Here are a few quotes about the beverage we love – by winemakers and wine drinkers.
“Well, in wine you have to let go of the ego. You have to drop all this crap about being a wine maker.”
- Don Karlsen
“Good wine is a daily necessity for me.”
- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Jay, the U.S. Foreign Secretary
“All this technology – spinning cones, filters, evaporators – it’s all voodoo.”
- Leo McCloskey
“Pinotage, again like its bloodline Pinot Noir, is the unpredictable, dangerous ride of your life’s work as a winemaker. It can smell fear on a winemaker at twenty paces.”
- Bruck Jack, in conversation with author Peter May
“And everywhere I went the world of wine offered me a warm welcome, camaraderie, and more knowledge.”
- Robert Mondavi
“Like artists and cooks, most winemakers want to hear only compliments.”
- Alan Tardi
“An individual and his name, at least in comparison with the land and its productive power shaped and directed by nature, is quite simply a great big nothing.”
- From the brochure for Kogl Winery, Slovenia
“Wine is nothing of luxury, business, or money. Wine has to be something to drink every day. It has to be balanced for health…with the culture, habits, and needs of people.”
- ‘Cognac’ Charlie Capbern-Gasqueton – Wine Consultant/Store Owner
“You don’t need to have a big business to make a good wine. But when you buy a bottle you’re not just buying wine, you’re also buying the landscape and history behind that wine. You have to look at the bottle in these three dimensions.”
- Fernando Oliveira – Azorean Lava Vineyards UNESCO Coordinator
“How to make good wine? Get no sleep is a good start. Allow Mother Nature to take its course as opposed to trying to be manipulative.”
- Tim O’Callaghan – Winemaker in Australia’s Barossa Valley
“I didn’t have any idea what wine was…I was just astounded. Food isn’t wine. Wine is food though.”
- George Stevenson – Winery Chef in Washington State, U.S.A.
“The ultimate destination of wine is on the table, with food. Serve the same wine with two different dishes and you will have two different opinions of it.”
- Kermit Lynch
“Grape cultivation is difficult, laborious, and not always rewarding work, dependent on a variety of factors (weather, soil conditions, insects, diseases) that are beyond a vintner’s control. The only certainty is doubt.”
- Todd Kliman
“It will be obvious to everyone that air has always been considered the enemy of wine and that all the practice of vinification invite us to adopt this point of view.”
- Louis Pasteur
“All you can do is tend your vines. The money takes care of itself.”
- Mitchell Klug
“The best of wines always proudly tell you from where they come.”
- Neal I. Rosenthal
“If you want to succeed, you have to listen to yourself, to your own heart, and you have to have the courage to go your own way.”
- Robert Mondavi
“Wine, to us, is all about geography, history, sociology, discovery and adventure – as well as good flavors. Don’t be embarrassed about what you don’t know; consider it a gift that you have so many new wines to explore.”
- Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher
“Wine to me is all about sharing.”
- Robert Mondavi
“A perfect memory, but with a little bit of sadness.”
- Xun Wang’s first wine tasting description – of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon at Fat Buddha restaurant in Durham, U.K.
“If a vintner chooses not to filter, he limits himself to the minority of wine buyers, the true connoisseurs who care about quality and will accept some gunk at the bottom of the bottle.”
- Kermit Lynch
“The French, he said, had done a wonderful thing back in the…1930s. They had passed laws protecting small farmers and wine makers from the predations of large companies. They had created appellations before the rise of the modern corporation, Madison Avenue, and cutting-edge marketing. It was why Château Lafite could exist today.”
- Lawrence Osborne
“In wine, elegance is everything. But elegance is impossible to describe.”
- Lawrence Osborne
Most likely, here is what you know about wines from the Languedoc region of southern France, and here is what you should know – but don’t.
First, the Languedoc has long been the biggest producer and exporter of wines within France. Second, until a few decades ago, Languedoc wines fairly well sucked, to be blunt.
Here is what you didn’t know.
