After a lot of planning done by Simon Farr, our UK partner, we received our final itinerary for our trip to Bordeaux and Loire valley, and boy oh boy were we excited to get on that plane.
This was a first visit to France for me; both David and Simon have been there before. So, I could not contain my excitement, not just to be in France, but to be doing a very intense week of tasting through one of the most well-known wine regions in in the world.
We met Simon, Pillar and Derek at Bordeaux airport (from Garage Wine Company, Chile), squeezed into a Renault Scenic and off we went, en-route our first stop:
I was not too familiar with the region prior to the trip, but what a great visit it was. It is a historic appellation in the South West of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It produces only white wines, dry whites and more sought after sweet white wines, predominantly made from Gros and Petit Manseng, but also includes Courbu, Camaralet and Lauzet. (The latter 2 virtually extinct)
The average rainfall here is 1200mm, and soils are alluvial, clay-limestone and some vineyards that are situated lower towards the river contain rocks known as Poudingues (similar to pudding stones that we have here at Sijnn).
When we arrived mid-day, at our ‘nest’ for that night, we were all pretty tired after all the travelling, but lunch (Auberge des Roses) is always more important than sleep… or so I learned on this trip. Simon made a point of it to give us a true French experience when it came to the dining. Almost every meal felt like it was three courses, I was definitely not complaining.
Our first appointment was at Domaine Nigri. I had absolutely no expectations of Jurançon (unlike one would have for Bordeaux), and what a lovely experience this was. We were met by owner Jean-Louis Lacoste. What a humble and down to earth man. This was definitely the most in depth visit of the whole trip.
We are planning to plant some Petit Manseng at Sijnn so being there and seeing the vines, and listening to Jean-Louis talking about it was really encouraging and made me excited to see what it could do at Sijnn. They spend a lot of time managing the vines, particularly the Petit Manseng. They get a specific machine which ties the shoots once it is a certain length, to keep them together and not all over the place. (I also learnt that the labour regulations work a bit different in France, and that it is a hassle to employ someone, so they rather use machinery) We tasted an array of beautiful wines, some 100% Petit Manseng, as well as blends of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng or 100% Gros Manseng.
We also paid visits to Charles Hours and Cauhape. Domaine Cauhape is situated at Monein, in the heart of Bearn. Here we met with Henri Ramonteu. We did an extensive tasting of all the wines, mostly Petit and Gros Manseng. Both Petit and Gros Manseng are used to create sweet (moelleux) and dry (sec) wines. Gros Manseng has a larger berry and yield with pleasant, balanced acidity mostly used for dry whites. Petit Manseng with smaller berries, lower yield and high acidity is typically the main component of the sought after rich dessert wines.
Day two of the trip we moved along to Bordeaux, and met up with Ben Collins (Simons partner at Cru who started Bibendum with him too). Of course our intro to Bordeaux had to start with dinner at a typical brasserie (L’Orleans) in the centre of the city. Paul Hoogwerf, who helped us at Sijnn and De Trafford during and after harvest 2016 met up with us. He is studying his Masters in Wine Tourism and Marketing and was great to catch up with the Young Gun!
Bordeaux, just the most famous wine region in the world, and we got to taste most 2016 wines and got to see almost all the cellars ‘behind the scenes’. Yes, this blew my mind! The wines were a pleasure to taste. The tannins of the wines were definitely something that stood out on this trip. In Bordeaux they make quite a big deal of IPT (the index that measures total phenol content), and 2016 delivered big IPTs’. They normally range around 65 but this year saw an average of about 80-100, with some batches being 120. The wines were youthful, yet exceptional.
The 2015 growing season was seen as somewhat dry, but they had some good rain in September to give the vines the last boost they need. Whilst tasting the wine there, I just realized, that when you taste the wine in the place it is made, it makes so much more sense and completes the whole picture in your mind.
We visited the cream of the crop whilst we were in Bordeaux, my first ‘first growth’ and ‘château’ experience. As rich and pristine Bordeaux is, they have been hit by immense frost in their 2017 growing season, and most, if not all growers, have had some damage. As we drove past vineyards, it was very sad to see so many dead shoots, and also very sad to see one side of the road the whole vineyard is affected and just across the road the vineyard is fine (low lying areas are affected more).
We started the day at Château Palmer. My obsession with roses started here, and the fact that all their buildings are just beautifully arranged with roses.
