May 20, 2013

Carrots & Riesling. Advice for petrol lovers.

Do you like your Riesling wine with a distinct petrol character? Don’t want to wait many, many year to evoke it by cellaring? Then look for an Australien Eden or Clare Valley Riesling from a warm and sunny year, preferably from a bottle sealed with screw cap. And if you really want to be sure to get a hefty petrol bouquet, be sure to keep the bottle in 30° C for some time.

 




Researchers at The Australian Wine Research Institute (1) have investigated the factors influencing the level of TDN in Riesling wines. TDN is the abbreviation we ordinary petrol lovers can learn as the pronunciation of this aroma’s chemical name is a tongue-twisting exercise: 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphhalene. Some love it, others think TDN is a fault. 
 
Many factors interact to give Riesling wine higher levels of TDN. We will get there in a moment. But first some chemistry. Hang on now – this is exciting! 
 
It is an interesting fact that the level of free TDN in grapes and must is almost non-existing. Our lovely aroma is instead created later in the process. The basis for TDN is what is called carotenoids. Carotenoids? What? Well, there are in fact many kinds of carotenoids. You have probably heard of beta-carotene. The compound usually just called carotene, which gives carrots their beautiful orange colour. At least a dozen different carotenoids have been found in grapes, including the ordinary beta-carotene. Most of it is found in the grape skins, about three times as much as in the pulp. 
 
 
The carotenoids start to build up in the grapes right after fruitset. But when the grapes begin to change colour, at verasion, then the happy days of growth are over and shift into ruthless breakdown. In that process, small molecules are created. These C13-norisoprenoids also hold the compounds that generate TDN.
 
The C13-norisoprenoids are deeply in love. The object of their worship is sugar molecules and they cling hard to them. “Flavour reservoirs” are created this way. They will slowly release TDN during storage and thus also our lovely petrol aroma.
 
Higher level of carotenoids in the grape will thus give more petrol aromas. An interesting question is then if the level is possible to influence. Yes, according to the researchers, it is possible. The more direct sun and heat the grapes get, the more carotenoids. If vine leaves shade the clusters, then growth is hampered. The grower can consequently affect the TDN-level by canopy management. Besides the selection of pruning and trimming approach will the amount of fertilisers play a part, as more of it encourages foliage growth and thus more shade to the grapes. Correspondingly can drought and water stress reduce the foliage and as a result give more sun exposure.
 
Once the wine is in the bottle, the TDN-level grow through the “flavour reservoirs”. Also in this stage are several factors found to influence the development.
 
Apart from increased levels of TDN just by age, the storage temperature will contribute. Wine bottles cellared at 30° C have a considerably higher level of TDN than those stored at 15° C.
 
The higher level of acidity, the faster the petrol character develops. That is due to the breakdown of other aroma compounds in the acidity rich wine. Those compounds (monoterpenes and esters) give the wine its citrus, fruit and floral flavours and usually mask a part of the TDN.
 
Even the bottle closure affects the TDN-level. Studies have shown that natural cork and synthetic closures during a period of two years absorbed more than the half of the TDN. Screw caps on the other hand did not affect the TDN-level at all.
 
We petrol lovers should thus look for Riesling wines that
  • Were made of grapes exposed to heat and direct sunlight. Consequently, warm and sunny vintages are good choices. 
  • From producers not considering petrol to be a defect and because of that take additional steps to shade their grapes. 
  • Have a high level of acidity, which most Riesling wines have. 
  • Have screw cap.
  • Can we additionally suspect a warm freight and that the bottles have been stored on warm shop shelves, the chances increase. And why not use that otherwise so inappropriate wine storage place in the hot kitchen to serve as an extra TDN-activator?
 
Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2011
 
We tasted a Tim Adams Riesling 2011, from Clare Valley in South Australia. Clare Valley is, just as neighbouring Eden Valley, well known for its Riesling wines, often showing a great petrol flavour. Even if 2011 was a colder year, with relatively few sunshine hours, we were satisfied with our choice. We found an incipient fine petrol character in terms of bicycle tubes. Dry, with a nice high acidity. Fruity with citrus, pears and barely ripe melon. Good minerality. Lovely long aftertaste with more inner tubes and citrus. Really good!
 
 
Reference:
(1) Black, C. et al. (2012), "Aged Riesling and the development of TDN", Wine & Viticulture Journal, September/October 2012.

April 29, 2013

Holiday wine camp?