BEFORE the modern era when zesty winemakers began churning out excellent quality wines from Corbieres, Faugeres, Saint Chinian, and Minervois in the Languedoc, BEFORE the Canal du Midi was constructed (‘impossibly engineered’) in the mid-1600s to link the Mediterranean to the city of Toulouse (and onto Bordeaux) for a blossoming wine trade, BEFORE Leonardo da Vinci marched across this mucky region of France (on request) to analyze the feasibility of constructing a canal that might one day yawn from sea to ocean across the nation, BEFORE the demented French Albigensian Crusaders went on a rampage of hapless murder and wanton slaughter (usually by burning at the stake, though simple slashing by sword sufficed) of tens of thousands of their own countrymen, BEFORE the Saracens poured over the Pyrenees Mountains from Spain to France to overrun the Visigoths within the iconic walled city of Carcassonne in the eighth century – BEFORE all these events laid themselves bare on the eventual parchment of European History – There Was a Road.
A Roman Road.
The Romans built a road leading, essentially, from the Mediterranean near-coastal city of Narbonne all the way to Bordeaux, gateway to the Atlantic Ocean (construction of this eight foot wide Via Aquitania was in accordance with the Law of the Twelve Tables, dating from three centuries earlier, in 450BC ). The famed walled city of Carcassonne – darling to filmmakers, tourists, and historians – was simply a stopping point along this road. Cicero described in detail the multiple toll stations along this road. Their purpose included taxing half the value of all Italian wines shipped across the Mediterranean by Romans, and then sent by cart to the interior of Gaul, or France.
Why is this important? The underwater archaeology museum in the town of Agde on France’s Mediterranean coast details how first the Greeks (about 600 BC) and then Romans (beginning about 100 BC) regularly cruised along the French coastline trading amphorae (bullet shaped casks made from red clay, about two-thirds the height of an adult) filled with wine. In return they gained suede and furs from the locals. Emissaries from these ancient civilizations traded serious quantities of booze with locals of what later became part of France. Some ships carried eight thousand amorphae of wine, weighing multiple metric tons. Sure, they also traded bronze and copper knickknacks that included bracelets, torques, necklaces, and hatchet heads – but the Main Event of this trade was Italian Vino.
Here was the problem. When Roman toll stations along the road began charging this fifty percent duty on wine, Roman generals and consuls who took leave at splendid and tranquil villas in the mountains of inner Languedoc grew tired of this tax. These people of power decided to opt out of the Italian wine importation paradigm, and instead began growing and harvesting grapes to make local wine. Hence the rapid growth and profusion of Languedoc wines. Blame it on taxes.
Today, you can catch a train or float a barge or zip in a Hyundai along a highway from the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic, and – basically – you will follow the original Roman route from East to West across Gaul. And wines you may buy along the way? Most won’t be Italian imports today. Brunello di Montalcino in the Languedoc? Not likely.
The Romans had it sussed. Few lead, many follow. But their taxes spawned the original heightened production of Languedoc wines. Popular red grapes in the Languedoc today include Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. Back in the day of this Roman road? Likely they grew Syrah, which is hardy enough to withstand the high winds of these exposed lands that scroll over this hot, hilly territory. Regardless of what they grew in southern France, the Romans kept their towns and cities close to good wine and sunshine. Clever folk.
Well, maybe there is.
But here’s the question: what wine are they drinking in Iceland? Simple answer – they are drinking beer. More comprehensive answer is also simple, but far more intriguing. Before revealing that answer, here are four facts you need to know that will not only boost your Trivia Knowledge Quotient way high, but increase your respect for 1. food, 2. bizarre French winemaking challenges, 3. unusual but delightful reasons for granting national holidays, and 4. the strange yet magnificent benefits of rejection.
Here we go. Hold tight.
