2018 saw significant rainfall during winter which continued into spring. The summer was hot and dry, but the vines avoided water stress due to the soil’s water reserves from the wet winter. An Indian summer ensured the grapes reached good maturity and the harvests took place under excellent conditions with the promise of a very good vintage.
In a nutshell
Intense spicy aromas are underpinned by rich, red fruits enhanced by rich chocolate and cedar tones, elegant and opulent.
Gérard Bertrand is one of the most outstanding winemakers in the South of France, owning numerous estates among the most prestigious crus of Languedoc-Roussillon. Formerly the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and winner of Wine Enthusiast‘s European Winery of the Year, Gérard has been cited as the ‘King of the Languedoc’ among critics. Château l’Hospitalet is the jewel of the Languedoc-Roussillon’s crown. Situated in AOP la Clape, among 1,000 hectares of garrigue, it benefits from an exceptional terroir. The wines are imbued with freshness from sea breezes, mineral depth and texture from the limestone soils and warm southern climate generosity. The vines are cultivated organically and biodynamically
Only the highest quality fruit was used in this cuvée. The grapes were sorted, destemmed and transferred to temperature controlled vats. Each variety was vinified separately with natural yeasts and maceration lasting between 20 to 25 days. At the end of winter, the wines were racked to new 225 litre casks where they spent 12 to 16 months, with fine bâtonnage from time to time. Only the best barrels were selected and blended for this wine.
Now slowly progressing through more parts of the business, Hallgarten’s Head Start Apprentice, Amica Zago, has just returned from working a vintage in the south of France. Château de Campuget borders the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc, marrying traditional elements from all three regions – an ideal opportunity to learn and get hands-on in the winery and the vineyard.
Following on from my fantastic few months spent in the Marketing team, I was able to embark on a once in a lifetime opportunity to work a harvest and gain an insight into the world of winemaking in the South of France. This was to be at the amazing Château de Campuget with Franck-Lin and his wonderful team.
Being able to witness the winemaking process and track the wine from the vineyard, to the tanks to the final product is a chance that Hallgarten has allowed me to undertake as part of the ‘Head Start’ Apprenticeship Scheme, and is an invaluable experience to anyone going into, or already working in the world of wine. Working a harvest gives you a complete understanding and appreciation of the product you are working with. And after a very long train ride, I was about to embark on this winemaking journey.
What you think would be the glorious world of making wine soon jolts you back to reality as the alarm goes off at 3:30am and long shifts are the norm – not that I was complaining!
Starting work in the very early hours of the morning, everyone comes into the winery on time and with a smile on their faces; winemaking is a job you do out of love rather than just as a job! The working day starts with the harvesting machine in the vineyard, picking the grapes and filling the tractors’ trailers, ready to be weighed and then dropped into the crusher – step one of the wine making process is now complete.
Before working a month in a winery, I had only made wine in a garage in Hertfordshire in the simplest form! Going to France and working in the winery with a full team and equipment you realise how much more there is to making incredible wines, than in a suburban garage winery. Every morning when you first start, then again at midday, you have to test the density of the wine in the tanks using a hydrometer also checking the temperature of the wine. The results are then passed back to the oenologist.
What did I learn?
There was so much to learn and I was able to put what I had already learnt from my Degree in Wine Business from Plumpton University into practise. Franck-Lin was keen to answer all my questions about winemaking enabling me to increase my knowledge immensely.
Something I didn’t know was why the grapes are picked in the early hours; this is because the grapes are cooler, reducing the risk of oxidation and also means that the grapes don’t have to be cooled while in the press.
I now understand the benefits of pumping over and the correct techniques required to produce good quality wine consistently. It was interesting to learn that different wines require different pumping over times, some require aeration during the pump over and others (for example zero sulphite wines) are not allowed the aeration.
What was my best part of my harvest experience?
Other than working alongside the most fantastic team in the prettiest of settings, my favourite part was definitely analysing the wines. On a daily basis the wines are analysed (sometimes more than once) on the alcohol percentage, pH level and total acidity. This is so that the oenologist can then work out whether any other ingredients (such as Malic Acid, Tartaric Acid or nutrients) need to be added to the juice. Wine analysis was very interesting to me as you were able to see how by adding certain ingredients balances out the wine. It was fascinating to analyse a wine in the morning, mix the ingredients recommended by the oenologist, adding them to wine while pumping over and then re-analysing and seeing and tasting the difference.