What about spending a week or two at a winery or with a grape grower? Wouldn't that be heaven for a wine geek? To live and learn wine in practice. An ultimate solution to enhance the knowledge of wine. And probably a very good one when it comes to remember the learnings.

The interest in food and wine seems to increase for each year. Thus not surprising that so many are attracted to wine tastings, wine classes and other events with knowledge replenishment as the common denominator. Wine can be so much more than just an enjoyable beverage. There are so much to learn. The history of wine, geography, grapes, chemistry, and so on. When the knowledge grows, presumably will also the ability to appreciate the wine even more do so too. And, not least, my experience is that knowledge nourishes friendship and pleasant social events around wine, and vice verse.

If I want to increase my knowledge, what are then my options? I want sustainable knowledge. I want to remember when I need it. For example when in a store and spontaneously want to buy a bottle. That name on the label in front of me, is it a wine from a renowned einzellage or is it from a large grosslage and thus probably a much more simple alternative? Or when at a tasting I want to through myself into the discussion about the wines and the effects of different winemaking techniques.

20%, so much (or little!) is considered to be remembered when we see and hear something, i.e. the usual situation when we listen to someone holding a lecture illustrated by some power points. Also a common situation when theoretical knowledge is imparted in wine class. At home, when distractedly reading a wine book, the risk is high that even less will be remembered.

What about multiplying the chance to remember with four? To achieve 80%, we need to make practical use of what we have learnt. Thus, in a wine class about winemaking, we ought to make some wine. Perhaps not that easy, but there could be other ways for the genuinely interested. (Now you can guess where I am heading, don't you? Yes, yes - the wine camp. It is coming, soon. Just let me develop my thinking.)

Myself, I prefer learning in a context of enjoyable experiences together with friends and wine enthusiasts. What are then the alternatives? My simplified learning/social experience matrix proposes four levels; grey, blue, green and golden yellow. What do we find on each level?



Both learning and the enjoyable experience tends to be low when sitting home, alone with the wine book. Grey, grey... inevitably down in the grey swamp in the bottom of the matrix. Just lifted up a tiny bit by a glass of good wine, poured to illustrate what I am trying to learn.

If I attend a wine class, or some other ordinary tasting held together with a lecture, I hopefully climb up into the blue field. Nice to be among other wine friends and a little bit more stays in my brain. Especially if the presenter speaks vividly and pedagogically and really ties the theoretical theme to the practical tasting. Can she/he season with personal experiences and anecdotes, the event will be even more informative. If the presentation is made by the winemaker her/himself, and there are opportunities for questions and discussion, then it can be really awarding.

To reach the green cloud, then I have to get out in the world of wine. To travel and visit producers. To see with my own eyes, talk, absorb the atmosphere. If I travel with an expert guide, especially if it is my first visit to the area, then the experience becomes even better. Informed visits and discussions with winemakers and growers increase learning even more. And the enjoyable experience will usually be great when spending time with like-minded.

How can I then reach the golden yellow sun in the upper right-hand corner? Where learning and enjoyable experience will be at the highest by making things. Out in the wide world of wine not just to see, meet and discuss. But also to try in practice. And at the same time get a wonderful experience for life.

Well, imagine if you could be an intern a week or two at a winery where the people love to share their knowledge. To be able to live and learn wine in practice. A kind of wine camp for grown ups. I would love it.

When will I see the first agency for "holiday wine internships" to wine geeks on the internet? A new business idea? Or is there already someone working with such a concept out there?

April 21, 2013

What wine do we enjoy in 2050?

2050 seems very far away. What are your plans for then? Myself, I hope to continue enjoying good wines all the time up till then. And be healthy enough to keep exploring all corners of the world of wine. But which wine do I have in my glass in 2050 and where do I travel?

In the perspective of my wine cellar, I'm about 20 years ahead of today. But now we are talking about an even more remote future. 37 years will pass by before we have 2050. Normally, it is only advertisements about various pension schemes that remind us of a future as distant as that. However, not this time. Now it is about wine. A team of scientists from the US, China and Chile have looked into the future to see how climate change can affect viticulture (1).

The results are remarkable. In their worst scenario, RCP 8.5 (note below), the area suitable for growing wine grapes might decrease with 25% to 73% by 2050 depending on location. At a lesser impact (RCP 4.5) the figures state a decrease between 19% to 62%. The highest number 73% relates to mediterranean climate parts of Australia. In Mediterranean Europe the net decrease in area suitable for viticulture is 68% and in California the decrease is 60%.

