillo, Valequez, Goya,  etc

We spent the afternoon visiting Jerez’s two main tourist attractions, the 17th century Saint Sauveur cathedral and the 12th century Alcazar, built during the Muslim period. By the way, eight towns in Spain are called “de la Frontera” since they stood at the border between Christian and Muslim territories.

That evening we went to another fine (and much more affordable) restaurant called Carbona. Once again we sampled sherry with several courses, and if you have never tried this, you should!

Claret lovers are familiar with Bordeaux bashing in recent years that saw the wines denigrated and castigated for being too expensive (evidencing more than a little of the “fox and the grapes” syndrome with regard to pricing…). Sherry has gone through a period of falling out of fashion as well, but for different reasons. The image was of an old-fashioned wine consumed by vicars and maiden aunts out of tiny cut crystal glasses. Then came the trend for Cream Sherry, that all but obliterated familiarity with other wines from the sherry region, starting with the delicious bone dry varieties. Sales fell off sharply and it is an uphill battle to rehabilitate the wine’s image. The creation of the VOS and VORS categories have helped here. Edouardo Davis of Bodegas Tradición also feels that there is a future for table wines made from the Palomino grape.

Our last day in Jerez was spent visiting two other bodegas.

The first was also the largest producer of all, Gonzalez Byass, founded in 1835 by Manuel Maria Gonzales Angel, who later went into partnership with his English agent, Robert Blake Byass.
Manuel Maria innovated by exporting a light fino sherry that he named Tio Pepe in honor of his uncle. This has since become an international brand sold in 120 countries. Approximately three million bottles of Tio Pepe are shipped every year!
So, Gonzales Byass is a big business. However, if small if beautiful, big certainly doesn’t mean ugly! Like other large firms, Gonzales Byass have a number of wines well worth investigating alongside their flagship product. Furthermore, they are the only house in Jerez to make their own brandy, which is also a huge seller. As if this weren’t enough, they own vineyards in other parts of Spain (Rioja, Castilla la Mancha, Somontano, Rias Baixas, etc.) and wine tourism plays an important role at their Jerez cellars. Thousands of tourists visit every year, many from cruise ships stopping over in nearby Cadiz.

The Gonzales Byass cellars are so vast that visitors are taken around in a small train. My wife and I had the privilege of touring instead in a golf cart driven by Sylvain Vieille-Grosjean, who is half-French and has lived most of his life in Jerez. Sylvain told us all about Gonzales Byass as we zipped through the cathedral-like bodegas at a good clip. It is impossible not to be struck by the sheer scale of things. The traditional La Concha and Apostles cellars are especially noteworthy.
Factoid: the weathervane showing Tio Pepe in his red coat, tilted Spanish hat, and guitar is officially recognized as the world’s largest by Guinness.

We tasted through ten wines with Sylvain, going from the inevitable Tio Pepe through Amontillado, VORS Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, Medium, Cream, VORS Cream, Pedro Ximenez, and VORS  Pedro Ximenez. This extended tasting was an excellent way of becoming familiar with the full range of sherry, and the wines were all very good. It is no reflection whatsoever on their quality if I write that I was not enamoured of the two P.X.s.  Although a fan of many dessert wines (Sauternes, Port, Madeira, etc.), these were simply too sweet for me, with some 400 grams/liter for the VORS version.

Gonzales Byass were the first sherry house to produce a type called En Rama. The story Sylvain told me is that a buyer from the Wine Society in England tasted a “raw”, i.e. unfiltered fino from barrel and asked the firm to bottle it as such. They did so, despite reservations about the wine’s stability, and it was a great success. The style has since been copied by other houses and it is hoped that it will help contribute to sherry’s renaissance.

95% of sherry is made from the Palomino grape (the rest being P.X. and Moscatel) and the wine has traditionally been aged in butts made of American oak. As opposed to table wines, these are not regularly replaced, the interaction sought being quite different from table wines. Used barrels are often sold to Scotch whisky producers to give a special “sherry finish”.

Our last visit in Jerez was to Bodegas Emilion Lustau, founded in 1896. Lustau are one of the major players on the sherry scene and much esteemed on export markets.
The cellars are possibly even more cathedrallike than those at Gonzalez Byass and are likewise a major tourist attraction.
We went around various parts of the bodega with Isabel who spoke good English. When I tasted a fino, I said that it was “poised”, a word she hadn’t ever encountered. It’s a bit of an abstract description, agreed, but it seems to sum up the house style (or perhaps focused and balanced…).


