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Harvest 2017 in Bourgueil

Over the next couple of weeks I will be spending a lot of time catching up with vignerons in the Loire Valley, learning about the 2017 season and harvest, and tasting the results. So it seems like a good time to look back to a couple of harvest visits I made in September last year. Today Bourgueil, and a trip to Château de Minière.

Turning up late morning I found the pickers in the vines close to the front of the château. It was a surprisingly small team, just a handful of people (perhaps the others had gone to prepare lunch!). The picking for Bourgeuil wasn’t due to begin until the following week; this was an early pick for the sparkling wines.

Château de Minière

This was one of the final hods of Cabernet Franc to be emptied into the trailer. It was grey and overcast; I might have taken a better picture if I had played around with the shutter speed a little more, but you only have one chance!

Château de Minière

Once full the trailer is taken to the cellars, where it is carefully positioned (this took several attempts) so that the extending rear tray is directly over the pneumatic press. Look at all that Cabernet Franc! Heaven!

Château de Minière

The trailer is elevated, and it has a vibrating mechanism, so that once positioned the fruit is simply ‘vibrated’ out into the press. As this is for sparkling, there is no destemming required.

Château de Minière

In it goes….

Château de Minière

The process is supervised from atop the press, to ensure no stray bunches miss the opening, and presumably to remove any stray leaves, snails, frogs, fish or disorientated wildebeest, although most of the sorting has been done in the vineyard. Supervision can be done with the ‘kneeling’ technique….

Château de Minière

….or the straddling technique. The only work required is a little packing down into the press to ensure it all fits in.

Château de Minière

Once done, the juice is collected and pumped to stainless steel vats, for the first fermentation. Having had a taste from a vat which had been filled a week or so earlier, the fermentation mostly completed, I was struck by the pure and vibrant colour, and the classically floral Cabernet Franc character.

Next time, a few harvest pictures from Vouvray…..

Winedoctor: Service Notice

Please note that I am currently (as of 3pm on January 11th 2018) in the process of moving Winedoctor to a new server.

This process should not result in any downtime and the new server, with increased processing power and more memory, should provide Winedoctor webpages more quickly and more reliably.

The website may take 24-28 hours to ‘bed in’ on the new server, and during this time you may be looking at pages from either the old or new server. If you see any glitches or if the website behaves in an unexpected manner during this time this is probably the reason, so please bear with me.


Chris Kissack

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Three from Domaine Serisier

Richard Serisier can trace his winemaking heritage back to 1839 when an ancestor, Jean Emile Serisier, left Bordeaux for Australia. No sooner had he arrived than he planted his first vines, in New South Wales. Fast forward a few years (to 2005 in fact, so quite a few) and a few generations and Richard Serisier became the new proprietor of Château Cadillac which, despite the name at first suggesting it might lie elsewhere, is located on the right bank, not too far from the vineyards of Fronsac and Pomerol.

Rather than chasing along on the coat tails of grander appellations Richard has chosen what I might call “the Reignac route”, working within the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation but in no way being confined by its rather generic image or reputation, akin to the work at Château de Reignac, or perhaps Château Grand Village or Roc de Cambes, where the Guinaudeau family and François Mitjavile also push the boundaries of their low-key appellations. From his vineyard he produces two cuvées, the small-production Château Montrevel and the larger-production Le Bout du Monde.

Le Bout du Monde & Château Montrevel

These are serious wines, with a lot more tannin and oak than I was expecting. They are not bright and breezy fruit-dominated wines for easy, early drinking. Without a doubt they need to be left in the cellar for five, maybe ten years. The 2014s are superior to the 2012, although the latter is clearly a good effort, even more so now I have realised this was Richard’s first ever vintage. My thanks go to Richard for the opportunity to taste these wines.