Bordeaux, Rhône, Tuscany and Piedmont are classical wine regions, all facing the future risk of getting a too hot to be suitable for wine grape production. Likewise Stellenbosch in South Africa, Colchagua and Maipo in Chile and the inner, warmer parts of California and Australia. You only have to take a look at the red spots on the map below. Many old wine favourites are threatened.





There are more interesting facts on the map. Green colour, as well as red, represents the present areas of viticulture. However, in the green parts, we can still hope for continued grape production. The dark green areas are the ones we can be most certain about. Here there is a very high degree of consistency from the results of the 17 different climate models used by the researchers, more than 90%. For the lighter green areas, more than half of the models give the result that the area will be suitable for wine grape growing also in the future. Thus, all lovers of wine from the Loire valley can calm down. The lighter green colour also covers parts of California, Chile, South Africa and Australia.

But maybe, in our twilight years, the stem will be filled with wine from a completely new viticultural area. The blue areas indicate where grape growing could be established successfully. Northern Europe is high on the list with a 99% increase of the suitable net area. In New Zealand and western North America, the growth is even higher with 168% and 231% respectively.

However, we can note that viticulture already today is successful in many of the blue areas . The used models and assumptions have not considered that many areas in the blue Germany have produced excellent wines for many centuries.

Myself, I find the pale blue border around the coasts of southern Sweden interesting. Maybe I could have a really nice, fine Bohuslän west coast wine in my glass in the year of 2050.

-------------------------------------

Note:
RCP stands for Representative Concentration Pathways. The RCP:s describe four different scenarios of  greenhouse gas concentration development over time. They are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and of other scientist making research about climate change. RCP 8.5 implies the highest impact, while RCP 4.5 represents the second lowest impact.


Reference:
(1) Lee Hannah, Patrick R. Roehrdanz, Makihiko Ikegami, Anderson V. Shepard, M. Rebecca Shaw, Gary Tabor, Lu Zhi, Pablo A. Marquet, and Robert J. Hijmans (2013), Climate change, wine, and conservation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America; PNAS 2013: 1210127110v1-201210127.
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1210127110

April 10, 2013

Ho Bryan - a great wine brand for 350 years

On April 10 1663 Samuel Pepys made an entry in his diary: "... and there drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with."

The wine? Well, of course it is Château Haut-Brion. One of the five red premier cru wines of Bordeaux. A wine and a brand still on top after 350 years.

Samuel Pepys' mention of Haut-Brion is the first known where someone actually describes a Bordeaux wine along with its name. Pepys was an English naval adminstrator, renowned for his diaries written in code. And as he also was a man who liked wine, it was not surprising that the note about "Ho Bryan" was made. When he died in 1703 his large collection of books, manuscripts and diaries was bequeathed to Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge where he once graduated. Anyone interested in learning more about Pepys, can visit Pepys library in Cambridge.

I'm interested in brand building and like the story about how Arnaud de Pontac once built the brand Haut-Brion. The following is from an entry I made on this blog about a year ago; Amazing stories of great wine brands.


"One of the stories fascinating me on this theme is the one about “Ho Bryan”. A history stretching centuries back in time. And a story about a brand still on top after 350 years. It must be the first example of conscious brand building in the world of wine.

Hugh Johnson has described the remarkable rise of this luxury brand in the book I love most when it comes to wine history; “The Story of Wine”.

We start around the year 1200. London had then reached the position as the prime export market of Bordeaux wine. The position was realised after a chain of events, which began when the incredible Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1154. It continued when King Richard, known as Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor’s son, wanted wine from Bordeaux to be served on the tables of the royal English court. And was accomplished in 1203 when John Lackland, the next king of England, and the youngest son of Eleanor, removed the heavy taxes on wine exported from the harbour of Bordeaux. His decision opened the gates to London. The claret flowed north, but it was still of ordinary, everyday quality.

We move forward to the 1660s and give the stage for Arnaud de Pontac. Head of the Parliament of Bordeaux and a man determined to take the family wine business to new heights. His plan involved ingredients well known to many modern brand builders.


Arnaud started to differentiate his product from the competitors’ by raising the quality. “Ho Bryan” was a dark coloured wine with a power that outperformed the previously known standard. There were no lack of resources to put into the production, so the quality was presumably achieved by selecting the best grapes and perfecting the winemaking methods.

Additionally, Arnaud took a completely new approach in wine business, when he as the first producer put a trade mark on his wine. It was carefully chosen to show the origin of the wine. The name was that of his family estate south of the town of Bordeaux.

