Three worthy reds…

I recently attended a presentation on the challenges climate change presented to growers in Bordeaux. Now before you think Im going to fly half way round the world by private jet to preach nonsense from a pink boat in Trafalgar Square, I’m not. In fact, I would gladly see the whole bunch of eco hypocrytes lined up for a bit of well deserved, high velocity lead poisoning.

Anyway, in brief:

  1. 95% of IR heat is retained of which 20% is retained by the soil
  2. 30% less light for photosyntheses – meaning less fruit
  3. Summers are hotter and dryer, winters wetter and warmer – which increases disease
  4. Producteurs may have to consider cooling their chais where barrels are stored for maturation
  5. Warming also risks the fragile conditions for creation of noble rot in Sauternes, less mist, less mushrooms that create the Boytritus – Oh, no – please, please not!
  6. All of which causes the grapes to be smaller, with less flavour producing more alcohol, less acidic with increased Ph
  7. In winter vines need to rest at temps below 8 degrees C for several days, preferably weeks which affects the grapes
  8. Yields generally drop and overall taste, aroma etc is poorer
  9. Each degree of warming is equivalent to moving south by 180Km, so the Loire now has similar conditions to that of Bordeaux another +2 degrees would favour SE of UK

After this there was an opportunity to taste three reds, first up: Domain de Pellehaut a Cotes de Gascogne assembled with an interesting cepage of Merlot, Tannat, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet and Pinot Noir. Very impressed with the light, fruity but not overpowering taste which worked well with aperitif cold meats etc. So here is their website

Second was a very convincing Ventous by the name of Orca, very big red typical of the region without being too over the top. Anyway a most enjoyable example of Ventous. Regretably, their website is fairly terrible – as unfortunately a lot of French wine growers websites are. The requirement for most web site designs in France seems to be ‘make this as useless as possible’

Finally Chauteau Naudy, this is an AOC Bordeaux Supérieur which has won a fair few awards and medals so expectations quite high. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Petit Verdot gives it that spicy flavour, the wine is élevé en fût de chêne but thankfully the tannin very well controlled and not over powering. Great smooth wine and good example of its region so six from 2015 purchased.Find out more about Chateau Naudy here, but why is a magnum 5 euros more than two bottles? yes, this is France!

Pineau

The origin of this drink was when a wine producer accidentally poured grape juice into a barrel containing brandy. The barrel was hidden, untill the next year it was required for the harvest. It was discovered the accidental mixture had become an extremely good drink.

Heres how to make it along with some variations.

Firstly, for true Pineau or ‘Vrai Pineau’ by the traditional method:

To make 20 litres you will need:
Ideally, a 20 litre or slightly larger wooden barrel, chestnut for the real deal
or other suitable 20 litre container with lid ie: 20 litre glass bon bon
15 litres of unfermented grape juice – mousse de rasin
5 litres of Eau de Vie at 60% abv

Next, just mix the grape juice with Eau de Vie at a ratio of 3:1
To make 20 litres, you’ll need 15 litres of grape juice with 5 litres of Eau de Vie.
If your barrel is new or has dried out, then it must first be prepared for filling. To do this, fill with water and soak for several days whilst checking for leaks. Once satisfied all is well, drain the water and fill with your Pineau mix so the barrel does not dry out
So fill your barrel with the mix
Allow to mature for about 6 months or a year – it’s around 15% ABV depends on the strength of the Eau de Vie.
You can add a little more Eau de Vie if you wish but I find 3:1 @ 60% to get to around 15% about right, none of this is an exact science, so experiment!
Bottle it then leave a further few months to allow sediment to settle, you may like to re-bottle once the sediment has settled for a clearer finish.
Thats it!

Notes: 1. It is important to prevent fermentation so check that no bubbles appear and add a dash of Eau de vie if they do. 2. If you dont have a wooden barrel, you could always try cutting some Chestnut wood and adding to your container.

Pressing grapes for Pineau with a 25 litre Italian mini press

Next: Fruit soaked in Eau de Vie and wine, locally known as vin cuit – although cooked wine it isn’t:

Ingredients:

1 litre of eau de vie
5 litres of wine (red or white depending on colour of fruit)
1 Kg of fruit – more if you wish to have more fruity taste, I use about 1.25Kg
Between 250 – 500g of sugar

You’ll need a large container, ideally a 10 litre bonbon with a stopper. I’ve found it beneficial to freeze then de-frost the fruit for an improved taste. This works very well with mirabelle pineau with the resultant drink having a similar taste to the wine from Sauternes.

