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Images from the Climens Tisanerie

I report today, on Winedoctor, on a visit I made earlier this year to Château Climens (subscribers only). As well as tasting a number of recent vintages, including Cyprès de Climens (the second label) back to 2010, and Château Climens itself back to 2005, I was also able to take an impromptu tour of the tisanerie. If you had asked me a year or two ago what a tisanerie might be I am sure I wouldn’t have had a clue; but now I could at least hazard a guess. If you have ever finished a dinner in France with a tisane, a tea or herbal infusion, rather than a coffee, then you will at least be familiar with the origin of the word tisanerie.

Indeed, the tisanerie is where proprietor Bérénice Lurton dries and stores the plant material she needs to make the herbal infusions so important to biodynamics. Here are a few more images, to complement those in my Climens report, of some of what Bérénice has stored.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is osier, which is willow (osier also translates as wicker, which can have many different plant origins, but in this case it is certainly willow). A tisane made from willow is one of several that is said to stimulate the vine’s natural defences, and thus it is useful against mildew and oidium.

The Climens Tisanerie

A sack of dried fenouil, or fennel. This is another commonly encountered tisane, used as far as I know in the same manner as willow.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is laurier, or bay leaf, which is also regularly used in the making of biodynamic tisanes at Château Climens.

The Climens Tisanerie

Here we have soucis, in other words dried marigolds, consoude, which is comfrey, a good base material for making a liquid fertiliser, as all gardeners worth their salt will know, and genièvre, which gin drinkers will know well, as this is juniper.

The Climens Tisanerie

Finally we have prêle, a staple in the production of biodynamic tisanes, as this is horsetail. It is used in much the same way as willow, as described above, being sprayed on the vines to ward off mildew and oidium. I have plenty of these in my garden, should any budding biodynamicists wish to come round and pull them up for me.

Read my full report on my visit to Château Climens here (subscribers only).

In Bordeaux: Day Two of Two

I continued making a nuisance of myself in Bordeaux on Wednesday with some more right bank visits. Kicking off at Château de la Gaffelière, I took a look at the very pretty chai before a walk around the vineyards with Alexandre Malet. Afterwards I retasted a barrel sample of the 2013, which was very typical for the vintage on the right bank, with freshness aplenty, ripe fruit character, but the generally rather fruit-led, supple texture with a light tannic structure. It was a great surprise to find in the tasting room a tesseri mosaic that was excavated nearby (detail from a small section below); I have long known of the existence of the Gallo-Roman villa near La Gaffelière, thought by some to have been the residence of Ausonius, but I had not realised the entire floor had been excavated and placed on display in this manner.

Tesseri at Château la Gaffelière

Next up I went out to Château Laroque, which is still on the limestone plateau but to the east of the town of St Emilion, on the way out to Castillon. There is no denying the ancient grandeur of this estate, and the wines are attractive, showing a very classic savoury and pencil-straight St Emilion character which is a world away from some of the rather sweet, concentrated and over-extracted wines made by some of the best known names in the appellation. This was a fairly detailed visit, looking first at the vineyards and then a vertical tasting back to 1998, as well as a very interesting tasting of five barrel samples of the 2013 vintage, each barrel from a different tonnelier. This was an interesting experience as in each case the fruit profile was the same (although the wood obviously impacts on the flavour as well), but each showed a subtly different tannin structure.

During the course of the afternoon I visited Château La Fleur de Boüard, run by the Boüard de Laforest family of course, and then Château La Patache, a Pomerol estate. La Patache can be found at the western end of the commune, on more sandy soils, but which also owns some vines up on the plateau, where there is more gravel, and also directly opposite Château Clinet, where there is more clay. Until recently the different plots have been blended, but since 2012 the plot opposite Clinet has been held separately and bottled as a special cuvée. The wines were good, and this is certainly an estate to watch in this appellation.

Roots at Château Les Grands Murailles

There then followed a whirlwind tour of several St Emilion estates in the ownership of Sophie Fourcade, including Château Côte de Baleau, Clos St Martin and Château Les Grands Murailles; this was a fascinating eye-opener to these estates, in the case of the latter two both tiny estates, each with a single parcel of vines, nestled close to famous names. Although I knew of all three domaines (especially as all three were elevated to grand cru classé status in the 2012 St Emilion classification), I haven’t visited any of them before. Château Côte de Baleau lies to the north-west of St Emilion, close to Château Fonroque, Clos St Martin lies in the shadow of L’Église St Martin, next to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, and the vines of Château Les Grandes Murailles are directly adjacent to the ruins of the cathedral at the top end of St Emilion, very close to Clos Fourtet. A descent into the cave of the latter, to see the vine roots (pictured above) penetrating the limestone roof (just 2.5 m of rock, and about 80 cm of soil above my head), is not an experience I will quickly forget.