I can’t wait to taste the finished wines from the 2020 Chateau de Campuget vintages which I helped to make!
A delicious Pinot Noir showing all the hallmarks of a good red Burgundy, with a vibrant bouquet full of red berries and delicate notes of spice, silky and intensely flavoured.
Gouffier owns five and a half hectares of vineyard in the villages of Fontaines and Mercurey in Côte Chalonnaise. Historically it was run by the Gouffier family for generations until Jerome Gouffier handed over the reins to his close friend Frédéric Gueugneau, formerly at La Chablisienne. Since 2011, Frédéric and oenologist Benoît Pagot have brought about a new style of winemaking. They follow an organic philosophy to create wines that are modern and approachable, but with all the style and panache of good Burgundy. They have created a collection of wines of outstanding originality, verve and spirit.
The hand-harvested grapes were vinified with 25% as whole bunches, which helped to impart structure. The wine was matured in 228 litre French oak barrels, of which 25% were new. The barrels came from forests in the centre of France.
“I will be the first winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin to make wine without sulphur. I am going to make crazy wines.”
We have been working with Pierre Naigeon for a dozen years, but you still feel you’re with a ‘Duracell Bunny’ as he whizzes round the winery with frantic, chopping steps, his arms pumping away like pistons. During the harvest he walks fifteen kilometres every day but you get the impressions his battery never seems to wear out. Bev and I are struggling to keep up.
He chatters to you over his shoulder as he jumps from one barrel to the next, flourishing his pipette like an épée. “I aim to be organic by 2019, and then we will look at being biodynamic in the longer term. Meanwhile, we will look to make sixty or seventy percent of our wine sans sulfur. Here, try this, it is from Maladières,” he says, pouring us a ravishing Pinot Noir – all raspberry and red berries – from the vineyard at the base of Chambolle-Musigny.
“I don’t like all the concepts behind biodynamics but I do agree with the basic stuff in terms of fertiliser and the movements of the moon, you know. Here, what about this…” as he pours another Pinot, this time from En Champs in Gevrey-Chambertin. This one is a touch heavier, more serious.
“Being organic in Burgundy is tricky; don’t forget we are at the extremes of winemaking. Come, come. Where did I put that Fixin? Must be here somewhere.”
He dashes from one warehouse to another like an Olympic Racewalker. The last time I visited he was still in his tight, cramped – though romantic – cellar in Gevrey-Chambertin. Now he has moved to a utilitarian complex on the edge of town. He needed to; he had outgrown his former premises. You cannot keep a man like this in a confined space. He needs to grow, to experiment, to be wild.
“Listen to me. What we are doing with sulphur wines is amazing. The wines are so so fresh, very savoury. I am not looking to make wines that smell of shit and look brown. They are disgusting wines. No, we will make amazing wines. This means changing all of our habits. Bottling will be earlier, much less racking, less time in bottle before release, no fining, no filtration” (though his wines have been unfiltered and unfined for years.) His is the passion of a zealot.
We pass by one of the numerous tanks on which is written: “Don’t forget, beer is made by men, wine is made by Gods.” Glancing at it, Pierre looks triumphant!
He shows Bev and I his new bottling line, unwrapping it like a kid on Christmas morning. But before we can pause to admire it, he rushes us across to his three ceramic – not concrete – vats which are not trendily egg-shaped but round and squat. “Cost seven times the cost of a barrel – but they will last forever!”
But before we can admire those, he has dashed back in amongst his tanks, impatient to show off his wares. We start by tasting all of the 2017s in tank, then move on the 2018s in barrel. The 17s are more typical of Burgundy; the 18s are atypical and he is still not sure how they will turn out.
The 2017s culminate is a stunning tasting of two specific-site Gevrey-Chambertins. First up: Creux Brouillard. This has dark, tannic notes, sweet violets, forest fruits, great structure, smooth tannins. Pierre thinks this is a perfect example of Gevrey-Chambertin. We contrast this with a Les Crais, which has a riper style, with more minerality cutting through a sweet confiture. It has a lightness of touch. He thinks this is an example of a more mineral style against the more traditional style of the Braillarol. “Comes from the alluvial soil.”