Method:

First remove any stones from the fruit, this is essential as they will impart a bitter taste if not. Check you have sufficient fruit: 1.0 or 1.2 kg and place in your bon bon or container.
Pour 1 litre of Eau de Vie into the bonbon and mix with the fruit which must be completely submerged in the Eau de Vie.

Leave this for a week agitating every couple of days – I do this as I think it helps prevent any unwanted fermentation.

Next add the wine and a small amount of sugar say 250g and mix it up.
Agitate every other day for about 30 days – you can do this every day if desired
Taste and add sugar if needed – note you can add sugar but you can’t take it out, so best to add a little then check after a couple of days. You can leave it more than 30 days if the taste has not fully developed – my longest waited 3 months.

Bottle and wait for any sediment to settle. It’s around 17% ABV but depends on the strength of the Eau de Vie and the wine used.

Thats it!

Vin de Noix

Ingredients:

1 litre of eau de vie
5 litres of red wine
40 green walnuts picked before the shell starts to form – this is usually about a week before Bastille day and can be tested with a needle. Its vital to get this right! About 250 – 500g sugar, depending on final taste.

You also need a large container, ideally 10 litre bonbon with a stopper.

Method:

Pour the 1 litre of Eau de Vie into the bonbon.
Cut the nuts into quarters as you quarter them place in the bon bon with the Eau de Vie – they must be submerged in the Eau de Vie, they will go brown.

Leave this for a week and agitate every couple of days – I do this as I think it helps prevent any unwanted fermentation.

Now add in the 5 litres of red wine and about 250g of sugar and mix this all up
Agitate every other day for a total of 40 days
After about 30 days taste and add sugar if needed – note you can add sugar but you can’t take it out, so best to add a little then check after a couple of days.

Bottle and wait for any sediment to settle. It’s around 17-18% ABV but depends on the strength of the Eau de Vie and the wine used.

Country wine

My work is nearly done…

Often next to a chateau are smaller producteurs working more or less the same terroir, frequently run by employees from next door making similar wine on a smaller scale. After that, tiny vinyards of a few hectares, sometimes managed by a group of determined friends who work in return for wine, produce vin de table for their every day drinking. Sadly this important part of French life, with increasing regulation is on the demise. Thankfully it flourishes in some rural areas where beauocratic interference to what is, an integral part of French life is held with the contempt it justly deserves.

The great thing is that some of them produce very acceptable wines at a fairly reasonable price point. Visit any ‘cave a vin’ in France and usually at the back, they will have a selection of stainless steel tanks offering local producteurs wine. Known as vin en vrac (wine in bulk or loose wine) it’s around 2 euros a litre, try some you might be surprised.

One holiday years ago, we overshot our exit from the auto route but found an amazing route down the Loire valley. Stopping briefly to buy some fruit and veg for the weekend, the producteur also sold local wine in 5 litre plastic barrels. It tasted amazing, almost black ink in colour which threw a massive sediment in the glass and truely memorable.

So next time you are in France, try some and give the smaller producteurs a chance.

Another grand day out

Our next trip featured two Loire valley chateaux in the Saumur region, first up is Chateau Langlois. The chateau is grasping the benefits of wine tourism with an Ecole du Vin, restaurant and well appointed tasting room.

After a refresh in the geology of the area and the scale of economies producing wine under the AOC system, we were given a guided tour of the wine production facilities which were very modern with much automation.

Our guide showed us the 1 Km long caves below, housing hundreds of thousands of bottles. During this, we were shown the method champenoise and how the lees are ingeniously removed by freezing, then opening the bottle.

Of the wines we tasted the Domain Langlois-Chateau Saumur rouge – cabernet franc was considered the better, the whites and roses were good but just seemed a little over priced for what they offered.

Lunch: A short distance away was the restaurant La Table des Fouees, carved into the rock like the storage cellars, it remained a very pleasant temperature. The menu was very good with further opportunity for enjoying the Langlois wines. Regrettably, we were whisked away before chance of a digistiff as the afternoons visit to Chateau Parnay was already behind schedule.

Chateau Langlois
3 rue Léopold Palustre
Saint Hilaire Saint Florent
49400 Saumur
Tel: 0033 (0)2 41 40 21 40

E-Mail : contact@langlois-chateau.fr

Château de Parnay: A jewel in the crown of the AOC Saumur Champigny and a UNESCO world heritage site which has a enjoyed a very prestigious history supplying wines to Edward VII and the Tsar of Russia. Edward VII once wrote to a former owner, Antoine Cristal: “If the alchemists of the great work had known your wines, they would not have gone any further in search of drinking gold”.