1. NOMA. Whether or not you are a food aficionado (I’m clueless), you will – during the past decade – likely have bumped into the names of the three top restaurants in the world (according to the World’s Best 50 Restaurant Awards organized by Restaurant magazine). They used to be (not in order) French Laundry of Napa Valley in the US, Fat Duck of Bray, UK, and El Buli of Spain. But in 2010 a chef who had previously worked at some of these restaurants - René Redzepi – floored the competition and won the title for his restaurant NOMA (meaning, essentially, ‘crazy food’) in Copenhagen, Denmark. He won again in 2011 and 2012. (Yes, there was a food poisoning problem this past February.) What’s the connection to Icelandic wine? The city of Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, and the country has long had a connection to Iceland. In 1944 Icelanders voted to terminate their union with Denmark. However, Danish ties are still strong. And as Copenhagen cuisine marks a top-notch throughout the world, so follow brethren Icelanders who keep a close eye on their continental European counterpart. The food in Iceland is quite stunning. Taste explosions are rampant. And Icelandic restaurants catering to a sudden surge in tourism and appetites for excellent cuisine (seafood and lamb are specialties naturally want to have good wines to accompany their menus.
Conclusion: beer is king in Iceland, but good quality wine is making mixed – but rapid – inroads.
2. Volcanic eruptions. An Icelander once told me how in 1774, an eruption of Mount Hekla sent enough ash into the atmosphere to darken the skies over Europe and to impact the quality of Bordeaux wine. I failed to find any Google verification of this, but his point makes sense. Icelandic volcanic eruptions did erase over a dozen consecutive summers in Ireland over a thousand years ago, so there’s no reason to dispute their potential impact on European viniculture.
Conclusion: all things are connected, and you – French vigneron – may find the taste of your wines one day seriously impacted (for better or worse) by gnarly lava gushers in the true land of Ice and Fire.
3. Beer. On March 1st, if you were to sit down at some nice restaurant such as Rub23 in the second largest metropolis of Iceland (population – about 17 and a half thousand) named Akureyri, the delightful Nordic serving lady would have told you that the specials included lamb (no surprise) and beer. Beer? Of course. March 1st every year is Beer Day in Iceland – where the population celebrates the fact that on that date in 1989, the government ended prohibition of alcohol (over 2.25 percent) after 74 years of enforcement.
Conclusion? Wine is increasing in popularity in Iceland, but beer is King, is locally made (unlike wine), and the Gull and Polar brands slip down the hatch with ease.
4. You’ve heard of Iceland quite a lot in the past five years. Why? In 2008 their economy imploded – with the stock market plunging 90 percent, unemployment soaring by a factor of ten, and inflation hitting almost twenty percent. Second, their volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, not only grounding airline traffic throughout Europe but impacting profits and raising the ire of the CEO of Ryanair (to many people’s delight). As they say in publishing – any reviews are good for business. So too with Iceland. Now that their name is not an obscure noun associated only with Northern Lights, hissing geysers and errant Irish monks beaching leather boats along the coastline, the world wants to know more. Result? The number of tourists this year is expected as 400,000 (greater than the national population of 320,000) and within five years to be a million. And Hollywood is loving the splendid geography too (think Game of Thrones or the movie Oblivion).
Conclusion: when your nation becomes the world’s object of fascination and tourism leaps – make sure you have adequate beverages (including wine) to serve the flood of incoming visitors.
Finally – what wine are they drinking in Iceland?
Answer: Wine lists are an odd bag that fail to separate popular but mediocre labels from excellent quality wines. Generally, Riesling is a hit (‘the ladies like it sweet in Iceland,’ one waiter says, cryptically), Chardonnay is popular, though Sauvignon Blanc is giving it serious competition. For reds it’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja from Spain. And white Zinfandel is always a hit with the young ladies. See? No surprises.
Finally – who cares? Here are reasons you should.
Lessons from Iceland are clear. Regarding cuisine and quality – as goes Copenhagen, so goes Reykjavik. Extrapolate this lesson to the world – as go the most powerful and excellent trends in food (and wine), so will your locale - depending on the strength of cultural ties.
Second – all things are connected. A volcanic eruption in Iceland may impact the quality of Saint Emilion’s Merlot in France; a financial crisis ignited in the United States can impact the number of visitors, hence the diversity of wines, in Iceland. Factors that impact the quality and flow of wine are never completely predictable.
Cheers. Or as Icelanders say, Skál.