My wine-splashed notes contain superlative after superlative. We go on to Les Corvees (from very high up the slope, so it needs to be kept), Les Marchais (an iconic Gevrey-Chambertin, according to Pierre), Sylvie, from just under the castle of Gevrey-Chambertin (one of the biggest, with spicy oak, liquorice and game), and Meix-Bas, from right at the top of the slope, so not a Premier Cru (and which is almost Rhone-type in its boldness.)
We move on to the Mazis-Chambertin (the most mineral of the great Chambertin vineyards), with an incredible herbal nose.
The Charmes-Chambertin is powerful and complex, with a hint of vanilla matching the dark intense fruits. The Master of Wine standing to my left does not spit this. It is long long long.
His 2018 barrels are mostly marked No Sulphur or Low Sulphur. Any use of sulphur is limited to a very small dose between vineyard and winery. Once in the winery they see no sulphur. Even those wines which see a small amount of sulphur will have this explained on the back label.
Tasting the 2018s, I am struggling to describe an amazing Gevrey-Chambertin Creux Brouillard (no sulphur). It has incredible fruit juice but also a wonderful saline flavour. “Iodine,” says Pierre, watching the look of puzzlement on my face. “Ah,” I reply. “This is the Laphroaig of this wine tasting.”
We try a Sylvie from two year old barrel, and then from ceramic. The barrel sample has masses of black fruit and a roundness. The ceramic is completely different, being more forward, with more purity of fruit, more one dimensional – but what a dimension: an arrow straight to the heart.
By now – with eighteen pages of tasting notes in the bag, Bev and I are groaning. Pierre senses this and takes pity on us and we trudge wearily back to his small office where he cracks open a bottle of 2017 Creux Brouillard (no sulphur). Again, it has this wonderful lifted, elevated, feel to it.
“In Burgundy you have six or seven consultant oenologists who dominate,” says Pierre. “What style they suggest is the one that gets recognised. But you have to find your own style. Who need a consultant? If you are in good health you don’t need a doctor.”
We sink back in our chairs and nurse our bodies. It is not the vines who need medical help – it is us!
Autumn is upon us and winter is not far around the corner, our November wine of the month is an SWA Silver Medal winner, perfect winter warmer that wouldn’t look out of place served by a warming log fire with a plate of mature cheese or decanted at the table alongside the quintessential Sunday roast.
In a nutshell:
A concentrated, silky smooth wine with berried fruits enhanced by spicy notes of cloves and subtle truffle flavours. Long and elegant on the finish
Based in Pessac Leognan on the left bank of Bordeaux, the elegant and noble Château de Rouillac is imbued with a historic past. In the 19th century Château de Rouillac was owned by Baron Haussmann, who produced a delicious wine which is said to have delighted Napoleon III. The current proprietor Laurent Cisneros and his family took up the reins of this magnificent property in 2009, passionately championing sustainable and environmental practices. The property has had a long association with horses and possesses beautiful stables; Titan their huge and impressive horse is still used today to plough the exceptional gravel soils in the vineyard. Renowned oenologist Eric Boissenot produces wines which are delicately blended with the utmost precision to reveal their optimum expression
The grapes were manually harvested. Fermentation and maceration of the skins took place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, lasting for 20 to 25 days. During vinification daily pump-overs and punching down of the cap took place in order to extract colour and tannins; and impart structure and flavour. 100% of the wine was
transferred to French oak barrels, one third of which was new and the wine underwent malolactic fermentation; two thirds of the wine were aged in barrels of one year.
Grilled duck breast, roast beef or mature cheese. Decanting is recommended.
From Santorini to Soave, some of the world’s most interesting and talked-about wines come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils. It comes as no surprise that there’s been an explosion of interest in these ‘volcanic’ wines from sommeliers and wine merchants alike.
So what singles out these wines among all the others? Certainly the mineral-rich nature of volcanic soils plays a massive part, as does the finite-availability of wines from such specific sites. It’s true that vines grown on plain old clay or limestone can be world-beating, but you can find these soils in every wine-growing region of the world.
