Sunday, 27 April 2014

Brilliant Bordeaux bounces back

Last year I reported from the "En Primeur" wine tasting for the 2012 vintage presented by the "Cercle de Rive Droite", an association of wine growers and producers on the right banks of the Gironde river in Bordeaux. (My post can be found here: 
Now, the left and right bank have united and formed "Le Grand Cercle de Vins de Bordeaux", encompassing both sides of the Gironde.

2012 had been a good year for Bordeaux, but 2013 definitely has not. Highly challenging weather conditions have caused destruction, mayhem and many sleepless nights for the winemakers of the region. Wet weather brought a real threat of spoilage of the grapes. The window of opportunity for harvesting in 2013 was very small, causing an organisational nightmare for the growers. The final insult was heavy hail, causing unseasonally cold weather and damage to the vines. 

But this is not going to hold the region back. They have a long tradition of winemaking, great expertise, passion for their craft and pride in their product. They also have a worldwide reputation to preserve. This will be the year that Bordeaux bounces back!

I was delighted to meet the amazing Jilly Goolden at the event. She was the ORIGINAL wine expert on the iconic Food and Drink show back in the 1980s. I remember watching her as a child, seeing her speak with such flair and energy about wine, something I had no knowledge of whatsoever. Her vocabulary and vivid descriptions had be glued. I remember thinking that if Jilly got so much enjoyment from wine that she could talk about it with such love and effervescence, it had to be something I gave a try. She is one of my earliest food and drink heroes. 

This is the effusive and wonderful Dominique Bessineau from Chateau Este Montpezat. His Cuvee Compostelle white wine was a highlight of the tasting. Made from 30% white sauvignon, 30% grey sauvignon and 30% semillion grapes, is it put into oak barrels made of oak from Burgundy. Yet the result is not an overly "oaky" wine. It is fresh, light and a little grassy, and the wine is a pale and light colour. 

Chateau Este Montpezat is a small producer, making only 5000 bottles of this particular wine. Dominique had this advice for white wine lovers:
"Don't overchill your wine, if you do, you kill it. For me, the best things about having a glass of wine is that once you've finished it, you want another one. It should be fresh and not strong."

If you are a white wine drinker keen on learning a bit more about red wines, I have an interesting pick for you. 

This wine is a Pomerol, by Chateau Vray Croix de Gay. The producer describes it as "a wine of energy". It is a perfect red wine for the reluctant red wine drinker. It has waves of flavour, an initial smoothness to entice you in, and a good afterglow. Get ready to be tempted!

It was great to catch up with one of last year's exhibitors, Agnès Florisoone, from Chateau Godeau. Agnès writes a fabulous French cooking blog in French, which you will find here:

Chateau Godeau tries as far as possible to work with the local ecology to avoid the use of chemicals and nasties. It is not completely possible for them to avoid them altogether, but natural methods are used as far as possible. Ploughing is used as a techniques to prevent pests from occurring, pesticides are avoided as far as is possible.

To ensure that only the best quality grapes go into the wine, the grapes are picked over by hand after harvest, with spoiled and damaged grapes rejected. The result is a smooth, rich Saint-Emilion Grand Cru with spicy tones and good length. Agnès is a woman of many talents, as the wine is superb.

Another very good Saint-Emilion I sampled was the Chateau Le Marzelle, which is a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe. This is a small producer, from a small chateau. The overall production is only 55000 bottles. The 2010 mature vintage showed me what I hope they will be able to achieve with their new batch. One to watch out for!

Now that the original "Rive Droite" circle has been expanded to include the whole Bordeaux region, the mighty Sauternes is now a member of Le Grand Cercle. I sampled the primeur of noted producer Chateau Raymond-Lafon.

I met with Jean-Pierre Meslier from Chateau Raymond-Lafon. The Chateau is run by the Meslier family, who have been at the Chateau since the mid-19th Century. They employ a policy of very severe pruning of their vines, and they keep only the best grapes. Their thoroughness and care means that they only obtain the equivalent of one glass of wine per vine. This is a very low yield, but assures the quality of the finished product. 

Jean-Pierre's Sauternes primeur had the characteristic sweetness you would expect with some vanilla-honeyed aromas. But it is a wine which needs time and love, it will require ageing. The 2010 vintage I tried is the more mature version showing what the 2013 should be able to achieve; a harmonious, complex wine with gorgeous floral notes in the bouquet.

The En Primeur tasting event is a chance for the wine buyers for wine merchants and restaurants to steal a march on their rivals. They can order the wines they see potential in before others cotton on. As a result, many wine critics and writers were present. Here is Hugh Johnson, deep in conversation....

I chatted with Coralie de Bouard from Chateau Le Fleur de Bouard, a producer of Pomerol (red) wine. 

Her wine had a deep colour with an equally deep fruitiness. Hers is a "state of the art" winery. They use a unique system, where the juice is extracted from the grapes by a gravity fed system. There is no machinery in their cellar apart from the elevator which initially loads the cones. This means there is little interference with the natural juices from the grapes. The idea is not to harm the tannins. Too much mechanical interference can be aggressive, and this gentle approach to the fruit is to bring out the finesse of the flavours. The resulting wine was delightful, and would be excellent with food.  

I had a fascinating evening speaking with the highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic producers and sampling their wines, both the En Primeur and the older vintages. I had a great time and hope the Bordeaux winemakers show the world that the challenges of 2013 are something they can take in their stride.

I attended the En Primeur tasting event as a guest of Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux.

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