Months ago, there was a showing in my home town of Blaye, Bordeaux, of the new French movie Premier Crus. Some of the actors attended and answered questions. I was sorry to have missed out.
“Ne t’inquiétez pas,” a winemaker friend told me. “Don’t worry. When it comes out on video, with subtitles, we’ll gather to watch it before a roaring fire at our vineyard.”
This movie takes place in Burgundy, a region on the opposite side of the country from Bordeaux, with a comparatively smaller quantity of wine production. Burgundy’s cachet and fame derive from the quality of the delicate local Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines the region produces.
[Though Bordeaux is not teeming with actors, a neighboring vineyard was recently sold by actor Gerard Depardieu to artist Thierre Bisch to another friend…who suggests an investment would be wise. But, that is another story.]
For those who crave variety it may be difficult to subsist on Pinot Noir alone as a source of local red wine. Still, a nice Burgundy at the right temperature is always welcome. It may not be enough reason to move to the region, but it’s impetus for an occasional visit.
The geographical setting of the movie is somewhat timely. After Chinese invested heavily in Bordeaux wines during the stellar vintages of 2009 and 2010, prices skyrocketed, and investment consequently declined. The Chinese then discovered Burgundy. The worldwide fame of the region (once again) escalated. (Apparently Tuscany may be the next focus for serious Chinese investment, thought that is unsubstantiated rumor.)
I’ve not yet seen the movie. Have any of you?
Before leaving the media world, I was prompted to delve into, and enjoy, a highly readable fiction book about competitive blind wine tasting, titled Blinders, by Michael Amon. Rather than review it here, check out the review on the Social Vignerons site. The book is a great read – entertaining, down to earth, unpredictable, and fun.
Years ago I took a water resources course. Reviewing notes from one class before exams turned confusing until a friend revealed the reason. During each of two classes per week, alternate topics were discussed: the first covered hydrology, the second covered water quality.
Without knowing this, the notes seemed confusing.
It may be similar with two separate blogs I publish on alternate weeks. One – Vino Voices – concerns wine. The other – Roundwood Press – includes articles about writing, publishing, and travel.
Because the Vino Voices blog promotes a book published by Roundwood Press, it belongs to that site.
Hence, the forthcoming merger.
In coming weeks, both blogs will transform to different tabs on one site. Subscribers to Vino Voices will automatically be redirected. This process should be straightforward.
“Ne t’inquiétez pas.”
The Roundwood Press site also now includes a new tab – Videos. This includes dozens of short videos clips I took and published during recent years, including vineyard drone shots, winemaker interviews, cellar song renditions, book reviews, and travel pieces (including that wonderful, brazen, toothless, singing grandmother from the mountains of Bhutan – below).
Thanks for staying tuned during the modification of this site. If your friends are interested in wine – please share a sample post and encourage them to sign up. This may not yet be a Premier Cru of wine blogs, but it is improving…
If you’d like to learn more about my book Vino Voices, click on the image below.
People shared the following wisdom – not about wine, but about life – during conversations for my book Vino Voices (now in paperback).
“People work for one of two reasons. One: to make their wealth. Two: to fill their heart with wealth.”
Bill Wilson – Proprietor, Wilson Creek Winery, Temecula, California, USA
“You know Zen? Japanese. Something very slowly. The rhythm is in the moon, in the sun, the nature. You can do nothing against this.”
Carolos Costoya – Owner, Costoya Winery, Ribeira Sacra, Spain
“In a situation when things go wrong in a small community, a lot of people come together and make a big difference. That’s one of the great things about living in a small community. You’re really connected with people.”
Autumn Millhouse – Author, Napa, California, USA
“I’d rather under promise and over deliver if you know what I mean. Well I reckon’ that’s the way forward.”
Summer Bell – Winemaker, Stonyridge Winery, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
“You say, ‘I can’t.’ Then you say, ‘Well, yes, I can.’ You say, ‘I couldn’t,’ but then you say, ‘I’m going to see whether I can.’ It gives you enthusiasm.”
Flavio Fenocchio – Winemaker, Marchesi di Barolo Winery, Barolo, Italy
“I woke up one day and thought, ‘Okay, I bought a house, I’m here, I’m unemployed. What do I love, what do I want to do that would be cool?’ This is what happened with that thought pattern.”
Windee Smith – Proprietor, Valley Wine Shack, Sonoma, California, USA
“Serendipity? I think that’s for anyone who’s open to what the universe sends them.”