The strategy was to create high demand in England, so marketing was needed. Arnaud selected the channel carefully and put it in total control of the family. In 1666 he opened an exclusive inn, the first real restaurant in London. At “Pontack’s Head” the food and wine were exquisite. So was the price tag. “Ho Bryan” was sold at a price more than three times of an ordinary wine. Arnaud positioned his wine as top-of-the-line, aiming for the market of affluent citizens.

The success came quickly. A luxury brand was born. London cried for Arnaud’s prime brand “Ho Bryan”, as well as the “Pontac” produced at his other estates. The demand drove prices to ever higher levels.

The wine, yes, it is the Haut-Brion. One of the five premier crus of Bordeaux. Still on top after hundreds of years. And an amazing history of the creation of a great brand."


The 350 year anniversary of Samuel Pepys' diary entry was celebrated yesterday at a gala dinner hosted by the Cambridge University Wine Society at Magdalene College in Cambridge. At Decanter's website the event is described together with a picture of the famous diary. Take a look at it, it is really a very special book!

April 09, 2013

Vilmart champagne for a spring celebration

At last, a warm day! Well, at least warmer than previous days, week, months....  All facts, the sun, the longer days and the thermometer's persistent attempts to reach over 10° C, they all try to convince me. Perhaps it is true, it is spring? OK, let's say so. Of course that is a recognition requiring some celebration. Time for a glass of champagne. My choice fell on a bottle of Vilmart Grand Cellier, purchased on site some years ago.  
 
Wilmart_Exterior_2010



Vilmart is a unique producer. One of the few who ferments and matures their wines on oak. The outcome is elegant, expressive and complex champagnes of very high quality.
 
The location is the small village Rilly-la-Montagne in the heart of Montagne de Reims. Thus, a bit south of Reims. This is known as Pinot Noir country, but Vilmar has in fact a rather large share of Chardonnay in their wines. The grapes come from 11 ha premier cru vineyards in Rilly and Villers-Allerand.
 
Wilmart_Fat_2010Vilmart uses large 50 hl oak foudres to ferment and mature the base wine for the Grand Reserve and Grand Cellier champagne. The top wines, Cellier d'Or and Coeur de Cuvée, get the pleasure of spending their first time on 225 litres new Burgundy barrels.
 
The assemblage is a two step process. First all Chardonnay wine from the different parcels are blended in January. And the Pinot Noirs too. In the next step, during May, the final assemblage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made for each cuvée. Bottling, together with "pris de mousse", i.e. the yeast needed for the second fermentation, is made in the end of June. By then we can count to about nine months on oak since the harvest in the end of September.
 
Then it is time for a peaceful rest deep down in the chalky cellars. Two years for Grande Reserve, three for Grand Cellier and the rosé Rubis, five years for Grand Cellier D'Or and for the fantastic Coeur de Cuvée, six years.
 
Vilmart_GrandCellierBrut_130405The family owned Champagne Vilmar & Cie was founded already back in 1872, but it was not until the present and fifth generation that maturation on small oak barrells for the top cuvées was introduced. Laurent Vilmart took over the responsibility in 1991 and has established Vilmart as an internationally reputable producer.
 
Our Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru, made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, had to wait three years in our cellar for the right occasion, i.e. the "warm" and lovely spring evening. I would say that it was three well invested years. 
 
Beautiful light golden colour. Pronounced, developed nose with bread and notes of white flowers, mineral and butterscotch. The mousse fills every corner of the mouth and the palate is wrapped in complex tasty sensations. A lovely, round freshness. Orange, lime, bread, butterscotch and chocolate, complemented with grapefruit and bitter orange in an aftertaste that seems to last forever. This is really the epitome of a beautiful wine.
 
I noticed that the prestige cuvée  Coeur de Cuvée 2004, made of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, is available at the Swedish monopoly right now. And the Grand Cellier can be e-purchased to Sweden from the Franska Vinlistan.
 
For all of you planning a trip to France, I recommend a visit to Rilly-la-Montagne. And why not pay Swedish Jessica Perrion in the neighbouring village Verzenay a visit at the same time? When Chardonnay is the predominating grape at Vilmart, Thierry Perrion Champagne offers Pinot Noir. It would be an enjoyable exercise to try the two different styles at the same time.

March 08, 2013

Lillet in Podensac


I just can't leave the small appellation Cérons without paying a visit to Lillet's birthplace. Just a few kilometers north of Château de Cérons, within the borders of the appellation, I find Podensac. A village with less than 3000 inhabitants. This is the place where Bordeaux' native apéritif is made; Lillet.  