This Château is owned by 4 friends from the UK and the Netherlands. A remarkable property and the winery itself is clean and very well looked after. That is one thing that just struck me; everything is in extremely good condition and looks neat. This vineyard has been farmed bio dynamically since 2014. It was rather interesting; they have three different sorting processes before the grapes actually go into their fermenter. Although the vineyards are managed bio dynamically, the cellar does not operate that way yet.
We got to taste their ‘Alter Ego’ (second wine) and the Grand Vin 2016. Most of the 2016 wines we tasted were showed at the en-premier a few weeks back. This wine was a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 12% Petit Verdot. Beautiful fresh black fruits and lovely youthful tannins. They yield around 29hl/ha, a lot less than most of Margaux, but this is due to them switching to biodynamical vineyards.
Up next we moved on to Saint Julien; Château Beychevelle. The place has a lot of history. In the 17th century the First Duke of Epernon became the owner of the Château, he had quite the reputation and if boats passed in front of his estate, they would lower their sails to show their allegiance. This led to the emblem, a ship with a griffon on, and the whole design of the cellar. We tasted two wines, 2014 blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot. The second wine was a 2011, which was more classical. Bordeaux wines are structured and intense wines.
Our next visit was sure a fun one, and my first foot in a Château. (You can just imagine me freaking out on the inside, but having to play it super cool and pretending to be used to having lunch in a château.) Château Pontet Canet was a highlight for me on the trip. We had a very educational trip around the vineyards. They have 81ha of vines and all farmed bio dynamically. Here they still work with their horses and you can see the vineyards are in a very good and happy state.
Moving along to the cellar, where you could see it was ‘old’ with a modern twist. I was especially surprised by the amount of amphoras’ they used, it was a refreshing site. Alfred Tesseron (owner) was a great treat. A very soft spoken, but intelligent character. We were then invited to have lunch with Alfred, the owner, in his home with his private chef. A great man with a lot of plans. (In 2016 Alfred purchased an estate in Napa of the late Robin Williams). If I have not mentioned yet, they say French people know how to cook and enjoy all their meals, it is absolutely true. We did not stop here for a boring old sandwich, oh no, a three-course meal with incredible wines.
After the lovely lunch we moved on to Paulliac, first growth grower, Château Mouton Rothschild. (My first, first-growth) I must confess Mouton and Marguaux were the two Châteaux I was looking forward to the most. Owned by Baroness Philippine, a family owned Château. Mouton Rothschild spans over 90 ha of vines, to the northwest of Bordeaux, on the edge of the Medoc peninsula.
All of Bordeaux is pretty flat and Mouton was nothing different, it consists of a series of hillocks, less than 40m high. The soils are mostly gravelly soils, and not very great for growing anything else but vines. The tour through the cellar was like something in a movie or theatre. Baroness Philippine has a fascination with art and theatre and so she designed the building around that. Walking in there felt like we were going to attend some kind of show, with lights and the walls ‘sucking’ you in. They are also well known for their label being different each year and made by a famous artist each year.
We tasted the 2016 red, this had to be one of our best wines, or at least one of the most structured yet beautifully composed wines that we tasted of 2016. Sheer power and structure yet elegant flavours and tannins. Unfortunately we were rushed for time and did not have a chance to go through all the barrel rooms and art gallery.
We also visited Château Pichon Lalande, previously owned by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing of Glenelly. After visiting and tasting the wines of Langoa Barton and Leoville Barton and a very successful day, dinner was served at one of the most divine places, La Tupina, in Bordeaux city. An absolute treat. It has a very rustic look and situated in a dark alley, but when you get inside the flavours that loom in the room are to die for. All the food (or at least most of the fired food) is made as you walk into the restaurant, making it feel extremely ‘homey’. From fries made in duck fat, to roast chicken on the open fire… it was delicious and you could taste the attention and wholesomeness.
After a feast of a dinner, we started the next morning in Saint Estephe, at Château Calon Segur. The estate consists of 55 ha of vines. The vineyard is made up of one single block, which is adjacent to the village of Saint-Estephe. (It is surrounded by a stone wall). It has quite a unique soil composition, a deep gravel layer, deposited by the river, which is then covered by a clay layer. The clay and gravel combo gives a lot of power and finesse in the wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon makes up over three quarters of the blends. I particularly enjoyed these wines, amazing structure and intensity to them. First we tried the Château Capbern which was really great. It is 69% Cab Sauv, 25% Merlot, 4 % Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot and spends 18 months in 60% new oak. Such deep intense flavours but a sense of lightness to it. But my favourite from them was the Chatea Calon Segur 2016. It had amazing tannin structure, 100% new oak, and darkly spiced palate with liquorice, mint and violets. This wine had a high IPT of 80. Blend consisted of 60% cab, 20% Merlot and 18% Cab franc 2% Petit verdot.
