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Wine in Context #3: A Day at Dagueneau

I’m now onto my top three wine moments of the year. Number three took place back in June 2015 during a tasting trip to the Loire Valley. Having spent a couple of days mooching around Savennières and then Saumur, I headed upriver towards Sancerre. I had plans to visit a couple of domaines where I hadn’t tasted before, my schedule for the visit taking in Domaine Thomas-Labaille, Pierre Morin and Anne Vatan. In other words three very strong domaines. My fourth visit, however, which involved a short drive across the river to Pouilly-Fumé, was the icing on the cake.

It wasn’t the first time I ever visited the Dagueneau family in Saint-Andélain, and it was certainly not the first time I ever tasted their wines. I did so here when I visited, and I also met Charlotte Dagueneau at a tasting in London a few years ago (and of course I have had one or two bottles in restaurants and at home over the years). But this was still a special tasting, for a number of reasons.


First, there was the sheer quality of the wines of course. Just getting your lips to a glass of Silex or Pur Sang is likely to be the highlight of your day, so to taste the entire portfolio of wines across a fine vintage such as 2012, and finding every wine to be superb, was a real delight. Second, when I say entire portfolio, I really mean entire portfolio. This was my first chance to taste the cuvée Astéroïde, which is sourced from a few rows of ungrafted vines planted at the end of the Pur Sang vineyard. It is perhaps one of the rarest wines I ever tasted (not including that rosé a friend of mine made from Scottish-grown Black Muscat a few years ago of course) with just 100 bottles produced. Indeed, I was tempted to give this post the title “A Celestial Event at Dagueneau” such was the significance of this bottle.


I chose not to though because this tasting wasn’t a favourite simply because of just one bottle. It was a great tasting because of the warmth and approachability exhibited by Charlotte Dagueneau, daughter to the late Didier Dagueneau, and also her generosity in opening not just the 2012 Astéroïde but also many older vintages, including the 2008 Les Monts Damnés, 2007 and 2002 Silex, and 1996 Pur Sang. Not to mention a number of experimental bottles not actively commercialised, a chance to have a little glimpse behind the scenes chez Dagueneau.

Most of all, however, it was about recognising the talent of Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau, who has been in charge here since Didier’s death in 2008.

The problem is, as I wrote in my report on the visit and tasting, that with Didier in the background he always gave such an easy hook for a journalist. Consequently, even after his tragically early passing, when writing about the domaine it is still too easy to just trot out a few Didier anecdotes and to overlook the new generation in charge. But it is now eight years since Louis-Benjamin had to step into his father’s shoes, and thus it is Louis-Benjamin (and his sister Charlotte) who should be positioned centre-stage, in the full glare of the spotlight. They are responsible for the success of this domaine today, and they deserve credit for what they have achieved. Of the wines I tasted during my visit six were made by Louis-Benjamin, eight if we include those he vinified within weeks of his father’s death. Only three were from Didier’s era, the trio of older wines mentioned above. Louis-Benjamin’s wines were on the whole delicious, indeed some were outstanding in their poise and precision. They are no less compelling than any other Dagueneau wine I have ever tasted. He and his sister have achieved something remarkable here, and that is why this visit and tasting was my number three top wine moment of 2015.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

I’ve been a regular attendee of the Bordeaux Index annual tasting of ten-year old Bordeaux for a few years now. To me, Bordeaux has always been about wine in maturity; I realise there are many wines made in the region that are great to drink young, but the region has a place in my heart not because of these wines, but because of experiences with mature bottles from which emerge wines that twist and turn in the mouth, revealing layer after layer of confidence and complexity as they do so. This is why I buy and cellar Bordeaux.