Sweet little Lillet is known from the movies, including an appearance in "Casino Royale" where James Bond ordered a Kina Lillet Martini. Lillet's first name Kina has been dropped, but refers to its content of quinine.

LilletAperitif_130301
White wine from Bordeaux is the main ingredient, probably Sauvignon blanc and some Sémillon, but information varies. 85% wine is mixed with 15% fruit liqueurs made of different kind of oranges, from Spain, Maroc, Tunisia and Haiti. And then there is the quinine, extracted from bark from Cinchona, a tree found in Peru.

The beverage is then matured in barrells for 6-12 months. To keep the flavour constant, several vintages are blended. Well, that is about as much as we know. The details in the recipe are not surprisingly a secret.
 
If you don't want to add Lillet to your Dry Martini, or mix it in any other drink, you enjoy it as it is. Really cold, 6-8 degrees, preferably with a lot of ice and a slice of lemon.

Fresh, a little aromatic nose with citrus and elderflowers. Alluringly sweet with balanced acidity, nice body and a touch of oak. Fruitiness from oranges and lemon. Good length with lemon and some bitterness. My mind goes to barrique matured Sauvignon blanc, Cointreau and wormwood. A luscious apéritif, which makes me long for warm summer evenings.

Lillet has become an old lady, but still as fresh as in her youth. The apéritif was created back in 1872 by the brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet. Very popular in the 1930ies, but sales dropped when other beverages came into fashion. In 1985 the company was bought by the owner to Château Ducru Beaucaillou, Bruno Borie, who with marketing and a slightly changed recipe once again boosted sales. Since 2008 Lillet is a part of the Pernod-Ricard portfolio.

James Bond, he called his Lillet Martini a Vesper and gave us the recipe: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel."

March 03, 2013

Saffron from Cérons

Deep golden hue, rich and sweet. The characteristic scent, revealing work done by the little botrytis fungus.  And when the years pass by and the wine ages, then it comes; the lovely flavour of saffron.  Just marvellous!

I follow the road south from Pessac-Léognan, aiming for Sauternes-country, but stop when I realise I have arrived to the appellation Cérons. Cérons??? How often do we hear about Cérons?
"Cérons, the least important sweet white wine appellation in the Bordeaux region" says the Oxford Companion to Wine (1). Forgotten with soft sweet wines, so says the wine atlas. Thus, my interest is caught.

Cérons is really not a big spot. Only sweet wine from 38 hectare is allowed to carry the name Cérons.  However, it is not only sweet white wine, but also dry white and red that are produced here. The latter two although not allowed to use the appellation of Cérons, instead obliged to put Graves on the label. If also these parts are counted for, you end up with about 120 to 200 hectares. Really small. I’m not surprised that this region hardly ever is mentioned.
Nonetheless, also Cérons can boast with a good heritage. The town is really old and is found on 100-century Roman maps, then by the name of Cirius or Cirione. But there is another story that raises my interest more.

We have learnt that it is thanks to the river Ciron that noble rot is thriving in Sauternes. Ciron has ice cold water. It flows into the Garonne, with its considerable warmer water, especially during the latter half of the summer. Cold + warm = mist. The mist drifts into the Ciron valley and the surrounding vineyards in the mornings. The sun beams warm the land during the days and the mist disappears. Voilà! The very best conditions for botrytis cinerea have been created.
The Ciron river stretches between Barsac and Preignac and flows into the Garonne in the  village of Barsac. But it has not always been like that. 1750 was the inauguration year of the canal that gave Ciron its current route. Before that, the river turned north and reached Garonne in Cérons. Why was this canal built? The simple explanation is that the river too often was flooded over, which implied difficulties for travellers who wanted to pass the bridge in Barsac. And as that was the main road between Toulouse and Bordeaux, the complaints were frequent. Additionally, the many mills beside the river were also most often flooded, thus hampered to grind the flour so well needed in the city of Bordeaux.  

This story makes me wonder if Cérons would have had even better conditions for noble rot if the river had been allowed to retain its original course.

Grapes in Cérons? Well, it is the traditional ones of the region. Sémillon dominates strongly with about 80%, complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Yields around 40 hl/ha. Does not sound much, but should be compared with only 25 hl/ha in Sauternes.