We had a short visit to Château Ormes des Pez, essentially to try the highly rated Château Lynch Bages 2016 (the Château was undergoing extensive renovations, as they do!). It was so tannic, with an IPT of 95, that it was difficult to see the real beauty – maybe in 30 years?
Next visit was picturesque, Second growth grower Château Pichon Baron. We tasted a range of wines, which included, Château Pibran ’16 (Pauillac), Les Tourelles Longueville ’16 (Pauillac), Les Griffons de Pichin Baron, Château Pichon Baron ’14 and ’16 and then the whites; Le Blanc Sec de Suduiraut ’16 and Château Suduiraut premiere cru ’14. I have to admit here I was very impressed with the whites. Such finesse, beautiful structured acidity, followed by a honeyed sweetness.
After Baron we hopped over to First growth, Château Latour. Walking in, everything feels rather fancy. We were taken to a very smart room where we watched the history of the estate. Here we tasted 2012 Pauillac, 2011 Les Forts De Latour and my personal favourite of Latour, the 2004 Grand vin de Château Latour.
We then went to one of the places I looked forward to the most, and I guess it is the most well know château in Bordeaux, Châteaux Margaux. I realised when I arrived in France that their history of wine is something most of us cannot comprehend, or even think back that far, and when I entered Margaux I once again was reminded by history and why they are where they are today and how they became so successful.
The architecture is amazing. With David being an architect, it was always great to see how he looked at things very differently to how we look at them, and the appreciation. The estate has been occupied since at least the 12th century. The latest architectural addition was done by Norman Foster, a whole new ‘wing’ was added to the winery.
It must have been really difficult to add something to a feeling so historic in all the buildings, yet be pushing the envelope and the quality to greater heights. He definitely achieved his goal by making it feel integrated yet different.
We did a short tour of the estate. They have the latest technology and whatever you need, they have it. You need a cooper, they have one on site, making their own barrels for them… The Margaux 2004 was close on of my favourite wines of the trip. Elegant, smooth, yet structured. A classic vintage. The wine has finesse and purity, and a subtle combination of floral, fruit and spice. The tannins are tight, yet fine and tender. These wines are made to age.
I got my picture in front of the well know Château of Margaux and then we moved onto Rauzan Segla. A second growth owned by Chanel, oh and what a beautiful place. Very simplistic / minimalistic, as only Chanel can do. This was totally beautiful and any girl will go crazy for the detail involved. Since I was the only girl on the trip, I enjoyed all the detail a bit more than the boys did! Luckily not just the interior was beautiful but the wines were really clean and pure quality.
Château Haut-Bailly was next up and we tasted a few wines including the 2016 blend. We were hosted by the winemaker himself, and this is always such a great experience, to get all information ‘first hand’. All of these wines were of incredible quality. Haut-Bailly is from the Pessac-Léognan appellation, in the Graves. The winery and vineyards are located south of the city of Bordeaux, in Leognan.
My personal all round favourite visit was at Carmes Haut Brion. From the wines to the cellar setup. When we arrived I was surprised by where it was situated, literally ‘in town’, Pessac-Léognan in the region of Graves. The architecture was amazing; the cellar was built in a boat shape, designed by Phillipie Starck, on water.
When you enter you are greeted by the most amazing and interesting concrete tanks, not flashy yet extremely modern. Compared to the rest of Bordeaux this was very ‘down to earth’. Not lacking any detail or quality, but more ‘normal’ and different to the flashy Bordeaux we saw. We tasted a range of wines, including the Grand Vin 2016, which were very refreshing. They also use amphora, more for their Cab Franc. It was great to see how they experiment and play around more, yet creating beautiful wines.
The best wine we tasted of the whole trip had to be at Château Haut Brion. The whole experience was ‘rich’. We did a cellar tour, where I learned that they were the first winery to move to Stainless steel tanks. We then moved over to their own cooperage, ridiculous I know, but when in Bordeaux… We tasted the 2011 Château Haut Brion, it was rich, big, yet had a finesse to it, and you can just taste the quality all round on the pallet.