The relatively little town of Blaye, a 45 minute drive northeast of Bordeaux city, perches on the Gironde estuary. From here you catch a ferry across to the more renowned Medoc region. Or – you can visit Blaye’s Citadelle, a UNESCO world heritage site that was constructed as one of multiple ancient defense fortifications in the region.
A South African named Les holds wine education classes for a reasonable price at Villa St. Simon in Blaye. These take place in the newly refurbished ‘Galeria’ art gallery in town – modern, cosy and warm - with vibrant new art, sweet and fluid music from the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s, and a wine cellar below.
I sat in on a recent December wine tasting with Les, and took the following notes – insights from a bold chap unafraid to speak about risks and reward.
One 21-year-old woman at the table was studying law in England, and said that she wanted to do whatever it took to ‘make as much money as possible.’ Les told her:
“Don’t do anything for money. Do it for passion, and the money will come to you.”
More quotes and insights from Les are below.
“What is a well made wine? Like a good person – well-balanced.”
“What is a good wine? What you like.”
“A red wine is balanced between alcohol, tannins, fruit, and acid. You should not taste one predominantly over the others. There should be a balance.”
“It’s important in the way and order that you taste wines – one wine affects the others that follow.”
“In France, people start with a more modest wine, perhaps a punch or a ruby port.”
“In France, dessert is served after cheese. Sweet after savory. Americans start with cheese, which seals your stomach. No, that’s crazy.”
“Wine can taste different at different times depending on what you’re eating, the temperature, even who you are with.”
“I was once given a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1982 as a gift, which eight years ago was worth 3,600 Euros a bottle. Lovely wine. Was it worth that? No. No wine is worth that. Don’t be a label victim. It’s like clothes. If you pay $3,000 for shoes, you’re paying for the label name.”
“How do we tell the age of wine in the glass? Tilt it against a white background. The little ring at the edge of the miniscus – there’s a double line. The color between the lines changes as the wine gets older. It loses blue, becomes red, then red-brown, then brown-yellow. The youngest ones are going to be more blue. That’s the key if you keep looking. Soon you’ll be able to get it every time because it absolutely screams at you.”
“Young wines benefit from oxygenation. Older wines, open only before you drink them – otherwise they will die.”
“Often young wines taste better they next day after they are opened.”
“I love corks because I’m old and traditional and I love the sound of the cork – and there’s something lovely about going out on a romantic dinner and opening the bottle.”
“I like to think that any wine can breathe – and that it suffocates under a screwcap. But in wine, everyone is right.”
“I’m of firm belief that the body eliminates everything it doesn’t want.”
“Wine is one of the greatest things to get into when you are young – because wherever you go, you will have a home.”
“Wine? Anthocyanins are good for the eyes, and it takes away your cholesterol. Also, you’ll feel good.”
“Some of the best places for whites in France – Alsace, Rhone, Burgundy, Entre deus Mers. Bordeaux is not exceptional for whites.”
“The French are very bad marketers. They work to live, not live to work. They’re absolutely right. Lunch time is two hours long. It’s sacred.”
“There are 10,000 chateaux in Bordeaux. I’d like to taste them all.”
“It’s getting trickier and trickier to find authentic places that are also secure.”
A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, also wrote a poem about King John.
“King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.”
King John was the fifth, and youngest son, of the Eleanor of Aquitaine – the legendary ruler of southwest France who during her long life married both the Kings of France and England, yet never lost her allegiance to the beautiful lands surrounding the city of Bordeaux that she loved – the Aquitaine. Eleanor lived in the era of troubadors, poets who sung of bliss and merits of marriage for love rather than convenience. While based in the city of Bordeaux, Eleanor cemented the beginning of a stronger wine commerce with England. During her fiery life, she traveled to Jerusalem on a crusade, gave birth to Richard the Lion Heart, and spent 16 years imprisoned near Winchester, England, by her second husband because he feared she might set their sons against him.
Eleanor liked her youngest son, John Lackland, least. He was not consistent, gracious, fair, or temperate. History – as shown by Milne’s poem – does not remember him fondly.
John Lackland did – in the year 1199 – provide a charter to the town of Saint Emilion in France, guaranteeing its virtual autonomy during a chaotic period of history. Saint Emilion, in return, kept producing their magnificent wines which were exported to England.