Over the years I have cast my eye back to older vintages, sometimes wines tasted with a tasting group, sometimes a collection of wines from my cellar. This is fun, and I plan to continue doing it for that very reason; I have some 2003s lined up at the moment, as much because I have a feeling we need to be looking more closely at whether some wines from this vintage need drinking up as much as exploring their “confidence and complexity”, and after that I think I may take a look at the 2000 vintage again, as I didn’t touch on these wines in my recent 2000 Fifteen Years On tasting. But these tastings will only ever give us a glimpse of a vintage, ten or fifteen tasting notes from which we can extrapolate to other wines, other communes or appellations even. There are obviously some pitfalls with this premise; all such extrapolations have to be taken with a decent pinch of salt.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

That’s why tastings such as the one held by Bordeaux Index are so useful; this is a more comprehensive look at the vintage, taking in the left-bank first growths, as well as big names from the right bank including Petrus and Le Pin, with perhaps 50 or 60 wines up for tasting. I wrote up my report of the 2005 tasting here: Bordeaux 2005 at Ten Years.

So why is this tasting one of my wine highlights for 2015? Simple; revisiting these wines, with the benefit of eight-or-so years of bottle age, and also the benefit of a few more years experience since I last tasted them (which, in any number, was six years ago, back in 2009) this vintage is clearly, for my palate at least, the real deal. Of course, it is one of several vintages anybody could trot off if asked to list their favourites from the last two decades. Everybody would throw 2000 into the ring, even though many wines have a methoxypyrazine freshness which I personally find very appealing, but it surprises me that wines which appear to major on green freshness and acidity rather than ripe texture and richness were so highly rated in the early days. Some would also throw 2003 into the ring, but this is in fact a really mixed vintage, with some great wines but also some dead and dying disasters (hence my intention to revisit it – there’s nothing like a bit of wine autopsy to while away the hours on a winter’s night). Nobody is going to argue with 2009 or 2010, even though they are very different vintages, 2009 a bit of a turbocharged 1982, while 2010 is a supercharged version of 1986. Or maybe 1988? Or maybe 1996 left bank? That one is, admittedly, a bit more difficult to tie down.

The 2005 vintage though has measured texture, balance, harmony, the aforementioned confidence although the complexity of maturity has yet to come I think. Most of all the wines have purity, they are fresh, the flavours defined, the tannins substantial but ripe and pristine, the acidity spot on for the wine that is built around it. They are very complete wines. It is I think the most charming and delectable of recent vintages, and as I sat in the Bordeaux Index offices, tasting with joy, I was glad that I had been able to put a few bottles away in the cellar (even if some wines, such as the one pictured above, were somewhat beyond my price range). It is a little like my older tasting companions telling me, twenty-or-so years ago, how glad they were to have put away some 1982s. The 2005 vintage is at that sort of level, one of the true greats of our lifetime, and I feel privileged to have been able to experience it.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #5: Haut-Brion

Heading down from Edinburgh to Chester to join Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I used to attend, in their 30th anniversary celebrations in May this year was a real blast from the past. The focus here has always been – as the name suggests – almost exclusively Bordeaux and I blame them, in part at least, for my continued focus on this region, even though having long left Chester for Edinburgh I haven’t attended a tasting in a decade.

Thirty years of monthly tastings is quite a feat! I was far from being a long-standing member (I think I toddled along to these tastings for about five years) so I was really grateful for being invited back as a ‘one-off’ special. First, because it was great to see some old faces, and because the trip brought back some fine memories of dashing to catch the train to Chester after a busy day in the office, and dashing to catch the last train home again afterwards. But most of all it was for the wines, eight vintages of Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, including some very smart years with 1990, 1988 and 1986 Haut-Brion and 1986 La Mission Haut-Brion being some of my favourites.

Château Haut-Brion

As a contrast to what I wrote yesterday on the importance of being open-minded and making new discoveries, and the significance of talented vignerons such as Vincent Caillé, this tasting proved the staying power of great domaines such as the two featured here. Although I have been to some great tastings this year (such as those yet to come in this year’s Wine in Context round-up) I think for sheer quality, complexity, maturity and drinkability these wines would win out. There were wines I tasted on other days I found no less breathtaking, but I am not sure everybody would feel the same way. Judging by the response to a few pictures from the tasting I posted on social media, there are a lot of people out there who would have liked to have come to this tasting. And having spent an entire evening savouring the wines, I don’t blame them! My full write up, for subscribers, is here: A High Time with Haut-Brion.