Château Montrevel (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2014: Made from the fruit of 35-year old Merlot vines, a very limited production of just 2,000 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then malolactic and an élevage lasting 23 months in 100% new oak barrels. A bright crimson rim around a black tulip core to this wine, and enticing aromatics of rose petals, smoked blackcurrant, and black raspberry, and although there are some oak spices here it is nicely blanketed by the fruit. This also seems to be the case on the palate, which maintains a supple and succulent style, with intense cigar smoke, ripe blackcurrant and a herby edge of bay leaf. Very focused, with succulent acid and a grained tannic structure supporting admirable substance through the middle and finish, peppery and firm. This should go some distance in the cellar. 16/20 • 92/100 (January 2018)

Le Bout du Monde (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2014: This cuvée comes from younger vines, aged 25 years, 100% Merlot, with a production of 13,800 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then 15 months in oak, using 60% new barrels. A rich and bright hue in the glass. It has a nose of sweet dark fruit, and despite using only 60% new oak the fruit is currently straitjacketed by a solid frame of sweet oak, coming through as toasted coconut and minty chocolate, and right now the fruit doesn’t shine through. The palate is exactly as the nose suggests, dark fruit framed by rich oak flavours, with a solid backbone of firm tannins which feel oak-influenced, swirled with intensely sweet fruit, dried blackcurrants, olives, black liquorice and currants. It is medium-bodied, with a long warming finish. There is some good raw material here, and lots of effort, but it needs to be tucked away in the cellar for five to ten years, like any grand vin, to absorb that oak and to soften those tannins. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (January 2018)

Le Bout du Monde (Bordeaux Supérieur) 2012: From 25-year old vines, 100% Merlot, with a production of 12,000 bottles. Vinified in small cement cuves, then 14 months in oak in this vintage, using 50% new and 50% second-fill barrels. A rich and bright hue in the glass. Like the 2014 though, while this is rich in berry fruit, showing a slightly roasted character, currently contained within a prominent frame of toffee, caramel and chocolate-laced oak. The palate carries on in the same vein, the fruit here more defined and seemingly more true to my perception of the vintage, showing a cooler red cherry character, albeit with a grilled edge, sitting in a bed of vanillin oak. A very nicely structured wine, with some finely defined tannins, and delightfully fresh acidity, all fashioned into a charming finish with a confident length. An attractive and honest style that shows some nice vintage typicity. 14.5/20 • 89/100 (January 2018)

Disclosure: These were samples received for tasting.

Winedoctor Holiday Offer

It’s already the second week of January and while my mind is turning to organising my forthcoming trips out to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers and Vinovision in Paris, I know many will be looking further into the future and asking the question; just where to go on summer holiday this year?

I had two fabulous busman’s holidays in 2017, both in my new house in the Loire Valley. We had two weeks of glorious weather in June (“c’est comme août”, exclaimed my only neighbour each time we met) and two further weeks of thankfully less balmy but lovely weather during the harvest, in September. I made some great visits to see some picking with Matthieu Baudry and to Benoit Amirault, and enjoyed calling in on Jérôme Billard and Château de Minière, among others. In the evening I would chill in the hot tub (it’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it) and watch the bats leave their daytime shelter for a night of hunting. Glass in hand, of course.

Hot tub

With subscriber numbers up again during 2017 things are looking good for 2018, and so to celebrate I have decided to offer an exclusive 15% discount to Winedoctor subscribers looking to holiday in the Loire Valley and maybe visit some of the vignerons I write about (that’s optional of course; alternatively, spend your days peering at châteaux, checking out the local restaurants or rowing up and down the Vienne, whatever takes your fancy). The house has three double bedrooms by the way, and the addition of a sofa bed in the third bedroom means the house will sleep eight in total. Anybody with a 12-month subscription to Winedoctor can have a 15% discount on the rental price for the 2018 summer season, and I will keep this offer open until Valentine’s Day, February 14th 2018.

To see more of my gite, including a gallery of images, suggested travel options, prices (don’t forget to subtract 15%) and availability check out Les Lavandes. Please email me if you need any other info, or indeed if you wish to discuss making a booking.