Lustau are famous for several reasons: their La Ina wines (a major brand taken over from the house of Domecq), their original proprietary bottle, and their almacenista range of about ten wines. This word best translates as “warehouse keeper” and describes small producers of sherry, either from their own vines or those of others, who traditionally have sold on to major houses. Lustau decided to bottle and market their wines individually, and even went so far as to register almacenista as a brand name. These unique wines are especially worth discovering, as is their especialidas range including VORS wines, a vintage sherry, and the unusual East India Sherry (an aged blend of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez).

Our trip to Andalusia ended with 3 days in Seville, a city I’d love to go back to. A recounting of our time there doesn’t really belong in a wine blog, so here are just a few photos, and I must mention that I enjoyed a flamenco performance there more than I ever would have believed.

Château Fleur Cardinale, an up-and-coming Saint Emilion cru classé

I first became acquainted with Château Fleur Cardinale during a Portes Ouvertes (“Open Cellars”) operation in Saint Emilion several years ago. These events are always wonderful opportunities to visit numerous estates, taste, and buy wines if one so wishes.
Seeing as I had enjoyed the wine at Fleur Cardinale and appreciated the enthusiasm of the young owners, I resolved to go back and take a closer look at a less busy time.

I did well to wait, because the château has undergone a major renovation and is a tremendously different place from the one I had previously visited. Caroline Decoster kindly invited me to come by and take a tour of the new facilities In September 2021. These are truly impressive and it is obvious that no money was spared in giving Fleur Cardinale a new lease on life.

Located in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, Fleur Cardinale was originally known as Clos Bel Air. The story goes that, after it was purchased by the Obissier family in 1875, they called the estate Fleur Cardinale after two of their racehorses! Be that as it may, many Right Bank estates in Bordeaux have the name “fleur” (La Fleur Pétrus in Pomerol, La Fleur Perron and La Fleur de Boüard in Lalande de Pomerol, Fleur de Lisse in Saint Emilion, my friend Joseph Sublett’s Fleur de Roques in Puisseguin Saint Emilion, etc.).

The Decoster family came on the scene when they bought Fleur Cardinale in 2001. Previously owners of several firms producing Limoges china, including the famous Haviland brand, Dominique and Florence Decoster decided to sell their businesses and focus on their new estate in Saint Emilion.

They did not waste time in bringing this up to scratch, and were rewarded by its inclusion as a great growth in the 2006 classification of the wines of Saint Emilion, a status confirmed in the 2012 classification.

Their son Ludovic and his wife Caroline also decided to commit to this adventure. With no prior training, Ludovic threw himself into learning about winemaking and took over in this capacity at Fleur Cardinale in 2015.  Caroline, with a master’s degree in management in the wine and spirts Industry is involved with sales, communication, and marketing.

I asked Caroline about the upcoming 2022 classification that has been so controversial since Cheval Blanc and Ausone withdrew, and further to a long and debilitating series of court challenges. Her reply was measured, but she obviously feels very strongly about the subject. She spoke of the hundreds upon hundreds of pages it took to apply, of the colossal efforts that had been made to bring the estate up to its present level, and the fact that the media had seized on very minor aspects of the criteria (presence of a receptionist, car park, foreign languages spoken, etc.) to attempt to denigrate and disqualify it.
She and her family are proud of Fleur Cardinale’s cru classé rank.

The Bordelais are past masters in the art of combining striking architecture with a vineyard estate. Fleur Cardinale’s originality and attractiveness lie more in its interior design than its exterior. There is an exhibit of Limoges china as you enter and then a circuit taking you though child-friendly exhibits telling the story of viticulture. The new vat room is state-of-the-art and the impeccable cellar contains 100% new barrels for the grand vin.

The building’s back deck affords a sweeping view of Fleur Cardinale’s vines (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet France, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) in a single block. They grow on gently rolling terrain on the highest part of Saint Emilion’s limestone plateau, surrounded by châteaux Valandraud, Pressac, Rol Valentin, and Faugères. Although Michel Rolland’s team are winemaking consultants, Jean-Luc Thunevin at nearby Valandraud has provided precious advice to the Decosters over the years. When Fleur Cardinale grew from its original 18 hectares to the present 23.5, part of the newly-acquired vines were situated on a cooler north-facing slope. Jean-Luc suggested that it would be more appropriate to plant white wine grapes there, and the Decosters heeded his advice. Their first white wine will be marketed in years to come, when the quality meets the owners’ expectations.

