Tag Archives: winewednesday

Book review: “From Yquem to Fargues” by Alexandre de Lur Saluces

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At the age of 82, Alexandre de Lur Saluces has written a book telling us of his trials, tribulations, and joys in the many years he has made world class wine in Sauternes.

d’Yquem à Fargues – l’excellence d’un vin, l’histoire d’une famille” was published by Gallimard in November 2016.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/253-1422515-3899335?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=d%E2%80%99Yquem+%C3%A0+Fargues
Gallimard (one of the largest French publishing houses) only distribute the French version.
However, an English version does indeed exist, and can be ordered directly from the château :
www.chateaudefargues.com/librairie
or
https://www.chateaudefargues.com/en/bookstore/

This relatively short (175 pages), but many-faceted book is a very interesting and entertaining read. There’s even a section on “Sauternes in Literature”. It has a handsome royal blue and gold binding, as well as the crown all wine lovers will recognize from the labels of both Yquem and Fargues.

The book is divided into several parts: a forward by Natacha Polony (a French journalist and essayist of Polish origin), a preface by Marguerite Figeac (a professor of history at Bordeaux University), an introduction and a conclusion by the author, a postface by Jean-Paul Kaufmann (a journalist, writer, and noted lover of Bordeaux wines), and a series of appendices on various technical and historical subjects.

One is struck by Alexandre Lur Saluce’s modesty, candor, grounding in his rural environment and, of course, his deep sense of history. Château de Fargues has been in his family since 1472. He represents the 15th generation and has produced 48 vintages there…

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Château d’Yquem

The Lur-Saluces name will, of course, forever be associated with Château d’Yquem. This came into the family when Louis-Amédée de Lur Saluces married Joséphine de Suavage in 1785. At one time, the Lur Saluces owned some 700 hectares in Sauternes (over a quarter of the combined present-day area of Sauternes and Barsac), including châteaux de Malle, Filhot, and Coutet.
Alexandre de Lur Saluces was in charge of Yquem for 36 years, from 1968 to 2004. The sale of the estate to LVMH involved a long bitter fight, but this is wisely dealt with dispassionately and in summary fashion. That is not the point of the book.

What is the point then? In fact, there are several. The book is necessarily autobiographical (for instance, I was unaware that Alexandre was the 8th of 9 children), but also describes the renaissance of Château de Fargues and goes into considerable detail about the making of one of the world’s great wines: Sauternes. That is because Alexandre de Lur Saluces has always been a sterling ambassador for Sauternes as a whole, not just his family estates. He has clearly lost none of his sense of wonder at the transformation by Botrytis cinerea of grapes grown on a unique terroir to produce a wine like no other. And he is very concerned about the appellation’s future. He points out the danger of a proposed TGV high speed train line that would upset the region’s delicate ecosystem, decries the production of dry white wine at the expense of one of the world’s great sweet wines, and criticizes the lack of commercial support from Bordeaux négociants.  He also writes about matching Sauternes and food, a subject that often puzzles wine lovers.

One must admire Alexandre de Lur Saluces’ ability to rebound after leaving Yquem and invest his energy in the renovation and expansion of Château de Fargues, an estate that has gone from strength to strength. This is described in a lively way and illustrated with beautiful photos.

I would recommend this book by one of Bordeaux’s greatest figures to anyone with even a passing interest in Sauternes. It is informative, entertaining, thought-provoking, in easy-to-understand French, and full of anecdotes.

The 2016 vintage at Château Montrose

I was invited to Château Montrose on the 12th of October to see how the new vintage was going. I was glad to accept, because 2016 has been a very unusual year weatherwise and I curious to see what effect this had on the grapes. In fact, the harvest finished today (14th of October).

Château Montrose has 95 hectares of vines (90 in production). The estate is dramatically situated on a rise overlooking the Gironde Estuary. The vines go down the relatively steep slope almost to the river, which unquestionably has a positive influence on the microclimate, helping to avoid extremes of temperature. A soil survey defined Montrose’s gravelly terroir in the “terrace 4” category, not unlike Château Latour’s. Grape varieties are 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 6 % Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.
A relatively recent estate in Médocain terms, Montrose was nevertheless classified a second growth in the 1855 classification. It belonged to the Charmolüe family from 1896 until 2006, when it was acquired by Martin and Olivier Bouygues, among the wealthiest people in France. Although they live in Paris, the Bouygues come frequently to Saint-Estèphe and are intimately involved with their estate.