We then headed to Château Chevallier. It was such a relaxed experience, we tasted through some barrels with the owner before joining the family for lunch. We then headed to Saint-Emillion. What an amazing town, a medieval feeling, because it is! One of the other places that stole my ‘girly’ heart was Château Canon, again owned by Chanel. I just loved the décor and how simple, clean and pristine it is. We tasted 2016 and 2011, such beautiful clean pure wines. Just to make it clear, the whole look was remarkable and loved the detail but the wines are top quality, so this just made whole experience very attractive.
We met Alexandre Thienpont at Vieux Chateau Certan (who also makes Le Pin next door) and tasted the remarkable 2016 in the cellar. We stopped at Château Soutard, where David did his harvest in 1989. Sadly it was sold by the De Ligneris family a while back and according to David looks a lot more commercial now. After a refreshing beer in St Emilion we headed on to:
A totally different experience to Bordeaux. It is a more ‘normal’ and laid back place and experience was more relaxed, yet not lacking quality at all. Here we could relate more to the style they were making and to how they were doing things.
Our first stop was in Vouvray, Domaine Huet. Such a basic cellar, and mostly done in caves. Very similar to us, they also ferment and age in barrels. They have 35 hectares under vine, all farmed biodynamically; Le haut-lieu, Le Clos du Bourg and Le Mont. They produce a range of wines, sec, demi-sec and moelleux, all from Chenin blanc. Huet was incredible, in particularly Clos De Bourg, a vineyard we visited and shown above.
We moved on and paid Vincent Careme a visit, also situated in Vouvray. When we got there we realized he married a South African girl, Tanya, and we felt right at home. Unfortunately, she was not there, nonetheless, he let us taste through all the barrels of 2016 whom would be bottled soon. A small compact setup, but delicious wines. He works on the same principle as most producers there, no yeast and very little sulphur. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, and then he escorted us to Peter Hanh.
Peter Hahn a small producer not far from Vincent Careme. He moved from America to France, bought a small piece of land in 2007 and started farming. His wines are handmade, the grapes are organic and pressed by a very old basket press. We felt right at home when we saw this setup, although we are at a slight bigger scale. He only produces one wine a year.
A few other producers we visited to end of our Loire trip was:
Moulin Touchais, situated in Coteaux du Layon. Now this was something incredible to experience. Everything is done underground, literally in caves and felt like an underground labyrinth. Some of the tunnels were bricked up to hide the wine during the war. There are old wines dating back to the 1700s’. This is one of the oldest places in the Anjoy valley. They only release their wines 10 years after production. Current release 2007 to 1968, with most vintages available.
Moving onto Florent Baumard, a 20min drive from Moulin Touchais, in the heart of the Anjou town. After getting a bit lost, David and I eventually got to Florent Baumard. Simon had left that morning, he had been our ‘translator’. When we got to the tasting room, the lady could not speak English, so David had to dig deep and far into his ‘French memory bank’ to communicate. Luckily Florent arrived and gave us an extensive vineyard tour in his Land Rover.
Bois Brincon was next in line. A farm belonging to a family for 5 generations, and now managed by Geraldine and Xavier Callieua since 1991. It is built in the centre of the Anjou region and has a very rare diversity of soils and landscape. It is farmed bio dynamically and everything done very naturally in the cellar. When we walked there, they had an open day with locals selling bread and spreads, and then of course the wines. The wines are made in a shed, nothing fancy or grand and made in a few tanks and barrels.
It was an interesting visit and we tasted grapes we have never heard of before, Pineau d’aunis (very similar to Pinot noir) and Grolleau. (Used to make Rose from it and reminded me a bit of Grenache)
Our last visit for the trip was at Domaine de Rocheville. Situated in the very famous Saumur Champigny appellation in Parnay. Beautiful scenery, and a great setup. This area gets the lowest rainfall in the whole region, 600mm per annum. The soils are mainly clay and limestone, and create full, fruity and velvety wines. Cabernet Franc is the most important red grape in the Loire. It is less tannic and always a bit more fruity, with a bouquet of red and black fruits. Chenin Blanc also creates exceptional wines, dry and, if the conditions allow, sweeter wines.
On arrival we were met by the very enthusiastic Phillipe Porche. He did a short cellar tour and then we tasted some wines, a range of Chenin Blancs’ and Cabernet Francs. It was so refreshing to chat to Phillipe, he is very excited about what they are doing and is planning to do a ‘world conference’ with all the areas in the world that produce Chenin Blanc. A great initiative.
And so, our trip came to an end, It was a lot of information to take in, a lot of stellar wines to taste in a short period, but all very worth it and an experience we will never forget.