Grapes at Château La Patache

The day finished with dinner at Château La Dominique, where the team behind La Brasserie Bordelaise – perhaps everybody’s favourite Bordeaux brasserie – have set up a very fine restaurant with an excellent view across the very western periphery of the St Emilion appellation and Pomerol, taking in the cellars of Château Cheval Blanc (or a little of them at least) as well as Château la Conseillante, Château L’Évangile and others. I rolled back to my hotel close to midnight, serum foie gras levels at a 2014 high.

Today (which I have finally decided must be Thursday) I fly back to the UK. Which is a shame, as the weather in Bordeaux is great, and the vines are certainly lapping it up, with plenty of tiny berries appearing already (as above, in Pomerol). I have a good feeling about the 2014 vintage.

In Bordeaux Again

I’m in Bordeaux again, outside of the hubbub of en primeurs. It’s important to visit when the focus isn’t just barrel samples followed by more barrel samples. Last year I also visited in October, to look at bottled wines too. This year, October is planned, but I am out here in June to visit some properties and taste wines old and young, as well as getting a deeper feel for the soils and the vineyards.

Château Hannetot

Landing in Bordeaux at about 10:45 yesterday I hot-footed it over to Château Hannetot, in the Pessac-Léognan appellation; a rather bijou operation (the rather pretty ‘château‘, above, is in fact a converted stable block). This is effectively a new start-up, the vines only planted seven years ago, the first vintage 2010, the quantities small (2010 was the first vintage). It was an interesting visit and it is an estate I will have to look out for in the future.

Olivier Bernard

Then it was on to Domaine de Chevalier to meet Olivier Bernard (pictured above). I tasted the 2013 vintage from Clos des Lunes, his new venture in Sauternes here, as well as updating my Chevalier tasting experience with a mini-vertical of five recent vintages. Olivier is a great guy, clearly an individual passionate about wine, who buys, cellars and drinks wine from across the world, which is not that common in Bordeaux. This includes the Loire, and I came to realise during the course of our conversation that he has tasted more old vintages of Vouvray than I probably have.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of several properties in St Emilion, looking at soils and vines, before a tasting at Château Cantin, a very pretty château clearly aiming, with the Michel Rolland team on board, for grand cru classé status. The day then finished with a visit to the space-age winery of Château Faugères (pictured below). It has been a long time since I paid this estate any attention, and it was good to get to grips with its effective dissolution into three estates, the two St Emilion properties Faugères and Peby-Faugères (once really a super-cuvée but now an estate in its own right) and the Castillon estate Cap de Faugères.

Château Faugères

Today (which is probably Wednesday, but I have lost track a little, so maybe it’s Tuesday – we have had the weekend, haven’t we?), I am off to Château La Gaffelière, Château Laroque, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Château La Patache, Clos Saint Martin and Château La Dominique. Each property has some story to tell, I think. It promises to be a busy but very informative day.

Chateau Preuillac: 80% Hail Damage

I was saddened to learn today that, yet again, Bordeaux has been hit by hail in the past 24 hours. This time the affected area was in the northern Médoc, affecting a relatively concentrated zone just to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, well into the Médoc appellation. Some vignerons are reported to have lost everything, the vines shredded by the hail.

Château Preuillac

Several notable properties have vines here, including Château Preuillac (pictured above) and just across the road are vineyards belonging to Château Potensac. I spoke to Jean-Christophe Mau, proprietor of Château Preuillac, who told me “I have lost more than 80% of the harvest at Preuillac“. Clearly dejected, he concluded “it is very sad, but that’s life“.

I am deeply upset that once again Bordeaux has been hit by hail. Once again it has wiped out entire vineyards, and once again it has hit little, less well-known domaines hardest. All we can hope is that we don’t have a repeat of 2013, when the first storm was only an opening act.

Exploring Sherry #1: Lustau Papirusa

I have dabbled with Sherry for a long time now, but for many years never really ‘getting’ it, if you see what I mean. But over the last couple of years I have really fallen in love with these wines, with their sometimes haunting aromas and their fantastically complex characters.