The changes in Montrose in the past 10 years have been breathtaking. The 1,000 m² barrel cellar, completed in 2014, is a veritable temple of Bacchus, one of the most classical and beautiful in Bordeaux, which is saying something… All existing buildings were renovated and new ones built. Careful attention was paid to ecological concerns. The château has 3,000 m² of solar panels and draws on geothermal energy from a well dug some 100 meters deep…

In this same spirit, experiments are being made with organic viticulture. Fifteen hectares are being farmed in this way and, what’s more, expressly in the part of the vineyard considered to be the most vulnerable to vine diseases. The results are very encouraging and it is hoped that the vineyard will be entirely organic within the next 5 years.
The 2016 harvest started on the 23rd of September. Like elsewhere in Bordeaux this year, the growing season got off to poor start due to a cool, wet spring. Bud burst at Montrose took place around the 4th of April for Merlot, the 11th of that month for the Cabernets, and the 14th for Petit Verdot. Flowering occurred on the same day for Merlot and the Cabernets (the 10th of June) and on the 14th for Petit Verdot.

A heat wave in August changed things radically. Véraison took place on the 19th of August for Merlot, the 25th for the Cabernets, and the 29th for Petit Verdot.
Yes, there was some scattered scorching of grapes and vegetative growth was blocked for a time. But an important distinction must be made with 2003. The average highs in August of that year were 32°C, whereas they were 28°C in 2016. The vineyard manager, Mme Patricia Teynac, and the winemaker, M. Vincent Ducup, thought that this would spell high sugar levels. However, this was not the case. For instance, both Merlot and the Cabernets came at 13-13.5° potential alcohol, which is quite reasonable in a good vintage. All in all, this was a slightly early-ripening year.
The average yield was 41 hl/ha.

One of the hallmarks of 2016 is what can only be described as drought conditions. Precipitation from June until the present time has been abnormally low, and may well set a new record.
Montrose’s new (ten years already, even so…) owners have brought about two important changes in the wine. First of all, the selection process has been taken to great lengths. The second wine, La Dame de Montrose, has existed for years. However, a third wine was introduced in 2010, Le Saint-Estèphe de Montrose, and there is even a fourth wine now (!), which is sold in bulk to négociants. The grand vin now accounts for just one quarter to one third of the total crop depending on the vintage.

The second change involves winemaking. Montrose, renowned for its longevity, is now more open in its youth, but without compromising ageing potential. A neat trick, that seems to be working!
Montrose acquired part of Phélan Ségur, a large 21 hectare plot called Fonpetite in 2010. Wine from here has been integrated into the estate started with the 2010 vintage. It is nevertheless important to point out that this parcel was once part of Montrose, so the magical transformation of cru bourgeois land into great growth terroir from one minute to the next is inaccurate.
Be this as it may, much of Fonpetite’s production goes into the second wine.

At a time when 85% of all grapes in Bordeaux are machine harvested, there are 90 pickers at Montrose in 2016. As in years past, all of them come from the village of Pruna, near Seville. Fortunately, the winemaker speaks Spanish!

Among other innovations, Montrose is relying on drones that take infrared photos of the vines. These show different levels of maturity, even within the estate’s 90 separate plots. Montrose has also introduced the dividing of grapes from the premières grappes (bunches on the top of the vine) and deuxièmes grappes (ones from the bottom). The latter are riper and so are fermented separately.

The replanting program, begun in 2006, will take forty years to complete! Montrose is also experimenting with propagating the best vines rather than buying ones from a vine nursery.

Furthermore, Montrose has made an effort over the past 3 years to reduce sufur levels, going from 140 to 100 mg., with an aim to reach just 70 mg.

A visit to the vatroom revealed 65 stainless steel vats of varying capacity to keep wines from each plot separate in order to fine tune the final blend.
The ph of the new wine is about 3.5 for both of the main varieties. The anthocyanin content is greater than 2,000 for the Merlot and 3,000 for the Cabernets (measured according to the ApH1 Glories method)
I have a decent backlog of experience tasting young wines from barrel, but it is unfortunately beyond me to taste freshly pressed juice and appraise it. But going on Montrose’s track record, and based on the genuine enthusiasm of the winemaking team, I think something special is in store, and I look forward to tasting 2016 Montrose in March or April of next year.