Mathias Levron & Régis Vincenot took over in 2006 with a determination to restore the chateau and its wines to former prestige and glory and so far have done an admirable job. Ch Parnay was certified organic in 2013 and frequently win medals and awards at wine fairs. One of their many ambitions is to produce a wine from every variety of Loire grapes.

Most noteable on their estate is a walled section of the vinyard, with chimens – walls interspaced with three lines of vines. It was built at the end of the 19th century by Antoine Crystal and now classified as a historical monument. Ingeniously planted with the root on the shady side of the wall with the stem fed through a hole allowing leaves and grapes to bask on the sunny side. This not only provides shelter from frost but also protection from Phylloxera, a small aphid that feeds on the leaves and sap of the vine. Vinyards in Burgundy are often walled, noteably the 6 Hectare La Tache – probably the finest Romanee Conti which saved their vines during the outbreak towards the end of the 19th century which affected most of Europe.

Back at the chateau we were shown a maze of troglodyte caves and cellars housing maturing barrels, after which the modern tasting room a few hundred metres away beckoned.

First up: Chemin des Murs and very good it was too. The nose typical of a refined Chenin Blanc with fresh citrus fruits and a hint of quince. To the palate smooth, round with citrus fruit aromas, lasting with good length and six bottles were ordered. Not everyone agreed but wine is a personal thing with Chenin Blanc a favourite white grape of mine. I was extremely tempted by the Clos D’entre les Murs but it’s understandably expensive. A red was also tried, whilst very smooth, was unfortunately lacking and we all agreed the Langlois Cabernet Franc the better.

Chateau de Parnay
1 Rue A Crystal
49730 Parnay
0033 (0)2 41 38 10 85

A grand day out

Very few things will get me up early, but the prospect of visiting two chateaux in Graves with lunch is one of them. So there we were at 06.45 waiting for our coach to transport our party to Cérons then Cadillac which lies just to the north of the Sauternes/Barsac region. An opportunity to sample the regions wines lay ahead, I’m a great fan of Graves and Sauternes and the weather looked very promising.

Our first stop was Clos Bourgelat in Cérons where we tasted a selection of Graves rouge and blancs under the enthusiastic guidance of Dominique Lafosse whose family have produced wine on the estate for generations since 1889. All the wines were very good, with some varied opinions on which white was the better of three offered.
Production of Sauternes styled wine is a tricky and expensive affair. The autumn mists from the river, encourage the growth of a mushroom which in turn create the conditions for Botyritis which in turn, infects the grapes with the fungus which starts noble rot. This delicate process reduces the acidity of the grape whilst increasing sweetness and aroma. To me, it’s0 just pure alchemy along with the skill of the producteur who must pick four times the amount of grapes than what goes into an ordinary bottle of wine, making your 20 euro bottle of Sauternes a real wine bargain!

So, our next wine – Clos Bourgelat AOC Cérons was a complete surprise. First taste I considered it a good Sauternes around the 18 euro mark which is entry level. A truly excellent wine at a very reasonable 11.90 euros (2019) and what a find. The Cérons AOC is an appellation for sweet white wines produced in a similar style to Sauternes, picking late to encourage noble rot. As there are no classified estates this makes it well priced and highly reccomended.

Next up was their Vignobeles de Sanches Sauternes, which really was something special, a kaleidoscope of flavour in every sip and what’s more it displayed all the attributes of a wine that should age beautifully – in my opinion that is which proved correct when next tasted in 2020 showing very promising development.

Clos Bourgelat: 4, Caulet Sud, 33720 Cérons
Tel: 05 56 27 01 73

Following that we crossed the Garonne to Cadillac for lunch on the terrace at the Château de la Tour hotel and restaurant for an exceptional meal accompanied by Dominique with a further opportunity to enjoy the excellent selection his wines with our meal, he even had one that went well with the chocolate desert.

After lunch we had an extremely nice walk along the cliffs with stunning views of Sauternes and the very prestigious estate, Château d’Yquem champion of Sauternes stood out with its majestic buildings.

It’s worthy to note that Château d’Yquem is the only estate ranked Premier Cru Supérieur by the 1855 classification a level above that of the first growths of the Medoc.

So, next stop was Château Bardins in Pessac-Léognan formerly Graves with another tasting following an interesting explanation on the difficulties of cultivating vines under the biologique certification. They are currently five years in to the seven year process but their wine didn’t convince me. However a fair few others thought otherwise buying several cases and before too long we were on a way back accompanied by the satisfying chink of bottles from the back.