I can only hope 2016 throws up something just as special. I don’t suppose there is anyone hosting a vertical tasting of Le Pin before December 2016, is there? I’m willing to dress up as Neal Martin if it helps.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #6: Vincent Caille

The problem faced by any wine writer, critic or blogger is finding something new worth writing about. There is the old adage that the world of wine constantly renews with every new vintage of course, and that has some merit, but there has to be more to it than that.

Part of the problem is that wine has been written about for centuries. Take a long-established region such as Bordeaux and there is thus a long-established hierarchy. There is a reason domaines such as Château Haut-Brion, Château Latour, and Château Ausone are so well-known and so obsessed over; although they (like any other domaine) may have had their ups and downs, the recognition that they have some of the best terroir is not a new one, and their wines have been highly regarded for a very long time.

There are hierarchies in other regions too, even Muscadet. When I started out looking at this region in more detail, it seemed to me that the main players were well established in the minds of the region’s fans, and the one or two writers who bothered to taste these wines. They were Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Pépière, Jo Landron and André-Michel Brégeon. Others were rightly popular, but these were the names that seemed to appeal to Loire geeks the most. Tasting the wines, it seemed to me that they all deserved the recognition they already received, and thus we had the top tier of a Muscadet hierarchy.

Vincent Caillé

This is why meeting Vincent Caillé back in May 2015 was such a delight. I vaguely knew his name, through his project Vine Revival with Christelle Guibert, but this was only the second opportunity I had been presented with to taste his wines, and my first time meeting Vincent himself. The wines were superb, in particular two crystal-pure expressions of the Gorges and Monnières-Saint-Fiacre crus communaux, both in the 2012 vintage, were absolutely stunning. These wines immediately catapulted Vincent up to the top of my personal Muscadet hierarchy.

Perhaps one taste is really too soon to judge, but the quality was breathtaking, and I was immediately sucked in. I will taste them again one day, so I should be able to reassess them, and maybe refine my opinion. But the key message here, for me, is this; the more I delve into the different regions of the Loire Valley, the more I uncover new domaines, really some good, but every now and again I come across a domaine that makes truly striking wines, like Vincent. Wines that seem to transcend the appellation and their origins. Didier Dagueneau did that. François Chidaine still does. I wonder if Vincent Caillé isn’t another who should be considered in the same light. One thing is for sure, he is proof positive that any taster, critic or writer should remain open-minded to new discoveries, and that no hierarchy should be regarded as set in stone.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #7: Eglise-Clinet Extravaganza

Sometimes the dream invitation crops up. Well, I suppose for me, the true ‘dream invitation’ would be a tasting in Philippe Foreau’s cellars of every moelleux and moelleux reserve he or his father André and grandfather Armand ever made, back to and including the 1947 Goutte d’Or. Not forgetting the 1990 Goutte d’Or on the way. This is an invitation that I would only receive in a dream, so I’m not holding my breath in aniticipation of receiving the invitation.

Happily, even in the absence of such an invitation landing on my doormat, 2015 hasn’t been short of tastings that are just as special. One of the most envy-inducing invitations I received this year was to join Denis Durantou (pictured below), proprietor of Château L’Église-Clinet, for a retrospective tasting of his grand vin from 2005 back to 1995, with several vintages poured both from bottle and from magnum. The venue was Château Thénac, a very pretty estate in the Bergerac appellation where Denis consults. The date was a Saturday evening in late March, on the eve of the primeurs.