Saint Emilion is a bit of a geographical oddball. It’s not nested in the shadows of centers such as Paris, Poitiers, Rouen, or Bordeaux. Instead, it’s a hummocked and hilly patch of semi-bald land set on a nondescript chunk of terrain two hours east of Bordeaux city. It was named after a reclusive saint who revered nature more than scripture. It also sits along pilgrims’ southern route toward the Spanish spiritual center of Compostela.
But great power is often hidden from view.
Saint Emilion happens to sit on complex array of soils above convoluted limestone and sandstone, all of which impact the flavor of grapes growing there.
In January, I visited the Couvent des Jacobins winery. This is named after a Jacobite convent constructed in 1389 that forms part of this building. The proprietress, Madam Borde, welcomed us with gusto. Our guide was Greg, a wine merchant – originally from Australia – who runs the Bordeaux Classique wine store in town.
“There are two parcels of vineyard here, and another plot nearby,” Greg told us. ”Most wines include 66 percent Merlot, and the rest is Cabernets – mostly Cabernet Franc. They have about 10.5 hectares [about 25 acres], producing 5000 cases a year, of which 33 percent of it ages in new oak barrels.”
We bent double to enter a three and a half-foot high door that led to a stone staircase which descended to the cellar. First, we looked at their wine library – dating back to 1947 (during the war, many wines were appropriated or transported elsewhere and hidden).
“The family has owned this chateau for over a hundred years,” he told us, then pointed into the immaculate cellar.
“The barrels are made from three different types of wood. Top and bottoms made from pine, the body from oak, and rims from chestnut, because mice like to nibble on that soft wood.
“Madame Borde gives different names to each parcel of grapes grown and the wine fermented from them. See?” he said, pointing at chalked names on barrels. ”Eva, Emma, Claudia. All wines from different parcels are kept separated until blending, then aged in oak 12 to 14 months.
“Here they use extended fermentation at a cooler temperature, then boost the heat to finish it. In the past, malolactic fermentation used to stop during the coldness of winter. This produced carbon dioxide, and in February or March the temperature rose and corks would pop out of barrels. They now keep the temperature constant to help the malolactic fermentation.
“There are 900 chateaux within five classifications in St. Emilion. The wines are classified every ten years by blind tasting. The Grand Cru Classe, there are 64 of them. Regarding the classification in St. Emilion, it’s about consistency. Even during a difficult vintage you should still make good wine.”
After the recent September, 2012 classification, two new wines moved up to the top level – Premiers Grands Crus Classés A. Before that, it was only Cheval Blanc (40 hectares) and Ausone (7.5 hectares).
“The plots are generally small. For a lot of chateau in St. Emilion you can’t buy the wine there. A lot of wineries are open, but they don’t sell to the public.
“The whole of the underneath of St. Emilion is hollow,” Greg explained.
For centuries, sandstone and limestone were quarried from beneath the town and sent by barges down the Dordogne River to construct buildings in the city of Bordeaux. One result – wineries don’t have to build their own cellars because the earth below has generally been excavated. Greg told the story of how Madame Borde, as a child, would put a picnic basket on her bicycle and spend hours bicycling through the interconnected cellars below St. Emilion. Today, however, there are often locked gates between adjacent cellars.
“12 to 14 degrees in the cellar, 80 percent humidity,” Greg added.
As we walked through the labyrinth of cellars below, we heard the voices of others working and visiting neighboring cellars. Later, we visited Greg’s store within this beautiful little stone city. Stores here are packed with wine stores catering to all sizes of wallet. These include excellent whites for nine Euros – evidence of bargains, even in one of Bordeaux’s most popular little cities.
This is where it all changes. Close to where it all began.
The Gironde Estuary – the widening river mouth of southwest France that flows into the Atlantic Ocean – flows after the joining of the Garonne River (to the south) and the Dordogne River (to the east) near the city of Bordeaux. This estuary splits the larger Bordeaux region into two – the Left Bank and Right Bank. Times are changing. Fast. Pricier wines along the Left Bank are losing the spotlight to some amazing Right Bankers – which often cost Very Little (less than 20, even 10 Euros).