A Look Back on 2017: Part 2

In July I headed out to the Loire Valley for the fourth time in 2017; I spent one night at Les Lavandes before meeting up in Angers with Master of Wine Richard Hemming. From there we struck out together leading a team of Russian sommeliers to some of the region’s top domaines. At first I was very excited for the trip as it seemed like an opportunity to show a group of enthusiastic professionals some of the up-and-coming and unsung names in the region (perfect for sommelier hand-selling, surely?), but the Russians weren’t interested, and instead requested a programme of famous names. So we went to Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Alphonse Mellot, Didier Dagueneau and the like.

Happily I had some free time each morning (while Richard entertained with an MW-style tasting and probably a tinkle on the ivories too) so I visited some of those up-and-coming names; I called in for the first time on Brendan Stater-West in Saumur, Matthieu Delaporte in Chavignol, as well as visiting some more familiar names such as Gérard Boulay where I enjoyed tasting back to the 1990s and Henri Bourgeois where I had a first taste of their new single-vineyard wines. All in all it was a fun-packed trip that also included visits to Domaine Guiberteau, Domaine Vacheron and Jonathan Pabiot, the latter a fascinating visit during which we checked out some of his vines with Esca, and Jonathan’s radical (although, it has to be said, hardly novel) approach to treating this disease.

A Look Back on 2017

Once done I headed back to Les Lavandes for one night, for some emergency gardening and other repairs before our first tenants arrived for their holidays. We got some good feedback so things seem to have gone well. During August I seemed to mostly be occupied with hunting down the latest releases from Richard Leroy, seemingly ever more difficult to get hold of, for my own cellar. I think I managed two bottles each of the latest vintage.

In September it was back out to Les Lavandes again, partly for a holiday, but I wasn’t going to let the ongoing harvest, early for the Loire Valley, pass me by. I called in on Jérôme Billard again, a brief flying visit, before checking out the harvest with Matthieu Baudry, Benoit Amirault and at Château de Minière again. The team working with Benoit were happy to pose for a nearly-the-end-of-harvest photograph – as you can probably tell this was requested by the three lads on the left.

A Look Back on 2017

In October and November my focus was on Bordeaux (about time, you might say), first with the Union des Grands Crus tasting in London, for the 2015 vintage, and then the Institute of Masters of Wine annual Bordeaux tasting, which featured the 2013 vintage. The first was a hurried affair; a recent (temporary) change in venue means that the time for tasting is shorter than it used to be, so it is impossible to get a complete look at the vintage. It was always impossible anyway, as there are no first growths, super-seconds, supreme St Emilions or prime Pomerols in the tasting. Usually I head out to Bordeaux afterwards to taste these, but some winemakers are unhappy to open their wines so soon after bottling and thus the trip has never been as complete as I would like. So this year I have deferred my visit until June 2018, so I will publish my Bordeaux 2015 in-bottle report then. As for the Bordeaux 2013 tasting, this was a sparsely attended affair, the vintage’s reputation clearly dissuading many from attending. I’m glad I made the effort though, as the only way to judge wine is to taste it, and if the opportunity arises, retaste it. I will publish my report on these wines in January 2018.

A Look Back on 2017

All in all 2017 has been a great year for Winedoctor. I have published 22 brand new Loire profiles and a similar number for Bordeaux, as well as updating others, alongside a huge number of tasting reports and tasting updates (I really can’t face counting these up), as well as my Loire 2016 and Bordeaux 2016 reports of course, and retrospectives on Bordeaux 2007, Loire 2007, Loire 2002 and Loire 1997, with Bordeaux 2013 and Bordeaux 2015 reports yet to come. I also completed my guide to the wines of the Nantais this year. In 2017 I also introduced a new monthly subscription, to sit alongside the pre-existing annual subscription, which seems to have had the effect of pushing subscriber numbers further north once again.