Denis Durantou

It was a pretty small affair, with fewer than a dozen tasters gathered around the table. I was able to kiss the hand of Jancis Robinson, and gave Neal Martin the secret BB (‘before blogs’) handshake known only to those who began writing about wine online prior to July 31st, 2003 (it’s a secret society thing – sorry I can’t disclose any more about it). But it was not the attendees who shone, but the wines, with some particularly fine efforts. I was most impressed by the 2005 vintage (from magnum and bottle), then 2000 and 1998, then the 1995 and 2001 vintages. But there were plenty of good efforts from ‘lesser’ years too; it was a ‘no-gap’ warts-and-all tasting which included 1996, 1997 and 2002, all of which showed well. If subscribers want to refresh their memory, I wrote the tasting up here. Afterwards we all had dinner together as guests of Château Thénac (which reminds me, I must also write my 2015 disclosure statement soon) which was good fun.

Many of my Wine in Context moments feature times I learnt something new, or when I realised something about myself, poignant or instructive ‘wine moments’. In the case of this tasting, however, it was really the wines, plus a few hours in the company of Denis (another of Bordeaux’s good guys) that makes the evening stick in my mind. It was a great tasting. Here’s hoping 2016 will bring out one or two more tasting opportunities like this.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #8: Tasting with John Kolasa

Being based in Edinburgh means I am somewhat detached from the rest of the British wine writing community, who largely congregate around London. That’s not to say there aren’t people doing good things anywhere else in the UK, as that’s certainly not true. But the people whose work most interests me most, and who I read regularly, and whose opinions I trust most, are largely based in London. People like Neal Martin, Jamie Goode, Jim Budd, Andrew Jefford, Hugh Johnson and no doubt a few others, all of whom I have enjoyed meeting over the years and in some cases getting to know them quite well.

The association between London and the wine trade is of course long-standing, going back centuries, long before privateers began landing the “new French clarets” on the docks of the Thames in the early 18th century. And so it was only natural that an association between London and the wine writing world (which I maintain is distinct from the wine trade, although the boundaries may be blurred in some cases) would also grow up. And so today most of the major UK tastings are held in London, and I travel there frequently in order to taste. Which is why it is always interesting to see a wine event suddenly pop up much closer to home, especially if the wines in question just happen to be from two high-flying, high-quality Bordeaux domaines.

Château Canon

The tasting in question featured a number of vintages of Château Canon and Château Rauzan-Ségla, and was led by John Kolasa. Thanks must go to the Wine Society. who hosted the tasting and invited me along. It was a celebration of some very fine wines, and yet it was also a poignant moment, as 2015 was the year of John’s retirement. I was saddened that in all the years I have been tasting and writing about Bordeaux that I haven’t had the opportunity to become better acquainted with John. I don’t think any of the accusations of hyperbole and greed that have been thrown at Bordeaux in recent years could be directed towards him; on this occasion, and when we met up in Bordeaux during the primeurs just a few weeks later, he seemed to me to be one of the region’s good guys, someone who fell into wine at a young age and has worked his way up. John has clearly been driven by a passion for the wines of the region, and a belief that a job worth doing is doing well. He has a philosophy, born out of the recognition that all the wines he enjoyed when he arrived in Bordeaux were the product of someone else’s work, that in such a region, where the wines take several decades to mature and a freshly-planted vineyard takes several decades more to reach its peak, that it is only right that if you take from the region (by savouring the very best it has to offer – as John started at Château Latour he certainly did that), you must also give something back before you leave. John has thus spent much of his life working for the generation that would follow him, building up these two domaines over many years. It is easy to forget, with the very negative image Bordeaux seems to have cultivated for itself in recent times, that people like this still exist.