Sherry remains undervalued, and is therefore underpriced on the shelves. This brings many benefits for consumers, one of which is that here, in the UK, the big supermarkets can source their wines from some of the very best names in the region. Many own-label supermarket wines are made by Lustau, which is a little like having you own-label claret made by Denis Durantou, or your own-label Sancerre made by François Cotat.

I have been drinking some of these own-label wines, and will continue to do so, but I thought I should also branch out and try some other names, and other styles. First up, Manzanilla.

Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies a short distance along the coast from Jerez, the beating heart of the Sherry landscape. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, as I discussed in this write up of a Lebrija, from González Palacios. The style is traditionally bright and breezy, and that certainly comes across in this wine.

The Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa is aged 4-5 years in an American oak solera before bottling, and it seems like a very good example of the style. This appears to be, according to the back label, Lot 3333. A pale and bright hue here. The nose is very appealing, showing a salty sea breeze intertwined with the pungency of flor. It has a very dry palate, nevertheless it also has a full and substantial presence, with crisp, defining acidity. It shows breadth and yet remains light footed, a sensation reinforced by a dry, tingling energy on the finish. There are touches of citrus leaf and blanched almond to complete the picture. A good start to this Sherry exploration. 15.5/20

A footnote: I couldn’t help wondering where the term papirusa came from. It seems to be a Spanish word meaning “beautiful woman”; it is derived from papiros, the word for cigarette, but it took on a new meaning when many beautiful, chain-smoking Polish immigrants arrived in Spain. They became known by the papiros they smoked, and eventually this evolved into papirusa. So this wine is a “beautiful lady”. Of course, this could all be apocryphal, so any Spanish speakers who want to put me straight, feel free to get in touch.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

Checking in on a maturing Vouvray

We all know Vouvray is immortal. Well, at least I hope we do. I was certainly reminded of this indisputable fact when checking in on the 1996 Cuvée Moelleuse from Domaine Champalou recently. This has always been a very elegant style of moelleux Vouvray, pure and floral, very much in the Champalou style. I recall about a decade ago opening a bottle with a sweet-salty stilton from the Cropwell Bishop creamery; it was one of the most heavenly food and wine matches I have ever encountered. It wasn’t long before the cheese wrapper was empty and the bottle was dry. More than ten years on, I can recall the sensation of the combination with absolute clarity, it was so striking.

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée Moelleuse 1996

Right now the Domaine Champalou Cuvée Moelleuse 1996 shows a polished straw-gold hue in the glass, quite a rich colour for this cuvée, which tends to have a somewhat paler hue than other sweet Vouvrays, which to my mind reflects the more delicate, floral nature of the wine (and the Champalou style). The nose here, however, is not floral but is rich in honeyed quince, sweet yellow plum too, but this is presented in a taut rather than fat or exuberant fashion, and it is nicely balanced by contrasting notes of smoke and mineral on one side, but hints of even richer praline on the other. The palate is beautifully defined, cool and bright, taut and with plenty of crisp, lively fruit behind the grip, acid freshness and richer nuances. There is perhaps a touch of sorbet-like purity and intensity here which really appeals, especially when mixed with the more smoky nuances. It is fabulously long, and yet always taut and precise. Divine to drink now (with or without stilton) but this has decades ahead of it. 18.5/20

Underground at Champany Inn

Last week I took a trip up to Champany Inn, near Linlithgow, a restaurant renowned for its steak above all else. It’s quite a few years since I last visited; in fact, looking back I see it was in 2006, a far-too-long eight years. Well I’m glad I put that right.

The reason for my visit was to attend a dinner showcasing the wines of Henri Bourgeois, the leading Loire Valley domaine and négociant based in Chavignol, not far from Sancerre (although I would imagine the locals would probably rather say “Sancerre, not far from Chavignol”). This was an interesting dinner as, although the numbers of wines poured was not huge, it was (if I recall correctly) the first time I have tasted the Henri Bourgeois wines next to the Clos Henri wines, which originate from the Bourgeois vineyards in New Zealand.

Champany Inn

Before the dinner I was treated to a quick tour of all things Champany. Since my last visit a very impressive shop has sprung up (a lot can happen in eight years!), selling wines off the list, strong on South Africa (as is the wine list) but featuring many other regions too. I even spotted a bottle of Louis Métaireau Muscadet. I made a mental note to return when I have more time, for a longer and more leisurely nose around.