The ‘wow factor’ and story of behind volcanic wines shouldn’t be overlooked either. These vines grown on ancient soils really do take terroir to the next level with their mineral characters, fresh acidity, salinity and distinct longevity. The sight of green shoots and leaves emerging from the black volcanic soil is as ethereal as its gets in the vineyard.
According to Jamie Goode in his book The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass, wines from volcanic soils are said to be riper, weightier, richer, and with texture and minerality that make them age worthy. Quite an attractive list of assets, but where do these characters come from?
Volcanic soils are rich in potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as other elements, which can contribute greatly to a wine’s mineral profile. Potassium-rich soils tend to produce wines with an almost almond-edged and savoury finish, while black volcanic soils enhance the citrus, peach and apricot aromas. They all enjoy a wonderful freshness.
Add to this the fact that volcanic rocks constitute high levels of macro-porosity in soils which allows water to be delivered to the roots of vines very slowly. This water-retaining property can be a lifesaver during a dry growing season when vines must rely on groundwater to survive.
The aspect of the volcano itself and the altitude at which many vineyards are planted also help to produce top quality fruit, as does the unflinching determination and attitude of generations of viticulturists who have risked eruptions to plant, tend and harvest vines. Simply put, these are very special sites, and they look awesome too.
Here’s a few volcanic suggestions from our portfolio.
Hallgarten recently became Official Wine Supplier to Ascot Racecourse, exclusively supplying all still wines to the world’s most famous racecourse.
The partnership will see Hallgarten supply wine across the site, including at Royal Ascot. Michelin-Starred chefs Simon Rogan, Philip Howard and Raymond Blanc OBE will all showcase a specially selected range of wines in their respective restaurants during the Royal Meeting.
Royal Ascot is one of the most iconic race meetings across the world – there’s nothing quite like it. From the Royal procession, to the style and fashion, to the strawberries and cream (and the racing of course), over 300,000 people are expected to attend.
There’s a lot to consider across the five day spectacle, we’ve taken a closer look at what you can expect.
At Royal Ascot’s award-winning, fifth-floor restaurant, On 5, with its extraordinary garden terrace offering panoramic views of the racecourse. What will Michelin starred Philip Howard be pouring with his signature menus…
Tenuta Ammiraglia, Massovivo, Toscana, Vermentino
A lovely, intense straw colour, which leads to an impressive bouquet of fragrant blossom and exotic fruits, along with a fascinating vein of earthy minerality which is classic of this area. Fresh, crisp and sapid, but well sustained by its structure, it has an intriguing hint of almond on the finish.
Swartland Winery, ‘Founders’, Swartland, Chenin Blanc
An expressive Chenin Blanc, showing vibrant aromas of ripe passion fruit, guava and pineapple, underpinned by refreshing citrus notes. Well balanced with a full, fruity palate and a refreshing minerality on the finish.
Gérard Bertrand ‘Gris Blanc’, Pays d’Oc
The palest of salmon pinks, this is a wonderfully pure, fresh flavoured wine, with vibrant fruit aromatics. The fruity characters are echoed on the palate, which has a lovely minerality and a zesty finish.
Saint Clair, ‘Origin’, Marlborough, Pinot Noir
Aromas of sun-kissed dark berries, boysenberry and freshly picked blackberries, are interlaced with toasted wood notes and a hint of dark chocolate. The palate is full of sumptuous dark berries, layered with freshly ground coffee beans and dark chocolate. A hint of cinnamon spice leads into a savoury finish.
Raymond Blanc OBE returns as chef-in-residence to the sixth-floor Panoramic Restaurant, which offers one of the finest views across the track and down the straight mile. What will Raymond be pouring this year with his gastronomic menu…
Domaine Tabordet ‘Laurier’, Pouilly-Fumé
A classic Pouilly Fumé showing minerality complemented by notes of exotic fruits, tangerine, pink grapefruit and spicy undertones. The palate is powerful and refreshing and delivers a long, flinty finish.