So what of 2018? Hopefully I can continue next year in the same vein. I plan to complete the full round of tastings pretty much as described above, and to add a guide to the Central Vineyards to match that for the Nantais, as well as adding and updating as many Loire and Bordeaux profiles as possible, so that the site remains up-to-date and relevant. I have always viewed it as a permanently evolving ‘online book’ rather than a simple blog where only the most recent article really matters, so in my eyes updating old profiles as well as adding new ones is an essential part of how the site runs. Hopefully, this approach suits my subscribers – I am sure you would let me know if that were not the case!

My thanks go, as always, to all my subscribers. Here’s hoping that all reading this had a similarly joyful 2017, and best wishes to everybody for good fortune in 2018.

A Look Back on 2017: Part 1

It has been a busy old year, 2017, with a heavy focus on the Loire Valley, for perhaps obvious reasons. Here’s a look back on the first six months.

On December 31st 2016 I took possession of Les Lavandes, a restored farmhouse not far from Chinon, perfect for exploring Anjou and Touraine, as well as occasionally striking out further afield. It’s a maison secondaire available to rent – I haven’t emigrated to France, although the thought is increasingly tempting. I first had the chance to visit (as owner, anyway – obviously I viewed it before buying!) during the second week of January. It was freezing; while ideal for a spring, summer or autumn break it will definitely need a heating upgrade before I return during the winter months. A visit to meet Aurélien Revillot was memorable, especially checking out his vines by moonlight, and the episode of rally cross through the vineyards at night. When it came to pushing his van out of the mud, I think Aurélien wished he had worn something more suitable than his slippers.

A Look Back on 2017

Thereafter it was all go for the annual round of Loire tastings, with a focus on the 2016 vintage. First it was the Benchmark tasting by the Sydneys in London, then out to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers, then back to the UK and then out the following week for the first ever Vinovision cool climate wine fair in Paris. The 2016 vintage was hit by frost in various parts of the Loire Valley, and these trips were a good opportunity to learn all about it, as well as taste a lot of other wines of course. The highlight of the Salon was perhaps an invitation to a fifteen-vintage vertical tasting at Domaine du Closel. I met familiar faces and some new names here; full marks if you can identify the four below, pictured at Vinovision*.

A Look Back on 2017

After the Bordeaux Index Bordeaux 2007 tasting in February it was judging time. I did quite a few judging panels for Decanter during the year. They were great fun. March was Muscadet (two days of it in total) which was published over about ten pages when it hit the presses, probably the biggest splurge on Muscadet in print in years. Then before long it was out to Bordeaux for the 2016 vintage primeurs, always one of the most important and busiest trips of the year. Apart from being stopped by the gendarmes for failing to come to a halt at a priorité a droite junction it was a thankfully uneventful week in Bordeaux during which I encountered some beautiful young wines and learnt a lot more about the region, especially during a lunch with Michel Rolland. As usual I visited all the big-name châteaux, meeting the teams, such as Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts at Château Cos d’Estournel, and learning about the vintage (I had also visited in December 2016 of course, so it wasn’t exactly new information)

A Look Back on 2017

Later in the year Aymeric left Château Cos d’Estournel to take up a position managing Château Troplong-Mondot, following its sale by Xavier Pariente, undoubtedly one of the more significant news stories to come out of Bordeaux during the year.

Later in April, while still slogging away publishing my primeurs notes I headed down to London again for the Decanter World Wine Awards, where I judged for the full four days (the judging goes on for a whole week, but sitting only on the Loire panel we are usually finished within four days). I have only ever done two or three days before, so it was great to see out the whole tasting, including revisiting the gold-medal winners and deciding on the trophies at the end of the week. I have already booked in for the full four days during 2018. Sadly, as we tasted, we learnt of devastating frosts across France, hitting Bordeaux hard (surely their worst since 1991, at least) and also the Loire Valley (for the second year running, a potential catastrophe). I wrote a series of frost reports at the time, starting with Muscadet. I hope I don’t have to write anything similar for a long time.

