Buying


pau.jpgIt’s been a bit mad, this last week or so.  I was in Seattle (or rather Bellevue, a fairly soulless suburb) for a four-day conference.  Not a great deal to report on the wine front, I’m afraid.  I did drink some, but nothing terribly memorable and, to be honest, most was held in the tight grip of a waiter and I was unable to see the label.  Given we were being entertained and I hadn’t therefore ordered any of it, I’m not sure what it was!  I’m pretty sure Merlot featured and I’m assuming it was US wine, but other than that… 

Otherwise, it was the odd beer (and if you’re ever offered some of a local brew called Arrogant Bastard I can recommend you decline…the arrogance, I suspect, describing those who could have ever claimed they’d produced a decent beer) and an extraordinarily large shot of tequila, which was totally unnecessary (but when are they not?).

I left Seattle on Thursday evening, and a rather ridiculous journey took me to Heathrow, then a car to Stansted to catch a flight to Poitiers followed by a train to Bordeaux to meet a very good mate, Chris, who’d flown into Bordeaux earlier that afternoon.  I’d therefore avoided going home altogether between the business trip to the US and an indulgent weekend of drinking, eating and watching fantastic old cars race around the streets of Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

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27-march-2007.JPGBack in 1932, a bunch of Medoc wine producers decided to establish a new classification, aggrieved – as I’m sure they were – not to be included in the 1855 classification which today still reigns supreme as the list of the top ranking 60-odd chateaux on the Left Bank.  This despite it having remained virtually unchanged in the following 150-plus years!  This is astonishing when you think about the changes that have taken place during that time; changes in weather, wine-producing technology, techniques and, not least of all, ownership.  It’s illogical to think that there aren’t a number of chateaux not included in the original classification that are producing wine as good as classed growths (and, conversely, that the quality of the wine produced by a number of those in the 1855 classification hasn’t fallen).  Which is kind of where the Cru Bourgeois classification comes in.

What’s good about Cru Bourgeois is that it gets regularly reviewed, and chateaux do get promoted and demoted.  The problem with it is that there are far too many chateaux in the classification (nearly 250 in total).  Of this, 150 are simply “Cru Bourgeois”, 87 are “Cru Bourgeois Superieur” and nine are “Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel”.  I’d be tempted to regard the simple “Cru Bourgeois” tag as fairly meaningless and the “Superieur” label as a mark of some quality – but it’s the nine “Exceptionnels” however, that would have a fair argument of producing wine as good as the classed growths, at least at the 4th and 5th levels, but for generally less money.

They will certainly be names you’ve heard of: Chateau Chasse-Spleen, for instance, and Chateau Phelan-Segur (of which we recently had a bottle).  I’ve heard good things about Chateau Poujeaux and have a couple of bottles of the 2004 lying in wait in the cave (where they’ll be, unfortunately, for a while yet) but the best I’ve tasted so far – by a long way – is Chateau Potensac (website currently under construction). We had a bottle of the 2003 the other night and, OK, it could still be argued that it’s rather young and could do with a few more years lying down in a cool, dark room but, that being the case, it must mature into an amazing wine!

It was beautifully frutiy on the nose; smooth, rich in the mouth with fantastic blackcurrant flavours and a great finish.  Not too tannic either, which was a bit suprising.  All in all, a lovely wine and – at 17,75 euros from Carrefour in Saintes – excellent value.  I’ll be looking out for some more of the 2003 and also the ’04 and ’05 when it arrives.

Talking of arriving, you’ll be delighted to hear that the Reserve de la Comtesse 1988 has arrived safe and sound.  It’s currently recovering from its journey in the cave, but I think I’ll need to drink it soon.  The label looks a bit weather-beaten and the cap’s a little tatty at the bottom edge but, otherwise, it looks in good nick.

A couple of nights ago I opened a bottle of Chateau Plincette 2002, a Pomerol I bought in the Leclerc supermarket’s wine fair last October and therefore prior to my increased interest in Bordeaux’s wines.  I almost certainly based the purchase on the write-up in the little magazine published to accompnay the wine fair, allied to its price (around 13 euros, as I remember it).