CHATEAU MERCIER: A GO-TO CÔTES WINE

I am a great fan of the excellent affordable wines of Bordeaux. The Côtes de Bordeaux (especially Bourg, Blaye, and Castillon) are a treasure trove of relatively inexpensive wines with the class and distinction Bordeaux is famous for.

Case in point: Château Mercier in Saint-Trojan in the Côtes de Bourg.

 


I have known this estate for years and never been disappointed. The Chéty family have been making wine at Mercier since… 1698! Philippe Chéty, a former mayor of Saint-Trojan and figure in the Côtes de Bourg, handed over management to his children Christophe and Isabelle – the 16th generation – in 1999. I visited Mercier in May during the Côtes de Bourg Portes Ouvertes, at which time they had some twenty different vintages to taste, not to mention the other wines produced by the château (white, rosé, clairet, crémant, etc.).


I wanted to go back at the end of August for two reasons.

 
First of all, I had developed a strong affinity for Mercier’s white Côtes de Bourg – a relative rarity – called “Graines Blanches” and wanted to buy some more. This wine comes in a 3-litre bag-in-box as well as in bottle.
I find bag-in-box wine highly convenient if you just want a glass or two, or if you only need a little wine for cooking. It is rare for good estate wine to be packaged like this, so when three liters of a perfectly good, aromatic, nippy, dry white wine sell for just over 15 euros at the estate, that seemed like a no-brainer! I used the first box up in no time, so picked up two more.

The other reason for returning to Mercier was to find out more about Atmosphère, their new unsulfured wine.


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There is a lot of media attention and a fair deal of controversy about “natural wine”. In fact, the very definition of natural wine is open to discussion… I admit to having a prejudice against such wines because I have had some poor examples, because they seem more like a marketing gimmick than anything else, and because their “naturalness” is considered by some more important than the way they actually taste…

I was nevertheless intrigued that an estate as solid as Mercier should introduce a wine without sulfur (or, more exactly, with zero added sulfur, because there is always some intrinsic sulfur). I therefore bought a bottle in May to try, not expecting very much.

I might add that the natural wine ayatollahs would exclude Mercier’s wine because they use cultured rather than indigenous yeast (go figure…).

Anyway, I am pleased to say that my prejudice was overcome when I tasted Mercier’s 2015 “Atmosphères”. This 100% Merlot is a vibrant purplish red with a pure upfront nose of cassis leaves and black fruit – not deep, but fragrant, as well as simple, but seductive. Although soft and gulpable, the wine shows Bordeaux’s tannic reserve on the aftertaste making what might, at first, seem like a very good nouveau-type wine more serious and traditional. The wine displays lively acidity that is not at odds with the softness, as well as what I can only describe as a tealike flavor.

Bordeaux doesn’t do primeur wines, but Merlot made this way is a delight to drink quite young when it’s user-friendly and uncomplicatedly fruity. Atmosphères costs 10.50 euros a bottle at the estate. While unquestionably a very fun, anytime wine, it is much more than a diversion for bobos and health food nuts. It’s also an authentic Bordeaux that deserves attention.
Obviously, it takes special care to avoid adding sulfur. The trick is to keep the wine away from oxygen as much as possible throughout the winemaking process. Carbon dioxide (including dry ice) and nitrogen play a key role here. Furthermore, Mercier is also innovating by experimenting with Vinification Intégrale®, a patented method of red grape barrel fermentation.

 

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The Chéty family have a total of 50 hectares of vines, half of which comprise Château Mercier, with the rest taken up by Clos Piat and Château La Cottière, also in the Côtes de Bourg. Château Mercier also has a gîte (bed and breakfast) and if you are every in the region, you are sure to receive a warm welcome should you decide to visit.

Bordeaux Clairet – a super rosé well worth discovering

I love light, fruity, colorful rosé wine and drink buckets-full of the stuff in summer.