I was also delighted to meet a couple of Winedoctor subscribers at the tasting – this is always a pleasure! I wrote the tasting up in two reports, a Château Canon 2015 Retrospective and a Château Rauzan-Ségla 2015 Retrospective, adding in a few notes from another tasting that followed after the primeurs. I wish John the very best for a long and happy retirement.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #9: Jonathan Pabiot in Edinburgh

As we mature (a less hard-edged way of saying “grow older”) our circumstances change. Children (if you have any) also mature, gradually becoming more independent and responsible. It is a joy to watch, even if the majority of teenagers still have the ability to behave as if they were two-years old again at times. And financial situations often improve (although sadly this is never guaranteed – the costs of further education loom large for any family with aspirational youngsters filling out their university application forms). Sometimes, change doesn’t merely flow, but is the result of a concerted effort. Such as in January 2015, when I decided to make an effort to eat out more in Edinburgh.

A decade ago I used to eat out regularly, but that lifestyle soon ground to a halt. Having young children meant less free time, and less disposable income. I moved to Edinbugh, in the process losing a network of friends and family who provided a handy childminding service. And in truth I didn’t really move to Edinburgh, I moved to the countryside outside Edinburgh (where I could actually afford a house – Edinburgh house prices were crazy then, and they are still crazy now); and so dining out in Edinburgh meant driving (and deciding who drinks and who takes the wheel), or an extortionate taxi fare, or (not for the faint of heart) a three-hour round trip on the bus. It all conspired to make me happy to eat at home.

Jonathan Pabiot

So what’s changed? Partly my children are more independent, and don’t need a childminder. So that’s one hurdle cleared. Pretty soon the eldest will soon be able to take the wheel; when that happens, perhaps I will be able to cash in on the free taxi service I have provided for the past 17 years? I can be a passenger, rather than the driver? That will be another hurdle cleared (I’m looking forward to telephoning my personal chauffeur from the restaurant to request my ride home). Perhaps most importantly it was my attitude that changed. After an illness last year I decided that, while I would continue to work hard (Winedoctor updates are as regular as ever, and subscription numbers are now well into the thousands), I would also factor in a little more down-time if I could. Eating out more would be part of that.

My favourite dining experience of 2015 was Martin Wishart, where everything – cooking, service, ambience, wine – seemed to come together on the night. I will be going back in 2016. Ondine was another favourite, with superb fresh seafood, and the fact I have another table booked for next Monday only reflects this. Then came Timberyard, in itself the most exciting dinner of the year, although I struggled a bit with the hyper-natural selection of wines on the list, and I was glad for Mark Angeli, whose 2012 La Lune I spotted nestled deep in the Loire section. The Pompadour by Galvin was a surprise success, as when my eyes first took in the plush hotel-based setting I though this was going to be a tourist-trap, but the cooking was top-notch, the service largely spot on, and I left very content indeed. And for great value, it would be hard to beat Purslane, the cheapest dinner out this year by far, but with some very fine cooking on the night.

There have been some less successful evenings too, but that’s life; there’s no need to dwell on them here, and truth be told no dinner was disastrous. Every restaurant had its strong points. And for one or two that was the very sensible decision to list the wines of Jonathan Pabiot (pictured above in Angers in February this year). Thanks to a Scottish importer bringing in these wines they appeared on the majority of lists that passed before my eyes this year, and as a consequence in the past twelve months I have drunk more of his wines than anyone else’s. When the wine world wakes up and realises that, other than Louis-Benjamin’s wines themeselves, his wines are the closest in style and quality to Dagueneau’s to be found in the Pouilly-Fumé appellation (perhaps this will happen when the Wine Spectator finally writes him up), I will be able to look back and relish the many great bottles I have enjoyed. Along with many great dinners too of course.

Now, where’s my phone? It’s time to telephone for my driver.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley

A few years ago (well, maybe more than a few) December would always feature my Wine in Context reports. It was meant to be an antidote to the usual festive ‘top ten wines of the year’ lists. These lists always featured 18th-century Madeira, numerous first growths, Rousseau Chambertin and at least one vintage but maybe more of Petrus. Sometimes, and I have no problem with admitting jealousy here, they included old vintages from Domaine Huet from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Then there was another list of “the next best ninety wines that didn’t quite make it”. Such lists never really spoke to me, with my cellar full of Saumur-Champigny and middling Bordeaux. Do they speak to anyone?