Based on what I know now, of course, I’d have avoided the wine!  2002 wasn’t a great vintage and, to be honest, 13 euros is rather too little to be paying for a Pomerol of decent quality.  Alarm bells would have rung.  So why am I so pleased to have the best part of a dozen bottles still sitting in the cave?  Because, my friends, I could taste the fact that it wasn’t a great wine, which is something I reckon I couldn’t have done three months ago.  The nose didn’t show any of the fruity explosion I’ve come to expect from Right Bank wines; in the mouth it was weak, rather watery and a little rough around the edges. 

So, as a mark of my progress towards a greater understanding of wine, I’m really chuffed. 

It’s probably not worth me asking if there’s anyone out there that fancies half a dozen bottles of a classic Pomerol from an underrated vintage, is it?

Thought not.

picture-2-citadelle-vines-from-the-ramparts.jpgThe title of this post highlights a common mispronunciation of which I was guilty myself until yesterday; the temptation being to rhyme “Blaye” with “grey” and “day”, whereas in actual fact it should be pronounced “Bligh.”  You learn something every day.  Yesterday, I learnt a lot.

To my shame, having lived an hour north of
Bordeaux for exactly three years, until yesterday I’d never visited the centre of an official appellation.  The closest I’ve been to the famous appellations of the Left Bank, such as Pauillac, Margaux and St-Julien, is Bordeaux’s airport at Merignac and the only sight I’ve enjoyed of St-Emilion was a distant one through a rain splattered windscreen on a drive past from Bergerac.  It seemed like a good idea, therefore, to start as close to home as possible which meant – aside from a few standard Bordeaux Appellation Contrôlée (AC) vineyards – that I’d be heading to the town of Blaye, sitting on the eastern bank of the Gironde estuary, directly across the water from the world-famous villages on the Left Bank.

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8cd7_1.jpgI hadn’t realised it until this afternoon – because I don’t think it’s possible on the UK eBay site – but on the French version, there’s a very healthy wine section.  I’m not sure whether I’m ready just yet to trust my wine buying to eBay (though I’m not sure why, having previously bought stuff via the site – I just worry that it might be open to abuse) but it’s certainly worth a browse.  For instance, at time of writing there’s a bottle of Chateau Pavie 2000 St-Emilion 14 hours away from auction end currently going for about 150 euros, or how about this Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1975 – a day away from close and currently at 66 euros. 

I might try something a little more modest to see how the service is – there’s one dealer in Belgium that seems to have a lot on the site, which might be the place to start.  Perhaps the two bottles of Chateau Pontet-Canet 1989 that are currently going for 36,50 euros with a couple of days to go…

02-feb-2007.JPGI haven’t done much wine-related stuff this week.  I had some proper work to do.  Not as much fun – but it pays the bills.  One thing I had found myself doing was getting slightly obsessed by Chateau Fleur Cardinale!  You’ll have seen the previous post, of course, about this lovely St-Emilion Grand Cru.  I’d picked up the last bottle on the shelf  – a 2002 vintage – in a local Leclerc supermarket and it was delicious.  Then I’d read that Fleur Cardinale had (unsurprisingly) recently been promoted to Grand Cru Classe in the St-Emilion re-classification late last year.  Well, since then I’ve been trying to find some more.  I tried the local supermarkets in Saintes and Royan with no success, so today I decided to take a trip further afield, and ventured the 25km or so to the wine department of the E.Leclerc supermarket in Jonzac – by far the best we’ve come across in the (relatively) local area.  Success!  But not at any price…

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fleur-cardinale.jpgI picked up a bottle of Chateau Fleur Cardinale St-Emilion Grand Cru in the Leclerc supermarket in Saintes a few days back.  It was a 2002 vintage so I felt had just enough age to drink, which is exactly what we did last night.  It was absolutely fantastic – deliciously fruity, deep ruby red and exceptionally smooth.  If I can find some, I resolved, I’m going to get some more (the bottle I bought was unfortunately the last on the shelf).  It was also excellent value at a shade over 13 euros.

I looked the chateau up on the web today.  It’s got a nice little website and I was very pleased to see that Fleur Cardinale has been promoted to Grand Cru Classe in the recent review of the St-Emilion classification.  I’m even keener to get hold of some more now – though suspect the reason that the shelves of Leclerc were so empty was that some had heard the news before I did!  Worth a search though.

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