Many Right Bank wines are undeserved underdogs – overlooked and inexpensive – that are often elegant jewels. Right Bankers were not included in the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines (or the little known classification of 1797 by future US president Thomas Jefferson who visited Bordeaux – and listed the same top four Grand Crus as Napoleon’s scouts did decades later). Who knows – maybe crossing the Gironde’s choppy waters back then to stay and sample Right Bankers was considered dicey. Regardless – the coming years should see an increased shift in wine appreciation here.
Here are samplings and stories about worthwhile, up-and-coming (as well as established) Right Bankers.
Friends living on the Right Bank who make or deal in wine recommended the following. Local knowledge. Considering that this web log Wine and Work forms a niche, and not a very greatly circulated niche, these insights are still fresh, and still little known.
Je Suis is seductive. It’s also bold and unusual. The label is racy, even for the sexy French. Its motto is - From the Earth’s Very Own Erogenous Zone. This Right Bank red is anomalous for two reasons.
First, the wine includes 80 percent Cabernet Franc, and 20 percent Merlot – smashing the traditional right bank motif of blends being predominantly made from Merlot, or occasionally Cabernet Sauvignon. Stranger still – the architect of this wine from Château Gros Moulin (Big Mill) is not a bold, brash dabbler in novelty, but a seasoned and respected eleventh-generation winemaker from this region. After creating this novel blend, he fermented the wine in cigar-shaped new oak barriques.
Second – outside the village of St. Emilion, but still east of the waters of the Gironde Estuary - this may be a forthcoming Icon wine for the Right Bank. It will last for decades, and the quality is excellent. Priced at 95 Euros a bottle (which also includes shipping anywhere in the world), it’s an exception to the inexpensive Right Bankers in general – but is carving a clean new identity for this Côtes de Bourg / Côtes de Blaye region.
In two years Je Suis will be a meat lover’s darling. Even now, though still tannic, you can enjoy complex, chewy, pleasurable foreplay for what’s to come after a few more years in the bottle. Roll over, Right Bank traditions. Je Suis means ‘I Am’ – perhaps a declaration of arrival by the Right Bank. Only 1,500 bottles made.
I had the fortune to spend New Year’s eve with Jérôme Eymas and his wife Valérie (the winemaker and marketing manager, as well as co-owners for Château La Rose Bellevue winery – www.chateau-larosebellevue.com), and managed to sample bottles of both their 2005 and 2009 The Secret (thanks for the evening, Les and Clarissa of Villa St. Simon).
The Secret is a 100 percent Merlot made only during select years (2005, 2009, 2010), with production limited to 3,000 bottles. This wine spends 18 months in new oak and is limited in production by Jérôme – the polite, happy, and wildly energetic young winemaker (who is always agreeable to talk, drink, and share ideas).
This Grand Vin de Bordeaux is a (right bank) Premières Côtes de Blaye [nowadays known as Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux] – it’s motto being, Tout Secret doit être bien gardé (all secrets must be well kept).
Valérie insists that wines don’t have to be either expensive or exclusive. Considering that The Secret represents only 1 percent of their output in the scant years that it’s made – she means what she says. But, that 1 percent? Nice one guys. Don’t keep it so secret.
The 2005 Secret, to my simple taste buds, is oak and smoke, liquorice and leather. After fifteen minutes in the glass, florals march out, as well as a beefy whiff of tar. This is hefty and well-balanced.
The fresher 2009 Secret is cherries and chocolate, raisins and a wee bit of olive oil. After fifteen minutes in the glass, even more chocolate oozes out. And then – the taste of plums?
[Check out a previous post about Château La Rose Bellevue].
During our dinner, we were joined by Alain from Blaye, a medical doctor who spends many free evenings tasting Bordeaux wines blind with friends (in some quasi-mysterious group known as the wine philosophy club…ah, secretive). Alain asked me how I would rate this wine – after telling me he gave it an 18 out of 20 (90 points). At least, I agreed.