Chef Adam Handling, of The Frog E1 and Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, makes his Royal Ascot debut in 2018 as he takes his role as ‘Chef in Residence’ of The Balmoral – a brand new Fine Dining restaurant within the Royal Enclosure.
Gérard Bertrand ‘Terroir’ Picpoul de Pinet
A complex nose, full of citrus and floral notes combined with white peach, exotic fruit and a hint of pineapple. The palate is rich with zesty fruit and a livewire acidity which keeps your taste buds tingling. The finish is long and well rounded.
Saint Clair,’Origin’, Marlborough, Pinot Gris Rosé
Pale salmon in colour, a refreshing rosé with lifted aromas of sun-ripened strawberry, whipped cream and spiced pear. Beautifully balanced and finely structured on the palate with creamy fruit flavours of raspberries and strawberries leading to a hint of spice on the finish.
Gérard Bertrand ‘Naturalys’, Pays d’Oc, Syrah
A deep colour, with shimmering hints of violet. Generous nose, packed with red fruit and spice. Supple, aromatic and impeccably elegant on the palate, with refined tannins and lively fruit flavours offset by subtle herbaceous aromas.
Gérard Bertrand is one of the most outstanding winemakers in the South of France, where he owns numerous estates among the most prestigious crus of Languedoc-Roussillon. Named in 2012 as the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and Wine Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year, he is known locally as the “King” of the Languedoc.
We have taken a closer look at some of the dishes that are best paired with Gérard Bertrand‘s wines.
Gris Blanc is an original rosé with a very pale pink colour plus grey and whitish tints. The vines are ideally in Tautavel area, between Mediterranean Sea and Pyrenees mountains, 30 km north to Perpignan in the South of France area. The dry and sunny terroir enables Grenache, the emblematic grape variety of the Mediterranean, to express its best aromas.
The palest of salmon pinks, this is a wonderfully pure, fresh flavoured wine, with vibrant fruit aromatics. The fruity characters are echoed on the palate, which has a lovely minerality and a zesty finish.
As a food pairing we recommend you serve it with oysters, or alternatively with other forms of seafood and shellfish.
The wine has especially delicate tannins and on the nose shows jammy black fruits, liquorice, spices and truffles. It is best to let the wine breath, allowing the aeration to result in the perfect expression of this wine.
The perfect pairing is a local Languedoc dish – Cathare square of lamb, herbs, mashed potimarron and braised seasonal vegetables.
Château La Sauvageonne ‘La Villa Rosé’ is backed by the gates of Causses du Larzac, covering an area of 57 hectares at an altitude between 150 and 350m. The topography and the diversity of the vineyard’s soil, which is composed of Ruffles, sandstones and shales, brings a unique freshness to this wine.
Notes of crushed strawberries, sweet spices and flowers, the mouth is fresh, and is characterised by a velvety grain from red grape varieties and brioche notes from white grape varieties.
The wine pairs just as well with simple dishes such as seafood, as it does with complex dishes. A perfect dish to accompany this Drinks Business Rosé Master, is a rosé pork medallion stuffed with candied red fruits, roasted potatoes.
An enticing floral aroma with notes of pear and citrus, refreshing and vibrant on the palate
Gérard Bertrand is one of the most outstanding winemakers in the South of France, where he owns numerous estates among the most prestigious crus of LanguedocRoussillon.
Named in 2012 as the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and Wine
Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year, he is known locally as the “King” of the Languedoc.
Brought up in the Languedoc vineyards, Gérard Bertrand is committed to sharing the characteristics and exceptional diversity of each of the terroirs. Twenty years of know-how ensures that wines bearing Gérard Bertrand’s signature have a unique style driven each day by four fundamental values: excellence, authenticity, conviviality and innovation. We firmly believe Gérard will become one of the leading French names in the UK.
A Crémant, made using the traditional Champagne method. The grapes were manually harvested and carefully transported in harvesting bins. The juice was very gently extracted using a pneumatic press, which allowed 30 to 40% of the press juice to be extracted without having to re-press.
The juice was then allowed to settle prior to the alcoholic fermentation, which took place at a controlled temperature of 18°C. A meticulous blending of the various terroirs and grape varieties was then carried out, with bottling throughout January to encourage the secondary bottle fermentation. Aged on its fine lees for a minimum of three years, the Code Rouge was riddled and disgorged according to the Champagne method.