Les Kellen – Proprietor, Villa Saint Simon Guest House, Blaye, Bordeaux, France
“Innovation is the way forward in life.”
David Lehmann – Winemaker and Owner, david Franz Wines, Tanunda, Australia
“It’s all about not forgetting that you don’t stand here today having accomplished it all on your own. You’ve done it through the help and support of other people. It’s about what goes around comes around.”
Norm Benson – Winemaker and Owner, Dark Star Cellars, Paso Robles, California, USA
“I did what I had to do. I proved that I will succeed, and I can succeed, and I don’t need a man to do it.”
Robyn Drayton – Winemaker and Former Owner, Drayton Wines, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, Australia
“People don’t realize that today you need something extra. Like good music. Like having time for reading. Or eating. Something extra. Something like a slow life. That means you have the time for appreciating wine, music, lots of things. These are things we need to indulge in because they’re healthy, good, stable.”
Alvaro Arriagada – Winemaker, Casa Donoso Winery, Talca, Chile
“I love teaching. You watch these people who are so lacking in self-confidence and so wanting to learn but so scared to ask questions. And you watch them turn into confident people who can evaluate and critically analyze and think. That’s what makes me happy. That’s why I do what I do.”
Marianne McKay – Lecturer, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
“My philosophy that I share with the family is it should have some support and encouragement – divinely – in that you should be good at it. The way that you know you’re good at it is you think you are. That’s one thing. But if other people think you are, then it’s not just in your mind.”
“Give me a passionate person in anything they’re doing. I want a passionate airline pilot. I want a passionate chef and a passionate winemaker and a passionate brain surgeon and a passionate dentist who’s not thinking about earning ten thousand dollars, but wants to do the best he can. I consider it a good day when we encourage the best in others because that brings out the best in us.”
Peter McDonald – Farmer and Musician, Finger Lakes, New York, USA
“My husband said, ‘If you can read a book then you can be whatever you want.’ ”
Zlatka Cvetko – Co-Owner, Kogl Winery, Velika Nedelja, Slovenia
“Work’s never really been much of a grind for me, because otherwise, why do it?”
Samantha Scarratt – Winemaker, Wither Hills Winery, Marlborough, New Zealand
“For us, rather than always being first, it’s more important being among the first three, because if you are consistently among the first three out of ten or fifteen… that’s a big result.”
Mauro Gamba – Co-Owner, Botti Gamba Barrel Producer, Castell’Alfero, Italy
“Balance. You want balance at the end of the day.”
Shaun Turnbull – Winemaker, Stone Hill Wine Company, Hermann, Missouri, USA
“You have a company. You have an image. If you make a mistake in one market with a big customer, that can be known nowadays in all the world. So you have to really work the best you can so that you will not have problems. Otherwise your image will be compromised.”
Filipe Brandão – Manager, J. Tavares corks, Santa Maria de Lama, Portugal
“There’s the being your own boss, entrepreneurial side of things, where you’re building it. The reward is that satisfaction of starting a business, being successful in it, making a good product, and then you get immediate validation from the customer – whether or not you met their needs or didn’t.”
Jason Gerke – Co-Owner, Jowler Creek Winery, Missouri, USA
“I don’t want to get sucked into a job that’s too comfortable. I’d rather be financially a little uncomfortable…and find the right opportunity.”
George Stevenson – Chef, Seattle, Washington, USA
“My goal is to get people what they want. To give a little education, but not preach. Listen to your customer and show them something new. The non-pretentious sort of path.”
Clint Hillery – Sommelier and Wine Bar Owner, Sydney, Australia
“I am independent with my own business. I say always to my employees, ‘I work harder than you, longer than you, but I must have time for people.’ It’s important to have time for people and not say, ‘Okay, we have five minutes.’ I think it’s very important. It’s a way of life also.”
Louis-Bernard Emery – Owner, Cave Emery Wines, Valais, Switzerland
“It’s about composition, not about numbers. Somebody asked Mozart one day, ‘How many parts in a requiem?’ And he looked at them and said, ‘Well, there are enough of them and they’re in the right places.’ ”
“There’s inherently nothing that’s perfect. Everything can be improved on, ultimately. But the purpose of wine and books and art and music is…they encourage people to go and search for more. Especially young people. It’s like in art, Cezanne and Gauguin are of course obtainable by a rich person, but they inspire other people to do better than they would otherwise have done.”