The estate presently produces three wines: the cru classé Fleur Cardinale, a second wine called Intuition (from the 2018 vintage onward), and another wine named Croix Cardinale from a plot that is not in the immediate vicinity.

After visiting the cellars, Caroline took me up to the second floor where there is a world-beating tasting room with plate glass windows everywhere, tasteful modern furniture, bookshelves, a sound system, an automatic wine dispenser, and an intimate feel. The look is reminiscent of a huge suite at a top-notch boutique hotel – but with a view over the vines. Everything is geared up for new generation wine tourism.

And what of the wines? I tasted through the range in the 2018 vintage. This was a hot year, troubled by widespread high alcohol levels. However, this was not the impression I had when tasting the Decoster wines. The grand vin, Fleur Cardinal, was showing very well and, although somewhat oaky at this stage, had a rich, layered, velvety texture and smooth mouth-coating tannins. It was those qualities that attracted me to Fleur Cardinale in the first place. Mercifully, the pricing is definitely on the reasonable side too, retailing in France for 45/50 euros a bottle.

The go-ahead, positive attitude at the château is contagious. Ludovic is conducting various experiments with vinification intégrale and is even considering agroforestry, i.e. planting trees among the vines!  2021 was Fleur Cardinale’s first year of organic viticulture and it would be an understatement to say that this presented a few major challenges… In fact, there was frost in the vineyard for 9 days in a row at the beginning of the growing season, followed by severe attacks of mildew like elsewhere in Bordeaux. The château is expecting only 50% of a normal crop, tops. When explaining this, Caroline smiles philosophically and says that after this terrible introduction to organic farming, things can only get better!

Like everyone else, I like success stories and I’m pleased to say that Fleur Cardinale fits the bill. It’s an estate well worth watching.

Chai Mica, or where to buy Burgundy… in Bordeaux

Chai Mica is a play on words. Chai (a word meaning wine cellar, rather than cave, in the west of France) is pronounced the same way as “chez” and Mica is short for “Michael”, as in Michaël Llodra, who founded the business. I say business because Chez Mica, is more than just a shop. It is also a showroom, tasting venue, and office for a thriving fine wine business.

Michaël, in his early forties, is a former professional tennis player who has long loved fine wine. His associate, Christophe Jacquemin-Sablon, has sales experience with Roederer Champagne and managed Pétrus for 6 years.

Christophe Jacquemin-Sablon & Michaël Llodra

To begin with, their business model was limited to helping winelovers without the time or expertise to build up a cellar, starting with a budget of 10,000 euros. This venture was enhanced by the fact that Burgundy, in particular, is a very difficult wine to purchase, and because Michaël had established close links there, succeeding in obtaining allocations as rare a hen’s teeth from some of the region’s most famous domaines.

But, let’s focus on the shop. Chez Mica is located at 13 rue Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux. This is inside what the Bordelais refer to as the Golden Triangle formed by three streets – Cours Clemenceau, the Allées de Tourny, and Cours de l’Intendance – with the circular Place des Grands Hommes in the middle. This is in the heart of the city, where the chicest boutiques are located.

Featuring wines from some 70 Burgundian domaines, as well as Corsica, Piedmont, the Rhone, and even a few Bordeaux (!) the shop opened six months. As a long time Bordeaux resident, I was totally amazed to discover a place featuring such a fine choice of Burgundy. This is indeed proof that the navel-gazing attitude so prevalent in the past has changed.  And, contrary to popular belief, the Bordelais do not look down their noses at Burgundy – it’s that they simply do not know it.
Until recently, fine Burgundy was difficult to find locally. That has now changed thanks to Chai Mica.

The shop also started a club two years ago prior to the opening of the shop. A membership fee entitles members to take part in ten tasting dinners a year with famous winemakers (Olivier Krug is scheduled in November) as well as a reduction on their purchases. Members are located in France and abroad.

I was particularly struck by the breadth of Chai Mica’s selection of village wines, proving that, if carefully chosen, good Burgundy can still be relatively affordable. The range of premier and grand crus is fascinating and I defy anyone who loves the wines of the Côte d’Or not to at least salivate, if not give into temptation…
Among other domaines, you can find the wines of Bruno Clair, Comtes Lafon, de Montille, Sauzet, Carillon (a member of the family works at the shop), Roulot, Lafarge, Arlaud, Clos de Tart, Dujac, Mugnier, Trapet, Méo-Camuzet, etc.