Château BARDINS – Chemin de la Matole – 33140 Cadaujac
GPS : 44°44.O.N.– 0°34.72.

Tél: 05 56 30 78 01

Finally, thank you for the invitation, a fantastic day and very much appreciated.

Les moules sont arrivées…

It’s Friday the first of June and alerted by a van sounding its horn making deliveries in the village, our neighbour knocked the front door saying “Les moules, les moules sont arrivées…”, followed by a scramble to find a container and some cash. Five minutes later a litre of moules and six oysters picked earlier the same morning were procured and yes they really are that fresh.

It’s one of many things I really like about living here as a lot of food is seasonal, you sometimes get a glut so the price goes down and then it’s over. Our weekly moules delivery starts early June and lasts until the end of September, maybe a week into October and that’s it. Fin.

iPhone6s

So, what’s a good wine to drink with moules? Well it depends how you cook them but you won’t go wrong with a dry white like Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc from Daheron, but if cooked in a Thai sauce then their Grolleau Gris is a fine choice. If you can find it then Chateau Jaubertie Cuvee Tradition blanc would also make a good choice.

With Oysters again it’s a crisp dry white so Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Plant, Muscadet or an unoaked Chardonnay are a few that spring to mind or Chablis or dry Champagnes or sparkling whites. The more adventurous could try contrast with Sauternes, Cerons which is Sauternes style or similar sweet wines or I’m told they go well with a single malt.

The more delicate whites such as Sancerre, its neighbour Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy may be overwhelmed in my opinion.

Chateau Gravas – L’Espirit de Gravas

I was very fortunate to receive a bottle of this good looking Sauternes recently, it’s the second wine of Chateau Gravas of which several critics have rated quite highly.

I’m a great fan of ‘second’ wines, often some first wines can be rather pricey whilst the so called ‘second’ wine often from younger vines, can be nearly as good at half the price. La Sirene de Giscours being another good example.

Six generations have produced wine at the small estate, which until 1930 was just one hectare, since then it’s increased to twenty hectares, small but perfectly formed springs to mind as both L’Esprit and their first wine have some good ratings and positive reviews on wine searcher. The chateau lies barely 4 Kms from the village of Barsac and is open week days only. Like everywhere else in France, shuts for lunch. See here for more to visit – a reservation in advance is adviseable.

I must say the L’Esprit de Gravas is extremely good, bouquet, classic Sauternes with honey and hints of quince and lemon, good length – can’t wait to try their first wine.

Their web site is here

Wine searcher: Chateau Gravas & L’Espirit de Gravas

Chateau Gravas may be well worth a visit as it was awarded ‘Best of wine tourism d’or 2014’.

6 lieu dit Gravas, 33720 Barsac
Tel 05 56 27 06 91

Chateau Cissac

I’ve followed Chateau Cissac for many years, it was probably one of the first seriously good Bordeaux styled wines purchased when Oddbins first opened in Plymouth around 1980. Cissac remained one of a few modestly priced wines when everything else from the Haut Medoc became far too popular and subsequently over priced.

Located at the northern end of the Haut Medoc just off the D104 between Pauillac and St Estephe, Chateau Cissac was built in the 18th century on the ruins of a Roman villa. In 1855 the chateau was classified Cru Bourgeois which Louis Vailard inherited around 1940. He devoted several decades to restoring the vinyard to its former glory, during this time he re-planted extensively and modernised whilst respecting traditional wine making methods. Cissac gained many enthusiastic followers in France, the UK and America. Today, Cissac punches well above its 1855 Cru Bourgeois classification whilst remaining modestly priced around 15 euros a bottle.
Sadly Louis passed away in 2009 but the good work is now continued by his daughter Danielle and grandaughter Marie assisted by their technical director Laurent Saint Pasteur .

Cissac is located at the northern end of the Haut Medoc between the Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac appellations. Their wine is a blend of elegant Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignon and spicy Petit Verdots which are picked by hand. It has a distinctive depth of colour with a subtle ballance between aromas of cherry, plums and dark fruits mingled with liquorice and a hint of smoke.
It’s worth noting that Chateau Mouton-Rothschild lies just 8 Km to the east from Cissac so their terroir is similar to one of the greatest.

There is also a second wine: Reflets de Chateau Cissac, I suspect from the younger vines which I have yet to try and intend to do so at the next visit.