“Everyone is great in their own way, and they are different. They are original and have their own quality. It’s the composition that matters. It’s not how many words. They don’t sell books by the weight in kilos, thank God.”
Danny Shuster – Wine Consultant, New Zealand
I’m far from Europe now, recalling highlights.
Here are some notes about recent surprises from both France and England.
Burgundy – Expensive and Sometimes Deservedly So
The author of the Bordeaux Wine Blog is Alex Rychlewski, an American who has lived in Bordeaux city for decades. One of his recent posts describes an evening when we met, together with a friend from England, to taste two excellent wines in the city. The first was an excellent white – a Chablis, while the second was a Gevrey Chambertin from Burgundy. Here’s what I scribbled that evening.
“This blew me away – an enchanted blackberry forest…with smoke and leather. No subtleties here. It’s like reading a medieval thriller that’s a page turner – dark and alluring. Chocolate, mint, and yes – really – even pencil lead.”
Faugères from Languedoc – Simple, Silky, Satisfying
Earlier that evening I met up with television documentary producer Maxime Granata at a city wine bar known as Chez le Pépère in Bordeaux. He suggested a glass from the Faugères region of the Languedoc in southern France. This was silky and rich – a better wine from a region once considered – decades ago – to be a field of plonk. Overall, the quality in Languedoc improves, incrementally.
Maxime’s latest TV production is called The Wine Seekers. Click to check out the trailer – it looks zippy and fun and we’ll let you know when it comes out.
Three other wines are listed below – surprises from southern France and southern England. Two are made from unusual grape varieties. One comes from a region few even know about.
Jurançon – Where? And What Grapes?
That wine is a mystery, I told the friend who poured it. You’re sure it’s French?
Bien sure, he said. Of course.
First came the process of elimination: I sniffed and swirled and rolled it in my mouth like a happy child. It was not Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet or Chenin Blanc. That ruled out Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. It could have been Chardonnay, but no it couldn’t be. The scent was strong with diesel, as well as apricots, orange rind, green apples, lamb chops, and – oh yeah – Play Doh. Seriously. It was buttery but chalky…like a cross between a well-oaked Burgundy and a mineral Chablis.
There was something out of the ball park with this wine.
The truth, my friend Julien told, is it came from southern France – between Bordeaux and the Pyrenees Mountains.
This was Camin Larredya – a white wine made from three grapes – Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Courbu. It looks like this region of Jurançon near the city of Pau – just a tad east of the surfing, bling-bling crowd from Biarritz – has been producing wine since around the 1300s (a colorful era when the 100 Years War pitted French and English soldiers in heinous longbow-versus-crossbow massacres while the Black Plague snuffed out a third of Europe’s population).
I’d never heard of the grapes, much less tasted them. Just when you think you’ve grabbed hold of understanding wine, someone uncorks a bottle not only of Manseng, but with gros and petit versions included.
Back to the tasting room.
Côtes De Duras – Think Modified Bordeaux
This red wine was a raspberry explosion, which indicated Malbec included. And Merlot was detectable. Meaning the wine probably came from Bordeaux, or close. But it was smooth, agreeable, delightful.
This was a medium cuvée from the biodynamic producer Domaine Mouthes le Bihan located in the Côtes de Duras near the city of Agen, south and east of Bordeaux along the Garonne River. Agen is renowned for its large carmel-scented chewy prunes (best filled with Roquefort cheese, or stuffed into pork. Sometimes both).
As the friend who poured said of this wine, “It’s not complicated, but it’s complex,” with 50 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, and 10 percent Malbec.
At 15 Euros a bottle this is an unparalleled bargain.
Dorking – Only 21 miles from London
This noble botrytis dessert wine comes from England (thanks David and Gaynor). Poured out of a 50 ml bottle it’s a sweet late harvest wine. Considering that that region is a fair distance from Sauternes, I was impressed by the smoothness and overall quality. This Denbies 2014 dessert wine is made exclusively from the Ortega grape (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; neither has most of the world). This winery uses grapes appropriate for the latitude and climate, including many familiar to Germans: Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc, and Bacchus, as well as Rondo and Regent.
Years ago in the Cognac region, a wine maker told me how he learned his craft – paradoxically – in England. Charles Capbern-Gasqueton told me: “In England we didn’t have anything. There was a lab, but far from the place. You had to do everything on your own. For the sugar level, for fermentation. When you’re living in Bordeaux, in Cognac, and you need anyone to assist, it’s very easy to find people. You can’t in England. There’s no one there. So you have to do it with no help. You are responsible from the beginning to the end.”