This Cuvée has all the traditional features of Gérard Bertrand’s wines: the emblematic red colour of the bottle and the Alpha and Omega symbols, symbolising the endless cycle of nature which inspired its name Brut Eternel.
The perfect apéritif! A great match with sushi, Asian influenced cuisine, spicy dishes or fresh fruit salads with basil.
Laissez Faire means “let it be” and this is reflected in the hands-off approach of winemaking. As the name suggests, the grapes selected for this Field Blend were harvested at the same time and blended in the field. The fruit was gently destemmed, then the parcels were allowed to ferment naturally on their skins for a period of five days. No additives, sulphites, acids or enzymes were added during the vinification of this blend, with only minimal sulphur added at bottling. Resulting in a floral blend with an exotic yet fresh cacophony of passion fruit, rose petal and lychee. A gentle hint of oak adds texture and weight to the long finish. Try this wine at the Australian Day Tasting 2018.
Saint Clair founders, Neal and Judy Ibbotson were pioneers in the Marlborough wine industry, first planting vineyards in the valley in 1978 and then establishing Saint Clair Family Estate in 1994. They own 160 hectares of vineyard in 10 different Marlborough locations chosen specifically for the attributes of their individual “terroir” and ability to produce top quality grapes. This Pinot Noir has aromas of ripe dark forest fruits which are complemented by hints of cedar and dark roasted coffee oak. Rich, with a velvety structure and fine grained silky tannins; this is a delicious full-bodied Pinot Noir. Try this wine at the Flavours of New Zealand Tasting.
The first members of the noble Stutt family in France came from Scotland in the fifteenth century to help the future King Charles VII of France during the Hundred Years War. In 1586, by way of marriage, the family inherited Château de Tracy. The Chateau is still family owned and cultivated today under the leadership of the Comte Henry d’Estutt d’Assay. An organic approach to viticulture is followed but the Château is not certified as being organic. No pesticides are used, yields are kept very low and strict canopy management is used.
Fratelli means ‘brothers’ in Italian and three sets of brothers from Italy and India have combined their passion and desire to produce wines made in India, following Italian traditions. Their passion, love and hard work have resulted in the creation of Fratelli Wines, a modern winery located in Akluj in the Solapur district. The viticultural and winemaking expertise has been provided by Piero Masi, a master winemaker from Tuscany and creator of the famous ‘Chianti Classico Casa Sola’. This blend of 70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, displays supple ripe flavours of plum and blackberry, accented with notes of spice and vanilla, with hints of blackcurrant and cherry. Exquisitely balanced, this blend has a lush, round mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish. Perfect with a spicy curry on a cold January evening!
One of the top scoring entries in Decanter’s Top 75 wines of 2017, The Single Block Barba Yiannis is named in honour of Mr Yiannis, from whom the block was purchased in 1994. The vineyard is located in Amyndeo, in the region of Macedonia. Thevines are ungrafted, pre-phylloxera bush vines which are over 90 years old. The summers are hot, so in order to avoid extreme water deficit a “root zone drying irrigation” is used, to ensure the optimum conditions for the nourishment and maturation of the grapes. This wine shows a complex and typical Xinomavro, showing aromas of smoky black fruits, strawberries, dark cherries, liquorice, sundried tomatoes, and delicate spice. Full bodied and structured on the palate, with a rich depth of fruit, concentrated savoury notes and a touch of oak. The velvety tannins lead through to a persistent and aromatic finish.
No matter how often you visit this place, it still beguiles you. The transition from the dreary detritus and strip malls of the Bordeaux conurbation to the wealth and imperious Proustian splendour of the Medoc is almost seamless.
From each side of the D2 the vines stand tall, straight and proud, in immaculate rows, lining the gravelly earth like bearskin-clad grenadiers parading for some local dignitary, or, more elegiacally, like the massed white headstones of a battlefield cemetery.