It was the cellars that impressed most though. As cellars go this one (a little of which is pictured above) is deceptive. It goes on for much longer than you think (what I thought was a mirror in the distance was only a glass panel, and there were more bins beyond), and the total capacity is an impressive 36,000 bottles. Just inside the door some recent arrivals were ready to be stacked away; Mike, the sommelier, has very wisely been stocking up with 2004 Bordeaux, a vintage which offers good value, as well as a little from the 2000 vintage, provided the price was right, of course.

Champany Inn

There were plenty of interesting bottles to see. Old Italians, South Africans, plenty of Burgundy and more than a bottle or two from Bordeaux, unsurprisingly. The 1998 Yquem, above, is just one of many such bottles, and hints at the quality of the wines on the Champany Inn list.

I will write up the dinner and wines in the next few weeks, after I have overhauled my Henri Bourgeois profile after my visit there late least year.

Disclosure: I joined the Henri Bourgeois dinner, and stayed overnight in one of their rooms, as a guest of Champany Inn.

A nice Southern Red: Minna Vineyard

It’s always fun to look at what’s going on in other regions beyond Bordeaux and the Loire, the two areas I focus on most within Winedoctor, whether it be through wines pulled from the cellar, or received samples such as this one.

The Villa Minna Vineyard has been family owned for eight decades. Abandoned after the death of the proprietor in 1979, his grandson breathed new life into it in the 1990s. The usual Southern French varieties including Syrah and Mourvèdre were planted, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Marselan (a Cabernet-Grencahe cross) and Caladoc (a Grenache-Malbec cross), and some whites. All five red varieties are blended in the Villa Minna range of wines, but just the three more noble varieties in the Minna Vineyard wines.

Minna Vineyard Red 2009

The 2009 Minna Vineyard Red (pictured above) comes from organically managed vineyards, picked by hand, with a yield in this vintage of just 12.3 hl/ha. The fermentation is in steel after a few days cold maceration. The wine then goes into barrels, with bâtonnage, for 24 months prior to bottling after a light filtration, but no fining. On the nose it has a wealth of sweet, dark, spiced fruits, the scents reminiscent of macerated berries, plum skins and pepper, laced with nuances of coffee and juniper berries too. As expected it has a very seductive texture in the mouth, full and concentrated, and sweet berry fruit, feeling substantial and macerated, and yet it doesn’t feel overdone. It is quite softly defined though, with rather low-key acidity, and some ripe tannins for backbone, which are plush, velvety, and only really show through in the finish. A warmer vintage, I suspect. Long and grippy, there is certainly some potential for the cellar here. 15.5/20 (May 2014)

The Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience

In October this year I’m looking forward to leading a trip to some of Bordeaux’s most remarkable wine estates with Adam Stebbing of SmoothRed, a long-established company offering tailor-made wine tours, holidays, events and experiences. The Bordeaux Grand Cru Experience promises great wine, superb château visits and fine dining.

The tour is now mostly booked up but there are still some places left. It would be great to fill those last few places with a couple of long-term Winedoctor readers!

Here’s a taster of what the trip will involve:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Flight from London Gatwick to Bordeaux, private chauffeur-driven coach to St Emilion, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (for lunch) and then Château Angélus. Dinner and hotel in Bordeaux City.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion first, and as if one first growth weren’t enough, after a tasting and lunch it’s onto Château d’Yquem.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Tour up the famous ‘Route des Châteaux’. Visit Château Pontet-Canet, now turning out wines to challenge the very best in the commune. Then it will be lunch at Château Pichon-Baron (pictured above) – where lunch, I have recently learnt from first-hand experience, is not to be missed! In the afternoon, we head south to Margaux and Château Rauzan-Segla.

SmoothRed - The Grand Cru Experience

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: There is no let up in terms of quality on the final day. The morning allows us all time to take in Bordeaux city, followed by lunch and tasting at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above), the origin of one of the very best wines of the entire appellation. Fly back to London early evening.

Prices: £1679.00 per person for 3 star hotel option (based on double room occupancy), £1994.00 per person for 5 star upgrade option (also based on double room occupancy). For four days with all those visits (including Yquem and Haut-Brion!) that seems like money well spent.

There are (or were – more than half have sold) fourteen places, so this will be a very intimate tour. If you would like to come along check out the SmoothRed itinerary here: Grand Cru Bordeaux Experience or phone Adam on +44 (0) 207 1988 369, or email him on sales@smoothred.co.uk.