For visionary vintners forging out in foggy territory with German varietals and a wildly variable climate – nice one. This wine is smooth and well made.
Three hours east of Bordeaux and an hour and a half north of Toulouse, the sine-shaped River Lot snakes through the hills of Cahors wine country.
Red wine from the Cahors appellation must include 70 percent Malbec (known locally as Côt) and 30 percent Tannat or Merlot, or a blend of both. No Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc are allowed.
That’s a hefty dose of deep black tannins. Which means – producing tamed and balanced wines is a challenge here.
In the year 1137, fifteen-year old Eleanor of Aquitaine (which was the wealthiest province of what is now known as France), married the King of France. At this time the Medoc region of Bordeaux (which now produces the famed ‘First Growth’ wines) was an uncultivated swamp, devoid of vines. The wine for Eleanor’s wedding in Bordeaux City came, instead, from further east – the region known as Cahors. This wine had a reputation for being dark and hardy and having a long life. When rot killed great swathes of Malbec vines in 1956, the region of Cahors did not rip out the grape vines as did many other regions in France (and Bordeaux) but continued to plant them during succeeding years.
I recently visited Cahors with Stella Kim, a South Korean wine sommelier now based in Singapore. Taking her away from the more branded wines of Medoc and Saint Emilion seemed to be a good way to get her to appreciate a lesser known, yet attractive, wine region that produces good quality and good value French wines.
We visited three wine châteaux in a day, and enjoyed more bottles during our meals. We ate lunch at Hotel Bellevue overlooking the Lot River in the town of Puy l’Evêque. For dinner we drove a half hour to Le Gindreau restaurant (one Michelin star) in the location of Saint Médard – hidden in the countryside. The best bottles were smooth and balanced, though hardy. Those of lesser quality were tannic yet bland.
Note that one wine we tasted (and which I bought several bottles of) is named Probus – after the Roman emperor who decreed that local wine could be grown again after an earlier prohibition was imposed by the empire leadership. [My other posts about Romans and French wine include Long Road through Languedoc, and Wine Bottles and Battles].
Fortunately, we found a few beauties in the region. After some long tasting sessions, followed by bottles of Belgian ale, we even managed to snooze a few hours before returning to Bordeaux.
And the Cahors region? Beautiful.
My scoring for wines we tasted are below, using the Vino Value™ algorithm. *
|Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Cahors|
|Wine||Retail Price – Euros||Retail Price – US dollars equivalent||Value Score|
|Château Lamartine Cahors 2012||€ 7.50||$8.40||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Lamartine Cahors Cuvée Particulière 2012||€ 11.00||$12.32||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Lamartine Cahors Expression 2012||€ 23.00||$25.76||Good Value ♫|
|Château Lamartine Cahors Expression 2011||€ 24.00||$26.88||Good Value ♫|
|Château Carrigou Cahors 2010||€ 9.50||$10.64||Good Value ♫|
|Château du Cèdre Cahors Héritage 2012||€ 7.50||$8.40||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château du Cèdre Cahors Extra Libre Vin Natural 2014||€ 14.50||$16.24||Excellent Value ♫ ♫|
|Château du Cèdre Cahors Organic Wine 2012||€ 14.50||$16.24||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château du Cèdre Le Cèdre 2012||€ 33.50||$37.52||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château du Cèdre GC 2012||€ 74.00||$82.88||Good Value ♫|
|Château Clos Triguedina Cahors 2010||€ 17.35||$19.43||Good Value ♫|
|Château Clos Triguedina Probus 2007||€ 33.00||$36.96||Excellent Value ♫♫|
This post includes four topics –
- Harvest! And Recipe
- New Videos
- New Paperback
- How the Wine Scoring Algorithm Works
There is a unique harvest tradition in a small region of Bordeaux. While visiting Château Mercier last week I enjoyed lunch with the Chéty family and grape pickers – including fresh baguettes, tomato salad, meatloaf, beans, roast chicken breasts, cheeses, apple tarts, and bottles of premium 2010 wine. Afterwards, as per tradition, we celebrated the ‘products of the season’ by eating chestnuts (in this case, boiled with fennel seeds, fig leaves, and salt) and drinking glasses of fresh, pink fermenting wine juice (only days old).