20 Rue de l’Église, 33250 Cissac-Médoc
Tel: 05 56 59 58 13

Discover more about Chateau Cissac here and when you try some, raise your glass to Louis and the Vialard family, who have achieved so much for Chateau Cissac since 1940.

Clos Floridene – Graves

Some 46 years ago, Graves was my first glass of wine at the Bennets End Inn near Ludlow, it was wonderful with the roast beef and since then I’ve always had a soft spot for Graves. Recently in 1987 a large part of Graves was allocated for a new appelation: Pessac-Leognan named after two villages now almost encompassed by the urban sprawl of Bordeaux. The Graves region takes its name from the gravel soil beds predominant in both appelations and produces some superb wines right up to Premier Grand Cru Classe. Presitigous Graves Chateaux include: Haut Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte which all became Pessac-Leognan following the change. This has benefitted those applicable to use the new appelation, but is somewhat unfair to the remainder of Graves.

With the exception of Ch Haut Brion and the Sauternes region, no other chateaux were ranked by the 1855 clasification. This was rectified in 1953, but it was 1959 before Graves was formally classified, restoring pride and status to the regions wines. Therefore you will see no reference to the 1855 classification on a Graves label unless you’re lucky to be drinking an old Haut Brion.

I’ve enjoyed Chateau Jouvente for several years and this led me to search for another first class affordable Graves when Clos Floridene caught my eye recently, perhaps it was the simple label with the ship? Anyway, Clos Floridene was started by the highly respected oenologist: Denis Dubourdieu, director of the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences at the University of Bordeaux with his wife Florence in 1982. They own four other estates, of which their family estate Chateau Doisy-Daene produces an excellent Barsac ranked Grand Cru Classé (second growth – hopefully next visit). They also produce: L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne under the Sauternes AOC as is permitted in Barsac which looks rather exceptional around 95/100 and priced accordingly so they must be doing something rather special. M Dubourdieu is also credited for the overall improvement of Bordeaux whites and consultant to the renowned Chateau Cheval Blanc in St Emilion – Premier grand cru classé A, making the Clos Floridene Blanc somewhat highly desirable.

Clos Floridene reds are frequently ranked around 86-90 by the Parker index, the whites slighty higher whilst remaining well priced.

Clos Floridene is here just a short distance from Barsac and not far from the river Ciron which flows through the Sauternes region.

Clos Floridene, 33410 Beguey
Tel: 05 56 62 96 51

Chateau Pierrail

About 20 years ago, I walked into Giddings in Devizes to buy some wine, I couldn’t help over hearing a conversation regarding the merits of a certain red and joined the discussion, one sip convinced me I’d found something really very special. For many years Chateau Cissac was our favourite, but with increasing popularity it became too expensive. The search for a successor had ended in a stunning success…

So, if you’re looking for an excellent red wine that doesn’t cost the earth, you’ve just discovered the gold medal winning needle in the haystack:
Chateau Pierrail was in decline until 1970 when it was bought and extensively renovated by the Demonchaux family. Since then they have restored the Chateau and its gardens, modernised the winemaking whilst observing the traditional methods to produce excellent bordeaux superior that is well above its ranking and frequently scores 87-90. Their techniques are based on quality and natural wine with restricted yields.

Alice Demonchaux introduces Chateau Pierrail

Chateau Pierrail cépage is 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s good on its own or with red meat: Duck, lamb or beef and good to pair with cheese although it needs care to achieve the best match.

Tasting fiche

Andreas Larsoson tastes Chateau Pierrail

A ‘second’ and excellent wine in its own right is also produced – Cuvee Les Hauts de Naudon has also won many awards which consists of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc and both reds are aged in high quality oak barrels. Alice informed me a Paris bistro takes a pallet of Naudon each month & I can understand why as its very good.

Pierrails other wines are also wonderful, fresh and aromatic:
Rose – Cabernet Sauvignon
Blanc – 70% Sauvignon blanc 30% Sauvignon Gris – both are well worth trying.

Available from:
Chateau Pierrail Address: 39 Lieu-dit Le Pierrail, 33220 Margueron, France. Tél: 00 33 (0)5 57 41 21 75

Chateau Pierrail is often compared to my other favourite red, Chateau Cissac. Alice has reliably informed me Chateau Pierrail is often rated the better of the two and after numerous comparisons, I agree.

Further information on Wine Searcher
If you try some, raise your glass to Alice and Jacques Demonchaux and their family for restoring Chateau Pierrail and producing an excellent range of wines.