Tasting


red.jpgred.jpgred.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgberlese.jpgI spent a very enjoyable evening yesterday drinking too much with a good friend Mark and his family who are staying in our gite at the moment.  Well, he’s a good friend now but a dozen years ago he was the founder of one of the first companies I worked for…and quite scary for that.  It’s always great to spend some time with him.  He’s bright, challenging, honest – all things that make for an interesting discussion.

Inevitably, considering we were drinking a fair bit of it, the discussion turned to wine.  We’d already sunk a bottle pf 2002 Chateau Poujeaux, a Moulis-en-Medoc, and were halfway down a 2003 Chateau Belgrave, a Haut-Medoc – both very nice.  Mark will readily admit to being far from knowledgeable about wine, but was keen to learn.  We covered a broad number of subjects; the challenges of over-production in the Bordeaux wine region, the less-than-clear labelling of French wines to most of the world’s wine-buying public, the traditional ‘negociant’ system of trading wine in Bordeaux which makes it very hard to visit and buy direct from chateaux, the main Bordeaux ACs, grape varieties and more.

Mark was keen to see if he could spot differences between wines, so I decided to give him two wines that should, in theory, be quite contrasting.  One was the 2003 Chateau Belgrave Haut-Medoc we were already drinking and the other was a 2004 Chateaux Beauregard, a Pomerol and therefore a Right Bank to the Belgrave’s Left.  The Beauregard is made solely from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grape varieties; the Belgrave containing these but also a good proportion (nearly a third) of Cabernet Sauvignon and also Petit Verdot.

In a direct comparison, Mark could definitely tell that they were two significantly different wines but (like me) struggled to fine the descriptors to describe the differences.  The Beauregard was fruitier and also has a smooth richness that the Belgrave lacked.  The Belgrave – as with many Left Bank wines – was spicier and had a minerally edge.

Mark likened the tasting to that of looking at a colour spectrum; flavours not being separate but blending into one continuous series of subtly changing tones.  While someone with an eye for colour, he said, could pick a crimson from a Persian red, he was still at the stage of telling green from yellow!  Nicely put, I thought.

2708.jpgLast Thursday, Michelle and I left the kids at home with my parents and went down to Cap Ferret for a night away.  My folks had been down there with some friends and loved the place.  They’d also eaten at a lovely restaurant in what looked like a very nice hotel, so they suggested that we try it.  Cap Ferret’s about 60km to the south west of Bordeaux, right at the end of the thin spit of land across the bay (or ‘Bassin’) from Arcachon.  It’s become quite trendy over the last decade or so, to the point that property prices are now astronomical.  It’s to Bordeaux what somewhere like Whitstable is to London, I guess.

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Prompted by my old buddy James Warren, I’ve just had a listened to the first ever Berry Bros. & Rudd podcast – sorry, podcask (a truly awful pun, for which I am a sucker).  As full disclosure, James has been involved in recent BBR PR activities, specifically related to new media-type stuff, so it’s not a huge surprise to see a podcast appear on the BBR website.

Inevitably, I guess, the company’s first podcast (which it also claims is the first by a wine merchant) spends a while explaining just what BBR is and does – in fact, it spends about the first half of its eight minutes or so doing just that.  But, as it’s the Chairman himself Simon Berry doing the chatting and you’ve been eased into it all with a nice piece of classical music, it doesn’t seem too blatant. 

Just as you are getting slightly concerned the whole thing’s going to be a BBR advertisement, however, Simon quickly gets into his thoughts on the Bordeaux 2006 vintage.  Very briefly (as we all suspected) it’s nowhere near as good as the 2005 (Simon reckons it could be a touch better than 2004, particularly on the Right Bank) but the worry is that prices won’t adjust accordingly.

But don’t take my word for it!  Have a listen.  It’s a decent length for a podcast and fairly engaging.  A good first effort which bodes well for the future.

Sadly, I have to end this post on a less positive note.  I opened the Reserve de la Comtesse 1988 this evening.  Corked.  Nasty.  I’m well and truly gutted.

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.

21-march.JPGWe opened a couple of bottles last night (though I must stress, we didn’t finish them both!) – the Chateau Phelan-Segur 2001 St-Estephe red and an Abeille de Fieuzal 2003 Pessac-Leognan white. 

The L’Abeille de Fieuzal is the second wine of Chateau de Fieuzal, of which we have previously very much enjoyed a 1998 vintage of its red.  I’m keen to visit the Pessac-Leognan AC – it’s the premium appellation of the Graves region and includes some of the suburbs of Bordeaux itself.  Chateau de Fieuzal itself sits a little further out, to the south-west of the town of Leognan.  It’s a very crisp, light white – really very nice and easy drinking as an aperitif.  In fact, as a white to drink on its own, I’d probably say it edges the Chateau Bouscaut we’re tried from the same region. 

Chateau Phelan-Segur sits right in the village of St-Estephe itself, towards the nortern end of the Medoc region – in fact it’s the most northern of the individual village ACs, being above Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux.  St-Estephe is probably the least well-regarded of the village ACs that slope gently down to the shores of the Gironde, mainly due to the fact that the soil changes quite significantly north of Pauillac, containing less of the cherised gravel and more clay.  Reputation has it that St-Estephe produces much earthier wines – and the Phelan-Segur was typical!  I thought I’d got a mouthful of soil…OK, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but it certainly had an extremely minerally edge.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but fruity flavours only forced their way through on a couple of occasions (nice suprise when they did, however!)

One final note following yesterday’s post; I’ve received an email from iDealwine saying that my Reserve de la Comtesse 1998 is on the way and should arrive in the next few days.  I’m holding my breath…

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.

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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