After the lunchtime onslaught of taste vibrations and rich wine, sampling chestnuts and pink vino felt decadent. Yet this was affordable decadence, which is a true lesson about quality. The event took place in an atmosphere of camaraderie (during harvest near the village of Plassac) and resonated with mutual respect for agriculture, community, family business, and taste – all reminders of how the best qualities in life often lie off the beaten trail.
Below is the recipe from Château Mercier – which is probably more suited for Europe than much of the US, considering it includes gathering fresh chestnuts and figs.
Harvest Festival Chestnuts – from Martine Chéty of Château Mercier.
“Some of these local chestnut trees are two meters in diameter and hundreds of years old. The town of Saint Trojan has 500 trees, which prevented famine during past times. During winter evenings, it was a pleasure for our children to sit by the fireplace and roast chestnuts in a pan. But here is a recipe for boiled chestnuts, which we taste with sweet wine that is just beginning to ferment.”
Preparation Time and Quantity –
15 minutes to prepare, 45 minutes to cook. Serves 6 people.
Ingredients and Amounts –
Fresh chestnuts – 2 pounds (1 kg)
Fennel flowers – a handful, or two teaspoons of fennel seeds
Fig leaves – 4
Coarse salt – 2 teaspoons (10 grams)
1. Cut a hole in each chestnut, then place into a saucepan.
2. Cover the chestnuts with water.
3. Add all other ingredients.
4. Boil for 45 minutes.
New Videos –
Here are some videos I recently prepared – one includes drone shots for a Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine chateau, and the other includes a winemaker friend excited about the upcoming harvest.
Drone Château Pindefleurs
Interview of a Bordeaux Winemaker – Jérôme Eymas of Château La Rose Bellevue, in the appellation Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux
That same interview in French
New Paperback –
My book Vino Voices will be re-issued this week – this time stripped of all photographs, reduced in size, and issued as a paperback. It’s a quick read with more than fifty characters telling, in their own words, the surprising but sometimes challenging attractions of working with wine.
I’ll be happy to send free copies to the first five people who contact me with a mailing address.
How the Vino Value Wine Scoring Algorithm Works –
Earlier this year I spent months developing a new wine value scoring algorithm frequently used on this site. A few readers told me how they had printed off the scores before marching to their local wine store. The scoring table shown shows only results, not the process.
In case you’re wondering whether there really is a method to this scoring, here’s a summary of the process in a few points.
Point One – Quality is Not Completely Subjective
In doing blind wine tastings with friends (some who never drink wine, others who love it) I noticed how everyone generally puts wines into a few categories – bad, excellent, and okay. In other words, having years of wine tasting experience may help a person appreciate subtleties in taste, but most humans have a relatively uniform appreciation of quality. After tasting eight wines, most people will rank them as best, worst, and in a middle range along a scale that is roughly the same. Not exactly, sometimes not even too similar, but statistically – with a large amount of people – close. In other words, humans’ ability to discern and rank quality is relatively universal. Sure, we’re all different and tastes are generally subjective – but along a linear scale, there are warthogs and princesses, and most humans can tell the difference.
Point Two – The Correlation Between Quality and Price is VERY Loose, at Best
If you graph the quality of wine (taking ‘quality’ as points from well reputed sources, such as Parker’s Wine Advocate, or the Wine Spectator Magazine) against the price (taken from these same reputable sources) you come up with a graph that looks like buckshot pellets sprayed against a barn door with a blunderbuss. You expect to see some resemblance to a straight line, or at least a coherent curve, but – No. You think that as price increases, quality similarly increases? Or, you think that as quality increases, prices similarly increase? Wrong.
Find out yourself. Boot up an Excel spreadsheet, buy a copy of the Wine Spectator, plug in the numbers, churn out a graph. The points will look more like the Milky Way galaxy than like a line of lights along a runway.
Point Three – Value Relates to Quality and Price
People out there score wines. And they list prices. And they are not combining the two in some intelligent manner that examines all wines in a region, looks at the quality, looks at the price, and says – Bingo – in relation to each other, these wines can be ranked as good value, excellent value, or superlative value.
So now I’m doing it.
Point Four – It’s Not Simple
Generating an algorithm to value-score wines was not easy, though the premise is easy. The relationship between price and quality is not linear, because at some point the quality of wine is good enough that our concerns about price lower. Yet few examine this methodically. That’s why wine producers and sellers are able to sell wines at prices that hardly correlate to quality (remember – buckshot and the barn door).