A Look Back on 2017

May was a quieter month (thank heavens) on the wine front (I have plenty of other jobs to keep me busy though), but then in June it was back out to Les Lavandes for two weeks of back-breaking DIY, cleaning and gardening during which a few wine visits served as light relief. I called in on Jérôme Billard, Matthieu Baudry, Château de Minière (I was keen to visit after rating one wine very highly in the Decanter Awards) and took a fantastic tour of the Anjou vineyards with Emmanuel Ogereau. It was also great to call in on some local restaurants and wine bars, such as the Auberge du Val de Vienne, La Cabane à Vin and La Cave Voltaire to see where I would be eating most frequently during the coming years!

Continued in part two……..

*Clockwise, from top left; Jean-Philippe Blot, Adèle Rouzé, Arnaud Bourgeois, Céline Champalou.

R.I.P. Patrick Maroteaux

I was very saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Patrick Maroteaux, at just 67 years of age.

Patrick Maroteaux was in recent years best known as the owner of Château Branaire-Ducru, and I enjoyed his warm and friendly greetings at many Bordeaux tastings, both in London and in Bordeaux.

Patrick Maroteaux

Not that long ago, however, he was also president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, a position he took up in 2000, only stepping down in 2008.

Patrick passed away on Sunday 19th November, after a long illness. My condolences to his family, and all the team at Château Branaire-Ducru.

Exploring Sherry #21: Lustau Fino En Rama

I chanced upon this bottle recently. Sometimes the best wine discoveries are entirely serendipitous, and this was one of those times. I have recognised over the past few years that I enjoy the style of fino that veers away from overpowering acetaldehyde character (and yes, I know the flor aroma could be regarded as the very soul of the fino style) and instead I have found myself favouring fresher and brighter styles, one or two examples marked by really interesting reductive notes, veering more towards matchstick and flint.

Lustau Fino En Rama

Lustau Fino de Jerez En Rama: This was bottled during spring 2017, which confounds the notion that you really need to get to fino as soon as humanly possible after bottling in order to see it at its best. It is one of just 1200 500-ml bottles produced. It has a pale yellow-gold hue in the glass, fresh and clear. The aromatics are just brilliant (to my mind), with scents of green olive and preserved lemon, but more notably a firm, confidently expressed, reductive flint and matchstick note which conveys a great vigour and confidence. The palate has read the script, showing this same character, pungent notes of olive swirled with sour citrus fruits and a vigorous acid backbone. It has a white-pepper length, clean and well defined, a truly great en rama style that really seems to me to catch the spirit of the wine, although it might not please those hunting for rampant flor character. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (November 2017)

Four from Domaine du Grande Mayne

It was back in 1985 that Andrew Gordon, an English wine merchant, found himself seduced by the vineyards of the Côtes de Duras. Having visited the region back in 2012, I can understand the appeal; I found the combination of Bordeaux varieties, good soils and nice prices were hard to resist. It is a region with a huge amount of potential.

Andrew Gordon put his money where his mouth is, and bought an estate, the Domaine du Grand Mayne. More than 30 years later, he and his team have a 34-hectare vineyard, and they turn out a range of wines mainly following the Bordeaux model of blending Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I recently tasted four wines from this interesting domaine.