Yes, my conservative side comes through: to me, rosé means hot weather. Oh, I’ve had rosé in winter, and it looks really pretty alongside, let’s say, a dish of salmon where the colors match.
But that is the exception… Rosé just seems to match the insouciance of summer and, as we all know, it goes with just about any food a dry white or red wine does. Cool and refreshing, it is multi-purpose, easy-going, crowd-pleasing, inexpensive, and the polar opposite of snobbish.

I’m particular about my rosé. For a start, I have a problem with really pale ones with orange tinges – except for Champagne. It’s purely psychological: when I see a Rosé de Provence, it looks like, well, a pale imitation of what rosé should be. I expect such wines to be rather neutral and weak in flavor. In fact, I have the same problem with Burgundy: I have a prejudice against wines that are pale when, in fact, some of them can be simply wonderful on the palate…

 


Clairet de Bordeaux is halfway to being a red wine. The colour is very deep pink or an intense light red, with purple nuances. It really stands out – sometimes to the point where you almost expect it to glow in the dark! Other regions such as Navarra and Rioja in Spain produce such wine (clarete), but they still represent only a small fraction of the world’s rosé.
Is Clairet rosé? The short answer is yes… The only difference is the length of time the wine spends on the skins. However, there is a separate appellation for Bordeaux Clairet as opposed to Bordeaux Rosé. What is the difference? In a word, color. Bordeaux Rosé must have an index less than 1.1 ICM*, whereas Clairet must be between 1.1 and 2.5 ICM.
The word clair in French means “pale”, and the English word claret comes from clairet. The origin of this word goes back to the Middle Ages, when all of Aquitaine was English. At that time, entire fleets of ships sailed up the Garonne to load the new vintage of Bordeaux and take it to English ports. This wine was not as we know it today. It was lighter in colour and meant to be drunk young: the ancestor of present-day Clairet.

Clairet can be made from any of the Bordeaux red wine grape varieties. Ones produced primarily from Cabernet have a little more structure and a little more ageing potential than Merlot-based ones. Be this as it may, Clairet it best consumed within a year or two of the vintage.

 

I went to see M. Frédéric Roger at Planète Bordeaux, home of the Syndicat des Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, to find out more about Clairet. Planète Bordeaux is located in Beychac-et-Caillau on the road to Libourne. I can’t recommend their boutique highly enough. The choice is enormous, and the knowledgeable staff is glad to advise. I came away with six interesting bottles, including a Crémant de Bordeaux and a Bordeaux Carménère (!) for 47 euros. Whoever said Bordeaux is expensive is wrong! As an aside, I learned that Crémant de Bordeaux is really on the up-and-up: sales have doubled in the past 2 years, and one third of this is rosé.

 


Providing tremendous value for money, Clairet de Bordeaux sells in French supermarkets at 4 to 7 euros a bottle. Bordeaux produces six and a half times as much rosé (about 190,000 hl.) as Clairet (27,400 hl.). Although Bordeaux Rosé is riding the wave of increased worldwide demand for pink wine, Clairet sales have stayed largely stable. That is because Clairet is sold mostly regionally and is not a household name… Little is exported. However, this is a wine well worth discovering with definitely more structure and – to me – more flavour than most other rosés on the market. I’ve talked mostly about color in this post, but the wine is also very attractive on the bouquet and palate, with lively red fruit aromas. And it is not wimpish! In a nutshell, this is a rosé for red wine lovers.
I hope you are able to find Clairet where you live and try a bottle to see for yourself.
Bonne dégustation !
* ICM = intensité colorante modifiée – I have found no equivalent term in English. It is the average optic density measured at wavelengths at 420 nm, 520 nm, and 620 nm.

A look at the new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

The Bordelais are a bit like Texans. They naturally assume everything is bigger and better in their part of the world… Their département, the Gironde, is the largest in France and their wine the most famous on the planet (bar one: Champagne). However, Bordeaux was closed like an oyster for many years to wine lovers. You needed an introduction to visit the famous châteaux and it was difficult to see much of anything without a car.

This has all changed enormously in recent years, and nothing illustrates this more than the new Cité du Vin. Created by the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilisations – funded by various local government agencies plus the EU (80%), along with private sponsors (20%) – the Cité was inaugurated by François Hollande on the 31st of May 2016 and open to the public the next day.
That makes June a very busy month in Bordeaux, with European Football Cup matches played here and the Bordeaux Wine Festival (http://www.bordeaux-wine-festival.com/) taking place at the end of the month.