Point Five – How It Works
No, I’m not giving away proprietary details. But the images below should trigger an appreciation that there really is more to these Vino Value™ scoring tables than four simple columns.
Wines are ranked according to quality and price. These variables are then combined, but weighted and modified based on the premise from Point Four above (concerns about price diminish with an increase in quality, though in a non-linear way). The weighing factors also depend on which wine region we’re in.
Here is what you might see on a typical post:
Here is the (slightly redacted) behind-the-scenes table that you don’t see:
The point is – quite a bit of thought and methodical calibration goes into this value scoring of wines.
Coming soon – the black wine of Cahors…
In 1953, residents in southern France voted to change their town’s name from Castillon-sur-Dordogne (‘Little Castle-on-the-Dordogne River’) to Castillon-la-Bataille, or ‘Little-Castle-of-the-Battle.’ This wasn’t just some plucky whim to add drama to their heritage. Exactly five hundred years earlier, their hometown had hosted a battle with pedigree – the final fight of the 100 Years War. During this tournament of maim and kill, England’s eighty-year-old Earl of Shrewsbury was pinned down by his slain horse and bludgeoned to death by an axe-wielding French soldier. This ended not just a battle, but the protracted war.
The more I learn about the ‘100 Years War’ between France and England, the more the name appears to have been invented by an enthusiastic, though erroneous, teacher trying to simplify history for impatient, bored students. First, this ‘war’ lasted not 100 years, but 116 years. Second, it was not a war but a series of battles and skirmishes, only loosely connected in purpose. Third, this ‘war’ was preceded and succeeded by ample other conflicts between France and England. Slapping this moniker on is like a historian considering US conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as being part of ‘The 65 Year War’ between the US and, well, Asia.
A big surprise about this battle? It was residents of Bordeaux themselves – the ‘Bordelais’ – who requested that Henry VI of England send in troops to rescue them from the French. Truly. Bordeaux, and a sizable chunk of the land mass we now call France, had then been under English reign for hundreds of years. The residents of Bordeaux were more interested in maintaining their flourishing, prosperous, wine trade with England and sunning themselves in the Aquitaine sun than having estranged neighbors gallop in uninvited to hoist an alien flag over their home territory.
The weekend before last, alerted by another American wine blog writer living in Bordeaux named Alex Rychlewski, I visited ‘Portes Ouvertes’ in the wine region known as ‘Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux.’ This region sits on the right bank of the Gironde estuary, bordering the more famed (and expensive) Saint Emilion wine region to the west.
For two days, the owners of seventeen wine châteaux threw open doors, uncorked bottles, and poured out streams of their prized products. I managed to GPS navigate through forests and over hills, wending a route to track down ten châteaux (ranging from stately castles to garages).
The first château I visited was the 12 hectare (30 acre) Belgian owned Château Goubau. After I parked, Bea Goubau-Goossens trekked off into vines to implore her husband Stéphane to dismount his tractor and come pour wine for the early bird visitor – me – all bright-eyed and enthused for a morning tasting – degustacion – at 10.15 am (well I did have the afternoon already planned out). After dismounting his tractor, Stéphane appeared as well dressed as though on his way to a wedding – minus the jacket. Their wines? Their top red wines are peppery, with a beautiful balance between tannins and fruit.
This was an excellent start to the journey – where good quality wine results from careful vine keeping and thoughtful investments in appropriate technology. Fermentation takes place in horizontal steel tanks where a rotating arm (along the eye-level axis) accomplishes the same as a ‘pump over’ or ‘push down’ to keep floating grape skins in constant contact with juice. Why this method? Because it is gentle on the grapes, Stéphane said. The non-traumatic consideration toward grapes is a factor he constantly keeps in mind to produce quality wines. Considering Stéphane has an MBA from Harvard and ten years winemaking experience, I was not surprised to find him well-organized, methodical, and determined to produce the best. The couple moved here in the year 2005 to a site with a stunning vista of lower woodlands, because “we had a passion,” Stéphane admits. When I departed, having invested in a few bottles of their wine, Bea reminded me how the wine “goes particularly well with food.”
At the next château – far more rickety – the owner’s friends had set up an ancient film projector inside. They wooed me in, glass in hand, to a dank stone cellar to watch a black-and-white newsreel of skirted London ladies parading around the 1966 World Trade Fair.
This was followed by a quick snippet about communist elections in bygone France. The relation to wine? None. Yet it was intriguing, especially for a community steeped in a history that revolves around England and power. I tipped my glass, bid adieu, and motored on.