ChateauDeCeronsWatWeb_130301

Chateau de Cérons is probably the most well-known estate making AOC/AOP Cérons. Of the 26 ha belonging to the estate, five is grown with grapes destined for the sweet wine. As usual when it comes to noble rot grapes, many turns are needed in the vineyard. Each time only to pick the perfectly infested grapes.   

Saffron, saffron! The 1998 vintage is absolutely lovely and perfect to drink right now: Beautiful golden colour. Intensive and spicy bouquet with lots of saffron complemented with honey and ripe oranges. The taste is pleasantly sweet with balanced acidity. Once again saffron, honey and citrus. A short moment of thinness uncovers a simpler birthplace compared to the wines from the neighbouring more exclusive parts of Graves. But that is quickly forgotten when the wonderfully spicy taste takes over the scene and holds it there for a long time. The enjoyment is complete.
The Château de Cérons 1998 is in fact available in Sweden right now; to a very affordable price. A bargain I would say, for a bottle already matured for 15 years.

Cérons, well worth a little more attention.

(1) Robinson (2006) "The Oxford Companion to Wine".

February 20, 2013

Heritage, class and red in Pessac-Léognan

I am not going to travel far from the Intendant in the Bordeaux city centre. I thought I should go looking for the home of my January favourite, Château La Garde, in Pessac-Léognan.

Pessac-Léognan is the commune appellation we should remember for three things: heritage, class and red. The heritage is of the very best rank. The classification comprises the best estates, but is often forgotten when talking classifications of Bordeaux. And red? Yes, Pessac-Léognan is in fact dominated by red wines, although I often think of the region south of Bordeaux as white wine country.

It is just a quarter of an hour from the city centre and there, squeezed in among the southern suburbs, the first vineyards are found. An airborne arrival to Bordeaux, that is to the Mérignac airport, implies a landing right in Pessac-Léognan, the most northern part of Graves. The spot where grapes were grown already 2000 years ago. A spot proud of its rich heritage.

Grusiga jordar i Pessac-Léognan. (http://www.crus-classes-de-graves.com/phototheque/LARGE/VIGNOBLES/ROSIERS.jpg)
Gravel soils in Pessac-Léognan. (foto: http://www.crus-classes-de-graves.com/phototheque)

Claret, the light red Bordeaux wine, which won the heart of the Englishmen already in the Middle Ages, came from this neighbourhood. The vineyards in Graves were already well established when the Dutch came to Médoc to fulfil their ditching assignment in the 1700s. During the 300 years when Aquitaine was under English rule, from 1152 to 1453, the claret literally flowed into London from Graves.

Château Haut-Brion, the only estate in Graves classified for red wine in 1855, excelled early. 2013 marks an anniversary! It is 350 years since "Ho Bryan" was established as a luxury brand in London. The owner Arnaud de Pontac had persued a successful strategy and differentiated his wine from the competitors'. Darker, more power - simply one class better. And three times the price. The good Arnaud was a real businessman.

Pessac-Léognan also holds the oldest estate in Bordeaux. Château Pape-Clémant counts 1299 as its birth year. That was the year when the coming Pope Clemant V got the estate as a gift from his older brothers. Today it is considered as one of the best estates of the appellation.

Red, red, red. Delicious wines are made from both blue and green grapes raised on the light gravelly and sandy soils. I often think white when thinking Graves, but the fact is that about 80% of the production in Pessac-Léognan is red wine! The traditional Bordeaux grapes are grown on the appr. 1700 hectares. Cabernet sauvignon is the signature grape for the red wines, with Merlot as runner up. Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon dominate the white.

Pessac-Léognan is an appellation of recent date, born on September 9, 1987. And we should note the for Bordeaux unusual scope; this commune appellation includes both red and white wines.  

You could think that the appellation comprises only the two communes that have given the area its name. But that is not the case. Ten communes, or rather villages, are included; Mérignac, Pessac, Talence, Gradignan, Villenave d’Ornon, Canéjan, Léognan, Cadaujac, Martillac, Saint-Médard-d’Eyrans. Remember them if you can! But no, that is not necessary, Pessac-Léognan will do fine.

Then it is time for the classification. Graves has one of its own, a fact easily forgotten in our eagerness to learn the most distinguished estates in the classification of 1855. All the 16 estates awarded "cru classé" in Graves are located in Pessac-Léognan. The classification, without any internal ranking, was established as late as 1953, with an extension 1959 to the one of today. Six estates are classified for red and white wine, seven for red only and three for white. Château Haut-Brion is of course among the classified estates in Pessac-Léognan too and is thus, as the only estate in Bordeaux,"double classified". 