Domaine du Grand Mayne Sauvignon Blanc (Côtes de Duras) 2016: Machine-picked, vinified in stainless steel after skin contact for a small proportion of the crop, then four months on the lees. Bottled under screw cap. A pale straw hue in the glass. A nose of sweet orchard fruit, pears, white peach, tangerine and chalk dust. There follows a sweetly ripe and substantial palate, with a deliciously citric and pithy energy, giving it a firm and savoury backbone, along with a tingly acidity to balance out the ripe pear juice sweetness. Good concentration and weight to it, and some charming length with a little bitter twist. Good. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (November 2017)

Domaine du Grand Mayne

Domaine du Grand Mayne Sauvignon Semillon Réserve (Côtes de Duras) 2015: Picked a few days later, then skin contact and vinification in new oak barrel. Bottled under natural cork. A slightly richer but still pale straw hue here. Intensely sweet fruit on the nose, all lime and lemon curd, swirled with smoke and sweet new oak. It all feels very sweet, succulent and punchy. The palate matches up to the integrity and sweetness of the nose with ease, being crammed full of pithy citrus fruit, lemon curd and apricot skin, with a rather tannic frame of oak, giving the finish a rich but slightly drying character, long and pithy but grippy with oak tannin. An ambitious wine, one which I think needs another two or three years in bottle, in the hope the fruit absorbs some of that oak. 16.5/20 • 93/100 (November 2017)

Domaine du Grand Mayne Merlot Cabernet (Côtes de Duras) 2015: Machine-picked, vinified in stainless steel, with a short extraction for colour but not tannin. An oak-free élevage. Bottled under screw cap, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonderfully expressive fruit on the nose, crushed red cherry and red plum, with the succulent suggestion of cherry stone. The palate follows through on this initial promise, blending a vinous, slightly sinewy texture, with the succulent bite of cherry stone and some purely expressed red cherry fruit. Absolutely delicious, vibrant composition, very honest, not overdone, with loads of easy-drinking charm. 15/20 • 91/100 (November 2017)

Domaine du Grand Mayne Merlot Cabernet Réserve (Côtes de Duras) 2015: A selection, vinified slightly warmer, macerated for longer, and then élevage in oak including 25% new wood. Bottled under natural cork. A slightly dusty red hue, and a nose of slightly baked fruits, with scents of cooked wild strawberry, violet and pepper. This is matched by a rather velvety substance to the palate, veering towards a slightly oily substance, carrying the flavours of cooked fruits, strawberries and baked cherries, with a lightly sour acid wash on the finish. It feels ambitious and overdone, the fruit lacking in definition. I prefer the cleaner and keener lines of the entry-level cuvée. 13.5/20 • 87/100 (November 2017)

Disclosure: These wines were samples sent by Domaine du Grand Mayne.

Exploring Sherry #20: Fino Dos Palmas

Sherry time again now. Today I return to the Palmas range of aged fino wines from Gonzalez Byass, and as I already swirled the Una Palma around my mouth a few months ago, I’m now stepping up to the Dos Palmas. Aged fino is not a commonly encountered style in my experience, and it seems to go against all the the-younger-the-better conventional fino wisdom, and so it is fascinating to take a look at this little range of wines.

These particular wines were released in 2016, and they all started life as a potential component of the blend for Tio Pepe. Presumably some barrels are then selected to be held back for futher aging.

Gonzalez Byass Fino Dos Palmas

The 2016 blends were selected by Gonzalez Byass winemaker Antonio Flores, accompanied by king of the sommeliers Gérard Basset. From a solera of 150 casks, just two – numbers 86 and 120 – were pulled from the solera for Dos Palmas. Both casks had been aging for eight years, and still exhibited a thick layer of flor. The two casks were blended and bottled without fining or filtration.

In the glass the 2016 release of the Gonzalez Byass Fino Dos Palmas shows a rich, deep golden hue, concentrated but quite fresh. There is still some flor character, possibly conflated with some early oxidative-acetaldehyde character, although I would say this is much more ‘old fino‘ in style than amontillado. Alongside there are notes of salty sea-spray and olives, and I find it a little more appealing than the Una Palma. This comes through on the palate, wrapped up in more almond and hazelnut notes, as well as a confident spine of acidity. It has a punchy confidence, and while it is perhaps not significantly more complex than the Una Palma the structure seems more composed and concentrated. Good. 16.5/20 • 93/100 (November 2017)