Next? Lunch in a garden (which was excellent), where the owner’s young son insisted that I halt mid-way through a plate of roasted duck to attend his magic show in the garage. Which, of course, it would have been impolite to refuse. This day was getting more intriguing by the minute.
At Château La Rose Poncet, proprietors Elisabeth and Eric shared their stories about grunts and grief and eventual gratitude at their making wine for over 15 years. They take particular pride in their ‘Mon anGe’ wine (which is a play on names of their children), a prize-winning 100 percent Merlot. The wine was well made and their dedication to the vines was obvious.
At Château Lapeyronie, we sampled a delightful 100 percent Carménère – a definite unexpected and beautiful highlight of this foray into Castillon.
Our final stop was at Château Fontbaude – which involved sitting at a table in the shade of trees with Christian, one of the owners, to sample his 100 percent Merlot from an 80-year-old plot. This was a peaceful way to end the day.
And the wine from this region – in general?
Growers tell how their vineyards share identical or similar geology to neighboring Saint Emilion. The red wines are primarily made from Merlot (several of them 100 percent) and Cabernet Franc (or Malbec), while Cabernet Sauvignon is little used. Whether oaked in barrels or not, many wines are mouth-puckeringly tannic, which may relate to the purity of the limestone substrate. The dichotomy here – including pitfalls and advantages – is that small growers often disregard investing time or expense in improving production techniques, while those winemakers who do so often produce excellent wines at reasonable costs.
Of the many wines we tasted, the following deserve ranking as good, excellent, and superlative values for price (which, as my friend Annabelle explained in French, is: ‘bon rapport, qualité prix’) using the proprietary Vino Value algorithm. *
Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Red Wines –
Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux
|Wine||Retail Price – Euros||Retail Price – US Dollars Equivalent||Value Score|
|Château Goubau ‘La Source’ 2012||€ 12.50||$14.00||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Goubau 2011||€ 17.00||$19.04||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée La Dame’ 2013||€ 5.00||$5.60||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée La Fleur’ 2012||€ 8.00||$8.96||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château de Laussac (A.N. Robin) 2012||€ 12.50||$14.00||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château de Laussac ‘Cuvée Sacha’ 2012||€ 19.50||$21.84||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|[Château de Laussac ‘Les Valentines’ 2012 (Saint Émilion Grand Cru) ]||€ 15.00||$16.80||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château La Font du Jeu (Lapeyronie) 2012||€ 7.00||$7.84||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Lapeyronie 2012||€ 9.00||$10.08||Good Value ♫|
|Château Lapeyronie 2012 (no sulfites)||€ 15.00||$16.80||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Lapeyronie Carménère (100%) 2012||€ 15.00||$16.80||Superlative Value ♫♫♫|
|Château Franc La Fleur 2011||€ 10.00||$11.20||Good Value ♫|
|Château La Rose Poncet 2010||€ 6.00||$6.72||Good Value ♫|
|Château La Rose Poncet ‘Vent d’Ange’ 2011||€ 6.00||$6.72||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château La Rose Poncet 2011||€ 8.00||$8.96||Good Value ♫|
|Château La Rose Poncet ‘Mon anGe’ 2011||€ 20.00||$22.40||Good Value ♫|
|Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin 2012||€ 6.00||$6.72||Excellent Value ♫♫|
|Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin ‘Vignobles Lydoire’ 2012||€ 7.50||$8.40||Good Value ♫|
|Château Bellevue – Danièle Hirtzlin ‘Cé Ma Cuvée’ 2011||€ 14.00||$15.68||Good Value ♫|
|Château de Belcier 2010||€ 10.40||$11.65||Good Value ♫|
|Château de Belcier ‘Le Pins de Belcier’||€ 14.40||$16.13||Good Value ♫|
|Clos Vedelago Merlot 2012||€ 11.00||$12.32||Good Value ♫|
|Château Fontbaude ‘Vieilles Vignes’ 2012||€ 10.00||$11.20||Good Value ♫|
|Château Fontbaude ‘L’Ame de Fontbaude’ 2011||€ 16.00||$17.92||Good Value|
* For more information on this proprietary wine value scoring algorithm, click here.