Wine is much more than a list of impressive vintages as long as your arm, necked back at dinners hosted by the wine trade, for the wine trade. Wine in Context is more about circumstances than scores; sometimes what’s outside the glass is more important than what’s in it. Sometimes wine teaches us something, and the lesson is more significant than whether the wine itself was a Savennières or a Sancerre (shocking thought, I know). And so, in a mad rush between here and the end of the year, here is the return of Wine in Context, and a rapid countdown starting today of my best wine moments of 2015.

Château Thieuley

Starting us off at number ten is a recent visit to Château Thieuley, a name which only the value-conscious buyer will be aware of. If you spend all your spare time posting shots of the Le Pin, Lafite-Rothschild and the like you drink at home on a Tuesday evening to Instagram, then this estate might not be familiar to you. Indeed, it wasn’t familiar to me when I visited it many many years ago on one of my first ever press trips to Bordeaux. So unfamiliar, in fact, that I couldn’t place it in the context of what I understood about the region. It wasn’t in a famous appellation, those through which I had learnt about Bordeaux, and yet here we were visiting it. This was of course long before I learnt that beyond the top cru classé châteaux there are actually a lot of domaines worth knowing about in Bordeaux. Most of its production was white wine, and yet this wasn’t Graves or Pessac-Léognan, this was the Entre-Deux-Mers. Again, I have since realised that the gravelly-sandy soils here can be great for white varieties. And was the domaine important? Don’t people just want to read about the aforementioned Le Pin and Lafite-Rothschild? I have since come round to the notion that these smaller domaines, in lesser appellations, are just as significant for the region as all the famous names (even if they don’t generate as many ‘likes’ on social media).

As a result of my doubts (and self-doubt, perhaps?) I never wrote about that first visit, and in more recent times I came to rue that decision. With more experience I understood the context for this domaine, and where it sits in a region that has so much more to offer than just cru classé bottles. I came to appreciate the little guys in Bordeaux, those turning out lovely wines that are great value, and which overturn the idea that Bordeaux is just for the super-wealthy now. And revisiting the estate I understood more clearly the work they do here, on a large vineyard, to a tight budget, turning out significant volumes of tasty wine. And of course I understood how that needed to be publicised, because the Courselle family at Château Thieuley need their moment in the spotlight just as much as more famous estates in Pauillac and Pomerol.

This more recent visit in October 2015 was, in a way, me closing the loop. It was a little like returning to a school you once attended, long after you have moved on. It wasn’t so much what I learned during the visit that was important (although it was interesting enough, and the profile has been written, and is set for publication in the next couple of weeks), it was more the realisation about what I have learned in the intervening years that made this visit significant. I have changed a lot in the interim. And that is, I think, a very good thing.

More Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Exploring Sherry #14: Dos Cortados

Having breathed new life into my exploration of Sherry I seem, since my encounter with the Don Fernando wines, own-label efforts from Fernando de Castilla, to have enjoyed a good run of really interesting wines. Next in the line up was a return to what remains one of my favourite styles, palo cortado.

The Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados is a fascinating wine not just because the quality in the glass is good, but because it affords a glimpse into the aging of palo cortado wines. Before we start, let me return to some words I wrote in my post on the Leonor Palo Cortado, explaining how wines are transformed from fresh and lively fino into the elegantly bronzed style that is palo cortado:

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados

The process might involve a little more than than, in particular the wines can be adjusted with alcohol to protect them, after which they are left to age oxidatively. Returning to them many years later, the alcohol adjustment may have to be repeated, in which case a second mark (cortado) would be made on the barrel to record this – hence the wine is now dos cortados.