Chai Mica does not sell over the Internet, so you’ll have to visit the shop to see their wonderful range of wines . Prices are reasonable.

2000 Vieux Château Certan and 2000 Trotanoy

Six of us from several countries (Bordeaux is great for that!) enjoyed a dinner with great wines this past week.

We started off with a prestigious Champagne. I love Champagne as an aperitif, can drink it with food in a pinch, but downright dislike it with dessert (a common practice in France). In any event, this 1996 Grande Dame was brought out in honor of a Japanese-American friend who will be working on and off with Veuve Clicquot in the near future. La Grande Dame (60% Pinot Noir/40% Chardonnay) is their top wine and 1996 is considered a great vintage. At a quarter of a century, the wine was a deep amber-gold, definitely showing its age. The bead was tiny and still relatively vigorous. The bouquet was oxidative, with nutty, predominantly Chardonnay aromas. In true Veuve style, the wine was quite rich on the palate. In France, such old Champagnes are said to correspond to “le goût anglais”. Although I liked the wine, I’d have preferred it ten years ago.

Next up was an oddball wine, served blind, as were the remaining two. This was the 2015 white Château du Tertre. There was no hope of anyone guessing this since it consists of a very unusual blend of grape varieties: 42% Chardonnay, 31% Gros Manseng, 16% Viognier, and 11% Sauvignon Blanc. For that reason, it can only be sold as “Vin de France”, even though it comes entirely from du Tertre, a classified growth in Arsac (AOC Margaux).
In fact, this white proved to be more of a curiosity than a fine wine. It was rather hard to pin down and was somewhat tired even at 6 years of age. Still, it was an enjoyable discovery.
We sat back and tried to name all the white wines produced in Margaux and came up with chx. Margaux, Cantenac Brown, Palmer, Prieuré Lichine and, of course, du Tertre.

There seems to be a certain amount of revisionism going on about recent great vintages. 2000 was much heralded, made out to be the bee’s knees, and inevitably labelled the “vintage of the century” (already…). However, preferences are now being voiced for 2005, 2009, and 2010. Who’s right? As usual, vintage ratings need to be nuanced, not only based on Left Bank/Right Bank criteria, but also the performance of individual estates.
Be that is it may, I enjoy the 2000 great growths tremendously, and find that at age 21 most are drinking well now.
Anyway, these two heavy hitters from Pomerol have a loyal following and I was delighted with both of them.

Vieux Château Certan is owned by the Belgian Thienpont family who also have their fingers in several other Bordeaux pies, including the rare and famous Le Pin. Unassuming Alexandre Thienpont is a perfectionist who has done much to enhance the estate’s reputation.
2000 VCC showed extremely well in August 2021, and most of us around the table felt that it was on its plateau, feeling that, although it will be enjoyable for years to come, it is as good now as it ever will be. Appearing older than the Trotanoy, it featured a divine bouquet with spicy notes and complex, ethereal aromatics along with the inevitable hint of truffle. On bouquet alone, 2000 VCC probably edged out Trotanoy of the same vintage. But as we shall see, Totanoy has not said its last word… Anyway, 2000 VCC’s innate elegance came through on the palate as well, but in a, dare I say, feminine, Margaux-like way. We enjoyed the wine with grilled veal chops and chanterelle mushrooms, but I could see how a wine like this could partner the very greatest creations of French cuisine due to its tremendous class. The aftertaste was fresh, soft, and evanescent, like the bouquet.

We did well to taste 2000 Trotanoy after the VCC because the former was a much bigger wine. If we believe what’s printed on the labels, alcoholic degree does not explain everything here. The nose of the Trotanoy was very concentrated with sweet black fruit and earthy overtones. It was quite seductive, if more obvious than the VCC. 2000 Trotanoy was a revelation on the palate, with a wonderful velvety texture and plenty of body and richness. I might allocate demerit points based on an impression of alcohol, but also give this a fair chance of integrating with further age. However, the wine clearly will always be imposing – not that this precludes the refinement one expects from top tier Pomerol. The aftertaste was long and powerful.

The bottom line is that the competition between these two Pomerols was a draw. That being said, the same match in ten years’ time would probably yield different results, in my opinion.
For what it’s worth, here is the area under vine of three famous Pomerol estates:
Pétrus: 11.5 hectares
Trotanoy: 7 hectares
Vieux Château Certan: 14 hectares
Trotanoy’s second wine is called L’Espérance
VCC’s second wine is La Gravette.
Both are good value for money.
Never heard of a second wine for Pétrus.