Drone Footage from Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux
We leave beautiful Castillon now and return to the northeast (an hour-long drive) to home territory. I recently prepared this short video – including ample drone footage – for friends Jérôme and Valérie Eymas who own and manage Château La Rose Bellevue (Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux wine appellation). The music ‘Le Bon Vin’ was generously provided free of copyright by the French musician/poet duo Philippe Lemoine and Hervé Tirefort (more information about them is on the YouTube site). And thanks to Les and Clarissa from Villa Saint Simon, Blaye, for introducing me to these winemakers.
Valérie wrote this about the video (which she directed) on her Facebook site:
Tom, Jérôme and I have worked on a little video this summer (Tom has done all the job!!!). Us, we put in all our talent, in lifting up our glass of wine several time under the bite of the sun & the 40°C (104°F) burning of the heat… We chose to illustrate this video with a French song & music made by Hervé Tirefort and Philippe Lemoine. Those who know us will find in the lyrics (sorry but it’s in French) our philosophy of Epicure. Life is short and we must not miss all the good things that Mother Nature offers to us. We turn our grapes in our winery into a nectar, another day we adore tasting a nice dish of fried porcini mushrooms that we picked ourselves early in the bushes, as well as a fruit tart that we’ve made with fruits that we’ve picked in our grandmother’s garden… Isn’t it the Good Life ???
Indeed, it is.
Several weeks ago on a Saturday morning two members of the National Police visited the wine store of a friend. Both men had removed identification numbers from their uniforms. Their mannerisms were blunt and intimidating. They demanded to see all legal documentation regarding ownership of the wine store. My friend immediately complied, and presented these documents.
Strangely, one officer took out a personal cell phone and began, methodically, to photograph each document.
When the store owner heard this story later that morning, he promptly walked to the local station and demanded an explanation. Officers removing identification numbers? Police photographing proprietary legal documents with personal cameras? This all very odd.
So began the saga of what could be called the local wine store wars, in which a proprietor of one store (in a city to be unnamed) apparently courted local police officers – with off-duty afternoons spent sharing bottles together – before requesting that they harass the proprietor of a newly opened wine store in town. Which they did. And which, having now been informed of the wanton illegality of their actions, these officers are wishing to forget.
This is a neighborhood story. It took place in France. Yet it could have taken place in Italy, Argentina, or the United States. The difference of how it plays out depends on how strongly the civil servants of a country adhere to their legal systems. It is one thing to have laws, but an entirely different matter to ensure those laws are enforced.
It is likely that the wheels of justice will prevail, the perpetrators reprimanded, and the matter soon forgotten or transformed to a lesson about the folly of haste.
What is more intriguing is that the officers appear to have been instruments of another individual’s motive to kill competition.
Perhaps none of these individuals heard of the phrase, spoken frequently by ex-US President John F. Kennedy, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’
This phrase was not invented by Kennedy, but adopted after he heard it spoken at a regional Chamber of Commerce meeting in New England. It means – economically – that when businesses better themselves financially, their actions often increase opportunities for neighbors to do alike. If a successful business draws more visitors and customers to a location, many other regional businesses are often better poised to increase their own sales.
Using a baton to squash competition also relates to the famed 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines – which is still considered valid. That year, at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III who was poised to host the world’s fair (‘Exposition Universelle’) in Paris, scouts visited Bordeaux to discern which wines were of the best quality, in order that they could be obtained and displayed to visitors in Paris.
Their selection of wines created a Bordeaux classification system – now more than a century and a half old – that is still utilized and considered by many as both practical and realistic.
Many merchants, wine producers, and critics never challenge the validity of this archaic system, contrary to the fact that common sense and ground realities indicate otherwise. Some other châteaux adjacent to these famed ‘first growth’ wines now produce wines that match or exceed the quality of wines listed in this ancient classification system. The unspoken belief is that this 1855 classification system should be considered valid because of its historical repute. This notion is quaint, but outdated.
Since the time of that classification, two world wars have been fought, the atom split, the airplane invented, the computer created, slaves emancipated, golf clubs teed off on the moon, and the horse and buggy replaced by the automobile. The world of agriculture was also reshaped in the past 170 years, including land management practices, technological innovations, pesticides, herbicides, management competency, climate alterations, quality control, and the economic impact of multiple external variables – including the invention of sophisticated processing equipment, the deployment of air cargo and container ships, and the viability of ‘flying winemakers’ – able to provide precise advice based on experience gained from working in dozens of countries.
If one wine store attracts more visitors to a location, all wine stores in the region can profit from the associated escalation of business. The notion that competition should be fended off by rigidly clinging to the status quo is, simply, outdated.