Stéphane Derenoncourt Tasting, 2012

When starting from scratch, understanding the wines of a region such as Bordeaux undoubtedly starts with a communal approach, learning first what makes one appellation, Pomerol for example, different from another, such as Pauillac. Then, as you become more familiar with the regions, individual domaines or châteaux begin to register. By the time you can remember the difference between Haut-Bailly and Haut-Batailley (two confusingly similar names which certainly used to vex me in my earlier days), it is a sure thing that you are really getting to grips with Bordeaux. Add in a little knowledge of recent vintages, and a bit more tasting experience, and you can call yourself a Bordeaux expert!

Well, perhaps there is a bit more to it than that. The more you learn, the less you know; this is an old adage that can be applied as much to wine as it can to many of life’s other passions. The deeper you dig with any wine region, the more layers of complexity you can uncover. When it comes to Bordeaux, one such layer – one which those who concerned themselves with this region twenty-or-so years ago probably didn’t have to worry about too much – is consultancy. These days there are a number of famed oenologists, highly skilled and perhaps gifted individuals offering their knowledge and experience to those in Bordeaux who are willing to pay for it. Some have become famous names in their own right – Michel Rolland, for example, and I think Denis Dubourdieu is increasingly well known. Some names are less familiar, despite being in demand by their peers; these include Jacques and Eric Boissenot (who, despite consulting at many leading properties including Latour and Margaux remain relatively unknown) and Gilles Pauquet (who consults at La Conseillante and Cheval Blanc, to name just two).

Stéphane Derenoncourt

I would without a moment’s hesitation place Stéphane Derenoncourt in the first group. Born in Dunkirk in 1963, Derenoncourt seems to have discovered Bordeaux more by chance than design, near-aimless hitch-hiking – guitar in hand – having led him here in the early 1980s. He found work in the vineyards of Fronsac, and subsequently moved on to working in the cellars, ultimately taking up a position at Pavie-Macquin in 1990. The big break came when Comte Stephan von Neipperg hired him to work at Canon la Gaffelière and La Mondotte; it was the success of the 1996 La Mondotte in particular – made with Stéphane’s advice and supervision – that cemented his reputation. By 1997 he was consulting at a number of other estates, all on the right bank. By 1999, he and his new wife Christine (pictured below) established the Derenoncourt consultancy, and acquired a vineyard – the nidus of modern-day Domaine de l’A – as their centre of operations.

Stéphane Derenoncourt

The business seems to have only strengthened since. Domaine de L’A, an estate with a sound reputation but which is also useful to know as a model of the Derenoncourt philosophies, has grown in terms of size and reputation. And the client list has lengthened, still largely on the right bank, although there are handful of clients in Graves and the Médoc. The team has also increased in size, Derenoncourt now heading up a body of consultants who follow his mantra; this is inevitable when one takes into consideration his workload, not just within but now also outside Bordeaux. Stéphane Derenoncourt’s services are now in demand in more distant regions; his name is associated with Domaine FL in the Loire, not to mention projects in Italy, Spain and even India.

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