20 Mille – Jean Philippe Janoueix
This Right Bank winery is on the east bank of the Dordogne. 20 Mille embodies an odd concept. The trend toward better quality wines in Europe during the past century means that growers reduce their number of vine clusters to grow plumper, more flavor laden grapes. This produces a lesser quantity of wine – but of better quality, for which winemakers can charge more. ’20 mille’ means twenty thousand – which is the number of vines grown per hectare – far above a more normal number of 12,000 for this region.
20 Mille grows more vines per hectare – because physically challenged vines produce better quality grapes (the competition causes roots to sink deeper to soak up more water and nutrients – hence enhancing flavor). However the growers here then discard many grape clusters – choosing only the fittest as being suitable to harvest. First – flood the vineyard with grapes to boost the overall competition, then keep only the hardiest survivors.
Ruthless, but effective. This smooth Bordeaux – 100 percent Merlot – still has plenty of backbone. It goes well not only with meat, but also with grilled duck (roast chicken? Perhaps. Go on, ditch the white wine for poultry paradigm, and give it a try).
This 2005 Côtes de Bourg is hefty and tannic, but sings a different tune after fifteen minutes in the glass. It loosens up and throws out the taste of sweet berries. This is a classic right bank blend – oaky and bold. About 17 Euros a bottle.
Château La Grolet
The 2009 Chateau L Groulet is a Côtes de Bourg biodynamic wine – which means no green harvest, no pesticides, and the land is plowed to reduce insect infestation. At about fifteen Euros a bottle, this is a bargain. Solid Right Bank winemaking at a reasonable cost. The young wine is smooth and oaky, but more balanced than many Napa reds (no offense) that cost four times as much.
Thanks for tuning in. The Right Bank will be back…
Annick and Pierre Saturney met in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. They soon married. She was born in Morocco, of parents from Brittany in France who had moved to North Africa to secure work. Pierre was a Frenchman serving military service in Morocco. In 1959, when the political dice rolled and showed unwelcome numbers for Morocco, the couple moved back to France. They soon lived in a hefty, stately château perched along Bordeaux’s Gironde estuary, and opened Château Tayac winery.
The winery produces a small quantity of white wine, using one hectare of white grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, and Muscadelle), as well as their signature Prestige red wines. These are unusual for the right bank of Bordeaux because of instead of being primarily comprised of Merlot, they are typically 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 percent Merlot. Perhaps as a tribute to wine critic Robert Parker who spent hours in their winery (and who supposedly showed partiality to Merlot at that time) – Tayac also decided to produce Terrasses wines (90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) in years when Merlot is particularly good (2001, 2003, 2009).
We sipped glasses of white, rose, and red wines while Ulysses the winery dog curled on the floor behind us.
Annick pointed at a glass case with two bottles of their wine that traveled around the world in a sailboat – stopping in Italy, Spain, Greece, Venezuela, Brazil, and Martinique and all sorts of other locales.
Of three bottles that completed the journey, she and Pierre shared one during a dinner with the couple who made this sailing venture. They all found the wine ’100 times’ better than the same wine taken from their cellar. If anyone tells you wine does not travel well – remember this story.
Another time the couple handed a bottle to a friend who then drove twenty thousand miles. Afterwards, they tasted it and found the wine ‘perfect.’
It was time to drink. The 2002 Prestige had a deep, smooth, velvety taste of blackberries while the 2009 Terrasses was young, tannic, and ripe with the taste of cherries.
Today, the couple’s two sons Loic and Philippe make and market their wines. On a late December morning – rain battered and blustery – we interrupted the entire family while they ate lunch in a huge kitchen before a roaring log fire.
Their winery symbol is the Black Prince (also known as Edward of Woodstock after the English town where he was born in 1330). At the age of sixteen, Edward was victorious in battle against the French at Crécy, and at age twenty-six won another victory at Poitiers. The exploits of the Black Prince symbolized English victory during the ’100 Years War’ between France and England. And yet – his native language was French, and allegiances then were unpredictable. What was certain was that the wine commerce between France and England was robust at that time. No surprise. Politics can be grand, philosophical, and confused, whereas good wine always facilitates the merging of different people and viewpoints.