For the anoraks, it is one legendary châteaux after another.. “Oh, look, there’s Latour, don’t see that every day, do you… oh, hang on, there’s Pichon Longueville on the right… and there on the left is Lafite Rothschild…” It’s as if a sports fan was able to travel down one road with all the world’s famous stadia on either side. Oh, look, there’s San Siro, oh, and over there is Yankee Stadium, oh wait, there’s the MCG…
Our first destination is Château Preuillac, a Cru Bourgeois estate in the Médoc, near the village of Lesparre. Our host is Ken Lee, a Bordeaux-based Singaporean consultant whose schoolboy looks mask a hard business edge, and who spends the entire journey on his mobile phone, chatting away in a mixture of Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay, but who – touchingly – ends every conversation with a “bye bye, bye bye!”
Preuillac is an imposing château. Built in 1869, and formerly in the hands of the Mau family, it has been refurbished and renovated by Ken’s new owners and is ripe for re-assessment. Standing in the 30-hectare vineyard (split roughly between cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a smattering of cabernet franc), winemaker Nathalie Billard explains that the estate lost 10% to April’s devastating frost, but considers they were lucky.
Then we move on to Nathalie’s pride and joy: three new 160 hectolitre foudres, newly commissioned by her, which have joined the existing decades-old foudres and which will act alongside the oak barrels to fashion the wine. Here, they are looking for classic claret, and a brief tasting of the 2015s and 2016s shows they are on the right path; the ’16 in particular is a really, really elegant wine: dark berries, beautiful young fruit, broad, rich, complex, obviously young, oaky. With a bit of luck, it will be spectacular.
But, sadly, this is a whistle-stop tour, and we have to jump in the car, where Ken’s colleague, Dimitri, drives us through the Bordeaux rush hour to our base, Château Senailhac, a drop dead gorgeous, all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles, full monty of a château, complete with personal assistant, and ours – and ours only – for the
full week. Sinking into a 19th century chaise-longue, I tell Bev that I feel like James Bond. “So that means you must be Pussy Galore.” The website promises an “Unforgettable Stay.” Blimey!
Next morning we head out east to the right bank. You are struck (as ever) by the difference between this hillier landscape and the flatter Medoc we visited yesterday. Here, it looks as if everything has been thrown together in an artisanal, higgledy-piggledy way, a bit louche and in need of a haircut, more rambling than the formal stand-to-attention correctness of the Medoc. It wears its wealth lightly. Mind you, it also has more surprises: Cheval Blanc looks like a spaceship which has landed in a fold in the hills and is now floating on a sea of vines.
Our first appointment is at Château Mayne Blanc in Lussac Saint-Emilion. Chatting with chief winemaker Jean de Cournuaud, we hear more about the frost – but this time the news is much more devastating. They lost 90% of the crop. “All of our vineyards north of Libourne were lost.” He pauses. “But, life goes on.” In the winery he proudly shows us his fermenting eggs – the first in Bordeaux. “The main advantage is that they allow for a very soft pigeage.”
We taste a selection of 2015 and 2016s (these to be mostly blended out of tank in January) We purr with contentment, and the Cuvée St Vincent in particular has a fabulously rich nose, with serious dark and broody tannins. Firm, not harsh. Long, long finish.
We approach Libourne from the “wrong side” – the east – rather than the more usual approach across the bridge, and this throws me completely, until the Dordogne and the familiar quaint quayside come into view. Thirty minutes away in Fronsac, Château Puy Guilhem is a 14-hectare vineyard with a spectacular view of the spire of the Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church.
Winemaker Pierre Sallaud discourses on the difference between Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, both of which are made at the property. “Well, actually, there actually isn’t a great deal of difference. The Canon Fronsacs should have dense tannins and be slightly bigger, whereas the Fronsacs might be slightly softer and lighter.”
We taste the ’09 Fronsac – there is really generous fruit, still young, tannins beautifully integrated. Superb claret. This, and the ’10, is ready to drink now, but the later vintages we taste – the ’14s, ’15s and ’16s – are even better. I compare the ’14s: the Fronsac has very sweet fruit, rich and already drinkable, medium weight, very good balance. Good gutsy wine. The Canon seems younger in its development, more spritzy, with tannins that are still harsh. Apparently, I’m not the only one who prefers the Fronsac to Canon Fronsac: Pierre tells me that James Suckling does, too.