What about Château La Garde then, do I find my way there? Yes, but it is a trip that will end as far south as I can come in Pessac-Léognan, in the commune Martillac. On the way south I pass several famous names and the palate starts longing for the delicious liquid. Why not a few drops from one the classified estates such as Domaine de Chevalier, Château Olivier, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Château Haut-Bailly...
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan. (foto: http://www.crus-classes-de-graves.com/phototheque)
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan. (foto: http://www.crus-classes-de-graves.com/phototheque)

I can also conclude that Pessac-Léognan is André Lurton-land. The renowned winemaker's properties are not located far from each other. There are the names so well known from the labels of the white wines we often find in Sweden: Château de Cruzeau, Château la Louvière, Château Couhins Lurton, Château de Rochemorin och Château Coucheroy. The latter two reliable, affordable, pure Sauvignon blanc wines, often poured on our tastings as typical examples of a Bordeaux white. But again - red wines are made on all the estates.

So, why not choose a red Pessac-Léognan the next time?


Note. All the 16 classified estates in Pessac-Léognan (Crus Classés de Graves):
  • White wines: Château Couhins, Château Couhins-Lurton, Château Laville Haut-Brion.
  • Red wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château de Fieuzal, Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Château La Tour Haut-Brion, Château Pape-Clément, Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
  • Both red and white: Château Bouscaut, Château Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, Château Latour-Martillac , Château Malartic-Lagravière, Château Olivier.

February 16, 2013

Lost in the Intendant's spiral

I started my trip in Médoc in the beginning of the year, but got stuck in Bordeaux on my way south. Probably at l'Intendant, the unusually designed wine store, where the wine bottles are stacked on shelves around the walls surrounding a spiral staircase leading from one floor to the next and the next. All filled with those highly wanted Bordeaux wines.

That is the differentiating bit. While the indendant's storage comprises of Bordeaux, my lips have met wines from all corners of the world during the last few weeks. Austere Riesling and Grüner Veltliner from Austria's Weinviertel. Beautiful young Burgundies squabbling with each other, each of them wanting a place of their own in the lime light. Sherry, port and madeira - so enjoyable, ought to increase consumption. Impressing Carmenère from Chile, typical delicious Pinot from New Zealand, etc. etc. And my eyes have rushed through so many rows of information and many, many maps. An express trip around our world of wine in too short time. 

The sommeliers' day in Gothenburg was the highlight of the past month. The express train slowed down significantly during a few pleasant hours. Unfortunately there are relatively few opportunities for comprehensive tasting on the west coast compared to what is offered in the capital city of Sweden. The sommeliers' day is therefore a welcome event. This year the tables stood really close to each other and we had many interesting conversations around wines with good sense of origin from a variety of regions.

One of the best wines tasted this month is in fact a Bordeaux. I liked the Château La Garde 1998 from Pessac-Léognan. This vintage is available in Sweden along with the 2009 and 2010. 57% Cabernet sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 3% Cabernet franc. Pronounced nose, delicious mature bouquet with root vegetables, leather, dark berries and plum. Quite full bodied, nice tannins with balanced acidity and good length with leather, blackcurrant and roots. Wonderful now, but could be stored for another few years in the cellar. A comparing tasting of the three available vintages would be interesting.

However, time to move on. Compass course set. A few bottles from the Intendant's shelves packed in boxes. I leave the store, a bit reluctant. It is time to travel south, but just a tiny bit.

January 09, 2013

Gems in Médoc - the BLM strategy

All the thin blue lines catch my eye when I take a first look at the maps of Médoc. The solid ones are drawn from west to east, towards the water in the Gironde bay. The dashed ones connect, often at a right angle, to the solid ones; sometimes at longer intervals, sometimes in a tight grid. Only the solid ones have names, such as Jalle du Cartillon, Chenal du Milieu and Jalle du Breuil.

The wine geography journey around the world is about to start. A bit traditionally perhaps, but Bordeaux has a certain shimmer. The history with a successful export strategy and early brand building has put a solid foundation for the fame. And, it is the largest AOP region of France. Bordeaux it is, and take off will be from the left bank.

When you are found of Médoc wine, you have a lot to thank those deep ditches for. Before the Dutch drained the district in the 1500-century, it was not much more than marshes and forests. The ditches liberated large areas from water and the well known meagre gravel soil came to light. Perfect for growing high class grapes.