Designed by the Parisian firm of XTU Architects, the Cité du Vin is housed in a striking modern building on the Garonne River. Its unusual shape has been the butt of cheeky jokes, but it kind of grows on you…
It is easy to go there by tram www.infotbc.com or even on a municipal water taxi www.batcub.fr . Parking facilities have not yet been entirely worked out.
The Cité is located in Bacalan, a part of town long considered “the wrong side of the tracks”, but currently undergoing a major transformation. Buildings are sprouting up everywhere and the nearby new Chaban Delmas lift bridge enables outsize cruise ships to dock a little further upriver, in the heart of the city.
In fact tourism has grown by leaps and bounds since Bordeaux was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Let’s start out with a simple explanation of what in the world the Cité du Vin actually is. Neither a museum nor an amusement park, it is a center with several functions. Most people just passing through Bordeaux will limit their experience to going on the permanent exhibition circuit, an attractive and fun way to learn about the world’s vineyard regions thanks to sophisticated, imaginative, interactive multi-media presentations. Visitors are given a smartphone and headphones and then set out discover the 19 different modules by themselves, at their own pace (there are no guides), and in any order they wish. The scenography was laid out by the English firm of Casson Mann, who also designed that of the Imperial War Museum in London and the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.

The total duration of audio-visual presentations is more than 10 hours, but most visits last less than two. Aerial views of some of the world’s most beautiful vineyard regions on enormous screens are spellbinding. In fact, the visual and sound effects everywhere are altogether pretty remarkable.
However, the Cité is not just about screens. The 3,000 metres open to the public also include a battery of marvelously retro “Nez du Vin” type wine aroma sniffers, a honeycomb of various-sized rooms for tastings, a trippy “Imaginarium”, “sensory workshops” for children, etc. I might add that I think children will enjoy the experience as much as their parents – minus the tasting of course!
After the tour, a glass of wine is served at an enormous tasting bar on the 8th floor “belvedere,” an observation deck featuring a circular plate glass window affording a commanding 360° view of Bordeaux.

The other parts of the Cité can be visited without buying a ticket. The 7th floor houses a restaurant called, appropriately enough, “Le 7”. Run by the team from the Brasserie Bordelaise, the Terrasse Rouge (Château La Domnique), etc., the restaurant is rather small (seats 70, and another 30 on the terrace). This reflects the fact that the initial project had to be downsized in light of budgetary restrictions.
The first floor contains an auditorium, a number of workshop rooms, a temporary exhibition area, a function room, and a reading room (as opposed to a lending library) with books on wine in many languages.
The Latitude 20 snack bar, wine bar, gift shop, and wine boutique are on the ground floor. The latter has a huge selection from 80 countries! And if you have twelve and a half thousand euros to spare, you can even buy a bottle of 2009 Romanée-Conti…

As much as Bordeaux goes in for navel-gazing, the Cité du Vin is well and truly international. Obviously, Bordeaux is not given short shrift though, and there is a desk to help tourists arrange to see the local wine country. Some 450,000 are expected a year. Cost of admission: 20 euros, including a glass of wine on the top floor. Tickets are best purchased over the Internet http://ticket.laciteduvin.com/en-GB/home where there is a choice of time slots.

A program of special events is in the making, and the Cité du Vin will regularly host wine-related and other conferences as well as a number of exhibitions. The first temporary one (July/August) will highlight the wines of Georgia, the cradle of winegrowing.
So, does the Cité live up to all the hype? I think any wine lover would enjoy it immensely and it has been planned to welcome the whole family. That is the key: making wine interesting and fun to the public at large – people of all ages and origins. This is not a facility targeting wine professionals, nor does it go into the technical aspects of winemaking. The original name was “La Cité des Civilisations du Vin”, and the emphasis is indeed on wine cultures from around the world.

The Cité du Vin is not only extremely international, but also unabashedly modern, and puts paid to Bordeaux’s somewhat stuffy image. A visit there is an entertaining, educational experience in a very 21st century sort of way, making use of state-of-the-art technology and giving people the liberty of experiencing things their own way, at their own pace.
It unquestionably adds another stone to the edifice of Bordeaux’s claim to be “The World Wine Capital.”