The following day we taste at Château Plain Point, undergoing renovation and set to be spectacular. The more recent wines are much better than the older
vintages. Back in the Entre-deux-Mers, then, and to Château Plaisance, where we are entertained by an affable winemaker, Ludovic Labarrere, who shows us some wonderfully forward 2016 Bordeaux and Cotes de Bordeaux wines.
The 2015 Bordeaux is beautifully ripe, kicking way above its weight. I prefer this to the Cotes du Bordeaux, which seems a little tougher, less obvious and less chatty. Meanwhile, the 2016 Bordeaux is a bit of a wild teenager, vivacious young fruit not yet set. I get raspberry syrup, vermilion. And, from somewhere in the near distance, quince.
We’re on a mission to source good value wine from lesser-known appellations, so next morning we drive up to Blaye and I get lost.
The last time I was here was about 15 years ago. Château Solidaires used to be famous for white wines, and the tank sample of Montfollet le Valentin (60% Sauvignon/40% Semillon) has a gorgeous melon and spice nose and lovely minerality. We’re after more of this, so we amble over to winemaker Jacques Chardat’s chic and modish house on the edge of his vineyard, where he and his wife Sabrina put on a marathon tasting and then roll out a stupendous four-course lunch.
This epic repas floors me, but just as I’m wussily starting to flag, I spot Jacques’ collection of vinyl stacked next to what looks like some very expensive hi-fi kit. Jacques, who is obviously a bit of an ex-hippie, spots my interest – “Formidable!” – jumps up and puts on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy at full blast. This is the first time I’ve been accompanied by Robert Plant at a tasting – and, God, it’s loud.
Suddenly its Knebworth 1975 all over again, as Jacques launches into some kind of jerky, staccato dark Parisian blues jive and belts out “Let me take you to the movies, Can I take you to the show….”, while I do my frenzied air guitar bit à la Jimmy Page. Meanwhile, MW Bev is trying to ask extremely serious and relevant questions above the racket: volatile acidity, yields? while rolling her eyes at our antics. What on earth possessed her to invite me along?
“Every time I went into the vineyards I felt physically sick. I just kept staring at row after row of ruined vines. I felt like weeping.”
The next day we are with Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, standing in one of her vineyards in the Entre-deux-Mers, while she recalls the night of 26-27 April when the frost took away virtually her entire crop. In our job you sometimes forget just how fine a line winemakers have to tread, even in traditionally rich areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Estelle provides the backbone of our Bordeaux range and is exactly the type of producer we love to work with in other parts of the wine world but which are hard to find in Bordeaux. She has the quaintest of operations. She shows us round her vineyards in her battered and much loved 2CV, then drives the short
distance back to her house and winery, which stands to one side of the D20 route de Creon, with her boutique wine shop on the opposite side of the road. This is where we taste.
The Lestrille 2010 has a lovely spicy nose, excellent dark fruit flavours and chunky weight. The Capmartin 2010 is lovely and soft, fleshy, plump, almost sybaritic; a Botticelli of a wine.
The next day we drive around the rocade to Pessac Leognan and our final call at Château de Rouillac. As we get out of the car we stare in wonderment. It is not quite Versailles, but it’s not far off.
One of the first owners was Baron Haussmann, who acquired it in 1864; the luminous facades, the square courtyard with its appointments, the stables, are all his. In 2009 businessman Laurent Cisneros fell under Rouillac’s spell and set about bringing the estate back to life, showing the same determination as he did when playing professional football for Cannes alongside Zinedine Zidane, before turning his father’s small heating company into a thriving multi-million euro business.
Laurent has spared no expense in lavishing attention on the property and delights in showing you round the distinguished house, the state-of-the-art winery and the stables. And it is here that we meet the real star of the show: Titan, the mighty dray horse who ploughs the land (Laurent believes in sustainable farming.) Bev, taking one look at him, looks like a schoolgirl at her first pony show. And now it is my turn to adopt a dignified mien. Yup.
Back at the winery, the wines are looking beautiful and I predict greatness in the near future. A 2015 white shows soft nuances of toast, butter, lemon, and on the palate its class is obvious. The 15 red shows a classic nose, with a touch of vanilla, plum and cigar. Very stylish. The whole place is.