North of Bordeaux. There they are, the famous villages. First Margaux, then a small jump, and next on line are St Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe. The classified estates and châteaus are located side by side, trying to outshine each other. Fancy buildings, manicured vineyards, careful vinification. Perfection. And that is valid for the price of the highly demanded bottles too.

Of course I like the austerity of the Bordeaux wines, but not to any price. Hysterical levels push the wines to a status as collectibles rather than objects for culinary pleasure. At least for us with limited wallet. From time to time, related to the moments of cellar replenishment, I consider ignoring the region. Why Bordeaux, when an abundance of lovely wines from all around the world is available? But then I stumble upon a remarkable beautiful wine and realise that it is impossible to withstand the temptation. However, there is an alternative to the top of the price list. A better strategy; to search for the gems outside the gilded gates.

In Médoc the strategy is called BLM.

B is of course crus Bourgeois. This Médoc specific classification, created in 1932, when more than 400 estates were awarded a cru bourgeois. Their wines had good quality, but not enough high prices to be included in the classification of 1855. Since 2008, the crus bourgeois is however not a classification of the estate. Instead it is a quality mark of the wine. After application the wine is judged blindly by a group of professionals. If the wine passes the eye of the needle, the label will state cru bourgeois. Next vintage, new test.

The 2009 vintages of Château Le Boscq, from Saint-Estèphe, and Château Cambon la Pelouse, a Haut-Médoc estate located just south of Margaux, found their way into our cellar based on the B in the BLM strategy.

The other two letters in the BLM strategy refer to geographical areas. Listrac and Moulis. So, grab the atlas again. Just north of Margaux I turn to the right. The villages are found on the central Médoc spread in Johnson & Robinson's excellent wine atlas.

Moulis-en-Médoc is the first one. Directly, outside the little village Grand(!) Poujeaux, I run into the well-known favourites Château Chasse-Spleen and Château Poujeaux. To the north-west is then Listrac-Médoc with a couple of estates to remember; Château Fourcas Hosten and Château Fourcas Dupré.

All four estates' vintage 2009 are available right now, at least in Sweden. Some time ago we tasted the Château Poujeaux 2009. It was so nice,  so very "Bx-like", just as we want our Médoc. A real gem.

Vines in Grand-Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc. Photo: Berndt Fernow (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vignes_Moulis.jpg)
(licensed for free use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

January 03, 2013

To know by heart; the year of wine geography




Excerpt from a recent dinner conversation:

"You really don't need to know things by heart, it's so unnecessary!" my friend said. "Fortunately, school is focused on other things today. To analyse, to see the bigger context, to argue. That's far more important."

"Yes, I remember all that unnecessary stuff we had to learn when we were in school," another one agreed. "Things like the rivers in Halland [Swedish landscape, my comment]. Why should we know them by heart? So ridiculous. When you can find it all on the web, so easy."

The rivers in Halland. Of course I know them. We all had to learn that rhyme; "We shall eat, you shall cook." So I know that the rivers are Viskan, Ätran, Nissan and Lagan.  Is that unnecessary knowledge? And learning things by heart, is that totally outdated?

I didn't agree and argued against my friends. Geography, for example. How would we be able to grasp the context, analyse and argue about an incident if we don't know where in the world it has taken place?

Of course, my thoughts were at the same time in the world of wine. Wine without geography, that should for me be a much poorer pleasure. Wine, without origin, that would only be an industrial product. An alcoholic beverage made by fermented grapes. Wine, together with geography, on the other hand, give so much nuances to the experience. To be able to place the wine on the map, for me, that is just as important as the knowledge of the included grape varieties.

Do we then have to know our wine geography by heart? Yes, I think so. At least in broad terms. To know that Barossa is in Australia, Stellenbosch in South Africa and Puglia is in the southern Italy, that should be a minimum. It would be very inconvenient and take too much time to be forced to consult the computer or the smart phone every time you want to know.

Can you think of a sommelier who has to take a look at the Ipad before she/he can tell you where in the world the grapes for the chosen wine were grown? No, of course not. But the new generation of wine lovers, both professional and amateurs, will have a more difficult time when school don't teach and ask for basic knowledge. Well, I hope my friends around the dinner table exaggerated. That the situation in school is not that bad.

However, when I reflected on our dinner conversation, I got an insight. Geography is incredibly important for my wine experiences. So essential that it influenced my choice of New Year's resolution: 2013 is hereby appointed to the year of wine geography.

It will be a pleasure to take a tight grip of the wine atlas and start repeating the old well-known wine regions. And just as fun to start exploring and put new regions to the bank of "by heart knowledge".