In the case of the Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados the wine is aged on average at least twenty years. This has a really smart-looking bronze hue in the glass, with a broad green tinge to the rim. It starts with a fairly challenging nose, vibrant, slightly high toned, with some notes of dry-baked earth, dried walnuts, raisins and smoky coffee. This is followed by a firm, nicely framed palate, with bitter fruits and some dry-baked and desiccated orange peel. The feel of it is very vinous, with very bright acidity, a rolling warm blanket of smoke bilowing over the top, and an acid bite in the finish. A fascinating wine, clearly mature and confident in its very evolved state. Tense and long, and lovely with it. 16.5/20 (December 2015)

Bordeaux Tourism: Chateau Le Pape

I visit Bordeaux fairly frequently, always to taste, taste and taste. Why else come to Bordeaux? And when I do I often find myself living it up in the Ibis Budget or similar (Room rules: no smoking, no eating, no workboots, no ‘extra guests’). That’s fine for a business trip, but what if you fancy a holiday in the region? A stay in one of the region’s many budget hotels, which more often than not are located on zones industrialles on the outskirts of town (which means you will probably be sandwiched between the local Buffalo Grill and a van rental depot), just isn’t going to cut it.

I highlighted one rather more attractive option for the hopeful Bordeaux tourist in a recent blog post, A Bordeaux Guesthouse. Château Le Pape, purchased by Robert Wilmers of Château Haut-Bailly a few years ago, has been sensitively but thoroughly restored, the gardens landscaped, and the vineyard is undergoing extensive replanting. The château now serves as a fully-serviced guesthouse, and I accepted their invitation to check it out.

Château Le Pape

First of all, the location is ideal; Château Le Pape is in a secluded spot just to the south of Villenave d’Ornon. Even though it is only a few minutes from the Rocade, and therefore a very short drive indeed from the airport, this really feels the part. The immediate surroundings are very rural, with vines on three sides, woodland on the fourth. This is a working vineyard (there was plenty of pruning and tieing-in going on when I stayed) and so you can experience life on a Bordeaux estate first-hand, although there is no need to limit yourself to Château Le Pape – the estate is within walking distance of Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Louvière, Château Carbonnieux and even Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (although mind you don’t get lost in the woods heading there – can I suggest you take the car instead?).

Inside, the château has been gutted and renovated from the ground up; the eye-catching ceiling paintings in the foyer are original, but I am told everything else is new. The breakfast room and bedrooms are immaculately appointed, yet the feel is welcoming and homely rather than aloof or palatial. The bedrooms are all en-suite and obviously all newly decorated, and there’s no faulting the bed; this was the best night’s sleep I ever had in Bordeaux. There are some luxurious touches, Hermes toiletries for one, and a delicious breakfast served each day with more options than I can remember was another. This latter feature is down to the château’s host Hervé Audibert, who lives on-site and who will gladly cater for your every need. Hervé came here having carved out a very successful career in hospitality in Savoie, but he fancied a change in scene and Château Le Pape clearly suits him well. He rustles up a pretty smart bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast, and considering he has probably never even heard of Delia Smith his soft-boiled eggs aren’t bad either. And I suspect he will go the extra mile for any visitor; during my brief stay, there were just two other guests, and Hervé gladly ferried them to a local restaurant where they had a table booked for dinner, and he picked them up again at the end of the night. Meanwhile I was happy in my room, flouting the usual Ibis rules to which I am usually subjected, eating a sandwich while wearing my workboots in as casual a manner as possible (but that’s as far as it went, just to be clear).

Twenty years ago Bordeaux tourism was something of an oxymoron, but that’s clearly no longer the case. Things have changed, as there are an increasing number of options for the wine-curious tourist in Bordeaux now, and Château Le Pape must be one of the strongest. Rooms start at €220 per night, although I think a stay here would be so much more than just a roof over your head. Just remember to pack your workboots.

For more information, check out the website: Château Le Pape.

Disclosure: I stayed at Château Le Pape as a guest of the proprietors.